Just Be Nice
I slacked on keeping my series on race going. I finished Waking Up White about a month ago. I read it slowly, really absorbing the material. Also, I made screenshots of a lot of quotes and the questions at the end of the chapters that spoke to me.
One such quote (and I’m sorry I read this on a Kindle, so I don’t know what page it was on—Kindle folks: location 3061 of 4136) is “Though I never feared for my safety, or that I’d lose status or friends, I did spend most of my life thinking I had to make a choice between being either a polite person or an angry activist.”
This quote spoke to me. How many times as a child was I told, “Just be nice.” How many times do I tell my kids to “Just be nice?” Niceness is nice, right? But niceness also can take away the voice and the power of some people. Is being polite swallowing your words in the face of blatant racism? It shouldn’t be. Is being polite nodding along while people spout of views you don’t agree with? It shouldn’t be. Is being polite going along with an administration that espouses racist views and seeks to divide our country? It shouldn’t be.
Did you ever watch The Real World? Boy, I just loved Puck and the guy who thought he was Garth Brooks. On the beginning credits of the show they had a one-liner: It’s Time to Stop Being Polite and Start Getting Real.
For a long time, I spent my life being polite. When I moved back to Montgomery, I left my voice in D.C. I nodded along with people made derogatory comments. I nodded along when people made fun of Liberals (I am a liberal!). I didn’t realize how much I was a people-pleaser, until I moved back to a place that thought everyone with white skin thought the same way they did.
I didn’t stop being polite until after Trump became president. Then I felt like I had to do something. My mother and I became activists, fighting for what we think is right for all people. Stop being nice and start being your true self.
What does it look like to stop being polite and start being real, you may ask. It’s simple:
- Don’t Be Complicit to Racism and Discrimination: When someone makes a derogatory comment about a person with a different gender, a different skin color, or a different sexuality tell them you disagree with them. Open your mouth and say, “I don’t believe that.” They may give you a stunned look and walk away, or you may be able to state your point of view. But the important thing is, you’re standing up for what’s right, not being complicit to continued prejudices.
- Learn: I’ve read a lot about how our nation has perpetuated racism. Before I started on this journey, I knew racism existed. I didn’t know to what extent our system had kept it going. It saddened me to read Just Mercy and see how our justice system treats African Americans so differently than anyone else. It saddened me to hear the GI Bill didn’t serve African Americans the same way it served white Americans. It saddens me to see how our schools continued to be segregated, reinforcing the cycle of poverty that African Americans are so desperately trying to claw their way out of. Having educated myself about several of the issues, I feel more readily able to discuss them, not only with my white friends, but also to get perspective from my black friends. And that brings me to my next point:
- Discuss: Talk about racism to your black friends. Talk about how they are discriminated against. I can tell you, these discussions may be uncomfortable for you, but they will probably make your black friends feel like you are one of the good ones and you’re at least trying to understand how your actions could be making them feel uncomfortable. Realize, as a white person you have privilege, and acknowledge that.
- Make Space: If your child attends a school with a PTA, invite your black friends to become presidents, secretaries, etc. Many of them feel as if their voices are not being heard, even at schools. Show them they are welcome and that their voices are needed so we can make our schools more successful for every child.
- Teach Your Children: About racism and how to combat racism. Let them know the history of racism and how they can support policies that seek to remove racism from our society. Talk to them about the Slavery, The Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King, Ida B. Wells. Let them know the important contributions African Americans make and continue to make in our society. Let them know race is man-made, and they have the power and the ability in the future to disable the systemic racism our country was built on.
- Find a cause and support it. Use your voice. Use your activism. Don’t be quiet.
Books to Read:
Waking Up White by Debby Irving
Just Mercy by Bryan Stephenson
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
Just to name a few.
Recently my husband and I visited Memphis on a getaway. We went to the Civil Rights Museum there that’s located inside the Lorraine Motel where MLK, Jr. was killed. Below are a couple of pictures from that visit. Visual reminders why we need to keep fighting for equity, equality, and for the right thing. America should be a place where everyone can achieve their dream.
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