May you live in interesting times, the curse goes. Well, here we are. Welcome. Pull up a chair.
If you’re like me, you may be feeling a lot of anxiety and depression surrounding the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and far too many others, and the police brutality in response to protests. If you’re also white, like me, I hope you can appreciate, at least intellectually, that this anxiety and depression is a daily fact of life for Black people in our country, except it’s dialed up a few (thousand) notches in their case.
You may also be feeling helpless. If so, I have wonderful news: you’re not. You can do things.
Don’t expect your Black friends to teach you what our education system has failed to teach us about our country’s history of racism and oppression and why things are the way they are. They have enough on their minds and hearts right now, don’t you think? Luckily, we live in an age where we have vast repositories of knowledge available at our fingertips, if we just go looking for it (and spend time discerning useful knowledge from propaganda, which is not always easy).
bit.ly/junejustice is a document that allows you to determine how much time you can devote to becoming a more informed ally to the Black community. Ten minutes a day—you can spare at least that much, right? It takes at least that long for my coffee to brew in the morning. It’s not enough, but it’s a start.
You may have seen lots of anti-racist reading lists on social media. Reading is right up my alley. I’ve reserved Between the World and Me at the library and am buying something from this list of anti-racist books curated by EyeSeeMe, an African American children’s bookstore here in the suburb of University City that I didn’t even know about (the bookstore, I mean—I knew about the suburb, but… okay, anyway, let’s move on). I also found this list of Black-owned bookstores in the United States that you can check out, as well as a list of Black-owned bookstores where you can buy books by Black queer authors. Maybe one of these bookstores is in your own hometown.
Spend your dollars.
blacklivesmatter.carrd.co is a resource full of actions you can take, including places to donate to bail funds and other organizations fighting for equality and justice.
On a more mundane level, put your dollars to work in your local community by supporting Black-owned businesses wherever you can. In addition to sending my business to EyeSeeMe, I probably enthuse way too much on Instagram about SweetArt, a Black-owned, woman-owned, all vegetarian/vegan café that is literally just blocks from my house. Actually, there is no way to enthuse too much about what chef Reine Bayoc has done for our neighborhood. There are lots of other businesses like hers, I have no doubt, and I need to seek them out.
I live in St. Louis, and our mayor is ineffectual at best and incompetent at worst. (There’s lots of reasons I didn’t vote for her.) This graphic, posted by ArchCityDefenders on Twitter, outlines steps our city can take to begin moving toward real change. Tell your elected officials to support measure like these, and make them aware that your vote is contingent on their support.
And that brings me to the next thing.
For gods’ sake, vote.
If you’re registered, make sure you’re registered (this link is for the Missouri Secretary of State site where you can do that). If you’re not, get registered (again, that’s a Missouri link). And then go vote. Not just on Nov. 3, but in every local election. Get to know who your representatives are.
Your vote can make a difference. Ferguson, Missouri, just elected the city’s first African American and first woman mayor, Ella Jones. Change is possible, but it will require work.
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
Look, I live my life in a constant state of fear of doing the wrong thing: misgendering someone, pronouncing a name wrong because I don’t know any better, inadvertently dismissing someone’s beliefs or value system (except the one I was raised in and around, which can completely get fucked). That fear is something I need to get over. An honest mistake is better than holding back in fear.
I know I’ve made quite a few stinkers in my own time. And by “my own time” I mean “this week” and “today.” You’ll trip, you’ll put your foot in your mouth, but if you’re lucky, some kind soul will say “here, lean on me while you get your foot out of your mouth so I can ask you what on earth you were thinking.”
Accept the mistake, remember the lesson.
But don’t shy away from having tense and awkward family confrontations with your racist brother-in-law or aunt. Me, I’ve always been willing to burn bridges where my family is concerned—probably because I’ve never had to. As we’ve gotten older, we’ve all gotten more liberal, if that’s possible. (My mother? Oh my lord, when she talks about That Man in the White House I fear for her safety.) But, you never know which niece or nephew or cousin is listening and thinking about what you’re saying. You might reach people you don’t realize.
I don’t have all the answers. Hell, I don’t have any of the answers. All I’ve done here is compile the things I’ve found in the past week or so that I’m using to try and be less of an idiot. Which is probably going to take the rest of my life. But the things worth doing are never easy, or quick, are they?