On Doing Something

My heart is heavy after this week. Heavy from the senseless murders of innocent black men. Heavy with the weight of my privilege- the privilege of not fearing for my life or the lives of my family members just because of the color of our skin. It’s difficult to know what to say or do to make things better. But just because it is difficult doesn’t mean it should be paralyzing. Here is a working list of actions one can take to feel some power to make positive change:

Sign up for a course on bias. Portland State is just one of many institutions who offer courses on white privilege and bias. Last fall, Professor Rachel Sanders taught a class called “White Privilege.” Implicit bias is powerful, real, pervasive, dangerous, and invisible to nearly all of us. The more we can learn about bias- and its effects on our decision making- the better equipped we will be to combat it.

Or start smaller, online. For people seeking to understand implicit bias – the idea that people can hold damaging stereotypes without being conscious of them – take Harvard University’s Project Implicit online tests, which can reveal hidden associations based on race, gender or sexual orientation. Find them at https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/.

Read up, for more context. There are so many great books on racial justice: “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander; “White Like Me” by Tim Wise; “Sister Citizen” by Melissa Harris; “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson; “Race Matters” by Cornel West, to name a few. We also live in the age of technology, where countless articles are available at the click of a button. Take note of who each author is, and try to read articles written by people of color to understand their perspectives.

Look for groups already doing work you support. National organizations as well as local chapters and organizations (like PDX NAACP) are on the front lines fighting for racial justice in our communities. Churches, school groups, NGOs, meetup groups, and others exist and need support in the forms of money, publicity, and volunteers.

Self-reflect on how you might contribute to systemic racism. This post by Donald Miller posits that subtle racism is the most dangerous kind of racism: a hint of condescension; wariness of a stranger; a stereotype or generalization you have come to believe. These second-nature thoughts reinforce our white supremacist culture. I liked this excerpt:

“I wonder how much good we are doing—as a white and privileged people—if we don’t first stand aghast at the reflection in the mirror. Maybe we’re not getting any better because we’re not being honest about our personal, deeply ingrained, shamefully racist tones. For how does anyone heal if she does not first admit that she is sick?”

Consider stepping away from social media. Ana Cunningham, a teacher in Charlotte, NC, says she doesn’t post on social media in response to events like this because it tends to be a short-term release. “Our action lags behind our fervent rhetoric. It’s great that people want to be awoken, but it’s passive to post on social media. It’s passive to have hashtags and prayers and marches.”

If you believe all lives matter, she says, you should volunteer in high-poverty schools , register voters, or help an immigrant learn to speak English. And you need to stay involved for months and years, not days: “It takes going beyond our comfort zones” to build lasting relationships with people who are different.

Talk with someone you don’t know. Molly Barker, founder of Girls on the Run, now runs the Red Boot Coalition, which works on getting people from different communities to interact. “I keep coming back to my belief that what the world is yearning for are bridge builders,” she says. “A lot of my white friends, people I know, really, really want to engage and are afraid simply because they’re afraid of offending. We’ve got to get over that. Being open to dialogue doesn’t fall on just one group.”

Talk and listen even more. There is a reason God gave us two ears and one mouth. We should listen twice as much as we talk. Listen to people who are directly affected by violence and discrimination. Listen to people who are dedicating their lives to fighting racial injustice. Listen to people with different perspectives from your own.

Get political. Opportunities to make a difference come at the local and national level; in the White House and the courthouse.  Examine legislation at the local, state and federal levels and get in touch with representatives to tell them what you think is needed. REGISTER TO VOTE, contact your state legislators, contact your federal representatives, educate your friends about important legislative issues.

Contact local police. Call Portland Police Bureau (or your local police station) and ask them what they are doing to ensure this violence will not take place in our community. Demand to know how they are training their officers to use non-lethal tactics to deescalate situations so they don’t lead to murder.

Turn off the TV. Unfortunately, news coverage is mostly concerned with making money and less concerned with affecting positive change for people of color. This means sensationalizing everything and turning black deaths into entertainment. Also, journalists often use police jargon to obscure the truth about police brutality: think terms like “officer-involved shooting” rather than “murder by a police officer.”

Stop waiting. Everybody is waiting for someone else to do something. But we are who we are waiting for. Don’t forget Gandhi’s advice to be the change we wish to see in the world.

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