To My White Friends

I’VE BEEN ASKED BY WHITE FRIENDS WHAT THEY CAN DO.

First of all, thank you for asking.  I’ll start by saying that I can only speak for myself, and not for other people of color. This post is not intended to be political or critical. I’ll add that rioting, arguing, angry comments, blaming, and trendy social media posts are NOT the answer. Let me explain.

This is a photograph of me on the morning of April 5, 1968, the day after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. I was 5-years old. My dad’s cousin was a photographer for the Associated Press and was sent into Harlem to cover the protests and riots that followed the assassination known as the Holy Week Uprising. He stopped by our Manhattan apartment to prep and take some test shots before heading to his assignment, and my brother and I were willing models.

As a child, I didn’t fully understand what was happening as my parents discussed the events and watched the news on television. But as I grew older, I started to understand as I learned about the events of the civil rights movement and experienced racial prejudice as a mixed-race child.

I’ve been teased, bullied, rejected, discriminated, judged, ignored, physically beaten, and more throughout my life because of the color of my skin. Racism is something I grew up with and no matter where I lived or traveled, always just a part of my life. Unfortunately, it has also been a part of my children’s lives.  Six of our nine children have African blood and colored skin, and have had similar experiences. It’s heartbreaking as a parent. I don’t share this for attention but to explain the reality many of us have lived.

But even as I child I understood that it was about fear, lack of knowledge, and other’s feelings of inadequacy who wanted to instill fear in me. The fear that developed from the lack of understanding, education, experiences, and self-confidence. I somehow knew that as long as I withstood their attempts to disgrace and discriminate me, I wouldn’t adopt their fearful mentality. I lived by the mindset that was modeled by peaceful civil rights leaders and in recent years has been well-phrased by Michelle Obama,

When they go low, we go high.

SO, WHAT CAN YOU DO?

First, it’s up to ALL of us to take a look deep within ourselves. To be honest about who we are and what we believe about others. Self-examination is not easy or comfortable.  We’re all human and will undoubtedly find evidence of prejudice we’re not proud of.  I have.  I admit it.  And I’m grateful it opens the door for me to make the changes I need to make. Years ago, looking at this photo of five-year old me, I was embarrassed by the size of my lips and features that I was teased about. Now I see a beautiful little girl who had a big future ahead of her filled with important life experiences that will shape me into the woman I become.

It’s up to ALL of us to educate ourselves and the future generations. My children were raised with studying American cultural history during Black History Month, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and National Hispanic Heritage Month, as well as the important history of our country during Presidents’ Day and Independence Day.  We also learn and honor the white pioneer heritage of our faith that four of our nine children are decendants of.  We read books, watched videos, honor our flag, country, and those who serve our country and community in uniform.

Our married daughters have introduced their husbands to their rich heritage and history, and will teach their children. My son is the third generation of our family to serve in the U.S. military. We need to build and fortify our homes in truth, love, compassion, and service. In our multi-race family, there’s no division of race or color but there is a difference and we lovingly recognize that with gratitude.

It’s up to ALL of us to listen, speak, listen some more, and remember what is said. Thankfully, this is being done by many right now and I’m grateful for that. Time will tell how much is remembered, pondered, and applied.  It’s the only way to develop understanding and to implement change.

It’s up to ALL of us to have the courage to make changes through the proper channels. Change comes from planning, strategy, organization, implementation, and consistency. Working with the government, not against it. Standing up for what you know is right and taking courageous action. I guarantee that as we move forward, there will be more opportunities for everyone to make a difference.

But most of all what I want to say is the best thing you can really do is . . . GET OUT OF MY WAY.

As well-meaning as it may be, I don’t need your handout or for you to do anything for me. Arguing, judging, blaming, or trendy social media posts are intended to be helpful, create awareness, and express compassion but are not productive. I’m not criticising, just requesting a different approach.

I am skilled, talented, educated, and capable of achieving whatever I want to do.  I can be successful at whatever I put my mind to.  I love you and just get out of my way.

Racism creates barriers and blocks us from succeeding. It creates the illusion that in order for a person of color to get ahead or achieve something, they need the help from white people in some way, shape, or form. It continues the white supremacy mentality that got us where we are.  Again, my opinion and answer.

I want your love, your acceptance, your authenticity, your respect, the freedom to live my life, and pursue my dreams.

Not your pity, sympathy, handout, or charity.

The events of 1968 created momentum for change.  And even though so much more change is necessary, there was progress made as a country. As horrific and eye-opening as they have been, the events of 2020 are already and will continue to create momentum for change.  Change at a higher and more conscious level that leads to more justice, empowerment, and equality that is desperately needed.

There are so many different opinions right now and I know what I’ve written won’t sit well with some.  But this is my life, my experience, and my opinion.

I love my country and pray that the events of 2020 will ultimately take us to a higher level of humanity, love, and equality.  The events should be reminders to us that there is still much more to be done and that we are each responsible no matter where we stand culturally or politically.

May we all have the strength and courage for what we’re currently living and the journey ahead of us. It may not be an easy journey but it will be worth it.  We can do this . . . EQUALLY AND TOGETHER!

Until next time!

Deborah 

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