My Commitment to Speak-Up

I am heartbroken. I have a lump in my throat so big it is hard to make words form. I am a white woman. I am a master’s degree educated single mom, I have a disability leaving me with significant loss of use of one of my legs, I know hardship I also know some level of discrimination, and yet I do not know daily oppression. I am self-employed, a business owner, and some days that is scary, and yet I do not know extreme poverty. I am lucky. If you ask my children, they have many wants not fulfilled but they have no unmet basic needs. I am white and I am privileged.

I have had conversations with my black friends about racism, I have known it was an issue. I knew some of the horrible things that were said, or actions are done. I was enraged. I did nothing.

As a child, I learned to take messages of hate. I learned how I was different because I couldn’t run and that that meant I wasn’t good enough to be played with. I can remember boys in high school saying they would date me if I didn’t have crutches, I remember the occasional shocked looks when I a would get up to walk and exhibit tendencies more familiar to a grandmother than 20-30-year-old white women. I learned to endure. My black friends endured; they endured my silence and a system that oppressed them.

When I was a child, I was taught that it was not ok to speak up or advocate for myself or others. As a child the few times I tried to speak up about something I was hushed or misunderstood. I stopped speaking up for issues that mattered, and so when I had these conversations with my black friends, I sat with them in resignation and fear, I was consumed. For my friends and for all Black People I was sympathetic and empathetic but not an ally of any use. I hung my head and was quiet.  I continued to live in privilege oblivious in many ways about how I benefited from a racist system and a racist structure.

A few years ago, I attended a workshop on implicit and explicit biases and dug a little deeper, I noticed how I enjoyed passing in the able-bodied world and how I view(ed) the possibility of needing a wheelchair as an impossible life. I mused how I was turning my back on ‘my people’ because I didn’t want to be considered disabled. I mused how black people that are light-skinned might benefit from ‘passing’ as well. I mused at my own and others desire to move away from hardship and discomfort. I had new understandings but nothing changed life continued in my bubble.

Now, following 2 months of quarantine black lives were unjustly lost for the 1000th plus time at the hand of those who should protect police officers, and I got angry. I decided that I can’t hide in the shadows of the voiceless but as a privileged white disabled woman I would stand up, I would educate myself more, I would have tough conversations, and I would listen for opportunities to advocate for my black brothers and sisters because enough is an enough already.

I am so sorry that I haven’t spoken up sooner. I am learning that I don’t yet know how and what platforms will make a difference. I am learning I will make mistakes and take wrong steps, I will adjust, learn, and keep going.

I want to build a world where the color of a person’s skin doesn’t get them killed. I want to live in a world where we collectively and individually matter and BELONG. I want to live in a world where our differences are cherished. I want to create a world driven by love, inclusion, connectedness, and belonging. I know I am just one voice but I am joining many and I hope that my contribution will matter, that it will help to move the needle so my black brothers and sisters are not killed for the very fact that their skin is not white.

I will continue to engage in uncomfortable conversations, conversations that change us, and create a new future.