Tomorrow my son turns nine.
He is a sweet, energetic, super-social kid who loves to throw his arms around his friends’ shoulders and cannot get enough cuddling from his Moms. He is the most beautiful mocha color I have ever seen, with dark curly hair, chocolate eyes and a voice that is my favorite music. He is the light of our lives, and yet one day, a couple years from now, he may be out on a walk, looking at your house as he passes by, and you may think, What is that Black guy doing, looking into my yard?
My question is, What will you do next?
More than ever before in my lifetime, I see Whites and other non-Blacks wanting to help bring an end to the violence threatening Black people in this country. And yet, regardless of where we are in our journey of awakening to the nightmare of *just how racist* our society is, we have our reasons for hesitating:
I don’t know what language to use: I’m afraid of offending.
I’m afraid of doing it wrong.
Maybe this isn’t my place?
There are just So. Many. Rules.
I’ve felt most of these. The problem is they morph into excuses for inaction. As long as we stay in pause, justice for Black people will continue to be shamefully slow in coming, often with horrific consequences.
As a White mother of a beautiful Black boy and someone who has been learning about racism, and my part in it, for many years, I hear constantly that folks desperately want to avoid coming off as uneducated, or worse - like any other self-centered, unaware White person.
I get it. I really do. I not only love and care deeply for so many Black people who enrich my life, but I owe more debts of gratitude than I could ever count. The last thing I want to do is cause offense or come off as just one more clueless White person who’s part of the problem.
But it doesn’t matter what I think I can bear or how awkward I’m afraid I’ll look while I struggle to do right. Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) who are our neighbors, colleagues, friends and fellow Earth-citizens are stressed out, traumatized, and in danger. BIPOC have been waiting on the rest of us for over 400 years to get our shit together—to learn how to be effective partners against the racism they’re forced to navigate day after day. Because of this, the worst way to stand up to racism, is to wait until we can do it ‘just right’.
Last night my son said to me, “I’m not going to worry, Momma, because the world is gonna be better by the time I’m big … right?”
I felt the sob that has been growing just beneath my skin and thought it might burst. I looked into his eyes; saw his fear and his attempt to reason it down. “Son, Mommy and I are working hard for justice, and the three of us are surrounded by a community of people who are brave and smart and working, too. We’re all gonna do everything we can to make it better.”
He wasn’t convinced. And neither am I.
Most of us have heard more horror stories than our hearts can hold about innocent, unarmed Black people being murdered for things we Whites do every day without being questioned—and yet it just keeps on happening.
As the lucky mom of this beautiful Black boy, I’ve come to understand what our Black children have to deal with in this country, and it has hit me like a brick to my face. It hurts, constantly. The things we have to teach our son: no Nerf guns, no water blasters, no cops & robber games …The reminders we can’t let up on: never touch a toy gun in a store, leave your hoodie off your head, if a police-person speaks to you, say, Sir/Ma’am my name is / I have nothing that can harm you ... The conversations we have to have with the parents of his White friends: absolutely no gun play - ever, anywhere - not even with just their hands in the shape of a gun ...The conversations we must have with his teachers and non-Black relatives…all of these are realities kids (and their parents) should never have to deal with.
As the days and years speed by, inching my son ever-closer to where uninformed, unchecked White minds will see him as older than he is, I feel my mind racing to come up with something - anything - that hasn’t been tried before.
Here’s what I’m left with: racism will only change as quickly as we non-Black people who perpetuate it, change. I say “non-Black” instead of “White”, because Blacks are losing their lives at the hands of police called upon not only by Whites, but also by other People of Color who are making racist, snap judgements on innocent Blacks, resulting in trauma and death. Hasan Minhaj did a special Patriot Act on this subject that is stunning.
The good news is we not only can end racism, we must. It is, after all, the complacency and silence of good, “non-racist” Whites that have allowed this abuse of BIPOC to continue. But then there’s the complexity, the messiness of having to read, learn, change our language, face what we’ve been blind to, wake up to our ignorance and of course, all those rules. How do we navigate all that?
Maybe you’ve finally woken up to the fact that modern-day racism is worse than you ever imagined and you’re starting to see that by not working against it, you’re actually perpetuating it.
Maybe you refuse to fall into one of the above categories of Whites who show up to march but then go back to their life, unwilling to stand up to the daily racism they’re now seeing in their environment. Perhaps you become disgusted by the videos and images of Whites using violence against BIPOC, and you feel called to action. Or it may be that you know and love someone whose safety you fear for. Whether it’s morality, shame, anger, love, or a combination of these, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you make a conscious choice to walk out of the familiarity of White fragility, and into the process of becoming anti-racist.
We can start by educating ourselves, acknowledging our privilege and unintentional racism, and finally learning how to change, which includes speaking out against everyday racism, even if we don’t yet do it well.
"I immediately felt chastised. I also felt that I understood."
This work is an ever-evolving un-doing of the racism we Whites and White-passing people benefit from. We must move from ‘Oh my God, another murder of an unarmed Black person” to actively working on ourselves. Once we get over the initial overwhelm, what we can do to liberate ourselves from being complicit in systemic racism includes things that are immediately actionable. Here are just a few:
1. Prepare yourself to get it wrong, even when you’re really trying. Find peace of mind in knowing you can be one of the strong, secure White folks who *wants to be* corrected when you say or do something racist. It doesn’t make you bad - on the contrary, it means your sleeves are rolled up and you’re in the process, doing the work. Consider this a lifelong commitment of being a boss about growing your anti-racist fitness.
At a recent BLM rally, we listened to a fiery speech given by a Black woman. I whooped loudly in support, pumping my fist. The next thing she said was, “And White women, don’t you DARE be louder than us today!” A roar of applause followed. I immediately felt chastised. I also felt that I understood. White women on video being racist hell-mongers are at an all-time high. For the rest of the rally I still clapped and whistled, but I was quieter. At another protest, this admonition may not have happened. But here, it did. Although it stung, I heard her, and felt good doing what was asked of me.
2. Practice noticing when you have a racist thought, then correct it. If you hear of a package stolen in your neighborhood, who do you picture? If it’s a person of color, ask yourself why? Practice immediately correcting your racist assumption. When you’re referred to a great new doctor, who do you picture? If you’re imagining a White. person, try imagining them as a Black woman instead.
Consider taking the Harvard Implicit Bias Test
3. Notice how few BIPOC are included in advertisements, media and other visual representations of society. Why is White still being sold as “the norm” and BIPOC as the “other” when the latter is the global majority, at almost 80%?
4. When you hear or see something racist - pause and consider: What is the best way to respond that won’t be positioning myself as ‘savior’ but will come from a place of authentic interruption of the racism here? One BIPOC may thank you for speaking up, another may walk away without a word. What matters is that you do your best, regardless of whether or not you receive back up or praise.
A beloved family member was teasing one of his close friends, a man of color. The two men were trading insults, when my family member made a racist joke. The two laughed and moved on. In the moment, I felt that raising this in front of the two wouldn’t serve anyone. So the next day I called my family member and shared that I felt he owed his friend an apology. I’m happy to say that he did that. While someone else may feel that I should’ve pointed out the racism in front of the two men, in that moment I went with my gut, and chose to address it privately. I’m not saying either is right or wrong, I’m saying that the process of anti-racism is one that involves daily choices about what actions to take, and doing your honest best is what matters most.
5. Notice your privilege. Use these times as valuable opportunities: you can choose to roll that stop sign, or make that illegal U-turn, or put off getting your tail light fixed, or jayJ-walk, or encourage your kids to walk down that private driveway or climb that locked fence to get their ball, because you’ve got White privilege and will get away with it, maybe without even a stern word. But a Black person doing the very same things could suffer horrific consequences.
Ever since my son was old enough to walk, we’ve taken strolls through neighborhood streets together. I’ve pointed out flowers, trees, cute dogs, and cool houses to him, and he’s pointed out his favorites to me. Never once have I been stopped, or asked what I’m doing, pointing out an artsy blue door, or gazing at a beautiful, old tree in someone’s yard. But I’ve come to realize, this sweet tradition between us could put my child in danger. I have White privilege protecting my every move, and he does not. So we had to talk. Why should Momma get to stop and stare into a person’s yard if you can’t? It’s not fair or right. It’s racism that makes it so I can do this freely, while you may be stopped and asked why you’re looking. So from now on, we’ll only glance and keep going. And hopefully someday soon we won’t have this kind of injustice to deal with.
Hopefully someday, my son will be the beautiful Black man he is becoming, taking an evening walk. He’ll stop to smile at a sweet dog that runs up to him from the other side of a fence, and the White woman who lives at that house will be working in her yard and stop to say hello. She’ll tell him her dog’s name and introduce herself, and the two will have a chat. They'll both enjoy knowing they’ve met a new neighbor, while my son walks home to make dinner.
YES, this work is challenging, and inconvenient and uncomfortable and there *is* so much to learn and unlearn and yes, there are many rules … but when you remember the HUMAN COST that brought on those rules, when you remember that there are innocent human beings being asphyxiated in the street, shot while sleeping in their own bed, while watching TV in their own home, while being stopped for a traffic violation with their toddler in the back seat, while playing in the park, while exercising, while walking home ... I pray to God you will be willing to rise to the challenge —and that you’ll do so like never before. Our outrage means NOTHING without action. Justice will not happen until we do the work within ourselves. When I look into my son’s beautiful, brown face, I want to know that I’m telling him the truth when I say, The world is changing; you have a bigger community than ever before who are fighting for racial justice - and they won’t stop until it happens.
• What is one new thing I can commit to doing this week to practice being anti-racist? Write it out where you’ll see it everyday. Next week, pick another.
• LISTEN to BIPOC - Podcasts, Audiobooks, Talks & Interviews
Danielle LoPresti is a mom-musician-anti-racist-world citizen. She lives and works with her wife and son in the Bay Area and is co-owner of Durga Sound Studios.