Dear White Moms: Please Stop Apologizing
The moment I’ve been waiting for…
Where to begin?
Actually, I know exactly where to begin: Friday, May 8, 2020, what would have been Ahmaud Arbery’s 26th birthday. Runners across the country and around the world ran 2.23 miles (to commemorate February 23, the day he was murdered). The hashtag, #runwithmaud was seen across all social media platforms throughout that Friday. What struck me, however, were the White women on my newsfeeds–a few of them mom-blogger/influencers, and some acquaintances–who have rarely, if ever, posted about a social (in)justice issue and here they were running 2.23 miles to honor Maud’s life. I was unsettled. On one hand, I was happy to see these women doing something proactive and using their platforms (some with hundreds of thousands of followers) to bring attention to a horrific incident. On the other, this had me skeptical and I couldn’t shake the other possibility: that a 2.23 mile run fit into their purview of what “justice” and “action” could look like in their lives and they’d get their workout in for the day. It just felt…icky…and insincere.
And then there was silence. When Breonna Taylor was killed in her own home? I heard and saw nothing from the women. When the video of Amy Cooper’s violently racist call to the police went viral? Nothing. And in the immediate days following George Floyd’s death, nothing.
Yet, in the last few days, the White women who “ran with Maud”, and even more White women on my social media timelines and newsfeeds have been posting about White privilege, racial (in)justice, Black Lives Matter, support for protestors and activists, etc. They’re sharing important and powerful quotes, re-posting content from BIPOC accounts, and forwarding helpful resources and information. I have been waiting for this moment for years. And it’s got me thinking…
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve all been mandated to stay home, to yes, balance work and life and parenting and schooling, but we’re also experiencing time in different ways. I’m assuming we’re on social media more than usual–even though no one is doing anything or going anywhere–desperate for human connection and socialization. I think we as White people are witnessing civil, social, and political unrest through social media content in unprecedented ways because time and space look different these days. Perhaps we have more mental capacity and physical time to engage, to question, and to speak out. We’re also at home with our children witnessing and watching these events unfold. Perhaps this is hitting home in ways that people haven’t yet experienced before. I can’t imagine that the correlation between quarantine and an uptick in White people scratching the surface of anti-racist content and actions to be a coincidence.
And this has me feeling glimpses of hope in the midst of the violence, terror, rage, and unrest happening in our country.
Below is a sample of the posts I’ve seen shared widely by White women in the last few days. They concisely articulate what White privilege is, the work that we as White people need to do, and resources to help us do it.
Whose work is this?
There’s something called “racial battle fatigue,” a phenomenon coined by Dr. William Smith, an associate professor in Education, Culture, and Society at the University of Utah, in 2003. Dr. Smith looked at the social and psychological stress responses of being an African-American male on a historically white college campus. Dr. Smith draws on combat trauma and combat stress to inform his research on how people of color’s experiences in predominantly white institutions can simulate similar effects of PTSD on soldiers back from war. Black people and people of color are TIRED. They don’t have the time or capacity to explain things to us, White people, right now. It is not their responsibility to educate us; to explain our racism and racist actions and behaviors. This is on us. We as White people are accountable, responsible and should be in this together.
Contextualizing White privilege within a larger history of White supremacy and systemic and structural racism in our country is also imperative.
I’m glad to see that many white people on social media are acknowledging their racial privilege but this is meaningless without an understanding of white supremacy and how it systematically grants those privileges. People don’t just magically wake up with a set of unearned benefits. This understanding is ahistorical and misses the mark. White privilege is a result of systemic and institutional oppression, involving racist policies, practices, and ideologies. This results in power and advantages for white people, while people of color are marginalized and disenfranchised as a result. When white people talk about privilege, they often speak about it as if there is no cause and no actor – as if their privileges were somehow accidentally and magically granted to them. This is not so. We can do better to name the source of white privilege and racism as white supremacy, or as bell hooks calls it, “white supremacist capitalist patriarchy,” acknowledging the interrelated systems of domination and oppression. And we can do better to engage each other as white folks who must become committed to radical love, healing, and humanization by de-centering ourselves, our voices, and our singular perspectives from these conversations. We can listen better. We can support and love the people of color in our lives better by showing them that we are willing to condemn white supremacy and racism. We can take care of ourselves through anti-racist self-care and therapy. And we can commit to becoming co-conspirators alongside people of color, rather than just merely allies, by becoming willing to use and sacrifice our privilege in the fight for justice. If you are a white person who wants to learn more about whiteness or how to talk about race, the National Museum of African American History and Culture has a great resource.– Brian Mooney
A few reminders and tips:
Stop apologizing. Please stop saying that you’re sorry. That you are sorry for Black people and People of Color, for what they are going through, for what they’re feeling. While making public apologies might feel meaningful, cathartic, important, there are two things to consider: first, actions speak louder than words; and second, this is not about you (and at the same time, it’s all about you). What I mean to say is that if you stop at the apology, you remain in the guilt. White guilt is a safe place to dwell, it allows you to feel bad but not hold yourself accountable for change. Moving past the guilt is the hurdle; it’s what gets you out to the other side, towards being an anti-racist, towards justice, towards freedom. When I say this is not about you…part of being anti-racist and being aware of your white privilege is to know when to stop talking and start listening. Sometimes your voice and opinions are not what is needed or important; rather, your job is to amplify the voices of people of color, of activists on the front line. Don’t just listen, actively hear what they are saying and what they need from us in ally-ship.
If posting (or re-posting) on social media isn’t your thing, that’s okay. Activism should not be measured by the content on your Instagram Stories or Twitter feed. But, take some time to do some reading, do some research on articles and podcasts, watch some documentaries. The most important work that White people can do starts with themselves and their families at home. Not sure where to begin? Check out this post from Good Good Good and this list from Sarah Sophie Flicker and Alyssa Klein.
On the flip side, simply posting (or re-posting) on social media is not enough. Do not confuse social media statements with authentic and meaningful social justice and anti-racist work.
Diversify your social media feeds. If your feeds on Instagram and Twitter are not significantly filled with people talking about the current state of affairs, you need to follow some additional accounts–populate your feeds with people whose identities, experiences, voices and opinions are different from yours and/or offer a perspective that you do not have as a White person. You can start with: @theconsciouskid, @nprcodeswitch, @blklivesmatter, @teaching_tolerance, @rachel.cargle (and her community, @thegreatunlearn), and @nhannahjones.
I am not exempt from any of this. I never claim to be doing any of this right or well. Even after ten years of engaging in anti-racist and social justice work as a White person, I’m still fucking up, not doing enough, exercising my privilege on daily basis. But that’s the thing. This work never ends. If you truly want to pursue a life of anti-racism, you have to be committed to this as an active and ongoing part of your life and lifestyle. If you are White, you inherently and innately possess White privilege. That’s okay, you can’t change that, but you can do something with it. You can continue to problematize it; to question it; to pause throughout your day to contemplate how your privilege played a role while you went grocery shopping, or got money out at the ATM, or walked your dog, or went for a run.
Below is a list compiled by Rachel Cargle of everyday activities that we as White people rarely have to give a second thought to that Black people have died for. It’s the 2020 version of “Unpacking the Knapsack,” with citations…let it sink in:
I have privilege as a white person because I can do all of these things without thinking twice:
- I can go birding (#ChristianCooper)
- I can go jogging (#AmaudArbery)
- I can relax in the comfort of my own home (#BothemSean and #AtatianaJefferson)
- I can ask for help after being in a car crash (#JonathanFerrell and #RenishaMcBride)
- I can have a cellphone (#StephonClark)
- I can leave a party to get to safety (#JordanEdwards)
- I can play loud music (#JordanDavis)
- I can sell CDs (#AltonSterling)
- I can sleep (#AiyanaJones)
- I can walk from the corner store (#MikeBrown)
- I can play cops and robbers (#TamirRice)
- I can go to church (#Charleston9)
- I can walk home with Skittles (#TrayvonMartin)
- I can hold a hair brush while leaving my own bachelor party (#SeanBell)
- I can party on New Years (#OscarGrant)
- I can get a normal traffic ticket (#SandraBland)
- I can lawfully carry a weapon (#PhilandoCastile)
- I can break down on a public road with car problems (#CoreyJones)
- I can shop at Walmart (#JohnCrawford)
- I can have a disabled vehicle (#TerrenceCrutcher)
- I can read a book in my own car (#KeithScott)
- I can be a 10yr old walking with our grandfather (#CliffordGlover)
- I can decorate for a party (#ClaudeReese)
- I can ask a cop a question (#RandyEvans)
- I can cash a check in peace (#YvonneSmallwood)
- I can take out my wallet (#AmadouDiallo)
- I can run (#WalterScott)
- I can breathe (#EricGarner)
- I can live (#FreddieGray)
- I CAN BE ARRESTED WITHOUT THE FEAR OF BEING MURDERED (#GeorgeFloyd)
White privilege is real. Take a minute to consider a Black person’s experience today.
We have to talk to our kids, right now
In the last two years, I have been hyper-focused on supporting my daughter in developing a positive gender identity: making sure to use words like “brave,” “smart,” “clever”, “courageous”, “beautiful” and “funny”; choosing clothing patterns with everything from dinosaurs, space ships, art, to unicorns and florals. I read her books about feminism, about finding your voice, about science, and creativity, and adventure. Since before she was born, I’ve made a point of curating a racially and ethnically diverse set of books for her and while I think we’re off to a good start, I’m realizing that I’ve largely taken the approach of implicit exposure to racial diversity–engaging her with characters and storylines about people whose skin and experiences are different than ours. Growing up, my storybooks (and cartoons) were rather homogenous. My thinking was that just exposing her to different people and storylines early on, she would begin to develop an equitable stance about representation. But this week, I’m realizing that I want and need to start having more explicit conversations about race, representation, Whiteness, privilege, and equality with her. There are accounts like @hereweread committed to helping people to diversify their bookshelves. That is an important place to start.
I’m encouraged to see some of the mom blogger/influencers that I follow using their platforms to offer meaningful and personal content. Julia Dzafic, of @lemonstripes, posted this this morning. And Susie, the creator of the Instagram account @busytoddler, who posts fantastic ideas for DIY creative and learning activities for kids made this statement last night:
While it might seem out of place to talk about racism on a kid’s activities Instagram account – this is very much the conversation I need to have today.
“Busy Toddler” has always been about children, their education and their development… and this also includes their education and development as being anti-racism.
We know that children learn through play. They learn most effectively about all things: academics, life, social skills, their emotional development – all through play. And they learn about racism through play too. While our children are young and fresh and new to the world, we can take huge strides in raising them to be anti-racism with the books and toys we have in our homes.
Toys and book share two purposes: They can be a mirror for a child’s life so she can see herself reflected in the toys she plays with or in the books she reads. It is so important that black children and all children of color are represented in toys and books. Toys and books are also a window for a child to see others through and learn about their lives and their cultures. This is why it is so important for white children to have books and toys with black characters and characters of color. In my stories today (and saved to my highlights), I’m sharing some toys and books that can be either a mirror or a window.
Through books and play, kids learn about the world. They form opinions on right, wrong, good, bad, normal and abnormal. Having toys and books that both look like the child and don’t look like the child is of paramount importance. Over the past few years, this has been a journey for my family to look more critically at the toys and books my children have. I made changes. I added missing pieces. It may seem like a small start, but since toys and books are the foundations of childhood we cannot over look their role.
Children learn the most about the world from home. From us. Let us do better, because we know better, and will raise our children better.
If it feels authentic to you, join the marches and peaceful protests; please donate to local and national organizations that are run by POCs and/or work to support POCs. That’s the outward facing work. In my opinion, in order to meaningfully engage in the outward work, you have to first turn inward to examine yourself–your racial identity, your privilege, your biases, the systems you’re a part of and how they work to oppress marginalized populations. The work starts in our hearts, our minds, and our homes before we can take it to the streets and stand alongside our sisters and brothers of color and fight the fight with them.
To my fellow White mamas, ask yourselves: who and what do you want your children to be beyond kind, smart, successful, inquisitive? We should want them to also be activists, allies, and anti-racists. We have a responsibility to raise the next generation of race-conscious White children, and support them as they become aware and active teenagers and young adults.
This is on us.
This is a call to action.
If any of this has made you uncomfortable, good. That means I’ve achieved what I set out to do. It means you’re in a good starting place; a point of disruption, of agitation, of unrest, of discomfort. This work (and the realities that come with it) is uncomfortable, it’s awkward, it’s embarrassing. If this is one of the first times you’ve felt this way, that’s privilege.
I am choosing to end this on a positive and hopeful note. I am choosing to believe that in this time of quarantine–of space and time–that some White people may be waking up and realizing that they are an integral piece of change, of this ongoing work. I am choosing to believe that these White women will seek out the support and resources and people they need to engage in authentic identity work and anti-racist work in a sustainable manner; this work doesn’t end when quarantine does.
I’m choosing to believe…
But then again, this may just be my privilege talking…