This post has been brewing in my mind since July, but I delayed writing and publishing these past three months–partly because I have been busy but also because I felt nervous about expressing myself on these issues. I learned today that my friend recently met one of my heroes, anti-racism educator Tim Wise, this past weekend. Thinking about all that this sincere white person does to undo racism has helped me find the will to share my thoughts.
Although I spent three months deliberating over publishing my reflection on Trayvon Martin’s death and the verdict of George Zimmerman’s trial for killing him, time has not remained as static as this page in my drafts folder. George Zimmerman is back in the news for altercations between him and his ex-wife, and the ways in which privileged white women such as myself can dominate social justice movements, unintentionally overshadowing the voices of people of color, came into focus thanks to #solidarityisforwhitewomen.
But this post begins began back in July. Soon after George Zimmerman verdict was announced, I read Ta-Nehisi’s Coate’s article “Trayvon Martin and the Irony of American Justice,” which really spoke to what the verdict says about America, while also providing a great grounding of the laws surrounding the verdict. Coates is so articulate in weaving together legal analysis and social insight, that instead of quoting or paraphrasing I will just provide the link and thanks to my friends who shared it with me: Coates, Ta-Nehisi. The Atlantic. “Trayvon Martin and the Irony of American Justice.” July 15, 2013. http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/07/trayvon-martin-and-the-irony-of-american-justice/277782/
NPR’s Tell Me More has covered news involving Trayvon Martin since the winter of 2012, and I have appreciated the show’s focus on the trial and verdict. On July 15th, 2013, Tell Me More dedicated a full show to the verdict, and interviewed people from a variety of backgrounds who spoke about different aspects of the verdict, from the legal proceedings to more emotional perspectives regarding racial biases. One comment that stayed with me was from Jenee Desmond Harris, who writes for TheRoot.com, stating that “if Zimmerman is a racist…he is certainly not the old school kind.” (NPR Tell Me More. “Inside the Zimmerman Verdict.” July 15, 2013. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=202335038 )
Harris was mentioning the hue and cry of whether George Zimmerman is or isn’t racist and how those who insist that Zimmerman is not racist point to “new school” facets like his half Peruvian heritage, or dating and volunteering history. But the focus on Zimmerman’s ethnicity and actions obscure the unspoken internalized prejudices all of us Americans have from living in a country that is entrenched in biases against people of color. Biases that exist from the institutional on down to the individual level. These are the prejudices at play when Zimmerman saw and stalked Trayvon Martin, concluding after a glance at his skin that was a criminal threat, giving rise to the fear that prompted him to pull the trigger, ending an innocent life.
I have internalized racism too. Part of my own efforts in trying to be a sincere white ally begins with acknowledging my own biases and doing my best to work against them. A simple way that anyone can be introduced to their internalized biases is through the interactive website “Project Implicit.” (Project Implicit. 2013 https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/demo/ )
A key part of trying to be a sincere ally begins with listening, listening to ourselves as we uncover our biases and listening to people of color. In Lois Mark Stalvey’s memoir, “The Education of a WASP,” Lois Stalvey listens to her African American friend Joanna recount a heartbreaking story from her childhood: how a boy with a developmental disability was lynched for allegedly harassing a white woman. Joanna tells Lois that the neighborhood watched after this boy, who was seldom alone and could not be guilty of the crime. Lois listens to her friend cry, and realizes throughout history white people have enslaved, disenfranchised, and brutally killed African Americans, yet we feared them.” (The Education of a WASP. 1989. http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1752739.The_Education_of_a_WASP )
In closing, I am brought back to my post title and the author behind the phrase sincere white person. A professor at my alma mater recently wrote “a love letter to white people” in the Feminist Wire. ( Osmundson, Joseph. The Feminist Wire. “Love letter to white people.” September 3, 2013. http://thefeministwire.com/2013/09/love-letter-to-white-people/ ) and here is what Malcolm X has to say: “I tell sincere white people, ‘Work in conjunction with us – each of us working among our own kind.’ Let sincere white individuals find all other white people they can who feel as they do – and let them form their own all-white groups, to work trying to convert other white people who are thinking and acting so racist. Let sincere white people go and teach non-violence to white people.” ( Alex Haley and Malcolm X. The Autobiography of Malcolm X. 1964. pp. 383–384. https://www.facebook.com/TalkandAction/posts/10151165765347608 )