A plea to white people: Listen and learn
Stephanie Hayes | It’s time to think about how we can make things better.
Demonstrators join hands Thursday in St. Paul, Minn. Protests have broken out over the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody.
Demonstrators join hands Thursday in St. Paul, Minn. Protests have broken out over the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody. [ JOHN MINCHILLO | AP ]
Published May 29, 2020|Updated May 29, 2020

I’ve written and deleted a thousand things, wondering what I can bring to this conversation.

Yet it feels wrong to have this platform and not say anything at all about the injustice and tragedy playing out in America. Doing nothing is part of the problem.

So here’s a wish list that I’m sure is still not exactly right. But if we’re going to find our way out of this, we have to go down the slide.

Let this moment help white people dispense with our constant need to be right. To not hit the comment button. To stop interrupting. To be quiet for a minute.

Let us listen. When black people say they feel scared, attacked, watched, different, suspicious, lesser, criminal, let us resist the urge to defend ourselves as a response.

Related: Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin arrested after death of George Floyd

Let us take stock of products made for white people. Bandages. Beauty tools. The color “nude.” Let us take stock of the books we read, the accounts we follow, the shows we watch, the toys we give our children.

Let us admit that our skin does not make things harder for us the way it does for others. Let us understand the spectrum between racist and not, that some of our behaviors, thoughts and feelings are so deeply ingrained that we need real time and effort to root them out.

Let us live in that discomfort. Let us scour what we’ve said, not said, written, not written, done, not done. Let us sit with those feelings and acknowledge that no one is unimpeachable, not even the most well-meaning person.

Let us study the history of racism in America, slavery, war, picnics at lynchings, the killing of innocent adults and children, the denial of education and basic needs, the generations of economic disparity, the sin of hundreds of years of oppression. Let us hold that context to light as we read the story of the day.

Let us ask questions. But let us know, too, that black people do not have a responsibility to be our teachers. That black friends have good reason to be tired.

Let me, this institution where I work and the news at large do a better job representing the entire community. Let us tell diverse stories that paint a richer, more dynamic picture and do not dwell only on suffering. Let us report on the flaws in our systems and schools and the faults in our leaders that allow inequality to thrive.

Let us try to understand the anger. Let us do tangible things to help. Volunteer time, give money, speak up when friends and family say something unacceptable. Don’t let our children learn the things we must unlearn.

In a world where black people have to beg for their lives as the air leaves their bodies, it’s the least we can do.


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