To The White People Who Want To Be Down
Featured Posts, Stories

To The White People Who Want To Be Down

I have a master’s degree in African American Studies. As such, I have read many books, articles, and academic papers and dissected and analyzed racism from many different angles. I have been a research assistant on some pretty high-profile cases concerning race. I wrote my dissertation on the Black Arts Movement. I can talk about race from an academic, calm, and carefully thought-out way.

This is not that post.

This is the sort of conversation that we would have if I was talking face to face to you about George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Abery or any countless, senseless murders of Black people. These are thoughts from a well-educated, cultured, economically privileged, “safe” Black woman about race.

I hope you read the sarcasm in that last sentence.

White people live in a world that is built for them.

Can we just acknowledge that?

My husband and I are about to be empty-nesters and so I often think about the next phase of our life, what that looks like, where should we live. Sometimes, I’ll take one of those quizzes online that measure your likes and interests and spits out a city based on your criteria – city or small town, near nature, easy access to culture, etc.

But even as I take it, I know it’s biased. I know the quiz is not meant for me. So, when the quiz identifies my perfect residence as some quaint, artsy, walkable small town near a big city, you had better believe that it has a population of 1% “diversity” because that factor was not even part of the equation.

Currently, I live in a predominately white neighborhood. Well-meaning/white liberals will ask us, “Why do you live there; it’s so white?” Uh, because I like the ocean and mountains, nice shops and restaurants – just like you do! They don’t understand that their hipster, liberal neighborhood is no better for me. It’s all the same.

This week Los Angeles had an early curfew of 6 pm. As my husband lounged on our balcony at 7 pm, a white family walked by. They chatted for a bit and acknowledged that they were out after curfew, oh well. The national guard is stationed just down the hill. Our family does not go on a walk after curfew.

That would be true anywhere I live, so I might as well have an ocean view.

I was in the store the other day and a young white man had on a mask that covered most of his face; only his eyes were visible. He also wore a black hoodie on his head. If he were Black, purses would have been clutched and security on high alert. The fact that we’re required to wear masks is irrelevant. And just ask Trayvon Martin about wearing a hoodie. Oh, that’s right, we can’t. But we can ask his killer because he’s still free.

Amy Cooper knew exactly what she was doing when she called the police on Christian Cooper in Central Park. She knew that by saying in her best Karen voice “an African American man is threatening me” the police would come in a hurry and she knew what was likely to happen once they arrived: they would arrest Mr. Cooper first and ask questions later. Maybe he would be detained for a bit, maybe he would end up in jail and maybe he would be killed. For birdwatching.

Diversity and People of Color are not the same as BLACK people.

Diversity in all its forms is indeed important (racial, economic, ethnic, religious, neuro-diverse, sexual orientation, gender identity), but in this current cultural moment, BLACK is what we are talking about. BLACK LIVES MATTER.

For most of her school life, my daughter attended a private school that prides itself on diversity and for the most part, it was true. The faculty, staff, and student body were more diverse than most local private schools, they were generous with financial aid and they had a robust and school-supported Black Parents Organization. However, one day I looked at my daughter’s class and noted with some surprise that she was one of two Black girls in her grade and there were no Black boys. It was diverse – a handful of students “of color” and same-sex parents – but not Black.

I expressed my concerns to another Black parent and together we approached the administration. At first, we got the diversity speech. Then we got the financial speech, that they couldn’t “financially carry” a child from kindergarten through high school – the assumption that all Black families needed financial aid. We refuted both arguments.

So what did the school do? They did exactly what they should have – they acknowledged their blindspot and let the Black parents take control, fully backing us all the way. We organized a few open houses specifically for Black parents and wouldn’t you know, many applied, the tide was turned, and next year’s kindergarten class looked a whole lot more colorful. That’s action.

This week when brands posted black squares on Instagram “in solidarity,” many failed to state their action plan. The black squares alone mean nothing; what are you doing? They can all take a lesson from Ben & Jerry, who states that silence is not an option and calls the death of George Floyd what it is, murder.

To white families with Black children.

I am your ally. Use me. Ask your awkward questions. Parenting is already a complex and challenging job and by parenting a Black child, you are adding another layer. None of us know what we don’t know. When I don’t know something, I educate myself (first) and ask questions of people who do. Believe me, we would rather you ask about how to do your Black child’s hair than to winch at your inept attempts. 

Be involved and engaged in your Black child’s education because racism in the classroom exists. I am the parent at everything because if my child has a problem, the school already knows my name.  

This is not without consequences; more than once I have been labeled the Angry Black Woman. That will not be your problem. You may be labeled a Karen or Becky (goggle it) but if there is any time to use that privilege, it is to protect your Black child.

My daughter is entering college in the fall and the school that she has chosen has a low percentage of Black students. I expressed this concern on the parent Facebook group and I got the typical responses of “my child has friends of all colors” and most did not acknowledge my concern. Most disheartening was the response from a white parent of a bi-racial daughter who said, “When we looked at schools it didn’t even cross my mind to check diversity numbers.” I am both sad and fearful for that child.

I belong to Jack and Jill (google it), a national, social, and service organization for Black families. There are a few white women in my local chapter. They are very involved and the first ones at Black Family Day. I really respect that these women see the value in surrounding their children with other Black families. 

Find some way for your child to be around Black people – school, clubs, athletics, church, hobbies, something. You may have to go out of your way to do this. Will you be uncomfortable sitting in a Black barbershop while your son gets his hair cut? Probably. We’re uncomfortable every day. It builds resilience. Your son will have a fly haircut and be part of a rich Black cultural institution.

Why does this feel like Groundhog Day?

This week, my daughter’s college did a Zoom chat organized and led by the Black Student Union. There were over 500 students, faculty, and staff in attendance. The president of the university and the dean of students were there as well. There were three major agendas: a safe space to share feelings, allyship, and an 8-point action plan for the university. I was impressed by both the students’ leadership and the university’s response.

However, I am distressed that this action plan has the same demands that Black students had when I was in college.

  • Aggressive recruiting of Black faculty, staff, and students.
  • More financial aid and scholarships for Black students.
  • Required diversity classes for all students, faculty, staff, and public safety officers.
To The White People Who Want To Be Down
Over 600 students protested.
If you’re going to quote me, then spell my name right!

In response to a racist incident on campus, we staged a three-day march and an 8-hour sit-in. At the time it was the largest protest in the university’s history. How are we still here? It’s Groundhog Day.

When I was in my twenties and visiting Los Angeles, a friend and I were driving at night. We were a few blocks from his mother’s house when we were racially profiled and stopped by the police. In my naivety, I reached down to pick up something that dropped to the floor. With alarm, my friend pushed me back upright, admonishing me to keep my hands where they could see them.

The police made us sit on the curb while they searched the car. They found nothing because there was nothing to find, no reason to stop us. When they asked us questions my friend answered calmly, telling me with his eyes that I must do the same. Fortunately for me, he knew exactly what to do and what to say. I am so thankful that he did; I am reminded too often just how horribly wrong that could have gone, that Black people are killed in police custody. It’s Groundhog Day.

When I was a student at UCLA, a white woman knocked over my Coke, days after the Rodney King Riots. When I called her on it, she dismissively called me a bitch. Now, if you learn nothing else from this post, know this: do not call a Black woman a bitch. There was mayhem; I chased her through the student union and out the door. I wrote an editorial for The Daily Bruin and so did she. There were several viewpoints and counterpoints by witnesses and other students, spanning multiple issues of the newspaper. It was a big deal. The Daily Bruin called it The Cola Wars.

Here’s an excerpt from my editorial:

This woman had the arrogance to call me a bitch and have every faith that she would remain unharmed, that it was quite okay to say whatever she felt like saying. But what else is she to think? She has never been pulled over by LAPD without just cause and held her tongue for fear of her life. She has every freedom in the world, including complete freedom of speech – a luxury not afforded so easily to African Americans.

Fighting over spilled Coke is counterproductive to my goal [of getting my degree], right? Wrong! I now realize that this is exactly how I have been conditioned to think: get my degree, get a good job, and then help to change the system. But we all know that the system does not work. Education, a part of the system, is ammunition against ignorance and therefore necessary in preparation for revolutionary action. But it is not the answer.

Although I will continue my plans for graduation in June, I now realize that my degree is not going to give me the respect that I deserve in a society that cares nothing for my existence. Ultimately, it is up to me to demand my rightful place in this world because the revolution must first start with me, in The Cooperage, with a white female who called me a bitch.

Sherrelle Kirkland

I could have written that this week. It’s Groundhog Day.

I am clearly the Angry Black Woman. This is some racist shit.

On rioting. 

I do not condone rioting, looting or destruction of property. But I do understand it.

I don’t think white people know that Black people want to burn down everything all the damn time (metaphorically speaking), but we show tremendous restraint – until the bucket that has been filling up with a constant stream of micro-aggressions, racism, and senseless killings just can’t hold anymore. Then the bucket overflows.

Certain conditions continue to exist in our society, which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, 1965

To the white people who want to be down.

The other day I was on a Zoom chat about allyship and the question was posed: should a white person say, “that’s so ghetto?” It’s a pretty obvious answer, hell no. Why? Because hell no.

Whenever I’m about to do something, I think, ‘Would an idiot do that?’ And if they would, I do not do that thing.

Dwight Schrute, The Office

Don’t say that idiot thing.

I’ve heard white people ask, “Why would you want to join a Black sorority/fraternity, Jack and Jill, Links (google it) or go to a HBCU when you are no longer barred from joining our organizations and schools?” And then there is the classic, “Why do you all sit together in the cafeteria?” 

Well, why not?

First of all, the assumption is that predominately white organizations and schools are the ideal and since we now lawfully have that choice, wouldn’t we want to choose the better option?  And secondly, we are not segregating ourselves – we couldn’t even if we tried because the world is not ours.

Sometimes it’s just nice to exhale, to not wonder if racism is in play. Fundamentally we just want to be seen in a world that renders our lives irrelevant. Don’t we all, everyone, just want to be seen?

So how can you be down?

First, educate yourself and your children. Read books, watch videos, follow people on social media. Learn and LISTEN. Google – it’s a thing. If you can google “how to make sourdough bread” you can google how to be anti-racist.

Get out of your bubble and out of your feelings. Being anti-racist is not for punks. Be comfortable with being uncomfortable. We’ve figured out how to live in this world with everything against us. You can figure out how to do this with everything going for you.

Yes, racism looks like hate, but hate is just one manifestation. Privilege is another. Access is another. Ignorance is another. Apathy is another. And so on. So while I agree with people who say no one is born racist, it remains a powerful system that we’re immediately born into. It’s like being born into air: you take it in as soon as you breathe. It’s not a cold that you can get over. There is no anti-racist certification class. It’s a set of socioeconomic traps and cultural values that are fired up every time we interact with the world. It is a thing you have to keep scooping out of the boat of your life to keep from drowning in it. I know it’s hard work, but it’s the price you pay for owning everything.

Scott Woods

And finally, to my Black people.

We must take care of ourselves. We live with this toxicity every day all day; don’t underestimate the toll on your health. Protest, talk, write, post, make videos, cry, scream, meditate. Move your body and get enough sleep. Eat healthy foods. Make self-care a top priority because living with PTSD is hard. Let’s acknowledge that and be kind to ourselves.

Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare

Audre Lorde

no justice no

PEACE

P.S. You may also like to read other posts about race.

An essay about my husband’s attack in social media: James Andrews and the Social Media Trolls

An almost thrown-down in the Apple store: She Said “Play The Race Card” – Oh No

Musings about the death of Trayvon Martin: Hoodie Up For The Brown Boys

An essay about my hair: Hair Stories: Teaching My Daughter To Love Our Natural Hair

An essay written by my son about his hair: My Dreadlocks

To the white people who want to be down: being anti-racist is not for punks.
signature

Storyteller. Travel junkie. Extroverted introvert. Very, very clever. Find me at http://iamsherrelle.com .

2 Comments

  • As a privileged white woman who has never considered herself prejudiced against anyone (I grew up with gay uncles and played with my mother’s best friend’s kids, who were Black), I see how my inaction surrounding the inequities that still exist today (to my shock and surprise!!) contribute to the lack of change in America. I will do better.

    Reply
  • Thank you for writing and sharing this. I especially appreciate your line of “If you can google “how to make sourdough bread” you can google how to be anti-racist.”

    Reply

Write a comment