I found Jesse William’s acceptance speech at the 2016 BET Awards moving, authentic and inspirational and I appreciate that it is bringing a race discussion to the forefront in our country yet again. And I’m white. I wrote about my personal experience with racism just about one year ago and a comment Mr. Williams made in his speech has clarified a strategy we as white people need to hear. I wrote about how racism has affected me since childhood. Certainly not in the way it has black Americans, but racism and white privilege costs all of us something. Now saying that I don’t mean that in any way could I, as a white American, begin to identify with the experiences of a black American, but I have a longing to dismantle white privilege in relation to what it is costing me.
And I think we as white Americans have a responsibility to educate ourselves and become aware of the costs of racism and white privilege to us as well. I don’t think we are going to be as invested in helping dismantle this until we can see the benefit this will have for us. Many white Americans are hearing blame when they hear this discussion, and they aren’t going to be open to hearing another perspective as long as they are hearing blame. Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, founder of nonviolent communication, told a story showing how he needed to give empathy to a man angrily disparaging Jewish people in order for the man to hear his perspective. He was able to give that empathy because he so strongly wanted the man to understand what those kinds of thoughts and words felt like to a Jewish person hearing them.
Mr. Williams mentioned in his speech that, “the burden of the brutalized is not to comfort the bystander”. Dr. Rosenberg wasn’t providing comfort, but was helping the cab driver come to a place where he could hear past his anger.
We as white Americans can help black Americans by hearing the white racism and anger from whites in a way that can open them to hearing the bigger picture. We can hear their anger, their fear, their frustration and we can educate ourselves about racism and white privilege and then educate them.
Restorative justice requires that we in white America understand what has been happening for black Americans, to be able to hear that, we have to get past defensiveness. It is not the job of black Americans to help us get past the defensiveness; we have to help each other with that.
This article describes 10 simple ways white people can help fight racism, and I would add help each other get past hearing blame. Help each other get to an openness where we can hear the black American experience, and any other experience that isn’t white privilege in a way that allows us to change.
Top photo of Jesse Williams from YouTube
Heather Schlessman, PhD is a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner who has spent her career either working with or teaching about families. She is also a mother who, like so many other parents, spent years muddling her way raising 3 wonderfully different children, one who happens to be experiencing a disability. Fortunately she has a life partner who muddled along with her. Spending most of her time trying to be perfect, as that would be the safest way to live, she became aware of a desire to be able to see people in a more compassionate way. Little did she know that the person she needed the most compassion for was herself. There is a saying that when you are ready to learn a teacher will appear, and so it was for Dr. Schlessman. She was introduced to the work of Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, the developer of Nonviolent Communication, and her world completely changed. She learned a way to have an intimate connection with herself and others, a way to truly contribute. Her passion now is to help others find their way to a more compassionate life. You can find more of Dr. Schlessman’s empathic expressions along with her husband’s, Rev. Mark Schlessman on their website.