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During Black History Month, after a year when the push for racial justice has been highlighted and accelerated in new ways, I’ve been reflecting on my own sadness that changes in our country, sought for so long, have not come easier. I am a white, educated, middle class woman who can freely walk into any store, buy a home in any neighborhood and be welcome, and drive around without fear of being stopped for no reason. It is a privilege to live in this day-to-day reality without fear. I want this for everyone. 

For over two decades, I have been professionally facilitating diversity and inclusion programs and dialogues around the country. One of my projects was with the Alabama Power Company. The training was mandatory, and everyone from the president on down to the linemen participated. Many did not want to be there. One day a big, burly, white biker guy came in, sat in the back, folded his arms tight and glared at me, as if daring me to make him change his beliefs. It was a bit intimidating, but I continued.

One of the first exercises was to share a story of a time you felt different. As we went around the circle and his colleagues began telling stories of their lives, challenges they had to overcome and incidents that had happened at work, you could feel the mood in the room soften. As the group shared stories, they became more vulnerable and more real. In this human experience, participants realized that there were so many more things that connected than separated them. At the end of the two-day program, the guy in the back had dropped his posturing, shared his own stories, shed a few tears himself and ended the class by giving me a hug before leaving the room. It can be easy to hate an “other”; it is almost impossible to hate someone you have shared yourself with. 

The more I learn and become aware of the dynamics of racism, the more I realize how little I understand about the everyday challenges that people of color navigate on a daily basis. While facilitating diversity programs, I also discovered that I could say things to other white people and be heard differently than when a person of color said the same thing. This was especially true when calling out white privilege. I believe I have an obligation to leverage my white identity to advocate, share my perspective and partner with people who have less of a forum to speak up for justice.

This is not easy. It takes courage to speak up. It’s easier as a white person to step back out of the fray. We say to ourselves, “That is not me. I do not say or do those things. I am a good person.” Although this may all be true, I believe it is not enough to just monitor our own behavior. 

Call to Action

This is an invitation to take a first, or for many of us, the next step toward being an advocate for racial justice.

As we look at bringing more peace, joy, appreciation, passion and love into the world, we can also find the courage to speak out against injustice. Each of us can be a person willing to bring an alternative voice to the conversation, and to call our neighbors who have been perpetuating hate and violence against blacks and other minorities into accountability. We can join in.

During this 2021 Black History Month, you might start by reading “75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice,” and take an action leading toward justice.

Together, we can choose love.

Words of Wisdom and Hope – Rev. William Barber

I was struck by a quote from Rev. William Barber in The Guardian that gives me hope that joining together, we can make a difference. 

“Those of us who have faced the lethal force of systemic racism have also learned something else in the American story. We can be wounded healers. We don’t have to be arbitrarily destructive. We can be determined to never accept the destruction of our bodies and dreams by any police, person or policy. 

We have learned that there is a force more powerful. 

When hands that once picked cotton have joined together with white hands and Native hands, brown hands and Asian hands, we have been able to fundamentally reconstruct this democracy. Slavery was abolished. Women did gain the right to vote. Labor did win a 40-hour work week and a minimum wage. The civil rights movement in the face of lynching and shooting did expand voting rights to African Americans. 

If we take time to listen to this nation’s wounds, they tell us where to look for hope. The hope is in the mourning and the screams, which make us want to rush from this place. There is a sense in which right now we must refuse to be comforted too quickly. Only if these screams and tears and protests shake the very conscience of this nation –and until there is real political and judicial repentance – can we hope for a better society on the other side of this.”

Wendy B. White is co-founder and partner with Continuum Consulting Services. She recently launched “Let’s Choose Love,” a social movement that provides a forum for sharing ideas, resources, new philosophies and stories that she hopes will challenge, stretch and inspire us to expand our thinking and possibilities for the future.