This Is The Work

The first time I marched with Black Lives Matter, some friends were concerned. It was after Alton Sterling and Philando Castille were murdered by police in 2016. And literally the day after Dallas. Safety concerns were real. But safety concerns for black people have been real in this country since its inception.

I could not understand, at my core, why every person I knew wasn’t out marching in the street. I wanted to shake people. This fight was urgent, dire. But most people I knew, my friends, were–in my estimation–continuing on as if nothing had happened.

I felt like I was screaming into a void.

Imagine, if I (a white girl from the suburbs), felt that kind of angst… well, just imagine what black folks have felt the whole time they’ve been trying to get us to pay attention. It must be maddening.

When I see white folks on Facebook demanding that anyone who isn’t ready to go out and march for black lives right now should unfriend them, I get the impulse. I do.

But it’s wrong.

If I’d written off every person who wouldn’t march with me during the summer of 2016, I’d have been pretty lonely these past 4 years.

Know what so many of those folks are doing now?

Yup. Marching for black lives.

It’s amazing to see that kind of cultural shift. And it’s one I wouldn’t get to see if I’d galloped away on my moral high horse.

When white folks are instructed to collect our cousins, it means calling out racism and demanding real accountability. But it also means having hard conversations with folks who don’t agree with us. Not just writing them off.

Racism is a white people problem. Which means its our job to educate other white folks. So, when your childhood friend says things like, “rioting doesn’t solve anything,” it’s your job to push back. Not to just shake your head sadly and remove her from your Christmas card list.

It’s true that sharing the most vulnerable parts of your antiracism journey with folks who aren’t on the same page is only going to bring you more pain–and possibly give you what feels like a good excuse to give up.

But educating people isn’t the same thing. Educating other white folks is the work. It’s work black people have been doing for years–without ceasing. We can’t just shrug and walk away from folks who don’t get it after a week.

Writing people off misses the point entirely. And it lets me off the hook by suggesting that I have arrived in my antiracist journey. But, in this country, is that really even possible?

I feel 100% sure every black person I know has had to practice extreme patience with me in some capacity. I’ve been educated for free by not only the black people in my life, but those I follow on social media who share their insight & experience daily. No matter how exhausting the effort.

The least I can do is pay that forward.

Don’t give up on the white folks you know who aren’t there yet. You do you. Keep sharing what you learn. Keep having hard conversations. And when it all seems exhausting, remember this is the work.

Author: Kendra Lee

I am smitten with Atlanta. I believe Black Lives Matter. I care deeply about housing justice, education, and transportation. I am a huge MARTA fan. I've got the most adorable second grader, an incorrigible Boxer named Delilah, and a pretty amazing husband named Simon. I've been sober for 9+ years. I heart coffee. On any given day I may write about all--or none--of those things.

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