In school, I loved learning about history. I always found it interesting to hear how people lived through big, life-altering events. I wasn’t as interested in the actions of the presidents and leaders as I was in the lives of the ordinary people. Did they know that they were witnessing a historic event? Could they comprehend the magnitude of what was happening? Were they desperate to get involved, to help, to spur change? Or were they so burdened down by the minutia of daily life that they couldn’t see the bigger picture?
As a kid, I always wondered, what would be the historic event in my lifetime? What would be the thing that my grandkids asked me about? And what would I tell them? Would I be proud of my reaction? Would I feel like I contributed?
Like it or not, this is our moment in history.
Police brutality. Institutional racism. #BlackLivesMatter. This is our story. This is what our grandkids will be reading about in school one day.
It’s been a horrifying week. Everyone, on every side of this issue, appears to be hurting. Everyone seems to be angry. Everyone seems to be heartbroken. The country is divisive, fragile, inflamed.
I’m a writer, but I’ve struggled to give words to this particular issue. Partly because of my emotions, partly because of the seriousness of the topic, but mostly because I just don’t know what to say. As a white, upper middle class female, my words feel hollow, even to my own ears. I cannot offer a solution, or understanding, or comfort. I have nothing to give. Even acting like I do seems fake, appears insulting.
But silence? Silence feels wrong too. Silence feels like a cop out. Staying quiet because of my privilege feels like an excuse.
As a feminist, I find it incredibly powerful when a man calls out another man on a sexist remark. Hearing men advocate for women’s issues is especially comforting. Because I know that someone else gets it, that it’s not just women who acknowledge the problem. I feel like progress is being made, like I’m being heard.
That’s the role I’d like to play for the black community. As a white woman, I will never, ever understand the fear and the anger that comes from witnessing men being murdered by the police. I will never truly get it. Ever. But I can acknowledge that it’s so very wrong. I can stand up to fellow white people who don’t see the problem. I can be an ally without assuming I know their pain or their experience. It is possible to support something without being a part of it.
So what does that actually look like in my daily life? I’ll be the first one to say it’s not overly impressive. I’m not organizing protests or taking any concrete action. Not yet, anyway. But I am trying to show up and bring awareness to this issue in small, everyday ways. Right now, supporting change looks like hard conversations with family members, with friends, with colleagues. It looks like explaining why #AllLivesMatter is actually a hurtful thing to say. It looks like explaining how one can be both pro-black and pro-cop at the same time. It looks like having hard conversation after hard conversation in a kind and understanding way.
Please note the “kind and understanding” part.
When you’re having these types of discussions, it’s easy to get angry when people don’t see your point of view. These are important topics and tempers are going to flare. But you’re not going to change someone’s mind through an argument. You can’t criticize someone into change. It doesn’t work that way. All it does is make the other person defensive and less likely to see your point of view. Be kind. Be fair. Be forgiving.
And if you can’t be, then walk away. Not everyone is worth engaging. There is nothing wrong with leaving a conversation that is headed in the wrong direction. The world doesn’t need more fights or arguments. It needs more love and kindness.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: what we do here counts. What we say now counts. Our actions matter. Our words matter. Our delivery matters.
When our grandkids read about this in their history books, make sure you do something you’ll be proud of. Make sure your actions and your words and your behavior match up with the kind of person you want to be and the kind of legacy you want to leave. Choose wisely. We only get one shot.
Jillian is part of the Contributing Writer Network at Thirty On Tap. Apply to become a Contributing Writer by clicking HERE