First, I’d like to acknowledge my place in this. I have been born with the immense privilege of white skin and light eyes. I have not lived with the injustices that Black people in America (and worldwide) experience daily. I have shoplifted from stores, walked into abandoned homes, I’ve been pulled over by the police countless times as a reckless teenager and yet, I managed to walk away alive. Though I have not personally known what it feels like to always be in fear that you will be targeted because of your skin, I can try to empathize. I can imagine the sort of trauma you’d live with everyday when you are constantly afraid that you will be in danger because of your skin color. The pain it causes, the behaviors you take on as your brain tries to protect you while you process the pain in a culture that has been gaslighting you to feel as if you have none and no right to, because slavery was abolished many moons ago. As if when we made things illegal the pain disappeared like magic into thin air. As if the systems changed with the law to create true equality and not instead continue to target humans based on race.
As a culturally sensitive and empathetic person I truly believed that I understood this. I felt my work in community mental health and the foster care system made me an ally and an advocate. I grew up as a daughter of an immigrant family. An immigrant family from an Islamic country. Oh, I have felt the racism rampant in America. I have been othered and ostracized at times and felt that my experience was similar. Mostly unaware of the privilege my skin tone has given me. The usual response I get from White Americans when they become aware of my ethnicity is, “oh wow you don’t look Iranian. Are you half?” As if people can only be boxed in to categories of race. As if I had looked like my darker ancestors I would not be valued but clearly I must have had SOME European in me making me worthy. There are MILLIONS of Iranians with pasty skin and green eyes like me. But I realized that this was a mistake I had been making too. That I had been saying “we” when I referred to the Black Lives Matter movement as if I was not hiding safely behind my own white skin. I had been equating my experiences with those of the Black community and that was wrong and totally unfair. They are vastly different.
This week I took on the #amplifymelantedvoices challenge on my instagram page. I vowed to stay silent, not promoting my own content or voice. I began to follow more accounts of black men and women in my communities, sharing their work and hoping to teach my followers, my family and friends, about what it means to be an ally. I didn’t realize how much I would learn about myself and my own racism in the course of a week. I began to read Ibram X Kendi’s book How to be An Antiracist. I looked back on experiences and conversations I have had in the past. My eyes truly open for the first time to how deeply ingrained these issues can be. I felt the white guilt for having sat at tables and broken bread with people who I knew to be racist. For having bit my tongue or laughed at their “jokes” for fear of being other-ed myself. I feel ashamed for not speaking up then but I will now.
I felt I had understood what #blackoutTuesday was meant to be when I shared that I would be muted on Sunday evening. However, come Tuesday morning my feed became filled with little black boxes from everyone, their mom, and their dog’s IG accounts, I was so confused. I posted a blackbox, then deleted it, then posted it again, then deleted again and chose to stay deleted as the message became clear. It was an opportunity to AMPLIFY MELANATED VOICES not to wash them out with black boxes. I continued instead to share helpful resources, charities to donate to, and petitions to sign to find some semblance of justice for those who have lost their lives. I cried with clients and friends, I attended a peaceful protest, and continued to expand my knowledge on how to be an antiracist ally. Meanwhile, I saw some white friends and brands go back to business as usual, posting selfies and promos of lip kits (not her specifically her- you know what I mean). This enraged me. How could people just move on? Well, I figure they may be the same people who just up and decided that they were over Covid too. I hope that they realize that BLACK LIVES MATTER is not just a viral trend. That black lives matter IRL and not just on the internet for clout. That they continue to do the work PUBLICLY AND PRIVATELY. That their black box is not doing anything at all. That black people’s LITERAL lives and well being are on the line. I hope they do not hide cushy behind their white skin.
Kendi writes that to be an antiracist, “requires persistent self-awareness, constant self-criticism, and regular self-examination”. This week has been the start of a true look into myself and the mistakes I have made. I will continue to do the work, I will say the wrong thing from the right place, and I will change. I will point out racist ideology or comments that friends and family make. Not as an attack but as a way to educate and begin to shift beliefs. I can and will do better. I hope that you do too. We have seen the positive change that protests have already brought forth but this is a worldwide movement that will not end until change happens from the ground up. In America, everything from our education system to our justice and police systems need change. It will be a long road with many opportunities to learn and it starts from within as do most moments of growth and change. Learning, expanding, and evolving take time. They require patience and kindness toward self and others. Our consciousness is shifting from an individual and collective space and it is important that we continue to have empathy and utilize our voices in solidarity with the Black community.