Words Matter. Actions Matter.

My world is blanketed in whiteness. A fresh dusting of snow has covered the footprints, tire tracks and dirt of the snow that has accumulated in my yard over the past week. I have to squint when I look out my window. It’s cold and harsh, yet peaceful and beautiful. A few days ago was my birthday. Every year I buy myself a new outfit to wear on that day. I want everything to be new at the start of my new year. I want to be renewed. Yet buying stuff and pretending things will be different doesn’t make fresh and new like a fresh snowfall. I have to actually do the work.

Re-reading the first sentence of this post…”my world is blanketed in whiteness,” I realized that more than just a snowy day, it is a metaphor for my life. I live in a community that is predominantly white, same goes with the church I go to, the companies I work/worked for and the schools I went to. Most of my friends are white. I’ve grown up in whiteness. I’ve brought my children up in whiteness. I’ve tried to teach them that each and every life is important and in God’s image no matter their color, sex/gender/sexual orientation, religion or nationality. No one group of people is intrinsically better than other. Black Lives Matter, not because all lives don’t matter, but because our society treats Black lives as if they don’t. Love is love because loving another human can’t be wrong. I’ve tried to help them understand that politics and religion have become entwined. Politicians have long used religion to harness power and hoard it as if it were a limited resource (it’s not). We’ve been taught to not talk about politics and religion as being impolite. However, not talking about them and turning a blind eye to them allows those with the power over us to continue to wield it in ways that are only beneficial to them. I’ve spent the past month and a half continuing my advocacy journey. I’ve done so be listening, reading and reflecting…learning. Recently I finished reading/listening to these books/audio books (I highly recommend them all):

  • White Fragility, Robin DiAngelo
  • Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • Stamped from the Beginning, Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds
  • I’m Still Here, Austin Channing Brown
  • Braving the Wilderness, Brene Brown
  • Love Warrior, Glennon Doyle

From each of these books I’ve learned something new about those around me and about myself. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that to be a good ally and advocate, I can’t be worried about niceness. I’ve often been labeled as nice. I thought “nice” was a good thing. Niceness doesn’t affect change. However, that does not mean I must be come derisive, mean and dehumanizing. Words matter (as does silence). Actions matter (as does inaction). Pretending not to see, is not an option for me. We’ve been taught that to be called racist is a morally bad thing. That if you are color blind and treat everyone the same, you can’t be racist, because that would make you a bad person. Yet, denying that our culture is embedded in racism, perpetuates it. Denying our participation in it and thinking that racism is a small group of radical, white supremacist fringe elements keeps racism alive. When we fail to recognize our own racist ideas and reflect on them nothing changes. Why should we care? It doesn’t effect my daily life? I’m not a “bad” person, I can’t be a racist. However, I am guilty of subscribing to many racist ideas that I had no idea were racist. I now know those ideas were wrong and this drives me to do better and continue to learn more. I can’t be afraid to be labeled “bad,” so I can grow and work to inch the needle of justice, equity and inclusion even a millimeter more towards the center.

My daughters think I have become overly political as if that is a bad thing. I know at their age they are in the world of “trying to fit in.” Having a mother that is passionate about ideas that are labeled “liberal” and “socialist” in a conservative community is not easy. Recently we got into a heated discussion about Morgan Wallen, a country artist that they both enjoy listening to. He was recently censured by the country music industry for using racial slurs. I deleted his music off our play lists and devices. They put it back. I deleted it again. My youngest daughter told me “I wasn’t funny.” I replied that I wasn’t trying to be funny. They both responded that they liked his music and what he does/says in his private life doesn’t matter. They accused me of trying to “cancel” him. Many Americans agree as his albums are still at the top of the charts. They tried to justify Wallen’s use of that language because Black artists use the same words in their music. I patiently (although unsuccessfully) tried to explain that because of the history of that word used by whites as derogatory, hateful and to promote harm and violence against and dehumanize Black people, it is not a word that white people should ever use and doing so is blatantly racist. When Black people use that word in their music it is away for them to take back the word and re-humanize it. The two are not the same. I explained that I was not cancelling Wallen by deleting his music or being political. Instead, I was using what little power I have to stand up against racism. If I became aware of one the artists I loved acting similarly, I would delete their music too. I can use my dollars to support those artists and brands that lift others up in their private/public lives. I know my daughters are going to be mortified if they read this. I am not trying to shame them or make them out as bad (or anyone else that continues to listen to and buy his music for that matter). When I was their age, I wouldn’t have listened to my parents either. I would listen to whatever I liked and that my friends are listening to. What I am trying to do is show them that words and actions matter in life. My hope is that someday down the road, they will realize their own privilege and understand the lessons I was trying to teach them.

In the meantime, I will continue to read, listen, learn and take action. I encourage everyone to do the same.

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