Four things happened recently that led to this post:
1) The week after a teenaged girl in McKinney, Texas was verbally and physically assaulted by a police officer, I did something I had watched others do many time: I lost it on Facebook. The fill-line in my brain was exceeding and I went into the red zone. From the outside, I’m sure it looked like I was losing my mind: sharing of every article I could find on the subject; arguing with people I didn’t even know; serial rants that went on and on. People were worried about me. I was worried about me. I could feel my blood pressure and heart rate respond with every post I made;
2) I took a fictional work-in-progress set in the Jim Crow South to my writer’s group and realized that while I am pretty plugged in to current-day racial issues, my only real study of life in that place in that time came from my Tennessee History class in the late 70’s. If I was going to do a fair job of representing race and racial relationships during this time, I had a lot to learn about African-American history. Considering most of the history available was gathered and interpreted by white folks, I was going to have to dig to find the rest of the story;
3) Then came the Rachel Dolezal story;
4) This morning, I woke up to the story about a massacre at a historical AME church in South Carolina. Back when my Facebook rant happened, I made a promise to myself that I would read and ponder, but wait 72 hours after an incident to write about it so that I could a) provide a more thoughtful response; and b) avoid getting into a bad place in my head and heart.
“You’re failing,” you might be thinking. But I’m not going to write about Emanuel AME Church.
I’m going to write about being a white civil rights activist.
Some of the first Tweets I saw this morning were messages to the African-American community about self-care:
@_Rickeh: Many of us are at a job right now surrounded by Whiteness and nonchalance. It’s tough. I’m STRUGGLING this morning.
Sometimes, people lose their way in trying to do good -thankfully most not to the extent that Dolezal did. Just like my Facebook rant last week, I have guilt and rage and I need to do something with it.
But maybe, in order to do good, what I need should be subordinate to what the African-American community needs. Maybe, I need to look to the community I want to serve about what my role should be.
Let’s walk softly today, white civil rights activists.
Let’s listen more than we talk.