Many of my white friends and colleagues reached out over the past week to check in on me. They saw George Floyd die pinned beneath Minneapolis police officers’ knees and read how the Louisville police used a no-knock warrant to execute Breonna Taylor. They saw Ahmaud Arbery’s killers arrested only after a national uproar and Amy Cooper’s false assault accusations against a birdwatcher who just asked that she leash her dog. We are all now witnessing the nationwide uprisings against the continuous racial inequity that make these injustices possible and probable.
Mr. Floyd’s last moments and Ms. Taylor and her boyfriend’s terror repeat in my head. I’m haunted by Mr. Arbery’s last thoughts as he fought for his life and how Amy Cooper might have incited violence against an innocent man were it not for the recording.
For my own sanity, I now limit what I watch and listen to, because white supremacy is inherently violent, deeply traumatic – and sadly familiar to me as a Black woman. It was there when my husband and I, with our six-month-old son, were pulled over for making a left turn on a stale yellow light. The two police officers approached our car with guns drawn. It was there when 7-year-old me squirmed around in a cold, red chair as my white third-grade teacher accused me of cheating on my vocabulary homework. She couldn’t imagine that I was smart enough to have done it myself. It scares me when my 15-year-old son is late coming home from playing football. I wonder whether he was stopped along the way.
For those wondering how your Black colleagues are doing, these examples are just a few instances of the unending violence that Black people endure. There are victims whose stories we will never know.
I find inspiration in the incredible and compelling efforts to take on racism and white supremacy to stop the harm it inflicts on Black communities. And I find encouragement in working at Spitfire, a communications firm whose mission is to support courageous people and organizations fighting for racial equity across many systems.
I’m proud that Spitfire is contributing to the Minnesota Healing Justice Network, which provides a supportive professional community and mutual aid network for wellness and healing justice practitioners who also identify as IBPOC (Indigenous, Black or people of color). I have personally done the same. Spitfire also created a $100,000 pro bono fund to provide communications support for Black-led organizations engaging in racial equity work that cannot invest in this vital support. For more information, please email email@example.com. Our goal is to support these organizations, which are full of bold and brilliant leadership.
I force myself to count my blessings these days. It helps me temper the pain of watching Black communities being scourged by COVID-19 and the brave activists who are standing up to a criminal legal system that neither accepts nor respects their humanity.
My list of blessings is long: the health and well-being of my family and the organizers in Minnesota and other cities who are fighting for my son’s life and others like him.
I am also grateful for my Spitfire colleagues who understand the powerful and pervasive ways that racism is baked into our country’s collective language, that who holds the power controls the narrative, and that we have a responsibility to address racial inequity. This is our highest, best use of our collective energy.
Black people are not monolithic. Whether or not recent events are traumatic, and to what degree, varies across all of us. This is just my experience. I do know there are others like me who walk with this trauma that uniquely falls on our Black shoulders. When you check on Black people, you are taking a step in acknowledging our humanity, which this country’s systems are built to deny.
Beyond checking in, ask yourself a few more questions: What can I do right now to support organizations that are Black-led and that center Black communities? How can I take responsibility to learn from them, build more allies that look like me and change the systems that were built for my supremacy and power? Racial justice hinges on these answers and actions. It’s also a critical part of ending the violent cycle of white supremacy and truly honoring the lives of Mr. Floyd, Ms. Taylor, Mr. Abery and others whose names we may or may not ever know.