To my dear white friends,
I would like to take a moment to address you. This will not be a berating of insults and accusations but it is the uncomfortable truth that I believe we, your black peers, have been sparing you for too long. I strongly encourage you to continue to read this letter, because it could be worth a life. I grew up with you. Some of you are my closest friends, my confidants, and people I consider family. Some of you are the kindest, most loving, and sweetest people I know. But that does not exempt you from what I’m about to say. For we all play a role in the hate this world gives. So, this is for you.
My white friends, do you know what it’s like to wonder why you are hated? No, you yourself may not hate me but I am indeed hated. I am hated because of the way that I look. I am hated because of the power within me that is mistaken for aggression. I am hated because my people have been oppressed, degraded, and torn apart at the seams for generations and I demand reparations. I am hated and I have been hated since well before I was born; since the first slave ships arrived on the Virginia shores in 1619. Do you understand the type of psychological damage that occurs from such deep-rooted bigotry? Do you know what it’s like to live life in a constant state of hyper-awareness of yourself and how the world perceives you? Or to feel like you have to downplay yourself so that you don’t offend a white person because it could put your livelihood or even your life at risk if you don’t? I know you may not hate me. If you are indeed my friend, you probably care a lot about me, but do you care about the hurt and pain I carry for my people? You may love me but do you love mankind? Because it is not simply a question of your love for me or even for black people. It is a question of your love for humanity. Do you see me or the black teen walking the street at night, or the “thugs” protesting yet another unjust murder as humans too? If you truly did view our humanity as you view yours, how could you hate us? How could anyone look us in the eye and take our lives in cold blood? How could you simply share a tweet or repost a story and think you’ve done enough for justice?
My white classmates, why does it take the murder of one of my kin for you to care? Why do you need to see my black brother desperate for life and pleading mercy at the hands of a vigilante white man for you to see the flaws in our so-called American dream? Only when a black broken body is delivered directly to the front door of your white-picket-fenced home in your gated community of oblivion, do you decide to pull out your activism t-shirt from the dusty depths of your closet. While the sentiment is noted, ask yourself why does it take someone’s name being attached to a hashtag that eternally paints them as a victim rather than a victor for you to be up in arms? The fact of the matter is, that someone shouldn’t have to die or be hurt for you to care. It shouldn’t have to be trending to want change. Care about the little things just as much as you care about the big things. It’s the culmination of the little things, the small comments, and the microaggressions that lead to the pervasive and toxic mindset that causes someone to kill another out of deep-rooted hate of appearances.
My white coworkers, why do you feel that you should be rewarded for not being racist? Why should you be applauded for retweeting or sharing that one Black Lives Matter post or #Justicefor whoever has found themselves as the next victim to hate and prejudice? Should supporting justice and standing up for those whose voices are overheard not be the standard? You don’t get a cookie for having a black friend. You don’t get a gold medal for admiring our culture- often in an appropriating manner. You don’t get praise for being a decent human being. That’s the bare minimum.
My fellow white Americans, have you taken the time and the opportunity to look within to see your place in the problem? Institutionalized racism is a phrase that is thrown around often but it is real. I feel its effects constantly while you benefit from it. “Institutionalized” doesn’t occur because a select few radical individuals implement it. Something that’s institutionalized is made a cultural norm. It occurs throughout an entire institution, meaning we all play a part in it, including you, my white friend. Your lack of self-awareness and simple knowledge plays into it. Your unwillingness to check within your own morality for the scars of prejudice plays into it. Having your one token black friend does not make you immune to your part in the institutionalization of racism.
As a person who is black, although I decline to speak on behalf of the rest of my race because I do not equate to every other black person in this world, what I ask from you as my peers, is to progress and to grow. The only way to achieve this is to first acknowledge that there is a need for progress and growth. It seems that white Americans are terrified of the words racism, prejudice, discrimination, or anything related to them. They recoil at the mention of them as if they could never find themselves associated with such words, and maybe you feel the same. But I would challenge you to not shy away from those words but to confront them head-on. Acknowledge your prejudice. Acknowledge your racist tendencies. Acknowledge how you or your peers have profited from policies rooted in oppression. Find your faults. You can only change what you know needs to be changed and you can only heal what you know is hurt. Don’t run from the ugliness inside of you. Look at it straight on and face it. And do not be fooled; this is not a one time fix. Healing is continual. You must choose to heal the brokenness that comes with the deep wounds of generational hatred daily.
Also know that knowledge does not come hunting you down. You’ll need such a strong resolve to escape the hands of ignorance that you actively seek out enlightenment. Sadly, my friends, I can’t do that for you. I can love you, answer your questions, and offer support in your pursuit but I cannot make you want knowledge. The truth is, I do love you, and I will continue to love you whether this letter leads to action or complacency. I will do so because it is what we as humans are called to do. But can you say the same for yourself? Can you reciprocate the same amount of care? Can you commit to the uncomfortable and sometimes ugly process of daily self-reflection?
This is not a directive just for you, my white friends. This is for all of us. Even I must constantly evaluate my heart so I too can uproot the poisonous seeds that have been planted deep within me from society and experiences. We must replace them with empathic love, and kindness that generates understanding. You must continuously check your motives by evaluating your thoughts and actions. From one friend to another, I am begging you to take the initiative to continue to grow in love and out of ignorance. I am troubled deeply because I fear for my younger black siblings growing up in America and my beloved friends and peers who are just beginning to craft their lives in this nation. The hurtful truth is that this country can be a dangerous place for black girls and boys to grow in, with the odds stacked high against us. My dear white friends, the reality is that if you do not take my advice soon, someone I love could be the next black body washed up on the shore of American cruelty or this could become my own fate.
Your black friend, Taylor Jennings-Brown