These past few weeks have been heartbreaking and hopeful at the same time. The protests around the country, around the world, fighting for racial justice and equality are growing by size and number every day. And those protests are already starting to result in some policy changes that only a couple of weeks ago felt impossible. In fact, Harvard political science researcher Erica Chenoweth has found that it only takes 3.5% of a country’s population participating in protests to result in political change.
But I know that there is an enormous amount of work still to do. In my own hometown of Austin, Texas, for example, there has been no indication yet that our city leadership is moving to create change, despite the fact that a crowd of tens of thousands — on the tenth day of protests in our city — marched to the state Capitol yesterday. And there is a long way to go in Austin, as there is in so many American cities.
However, I am still hopeful. Because I believe that we are witnessing the beginning of a movement that will result in a final American acknowledgement of both our brutal, violent past and the ongoing racism that pervades every aspect of American life.
But I think it will take white people fully facing our individual contributions to this very broken system. This is extremely hard work, work that I have only begun to do myself. I have spent days wracked with guilt and shame about my silence, my white privilege, and any hurtful, racist things I have unknowingly done or said over the course of my life.
And what I have learned so far is that I can make no contribution to changing this broken system when I am stuck in my own guilt and shame. While I know that I didn’t create this broken system, I helped perpetuate it by staying silent — ignoring the injustices, muzzling myself, squandering my power to call for change — as so many other white people have done. But the only way forward, for me at least, is to forgive myself — for helping to perpetuate a brutal system.
Once I can forgive myself, then I can commit to educating myself and starting to do things differently. To speak up and speak out about how we must become a society that values, supports, invests in, and cares for people of color in the exact same ways that we do white people. I saw a really inspiring sign at yesterday’s protest in Austin, citing Cornel West’s famous quote: “Justice is what love looks like in public.” How beautiful and so very true. We simply have to find our way to loving every single person — in our laws and enforcement of those laws, our institutions, our policies, our attention, our financial investments — equally.
So now the work is to figure out how to do better. How to speak up with my voice, my keyboard, my wallet, my ballot, my feet. And not just in the political arena, but also in the social change sector itself, which is a microcosm of our larger society. Only 5% of philanthropic dollars go to nonprofits led by people of color, and only 0.6% of those dollars go to women of color led organizations. And so often dollars aimed at solving racial inequality are funneled to nonprofits led by white people attempting solutions for people of color, rather than to people of color leading their own solutions and organizations.
So there is much work to do. As always, I am hopeful. I truly believe that we are witnessing the dawning of a new day. But each one of us has to step up in order to get there.
Photo Credit: Daniel Arauz