Racism in American is sadly alive and well. What is a white person to do?
As one of the American writers for Still Stoked I feel like something needs to be said about recent events of racism in America. But then again, I’m white, so what can I say?
In just a few short weeks I will give birth to a dark skinned son. At least, I hope he gets his father’s beautiful color. What kind of a world will be his to inhabit? What will I build for him? What happens when an entire nation, a political superpower, is filled with hate, violence and anger, exploding from people on both sides? What’s a peace-and-love white girl supposed to do?
As surfers we recognize our powerlessness over the waves, currents, tides and ocean conditions. We accept what we are given. But each time we choose to enter the ocean we are also keenly aware of our personal power as well. There is a constant internal conversation with our physicality. We exert strength, power and stamina as we paddle for and ride waves, as we survive hold downs and escape powerful rips. There is always a balance of surrender and power that allows for that euphoric feeling we all know, the feeling that is surfing.
And so this week I am asking this same question. What needs to be surrendered and where do I need to fight? I know certainly that my opinions have no place in the space of melanated voices. I don’t get to disagree with a person who is angry and showing it, perhaps violently. I don’t get to tell anyone they should calm down. The ocean conditions are what they are, the anger, hurt and sadness of the black race and friends of the black race, is what it is. To ask it to please behave nicely is simply wrong.
But I can choose when I enter the ocean and this is an ocean I want to enter, I need to enter. I have personal power and even responsibility to enter. But just what can I do? Holding a sign at a protest, posting a black square on my instagram, donating money, reading the perspectives of black influencers, elevating melanated voices in social media…yes, yes and yes…but…
It is not enough to just fight racism in America, we must fight the demons within ourselves.
Something about it doesn’t feel like enough. It all feels like action to placate my conscience. There is a larger systemic issue of which I am a part. No, I’m not a racist, I’ve never understood the idea of treating a human differently because of color. But I do treat people differently because of many things. It’s not intentional of course, but we all do it. We all pass judgement. If a homeless man with a brown paper bag asks for money do you give it? If an organization that provides support for racial justice asks you for money do you give it? And there are thousands of other examples. The neighbor to my right throws loud parties, leaves trash laying around and takes up too much parking. The neighbors to my left are a quiet family of pro surfers who you’ve probably have heard of. I have a weekly compost bucket pick up service but I never fill the bucket. Guess which neighbors I asked if they wanted to share the bucket?
Until we personally confront our subconscious prejudices and biases making us feel subtly superior to another living creature, then any efforts toward racial equality we fall short. The issue isn’t just white supremacists, it is me and you.
Maybe it is not even a systemic issue as much as it is a human issue. We see ourselves as separate from our fellow humans and separate from mother earth. We think our thoughts don’t hurt anyone as long as we behave politely. We think we can over consume and over produce and the earth will just pick up the slack. We think that if our own bank account is large enough we will be financially secure, while ignoring the plight of the poor. It doesn’t work that way. It never has and it never will.
A system that does not work for George Floyd does not work for me. As long as there are poor, marginalized, angry, and hurting people in this world then some part of me will always remain poor, marginalized, angry and hurting. As long as the earth suffers, my health will suffer. As long as there is war, I will battle my inner demons.
I still don’t know what to say or do and when to just keep my white mouth shut. But I do know that love, compassion, understanding, open mindedness, acceptance, generosity and grace are never a bad decision.