Earlier this week, my employer sent an email to all North America employees. The email, which was sent from the North America CEO, called attention to the recent racist murders of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, and racist attempted murder of Christian Cooper. The email includes a declaration that “under no circumstance do we tolerate racism.”
My initial reaction to that message was: “Wow! What a thoughtful message for a Fortune 500 company to send to its employees.” I was genuinely shocked that such a big and prominent company would send an email about a topic as sensitive as racism to its employees. I thought about all of the people that might have been unaware of the recent events and how the email could have caught them off guard. I wondered how some of the people angry about the protests and riots that have ensued as a result of these murders might be offended about such an email. I texted a few co-workers to say “Yo! Did you see the email? Isn’t that so cool of them to send?” I almost screenshotted the email and posted it on my social media pages to applaud my employer for sending a message like that to its employees.
But then, I stopped to think about it. Who are the people that still think of racism as a sensitive topic? Who are the individuals that can choose to be oblivious to the recent murders of innocent Black people? Why would some people choose to focus on the riots and protests, and overlook the reason for those riots and protests?
Most important, why am I applauding my employer for openly stating that racism will not be tolerated?
Because for years, I have been applauding my white friends and colleagues for doing the bare minimum, and worse yet, I’ve been giving my white counterparts that have done nothing a pass for their inaction.
I remember how pleasantly surprised I was when one of my white friends introduced me to the work of Ta-Nehisi Coates. I read Between the World and Me, and I thought it was so cool that this white guy was making an effort to learn about the Black experience. I tagged him as one of my ‘woke’ white friends and decided that I could talk about race and socio-economic issues with him. I gave him an applause.
The recent murders are obviously not the first time that racism has taken the lives of innocent Black people. This also isn’t the first time that there have been movements on social media or country-wide protests to combat that racism. The same way I applauded the aforementioned friend for reading about the Black experience, I used to applaud white friends for making social media posts condemning racism or for attending protests. I thought it was cool of them to risk angering friends or family members that didn’t want to see that sort of content on their timelines. I appreciated my employer making a statement as basic as “racism will not be tolerated.” I gave my white friends who didn’t have anything to say or hadn’t taken any action a pass because they were probably just uninformed.
But no more.
On February 23, Ahmaud Arbery was going for a jog when a racist father and son duo chased after him and shot him three times with a shotgun. Ahmaud lost his life because those two white men decided to act on their racist mindset and hunt him down as prey. The men have been arrested (only because Ahmaud’s story went viral), but there is nothing that can be done to bring him back to his family.
Ahmaud Arbery would have turned 26 years old on May 8, 2020. That makes him just 129 days younger than me. Again, this is not the first time that a Black person has been killed for no other reason than for being Black, but this one is different; this one hit closer to home than the others. Since gyms are closed due to COVID-19, I have been running outside 1–2 times a week. As I write this article, I’m fighting back tears because I can’t help but think about how easily that could have been me.
So no more.
No more applauding my white friends for reading up about the Black experience. I’m done giving out gold stars for taking the time out of their days to make social media posts. I’m done praising companies and so-called leaders for making watered-down statements condemning racism. Most crucially, I’m done giving passes for being uninformed or unaware. My life is literally at risk. The lives of millions of other Black people are at risk. We’re in a fight for our lives, and if you want my respect and friendship, you’ll do more than make yourself a little uncomfortable; you’ll take demonstrable action.
I myself am guilty of wondering how my own action can make any sort of change. Racism is so deeply embedded in America’s history that it seems like there’s nothing that we individually can do to change it. To this, I’d like to call on the (lightly paraphrased) words of one of my favorite basketball coaches: guard the man in front of you. If I find a way to improve the situation around me, and my neighbor does the same, and so on, then we’ll start to see change. For me, that means getting involved in my local government and working to seek change in my own neighborhood. Maybe for my white friends, it’s sparking conversations — potentially even arguments — calling out family members for their racist words and behaviors.
I know some of you are wondering what you can do or where to go with your questions. Luckily for y’all, there are more resources being created now than ever with instructions on how to help. A lot of my Black friends have made posts telling white people not to reach out to them asking how they can help. Let me be the first to echo that sentiment. For the time being, I don’t have the mental capacity to teach you. I want to make myself available for your honest questions, but at this moment, I need you to do some self-teaching.
This isn’t an angry letter; it’s a hopeful one. I deeply value the relationships that I’ve built with my white friends, and I think they would say the same about the relationships that they’ve developed with me. But there will be no more passes. Silence or inaction will be taken as indifference, and I don’t want anyone on my team who is indifferent about whether I live or die. Sorry.
Actually, no I’m not.