In her 2018 book So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo says: "You're going to screw this up. You're going to screw this up royally. More than once.... It's going to happen, and you should have these conversations anyway" (p. 45, in a chapter called "What if I talk about race wrong?").
So much has already been said, and said well, about the ways that racism and white supremacy are assaulting and killing Black bodies in the United States. George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and Christian Cooper's names are the latest in a tragically long list. Listen to this 22-minute NPR Code Switch episode from May 31, "A Decade of Watching Black People Die," to better understand the context in which today's commentary and activism is emerging. I also recommend this 18 minutes from Trevor Noah, for both his words and the way he speaks them.
If you want to talk with others about history and current events related to race and racial justice, Oluo's book is an excellent resource. Her tone is direct, clear, and practical. Each chapter explores a question like "Is police brutality really about race?" or "Why are our students so angry?" She ends the book with a set of suggested actions, including ways to give time, money, and attention. (Pay attention, please, to the ways she offers advice about how to enter conversations about race, so that you minimize the chance that you will inadvertently do harm.)
Ibram X. Kendi's How to Be An AntiRacist challenged me in a different way. I keep reflecting on two key points from this book. First, that one can only be racist, or anti-racist. There's no "non-racist" or "not-racist" position in a society so deeply rooted in systemic oppression. Second, Kendi says, "The good news is that racist and antiracist are not fixed identities. We can be a racist one minute and an antiracist the next. What we say about race, what we do about race, in each moment, determines what -- not who -- we are."
I don't know a lot about talking about race. This is a place where I feel unskillful. What I do know from other practices in my life like yoga or writing or gardening or friendship is that you have to show up, and show up again. You might not always do the right thing, and you can't do everything. But you can do one thing, and then another. From that perspective, I'm wading in to offer what I can, to white women and men in my networks, who might want a place to begin.
These are just a few of the places where I'm listening now. I am learning, always. I am amplifying others' voices. I am reflecting on what I can do within my paid and pro bono work, and I am inviting challenging conversations in the communities I inhabit. I am letting what is happening in my country, what is unfolding on the news, to break my heart. I am trying to feel all the feelings, to check in with the people I love, and to keep moving forward.
Thank you to all who are writing, speaking, witnessing, marching, giving, mourning.
(P.S. Several activists and teachers in my network have recommended My Grandmother's Hands. It's not on my bookshelf yet, but it will be! )