Your silence is louder than words

Yesterday, Tyson and I had our first talk with Holden (age 5) about racism, George Floyd, and the history of segregation and deep-rooted racism that still exists. I had him watch a video of black parents talking to their kids about what they should do if a cop approaches them. The parents were kind, and eloquent, and so seemed so casual with their words. The parents told stories of how cops pulled them over or arrested them, for virtually no reason at all. The kids wept. “Is it because of my skin color?” One of the teenage girls asked.

I asked Holden what he noticed about all of the people talking in the video. I asked him if he noticed anything that’s different about them compared to us. He said no. I asked about their skin color. “Oh because they’re darker?”

Racism is LEARNED.

I’m a white mother to two white boys. I sometimes think about the day we start talking to them about sex and the science of their bodies. But to imagine, that these parents naturally have to tell their children that their lives are in danger, especially pertaining to the group of people that are meant to protect us…I can ONLY imagine it. Can you imagine the confusion for those kids? Growing up around a bunch of white kids with virtually no worries at all. These kids are thinking about a lot more.

Then we talked about George Floyd. “But why would that cop do that? I thought cops were supposed to protect us?” Holden asked, his blue eyes getting bigger and wetter.

“Yes, that’s the thing. Just because your skin is lighter, you get to learn that cops are here to protect you and that’s it. I don’t have to teach you these things that these other kids have to learn just because you are a white boy. You automatically have power that you don’t even know about yet. These kids don’t have the same power that you do. That’s why we are talking about this — so you can use your power for good.

“There are so many wonderful cops out there, Holden. And YES they are there to protect everyone. But before someone is a cop, they are just a person – a person with their own set of beliefs and feelings about people and the world. Some of those people might have bad feelings about black people or people who just don’t look like them. And then all of the sudden, that person decides that they want to become a cop, and they go to school and then they’re given a gun and other weapons and privileges that most people don’t have.”

“So then, they’re afraid of the black people?”

“Yes, sometimes. Or intimidated. Maybe their parents somehow taught them that. But we aren’t born being afraid of black people. It is something that is learned. And those people, at sometime in their lives, learned to fear or avoid people with another skin color.”

And then, after that, we talked about segregation. I told Holden that black kids used to have to ride a different school bus than white kids. In fact, they went to different classrooms. I told him that black kids couldn’t even use the same bathroom as white kids. Then I told him that there were a set of laws and rules that America decided on that made it so that black kids no longer were separated from white kids. Then white people sort of just stopped there and thought everything was solved.

And then white families couldn’t understand why black people still felt like it wasn’t fair.

And that black people were still dying for no reason.

And I asked him: “Holden, after telling you what just happened to George Floyd, does it sound like they solved the problem when they allowed blacks to sit with whites?” And he said “no, it doesn’t sound like it got better at all”.

I’m angry. I’m so angry. I feel helpless, frustrated with the silence of my friends and my own family. Frustrated about the church communities around me who seem to be silent about all of this. But I haven’t always been this angry. In fact, the last time an innocent black person was killed by police (and we heard about it), which was just a few days before George Floyd, I think I probably said something like “that’s so sad” and then walked away back to my own white bubble. Hey white person: Isn’t it so goddamn nice to be able to turn it off whenever you want? That’s our privilege. You see it on your TV, maybe you think about it for a few hours or a day…and then with the flick of a switch, you can just turn it off.

Most white people go through an awful cycle when the news of an innocent black person being shot or killed by police surfaces:

  • We hear the news. “Another one? Wow that’s terrible.”
  • We see the peaceful Black Lives Matter protests. “But shouldn’t it be ‘All Lives Matter'”?
  • We see the violent riots downtown. “Wow that is so awful. Do THEY really think that violence is the answer? No one will listen if they just react like this.” (And we choose not to see that the violent rioters are mostly radical WHITE right wing protesters that black protesters don’t even want there).
  • Back to our daily life as previously scheduled. (Still uneducated about WHY this is even happening and with even more quiet racism under our belts).

I’m a high school coach, and in the world of high school sports, there is this (really annoying) chant that students engage in when the other team is losing (and the losing team’s student section is really quiet):

“WHY-SO-QUI-ET (clap, clap, clap, clap, clap), “WHY-SO-QUI-ET (clap, clap, clap, clap, clap)”

To the winning team, their silence implies that they’re not interested anymore, most likely because they’re losing. When the game started, both teams could have been actively engaged and loud. But then, all of the sudden, one team goes quiet. When they’re quiet, the winning team starts to assume what feelings the losing team is having (anger, hurt, frustration, etc.).

When you’re silent, (about something that morally should be important to you), other people start assuming why you’re quiet. Right now, the term “white silence is violence” is being widely circulated. This is because, when we hear about the injustice happening to black families and communities and we turn the other cheek (because we don’t think it effects us directly), we are exercising our privileged rights to ignore the pain and suffering of another group of people. White people remain silent, and others cannot FATHOM why and how you can remain quiet.

Those who continually say: “We just need to pray about this” are implying the silence is better. Do you think people haven’t been praying about black injustice over centuries? Where has it gotten us? This isn’t an argument whether prayer works or not — this is an argument that says a personal conversation between yourself and your god is NOT ENOUGH. Our words need to become actions that hit the ground running.

I’m a white woman and I’m frustrated. And then I become even more angry because I’m WHITE, and if I’m feeling all of these feelings, how the hell are the black communities doing this? How have they done this for so long? The strength and courage to go on as a black person in America, is unfathomable. How do they even smile at the ignorant white mass all around them? How do they work for them? How are they so gracious to us? I saw a quote today that said: “America is lucky the black community only wants equality, not revenge.” Isn’t that the truth.

I’m so angry at ignorant white people who claim that the hardships for black people ended a long time ago. I’m angry every time someone says “ALL lives matter”. (By the way, the term “Black Lives Matter” does not imply that other lives don’t matter.)

Until the black genocide ends, BLACK LIVES MATTER.

Until we stop locking our car doors as black people walk by, BLACK LIVES MATTER.

Until white women stop calling the cops on black men just for looking at them, BLACK LIVES MATTER.

Until the world burns the word N***** to the ground, BLACK LIVES MATTER.

I’ve never been so angry at my own skin color.

When you search “black lives matter” or “black protest” in Google or in stock images, the majority of the images contain WHITE people. Even when we THINK we are helping, there we are again — taking over their images and voices. WHITE people insert themselves into the BLM movement, only to spray paint businesses, vandalize buildings, and burn flags. And then our mostly white media shows angry black protestors in that light. And our white brains connect the damage and violence to black protesters. And then our mostly white government responds with threats to engage back with bullets. We are being brainwashed every day. Do you see the bind that the black community is in? We continually put them between a rock and a hard place, and yet, we expect them to respond eloquently and peacefully while we get to remain SILENT.

I’m angry that our history is founded on powerful, white, racist men who essentially put white supremacy into place.

I’m angry for being brainwashed to believe that white history in America is superior to black history and that we grew up learning to give white men all the credit for some of our most important inventions. (Did you know that Alexander Graham Bell hired a black man to draft the necessary plans for his telephone patent? (Lewis Howard Latimer). Did you know that the same man (Latimer) also improved Thomas Edison’s original light bulb so that it would last longer, and sold it to the United States Electric Company in 1881?)

I’ll continue to be angry, because I know I’ll continue to see the ignorance over and over again. But I’m going to let my anger become a tribute to my black brothers and sisters. Although my anger is so so different and less rooted, I will be angry with you. But I will be angry without violence or revenge. I will be angry and hungry for justice.

If you are someone that has been silent about this, please do me a favor and read some books with me. You may not feel the place or need to speak out right now, but can you really argue that learning about black history and culture isn’t important? If you can argue that, then you are apart of the problem.

Can you talk to your kids about what’s happening? Can you tell them about black history? Can you introduce black heroes?

Here are a list of adult books on my list for reading:

  • How to be an Anti-racist (Ibram X. Kendi)
  • So You Want to Talk About Race (Ijeoma Oluo)
  • Me and White Supremacy (Layla F Saad)
  • Stamped from the Beginning (Ibram X. Kendi)
  • Stamped (Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds)
  • White Fragility (Robin DiAngelo)
  • Women, Race, and Class (Angela Davis)

And a list of children’s books:

  • Where are you from? (Yamile Saied Méndez)
  • The Skin You Live In (Michael Tyler)
  • We’re Different, We’re the Same (Bobbi Kates)
  • Dreamers (Yuyi Morales)
  • The Day You Begin (Jacqueline Woodson)
  • A Kids Book About Racism (Jelani Memory)
  • A Different Pond (Bao Phi)
  • This is How We Do It ( Matt Lamothe)

I also recommend buying from a black-owned book store if you can. Here is a quick list that I have aquired. Please let me know if there are more I can add.

Mahogany Books

Harriet’s Bookshop

Uncle Bobbie’s

Hakim’s Bookstore

Ashay by the Bay (Kids bookstore)

Key Bookstore

Semicolon Chicago

The Lit Bar

Afriware Books

The black community isn’t asking for violence. They’re asking for us to be educated.

They’re asking us to start talking to our kids NOW about racism. Especially if you have white boys – talk to them about their natural power as a white boy, what they’re capable of, and how they can change the narrative.

If you are white and you HAVE been speaking out on this (and I’m speaking to myself on this one too), as angry and vocal as you want to be, what if we used our spaces to lift up black voices? Instead of wanting people to listen to us on social media about our opinions, what if we just continually pointed people to black leaders and activists so that their voices were the ones being heard?

Here are some Instagram profiles to follow and lift up right now:

  • Austin Channing (@austinchanning)
  • Rachel Cargle (@rachel.cargle)
  • Jesse Williams (@ijessewilliams)
  • Oprah (@oprah)
  • The Conscious Kid (@theconsciouskid)
  • Check Your Privilege (@ckyourprivilege)
  • The Great Unlearn (@thegreatunlearn)
  • Ebony Janice (@Ebonyjanice)
  • Equality Labs (@equalitylabs)
  • No White Saviors (@nowhitesaviors)
  • Unbothered (@r29unbothered)
  • Strong Black Lead (@strongblacklead)

(Please let me know if you follow any other profiles that I can support)

Please join me in trying to be better everyday. Our voices may not be the ones that need to be heard, but WE are the ones to uplift the voices that DO need to be heard.