Today I went to Union Square and I said yes.
I said yes to something that made me uncomfortable. Something that felt right and my mind couldn’t figure out why. I went to a gathering of people that were going to hug black men as they walked by. My ego was screaming at me all of the reasons why I shouldn’t:
- This is crazy. Only hippies walk around “Giving free hugs” and telling strangers they loved them.
- This isn’t going to fix anything.
- This is New York City. People will not stop for you.
- I’m white. And I feel guilty for this.
Thank god I didn’t listen to my ego. It was personal and connected and well received.
I felt strange zeroing in on black men and approaching them, but it wasn’t about me. Over and over and over again black men and women were thanking us, shocked and surprised that we were being so bold. People lingered to smile and laugh with us, passing on the good vibes. I remember I approached one woman with two boys. She looked leery and thought I was trying to sell her something. I mustered my courage and said “We’re here because black lives matter. You and your sons are important.” She turned her oldest boy towards me and said “You better listen to her.” I looked him in the eyes and said with everything I had “Black men are important. You are important. May I hug you?” and what I was expecting to be awkward was the most amazing and sincere hug I have ever received. And that was only one of my many experiences.
Tonight I could not forget a missed opportunity. Last November I had written a speech about racism to share with my class at Brookhaven College in Dallas. I ended up skipping the day of the speeches and turned in a bogus essay on another topic. Here is the speech I had written and should have given:
I am going to make you really uncomfortable. I am going to say some things that I “shouldn’t” say. Is that okay?
This morning I got down on my knees to pray for each and every one of you. That I can remove myself and let love flow through me.
I am young. I am beautiful. I am a female. And I am white.
If I ignored the fact that I was privileged for being born this way, then I would be an idiot. White privilege is a thing. If what I am saying or am about to say angers you, write down your thoughts, throw them in the trash, and take a good look at yourself and why this triggers you.
I do not have a lot of time, and there are a million faces and instances for racism. Today I am going to talk about black people. In the name of Love, I want to eradicate three things from your vocabulary to make this world a better place.
- “It’s okay, I have a black friend.”
If you are opening a story with this or ending one, you probably say things you shouldn’t. It’s not okay and that person is not your friend. This is not a statement of love. It is alienating to the “friend” you are claiming and it is not a cover to be an asshole.
2. “It’s just a word.”
We all know what word I’m talking about. You forget that words are the most dangerous weapon we have. They start wars, they scar, they kill. This word was invented out of hate and fear. It is never okay to say it. If someone else does, don’t fixate on it, move on. Do not allow it to be a norm coming out of YOUR mouth.
3. “People need to stop being so sensitive.”
I hear this one more often than any. We are not there yet. We are not equal. Black people do not have the same resources, time spent and opportunities that a white person does. I see this everyday. I say we should all be upset, we should all be hurt, we should all be angry.
President Obama says this “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”
Racism isn’t always as extreme as Hitler or the KKK. Sometimes it’s not even about hate. It can be hidden as alienation, objectification and lack of action. Err on the side of sensitivity. If your comment or thought requires you to defend yourself, DO NOT SAY IT.
If you cannot feel the pain of black people and see the growth we need, then all I ask is that you keep your mouth shut and accept that words can cut deep. The best you can do is actually love someone. Love someone enough to start an uncomfortable conversation. Love someone enough to realize that we have a long way to go.