Last night I couldn’t sleep. I was grinding my teeth for the first time in years, plagued by the question, “Hey, racism, how can I help you disappear?” Hate crimes and terrorism against african americans has been forcing me to regularly check the racism in my own home, my own heart. I re-read my notes from a recent talk by Loretta Ross on the categories of Human Rights and how to combat the plague of discrimination and hate. A talk where I sat with other tearful white faces and listened to all that she and other women of color do to heal racism and misogyny.
Instead of just assuming that I am “the least racist person I know,” I decided to assess my own personal development as an ally.
So, there is progress, not perfection. As with the refinement of any character, there are rough edges to be sanded - edges of fear and delusion. I looked at how fear stopped me from doing more to help. Mostly, I am afraid of having my whiteness, my privilege, my naiveté be judged or criticized by black people and their better allies. Yes, wouldn’t that be just terrible for me?
I also took stock of the good; I no longer feel irritated at my husband for sharing the news stories as soon as I come home from work. I know there is nowhere to hide, and if it is ever to change, I have to stop pretending what rages outside doesn’t really affect my life inside the house of privilege.
I no longer ignore the people who, even in this enlightened valley say, “all lives matter, “ patiently writing them off as just needing to grow up a little. I voice my concerns and explain that their need to somehow share the burden of institutionalized racism makes them weak allies, and is in a way more dangerous than violence. We all know that looking away from injustice is the best way to perpetuate it.
In 1948, Dulles wrote that human rights should be suppressed to avoid unrest. Weird for a guy who hated communism. But, that cat was already out of the bag. The Americans who defined human rights and fought for them forgot to earmark them for the privileged few. I grew up in the 60’s when revolution seemed imminent, despite the serious setbacks presented by war, divided agendas and revolutionaries sobering up and going home. I have watched as the country, like my heart, has achieved progress, not perfection. We who are safe, comfortable and white need to keep the pressure on racists and racism. We have a responsibility to speak, write, vote, march and fight until the rights of all human beings are protected.
I couldn’t sleep last night, because there was unrest. Unrest is appropriate when my fellow citizens are attacked by hate and terror. No one should rest. Tonight, I will probably not grind my teeth. I might even sleep, because my own feeling of safety tunes out the danger facing those I cannot see from my window.
But, I can continue to set the alarm of injustice, try to stay awake to the need for big change, and remain vocal and curious about how I can help.