The intersection where Heather Heyer was killed and 19 people injured . . . the morning after. Photo Courtesy of Jodi Lefebvre Jackson
I live just a few miles from Charlottesville. It is the city where I do my grocery shopping, where I see the dentist, where my father, step-mom, and in-laws live. It is the place where I meet people for coffee. It is the town where I got my ears pierced and went to my prom. It is home.
So when white nationalists, Nazis, racists marched into my city on Friday night, torches blaring, the hate rang like a bell in my heart. It’s been a long time since I was naïve or willfully ignorant enough to be surprised by actions like this, but this time, in my home, it felt bigger, sharper, more real. Racism marched in my streets, and it broke my heart anew.
Let me say, though, that this racism is not new to Charlottesville, not at all. This powerful piece by Sarajanee Davis articulates well the history of racial heartbreak in our beautiful city.
But most of you know of this heartbreak. As women and men of color, you live it every day. It is part of your hometowns, part you experience regularly. I know you know, so today, I want you to say that – to the best of my ability – I’ve got you today. As a woman who identifies as white and who is always identified as white, despite my African ancestors, I know that my work is to speak to other white people, so here, now, is what I will share on all my social media accounts.
My Dear, Beloved, White Brothers and Sisters,
I am seeing a lot of distancing, a lot of us stiff arming the white nationalists, the Nazis and racists who marched in Charlottesville on Friday and Saturday. We are doing a lot of “them”ing about those folks, acting out our horror at their hatefulness. I get it. I want to do it, too, push those white people, those young white men especially, far away from myself. I want “them” to be “them,” too.
But they are us.
I say that with no hyperbolic force. I am speaking truth.
I am a racist. As a white woman who was raised in America, this is something I must own. It is part of what is taught to me as a white person in the United States – this belief that, somehow, white people are superior. I never got a lecture. No one ever told me that belief in so many words, but I was taught it nonetheless.
I know that I was taught this belief because sometimes I think and say things, racist things, that I didn’t know I believed. I won’t recount the list of those things for you here because I do not want to retraumatize our brothers and sisters of color who hear those things every day, but if you’d like examples, email me at [email protected], and I’ll share a few with you, as illustrations of my own brokenness.
So you, my beautiful, beloved, broken white brothers and sisters, you are racist, too. I know that’s hard to hear – I KNOW. But it’s true. You have been taught things about people of color, things that say they are inferior to you as a white person. If you consider carefully, you’ll find those things. I find more every day, and it breaks my heart.
We need to have our hearts broken.
But let me be clear – we don’t need to sit around feeling guilty, making this about us yet again. As Nadia Bolz-Weber said, “let’s be honest – white guilt does nothing. White guilt makes us look for exoneration. White guilt leads to changes of only optics in which people of color are the object and not the subject. Once again. White guilt leads to me trying to figure out how to relieve my white guilt and once again it’s all about me. So let’s let White Guilt go. It doesn’t work.” So no guilt here – it’s useless. Work is better. Honesty is better. Truth is better.
And for the love of Pete, don’t go around apologizing to all the people of color that you know – that, too, is asking them to do the work of exonerating you of your beliefs. Instead, do what my wise friend Nicole Morgan suggested – talk to other white people. Take your questions, your struggles outside the circle of people of color who have so long had to carry the burden of racism in every way. Write to me if you want. I”ll answer. We’ll talk it out.
But please, don’t make this about other people. Because it’s not. As you look at the people who marched on Friday and Saturday in Charlottesvile, in my city, don’t push them away with a stiff arm of safe distance. Pull them close. Look them in the eye. See them as your brothers, aunties, cousins, next-door neighbors, yes. But most importantly, see them as yourself.
Until we, the white people of America, can own the quiet racism in our own hearts AND the virulent armored racism that marches in our streets, we cannot change.
And we must change. WE, the white people of America, must change.
With all my love for all of us,
I share this not because I want kudos – I don’t need them. I share because, I hope, this tiny thing gives you, my brothers and sisters of color – some small light in these dark days.
Meanwhile, if you are looking for ways to help in Charlottesville, there are myriad options for helping to pay medical bills, and if you comment below, I’ll gladly share those links. But you can also support African American people doing all kinds of good in the city. If I may, let me suggest two options:
- Maupintown Media – Maupintown is a film company run by the talented Lorenzo Dickerson, and he makes these amazing films about African American history and community in Charlottesville. Buy his films. Support his work.
- Jefferson School Foundation – The Jefferson School was the historic African American high school in the city. It is now a community space that is vibrant with art exhibitions, lectures, performances, meeting rooms, and a genealogy center. You can donate here.
My friends, these are hard days. I’m still not sure how to get my feet under me to do more, but more I will do. You have my word.
Love to you all.