Some months ago, I sent an email it was very, very hard to send.
Today, I am glad I sent it.
In a large-team meeting, a new leader moved their PowerPoint deck one slide forward. When I saw the content of that new slide, I froze. That’s to say, between fight, flight, and freeze, my body chose “freeze.”
I stopped hearing. I stopped processing. What was on the screen felt to me, as the wife of a Black man and mother of Black sons, like an existential threat.
What was on the screen was the name of a policing strategy that has
yielded the tragic deaths of so, so many Black and brown people
due to “infractions” so minor they should never have
even been noticed.
After I’d come back online, I debated whether or not to say anything.
Having recently read White Fragility, I decided it was important to say something.
I wrote that I’m a white woman, but that I’m married to a Black man. That I have Black sons.
That, as a white person in other circumstances, the strategy named on the screen would probably have meant nothing to me;
as white people, the strategy could seem so, so very … neutral. The opposite of noteworthy.
It wasn’t apt to impact our lives.
But, I continued, in these circumstances,
I could say that “neutral” actually meant
“not its intended target.”
That “neutral” sounded anything but
to its intended targets.
The leader I emailed replied, almost instantly, they’d never use that example again. They understood the limits of their personal knowing.
My heart. was. so. glad.
No defensiveness. No anger. No frustration. Just:
“Here’s what I’m doing different, starting now.”
In 2012, the aftermath of Trayvon Martin’s murder exposed me to the reality that Black lives don’t yet matter in the United States.
In the eight years since, I’ve studied and listened and acted and ached, and learned that I am not a Democrat.
As a relatively new leftist, I’ve learned that many leftists are purists: You’re all in with what they believe, all (or almost all) the time, or you’re nothing. You faker. You fraud.
From such a perspective, reading a book like White Fragility is nonsense. It’s a way to feel better about being supportive of fundamentally racist systems.
That perspective is not mine.
As the white wife of a Black man and mother to Black sons,
a white woman who grew up in destitute poverty but was. still. white,
I have learned a hell of a lot by reading, years before reading White Fragility.
Even so, I learned a hell of a lot by reading White Fragility,
most of all that it’s not enough to only read;
we must also speak when it’s uncomfortable.
Especially when it’s uncomfortable.
If you’re reading White Fragility but not (yet) an abolitionist, I’m not dismissing that. I’m not dismissing you. I’m thinking, “Rockin’! What a start!”
For Black and brown people to have the unencumbered possibility of living full, rich lives in this systemically racist nation, White Fragility can’t be it. It can’t be The One Book You Read. It can’t be the end of your engagement with questions about being anti-racist in this racist nation.
But: Do I believe that I can judge your efforts,
your ability to impact change,
by the very first book you pick up
when trying to make sense of
centuries of lethal nonsense?
When I see that you’re reading the book,
I’ll think, “May this be the beginning!”
and be glad that you are trying.
After spending so many years trying to figure out how to try, and do, better,
what I’m finally understanding is:
There is no end to learning.
There is no book that can say, or be, it all.
What’s irreplaceable is inspiration, and inspiration
can bloom from something as small as the willingness
to pick up one book, to reflect on it,
to send an uncomfortable email because of it,
and to begin imagining that the whole world
can, indeed, be changed.
If you have not yet started–
if, for example, you recently told me that all lives matter–
White Fragility is a lovely place to start.
Don’t let it be the end, but:
By all means, let it be