I have been a coward. There is no other word for it.
I am guilty. I am culpable. I have blood on my hands. I am deeply, deeply sorry and I want to be better. I want to learn. I want to DO better.
We ALL need to do better.
I’m talking about my silence. I’ve been quiet for far too long, when I have a responsibility to use my voice.
For far too long, I’ve seen discussions going on around the Black Lives Matter movement and, aside from the occasional supportive comment and shares of other people’s words, I have watched from the sidelines.
Why? I was afraid. Honestly, I still AM afraid.
Only last week, I saw a white connection on LinkedIn attempting to speak out in support of BLM on a thread about George Floyd. Unfortunately, in attempting to show her support and care, she used the wrong words, which were then taken out of context and she was vilified.
This lady genuinely doesn’t have a racist bone in her body and yet, right there on a public platform, that’s what she was accused of. The angered poster even tagged in her company and people on the thread threatened to do their all to bring down her reputation.
It was like a stream of hot, molten lava, running untamed towards an undeserving target.
There’s a beautiful irony in that, isn’t there? A white person running scared, having been misunderstood and her explanations and pleas falling on deaf ears. How easily we have it. How privileged and protected we are.
In the wake of all that has unfolded – not just this time, but after aeons of racial abuse and inequality – emotions are running high. People are angry. And rightly so.
From my place in an overly-white neighbourhood in the middle of the English countryside, I have read the news in tears, knuckles clenched and despairing at the appalling treatment of people of colour. I saw footage of the rallies. I watched TED talks explaining the disparity. I read heartfelt accounts from people whose daily lives I can never truly comprehend. It really does beggar belief.
And so, if it bothers me this much, if I so want to speak up and stand with all those being discriminated against because of the colour of their skin, why haven’t I done more?
Honestly, I’ve been so scared of saying ‘the wrong thing’, I’ve said nothing.
That has to change.
I know many people, here in the UK, have also been afraid to speak up. Last week’s LinkedIn incident only went to prove the point.
But so what?
Surely, the level of fear we experience when it comes to being misunderstood, misread, maligned, are NOTHING compared to the very real fears our brothers and sisters of colour feel every day.
I have white privilege. I hate that I have white privilege. I hate that people who look like me have meted out so much pain and abuse. I can’t do anything about that, but I CAN stop using fear as an excuse for silence.
In speaking out against inequality and abuse, I might say the wrong thing. In that case, I can only ask for forgiveness and commit to learning and understanding more. I will do my best and I will endeavour to be better.
Why am I breaking my silence now?
Earlier this week, I was invited to guest on a podcast. I thought it was a business show, but it turned out to be something quite different. The podcast had a biblical heart and the host wanted me to talk about equality, sexuality, Black Lives Matter and George Floyd. Was I worried about the words I used? You betcha. Did I run? No.
I cannot ever understand what it is like to live, as a person of colour, in an age where racial inequality still exists to such an extent. I cannot ever truly understand how it feels to be on the opposite side of the fence when it comes to white privilege.
As a gay woman, the nearest I can come to is how I feel when people with ‘straight privilege’ don’t understand some of the trials LGBT+ people face, when they downplay the level of hate crimes and abuse, and rapes and murders that still occur across the world today, simply because people love another of the same gender.
But even that is so very different. It’s not comparable enough for me to be able to put myself into another’s shoes. It would be wholly inappropriate of me to try.
And so, I spoke up as best I could. It’s not good enough for us to stay silent. It’s far from acceptable for us to glibly respond that ‘all lives matter’… well, yes, of course they do, nobody has said anything to the contrary, but we cannot deny that some lives are more at risk than others, and in the most mundane of circumstances.
Now is not the time for glib comments. Now is not the time for loose, ill-educated lips to callously spit out trite words.
In fact, I fear we’re approaching this in entirely the wrong way by saying we need to talk more.
I think, at times, some of us are talking too much. I think – particularly for those of us on the whiter side of pale – what we need to do is LISTEN. We need deep, deep listening. We need to listen to hear, to understand, not to reply, react or attack. We need to just shut the hell up and listen to those who are living a life we cannot even begin to comprehend. We need to open our hearts, open our minds and be willing to let go of all our learned preconceptions.
And in the meantime, while we’re learning, we can still stand up in solidarity.
We can still make our voices heard, even if, while we’re learning, we’re simply offering words of support and showing up when we’re needed. We might say the wrong thing. And if that happens, we must apologise, we must ask for forgiveness, and we must do better. We ALL need to do better.
And none of that is an excuse for standing by in inactivity.
I don’t KNOW what I can do to help.
I DO know. I need to stop allowing my silly little fears to demand my silence.
As for what else I can do? I’m listening and I’m learning. Tell me. Show me. Please.
I stand with you. I stand in hope. I stand in the knowledge that this will take time, that listening and learning and speaking out isn’t enough, but it’s something.
We can all do that, at least!
Until next time,