I remember being in elementary school, sitting in history class hearing word “slavery” for the first time. I remember the confusion I felt as my teacher explained its vile history in the United States and around the world. I remember not understanding why there had to be a Medgar Evers, W.E.B. DuBois, Booker T. Washington, a Rosa Parks, a Harriet Tubman, a Malcolm X or a Dr. King. Could these vile crimes have been committed in our country? Even more, as I live in Texas, what evil crimes had been committed years ago on the land in which I was—and am—standing.
I know the varying degrees of pain I feel when I see pictures and hear stories. I think part of it is generational. There is a generational pain that is passed on from the oppressed, from those slaves to the next generation. In the same way we choose to remember holidays—some with joy and others with sorrow—so to do Black people choose to remember our history for it is our roadmap and compass in this country.
I don’t know, however, what it is like to not be Black and read about these things.
Like many of you, I was and still am confused how racism at those levels could have permeated so easily in our society for so long, but then we have been able to turn on the news this year and see evil manifested in its ugliest forms. Whether we have agreed on the cases themselves—whether all guilt lies with the police, the unarmed dead “suspect”, or a little guilt on both—there have been a few advocates out there, and this morning I felt the need to say “thank you.”
I have a friend, who shall remain nameless, who is white. He lives in one of the cities where one of those shooting deaths occurred. He quickly joined the protests, calls for legal and legislative change, and he has encountered pain on both sides. Since he is white, there is an automatic mistrust by most Black people of him. There are too few examples of people who don’t look like us who can tell our history—without notes because it’s in the hearts and not just their heads—that can intellectually and emotionally “get it.” He is one of those people, but every time he enters a room of Black people, he has to start at ground zero. He confuses many of his white friends. He speaks with authority and conviction and sorrow at the plight within the Black community at a level many other whites don’t. Doors that would normally be opened to him because of white privilege—which he has used as a bridge to help all people of color—have started to close because of his advocacy around #BlackLivesMatter.
And he is not alone.
To all of our non-Black friends out there, thank you.
Thank you for listening and learning. Thank you for being a “bridge-builder,” advocating for both my people and educating your own—whether friends, family, co-workers, even spouses, parents, and children. It’s an invitation to be misunderstood. But you have stood alongside us this year, and I want you to know I see you.
We see you.
When we speak about history, we remember the Black Civil Rights Leaders that lost their lives. We forget about Viloa Liuzzo, Paul Guihard, William Lewis Moore, Rev. Bruce Klunder, and other non-Black people who died to give birth to justice.
There is a pain I know many of you are experiencing. It is felt when people you love say things you would not expect about people you care about. When racial slurs or silence comes from leaders, it births a fire in you. But you don’t know how to respond. Yet you have found a way to something.
For your raised awareness, your actions, and your advocacy, I truly thank.
For posts on Social Media, for getting arrested with demonstrators in Ferguson, for calling out silence and apathy, for asking people to not simply say “I am not racist” but in challenging them to be “antiracist.” I thank you.
The Black voice is not heard as clearly in this country. Sadly, it never has been. But like a church choir, when you combine the Sopranos, Alto, Tenors, and the musicians, you get something powerful. So too when we combine the Asian, Latino, Native American, International, Bi-Racial, Black and White voices, we get something powerful.
Keep speaking. Keep praying. Keep fighting.
We need you.
Sean M. Watkins