We had a week of birthday celebrations. The kids have several friends with birthdays this week, so on Wednesday we got on a Zoom call to sing happy birthday over individual ice cream cakes (dropped off by the mom the night before — genius idea), and prepared a little something for A’s girls’ birthday scavenger hunt on Friday.

On Thursday, I called the governor of Georgia.

Five times.  

I had a script all prepared, but I couldn’t get through. Clearly I was not the only one calling, because by that afternoon, the McMichaels — the two men who chased down and fatally shot Ahmaud Arbery — had finally been arrested and charged with murder.

Two months after killing 25-year-old Ahmaud.

Our days during this quarantine have often taken on an unreal quality, like living in some strange dystopian novel. Things are basically normal…but at the same time, very much not. And this new normal of ours has warped even further — as I cut ice cream cakes and wrap a sequin-studded narwhal stuffie and run out to the Amazon drop-off because, thank goodness, one of the gifts arrived just in time!! — knowing that somewhere in the United States, two men just lynched (let’s call it what it was) a 25-year-old kid who is black.

I think of the extra freedom I have because my sons are blonde-haired and blue-eyed. The freedom from worry, the freedom from fear, the freedom of having seemingly infinite choices in life. 

And how this freedom wasn’t earned, but is so well protected. The freedom of white people is protected by our history, our laws and our justice system. The same system that threatens other people’s freedoms firmly protects mine, based on something as flimsy as a difference in skin tone. Imagine, for a moment, what would’ve happened if the protestors who stormed Michigan’s capitalarmed with assault rifles — were black?

Someone once remarked that because we live in a racist (and misogynistic) culture, if we’re not actively fighting it…then we’re part of it.  Being complicit is an active choice, whether we face up to it or not.

Last night Mike and I were talking about the word “racist”. He had listened to an interview with Ibram X Kendi, author of “How to be an Anti-Racist,” who talks about the label of “racist” being supremely unhelpful. Since you can’t ever really know what is in someone’s heart, Mike explained, you can’t definitively prove that they are a racist.  

And Mike is a scientist. He likes proof.

What is more helpful, Mike went on, is to define someone’s actions as racist or not-racist. Since we’re all living in a horrifyingly racist culture, we’ve all been guilty — at one point or another, unwittingly or no — of a racist action. Given our culture, it’s almost impossible not to. 

But if we can talk a little less defensively about an action — something we are capable of changing — rather than slapping a label on someone, perhaps that’s a better place to start?

And let me be clear: white people, I’m talking to you. Especially white women.

This concept of focusing on racist actions rather than racist labels seems to be in-line with what Robin D’Angelo talks about in the book White Fragility

I know I’ve mentioned this in the past, but I do believe that every white person should read this book. I think it should be taught in schools. And I definitely think that now, today, if you haven’t yet read this book, it’s time to start.

And I know what you are thinking, you educated white person, you. You are thinking, “But I’m not a racist!!”

Here’s the deal. If you have ever….

…said (or identified with) the phrase “Blue Lives Matter”

…thought of yourself as “colorblind”

…worried about reverse racism possibly affecting your kids

…thought that your country/state/city doesn’t have the same problems with race that others do

…used the phrase “bad neighborhood” to describe any neighborhood that is predominantly non-white (or heck, even thought it)

…stayed silent in discussions about race because “race” doesn’t apply to you

These are all racist actions. Get the book.

I feel so strongly about this — about White Fragility being a must-read, a place to start — that if times are tough and you literally can’t afford it, shoot me an email and I’ll send you a copy.

I’m not doing the rest of my weekend post today. The fun, the shopping, the sales — I just don’t have it in me. Instead, consider this a virtual moment of silence for Ahmaud Arbery, who should’ve turned 26 on Friday.

A Few Resources On How To Be Anti-Racist

Get the booksWhite Fragility and How to Be Anti-Racist

Go for a run: #IRunWithMaud

Hear about next steps: This short interview with activist Brittany Packnett Cunningham does a good job of explaining why justice for Ahmaud will be a fight.

Confused about the statement “we live in a racist society?”.  Um. Ok. Start here. And then, for a current example, read this article that shows how black people are being disproportionally arrested for social distancing violations.

xo,

S

38 COMMENTS

  1. So I don’t disagree. Not a bit.
    But.
    My question is how do I do these things without being obnoxious to a person of color. I say this seriously because I have been the target of extreme, outright, overt sexism.
    Every time I was told by a man that I should be offended that someone called me a girl instead of a woman or insinuated that I should be more offended over “minor” issues I was enraged. I silently seethed because I have faced much deeper issues.
    How do I avoid causing people this feeling while also not keeping my mouth shut? Do I suck it up and fail, but at least I’m not silent?
    I don’t ask this in the theoretical or in a flippant way. I genuinely seek to know. I’m tired of being silent AND scared of sounding like the problem.

  2. Applaud you for this and the moment of silence for a young life lost completely unnecessarily. Prayers to Ahmaud’s family.

  3. Thank you for putting how I have been feeling into words. I am devastated every time another black person is killed for no reason and often with no consequence. I haven’t read the book but I am downloading it now. I appreciate you using your platform to champion the rights of others.

  4. Katie, I think the key here is don’t tell other people how to feel. I asked a Native American friend one time how he felt about people still referring to him as an Indian, and he said frankly his people had bigger issues to deal with. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t care or that it didn’t matter. But that doesn’t mean that I should stop caring or being mindful of my own language. I think the key is in specific situations to speak for yourself. “I don’t agree with that” vs. “You’re being insensitive to [Friend].” How would you have wanted those men who were telling you how you should feel to behave instead?

  5. Your weekend post is the highlight of my week. I appreciate your measured and researched perspective and how you’re not afraid to take a position. I’m a middle years teacher and am currently reading All American Boys by Jason Reynolds (it’s YA and an amazing entry point for kids into this awareness). As a Canadian in the prairies, we have the same racial divide, just with our indigenous peoples and it’s often terrifying. In any case, thanks for the recommendation for the read. Ordering it now. If you’d like a reverse recommendation, get The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein, a journalist based out of Alberta who writes about disaster capitalism, which is becoming glaring in our country right now. Please be safe, take care, and happy Mother’s Day to the entire team. I’m not shopping right now but I still love you all.

  6. This article is why I continue to read and support this blog. I have stopped reading all the other blogs I used to follow – they couldn’t compare with this blog’s honesty, thoughtfulness and, frankly, heart. I applaud you, Shana and team.

  7. I love these words by Ijeoma Oluo: “The beauty of anti-racism is that you don’t have to pretend to be free of racism to be an anti-racist. Anti-racism is the commitment to fight racism wherever you find it, including in yourself. And it’s the only way forward.” So if I do/say something racist – which I will bc I’m a white woman living a racist society with implicit bias – I take responsibility, make amends, & change my behavior.

  8. Yes to all of this. Another wonderful book that you don’t just read, you do: “Me and White Supremacy” by Layla Saad. Education and journaling prompts that will really get you thinking about your own privilege and how to make the world a more just place for people of color.

  9. This is in response to Katie’s question above. The answer is that there is no hard and fast answer. Black people are not a monolith. Black women are not a monolith. This is a phrase I’ve heard over and over again and it always something to keep in mind during these discussions. So your job is to treat people and listen to people as individuals. The focus should be on the listening and don’t make assumptions about someone’s thoughts and opinions based on the color of someone’s skin.

    I have black friends who sometimes have drastically different takes on topics related to race and social justice. Your job is to listen, learn, value the voices of black people above your own, and respect when someone is telling you something. Especially if your knee jerk reaction is defensiveness.

  10. Thank you thank you thank you. We have a very limited budget right now and yours is one of the only blogs I frequent because you are brave enough to take positions on difficult topics. I haven’t bought clothes from your links this month but I’ve bought many books, including White Fragility, Untethered Soul and the Yves Klein kids book you recommended. Thank you for providing a place where we can come to gain some perspective on what is going on. I don’t think any of us will ever feel great about the world for a very long time, but it is nice to have a home base of sanity and good intention to come back to time and again, even when the going is very rough and the topics feel like a boulder no one wants to even try to pick up. Thank you for your bravery in picking up boulders when most are more comfortable turning the other way and walking on by.

  11. Thank you, Shana. I feel your passion about this and I share it. I am angry and heart sick about this lynching and outraged that the police had the video from the day this young man was killed. It is only because it was posted online and went viral that they made an arrest. In 2020. This is beyond deeply troubling. I couldn’t sleep this morning and got up about 4am. I turned on Netflix and found a movie entitled, “Mudbound” that I decided to watch. I want to recommend it to you. It portrays the racist climate in Mississippi during and after World War II. It is tragically realistic and deeply moving. I found myself feeling hopeless as I reflected on how racism is so deeply embedded in our history, our society, our present culture. Ahmaud Arbery was a victim of our past but very much a victim of our present political narrative of racism, hatred, division, and the enabling of all of these. Your honest expression of white privilege, particularly as the mother of two white boys, was so moving to me. I heard the mayor of Atlanta say just today on CNN that her three boys who are black are afraid and she, as their mother, is terrified. It breaks my heart. Thank you for speaking out and reminding us that we must face our own racist actions, thoughts, and feelings that are all deeply buried. We need to dig them up and do what we can to heal ourselves first. I plan to order the book you recommended. Keep up the excellent writing about subjects that we need to think about. Toni Landick

  12. From Kelefa Sanneh’s review of White Fragility in The New Yorker:
    “…DiAngelo is endlessly deferential—for her, racism is basically whatever any person of color thinks it is. In the story she tells about the world, she and her fellow white people have all the power, and therefore all the responsibility to do the gruelling but transformative spiritual work she calls for. The story makes white people seem like flawed, complicated characters; by comparison, people of color seem good, wise, and perhaps rather simple. This narrative may be appealing to its target audience, but it doesn’t seem to offer much to anyone else. At least, that’s my interpretation, and perhaps DiAngelo will be grateful to hear it. After all, I am what she would call a person of color, and whatever I write surely counts as ‘feedback.’ Maybe that means she is, indeed, doing well.”

    It’s important to register the ironic tone in these final lines. For Sanneh, as a black writer, it’s acually offensive for DiAngelo to say that a person of color must be listened to simply because he or she is a person of color, rather than because he or she might make a rational argument as opposed to an irrational one.

    Ahmaud Arbery’s death is a horrible tragedy that indeed evidences the continued corrosive effect of racism in America. Your post, Shana, is a salutary and well-meant response to same. But it is important to remember that within the same political position (antiracism) there can be real and legitimate disagreements. Sanneh’s critique of DiAngelo is a strong reminder of this.

  13. Thank you, Shana. I struggle with knowing what I, a white woman, can do to help change an overwhelming problem. Of course I have to start with me. I’ve ordered the book, and I’m desperate to learn and do better.

    I appreciate your willingness to be bold and take a stand. To recognize the need for a moment of silence and reverence for a young man who should be alive and celebrating his birthday. You have an amazing ability to pull my jumbled thoughts and concerns together into words that speak order into my heart. Thank you.

  14. I highly recommend Ijeoma Oluo’s book So You Want To Talk About Race. She does a fantastic job of addressing numerous topics, including intersectionality, self awareness, recognizing that there are many types of privilege and how to recognize your own, and how to bring up issues of racial disparity in conversation. I listened to the audiobook (which she narrates herself) and then bought a copy of the book just so I could refer back to it.

  15. Thank you for writing this and acknowledging that if we are white we are privileged. Thank you for using your privilege to speak out about what’s happening in our society. People of color are dying in far grater numbers during this pandemic because money buy healthcare in this country. Thank you so much for using this platform to speak out. We white women, we need to get off the sidelines and step into the arena and work to end the many injustices that exist in America today. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  16. I think we have to be cautious proclaiming things addressed to “all” white people or speak as “the” black community. Humanity is full of differences and lumping people together based solely on the color of their skin is unhelpful. I realize we all have different worldviews but in my personal worldview ( as the mama of a black child), white women talking down to white women about their lack of education in racial issues or how if they aren’t shouting about issues of race or white fragility on social media they are complicit in racism is just unhelpful and untrue. Important discussions and true change never seem to be helped by crazy social media outrage and untrue assumptions.

  17. Thank you, Shana, for all of your work and thoughtful writing. As others have said, I return to your blog because you balance levity with the essential issues that cannot go unaddressed. I appreciate you using your platform to call in other white people to learn. Highly recommend Ijeoma Oluo’s work, too! I’ve had the honor of hearing her speak in Seattle and feel more knowledgable every time I do.

    As a white person, I remember that I will make mistakes, but cannot let that stop me from trying to be the best possible white person and ally that I can. Thank you for being a role model.

  18. Because it deliberately misconstrues and attempts to undermine the entire message behind Black Lives Matter, the movement it was created to respond to. Black Lives Matter is a necessary reminder that Black lives matter as much as white lives (the “too” is silent.) We live in a society that simply does not believe that Black lives matter as much as white lives. We do not, however, live in a society that believes cop lives don’t matter. Cop lives are highly valued in our society. Black lives, not so much.

    It’s like seeing a movement calling itself “Save the Whales” and immediately deciding to start a movement called “Save the Puppies.” No one is coming after the puppies, and it’s disingenuous to claim those two are in the same position.

    Plus, it sets up a false, racist dynamic – that treating Black lives like they are fully valued means you have to choose to devalue cop lives. What does that say about how they perceive Black lives?

  19. We white people should listen to people of color, and then talk about racism and anti-racism to other white people, not to people of color. Men should listen to women (and nonbinary folx), and then talk to other men about misogyny and sexism, not to women and nonbinary folx. Hope that helps. 🙂

  20. This is for the commenter who asked how Blue Lives Matter indicates racism. Blue Lives Matter has co-opted the language of Black Lives Matter — which means that for the entire history of our country, Black lives and bodies have been less valued than white ones (as evidenced by systemic racism that has been baked into every single aspect of our country’s laws and systems: financial, education, real estate, health care, the legal/justice system, etc.), and this includes Black people being murdered by police officers at staggering rates. Co-opting this language dismisses Black Lives Matter and defends the systems that murder Black people — yes, that’s racist.
    (This is how I understand it as a white person; I’m happy to be corrected by someone who better understands.)

  21. Thank you for posting this. As a white woman with a big platform, this is how you can be an ally. I’m sure this was a lot of information for your viewers. I hope they can do the work. Thank you.

  22. Yes yes yes. This is the only mom blog I visit, because while I totally, heartedly struggle with wtf to wear these days, these bigger issues are also so much on my mind, and I just can’t live in the fantasy mom-blogger world where they don’t exist.

    Plus-one on Ijeoma Oluo.

    Speaking about race amongst white people is so seldomly done, and makes people so uncomfortable, but it’s our work to do, and must be done.

    Please never stop.

  23. thanks, Shana! It’s great that you use your platform to speak up. I sometimes find myself staying silent on race issues because I worry that the POC I want to support will think I’m annoying or that my support is superficial/insufficient. However, I think staying silent and complicit is a bigger risk than the risk of certain POC finding me annoying/unhelpful (and as someone noted above, POC are individual people with a wide range of opinions, and some will probably always find me annoying! But I decided it’s still better to do/say what I think is right and hope that some people appreciate the attempt at solidarity. And of course listen to criticism and try to do better).

  24. Appreciate your candor and outrage here. We need ALL white people to be in this place and to be teaching our kids what they can do. Thank you.

  25. To me, it indicates racism because it trivializes (and, to me, even ridicules) the Black Lives Matter movement, pits Black people against police officers, and indicates that the experience of police officers comes even close to the experience of Black people dealing with cops. I know there are other reasons, but this is why the Blue Lives Matter movement makes my stomach churn.

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