Miserable & Magical: If you’re white, do the work

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Two weeks ago I wrote about how I was spending my birthday completely alone in quarantine. I’m writing this column on what should have been Breonna Taylor’s 27th birthday. 

What’s happening in this country right now (and for the past 400-plus years) is horrible. I feel conflicted writing about it because, while I have a lot of opinions, I’m also aware that there are more than enough white voices shouting about things they’ve never personally experienced. There’s nothing I can say on this matter that a black person couldn’t say better.

With that in mind, I’m going to use this space to share resources that can hopefully help white people be better allies. And not just allies, but accomplices in dismantling white supremacy. To be clear and forthright, everything I’m going to say here I learned from black people.    

To start, listen to black voices. Follow Shay Stewart-Bouley’s Black Girl In Maine website and become a paying subscriber. Read Ekhlas Ahmed’s column in this paper. Lift up these voices and share their work on social media. 

If you don’t understand something, don’t bring your questions to the black people in your life. Ask a white friend, Google it, or buy a book (not from Amazon). I suggest “Me and White Supremacy” by Layla Saad, “Eloquent Rage” by Brittney Cooper, “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates, “Sister Outsider” by Audre Lorde, and literally everything by Roxane Gay.

For fiction, read “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas, “Such a Fun Age” by Kiley Reid, “Girl, Woman, Other” by Bernardine Evaristo, “Heads of the Colored People” by Nafissa Thompson-Spires, and everything by Toni Morrison. 

There are so many more incredible books to read. Seek them out. Ask local bookstores what they recommend. Follow black bookstagrammers. Follow more black people in general on social media. But don’t follow just to follow. Actually read and listen to what they’re saying.

Listen to podcasts by black creators. Sunstorm, Still Processing, Here To Slay, Another Round, Sooo Many White Guys, and Come Through with Rebecca Carroll are some of my favorites. On a recent episode of the Sibling Rivalry podcast, hosts Bob the Drag Queen and Monet X Change talk in-depth about what’s happening right now and the toll it’s taking on black people and black queer people.

If you have the means, donate to black organizations and/or spend your money at black-owned businesses. Redistribute the wealth. A new website called blackownedmaine.com has an ever-growing directory of businesses in Maine owned by black people.

There are so many more things we can all do; we don’t have to do everything, but we need to do something. And not just the bare minimum. We can’t just post a black square on social media, say “black lives matter,” and then move on with our cushy white lives. That doesn’t solve anything. 

“To absorb without use,” Audre Lorde said, “is the greatest error of privilege.”

We need to do the work. We need to look deep inside ourselves and question the biases we hold and work on undoing them. We must be uncomfortable. If not, nothing will change. Black people have been dying unjustly for centuries – how many more have to die before we actually do something about it? 

We must hold ourselves accountable for doing this work. We must keep the conversation going with our friends and family, demand action from local officials, and make room for black people to lead the way. 

Writing this is easy enough, but I know doing these things will be extremely difficult. I know white people, myself included at times, are already feeling exhausted. But we can’t stop, we can’t lose this momentum. There’s too much on the line.

Kate Gardner is a Portland-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Washington Post, Teen Vogue, SELF, and Bustle. You can follow her on Twitter @katevgardner.