by Angela B.
As tens of millions of people all over this world took to the streets to protest the police violence that is routinely used against the black people of this country, I have been unable to look away. This pandemic has made it so that millions of people are finally not able to look away from the injustices in this country.
I am a 29-year-old white female and for the majority of my life I believed the familiar American idea, that if you work hard enough, pull your bootstraps hard enough, you will achieve success in this country. I grew up in a city that I was ashamed of, that I was filled with judgment about. I used to think that the people in my hometown, the people living in poverty (the poor majority being people of color), that it was their fault they were so poor. I thought that their poverty was their personal failure, that they were just not pulling their bootstraps hard enough. But I understand now, I know now, that this is not a personal failure, but rather a systemic one. If you are a human being with black skin, no matter how good of a person you are, no matter how kind you are, no matter how good of a parent you are, no matter how good at playing the violin you are, no matter how hardworking you are, the system of governance in this country has been rigged against you from the outset. You see, poverty is not on accident— it is intentional— it is something built.
I’ve begun to see now that who is ‘in the room’ is an incredibly political thing. The rooms I have been in have been almost exclusively white. This has extended throughout my entire life and shows up most notably in my schooling. For 11 years I went to a Catholic school in the next town over from where I lived. This was because my town did not have a ‘good’ school district. The school I attended was a majority white (about 97% white) and the students of color that did attend were only ever there for a small handful of years, and then transferred. I now feel that I understand why that is. The college I went to for my undergraduate was one of the most prestigious in the country. How many black students do you think were there?
Another thing I hadn’t even thought about until recently was the fact that black people know white people. Black people have studied whiteness, have been left no choice but to learn white history, to mimic whiteness in order to survive. There is not a choice for a black person to not know whiteness in this country. They have to. When all the white eyes are averted, looking away, avoiding discomfort, avoiding acknowledging the person of color that is so rarely in the room with them, those eyes of the ‘other’ are looking at you, noticing you, seeing you choose to not see them. It is white people that do not know about black people and people of color. Because you have been allowed to not know. White people have been granted the ability to be unthinking, and that is the root of white privilege, to not have to think. Most of the white people I know, including myself, know very little about people of color or the history that has run simultaneously alongside what is learned in school. We need to change this.
My eyes and ears are open in a way they never have been before. Now that I know these things, now that I have finally realized these things, there is no going back—and I do not ever want to go back. I will no longer back down from standing up. If you are white, this is your problem too. It is important for white people to be more than just sympathetic spectators. It is true that white people are not and should not be the spokesperson for the Black Lives Matter movement, but white people are the Black Lives Matter movement too. For those who think that all lives matter, then of course you too must be angry at the injustice that many lives are facing this very moment. We are one human race, and there are systems in place that are keeping many of us out of rooms and there are police that are killing us. We are in this fight for justice and equity together. Our whole lives they have tried to separate us, this did not end when segregation ended, it only became more insidious. Do you understand that against all efforts to keep us apart, that we have finally found each other? And now, all we ever have to do is never let each other go.
by Angela B.