After a weekend of sitting in the full sun at a soccer tournament, I was sunburned and exhausted and wanted nothing more than to curl up in bed with Netflix. I got ready for bed and climbed into the adult version of a blanket fort: pillows fluffed behind my back, a light quilt, my laptop and headphones. Just as I was about to hit “play," my son appeared in the doorway of my room. “There is a white genocide hashtag,” he said.
I was not aware of the hashtag, but I easily could imagine the misinformation it might contain, especially after the racist attack in Charleston last week. I pride myself on talking to my kids about difficult issues but I had not yet talked to them about Charleston and, in that moment, I didn’t want to. I considered ways of stalling or postponing the conversation.
I know that deciding whether or not I talk to my kids about racism is deeply rooted in my white privilege. It's a luxury many don’t have.
I closed my laptop and set it aside before patting the bed. My son sat down and looked at me expectantly and then we talked about Charleston. I explained that on the evening of June 17, a young white man walked into the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, sat with parishioners as they studied the Bible and then shot and killed nine of them. My son dropped his head and said, “Why would someone do that?”
People can make the answer to that question as complicated as they like, but the truth is simple: Dylann Roof walked into that church and killed nine people because he is a white supremacist who believes that people of color are taking over the country and someone needed to take action.
My son talked about the Second Amendment and guns and violence. I agreed that gun control is important but that we also have to address the underlying issue of racism. He returned to his room to read several news stories and then came back, leaned into the doorframe of my room and said: “The officers who arrested Dylann Roof got him a meal from Burger King.”
He kept repeating that detail.
I asked him if he remembered Eric Garner and he nodded. The police choked a black man to death for selling cigarettes, but the white man who murdered nine people was brought in alive. Yes, prisoners have a right to food and Roof hadn't eaten, but let’s sit with those facts because they tell a deeper story, a story not lost on my 13-year-old son. If he can see it and talk about it, so can the rest of us.
This isn’t a post for people of color. This is a post for white allies, like me, who want a better world — not because we are plagued by white guilt, not because we want what’s best for those marked by our culture as "other," but because we believe in the deepest parts of who we are that we are all connected. A just world is a better world for all of us.
We can make a thousand excuses to justify our silence and inaction. We can say that we’re tired or that it’s too hard or that we are afraid of saying the wrong thing. We can claim that we are too ignorant to speak on issues of race. We can convince ourselves that others will say it better. We can wring our hands and say we don’t know what to do. I’ve made excuses, and I will likely make them again because I am a work in progress. But every single excuse further reveals our privilege.
I don’t have all the right words and I certainly don’t have all the answers but I can talk to my kids about racism. I can teach them to recognize their privilege and help them find ways to use that privilege for the greater good. I can and should use my voice … in my home, online, on the page, and in the world. We all can and should.
For those looking to read more, here are a few thought-provoking links:
A beginner's guide to becoming an ally to the black community by Roo Ciambriello
10 simple ways white people can step up to fight everyday racism by Derrik Clifton
"Allies," the time for your silence has expired by Tawnya Denise Anderson
For those who wish to make donations, there is a collection of links here.
Photo by Travis Dove, New York Times