On Being a White Ally

Like many of you, I have wrestled with the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers. Watching the video horrified me. I am saddened, sickened, and angered. We have all seen this exchange too many times. It was too many with Ahmaud Aubery, it was too many with Trayvon Martin, and, decades ago, it was too many with the lynchings of individuals like Calvin McDowell and Eliza Woods because of the discomfort their neighbors felt about their professional successes.

As a social worker and a graduate of Smith College School of Social Work (which has had an anti-racism policy and accompanying curriculum for decades), I take seriously my role as an ally. I have studied the work of Peggy McIntosh about the Invisible Knapsack to explore my White privilege. I have engaged in difficult conversations with my former master-level classmates about unconscious racism. I have taught my children about the racial inequities in America and helped them to notice the implicit biases of the media, educational texts, and political figures. I have taken responsibility and made known my racial biases in my clinical work with people of color. In all, I have considered myself an ally but in truth, the needless and outrageous death of George Floyd has forced me to reexamine the comfortable ways in which I engage in the fight.

My colleagues, clients, neighbors, and friends who are people of color cannot compartmentalize their reactions to the most recent death. I know that the color of my skin gives me a pass of safety, welcoming, and unearned respect wherever I go. My privilege affords me the luxury of leaving my house, driving my car, walking in a park, entering a store, or even watching tv in my own home without fear for my life.

What I am hearing, reading and feeling more deeply in this moment is my responsibility to use my privilege to change the narrative. What I have been doing isn't nothing but it has placed the burden of the struggle on the backs of my brown and black brethren. My lack of action beyond my immediate circle of influence risks complicity with the systemic racism I vowed 20 years ago to protest. Whether or not I march matters less than my decisions to do the following: contact my local government about mandatory body cameras for their police force. Investigate how my children are learning about slavery and its legacy in our criminal justice system. Know about and actively support with my pocketbook local businesses owned by people of color.

In response to these haunting reminders of America's racism, I seek to listen with an open mind and heart. The discontent I feel propels me to act and in doing so, I expect discomfort but pledge to not shy away but to instead lean in and be a better ally.

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