By Jenna DeRosa, LPCC
As you can tell from the title of this article/letter, I’m here to talk to you about being a white person in today’s society. I write this letter to not only process my own feelings, but to talk about the power that we have as white people to stand alongside black people and end white supremacy and systematic racism.
I write this letter to white people on our Road to Growth Counseling page because I am aware that our clients are predominantly white. I know that the area of Colorado we live in is largely white. This is not new to anyone, schools in our area lack diversity. I, as a white person, write this letter to the white people at our practice and in our community because we need to do better. Black people have been fighting this fight alone for far too long. This letter will not even scratch the surface of what needs to be done and discussed, but I hope it’s a start.
I will start off by stating that I am aware that I am not an expert when it comes to the history of black people and the centuries of racism they have endured. I will not talk to you in this letter about what it is to be a black person in society, because I will never know what that is like and neither will any of you.
I practice and emphasize humility and ignorance while writing this, knowing that I may say something wrong or offend a person of the black community. I say this because I am still learning. But practicing humility and having the conversation is where change occurs. While sitting silent, you learn nothing and you remain ignorant.
I urge every one of you to practice humility when having these conversations in your home and community. Allow yourself to be corrected and don’t react with defensiveness. We need to challenge ourselves to go against what society has taught us as our importance and superiority as white people. We need to correct ourselves, and allow ourselves to be corrected by black individuals. We need to listen to their experiences, without judgment, and with only unwavering support. Black experiences are to be heard, supported, and validated.
White people have a problem recognizing and admitting privilege. Many of you may not even know what privilege is. What is white privilege? It means that because of the color of our skin, we have a step ahead of any person of color. It means that in society, our words and our skin color are valued and respected more than a person of color. We do not have to worry about wearing a hoodie in public, being fearful of our lives while we are being pulled over by police officers, or worrying about if we are going to see our family members dying from police brutality.
When you can recognize that, then you can see the impact that our voice and our presence has in helping to dismantle racism that our ancestors created. It’s important to recognize that and what our ancestors have done and how we continue to benefit from racism. While you may respond with, “Why am I responsible for what our ancestors did?,” “I wasn’t the one who did that,” “We weren’t alive during that time.” I watched a Red Table talk, and Rachel Cargle spoke about this. She discussed that black people are still enduring the consequences of what their ancestors experienced, because of OUR white ancestors.
Until black people are considered equal, our work as white people will not be done. We as white people, need to own the hurt and pain that our ancestors started and what has been continuing since. We continue to benefit from the racism that was created.
What can you do as a white person?
I ask all White people to unlearn what our society has told us about black people since we were children. I ask you to take a look at yourself and what you have been told about black people. Ask yourself what bias and racism you have learned from your own home, school, media, friends, politicians, and more.
I ask you to learn. Learn about yourselves, learn about the black community and the racism they have endured for 400 years. Learn about how your voice can affect change. Black people cannot and should not fight this fight alone. Our ancestors and our white people in the community continue to devalue black people with healthcare, criminalization, racial slurs, microaggressions, media portrayal, and much more. This means that WE AS WHITE PEOPLE NEED TO DO SOMETHING.
Recognize the defensiveness that arises as I speak of this, that is white fragility. And if you don’t know what I am speaking about, please read the book (that will be listed at the end of this article). Pay attention to the anger, guilt, shame, and embarrassment that you may feel. Sit with those emotions and recognize where they come from. Process through why you have never done anything before. Process through the microaggressions that you have said in the past, the silence that you have shown. Process through and get uncomfortable, because that is where change occurs. When you can recognize what you have done wrong in the past. Recognize how little you know and have learned about the experiences of black people. Sit with that and then figure out what you can do to help make a change. We have the privilege to just learn about racism without ever experiencing it ourselves.
We all have access to media and can see the Black Lives Matter movement that is occurring around the world. Some phrases that I have seen in contradiction to Black Lives Matter are; ”Blue Lives Matter” and “All Lives Matter.” I’ll explain in a few words; saying these phrases takes away from the experiences of black people. The phrase started because our society has not valued or respected black lives. When people say these phrases, in your own way it’s affirming the point that society has made, that black lives don’t matter. Take a second to recognize why it is that you need to argue the points? Why is it so hard for you to admit that black lives DO matter? Why is it so important for you to say a phrase that devalues black life experiences?
While this movement is crucial, it is also important to make LASTING change. Do the work on yourself and carry that into your home. Have difficult conversations with the white people in your life; your friends, neighbors, parents, coworkers, partners, and more. These are lasting things that we can do to help and stand alongside black people and make a change. To be an ally for black people, you first need to do the work within yourself.
Down below there are just a FEW resources, please visit this site for more: https://blacklivesmatters.carrd.co/
Netflix Shows & Documentaries: 13th, American Son, Dear White People, See You Yesterday, When They See Us
Podcasts: 1619, About Race, Code Switch, The Diversity Gap, Momentum: A Race Forward Podcast, Pod Save the People, Pod for the Cause
Books: So You Want To Talk About Race, How to be Antiracist, The New Jim Crow, White Rage, Me and White Supremacy