Rochester Local

A Response to the Death of George Floyd

photo by: Aaron Robertson

I don’t know how to write this post.

I’ve wanted to for quite some time now, but I don’t know how. So I haven’t.

I was worried that if I spoke or wrote the words that were tumbling around in my mind, heard from my friends of color, I would sound uninformed, uneducated, preachy, hypocritical, and that I was speaking for people of color. So I didn’t.

I was nervous that anything I would say might be misunderstood, and I would offend or disrespect. I thought from time to time that I’d gained the courage to speak out and I would want to say something. And then I wouldn’t.

The truth is I don’t have all the answers to the problem of disunity, racism, hatred, violence, death and murder shown to our friends, family, neighbors, and community members who are people of color. But that’s not going to stop me now.

I’m full of remorse and shame that it took the death of one more black man in America…in Minnesota – my home state – to snap me into action. I’m sorry and ashamed at the lack of diversity in our Rochester Mom contributors, but grateful for the women of color on our team who share their beautiful stories and encourage me to try harder. I can no longer bear witness without saying something. I won’t just stomp my feet and be angry for a week until it all happens again. I may not have all the answers, but I do have a platform, and that is a giant privilege. I’m thankful for Rochester Mom. And tonight I’m going to use it.

One of the most impactful quotes of my adult life has been from Frederick Buechner. He said:

Here is the world. Beautiful and Terrible things will happen.  Do not be afraid.

Any fear that I may have had in the past of not speaking out cannot hold a candle to the fear my friends who are people of color feel when they hear of yet another death. Another life taken too soon. They fear wearing a hoodie at night. They fear having a BBQ in the park. They fear going for a run in their neighborhood, and they certainly fear being pulled over. A dear black friend told me yesterday, “I don’t want to live here anymore.” I have nothing to be afraid of.

So, my friends, here is my list of Things You Need to Do as a White Person as a response to George Floyd’s death and every other black man or woman that has died an unjust death. And not just tonight, but forevermore. I confidently and resolutely say that you need to do them, because under no circumstance will any of the below actions have any sort of negative consequence to your person. Instead, you may encourage another person. You might lift their spirts. You might show yourself as an ally, a comrade, or most importantly a friend.

None of the items from the list below has come from my own mind or are my original ideas.  Each topic or talking point has been suggested by friends who are people of color. I want to use the platform that I have to exclaim their words. Thank you to those of you that have spoken to me and taught me and corrected me and guided me on my path to discover my privilege and steer me towards reconciliation. 

  1. Talk to your children about racism. Don’t make it awkward, make it normal. Make the conversation so normal that it becomes routine. Ensure your children feel comfortable coming to you to talk about race, to talk about differences, to ask their questions. Do not worry if you don’t have an answer. A fine answer to a question from a child about race is, “You know, I don’t have the answer to that. Let’s see if we can find an answer together.” Show you can be transparent and vulnerable. Here are some questions you can ask your children at the dinner table, or in the car, or on a walk:
      1. “Do you have any friends who are people of color in your class? What are their names?”
      2. “What games do you play together at recess? Is there anything fun you’ve learned from your friends?”
      3. “What do they pack in their lunch? Is it different from what you eat? Should we try to make that together at home? I bet it’s delicious.”
  2. Read to your children about racism. There are oodles of books on the topic of racism for children and I won’t recreate the wheel here. This resource is incredible and acts as a type of master list of resources. There are excellent children’s books for you to read to your children and chapter books for your older kids. This weekend I picked up a book curbside at the Rochester Public Library called This Is a Book About Racism by Jelani Memory. It is excellent and it had my Kindergartner riveted. There are no pictures, but that didn’t matter. The text color and size told the story. I highly recommend it.
  3. Listen. Leave nuance and opinions at the door. Let your friends talk to you. Let them tell you about their hurts, their fears, their desires. Be a safe space for them. If you’re ready to listen, but they haven’t said anything…don’t wait. Call them/text them and tell them that you are someone who will listen if they ever want to talk. And if you have questions…ask them when they are ready. But don’t stop there. Educate yourself, it’s not your friend’s job to educate you.  As another friend has said, “It’s okay to ask me, but also do your own research too.”
  4. Don’t be embarrassed. The lines have been blurred between being polite and being respectful. Out of politeness, we might not want to ask an uncomfortable question. But out of respect, we do so even if we feel uncomfortable because it acknowledges the pain and suffering of another person. Don’t be embarrassed if your child points out a different skin color than theirs. Encourage dialogue and let them know you’re proud of them for seeing the difference and beauty in another.
  5. Don’t say, “I know how you feel because I went through xyz/abc.” Because you don’t.
  6. Don’t exclaim, “I can’t believe this is happening!” It belittles the experience of people of color. Our shock is nothing new to people of color who have experienced centuries of racism and oppression. I read a screenshot of a post today that said, “Your ‘wow’ is not solidarity.” Another friend who is a person of color sent me a text yesterday that said, “Racism is nothing new. It’s just that now there are cell phones to record it.”
  7. Call your friends. When another unjust death of a person of color happens again (my firm hope and prayer is that it won’t), call those that are deeply affected by it. Call your black friends and say, “I’m sorry this is happening. I am thinking of you. I want you to know. I’m standing with you. I will help you find answers.” They need to know that they have you on their side.
  8. Don’t be “colorblind.” That is not the goal here. We don’t want a person’s race and identity to be an invisible part of who they are to us. We need to SEE the color, LOVE the color, CELEBRATE the color, UNIFY with the color. We don’t need to erase the color.
  9. Don’t give up. Don’t give up! Please don’t. Nothing you or I do today, will solve this problem tomorrow. The changes will need to be on a micro level and it will start with a conversation with our kids, researching a topic more, or asking meaningful and respectful questions. The outrage you feel today will may fade, but please don’t give up fighting for change.
  10. Channel your energy: the rage, the dismay, the sorrow, the fury. Channel it. Use it to start a new practice in your life that will positively affect a person of another color than you. Read a book, talk with your kids, make a habit.

I want to end with the quote I used above:

Here is the World. Beautiful and Terrible things will happen. Do not be afraid.

All I can see now are the terrible things that are happening. It seems there is no hope and no future. Friends, we possess a unique opportunity to instill the change we want to see in our children’s world. We can do this. Do not be afraid to do it, do not be afraid to speak out, to be and advocate, and to listen. It may not happen in our lifetime, but my heartfelt prayer is that from the terrible things, will come the beautiful things. The change. And our children will not know the world we know today.


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