The death of George Floyd shook many of us to our core. Upon reflection as to why this event struck me so hard, I decided right then that I needed to educate myself more on racism. I recently finished the book, White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo. This book wonderfully explores, “What is your role in that?” This is a question I often ask my coaching clients. I am embarrassed to admit that, until now, I’ve never reflected upon this question to consider how my behaviors might impact the prevalence of racism. What I soon discovered empowered me to take action going forward.
What I learned
In reading this book, my eyes were opened to my role in the systemic racism that exists in our country. Some of the things I read were not new to me while others were uncomfortably new but are required in order to grow. A few realizations for me:
In one week (most came in one afternoon), I counted over a handful of times I heard racist commentary from those I do not consider to be racist.
I contribute to the continuation of racism if I don’t speak up when family and friends who tell jokes at the expense of those who look different (color, gender, sexual orientation, etc.)
I don’t speak up when family and friends tell jokes at the expense of those who look different because of fear. This fear might feel like I'm offending someone, losing a friend, being called out and/or rejected by my group, etc.
As someone who grew up poor, I didn’t believe I was privileged. I can see how the color of my skin has created privilege in so many parts of my life.
When I reach out to my friends of color to have conversations about race, they are open and willing AND they also want me to do my own work.
The more conversations I have about race and racism, the more open and comfortable I am to continue having these types of conversations.
I have a lot more work to do here.
The realizations above are simply scratching the surface. I see my whiteness in ways I haven’t before. And, I am owning that by making changes to address it and live this realization in new ways in pursuit of growth.
What I will do differently
I am very well aware that reading one book does not make me an expert on the topic of racism. I have just taken the first step in becoming aware of the racism built into our systems and culture. I am confident that there are things I can do starting now that make me a better ally to people of color. First and foremost, I have to WANT to do things differently. I am a mom with two young boys who I want to have every possible opportunity available to them. I have friends of color who want the same for their children. In reading this book, I understand and realize that those children of color do not have the same opportunities as my boys simply because of the color of their skin. This makes me sick to my stomach. My eyes have been opened. I can’t ‘unsee’ my role and this has inspired me to commit to doing the following:
I will call out my family and friends who make racist comments and explain what makes their comments racist.
I will continue to become aware of and confront my own biases towards others and question where that came from so that I might create a different, more honest and fully representative belief about others.
I will continue building real relationships and friendships with people of color and asking them about their perspectives and experiences.
I will treat all people the way I would want to be treated.
I will listen to others with the intent of truly understanding, not with the intent to respond.
I will continue to educate myself by reading and talking with those who are willing to share their experiences with racism.
I know that with new learning will come new ways to show up. I have a strong desire to be a better ally and am committed to showing up as my best self. I want the long history of racism within families and homes to be eradicated. I believe this can be done if we are willing to educate and engage in conversations about racism, including our behaviors that perpetuate it.
What you can do
For white readers who want to be good allies, please, please, please, do this work. Consider the list above and pick one, some, or all to embrace. Educate yourself and develop your own list of what you will do differently going forward.
If you do nothing else, simply consider the question, “What is your role?” Conscious or unconscious racism infects our communities, our country and our world. Let’s make a better world for future generations by starting now. Take action and CEEK a Better Way.
Here's a resource from Robin DiAngelo to guide discussions.