At 16, I was traumatized in a ghetto in Chicago when I was there on a two-week work-study event with the Presbyterian Church. We 20 white and rural kids from Wisconsin went to the big city to meet and work with black teenagers as a step toward dissolving the color line. The following summer, they were to come to Wisconsin. That never happened.
We stayed in the church itself. I had agreed to go to the store one evening when we ran out of milk. When I got out onto the sidewalk, I suddenly realized how alone I was and how strange. Other than those teens back in that church, I was probably the only white person for miles around among thousands of blacks.
I was mercilessly badgered and harangued and called names and belittled during my entire walk to and from the store. In the store, the clerk would not speak to me, would not wait on me, would not touch my money, and would not bag my items. It was 1963.
On my walk back to the church, facing the same gauntlet, I was absolutely furious. Screaming, pounding, crying, furious. And it happened to me once. I could not imagine how I could live if I had to put up with this treatment day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, decade after decade, century after century. African Americans have put up with worse in this country for four centuries.
I am not strong enough to do it. Could you? Could you do it and still be kind? Could you do it and still salute the flag or sing the national anthem? Could you do it and enlist in the military? Ask yourself that before you criticize the outpouring of righteous grief and anger that the black community across the country is feeling. Ask yourself that before you pass judgment on what you think may be actions you don’t like. Ask yourself that after you watch a video of a black man being murdered while three other men, sworn to protect us, looked on and did nothing.
It is way past time for white America to stand up for America. If we have an ounce of belief in what our country stands for, it is way past time to stand up and say “no more.” No more violence against African Americans, no more theft of their property, no more lies about school desegregation or false promises.
Stand up and say no more to the police who profile and harass and beat and arrest and murder African Americans at an astounding rate – often for no more than a cigarette, a $20 bill, or absolutely nothing. Stand up and say no more to a president who asks our military to shoot down our citizens in the streets. Stand up and admit we have undeserved white privilege and we must treat everyone based on their humanity, not our assumptions and biases and fears. There is only one race – the human race.
If you have never done it before, now is the time. Be brave. Speak to a black person; then listen and learn. Go to an NAACP or other black meeting; then listen and learn. Object to every racist “joke” or comment you hear. Work for the values Americans say we believe in – all men are created equal, justice and liberty for all. We say it – it’s up to us white people to make it real. Donate money; write a letter to the editor or better yet to the governor, mayor, chief of police, and sheriff; go to a protest; sign a petition or circulate one, run for office. America was founded in protest. You cannot let it die in silence. Your white privilege won’t protect you from the death of a nation.
Dianne Post is an international human rights attorney.