As our collective sight shifts away from the glaring headlines, our timelines no longer reflect the outrage of “strange fruit” being chased and gunned down in Georgia or squeezed lifeless by knees on necks in Minnesota. Your friends who bear the weight of the world in their skin are looking to see if the outrage was a performative cleansing for your soul, or if you are truly ready to do the work necessary to ensure that no mother in Heaven, as George Floyd’s mother was as he called her name in mercy, or on Earth has to sing this song of sorrow.
In our home, I am collecting the pieces of my heart that shattered as I had to gather my 4 and 6-year-old to tell them that they might encounter someone who does not like them or may make them feel less than, because of the perfect way that God made them. That somehow the rays of light and love that their skin creates when the sun shines on it may not light the deep dark crevices of hate so deeply woven in the fabric of our country.
Though rooted in the greatest of intentions, the idea that racism will be eradicated if we teach our children to love everyone is dangerously misguided. Yes, that is foundational. We should all love one another with no barriers. We should love unconditionally and create and demand equality because it is the right thing to do and is what all our children deserve. We should also understand that racism is not just a story of love and hate and that intentions and impact are not interchangeable.
Hate is not the reason we are not taught about the Tulsa Massacre in American History. Hate is not the reason that George Washington’s teeth, taught to be made from wood, were actually made from slaves’ teeth. It is not the reason that after fighting a war for their country, Black veterans were not allowed to capitalize on the GI bill. And hate did not keep the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development from literally denying contractors federal funding if they would allow Black families to move into the suburbs they were building. Hate is not the reason that I can still be denied a job or my children can be denied admission to a school for wearing our hair in the way that it naturally grows out of our heads.
This is structural and systemic, and as time goes by, the improvements we have seen are not the result of love. As revered as Martin Luther King, Jr. is across all races, he was not loved in his time. Change has been hard-earned. It demands action and fight and resolve. There is no change without challenge. Hate is the fruit of the racist tree, but the roots are power, privilege, and prosperity, and the entire structure of our country is built on this foundation.
Anti-racist is what this country needs. “Anti-racism is the practice of identifying, challenging, and changing the values, structures, and behaviors that perpetuate systemic racism (Ontario Anti-Racism Secretariat).” We are all on different trajectories in our journey with our understanding. Some of us, by way of life, were thrown into the waterhole with no precautions; others dove in by choice. Some of us are knee or waist-deep while others are dipping in their toes for a temperature check. We have people who are 50 feet back, and while having the choice of where you are is in itself a privilege, we all have actionable steps we can take to get us all in the water and swimming in the right direction.
At a minimum, you can all lend your voice to speak out when you see injustices happening. You can challenge someone in the moment and tell them that their views and their actions are not welcome and will not be tolerated. Whether you are witnessing the outspoken racist at the bar yelling racial slurs at the waiter or if you are at Thanksgiving dinner with your parents or uncles who have not “caught up with the times,” you should be vocal. Your comfortability or wanting to have an uneventful meal should not trump the safety and humanity of another person.
You can be inquisitive learners. You can listen to the stories of friends of different ethnicities without questioning the reality of their experiences or qualifying the behaviors of the transgressors. You can read, listen, watch, and follow. Here are two great places to start: A Detailed List of Anti-Racism Resources and Anti-Racism Resources for White People.
You can sign petitions. You can support the causes doing the work both monetarily and by raising the visibility of their work. You can ask your employers what they are doing to build inclusive workplace environments. You can look around and begin to question the world that we see around us and wonder why it is this way, what work you need to do within yourself to shift the narrative, and what work we collectively need to do to move the needle in meaningful ways.
And yes, you must still lead with love. It is going to take every lane of action for us to change the world our kids and grandkids live in. Your only charge is to pick your lane and put your foot on the gas because every day affords us to be on the right side of history.