Updated: Oct 5, 2022
Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Op-ed (Published on July 15, 2020)
Author: Dr. RL Booker
Editor: Sara Bishop
👆🏾 Audio for your listening pleasure 👆🏾
The dirt has not yet settled on the caskets of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd and I already sense a "moving on" for those privileged enough to learn about racial discrimination from the news rather than having to experience its daily affronts in their own personal lives.
The phrase "thoughts and prayers," commonly invoked in the gun debate, has become a weak substitute for concrete action, offering an economical way to demonstrate empathy while resigning one's self to something too big and too hard to fight. It comes from the mouths of individuals who can turn off the news, put down the history books and even walk home from the protests and go back to the comforts of their lives, an existence where buying Skittles, going for a jog, getting pulled over for a minor traffic issue, and even sleeping inside one's home comes without fatal risks. These are all comforts afforded to white people simply because of the color of their skin.
In the last several weeks, I've received more "thoughts and prayers" than I can count, including from white people with whom I have strong, authentic relationships. Their relative silence and willingness to give up so easily when the issue of race comes up has been disillusioning. Dr. Robin DiAngelo (2020), Ph.D., author of "White Fragility," states that "the status quo in the United States is racism and, for white people, that's comfortable ... You can get through graduate school in this country, be certified to teach children, to practice law, to lead anything with no study whatsoever of systemic racism" (6:12).
During a 2015 TEDx talk, James A. White Sr. explained that people have asked him if he is angry that the consequences for Black people are significantly different for him and his grandchildren than they are for white people. His response was, "I don't have the luxury of being angry, and I also know the consequences of being enraged" (12:11).
It is not uncommon for many white people to consider themselves "color-blind" when it comes to race, yet research has shown that 80% of white people have very high levels of unconscious racial bias. The other day, my daughter and I were taking our daily lunchtime walk. As we stopped to play with some rocks, a white woman across the street yelled, "Excuse me, sir. I've seen you walking your daughter before and I think you are a great dad."
For some readers, this may seem like a small gesture of kindness from a stranger, but how is it that a simple, daily activity between parent and child elevates me to the status of a great dad? Research has shown that media representations of Black people lead to preconceived notions that Black men do not take care of their children. Seeing me with my daughter created the experience of cognitive dissonance – when our thoughts and beliefs about the world and ourselves clash with reality. The more she observed, the more she was impressed and, ultimately, felt compelled to verbally congratulate me on an otherwise basic family activity.
If you are white and reading this, I would simply ask you to assume the person who is writing knows something you don't. To my white friends, colleagues, and community members, do not presume your own innocence in the long history of systemic racism nor delegate the task of fighting racial injustice to others in the form of thoughts and prayers. To do so is a luxury those of us in the Black community do not have.
I wish I had other luxuries, too, like not having to experience the rite of passage Black families have to endure in the form of "the talk." I wish I didn't have to walk in a different direction of my car so the white woman in front of me wouldn't think I was following her. I wish I didn't have to change my patterns of speech when I'm around white people. I wish I could drive my car around certain neighborhoods and not be profiled. I wish I could walk through a world that reflects me. I wish I had the luxury of just being myself.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1968) argued that "Negros hold only one key to the double lock of peaceful change. The other is in the hands of the white community" (p.22)
No matter how heavy or awkward that key might feel these days, please do not put it down just yet. Humanity needs you. Stay curious and lean in hard. Understand that your actions must match your espoused values. Make authentic connections by having genuine conversations with people from different races and those who have different experiences than you. Listen with the intention to change, not challenge. When watching all the unrest happening on your screens, I implore you to ponder, what would you want others to do if this were happening to you, your loved ones, and your community?
Lastly, understand that there is no quick fix for the 400-year old project of systemic racism. But we won't end it without digging in and staying in.
References - APA Citing
DiAngelo, R. (2020, June 4). This message is for White People! The Karen Hunter show. [Video]. YouTube. https://youtu.be/O5AfYKfLuAk?t=372
King Jr., M.L. (1968). Where do we go from here: Chaos or community? New York, Harper & Row Publishers, Inc.
TEDx Talks. (2014, November 26 ). 50 years of racism -- why silence isn’t the answer | James A. White Sr. | TEDxColumbus. [Video]. YouTube. https://youtu.be/r9DDE7NV1Nw?t=731