I’ve been making a lot of complaints the last few days. Complaints about the deep injustices of our systems, complaints about how we as a society watch racially-charged tragedies happen again and again and again.
How many more black people need to die before we find solutions?
The Onion had an article a little while back, “Ebola Vaccine At Least 50 White People Away,” as if efforts to cure disease can best be measured by the threat to white people. As if.
How many more black people need to die?
I’ve wanted to write a post about solutions for days, but I’ve found it deeply challenging. There are some great solution-oriented posts out there, like Janee Woods’ 12 things white people can do now because of Ferguson.
If you haven’t read that piece yet, you should do that right now.
But I’ve challenged myself to find my own solutions, to identify the actions and inspirations which speak most to me.
It has been challenging.
As I’ve written before, I have no deep expertise in this matter. I know about physics and communication, not about policing and law. What could I possibly know? What could I possibility offer?
Yet this is the challenge that falls to every citizen. We each have expertise in some areas, and a lack of professional knowledge in others. But the work of societal solutions is our collective task and we each must be involved.
If we always defer to the professional experts, we lose the essence of our democracy and miss out on the best solutions. Seriously.
Having no expertise, should I just throw my hands in the air and leave the problem for others to solve? Certainly others have more developed and nuanced views on specific tactics that may be implemented – such as having officers wear body cameras. But that doesn’t mean I have no role in the solution.
That doesn’t mean I can just stand by.
So, here’s a – doubtless incomplete – list of things I’ve come up with that I can do. Me, personally. I no doubt will fail at times, but I will endeavor to do the best I can do. In no particular order:
- Smile at strangers
No really. Most people aren’t creepy or dangerous. I’ve had my fair share of creepers follow me down the street, and those folks are gonna creep no matter what you do. Don’t let that be a reason not to be neighborly. (Also, in my experience of creepers, white Harvard boys are the worst.)
- Ask permission to be in spaces
Don’t assume that your presence or participation is welcome in all spaces all of the time. This is particularly challenging for me, as I traditionally don’t feel welcome in spaces and am more at risk of feeling silenced than one might think. But there are times when you should push boundaries, speaking up even when it feels uncomfortable, and times when you should let those who feel even more silenced than you set the rules.
If a space isn’t for you, don’t take it personally and don’t take offense. Just recognize that the conversation would be different if you were there, and that’s not the conversation participants need to have right now.
- Educate yourself
Ask good questions and seek guidance from others, but don’t let it be the job of people of color to explain everything to you. Read everything you can.
- Educate and engage others
Ask people of all backgrounds, races, and ethnicities about their experiences and views on racial injustice in this country. As someone who is white, I think it is particularly important to engage in these conversations with other white people. Share your story with others.
- Speak up and speak out
Raise questions of equity. Don’t let it be a person of color’s job to raise these issues.
- Question your assumptions
A lot of assumptions and implicit biases are hardwired into our systems. Know what yours are and question yourself when you make assumptions. You will make inaccurate and inappropriate assumptions about people, don’t let that dictate the way you act and think. Check yourself before you wreck yourself.
- Leverage your power to have an impact where you can
Perhaps you will never have an impact on “race relations in America,” but you can have an impact within your communities – such as your neighborhood, your school, and your work. What power do you have in those communities and how can you affect change?
- Listen genuinely
Care about what other people are saying and try to understand what has shaped the way they think.
- Always look for solutions
There will always be more work to be done.
- Challenge yourself to be your best
You will make mistakes. Forgive yourself, but do better next time.