How It Feels When White Friends And Family Don't Say 'Black Lives Matter'

by Rachel Garlinghouse
Originally Published: 
We Feel Betrayed When White Friends And Family Don't Share That Black Lives Matter
Scary Mommy and Chibelyaeva Katya/Reshot

Every morning, I wake up ready for another day of writing, creating, and mothering. I’m a mom of four black children and a lot of my work, now more than ever before, is focused on anti-racism. My work is an opportunity I’m grateful for, but it is also very heavy, involving research, a lot of time, and even more mental and emotional energy. What makes it even more difficult is that every single thing I do–or not do–impacts my four children.

In the past few weeks, adding to our collective sense of confusion, anger, and determination, is sadness. Some of our white family members and friends have chosen to be silent about Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and the activism that’s going on in our country. They continue to post cute photos of their kids and grandkids, feel-good news stories, and funny memes, so it’s not like they aren’t active on social media. We are noticing who is speaking up and who isn’t. Those who opt to ignore and stay silent–betraying our family.

The truth is, I’m taking mental inventory of who among our nearest and dearest is choosing to say Black Lives Matter and who isn’t. I can’t help but take the silence personally. If these individuals say they “just adore” my kids and choose to like our family’s photos and videos, then why aren’t they speaking up?

Last week, I had multiple conversations with friends of mine who are black moms. They each told me the same thing. They are noticing who is posting their support and who is posting “all lives matter,” the black and blue police flag, questioning rioting (but saying nothing about Floyd), and still expressing support for the president. What’s equally as terrible are the friends who attempt to remain neutral by posting nothing at all.

Those who post nothing are choosing to support oppression by default. By not taking a stand, they are taking a stand. What I want them to know comes from trending hashtags. Silence is compliance. Silence is violence.

I was raised to believe that if we see someone harming someone else with words or actions and we choose to say or do nothing to help the victim, we are just as guilty as the person inflicting harm. Being an “innocent” bystander isn’t an option in the current anti-racism movement. Either white people are helpers (allies) or oppressors.

Those who try to remain neutral are doing so because their white fragility is in full-swing. They are digging in their heels–focusing on their whiteness. They are feeling like life is getting off-balance because they are no longer the center of attention. Their discomfort isn’t the problem. I encourage anyone who is struggling with what’s going on to think, learn, and ask how they can change and help. The real problem is burying their heads in the sand, hoping and praying that soon this uprising will lose momentum so we can get back to the norm.

Newsflash: racism isn’t going to magically go away with white people pretending it doesn’t exist. Confronting a problem, head-on, is always more productive than pretending, ignoring, and dismissing. There’s no more “fake it until you make it.” We know who is racist and who isn’t.

Now, I absolutely understand that some are having a hard time knowing what to say right now. I want them to know that they don’t have to curate the perfectly-phrased social media post, text, or conversation-starter in order to share that they understand that racism is wrong. Saying something, as unpolished as it is, is far better than silence.

Read books on anti-racism and how to be anti-racist. (And please, get your kids some anti-racism books, too!) Follow black influencers on social media, learning from and sharing their posts. Watch documentaries like Ava Duvernay’s 13th and the newly released film Just Mercy. Be open to having conversations about race, learning important terminology. Tell others, “I’m here to learn.” Then do it.

Don’t let your white guilt and fragility hold you back from engaging in the process of becoming anti-racist. Racism is a nationwide problem. Dismantling white supremacy will only happen if a whole lot of white people are willing to put some skin in the game and become white allies.

I’ve heard some white people say that they cannot possibly be racist. After all, they have a black friend. They are “colorblind.” They believe in peace and love, like Dr. King talked about. (But they conveniently leave out all Dr. King’s references to justice and protesting.) All of these are dismissive of the collective, historical and present pain many in our nation are facing. These are excuses used to protect oneself and one’s whiteness. They aren’t helpful, productive, or empathetic.

Racism isn’t limited to being a member of a white supremacy group and using racial slurs. Racism has a long, violent history and manifests in many different ways. These include stereotypes, microaggressions, hiring practices, school dress code policies, the preschool-to-prison pipeline, All Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, and many more. Racism can also be pledging allegiance to America or to the president, rather than to human lives.

Silence doesn’t do the work. Silence says to friends of color that they do not really matter, that they are merely tokens to be referred to on occasion. Silence says that you’d rather be quiet than brave. Silence says you aren’t willing to learn. Silence says that whiteness should continue to remain centralized while black people are killed. Silence is incredibly powerful.

I want to implore everyone, including my own white friends and family members, who are trying to “err on the side of caution” to think about what their silence is doing. Not only is their refusal to acknowledge racism hurting my family, but it’s hurting any person of color that they know and encounter. Either black lives matter or they don’t. There’s no third option, no pass-go, no escape route.

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