Your Friends And Relatives Did This -- Now What Can You Do?

I’m not telling you who you can and cannot be friends with, but I am telling you that you cannot be silent.
11/10/2016 05:24 pm ET Updated Nov 10, 2016
Boston Globe via Getty Images

This piece by Derrick Lemos originally appeared on The Establishment, a new multimedia site funded and run by women.

Something happened Tuesday night. Something that will dramatically mark this generation ― and believe it or not, it wasn’t the election results.

That night, while munching on cheese fries, surrounded by friends in a crowded bar, I saw something shift. I saw the diverse and eager faces of Hillary voters cheer every time a state swung in her favor. I saw a table of smug, white Trump voters chant his name. I saw white Hillary voters exchange drinks and make small talk with the Trump table. They took selfies. Meanwhile, anxious Brown, Black, and Asian faces looked to the TV screens.

Then, it happened. Slowly, and late into the night when the results weren’t going to favor Secretary Clinton. I saw those diverse faces leave with quiet resolve. I saw the Trump table order victory shots and chant at those diverse faces leaving the bar.

But the thing that stood out most was the white people I saw crying. They poured out of the bars and onto the sidewalks, holding each other and screaming in agony. They wept.

And standing in the middle of it, I couldn’t help but feel a little vindicated. Rooted in the pain they were feeling was a terrible truth. By feeding themselves and marginalized people empty platitudes, they had built an illusion of safety and progress.

Tuesday night, that illusion was broken.

White people got to see through the glasses from They Live for the first time. And it horrified them. They weren’t ready to see the spiders come pouring out from under the rocks. Spiders with the names and faces of people they knew.

This is the hard part. The part you struggle with accepting. But the sooner it happens, the sooner we can move forward.

Your friends and relatives did this.

Your uncle who hates black people did this. Your aunt who shares Fox News memes did this. Your dad who thinks Hillary’s emails are more questionable than a man who has sexually assaulted a dozen women did this. Your mom who believes all lives matter did this. Your friend who is a piece of shit online, but is a “good dude if you get to know him,” did this.

Your uncle who hates black people did this. Your aunt who shares Fox News memes did this. Your dad who thinks Hillary’s emails are more questionable than a man who has sexually assaulted a dozen women did this.

White people are afforded the privilege of having relationships with awful people. Marginalized people aren’t afforded the same luxury of staying in a relationship with people who hate our existence. I’m not telling you who you can and cannot be friends with, but I am telling you that you cannot be silent.

You can’t say that you’re for progress and then stay quiet because it’s too awkward. We’ve tried changing the minds of racists, and it hasn’t worked. So it has to come from you. Not the you that posts “woke af” articles (like this one) that only your friends can see, but the you that goes home for Thanksgiving and silently digs into the green bean casserole while someone talks about Black Lives Matter being thugs. Use your voice. Those mashed potatoes won’t stand up for Black people—you have to. Talk to your family about the relationships and friendships you have. Those are the experiences that dissolve negative stereotypes. If you don’t have any, well now you have homework for next year. Use the advantage of your personal relationship. People can easily dismiss those they don’t know, but they know and trust you. It won’t be as easy to dismiss your experience when you are leveling with them person to person. Use empathy. This is the part where it gets sticky. White supremacy is so ingrained in American culture that in order to dismantle it, we need you. You’re our anti-racist Serpico. Ask about the troubles they are having in their own lives and relate it to everyone wanting the same things. Discussions about race and white supremacy can make anyone hunker down and get defensive, so in order to keep your sanity, use empathetic approaches.

Also, you don’t have to be an expert. It’s okay if you don’t have all the answers. You probably won’t change hearts and minds over the course of one meal. But understand that you are laying the groundwork for someone who is an expert. Share books or Netflix recommendations or bring your friends along (if it’s safe). If you’re reading this and thinking “this is a lot of work,” or “it’s going to be really hard,” you’re right. It is. This is what dismantling systems of oppression look like. It’s hard work. I’ve seen a lot of apologies to marginalized people because of the election. Save them. If you didn’t know this country could be THAT racist and sexist, you weren’t listening to us. But now that you see what white supremacy looks like ― now that you know how much they truly hate people like us ― ask yourself: What are you going to do to help fix it?

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