A white person who didn’t do anything asks for action from those still doing nothing.
You have to find your fight. Mine has always been with words. I use them to discuss things I want to change, to offer community to those feeling alone. Except I’ve never used my words to fight racism. I didn’t think it was my fight, or my place. I was always scared a black person was going to be angry with me, or dislike me, because I put myself inside a fight that wasn’t mine. Because racism wasn’t happening to me, so what did I know about it? I was afraid. When you acknowledge how insignificant your fear is compared to someone else’s life, it’s really hard to stay quiet. I write this in the hopes that fewer white people will be quiet.
Be wrong. Know you’ve been wrong. Open yourself up to feeling deeply wrong, to being ashamed of your own silence. I am. I’m a failure in my own mind right now. And it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t merit consoling. I don’t need to be comforted by someone else right now. I don’t need to be educated by someone else right now. I need to take responsibility for my own silence and my own ignorance and correct them both at the same time. So do you. I don’t write this to make you feel better about everything you haven’t done. I write this to make us both feel worse about everything we haven’t done. Because then maybe we’ll actually do something.
Not knowing what to do, or say, or how to not just “approach” the topic of racism, but to really get in there, is intimidating. But only marginally intimidating when compared to how intimidated and afraid black people feel in the vicinity of the police. I don’t want us to “approach” racism. I want us to scream it out of existence. And I can’t hear us. We are too quiet. Being quiet kills people. I promise you this is our fight.
I never connected the dots. I never saw enough of a connection between the confusion I grew up with, and what’s happening now. Did nobody in Germany think that what Hitler was doing was wrong, if not insane? Did that look like logical cargo to train conductors? Did no one building the concentration camps challenge why they needed to exist? Did anyone who had to unload poison from a truck a stock a gas chamber with it ever disagree with what they were being asked to do? I’m sure they did. I’m sure that dissent lived in their minds. But it never lived out loud enough to stop six million people who were born into the same religion as me from being mass murdered, lungs first. When I say nothing, do nothing, write nothing about racism, corrupt and brutal policing, and generational systemic bias against black people, I am that German person who did nothing. And I’ll be fucking damned.
You are not at the center of being an ally. The people whose ally you are — they’re the center. Being an ally is not about your story, your comfort, or your feelings (unless you’re angry, then use that shit). My allyship is not about how I come across to readers, friends, family, or Twitter. My allyship is about ending my silence because my silence hurts people. So does yours. Do you want to hurt people? I don’t. Hurting people isn’t how I was raised. Helping people very much is. I’m white, female, Texan, and Jewish, and I favor all of those things over things that are different than the traits I came here with. It’s what happened. But it is my decision to live differently, to speak loudly and definitely imperfectly, and it’s yours too.
Allyship is not about receiving praise. Allyship is being willing to receive criticism. Being willing to receive discomfort. Being willing to risk something you have or something you want because the future of every black person in this country depends on it. I am not speaking hypothetically. I am speaking literally. I am speaking. Please speak.
You don’t have to be the perfect ally to start being one. It is a skillset you develop over time, just like anything else. It is an education worth pursuing, if not the most important one. It is my responsibility to accept that the fact that the “not being racist” I was so proud of for so long was tantamount to nothing. My shame, fear, and desire to be liked do not matter. We’re going to get it wrong. We’re going to break the eggshells we’ve walked on for so long. BREAK THEM. Shake yourself out of silence, and know that I say this to you as someone who had to be shaken out of mine.
I don’t write this for praise, or claps, or for a black person’s approval. I write this for a white person’s silence. I write this with the hope, actually no fuck that, I write this outwardly demanding that you as a white person who has still done nothing, said nothing, risked nothing for black people—I write this because our country is on fire, and it’s way past time someone lit a fire under us. I ignored my fire because I was afraid of what else would burn me. Do not fear the fire inside you, do not fear what comes after you speak the truth you know. Racism is wrong, bias is wrong, injustice is wrong, murder is wrong. We already know all of this, but knowing it is meaningless if we don’t take action that shows the world what we believe. You are not being “brave” by being an actively anti-racist ally. You are being human.
Please don’t be afraid like I was. Please make the decision to speak up, through any and every tool at your disposal (you’re here, so I know you at least have the internet, start there). Make the decision to say something, do something, and risk something. Deal with the fact that you’re ashamed this will be your first time. You are reading my first time right now. Accept feeling bad about your history of silence and put your energy into a loud future. Be willing to be wrong, to be criticized, to be trolled, to be different than everyone else still silent around you. Black people are dying. Speaking up, standing up, and pulling up for what we know needs to change is the very least we can do.
Tell everyone you know, every friend and follower you have, every family member you’re afraid to fight with, tell them that Black Lives Matter. Tell them that police brutality is a deeply rooted and pervasive system that must be rebuilt. Tell them that systemic bias against black people and people of color is everywhere, including inside you, inside me, inside us. Tell them it’s there, and tell them it doesn’t have to stay. Tell them that you want change to happen, and then research for yourself how you can help make sure it does. Then tell them what you found.
You have to find your fight. I had to find mine. I do not fight because of my shame, fear, and feelings of inadequacy. I fight because of my love, because my love, and your love, is stronger than all of the hate—but only if the hate can hear it.
Shani Silver is a humor essayist and podcaster based in Brooklyn who writes on Medium, a lot.