A few months ago, my parents and I ended a decade-long political standoff. It took several hard, tear-filled, mutually vulnerable conversation about race, human rights, politics and our own family dynamics to wipe away over 10 years of stories we had told ourselves in the absence of effective communication.
The conversation came as the world was reeling from the murders of Elijah McClain, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and too many other Black deaths, and as a mass awakening to the dangerous, racist underbelly of our country unfolded. I had spent weeks listening to the deep pain my Black friends were experiencing and feeling surges of hope as long-silent fellow white people finally started to speak out, buy books, give money for reparations, and recognize racist systems.
At the same time, I was quietly fuming at loved ones who stayed quiet. I did the usual venting into my echo chamber of like-minded friends and making passive aggressive social media comments. I went radio silent and hoped they’d finally see what I see.
Eventually, I had to reckon with my own complicity in the face of their silence. I am no stranger to talking about racial injustice, but, for too long, I have refused to talk about it with people I love who don’t think like me.
My upbringing was mostly white, mostly Christian, and very conservative. Even though my parents were more progressive and cooler than most, I was a product of the Bible Belt where we “didn’t see color” and most of us didn’t realize Jesus wasn’t light haired and blue eyed until college. And, like millions of young white Americans who had similar upbringings, as I grew up, I became more tuned into politics, human rights, culture, racial injustice and world events. My worldview shifted and in it I took the opportunity to listen, learn and redesign my values. With every protest I took part in, with every ballot I cast, and with every social justice post I wrote, over the years, I undid many of the norms I was taught.
Despite my growth, I continued to stay quiet in some of my inner circles and let tension build. Instead of talking about it with loved ones who weren’t on the same growth trajectory, I quietly fumed and held desperately to anger and self-righteousness. It bred contempt, confusion and resentment among some of my closest friends and family.
Before this conversation with my parents and subsequent conversations with other loved ones, there were too many times that I chose to stay in line with norms and not “shake things up” over “politics.” I’d lay down excuses like, “we don’t put politics before family,” or I’d blow off a friend’s microaggressions because “there’s no changing them.” There are a million excuses I could give, but it all boils down to the fact that I was latching onto my own white comfort.
White people, we must set our comfort aside. These conversations are critical and they are on us.
As the news cycle starts to diversify its attention away from Black Lives Matter, I see too many of us falling back into white comfort. Please don’t be fooled by the shift in national conversation, we haven’t even scratched the surface on racial justice. We have centuries of oppression to reckon with and reparations to make. We have so much work to do and some of that work is sitting right in front of us in our inner most circles.
If the tension that built in your inner circles in June has since dissipated, now is not the time to breathe a sigh of relief. It’s time to resurface it, walk toward it and reckon with it. To not have these conversations or to stay silent is to be complicit.
Over time, many White progressives, like me, have helped create a microcosm of our country at our very own dinner tables. We have sat at the table with friends and families who are rarely confronted with differing views and have chosen to remain silent. But we can’t anymore. For those of us who sit at these tables, we must speak up and realize our unique position and access to the very roots of America that need uprooting.
While we must relentlessly listen and learn from the lived experiences of Black people, it is also imperative that we do not leave the burden of talking about race with other White people on the shoulders of Black people. There are countless books, articles, social media influencers and more resources from brilliant, gracious Black thought leaders, laying out to confront anti-racism in ourselves and others.
When I walked toward the conversation with my parents, it was painful, tough, but, most importantly, hopeful for all of us. I walked in with an unwavering conviction for my deep commitment to racial justice, ready for any outcome, and walked out with absolute support, love and their deepened desire to learn and understand more.
It’s important for those of us who need to have these conversations to remember when we feel uncomfortable that most Black people don’t have the option to avoid these life or death conversations. In fact, it is White fragility in practice that we even call these conversations “uncomfortable.” As Rachel Cargle said, “White feelings should never be held in higher regard than Black lives.”
No, not all these conversations will end the way mine did, nor will they solve racism – not even close. But these conversations are the least we can do in our collective work to dismantle White Supremacy and chip away at the systems that have created Black pain, suffering and death for far too long. When Black people have to wake up every day wondering if they’re going to die next, or if their child will be the next hashtag, we don’t have an excuse not to try. We’ve prioritized White comfort for 400 years too long.
Meggie Abendschein is the founder and CEO of Moxie Mouth, a cause-driven coaching and consulting agency dedicated to shifting narratives around social justice. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter.