Sandy Spring Friends School



Summer Homework for White People Wondering If They Should Be Doing Something

June 21, 2020

The most recent incidents of police brutality against Blacks has stirred the conscience of many Whites. If you are one of us, here is a summer school lesson plan, in the form of five “Don’ts,” as starting points for a bunch of Do’s:

  • Don’t wonder what all the fuss is about.  Dig below the sound bites. Break the cable news spell. Read writings and watch video essays by Black people in order to better understand why this should not be another missed opportunity to make a change in our society. Videos by Trevor Noah or Rodney Glasgow, or Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s LA Times op ed, are good starting points. Watch/read them all the way through. Don’t let your mind wander. Acknowledge the discomfort, and explore its source. If you have qualms about the energy of the protests in reaction to recent stark examples of racist brutality, check out Bob Garfield’s interview with Maggie Astor from the June 19th episode of the On the Media radio show. 

  • Don’t ask a Black person what they think. It’s not their job to educate White people about racism. We need to do our own work. An exception might be a close, trusted, Black person whom you ask, not what they think, but how they are doing. Not because they are a Black person, not because you’ll earn points, but because they are a beloved human being in your life who is experiencing pain. If you don’t know any Black people well enough to communicate on this level of trust, ask yourself why that is the case.  Do your own work. One starting place might be this essay by writer Natalie Morris.

  • Don’t say “All Lives Matter.” Don’t even think it, as a response to Black Lives Matter. Yes, in a perfect world, all lives will matter, as a utopian ideal. But in America, until Black lives matter, until there actually is liberty and justice for all, the rest is just a lie. Moreover, Black Lives Matter is a political stance and a call to political action. “All Lives Matter” is also now a political stance, aligning one with a racist status quo. For a primer, check out this (of all places) essay on the website of Good Housekeeping magazine. Find out where you want to stand. 

  • Don’t go back to sleep. We need to ask ourselves, what are we going to do tomorrow, next month, six months from now when the news is focused on other topics, to act on our increased awareness. White people who are becoming conscious of racism and are actively working to become anti-racist are sometimes described as “woke.” I urge you to never describe yourself as “woke.” Anti-racist work is a lifetime process of education, understanding, and action. Start with reading White Fragility, written by a White person, and be willing to look for yourself among the pages. If you are “woke,” people will see it in your actions. For our part, we should go to our graves wondering if we learned enough and did enough, not basking in self-congratulation. Anti-racist work is draining, frustrating, uncomfortable. Expect pushback. It is multi-generational work. If your shoulders don’t get a bit sore, you probably aren’t carrying your share. 

  • Don’t make it about you. We should not expect gratitude or praise for our self-education, sympathy for our discomfort, or allowance for our ignorance. Don’t make space for, empower, or give credibility to a Black person. She/he/they already deserve the space, are self-empowering, and have credibility without our White blessing. It’s not about you or me. Step aside, don’t interrupt, and seek ways to have their back when bias and racist thought come seeping out of the woodwork. It takes practice. We White people are not accustomed to seeing racism, especially systems of racism and power that benefit us. Educate yourself about white privilege and how we really, actually are continuing to enjoy unearned privileges of being White in America. Read The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America. Train your vision, and make discomfort your friend. At that moment when you experience a moment of weariness, imagine bearing that burden all the time. Then imagine it again, and again, and again. It’s a byte in the Gigabit data stream of being a person of color in America. It’s time, well past time, we share the load. 

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