Bench in front of Central High School, Little Rock, with Elizabeth Eckford's name. © 2015 . All rights reserved.

This one’s for the white folks

Let’s get real. It’s about to be Martin Luther King Day and I want to get in your business a little bit and know what your plans are. And while I think everyone could benefit from putting a little thought into observing the day, I really only feel comfortable telling white people what I think they ought to do.

White people, we need to do better.

If you are the slightest bit awake to what has happened this past year, you know that race is still a huge issue for us. And surely, surely, you realize that we all have a part to play in this. This is not a black issue – please don’t let the fact that you live in a culture built by and for whiteness tell you that. Please be smarter, willing to go a little deeper, willing to be less sure that you have the answers. We – all of us – have the responsibility to take care of our own mindset, baggage, understanding. At the very least, we have responsibility for that.

However, as humans, we tend to do the things we are responsible for when we have to, when there will be some consequence if we don’t. As white people in a majority white culture, we simply don’t have to think about these things very much. We are not forced to. We need to provide our own motivation here. I’m trying to help you out by giving you a few days to plan.

Take this day that we’ve been given, and use it as a chance to work on your own stuff (that you have just from being white in America). Enlarge and enlighten your mind. Here are some suggestions:

Go see Selma.

I mean, what could be easier? It’s a movie. You can have popcorn. Want to up the ante? If any of your black friends are going to see it, ask if you can join them. Talk about how those events affect today’s reality, in your lives, right now. Do more listening than talking.

Visit the Central High School or the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center.

If you live in or around Little Rock and you haven’t been both of these places, get on it. They are excellently put together, have informative, helpful staff, and most importantly? They are telling you the story of where you live, probably in a way you’ve never heard it before. Take your children, early and often. They need to understand that they are not growing up within the same construct as their african-american friends. They need to understand that blacks & whites live in different neighborhoods – in their own city – as a result of intentional, aggressive planning and action on the part of whites in power, not that long ago.

Read. Listen. Share.

Try Christena Cleveland or Brenda Salter McNeil or Tim Wise. Grace Biskie. Austin Channing-Brown. Find a community discussion you can join (perhaps at the Mosaic Templars, or an upcoming Rep community talk about this play) – and when I say join, what I really mean is listen. If you can, sit around a table with some black friends who are willing to speak openly and talk about current events. Not to win the conversation, but to learn.

Make yourself the minority.

This one’s tricky, because I think the way a white person enters a black space can be hurtful in and of itself. If you can, perhaps go someplace where you’re the minority along with someone who is the majority. They could help bridge that gap and help you understand the experience. Or, take this on by trying to understand white privilege.

Look, I know we all want to think that the past is in the past, that we can easily understand and move on, and I just want to argue against that – I do not think it’s true. These things that happened are just a generation or two ago, lived through by people that we know, were raised by. They are handed down, consciously and unconsciously. We don’t like to look at it, but the fact is that many years and much effort has been spent on ingraining these habits and thoughts and patterns into society – at least that much effort will have to be made to get them out.

So let’s take this opportunity to make an effort.

Of course this list isn’t exhaustive – I’d love for you to add your suggestions too. What are you planning for MLK Day?

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I’ve written about race before; if you want to read more you should maybe start here and then browse the topic.

2 Comments

  1. Karen

    Well said. I’m convicted right and left today. Just read this, too: http://blueprintchurch.org/white-christians-need-hear-ferguson/

  2. Karen, I like that one too. My favorite: “Kindness is radical because it is like God. It is radical not only because it seeks to understand what the world looks like to someone else, but because it enters that world and takes action.” – See more at: http://blueprintchurch.org/white-christians-need-hear-ferguson/#sthash.EtaKKR7x.dpuf

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