If you are anything like me, you’ve always rolled your eyes at the “new year, new me,” posts hitting your feed on January 1st. Eating right, hitting the gym, and climbing ladders of success top the lists of well-intentioned people, a majority of whom will never see their resolutions through to the end of the week.
But this year is different.
2020 knocked people on their asses and caused them to re-evaluate what was truly important in life, and it certainly wasn’t diet culture.
2020 reminded us how fragile, fleeting, and valuable life really is.
And, it is for that very reason that I ask you not to drop that tradition of making a New Year’s resolution. In fact, there has never been a better year to make one.
Before I begin, however, a word to my Black readers: this resolution is not for you. For you I would suggest a year of self care. Maybe start with drinking plenty of water every day.
In the meantime, white friends, jot this resolution down.
In 2021, you must do something.
Because, it is the lack of action on the part of white people that has been killing Black people in their beds, in their living rooms, in their garages, in their backyards, in their cars, in their apartment complexes, in their parks, and in their neighborhoods, year after year, after year in this country.
I also need to make it clear that I am not talking to the type of white folks that see a video of a Black person being killed by a cop and think, “There must be more to this story that we don’t know.” Or, “When you associate with bad people, bad things are bound to happen.” Or, “If he just would have done what the officer told him to, he wouldn’t be dead.”
If you are one of those white people, this is not for you.
No, I am talking to the white people who see these videos and shake their heads in shame. People who think, “How terrible!” and maybe wonder how much more America can take. People who shudder at the videos, and maybe have to look away because it is all just too awful. You are the ones I would like to make this resolution with me.
Because your thoughts of shame and despair are not going to change one thing.
Let’s get down to specifics. When the next Black person is murdered at the hands of a racist cop or wanna-be vigilante in America, something we all know will happen, you must do something.
After the murder of George Floyd, I was optimistic. I saw an outrage that I had not seen when Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Botham Jean, Philando Castille, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and countless others were murdered at the hands of racists.
After George Floyd, people took to the streets.
People who had not spoken up in the past started speaking out on social media. People started contacting their government officials. They shut down cities and demanded action. And when I looked at videos of people protesting in the streets, for the first time I saw just as many white people out there protesting as Black people.
It gave me chills to see that.
I felt hope for the first time that white people were finally waking up. And the world took notice. Cops took notice. Politicians took notice. Racists took notice. Something was happening.
But then: Andre Hill, Casey Goodson, Rayshard Brooks.
We were right back to shaking our heads on our couches while we changed the channel.
So, white people, your resolution in 2021 is to get up off that couch.
The next time a Black person is murdered in this country your first action must be to speak up and show your outrage.
Now, I know what you are probably thinking, “I don’t like to get political on my facebook like you do.” Or, “I don’t like to rock the boat with my conservative friends; we’ve agreed no politics when we get together!” Or, “My family and I have agreed to disagree on that subject and we don’t bring it up.”
Whatever your reasoning is for not challenging your white friends and family, it is the exact same reasoning that keeps this country where it is.
Avoiding the tough conversations and hard truths keeps white people comfortable. And change does not occur in comfort. It never has.
Recently, someone in my life spoke out on her Facebook about racial violence. She’s a 73 year old woman with a slew of conservative, Trump-loving, flag-waving, good old country folk as Facebook friends. She rarely, if ever, posts anything on Facebook other than an occasional cat video or recipe. But, after she watched the video of Andre Hill murdered in his own garage by a trigger happy cop, she went onto her page and expressed her outrage. She called for the officer to go to prison and called for America to take a good, long look at itself.
Within minutes, her conservative friends started throwing out reasons why a white cop should kill an unarmed Black man in his own home. Those who did not have the audacity to question her post directly, hit the like button in agreement with those who did. Only a few people came out in her defense. The tension was palpable.
And, I would imagine that is why a lot of people do not speak out.
They do not want to be the cause of tension and conflict. But, more so, they do not want to admit that those people they go to church with, play golf with, and socialize with, are apologists for racism and murder.
But, white friends, that tension is essential. How else will the people who throw out, “Yeah buts…” every time another murder is committed know that their thinking is not only dismissive, but that it is perpetuating racism and murder?
(I could go into the privilege white people have to avoid tension, while Black people face it every second, of every day of their lives since the day they are born, but that is for another blog.)
So, white people, your first task is to speak up. And when you are challenged, don’t back down in order to alleviate conflict. I’m not saying you have to be quite as vocal and passionate as I sometimes get. I am saying, however, that your friends who are sitting in their comfort-zone of racial biases and racist excuses, need to know that maybe they are sitting there with one less person: you.
Your second action is to pick up the phone or sit down at your keyboard the next time a Black person is murdered in this country. Inform yourself as to where the injustice has occurred and then contact that police department, that prosecutor, that district attorney, that governor, those senators, and voice your outrage. Take an hour out of your life to send emails or make phone calls. While another Black mother grieves the loss of her baby, sit with her in her grief, and let her know you see her.
There should be an absolute deluge of white voices expressing outrage and demanding justice and change. Every single time.
Contact your local police department to ask what policies they have in place to address racial bias. Ask if the department wears body cameras. I make it a policy, after every murder via cop in this country, to contact my local PD with these questions. I have never received a response. I continue sending emails and leaving phone messages regardless. Imagine if every citizen in my city did that.
Thirdly, every time a Black person is murdered in this country, vow to become educated. When you feel helpless and frustrated in the face of injustice, reading about the causes of that injustice will arm you for a battle with an overwhelming beast: racism.
America is steeped in racism and, as white people, so are we. It is our shameful birth rite as American citizens. Therefore, it is our responsibility to become aware of our biases and fight against them every single day. By reading books like How to Be An Anti-Racist, White Fragility, The New Jim Crow, and So You Want to Talk About Race, you will arm yourself for the battle. (Oh, and don’t forget to buy these books from Black owned businesses, some of which are linked above.)
You can also check out photo essays like Visualizing Racism. (Images from that project are showcased in this blog.) Comedians like Dave Chappelle, in his recent stand-up special, and D.L. Hughley, in his book Surrender! White People, tackle the topic with humor. If music is more your thing, Childish Gambino’s This is America is a must-watch.
Finally, the fourth action to take in 2021 is to open your wallet. Every time another Black person is murdered in this country, look for a Go-Fund-Me for the family. It is important that the victim’s family sees white people donating to funeral expenses. It is important that they know we care.
Also, if there is any sort of court case in the matter, donate to the fund to help the family get justice. Furthermore, donate to civil rights and criminal justice reform movements, such as Color of Change, the Black Movement Law Project, the Black Lives Matter Network, and Showing up for Racial Justice.
If you are thinking, “Damn! That’s a lot of money to donate,” you are right. Look at it as the cost we pay for never having faced our problem with racism in this country.
Be grateful that you do not have a child to bury. Be grateful that you do not have to have ‘the talk’ with your adolescent son. Be grateful that, when you get pulled over by the police, you know you will drive away.
By speaking up, contacting officials, educating ourselves, and donating to causes of justice, we will collectively begin to chip away at the brick-solid wall of racism that surrounds this country. And as we do so, those white people choosing to stand-their-ground in ignorance and bigotry will no longer have a wall of silence to hide behind.
So, today, on this first day of 2021, let your resolution be to take action.
You have 364 days left to change this country for the better.
Resolve to start today.
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Right on, Lisa!! I am with you. The school of social work I graduated from is rooted in social justice and dismantling anti-black racism. I learned so many valuable lessons and met some of the most amazing people there. Your blog post took me right back to my Power Race Oppression and Privilege class. Thank you. You are such a great writer.