“I am not a racist, I have black friends.”
My dear white brothers and sisters, I believe you. Some of you even have Black significant others and that is commendable. However, being close to Black, Hispanic, or Asian people does not absolve you from the benefits of whiteness.
As Robert E. Birt eloquently wrote in his essay “The Bad Faith of Whiteness,” “Our primary concern is not with ‘physical’ whiteness or skin color. Rather, our concern is with a structure of values, a worldview and way of life.”
Don’t be scared. I am not about to ask for reparations. That has already been done by others more deserving than I could ever be. Plus, their pleas are ignored anyway, and I refrain from beating a dead horse. All I ask of you is to take a simple pledge. But I will get to that later.
It would be remiss of me to not bring up Black Lives Matter. I must confess, I hated that slogan before it became a movement. To me, all it represented was a plea without a purpose. But after the death of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others at the hands of those who were sworn to serve and protect, I finally understood.
As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in “Why We Can’t Wait” in 1964, “When you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of ‘nobodiness’- then you understand why we find it difficult to wait.” In the spring of 2020, an international movement was born.
The statement Black Lives Matter does not mean only Black Lives Matter, but that Black lives matter also. As quoted in Friere’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” Francisco Weffort stated, “The awakening of critical consciousness leads the way to the expression of social discontents precisely because the discontents are real components of an oppressive situation.” Thanks to the smartphone, violence against minority victims by law enforcement could no longer be denied.
Before I get to the pledge, I want to share something from Claude McKay’s poem, “America,” that exemplifies what my fellow minority brothers and sisters feel about our plight:
Although she feeds me bread of bitterness,
And sinks into my throat her tiger’s tooth,
Stealing my breath of life, I will confess
I love this cultured hell that tests my youth!
You see, we love America, but sometimes we do not feel the love reciprocated. That is why we need your help to combat the system you benefit from.
To reiterate, I know you are not racist. We have broken bread together, watched sports together, and condemned racial violence together. But because of what is happening so obviously today, I need you to be anti-racist. You may even need to be the catalyst that leads to generational change. After all, the January 6th Capitol Riot proved that the police are not likely to shoot if you are at the forefront.
In contrast, the Black Lives Matter movement that came to D.C. just a year before was received violently by law enforcement. Different strokes for different folks.
In his commencement speech to Harvard University’s graduating class of 1922, educator and pastor Wyatt Mordecai Johnson, who went on to become Howard University’s first African-American president, said, “When the Negro cries with pain from his deep hurt and lays his petition for elemental justice before the nation, he is calling upon the American people to kindle anew about the crucible of race relationships the fires of American Faith.”
So, if you don’t mind, I would like you to take the pledge below. Say it loud. Say it with conviction.
I pledge my allegiance to brothers and sisters of all colors, to be vocally anti-racist, and resolve to end all hate, one family, regardless of origin, with opportunity and justice for all.
We are counting on you.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. The Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned. The work is lightly edited but has not been otherwise fact-checked.