One of my favorite books is A Time to Kill by John Grisham. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately.
If you’ve never read the book (or seen the movie), it’s about the trial of a black man who killed the two white men that raped his 10-year-old daughter.
The specific part of the movie that keeps coming to mind is the closing statement by the defense lawyer. He asks the jury to close their eyes as he tells the horrifying story of what happened to his client’s daughter. He asks them to picture the little girl. To see her.
And then to imagine that she was white.
I think about the stories of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd.
Would Ahmaud’s murder been recorded and deemed acceptable under the state’s citizens arrest and self-defense statutes if he had been white and the other three men had been black?
Would George Floyd have been confronted while sitting on his car, placed under arrest, and then have the officer kneel on his neck to the point of death because he was “resisting arrest”, or perhaps more accurately “struggling to stay alive”, if he had been white?
In my mind, answer to these questions isn’t even “Probably not.” I truly believe that if these two men had white skin, they would both still be alive today.
And that is not okay.
To be pro-life is to respect the dignity of all lives from natural conception to natural death. There is no inbetween. There is no exception made for any level of physical or cognitive ability, gender, race, ethnicity, etc.
I can’t call myself pro-life and only limit that to the unborn and disabled. I can’t speak up for the worth and rights of my child and other people with Down syndrome or other disabilities but stay silent when it comes to the worth and rights of people of color.
Have I been granted access to certain advantages, opportunities, and privileges because of the color of my skin? Absolutely. Most of the time, I was very unaware of it, and I’m sure there are times that I still am.
I think that one of the things that people with white skin are being asked to do is to not necessarily deny themselves access to opportunities, but to acknowledge being white almost guarantees certain advantages, opportunities, and privileges from the start. It’s not to say that all people with white skin have access to the exact same advantages, opportunities, and privileges, but for the most part, people with white skin do have access to a certain level of those things.
And then to acknowledge that people of color are not.
To acknowledge that for people of color, it’s usually the exact opposite.
To be born with brown or black skin is to be almost automatically excluded from certain advantages, opportunities, and privileges.
That is not okay.
I have been involved in conversations about race and racism in which people who are white get very defensive. I’ve gotten defensive myself. BAs Tarana Burke, the founder of the “Me Too” movement, stated on Brene Brown’s podcast Unlocking Us,
I think that because we’re interconnected as people, as human beings, that when one group of human beings talk about the ways that…the world has failed them, the way that these systems of oppression have failed them…other groups of people feel like it’s an indictment of them or that they are somehow personally responsible for each individual life.Brown, Brene. “Tarana Burke and Brene on Being Seen and Being Heard”. Unlocking Us. Podcast audio. March 23, 2020. https://brenebrown.com/podcast/brene-tarana-burke-on-empathy/
I think what people who are white have to remember in this conversation is that it’s not about us. It’s not about going back and confessing every time we experienced an advantage because of having white skin or every racial slur or comment we may have made. It’s not about going on the defensive and trying to present evidence that we’re not racist. It’s not about trying to disprove or downplay the experiences people of color have had.
It’s about using our empathy and compassion to understand that these are people who are experiencing unfairness, oppression, and injustice in ways and on levels that many of us cannot imagine.
So what will I do about this?
I will commit to taking steps to do better. To be better.
I will teach my children to see and appreciate the different colors of skin but to remember that it’s just skin. No matter what color, skin is not the person. Skin isn’t kind or unkind. Skin doesn’t love or hate. Skin doesn’t help or harm. Skin just holds all our bones, muscles, veins, etc. in. That’s it.
I will listen, truly listen, to the experiences that people have had because of the color of their skin. I may not be able to empathize based on experiences, but I’m sure I can empathize based on feelings. I know what it’s like to be hurt, scared, angry, confused, sad, so I can absolutely listen and do my best to understand based on that.
I will stop describing people by their skin color. There are tons of other characteristics that can be used to describe a person other than skin color.
I will use people-first language. I’ll be honest, ever since having Moses, I have become hyper-aware of using people-first language. Using people-first language does exactly what it says it does – it puts the person first. Moses is not his diagnosis. He is not defined by Down syndrome. He is not a “Down syndrome boy”. Down syndrome is a part of him, but it is not all of him. Similarly, a person is not a skin color. Skin color is a part of a person, but it is not all of a person. I will refer to a person as a “woman with brown skin” or a “man with black skin” if there is a reason to use skin color as a descriptor of that person.
I will be an upstander. I will speak up and stand up against racism and discrimination.
I will continue to learn and educate myself about more things that I can do to make this world a better place for everyone.
There is still so much inequality in this world based on race, gender, and ability, just to name a few. I may not be able to fix it all, but I can and I will stand by my pro-life beliefs and continue to work respect all people.
What can you do? What will you do?