White People, We Have Work to Do

0602201331a~2(1)Why am I talking?

First born children are said to be natural leaders with a bent toward the bossy and authoritarian side – not my favorite personality traits, but I own them. Now that I’m entering the Crone Age, I no longer crave the attention that comes from being out front. My turn is over.

For a Type A person like me, it took a few years and several missteps before I accepted the “your turn is over” message. But the physical discomfort and emotional rigidity that accompanied my fear of losing control disappeared when I loosened my grip. It’s like my psyche finally had enough and said, “Relax. It’s somebody else’s turn,” and my body melted in relief.

Participating as a witness, shining my little light in the dark corners and helping hold the safety net for others feels solid and desirable. These are my senior super powers.

During this time of brutal chaos and change, thoughts about stepping back (when with all my might I want to step forward) and figuring out how best to help purge the pustular infection of systemic racism and heal our country’s deep, ugly wound led to the memory of a powerful lesson in awareness. Last year, a friend and co-worker turned me on to the acronym WAYT, meaning “Why Are You Talking?” She was frustrated because during a seminar, white women were dominating a discussion about race in the workplace rather than listening to the experiences of Black women, all of whom were co-workers in the very same office. White women, taking the lead on black issues.

Blind racism. White privilege. Do we really know better than they? Have we ever walked a mile? I’ll be blunt. The answer is NO.

There has never been a better time for us white people to recognize our own racist shortcomings and do the work with eyes wide open. This is absolutely the right time to use our white privilege for the benefit and protection of our Black and brown family.

More important is that we listen, really listen right now to what Black people are saying, what they are asking us to do. It’s not the first time we’ve been asked to be allies. After turning a blind eye to over four hundred years of oppression topped by decades of apathy, white people aren’t the most trustworthy collective on the planet. Good news: there’s nowhere for us to go but up.

It is not our turn to lead right now; it is our turn to listen. Please understand this.

Hush. Hear what is being asked of us. Maybe the most basic thing we’re being asked to do is to really understand what these three words mean: Black Lives Matter. Maybe it’s time we repeat those words as a mantra until they become part of our heart’s peace.  Can you say it and mean it? Black Lives Matter.  If your knee-jerk response is “well, all lives matter,” please read this article which explains why you need to stop saying that.

Maybe we’re being asked to share the history of George Floyd and the Dominoes of Racial Injustice across oceans and mountains, through valleys, up sidewalks, on corners, and down alleys. If you’re asking yourself if you have time to watch this video, the answer is yes. (Thank you, Trevor Noah.)

Today I imagined I was part of a posse of old Black and brown and white women, granny-boobed women with thin hair, arthritic hands and sore feet, standing firm and holding the line between protestors and policemen, handing out homemade cookies to both sides and asking everyone to sit down and eat together, which they do. Then everyone has a little rest while Mavis leads us in the singalong version of “I’ll Take You There” at which time we old women begin to collect all the shields and guns, all the words and blood and breath of the dead and angry and oppressed and weave a story quilt from them; a story quilt of national mourning that is large enough to cover all of us with so much comfort, safety and love that we choose to believe in our ability to really love one another, to thrive with shared purpose and justice for all. My imagination is innocent.

What can we do, white people? We can start by truly understanding what the words Black Lives Matter mean. Maybe say them aloud in front of a mirror so you see how beautiful you look when tears of understanding well up in your eyes. Witness and speak out to other white people. Practice compassion in action. Shine your little light. Hold the safety net.

Remember: they lead, we support. They talk, we listen.

I’m through talking now. It’s time to listen.

5 thoughts on “White People, We Have Work to Do

  1. Lynn, this is the first blog of yours I’ve read, didn’t know where to find them before this. I like your writing very much and hope you do more of it. There is an agonized, frustrated, imprisoned writer inside my body that I’m quite sure will never escape. Oh, yeah, I know, never say never, so okay I take it back. Perhaps your writing will show me how to release my incarcerated writer. I look forward to more from you.


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