“My Execution Could Be Televised”
One of my neighbors wears that statement on a T-shirt.
Since Ramon’s a black man, he’s sharing his truth on his chest, which pains me to accept.
As a white woman, I know his truth is the exact opposite of mine. Unlike Ramon and other black men and women, I can walk, run or drive around the streets of Charleston, SC or pretty much anywhere else for that matter without worrying about my safety or my life. Plus, thanks to my white skin, I enjoy many other privileges, including good health, education, and home ownership.
It also hurts me to admit I can’t imagine standing in Ramon’s shoes, even though I know it’s helpful to try to take the perspective of others. When you do so, you can increase your understanding and be empathetic.
Yet while I can’t vicariously share the experiences of black men and therefore “catch them” through emotional empathy, I can show empathy in other ways.
In his 2019 book, The War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World, Stanford psychologist Dr. Jamil Zaki explains that empathy isn’t one thing, but instead is an umbrella term for describing the multiple ways we’re able to respond to each other.
While emotional empathy is out of my reach in this situation, I can show care and concern for Ramon, which I do. (I’ve told Ramon that he’s one of the few people I’ve encountered who consistently recognizes me when I’m walking on my own without my dog, and I appreciate him for that. As much as I’ve loved my various dogs over the years, especially @MarceltheTherapyDog who’s a regular fixture in the neighborhood, I do like having a separate identity.)
Being empathetic toward Ramon and other neighbors though is not nearly enough to acknowledge and address the racism pandemic we’re facing in this country. That’s being not racist.
As Ibram Kendi, author of How To Be an Antiracist, writes, “What’s the problem with being ‘not racist’? It is a claim that signifies neutrality: ‘I am not a racist, but neither am I aggressively against racism.’ But there is no neutrality in the racism struggle. The opposite of ‘racist’ isn’t ‘not racist’ It is ‘antiracist’.”
What am I doing to be an antiracist?
- Educating myself more about the history of race in America
- Listening to my black friends and colleagues and serving as an ally for them.
- Speaking up, especially when noticing racist comments and actions.
- Holding conversations that matter with clients, colleagues, and friends to help us deepen our awareness and understanding of the issues and discuss actions to take.
- Providing psychological safety to those whose voices aren’t heard enough so they can feel comfortable speaking up.
- Working with clients to make structural and systemic changes in their organizations.
- Writing for myself and as requested, my clients.
- Advocating for more people of color to join whites in the room.
- Supporting the removal of confederate statues in public places.
- Continuing to participate in my neighborhood association.
- Continuing to contribute to organizations that promote antiracist causes
- Hoping to resume our work in the neighborhood and schools to help schoolchildren, especially black students, improve their reading. (Covid-19 has put our Paws for Literacy and Reading with the Dogs programs on hold.)
- Making more books, especially those about the black experience and black characters, available in our Free Little Library outside our home.
- Avoiding purchasing products and services from organizations that appear racist.
- Spending more money on products and services from black-owned businesses.
- Eating at more black-owned restaurants.
Considering the size and duration of the structural and systemic racism in this country, these actions feel like baby steps. Yet, if more of us regularly take meaningful actions, regardless of size, we should be able to make progress and right many wrongs.
We all need to be in this together. Black lives matter.