06 Jun It’s Time for White People to Do the Work
This world is exhausting.
The notion of the ‘tired’ Black person has become trendy in recent months. Of course, James Baldwin famously said in 1965 that to be Black ‘in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” Many of us have been there; rage is tiresome. Then in 2018, Jayne Allen published her acclaimed novel Black Girls Must Die Exhausted which highlighted the stress and strains Black women endure whilst navigating oppressive systems to achieve the quintessential American Dream. In 2014, USA Today published this to briefly illustrate the daunting task of being Black in America.
On top of this, there are already many, many Black people like me who are doing all they can to make the world more equitable and just for Black and others who live in marginalized communities. I personally focus on public education and economic inclusion. My friend Ashford does, too. My friend Fallon works on issues around the digital divide, tech inclusion, and girl empowerment. My friend Ingrid is a staunch advocate for children and people of color – a part of her work is helping people understand the connection between trauma and changes in our brains and DNA. My friend Kia is actively working to bridge the gap between philanthropists and black-led organizations. My two friends Charlane and Tequila do this. My friend Raymond does this. My friend Matia does this. Courtney does this. A girl who attended the same elementary schools as I did does this. Rasheedat does this. The list goes on and on and on.
We are doing the work.
But recently, a new thing has been added to the always long to-do list for Black people.
In the absolutely disgusting, frightening, and pathetic horrors of the past recent days, months, and even years – from the police-instigated terrors, including the deaths of Tamir Rice and Sandra Bland and Philando Castile, to the most recent ones including Breonna Taylor and George Floyd compounded with some people’s sick and oftentimes lethal obsession with policing Black life (see: Ahmed Aubrey, Christian Cooper, Trayvon Martin, etc.), the new item keeps popping up whenever somebody mentions the horrors of the day.
Black people are now expected to become the secretaries of their own liberation. Not only must we endure the recent traumas while carrying the past trauma of our ancestors, many non-Blacks now expect us to do even more. They want us to share anti-racist resources, explain what anti-racism is, confirm whether we think they are or can be racist, call them out when they do something wrong, send them books to read, tell them what documentaries to watch, listen to their tears, wade through ‘endless check-ins’ at work and so on and so on.
It’s like being forced to take the notes and bring water at a meeting you never wanted to attend.
But, I get it, though.
A revolution requires many things – education and changed hearts are among them. No power shift in history has every happened without people becoming awakened to the conditions and deciding to do something about it. There are people who have to do the work. But haven’t we already done enough? We’ve certainly lost enough to be put on the ‘do-not-work’ list.
It’s been open season on Black bodies in a race war for power and dominance for centuries. Nearly a century ago, we read devastating reports about the countless Black men who were lynched by white mobs only to have history repeat itself with the mode of killing updated from rope to hot metal. Decades ago, we mourned the four little girls who lost their lives in a church bombing only to relive the trauma again in Charleston. Today, we watch on video as Black bodies have been gunned down or put in danger (see: Sean Reed and Philando Castille). We’ve seen the racist perpetrators literally get away with murder time and time again.
And each time it happens, in addition to the work we already undertake, Black people add these same things to our lists:
- Some of us pray.
- Some of us call for forgiveness.
- Some of us call for bold leadership and unity.
- Some of us hold ‘secret’ meetings to create a new political agenda for Black life.
- Some of us call for nationwide boycotts and only pledge to only ‘buy Black.’
- Some of us create new groups to speak truth to power.
- Some of us hold peaceful protests.
- Some of us spark riots.
- Some of us try to tell our non-Black friends and associates why we’re upset.
- Some of us create catchy hashtags to draw attention to the issue on social media.
- Some of us get to work on grand policies that change the way things are done.
- Some of us denounce the media.
- Some of us rally to encourage voter participation.
- Some of us decide to run for office.
- Some of us give our money to important causes.
- Some of us try to position ourselves as leaders of a new movement.
- And some of us decide to do nothing – either we’re consumed with trying to survive daily life or we’ve convinced ourselves we’re powerless and whatever we do won’t matter anyway.
We do all these things, yet it seems that nothing ever changes. In the span of four years, we’ve seen our country rally behind a message of hope to becoming further divided by a messages and actions of hate. All the while, more and more black bodies become even more vulnerable. And in response, Black people have dug in. We elevate our cries for help. We make urgent our request, our protest, for freedom. And it seems like it’s mostly fell upon deaf ears.
George Floyd’s untimely and unjust death was ‘the straw that broke the camel’s back.’ It seems like the atmosphere has shifted. People are paying attention. People want to know how they’ve contributed to the problem. People want to know what to do to fix it. And they’re asking their Black friends to tell them.
But I’m leaning out of that. I am not adding another thing to my plate. It’s time for white people to do the work in their communities to solve this problem.
Black people have already done enough.
One of my white friends suggested that the people (most of whom were Black) watching the officer kneel on George Floyd’s neck should have physically intervened to stop the officers. Excuse me? No. Absolutely not. Some members of the police have already displayed a propensity for killing Black lives for far less. Encouraging us to tackle them or ‘take them down’ only further endangers are already vulnerable lives. Instead of encouraging Black people to invite bodily harm to their person, how about encouraging white people to do the work?
Instead of Black people adding yet another item to the plate of racial reconciliation, white people must charge themselves with checking their implicit biases, asking themselves are they racists, and examining the ways in which they uphold white supremacy. That’s the real move. Stop being racist. This is not for Black people to solve. This is a job for white people.
I’m over Black people having to do ALL the work in the quest for racial justice. We have to die, protest, riot, boycott, strategize, encourage people not to do the wrong thing, turn the other cheek, get attacked by police, be maligned and criminalized in the media when we die for no reason and/or attacked by police or other racists, educate white people (and some Blacks) on why we’re upset, and now were expected to “take down the police” when they decide to kill us because of their implicit biases??!
And white people just get to keep on being white?
And now, in the wake of their recent revelation about what we’ve always known, they want us to tell them how to be better humans, too?
This is not on black people to solve. We’ve been doing the same things for decades. Nothing has changed but a few policies and pieces of legislation, and we have a long way to go on that front.
The white allies need to be the ones leading the charge on how not kill/question/attack black people. It’s really on them.
We’ve already done all of the work.