I’m Here, and I Can’t Breathe | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

I’m Here, and I Can’t Breathe


Laurie Bertram Roberts

I wanted to write a warmer, fuzzier column. I'm sorry, but my conscience won't let me. We're in the midst of a national moment, so warmer and fuzzier can wait; there's critical work to do.

I talk to liberal, white people in person and online all the time. That's part of my feminist activist wheelhouse. Interestingly, as black pain around police violence has made its way into the national consciousness, even those considered the most progressive among their peers usually miss the broader point.

The solution isn't body cameras, black voting power, more black police and better training. Those things are great and should be done. But they won't fix the national disease at the heart of this.

Our problem is deep, pervasive, entrenched white supremacist culture. It is woven into every bit of our country, and people are unwilling to uproot it. It is everywhere and affects everyone, full stop, end of story. It is not something "good white people" can exempt themselves by pretending you can.

I'm not talking about white supremacists carrying Confederate flags and burning crosses. This is about cultural beliefs that promote whiteness as better and good but degrade all things considered "other" as bad, wrong, dirty, criminal and ugly. It is the subtle and pronounced belief that whiteness is supremely better.

People of color aren't in a place of power to dismantle this. I'm talking to you white people, yes, you—and specifically white liberals. The ones who keep saying things like, "It's not like that where I live," and "My black friends don't think these things are an issue" and "I'm lucky I've never seen anyone be racist."

You have seen it, your friends experience it, and it's an issue. It's an issue you don't have to notice if you don't want to because you're white, and that is just plain truth.

Think I'm too harsh? That can't be helped. If we choose to take this opportunity and whitewash racial issues again, it is at our own detriment. If we are to move forward, white people have to be willing to do the heavy lifting. The start is making space for black voices, listening, sharing power and, yes, talking with other white people, even across divisions.

People of color can't be expected to do all the work on anti-racism and addressing anti-blackness as if we created and uphold this problem. Now is not the time to hide behind platitudes about color blindness, how diverse your friendships are or how many civil-rights activities you've done. I know you can fight back your fear, sit in discomfort and move forward.

I'm here, and I can't breathe. I'm mentally beaten, bruised and tired. I'm fighting back against this deeply entrenched problem. I'm asking for your help. The question is: Will you do it?

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