Last year, during the height of the George Floyd tragedy, our Facebook feeds were full of posts that expressed the anger, frustration, and guilt that people were feeling.
That was to be expected. However, I quickly grew weary of seeing it.
So I wrote a post:
To All My Friends Who Are “White”: (I put “White” in quotes because I don’t usually — and even now would rather not do so — designate my friends by color. But, alas, here we are.) I have a challenge for you. Rather than sharing words and images and videos and strangers’ posts in an effort to show how you feel about this current situation and the actions you plan to take, what about speaking directly with a black person whom you actually know? Wouldn’t that make it real for you? Have you done that? Do you have a black friend with whom you can pour out your questions, misunderstandings, and feelings of sadness and guilt (actual and perceived)? Will you contact that person and really show that you care about what’s happening, that you really want to understand? George Floyd is gone, but your black friend is close by. You can even contact me; just send me a PM. I am happy to speak with you over the phone or over FaceTime. Whomever it is, will you contact that black friend? Or will you just continue to share your words, that article, those memes, and that video here on Facebook? Your friend, Darla
Over the next seven days, I had conversations with 36 white friends and several non-white friends who have white family members. From a wide variety of backgrounds and locations, and with an age range of 13-66, they responded to my “Talk to Your Black Friend” challenge. Friends contacted me and freely asked questions, wept, laughed, and shared experiences in ways that made my heart soar with joy.
Thirteen-year-old Madi, whom I have known since she was in kindergarten, took the challenge. I was deeply touched when she (through her mother, who also took the challenge) contacted me with her concerns. Here is our conversation from June 2020.
Madi: What do you think about what is happening?
Darla: It makes me sad. As long as I have been alive (60 years in October), skin color has caused many people to be hateful towards each other. And you know from studying history that this has been going on for far longer than that. However, I do not agree that all white people are bad, are privileged, and can’t be trusted to understand how I might feel.
Madi: Has it changed much since you were growing up?
Darla: Yes and no. People have become more vocal about the mistreatment they receive, and there are more organizations available to help, beyond the local resources. Technology has made it easy to connect with large numbers of people. My family moved to Santa Barbara when I was a year old. The Civil Rights Act hadn’t even been passed to give blacks equal rights. It’s actually quite mind boggling when I think about how recently that occurred. What hasn’t changed since I was growing up is the amount of people who hate. And having access to social media magnifies lets them magnify that hate.
Madi: Did this happen a lot when you were growing up?
Darla: Not a lot that I recognized at that young age. I recall several times being called the n-word when I was in elementary school. My Mom (Ohio) and Dad (Arkansas) grew up with it, but they had friends of all colors in Santa Barbara, so I and my siblings did, too. There were not a lot of black families in this city back then. There still aren’t! Protests occurred here in the 1960’s and 70’s that would coincide with state and national incidents.
Madi: What can I learn from these terrible events?
Darla: Learn that the wound that opened many centuries ago has not healed for all black people. America’s use of the slavery system has its consequences to this day. It was a wrong that our country has tried to right, but the wound continues to flare. I also hope you learn that evil comes in all colors and exists in all communities. There is no excuse for the looting, incitement, and violence.
Madi: What is something that I can personally do to help this not happen in the future?
Darla: I try not to overwhelm myself by thinking I can keep this from happening ever again. Instead, I focus on my own little world of family, friends, and acquaintances and try to keep it from happening there. Then, as each person reaches out to another person and they to another, the world can become a better place. Respect people as those who each were created in the image of God. There is their worth. I wish everyone could accept that as truth. Once I learned and believed it, the n-word had no chance of crushing me ever again because the color of my skin, and everything that went along with that, no longer defined me.
Madi: I can’t even imagine how hard this is for the African-American community. I hope everything is good and sorry that there are no Dodgers games to listen to!
Darla: Thanks, Madi. It gets hard when I think about what my male relatives are going through. My older brother, my son — it’s tough to know that they live life tiptoeing through certain situations. But I also believe in prayer and that God is ultimately in control. Something good will come from this. It already has: this little conversation with you! I hope my words don’t confuse or overwhelm you. Do not think that you have to feel badly or guilty about your skin color. Keep those feelings for when you actually do something wrong. Have compassion for those who are hurting. Use your wonderful personality, talents, hard work, and beautiful smile to make your parents proud and to share goodness with the world. Thank you for caring enough to ask these hard questions.
And here we are, almost a year later. COVID may be passing, but the news is still full of anger and frustration and guilt. Things have not changed for the better in this world. But I know that my world is better.
It’s happening, Madi. One conversation at a time. Thank you for being a part of my caring, listening, concerned, loving, confused, grieving, sorrowful, and wonderful world.
Maybe the thoughtful questions of a teenager can be a springboard for you or someone you know. The true healing is only going to happen when we go beyond the social media sharing and pursue a personal connection. Let me know if you do!