As I was carrying the sign home so many weeks after I bought it, I suddenly realized why I was so uncomfortable with it. My unconscious motivation for buying the yard sign was to have the most visible way of showing people that I was a good person and that I had finally emerged from my 30 years of privileged silence on race and racism. I saw it as the easiest thing I could do to jump on the racial justice train even though I didn't know the first thing about being an ally or the hard work and dedication it takes to join this conversation.
I was so ashamed by this realization that I immediately took the yard sign, crumpled it up and threw it away.
From that moment, I vowed to find all the non-showy ways of adding my voice to racial justice and to never take the easiest action available to me.
On September 21st 2016, I bought a Black Lives Matter t-shirt as part of Wear Out The Silence, a campaign "asking white people to wear Black Lives Matter t-shirts every Friday as a way for us to bring the racial-justice conversation deeper into our daily lives [...], to move more white people into action, and to make visible the many people supporting the Movement For Black Lives".
It was a rainy cold day so I was wearing a sweatshirt and rain jacket over it, but I tried to leave the zippers down low enough to expose the message. As I was on the train, I realized that even though the whole point of the shirt is to start conversations with white people, my immediate hope was that a black person would comment and make me feel like a good person.
Yep, I can't deny it. 9 months later and I'm still hoping that I look like a good person by speaking out about injustice. This is one of the biggest known obstacles to having productive conversations about race with white people and I fell right into the trap:
- "If we are against racism and unaware of committing racist acts, we can’t be racist; racism and being a good person have become mutually exclusive." White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard to Talk to White People About Racism
- Quora question 'Can a good person be racist?'
- "For years as my children grew up, I lived in a mostly white community, telling myself I was a good person, an empathetic person, and I was not a racist." - Jodi Picoult, Are You Sure You’re Not Racist?
- "It is why we need to look more closely at what racism really is and how it works, so that we can see more clearly what it has to do with us. Including how dangerous a good person can be." The Racism of Good White People
- "White person: I’m a good person who loves Black people. I’m not racist! Me: No one is saying you’re not a good person, but you need to take responsibility for how racism continues to exist. You can be a good person and do that." 3 Reasons We Cannot Cater to White Friends Who Say ‘I’m Not Racist’
What a humbling reminder that I'll continually be making mistakes and finding uncomfortable thoughts and feelings despite how much I learn and practice.
I've worn the shirt on 3 Fridays and haven't had a single comment yet but you can be sure I'll keep you updated.