I am part of a Facebook group that was started by a fashion blogger and, funnily enough, arose out of the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale. Women were sharing their finds from the sale and asking for styling advice. This was several years ago. After the sale was over that first year, the group evolved into a huge community of online friends who ask each other for paint suggestions, what they should name their new puppy, how to deal with family drama and abusive relationships, what outfits to pick for their family portraits, and so on. The topics really ran the gamut. Recently, the conversations turned to the Black Lives Matter movement and the murder of George Floyd.
Many embraced the conversation, and shared how they finally understood why saying All Lives Matter misses the point, entirely. Many reflected and asked for advice on books to read and resources to consult on how they could take action.
At the same time, some of the members of the group expressed their exhaustion with "political posts." And many wrote things like, "this page just doesn't feel the same anymore. Can't we just get back to fashion and paint colors?" The most poignant response was just one sentence long: "The world doesn't feel the same anymore."
And that may be true, specifically for white people. I certainly feel that way. But what I have read from some Black voices recently is that it's not the truth for Black people in America. The murder of yet another Black individual at the hands of those meant to protect and serve didn't feel different, I've read; it felt the same (just as horrific) as the all too many similar gross mishandlings of justice that have come before. But somehow it seems to finally be enough to shake a much larger population to their core. Either way, it is shameful— to say the least— that it has taken this long for so many, including myself, to truly wake up to the fact that this will continue to happen if we let it. And that it's not enough just to say and believe you're a "good person" (this is the notion of "white exceptionalism" that I have begun to learn about in Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad).
And it's in that regard that it didn't feel right to just return to my regular content of wedding planning and weekly outfits without first addressing what is happening outside this very small online space. So I wanted to share this:
I have learned a lot so far in this past week. And one of the things I learned is that before asking yourself what you have to give, ask yourself what you have to own. Here’s mine:
I am privileged because of the color of my skin, where I grew up, because my parents are still married, because I never had to work to contribute financially when I was younger, because of the resources I have had access to, and much more.
I had no Black classmates until high school, and even then they made up a very, very small percentage of our student body.
I did not have a Black friend until college.
I was not the student of a man of color until graduate school. That, for me, is over 17 years of a formal education before a man of color stood in front of me in a classroom.
I have never had a Black teacher.
I have done a lot of reading and listening and learning and discussing this past week. I know that the platform I have here is very small, but I also know that it is read by friends and family. And one of the things I have learned this week— one small but still significant way to take action—is to start these conversations with those around you.
I have also learned through my readings so far that I will make mistakes in how I proceed in my engaging in antiracism work. And it's at the risk of doing so that I wanted to share the things I have been doing to take action in the attempt to, if nothing else, offer suggestions for those within my own network who are struggling with where to start. I have started by:
Adding the following works to my reading list: Why are all the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?: And Other Conversations about Race by Beverly Daniel Tatum (this book was referenced often in my graduate studies in higher education leadership by my program director but I have yet to read it. No more excuses). Antagonist, Advocates and Allies: The Wake Up Call Guide for White Women Who Want to Become Allies with Black Women by Catrice M. Jacskson
Starting the reading and journaling journey Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad. This work has had me reflecting on how I have exhibited or participated in practices like white saviorism (for example my involvement with Invisible Children back in high school, without having any sort of foundational knowledge of the people I thought I was trying to "save"). Engaging with this work has been the most transformative for me so far. If you have read or are reading it too, let's discuss responses to the reflection questions.
Making a donation to an immigration-specific Massachusetts Bail Fund following the protests in Boston.
Making a donation to the NAACP's Legal Defense Fund, designated specifically to the issue of police brutality.
Having tough conversations around the dinner table with my own family.
Reflecting with my friends on the best or the right or any way to engage right now.
Adding more black voices to my social media feeds, and feeling shame regarding the discomfort that this is making some black content-creators feel as they watched their followers jump by the thousands overnight: satisfaction at finally being heard but a painful frustration that it took the murder of George Floyd for it to happen.
Coming to terms with the fact that this is just a very small start.
Just yesterday I read a quote by writer and lecturer Rachel E. Cargle (@rachel.cargle) on Instagram, who I recently began following. She wrote, "Friendly reminder: anti racism work is NOT a self improvement space for white people. If protecting bodies & empowering black lives aren't at the center of your work then you're not here for black people—you're simply going through motions to make your white self feel better." This is something that I want to be really mindful of. One way I can commit to taking measurable action, as opposed to just going through motions, is by doing the research when it comes to elections at any level to find out which candidates have comprehensive plans to address and end policy brutality, as well as to fundamentally change systems that, since the founding of our county, have worked against Black people (such as incarceration, education, and voting).
If, after reading this post, you're still unsure where start, here's something: Breonna Taylor would have turned 27 this past Friday; the same age that I'll turn at the end of this month. If you are unfamiliar with what happened to Breonna, then I ask that you start by reading about her.
The time and space I have to even engage in this exercise of unlearning, relearning, and reflection is a privilege in and of itself. But it's what I can do, and it's what I'll continue to do.