On Monday, as we were just beginning curfew, I attended a prayer service and vigil for Daunte Wright.
Say his name. Daunte Wright.
We were called to the virtual service by the pastor of the mainline Protestant congregation to which I belong. About a dozen people gathered — all adults. Three Black, the remainder white.
The pastor began by lighting a candle, reading passages of scripture and offering a prayer for Daunte Wright, his family and our community. She then invited others to speak. A Black participant told about a conversation he had with a colleague at work who said two specific things that saddened and frustrated him — and enraged me.
The first was that it was up to people in the Black community to fix themselves and their community. The second is that he, the colleague, does not "see color."
It is a tradition in our church community to ask God to show us what to do. After telling his story, the Black man said to all of us: "Here is what you can do. You can stand up and speak. We need allies. We can't do this on our own."
What had happened when the colleague had told our brother to fix himself and his community? No one defended him. No one said, "Hey, wait a minute — we whites have business to take care of in our community."
The Black community is not perfect. The white community has pummeled the Black community with that point for centuries. What the white community has not done is to look at ourselves. We must find what we can say and do to build community with our Black brothers and sisters. And it begins by seeing color.
When we say we don't see color, we deny the presence of someone who is different from us and also human. The prosecution in the Derek Chauvin trial concluded its case by asking George Floyd's brother to describe him. After 11 days of testimony about every detail of Floyd's death, why do that? To create a human connection between the jury and this person, this man, who walked and thought and played and talked and cared and loved — and who lost that humanity at the knee of a policeman. He lost the spark of life which defines each of us.
When we acknowledge color, we recognize that someone can be a full human being yet be different from us. It is the beginning of learning about one another, of accepting humanity with a difference. Why do we not do this? Because we fear difference and it is easier simply to assume that others are like us. We deny the other's reality and, in so doing, rob all of us of being fully human.
Since the death of George Floyd, I've heard many people (including myself) asking, "What can I do?" The answer is that we can stand as allies with our Black brothers and sisters.
We can seek out the line at the grocery store that is staffed by a Black employee, talk to the Black person in the grocery or vaccine or ticket line, take our daily walk through a primarily Black neighborhood, take our children to a park where Black children play, read about what it means to be a person of color in this country (you could start with Resmaa Menakem's "My Grandmother's Hands" or Austin Channing Brown's "I'm Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness"), ask questions in those difficult conversations, listen … the list goes on.
The only way to overcome barriers between us is to know each other. This does not come easily in segregated neighborhoods, segregated schools, segregated job sites. So we must look for ways to take ourselves and our internal trepidation to places where we can interact informally with people who are not like us.
Will we make mistakes when we interact? Yes. Then what? Then we go again and do a better thing.
Those of us in the white community have the ability to treat people of color with openness, humanity, compassion, love. We must get started doing that. Whoever and wherever we are.
Laura Kadwell lives in Minneapolis.