Recently, the crew of Hope Lawn Care finished a landscaping job in my yard. They worked through rain and sweltering afternoons, chatted about college with me, and shared their hopes for the future. I looked forward to sharing pictures and publicizing this new business on social media. Yet I decided to hold off to give space and focus to the grief and calls for change echoing in the wake of the murders of black people at the hands of police and white vigilantes. I prayed that proposals for long-overdue reforms would finally demand enough attention to become reality. My front yard, and the social enterprise that transformed it, could wait. Or so I thought.
Just days later, I was dismayed (but not surprised) to read “A night of buoyancy, sunk by an ugly reality” (June 4) about the police being called on a black and brown landscaping crew in Winston-Salem. For me and my white neighbors, this is a reminder that racial justice requires legislative and institutional reforms, and constant efforts to examine our biases and choose anti-racist actions in our everyday lives and policy positions. Our failure to do so may threaten the lives of our neighbors of color or, as in the case of this landscaping crew, cause them to suffer indignity and trauma.
Thought leaders, activists and researchers have shown that racism is deeply ingrained in American society, not only in overt bigotry, but also in unconscious prejudices that shape our choices. This should come as no surprise in a nation founded on the genocide of Native Americans and exploitation of the lives and labor of African people. The hopeful news, which psychologists such as Dr. Jennifer Eberhardt and others have shown, is that unconscious bias can be overcome with conscious reflection (see: https://bit.ly/Eberhardt-Science-2020).
So I invite my neighbors -- white neighbors in particular -- to (re)commit with me to examining the prejudices that shape our actions and to making conscious, anti-racist choices. Every day, we must ask ourselves questions such as:
- Why am I suspicious of that landscaping crew? Are they doing anything wrong?
- What is causing me to steer this bright black high school student away from college? Is it really concern about the cost, or something else?
- Why do I think people should have to show photo ID to vote?
- Is it reasonable to believe that harsh immigration policies keep us safer? What do the data suggest?
If we realize that racism, xenophobia and unfounded fears are influencing our thoughts and actions, then we can make different choices:
- We can say “good morning” to the landscaping crew.
- We can affirm the black high school student’s intellect and help her find support to pursue her education.
- We can seek facts to test our initial opinions and engage in thoughtful dialogue. If we did this, we might well find that we can ensure voting rights for communities of color while protecting the integrity of our elections. We can enact compassionate immigration policies while keeping our country safe.
As we engage in this work of introspection and intentionally anti-racist choices, we should listen, learn from, and support local organizations led by people of color working for justice. A black-led coalition of organizers -- who have been doing this work all along -- recently compiled local opportunities for folks seeking to increase their involvement in racial equity work: http://equityforsyth.com/.
Our community is stronger for their leadership. I am grateful to have learned from many of them, and for the opportunity to grow in community and in thoughtful, committed action.
As for the good folks of Hope Lawn Care, you are welcome in my neighborhood any day. If a neighbor of mine makes you feel otherwise, I would like to know -- not to blame or shame, but to have a good faith conversation in the hopes of freeing our hearts and minds from racism more and more. As a person who carries the unearned privilege of whiteness, that is my job.