It feels like hardly a day goes by that I don’t see something racist in the news or online, whether it’s something truly tragic like a shooting or something a little less tragic, but still terrible, such as online bullying.
This week, a white guy named Gerod Roth from Atlanta posted a selfie with a beautiful Black child on his Facebook page. Disgustingly, it was soon riddled with racist remarks from both the poster and his friends and it ended up being passed all over the internet. The Black community in Atlanta and around the country was outraged, and the people behind Black Twitter dug up the guy’s personal information and he and at least one of the commenters ended up being fired from their jobs.
I read about this in an article on the Atlanta Black Star website and, like other people who read it, was upset by the photo and comments on the guys’ Facebook page. Then I scrolled down to the comments section and read what Black people were saying–and that made me feel even worse. Things like, “White people don’t like us. Period.” Or, “White people will say this stuff about us but then smile to our faces. My buddy used to call it the fake white girl smile.” Or, even worse, “This is why we will never be safe.”
In these people’s minds, this jerk and his ignorant friends were just another terrible thing in a long line of terrible things that white people have done to people of color. This wasn’t just about one white guy and a handful of idiots–to (some of) them, this guy spoke for all white people.
And that made me so sad, because my smile is not fake and it breaks my heart that people might think that. Not that I would blame them. How can Black people trust us when things like this continue to happen? Suddenly, it seemed impossible to me that we would ever be able to move past racism when there are people like Gerod Roth out there spewing hatred into the world. Feeling helpless, I looked at my son and his beautiful brown skin and cried like a baby.
And then I left a comment saying how awful this made me feel and how sorry I was that this happened and how sorry I was for all of the terrible racist things that Black people have to face each and every day.
What happened next amazed me. I started receiving friend requests from Black people that had read my comment. Lots of them (400+ people) started leaving replies on my comment and sending me messages that said things like “Thank you for recognizing this,” and “You made my day,” and “This means so much,” and “This is sweet. It’s too bad the majority don’t feel this way.”
It was nothing, really – I simply acknowledged what I was feeling; that this was terrible, that not all white people are like that, and that I felt badly about it, too. But it meant the world to a community that apparently never (or very rarely) hears these kinds of things from white people. For some, it seemed like the only time they had ever heard/read a white person express empathy to them in regards to racism. If you read the comments on that article, you’ll see what I mean. Black people are used to white people denying that racism exists–not acknowledging that it does even as we wished it didn’t. (One commenter said, “White people can see vampires, ghosts, aliens, UFOs, werewolves, and zombies, but can’t see racism, oppression or white privilege.”)
I made a lot of new friends that day, most of whom I am now communicating with through Facebook. All because instead of remaining silent and pretending that racism doesn’t exist, I expressed the feelings that I’ve been carrying around inside.
What if we all started doing this? What if we made it a point to reach out and express empathy for the struggles our Black neighbors have faced for generations? Why aren’t we doing that? What are we scared of? I know there are so many white people that feel the same why I do. If you’re reading this, surely you are one of them. I challenge you to reach out to a Black person–friend or stranger, online or in real life–and let them know how you feel and that you care about them and recognize their struggles. Speak or write from your heart.
You’ve got nothing to gain but friends.