Once again, I’m writing about a topic I didn’t plan to write about–racism. Once again, as a writer, I feel obligated to use my skills and my modest platform to say something of value. I’d rather leave the societal commentary to the bigwigs—those with sway, with clout, with fancier and more relevant degrees than me. Those who can make a difference.
But to not speak is to be complicit. And. I. Refuse.
So I’m sharing my thoughts about the murder of George Floyd, the black man in Minneapolis who was “kneeled to death” on camera. He was yet another man killed for the color of his skin.
I didn’t want to watch the horrendous video of the last eight minutes and forty-six seconds of his life, and yet I couldn’t not watch. I made myself pay attention to bear witness to his death. To look away was a privilege he and his family and his community could not exercise.
So what am I gonna do about racism? That’s the question we’re all asking ourselves, isn’t it?
I start by looking within. I consider myself a non-racist, but I acknowledge that in the past, I’ve not always confronted racist words or actions of others. That is racist on my part. I own that. For many of us, if we dig deep enough, I believe we’ll find racist leanings in our conscious and subconscious thoughts, and in our visceral reactions.
How do I fight the racist hidden within me?
First, by acknowledging it. And here I am.
Second, by changing.
Speaking up doesn’t come easily to me. Even the potential for conflict is anxiety-provoking. I’ve been actively working to escape the unhealthy people-pleasing box I built for myself. Now, when a voice in my head says, Karen, speak up, I do. I don’t give myself a choice.
George Floyd took his final breath under the knee of an oppressor. I will use my breath to speak up on his behalf and others who are oppressed. I will call out racism wherever and whenever it hides.
This declaration scares me. I’m not an in-your-face person. Then I think of the terror Mr. Floyd must have experienced, and I resolve to be mightier than my fear.
Third, by increasing my awareness.
Other than Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou, I can’t recall if I’ve read works by African-American authors. (Truth be told—I’m very bad at remembering authors and titles, so I may have read other black-authored works. I promise to pay more attention going forward.)
So I’ll buy books to enlighten me. Anti-racism books are selling out across the country, and I may have to wait for Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Anti-Racist, Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race and Ijeoma Oluo’s So You Want to Talk About Race. You can see these and other recommendations here.
Anti-racism books are selling out across the country.
But, even before I became a memoirist, I knew I gained more insight into issues through personal accounts than from most other forms of writing. Offer me story vs. expository writing, and I’ll choose story every time. Here and here are great lists of memoirs by African Americans.
If you have other book recommendations, memoir or not, please let me know.
After I finish one of these books, I’ll pass it along to someone in my majority-white community, and ask that they pass it on when they’re done. Collectively, in my little part of the world, maybe we can become better allies to our neighbors of color. And maybe, if this type of thing happens all over the country, it will make a difference. And maybe, just maybe, George Floyd will be the last person to fall victim to his skin color.
My efforts feel so… disconnected, so abstract, when others are protesting and putting their safety and lives on the line to make their statement. But sometimes, when so many are screaming, one more loud voice is not heard. Sometimes a whisper gets the attention.
In the words of Mahatma Gandhi,
In a gentle way, you can shake the world.
I will fight racism in my gentle, meaningful way, and continue to look for other ways to change our world for the better. We so need it, don’t you agree?
How about you? How are you fighting racism?