If you’re talking about race and you’re not uncomfortable, you’re probably not having the right conversation.
Last week was heavy. We can all agree to that.
For those who haven’t opened their eyes to the seriousness of racism and police brutality that still plagues our society in the U.S. today, here are the videos of 4 lives of black men who have passed away in 4 cities in the hands of police within 48 hours.
- Alton Sterling: Baton Rouge, Louisiana
- Philando Castile: St. Paul, Minnesota
- Dylan Noble: Fresno, California
- Delrawn Small: Brooklyn, New York
And then we have the war against blue.
Dallas where 5 police officers were shot to death by one black man.
- Michael Smith
- Lorne Ahrens
- Michael Krol
- Patrick Zamarripa
- Brent Thompson
And then there was a black man found hanging in Atlanta with rumors of KKK involvement.
Reality check please....Hey, are we still in the 21st century?
Insane to believe this all happened within the span of one week.
If I missed anything, please let me know.
Let's take a look at past history of violence in terms of ethnic riots. This is by no means a comprehensive list towards reported/unreported incidents of police brutality against all black people but it's interesting to see the span of events that occurred and to acknowledge "how far we've come along". The Civil Rights and Black Power Movement's Period started in 1955–1977 in violent protest. I'll start with 1980....
- 1980: Miami Riots (Miami, Florida): Reactions following the acquittal of four Miami-Dade Police officers in the death of Arthur McDuffie.
- 1989: Overtown Riot (Miami, FL) In a reaction to the shooting of a black motorcyclist by a Hispanic police officer in the predominantly black community of Overtown in Miami, residents rioted for two nights. The officer was later found guilty of manslaughter.
- 1996: St. Petersburg Riots (St. Petersburg, Florida): After Officer Jim Knight stopped 18 yr. old Tyron Lewis for speeding, his car lurched forward and Knight fired his weapon, fatally wounding the black teenager. Riots broke out and lasted for about 2 days.
- 2001: Cincinnati riots (Cincinnati, Ohio): In a reaction to the fatal shooting of an unarmed young black male, Timothy Thomas by Cincinnati police officer Steven Roach, during a foot pursuit, riots broke out over the span of a few days.
- 2009: 2009 Oakland Riots (Oakland, California): Peaceful protests turned into rioting after the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man, Oscar Grant, by a BART transit policeman.
- 2014-2015: The Ferguson unrest, a series of riots break out in Ferguson, Missouri over the shooting of Michael Brown.
- 2015: The Death of Freddie Gray was an incident in which a suspect died in police custody and later protests turned into riots in Baltimore.
Present day: WTF IS HAPPENING WORLD?
Why does it seem that the waves of riots are becoming more and more frequent within a shorter period of time? Can we acknowledge that please?
My last post about my Orlando reaction stressed a need for EMPATHY primarily in reference towards sexual orientation and the fight against hate crimes for LGBT. Again, I am calling for EMPATHY with stress on ACTION in the same plea for equality for race.
Violence has to stop. Inequality needs to be addressed. Privilege needs to be recognized. Silence needs to be challenged.
Black Lives Matter. Period.
Aren't you tired of seeing the graveyard of hashtags that sink within the social media feed every day, week, month. It’s exhausting to come to a realization that the United States still has so much civil unrest running through its blood. It's frustrating that nobody is looking internally within themselves to understand how we’ve gotten to where we are and what we as individuals can do about it.
My wish is that we can all feel empowered to spur change. There must be ways we can solidify our resoluteness for being strong allies for each other that fight for the sake of "one love."
While we may all have good intentions, there’s a difference between intention and impact. The recognition and momentary satisfaction of proclaiming yourself as an ally becomes meaningless without doing something concrete about the role you are supporting and standing for.
And it starts with recognizing where we come from. It implies uncovering our social conditioning and unconscious biases.
It starts with one uncomfortable conversation about race.
It’s time to get outside of our comfort zone with seeking out the truth, with embracing our peers in their time of anger, fear, frustration, and pain.
It’s time to acknowledge that there is a lack of safety and violence against people of color in this country that is contributed by the judicial system, systemic racism, and continuation of oppression, and also by the silence of potential allies.
Recognize now that silence by the masses or privilege guilt is just another form of standing for oppression.
I’m discovering as I learn this over and over again how hard this could all be. Believe me.
Through sharing my own experiences with cowardly silence (yet again), I hope to properly reflect, digest, express and extend the dialogue to a “well what can we learn from this?” dialogue.
JULY 9, 2016
Below is a status post from my friend Nancy. Nancy runs Black in Tech in the Bay Area and Bay Area Haitian Family. As a black woman in tech, she represents less than 1%. She’s kickass, intelligent, and I am glad to know her in the span of the last 3 days.
So I was in this class of 40. And I had spoken to Nancy before the very much needed call-out.
Yes, I was one of those people that pretended that something isn't happening or rather simply did not acknowledge that something was happening around me.
Class was about to start in 15 minutes. Everyone was mingling. I noticed Nancy standing alone in a corner, charging her phone and looking down in silence and concentration.
“Hey Nancy, come sit with me!”
Smiling, I motioned her over at the empty seat next to me on the sofa. By the way, it was in a “hey, we had a bonding moment the other day, let’s chat like we’re BFFs” gesture. She slowly walked over.
“Hey..sorry, I’m working on sending some stuff out for my community"
“Yeahh…I didn't sleep well. I was up all night crying. I was close to not even coming to class today"
I'll be honest, I did not expect that reaction. If anything, I thought we were going to discuss our upcoming long workshop on Desire. It was surprising to me how I completely disregarded Nancy in the whole spectrum of her feelings during this very heated week.
Internally panicking, I thought to myself:
Shit, did I miss something major that happened last night? What do I say? What do I say to make her feel happier? Is that even possible? I don’t even know if I know the full extent of what is happening here. Shit shit shit.
When I don't have the right words figured out, what comes out by default is defense.
“Shit girl, what happened? I wasn’t on my phone last night.” This of course was bullshit. I was on my phone but didn’t think to check updated news about the Black Lives Matter movement before I went to bed or when I woke up that morning.
Because why would I? I'm not the one being oppressed right?
The truth is I did not have any trouble sleeping last night. The truth is my yellow skin guarantees me my own set of privilege and racial discrimination. The truth is I’ve walked my whole life being seen as non-threatening, passive “zen", cute, innocent, categorized automatically as educated and possibly working in tech. If black people are stereotyped as violent, then Asian women are on the other opposite end of the spectrum. In terms of danger, just watch out for those Asian woman drivers.
I don’t know how it feels to cross streets day and night in fear and trepidation for simply looking the way I look. I don’t know how it feels to worry whether my brothers and sisters will be okay driving with a broken taillight and wondering in fear whether they will be pulled over and harassed. I don’t know how it feels to be looked at by a cop, to put my hands in my pockets and see them immediately tense up.
I'll admit another thing. I never looked Nancy in the eyes to ask her “hey, you ok now? What can I do to help?" I was too busy being lost in my own head of feeling insecure that I didn't have enough information on hand to tackle this uncomfortable dialogue. It all became about me...
And what I know now from reflecting back on conversation is that the point wasn't about which event I wasn't up to date with but the fact that there were tears to begin with.
Racial discrimination isn't about facts. It's about the feelings and the raw emotion of feeling discriminated against. And that in its own regard is something we as human beings can all in some variation empathize with.
We ended the conversation awkwardly in teetering silence. She briefly informed me about protests happening in Oakland and perhaps for the sake of my visible slight unease, she didn't press on and I didn't ask for further information. I somehow got up to leave Nancy and justified my retreat as a way to give her time to work on her phone unbothered.
I always thought I was a compassionate and empathetic person. But in reality, I was silenced in discomfort, like a coward, passively waiting for reaction instead of inviting myself to dig further into that “what can we do about this” conversation.
What does it mean to be an ally that stands in solidarity with words and action? I just wrote about this last week and yet like a muscle that seriously needs to be strengthened, I find myself challenging my unconscious biases over and over again.
Have you ever had a situation where you thought of yourself as super composed, playing all of the cards right, saying all of the right things all in the right time? But when the situation really presents itself, your heart is thumping. Suddenly you don't know exactly what to say or how to say it. You’re afraid what you would say is the wrong thing or the misinformed thing, so it’s just better that you don’t say anything at all. Self-doubt is a plague that is fueled by fear. When we have fear, it's nearly impossible to form deep connections.
All human suffering is an attempt to make up for a lack of human connection. And it’s a shame that the suffering is even more profound for those who are defined by labels placed to them by birth. These labels, or layers of perceptions formed by other people, are automatically plastered on your identity and you never even asked for it...
So I’ll just go ahead and speak the truth towards my awkward reaction at being the worst type of ally possible and end with how I would like to change.
“I value my fear more than I value your pain. I would rather sit in my own mild discomfort than embrace your lament.”
- I’m afraid I don’t know enough.
- I’m afraid I don’t “get it”.
- I’m afraid I’ll do it wrong.
- I’m afraid I’ll be more offensive than I am helpful.
- I’m afraid it won’t be enough.
- I’m afraid of your anger.
- I’m afraid of your pain.
You can read more here at “10 reason’s I don’t want to be your white ally”
An interesting concept I just learned about is "white fragility” and why it is so hard for white people or non-black PoC to discuss racism.
"Socialized into a deeply internalized sense of superiority and entitlement that we are either not consciously aware of or can never admit to ourselves, we become highly fragile in conversations about race. We experience a challenge to our racial worldview as a challenge to our very identities as good, moral people. It also challenges our sense of rightful place in the hierarchy. Thus, we perceive any attempt to connect us to the system of racism as a very unsettling and unfair moral offense."
This unsettling behavior can look like guilt, anger, dismissiveness, disconnection, silence, fear. All of this is ironically not only incredibly selfish but puts attention back on us instead of the oppressed.
Like seriously, how messed up is that? Black people shouldn’t feel like they have to sugarcoat things or talk about their pain in a digestible way just so everyone else can feel less awkward about it all. Just so we can walk away in "whew, that was a close one" and the oppressed walk away with "that was fucking frustrating."
Having marginalized people talk to you about injustices that they face on a regular basis, having people explain to YOU that you've been at a higher vantage point all of your life can make us all feel fragile, unwilling to face these realities and comprehend the extent of our privilege.
"The entire discussion of race in America centers around the protection of White feelings."
But I ask you this...What if through proper guidance, we can see beyond that guilt and finally feel relieved to start opening our minds and hearts to discussion.
What if we all collectively understand that systemic racism is messed up. This system creates divisions among us. And it’s okay to feel uncomfortable when discussing all of our privileges and fragilities. It’s time to get over it.
While Nancy called us all out, I literally let a huge sigh of relief. I was sitting next to her and saw the tears swell in her eyes and finally release as she felt more and more courageous to speak up, like it was her human right to speak the truth once and for all. And through looking at the eyes, the windows or your soul, I saw a person living and breathing in pain and vulnerability.
Yes, this is what I all need to hear. This is what we all need to hear.
It was like the cloak of “I’m tough, I don’t need your support,” the story I had about black people from just stereotyping them as resilient spirits, was lifted. My unconscious bias was recognized, my privilege was addressed, my silence was challenged and finally through it all, I began to see a real human being in need calling out for recognition, affirmation, love, attention, and acceptance.
This is real. This is real. OMG this is real.
After her courageous share, I reached my hand outwards and touched hers.
Throughout class, I felt more emboldened to place my shoulders around Nancy and whispered in her ear that if she wants to step out at all to talk, I’ll be available to listen. AND I MEANT IT. My layers of cool passivity were taken off as soon as she took hers off too.
That's the beauty of connection. When people decide to be real, they empower you to be the same.
When it came for me to share my morning feels, I spoke to my class about my morning interaction with Nancy and how I couldn’t allow myself to be present in her pain. I couldn't bring myself to understand because I was too busy thinking about my own shit. And that is something I need to work on. Consciously. A muscle of empathy that needs to be conditioned to realize that no matter what color skin you have, we are all humans. Being mindful of your presence and state of mind is as important as being mindful of the people you engage with.
What happened after in the class of predominantly white people over the course of the day was magic. The tension dissipated. Love was spread. Channels were cleared. And this stemmed from courage of a beautifully felt call-out that comes through with the power of voice and the vulnerability of tears. Our human condition to crave acceptance and connection conquered our silence and fragility.
WAYS TO BE A BETTER ALLY
When criticized or called out, allies listen, apologize, act accountably, and act differently going forward. And this is a good thing. What had started as a salty conversation has led me in a pursuit to follow through with more courage and desire. The more I'm engaged with the news and media, the more I want to stand up and share the resources of what is happening- hence this blog.
First let me address that it is important to recognize our privilege in education, class, gender, sexual orientation, religion, identity, physical ability and be able to embrace our power.
Here is Privilege 101.
Privilege means that you didn't have to face the obstacles others have to endure. It's important to understand here this is not to disregard that your life isn't necessarily easy or that you didn't work hard yourself. Simply, your circumstances are different than others. And that's partially based on the societal norms we live in and how our world adapts to those norms. Remove yourself of guilt since it doesn't help.
So how do we push back on our privilege and use it in a way that challenges oppressive systems instead of perpetuating them?
Listen to people who experience oppression.
Learn about how you can work in solidarity with oppressed groups. Focus on teaching other privileged people about their privilege.
Find resources and educate yourself
(Here are some resources I found already through Nancy)
Call your local police station or local government officials and ask what they are doing
Collect Your People
It starts with educating and expressing your opinion and how the safety of black lives influences all of our lives. Here’s a great example. It’s a crowdsourced Google Doc primarily for asians with immigrant parents.
Watch those videos again so you can share with the suffering and understand the fragility of Black lives. If it evokes catharsis and tears, let those tears fuel your desire to stand up and fight in solidarity.
Read and share
Any written article told from the point of view of marginalized people who face discrimination on a daily basis, share their story. Any written article told from the point of view from non-black POC, understand their confusion and take what you can out of it.
- Listen to the voice and stories from QTPOC
- The problem with “All Lives Matter”
- What White Folks and Non-Black POC Need to Understand About Systemic Racism
- A Guide For White Allies Confronting Racial Injustice
- Projects Under Our Skin- Understand Institutional Racism, Colorblindness, White Privilege, White Fragility, and more spoken by people of different color
- I, Rascist- Profound MEDIUM article on systemic racism and white fragility
* I will add more to this list of resources as I go and continue to educate myself.
As my concern for social justice issues grows every day here, I hope to become a better ally who feels empowered to support and stand for equality. I hope to constantly navigate that Stretch Zone in between the Comfort Zone and the Break Zone.
As an ally, I am here to listen, to not speak over, to stand with, to engage, and to spread the message.
Courage is my eternal Bandchallenge in this heated time. It's that uncomfortable stretch zone where you learn your limits, grow and thrive.
Thanks for listening,