I know you want to help.
I know there are times you feel helpless and overwhelmed. I know sometimes you feel paralyzed by fear. I know that you don’t want to say the wrong thing, but you also don’t want to say nothing. I know that you know a social media post is not enough. (You are right. It isn’t.)
I am writing this letter to you in hopes that we can come to the table and have honest, open dialogue. Ask me what questions you’d like. There’s space here—even for the questions you may think are dumb or small. I promise not to grow impatient or frustrated by your questions. If there are moments when the questions become too much or too heavy, I may walk away from the table, but I will promise to always come back.
I need a few things from you, too. I need you to promise to listen—to truly listen to an experience that is completely and utterly different from your own. It might get uncomfortable. It might get painful for you to hear what it’s like to be me. It might—no, it absolutely will—get uncomfortable at times to hear the unkind things people say and do. Let’s come to the table anyway.
I need you to promise to listen—to truly listen to an experience that is completely and utterly different from your own.
I need you to not try to lead this conversation. It has to come from me and people from the black community. We need to speak. We need to lead. We need to set the tone of change and what it will look like. I need for you to listen with humility and open ears and hearts. This cannot be your war to wage.
When I tell you that I am often followed in stores for no reason, I don’t want you to try to relate. I just want you to hear me when I explain how dehumanizing it is. How I leave stores feeling sticky with the negative labels and stereotypes of what it means to be black in America.
I need you to hear me when I say I’ve worked in spaces where I was constantly silenced and “other”ed. I need you to not minimize or negate my experience. I need you know how an office culture with surface-level inclusion can be as dangerous and problematic as overt prejudice.
I need you to not make excuses. Maybe if he would have not raised his voice. Maybe if he wouldn’t have run. Maybe if he would have kept his hands on the wheel. Please don’t make excuses for others’ costly mistakes. You may be trying to hope for the best or mitigate the situation, but instead, you unintentionally gaslight. You erase the experience of people who look like me, and make us feel wrong for living through it to tell the tale.
I don’t want a knee-jerk reaction of emotion from you. It’s great that you post on Instagram. It’s great that you are speaking out, but I need more from you. I need more than a one-time display of compassion, grief, anger and empathy.
I need you to intentionally choose to engage in this conversation. I need you to ask black friends in your world if they are open to share their personal experiences. I need you sit with your children and tell them the deep history of racial injustice and bigotry this country was built on. I need you to tell them it’s wrong and to teach them to be better.
I don’t want a knee-jerk reaction of emotion from you.
I need you to get politically active. I need you to vote out any council person, district attorney, mayor or governor who is not for justice and accountability. I need you to vote for legislation that holds leadership and law enforcement accountable. I need you to educate yourself on the policies in your city and state that adversely affect communities of color.
Trust me when I say that the viral videos are just a small glimpse into what it means to be black in America. We may not post about it on social media today or tomorrow. We need time and space to grieve, to weep for another soul lost.
I may not know about every murder of an innocent black man or woman. Trust me, I will find out. We know. This is our day-to-day experience. This isn’t new.
We know. A routine traffic stop for a broken tail light could result in a wrongful death. A walk through a store in the mall can result in us being followed. Being in the wrong neighborhood with my skin color can get the police called on us.
We know. We know about Emmett Till, the Birmingham church bombing, about Travyon Martin, Tamir Rice and Rodney King. It’s forever etched into our brains.
This is not new. It is our daily existence. I understand why you call to check on me. That your heart is breaking, and that’s OK. It should break.
Your heart is breaking, and that’s OK. It should break.
Let it break and let it compel you to action. Let it compel you to conversation with your families about race. Let it compel you to call out coworkers, friends and relatives who make racial jokes or stereotypes in jest. Let it compel you to jump in when you see prejudice and injustice—to literally jump in. Let it compel you to question if there is any bias in your own heart.
If you feel the need to call your black friends every time another name is added to the list of wrongful black murders, you will be calling us a lot. Trust me, we already know. We need more than your words. We need you to actively choose to engage, even when it’s hard, even when it gets heavy. For the longest time, we’ve been doing the lifting by ourselves.