Are you tired of being called a racist, homophobic, xenophobic bigot? Now’s our chance to do something about it. We implore leaders in the Muslim community to denounce the terrorist actions of extremists. We demand that leaders in the African American community denounce gang violence or violence against police officers. So what does our silence say when half the country thinks this represents the Trump Presidency? We must denounce this hateful rhetoric. Our silence makes us complicit.
Three years ago the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge validated me. Millions of people dumped ice water over their heads and many donated money. IBC videos saturated social media. I felt people were saying directly to me, “I see you. I hear you. I recognize you have experienced struggles as a person with ALS that I don’t as an able-bodied person.” Seems such a simple gesture, yet it was liberating and empowering to me.
We now have the chance to validate and empower communities who are feeling marginalized by the rhetoric of the recent election and actions of the very few racists people who feel they have been given permission to express their hate.
What an opportunity we have. Imagine the message we will send when liberals and conservatives stand together and say, “We want liberty and justice for ALL Americans.” It’s a simple gesture that could possibly validate the experience of Americans who are feeling left out of the conversation.
I can hear the arguments now. I’m not a racist. It’s not my responsibility. The law says we are equal. I haven’t done anything to them. Not my problem. What if we look at it from another perspective? What if we recognize that forms of white, male, abled-bodied, Christian, heterosexual privilege exists? Wait! Don’t stop reading now. Please give me another few minutes.
Our current silence speaks volumes and I’ve been part of the problem. I’ve been railing against my white friends who don’t get it. Those who refuse to acknowledge that the experience of others is America is not the same as their own. Most of us have not been oppressed by the dominant culture, so how would we know what it’s like?
I didn’t get it until I was 47. I spent three years working closely with a cohort of educators that included people who were white, black, Latino, Native American, and other races. We were Muslims, Christians, agnostics, atheists, and Wiccan.We were women and men, straight, gay, and lesbian. We were first generation Americans, Americans who families came on the May Flower and slave ships, families who were indigenous to America and everything in between.
I was changed by this loving group of people. They shared their lives and stories with me and I realized how privileged I’ve been. Does that make me wrong or bad? No. Should I feel guilty? Absolutely not. Can I recognize that my experience of living in America has been different than many of them? Absolutely, yes. This doesn’t mean they have had miserable lives or lack opportunities. It simply means that they have encountered different struggles or challenges that I do not face being a white person.
This brings me back to how I felt after the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge phenomenon. Should people without physical disabilities feel badly or defensive because they are able-bodied? No. That’s a ridiculous thought. Can people without physical disabilities acknowledge that I encounter difficulties or obstacles that they do not? Absolutely. Something as simple as the Ice Bucket Challenge validated this for me.
It’s undeniable that groups of Americans feel marginalized and left out of the conversation. Well, I guess you can deny it, that’s a white privilege. But the fact remains that many Americans feel this way. So how should we respond? We can name call and tell them to accept the voice of the electoral college and get over it. My guess is, if you are still with me, you don’t like that option.
Our continued silence is not a option.
The time is now to send a loud and clear message to our fellow Americans that we see them; we hear them. We acknowledge that their experience of living here is different than our own. We have the responsibility to take the first step.
Don’t know what to do about it? I didn’t either. So I researched how to be a white ally. I paid particular attention of authors of different races than me. I learned not tell others what to do, what to feel, or how they should fix it. I learned the most productive things I can do is talk to my friends and family about white privilege and join groups that follow the lead of activism led by people of color or other marginalized groups. Here’s my first two steps: 1) I joined the Sacramento Chapter of Showing Up for Racial Justice, and 2) I’m marching on the California State Capital on January 21st to support the rights of women. Americans from all over the country will march in Washington DC.
Too radical for you? Start a group called “White guys who want liberty and justice for ALL Americans.” It’s up to you how you show up. But we must act now.