Where do I start?
Artist unknown, image source: BWNC
Where do I start? That’s all I can think about as I’m trying to sit and write and make sense of everything happening. What can I do? Anxiety, confusion, and then quickly followed by a pang of guilt. Why do I get to sit here, safe and comfortable, and write about racism, injustice, and inequity while it has been a dangerous lived reality every day for generations for Black Americans? Why aren’t I doing more? Is this writing actually a misguided example of performative allyship to cleanse my own conscience, gather kudos from others, and prove that I’m a “good person”? At some level, I’m sure it is.
I’ve been struggling with how to understand and untangle those selfish impulses, so that I can feel more confident that my actions are truly helpful and compassionate. I’ve seen too many examples of questionably intentioned social media posts, videos of half-hearted speeches, and outright ignorance to believe that simple good intentions are enough to guarantee positive change. But I do believe that vacillating and equivocating right now are a guaranteed way to be unhelpful. I want to help! I want to do the right thing! I’m scared!
Wait—scared? Is that what this is?
Examining assumptions #
I think it is. I’m scared of messing up. I’m scared of offending someone. I’m scared of doing the “wrong thing”, and likewise scared of not doing enough. And yet as scared as I am, when I dig a little deeper, I realize that I’m also not scared of physical violence, of dying. I’m not scared for my career or any long-term repercussions on my job prospects. I’m not scared for my family. For most of my life, I wasn’t scared of the police. I’m not scared that people will instantly assume I’m a criminal because of the color of my skin. Because of my privilege, I get to worry about how I’m going to write about racism and how I’m going to fight it instead of worrying about how it targets me.1
At an even more basic level, I have the immense privilege to largely choose whether or not I even engage with racism. Arguably, I might even stand to benefit—in some narrow, selfish way—from choosing to be ignorant, because for me, society is by and large fair and reasonable. Is it though? Or does it only work that way for some people? This core assumption: that the world is generally fair and reasonable, isn’t one that I typically reexamine. It’s also the same core assumption that makes ideas like defunding the police seem extreme at first.
Action, reaction #
That reaction and surprise is rooted in the belief that the police system in America generally serves its purpose. But when we examine that belief a little more closely with a skeptical eye, I ask you to see what is already painfully obvious to too many Black Americans: the police system as we know it in America is systemically broken. Why were the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, as tragic as they were, so devastatingly unsurprising? Why are we spending so much on policing and so little on social programs, education, and our communities? Why should policing budgets continue to rise, relatively and absolutely, year after year while crime rates drop? You may find yourself wondering about the potential downsides of reducing police funding, like increased crime, but consider these two thoughts: that the funds might reduce crime more effectively through other means, and that your interactions with, and therefore perceptions of, the police will heavily depend on the color of your skin.
The protests across the country now are also cause for strong reactions. I’ve seen many debates on whether or not the protests (and associated violence) are justified. Or should we condemn them? I suppose that in a moral vacuum, looting a store or burning someone else’s property are Bad Things to do. But we don’t exist in a moral vacuum, and these actions are reactions to what came before. The natural impulse to judge the protests as Good or Bad impedes our ability to genuinely understand. And I believe it is entirely more compassionate and more constructive to move beyond moral judgement of the protests themselves and to arrive at acknowledging and fixing what is causing them. Neither blindly condemning nor blindly accepting—we’re far better off striving to open our eyes and hearts to the suffering of so many Black people that has led us to this moment.
What now? #
I wrote this as a way of connecting with other well-intentioned but struggling allies, in the hopes that we might find some strength together to take the next steps beyond confusion and guilt. I still feel overwhelmed by how I can help, but I’ve managed to gather a few ways that I am trying and I can recommend.
First, you can educate yourself. Black Americans carry enough burden while living their own lives, and it’s unfair to expect them to also bear the responsibility of teaching others about how to fight racism thoughtfully. Find ways to educate yourself. Look for books, videos, social media. As you do this, be mindful of your implicit assumptions about the world. They’re easiest to detect when they trigger a strong knee-jerk reaction to something, like defunding the police. I am starting to read How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi and So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo as both have been highly recommended. Thank you to my friend, Tal, for sharing this thoughtful list of resources.
Second, you can act. There are too many ways to list completely here, but to name a few: you can donate, protest, and reach out to politicians and business owners. You can help a Black friend who might benefit from someone checking in. You can find and support local Black-owned businesses. You can stand up for diversity, equity, and inclusion at your workplace. You can mentor and support Black people in your role or industry. We don’t have to look very hard for calls to action. We just have to step up and take them, and keep taking them.
There’s a lot that’s broken in our society right now. But if you’ve read this far, odds are that you’re one of the many people who want to help. Maybe, like me, you’re unsure, overwhelmed, and uncomfortable. But I find when I examine my own self-centered discomfort, I realize how important it is for me to push it aside and do something. It doesn’t have to be complicated or perfect: the first step is to learn, the second step is to act, and the third step is to repeat. Black lives matter, and all of us can work to make sure they do.
Yes, I, and other Asian Americans, experience racism too, but at this moment I’m choosing to focus on the injustices faced by Black Americans. ↩