Changing Who I Will Be

I grew up in the deep south: Lake Charles, Louisiana (LA) to be exact, which is about a 50 minute drive to the Gulf of Mexico. I never thought much about race or racism, because for no other reason than I was a child. I knew of tension between white and black folks, but I didn’t really concern myself because I wasn’t “racist” . . . because I was nice to everyone. I honestly believed that.

At 18, I moved with my parents to Shreveport, LA which was approximately 3 hours due north and which seemed like a world away. The next year Shreveport became a racially charged hot spot. Between August and December 1988, three black Northwest Louisiana men had been killed by white people. 17 year old Darren Martin was shot in the parking lot of a Shreveport restaurant in August by a 19 year old white man. In September, David McKinney was shot by a 17 year old white girl looking to purchase drugs in Cedar Grove which sparked a riot in the neighborhood for two days. Buildings were burned, rocks were thrown and the police cordoned off the neighborhood. In December, Loyal Garner, Jr (a Florien man) was beaten to death during an arrest for drunk driving in Hemphill, TX. Three law officers were charged, but later found innocent. I tell you about these events because as a 19 year old, I was terrified. I didn’t really follow the stories at the time to understand that white people had been killing black people. All I saw when I watched the news was angry black people burning and looting things in the city that I lived. I didn’t understand or feel compelled to understand. My whiteness allowed that. I was scared of the actions of the black people. I didn’t educate myself to see what was happening. I just thought I had moved to the scariest place in Louisiana, but, I didn’t think I was racist. I locked my car doors if I was alone and a black man walked by. I clutched my purse tighter when a black man was walking towards me. I wasn’t racist, I was just being cautious. UGH, so wrong!

Over the years, I lived in my bubble of unknown/unacknowledged, white privilege. Heck, I didn’t even know the words “white privilege”. I still lived under the assumption that I was a nice person because I was nice to everyone. I couldn’t be racist, because I had black friends. It wasn’t until my late 40’s that I started to acknowledge that things weren’t quite right. I started reading and educating myself about race issues. A book by Catrice Jackson, “Antagonist, Advocates and Allies: The Wake Up Call Guide for White Women Who Want to Become Allies with Black Women”, helped open my eyes to the unintentional racism that I, as a white woman, had been perpetuating. It was a start. In 2016, I was attending the Shreveport Mayor’s Women’s Commission Style Show Luncheon when a friend of mine Krystle Beauchamp started having a conversation about race. I had mentioned that I recently learned that it wasn’t appropriate to ask black people to teach me. Krystle, being Krystle, said I could always ask her anything. I still remember that to this day, but try to respect that I need to educate myself. She then told me about a 6-week Dialogue on Race class given by the YWCA. She thought that I might benefit from attending. I signed up that week to attend. In early 2017 I attended my first Dialogue on Race session and my lie fwas forever changed. I have come to realize unintentionality is no excuse for my actions. I can not change who I was, but I can change who I will be. The silence and inactions of my life are dangerous to people of color and have to change if I am to help stop the continuance of racism. Racism is only going to change if white people take a stand. We must learn to listen, and listen to learn.

This past week, George Floyd was murdered by police officers who ignored his pleas to breathe. I can never unsee and unhear Mr. Floyd plead for his life and call out for his mom. Now more than ever I want to change who I will be when it comes to showing up for people of color. Here are things that I am committed to doing:

  • Be uncomfortable: I will not let discomfort get in the way of having honest discussions/dialogues about race. This is one of the most important things I’ve learned. I have to allow discomfort in order to grow.
  • Be authentic: I can not change who I was, but I can change who I will be. This only works if I am honest and transparent. I will always have more work to do. I have not eliminated all of the bias and prejudice in my life, but I truly want to change that.
  • Educate myself: I will never be done learning. Everyday search for information on ways that I can help. I will challenge myself to to think beyond my current understanding of issues.
  • Understand: I will continue learning to understand the differences between bias, prejudice, discrimination and racism and how they affect our world.
  • Do not invalidate: I will listen to my Friends of Color and will not tell them they are wrong or try to insert my experience.
  • Speak up: When I see or hear an injustice, I will speak up. This is a particularly difficult one for me because my brain doesn’t work very fast when it comes to speaking. I can write all day, but my words don’t come when I’m speaking. No excuses though!
  • Check on my friends: People of color have trauma y’all. Check on your friends. Let them know you are concerned. Ask if they need anything. Help when you can.
  • Be wrong: I will be willing to be wrong. If someone calls me out, I will listen and not give excuses.
  • Don’t be afraid: I will work to eliminate the irrational fear that I have built over the years. I have found that when you reach out and connect with people, fear can be eliminated if you are coming from a place of authenticity.
  • I’m gonna make mistakes: I will make mistakes. I will be embarrassed. I will learn from those mistakes.

I know there is so much more to do and I hope you will join me in making change. We can change who we will be by speaking up and showing up for our friends of color.

That Just Happened!!
Robin Williams

On a side note: The YWCA Dialogue on Race was a sort of jumping point for me. It impacted me on such a deep level. I want to help more people be able to attend. The cost to attend the 6-week session is $25. Paying for one person would be cool, but paying for many people would be great. So, I designed a t-shirt to sell and the entire profits will be donated to assist in paying the attendee fee for participants wishing to attend the Northwest Louisiana YWCA Dialogue on Race. If you would like to wear this shirt as a commitment to end bias, prejudice, discrimination and racism, order one now.

Wear this shirt as a commitment to end bias, prejudice, discrimination and racism.