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Wake Up, White People: America is Drowning in 400 Years of Racism


Real allies need to do their part.

It's the end of Pride month and we are experiencing a full circle moment. It's been 51 years since the Stonewall riots birthed the LGBTQIA movement. Every year since then has been a reflection and celebration of our liberation and empowerment. But just like 51 years ago this year is not a celebration, it's an uprising.

The truth is the United States of America is drowning right now. We have Black trans men and women being beaten and killed in the streets with no consequences. We are in the mist of a pandemic that is claiming Black lives and putting a new spotlight on racial health disparities. And we are simultaneously mourning the death of several Black people at the hands of the police. We are at a tipping point which has found Black people once again leading a movement in the fight for our lives and humanity.

This nation is at a precipice. A moment of realization. A reality that many of us have always known. This is not the land of the free and it never has been. Black people are worn out and tired. Tired of living in a country that doesn't value us. Tired of only getting a portion of the American Dream. Tired of seeing our people mistreated. Tired of watching our people be killed. Tired of listening to white people try to rationalize it. What you are witnessing is 400 years of oppression imploding on America. The pain, trauma, and rage of injustice is spilling into the streets and we are drowning in it. White supremacy has drowned us.

Your hate has drowned us.

Your privilege has drowned us.

Your apathy has drowned us.

Your complacency has drowned us.

Your indifference has drowned us.

Your silence has drowned us.

It has sent us flailing and grasping for air for centuries. When we say we can't breathe we don't just mean right now. We mean every minute of every day for the last 400 years. So the question now is, White people, what are you going to do about it? How are you going to reconcile with your part in maintaining white supremacy, whether complicit or otherwise? The easy out is to apologize, cry, and sit with the shame and guilt. You feel bad for a few days and then it passes. Understand that is not enough. Understand that is bullshit. We don't need your apologies, your tears, or your guilt. What we need right now is for you to show up and put in work. Now is the time for white people to listen, learn, and act.

Listen to the Black people in your life. Hear their experiences and understand they are not isolated incidents, but part of a widespread epidemic in this country and beyond. Listen to why they are hurting and listen to what they may need from you. Don't argue, don't do logic exercises to explain your point of view. It doesn't matter right now. Every Black experience deserves attention and space. Just listen.

Learn about the oppressive history in this country. Read Black authors and do a deep dive into true American history. Learn and understand that systemic racism is a needle that is thread through every single aspect of American life since this nation was founded. With that, understand that Black people have had to learn from those same authors because America doesn't want to give the full story of its disgusting reality. The U.S. would much rather teach a white-washed version of history then reconcile with its dark past and present. Also, in doing your learning don't expect Black people to educate you on their pain. We are oppressed in every aspect of life and many don't have the energy to also explain to you why that is. If you do have Black people in your life who are willing to engage with you and educate you, know that's their choice and not something you are entitled to. Please behave accordingly.

When I say act I don't mean just expressing your sadness and displeasure of the death of yet another Black person. I mean do work. Leave the MLK quotes alone and do some real work. Publicly denounce racism and white supremacy. Find your lane. Protest, organize, donate. Do a self-reflection. Hold yourself accountable for past actions or inactions. Sit in your discomfort and work to be actively anti-racist. It is important to see color and raise your kids in a manner that confronts race and discusses the role it plays in our society. Engage with and call out the other white people in your life. Be willing to have that uncomfortable conversation and risk losing that relationship. Show up.

Black people have been listening, learning, and acting for 400 years. We have never been complacent in our oppression. We learned to read and write when we weren't supposed to. We organized and rebelled against slavery and Jim Crow. We were the first to fight back at Stonewall. And now we've started a movement across the world. Black people are brilliant, amazing, strong, and resilient. We are also tired. We will always show up but we can't dismantle systemic racism and oppression alone. White people it's your turn now. Listen, learn, act -- your move.

Ashley Innes is a Texas-based writer and HIV advocate. Follow her on Twitter @Ash_Innes.

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