“I wonder what will happen next?”
“Tell People How You Feel”
“For a year, I said “yes“ to anything that scared me” – Shonda Rhimes
When someone is in pain, do you say these words?
This week I am honored to share my platform with Ally Henny- She wrote this piece about racism and activism.
“What can I do” is a question that I am frequently asked by well-meaning white people who want to “join the fight for racial justice.” Admittedly, I find the question to be a bit grating, although I understand that it is usually asked in the spirit of attempting to be helpful. I try not to let my irritation and exhaustion show when I respond to this question with some version of my go-to response, “Educate yourself and collect your people.” Some folks might find this response to be a cop-out, …and in some ways it is…but the truth is, I can’t always come up with a pithy, holistic response that takes the entire history of racial oppression in this country and its various intersections with classism, ableism, queer antagonism, sexism, and about 300 other forms of oppression. I don’t have the time. I don’t have the energy. I don’t have the knowledge or brainpower. Also, it’s literally not my job.
A week after my 15th birthday, my Aunt Becky passed away. Becky was the third of my mom’s six siblings to pass away and the third to die an untimely death. She was only 42 and left a 4-year-old son behind. She had some health problems, but none of us anticipated that she would pass on so soon and so abruptly, leaving us without the opportunity to say goodbye. We were absolutely bewildered and left with so many questions, the biggest one being why.
Grief has a way of messing with time and with what is important. I remember spending the days leading up to the funeral lying on my living room floor watching Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, going to Driver’s Ed, and trying to catch *NSYNC’s various media appearances leading up to their concert at Madison Square Garden later that month. Normal 15-year-old stuff, I guess, except that I was doing it as an escape from grief.
At one point, some people that I didn’t recognize rang our doorbell, and my mom and stepdad hauled in a bunch of food and a 12-pack of Sunkist Sparkling Lemonade. That sparkling lemonade became my lifeline. It was a literal taste of normalcy during a difficult time.
At any given time, we would have at least four 12-packs of soda ready to drink at my house. We were running low before Becky passed, and no one had gotten around to buying more soda once the last 12-pack ran out. Having to drink orange juice, milk, or (gasp) water, was one of those minor inconveniences that grief exacerbates while simultaneously inducing guilt because of its triviality. The lemonade was a small gesture that made those days just a little more bearable.
At this juncture, you might be asking yourself what the story of my aunt’s passing has to do with why telling white people how to fight racism isn’t my job. The point is that Black people are in a very long, extremely public grief process, and it’s not our job to teach white people how to behave like decent human beings.
The people who brought my family the food and lemonade didn’t spend hours on the phone with my mom asking how they could help; they showed up. They didn’t make themselves a burden by asking a bunch of questions. They perceived a need, and they sought to fill it. That’s what friends do.
If you were waiting for me to give you a list of things you can do at the end of this article, you have missed the point of this article. It’s literally not my job to tell you how you can help me while I’m grieving. This is the nuance that I want for white people to get. Y’all are showing up after a family member died and asking to be put to work. That, in itself, isn’t so bad, but it becomes grating when it’s multiple people asking the same questions repeatedly.
Instead of viewing Black, Brown, and Indigenous folks, especially activists, as your instructors when the latest racialized incident hits the news, see us as your friends who are grieving. If you had a friend who was grieving, what might you do to find out how you can show up for them? Would you send them a “what can I do” text, or would you find the person who is close to the family and has started organizing a meal train? Would you show up to their house expecting them to console you about their loss, or would you show up prepared to hold space as they process what they’re experiencing?
If you consider yourself to be a friend of Black, Brown, and Indigenous people, then act like a friend. And yes, you might screw up and say or do the wrong thing. But acting like a friend even when you make a mistake is a thousand times better than being a trauma tourist or an unnecessary burden to those who are hurting.
– Ally Henny-
You can see more of her stuff here- https://allyhenny.com
“You do good for others, you get a surge of oxytocin”- Simon Sinek
“When an unarmed black man is killed, we hear, “What did he do wrong?” Or “Why did he resist?” Maybe he should have…Because our love for Blackness is conditional”
-Austin Channing Brown
We have to continue to fight against the ideas ingrained in us that tells us about black lives being less worthy. It’s not true.
Think About It.
At this event, two years ago, nervous and uncomfortably white, I asked the question- “How can we be better allies?”
I will never forget her answer.
“We don’t need allies, we need accomplices”
I am working hard to become one, and being silent as I learn. Do not mistake my silence for complacency or disinterest.
If you practice racism in my presence, I WILL call it out.
I will also continue dismantling my own racism as it’s deep seated and a continuous process and the more I learn, the more I realize how systemic and ingrained in our society and it’s unacceptable.
For too long, people who look like me have been silent and uncomfortable.
As Luvvie Ayaji says,
“Get comfortable with being uncomfortable”
We can all do more. What will you do? What are you doing?