White Supremacy Is the Water
I need to say something about the murder of Nia Wilson, an 18-year old woman who was stabbed and killed on the BART in Oakland two days ago. Her 26-year old sister Latifah was also injured. The killer was a 27-year old white man and paroled felon named John Lee Cowell. 

And I need to say something about Sasha Garden, a 27-year-old transgender woman of color who was murdered last week in Florida. The media has misgendered her in the local coverage, which is common especially among sex worker deaths. 

White privilege is being able to choose whether or not to make the time to sit and mourn these two women. White privilege is posting something on social media then going on to the other tasks and activities of my day, unaffected by race every time I step outside my door. White privilege is not worrying about my daughter's safety based on her skin color. 

And it is sitting here, feeling sick about these deaths, then enjoying an evening walk with my wife and dog without saying a word about them. Or wanting to say something but not being sure what will make a difference. 

If this is something you continue to struggle with, know this: it is better to say something than nothing. It is better to call yourself out of comfort than to collapse into it, all the while telling yourself "it's so awful" but that there's nothing you can really do.   

I had the chance to spend time with a friend yesterday, someone I knew up until now only through writing. She lives on the other side of the country in a wealthy suburb of Seattle. We were talking about white privilege on our way home from lunch, and she brought up this speech David Foster Wallace gave at Kenyon College in 2005:   

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, "Morning, boys, how's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, "What the hell is water?"

It's a good metaphor. 

People of color have always known about the water in this country. The water of white supremacy -- a term many white people still associate with Neo-Nazis as opposed to "regular" Americans like ourselves. The water of racism -- something many white people still believe is mostly a thing of the past, something we've overcome, something that "still happens," something the current political atmosphere has unleashed. 

But white supremacy is not having a resurgence; those of us who didn't know what water was are just becoming more aware of it. The waking up to this can bring many emotional responses -- defensiveness, guilt, shame, disgust, shock -- or it can get pushed away in denial. 

I am constantly aware of my own whiteness. I'm aware of it at the beach, in my car, at the grocery store or CVS or Target. I'm aware of it when I'm walking my dog or pumping gas. I'm aware of it sitting in Starbucks or when I go into a dressing room to try something on. I'm aware of the thousand everyday situation where I know I will not be followed, threatened, profiled, accused, or attacked because of my skin color. 

The only wrong thing white people can do at this point is to do and say nothing. To continue to keep the daily trauma and harm at bay that people of color have no choice but to absorb, navigate, and live with -- regardless of class, regardless of profession, regardless of marital status or gender or education, regardless of favorite color or whether a person likes comedies or scary movies or spicy food or winter or summer or ketchup on their fries -- is to perpetuate the very same culture that says black lives don't really matter. 

Every single one of us has to be part of this, because every single one of us is part of this. We need to stop trying to get it right. 

To my friends of color: I see you. I love you. I'm sorry. 

To my white friends: I see you. I love you. And we have to keep holding each other accountable. We have to talk. We have to acknowledge the ways we might sooner choose to maintain our own comfort and bubbles than really risk losing friends or family -- and then make hard decisions. 

The irony of course is that this is not black and white. And yet on some very elemental level, it is exactly that and nothing but. Black Lives Matter is not some slogan you can hashtag and then say nothing when your liberal friends don't make a peep about where white supremacy is showing up in their homes, in their workplaces, in their board rooms and offices and locker rooms at the gym. 

I know the people who read my words generally agree with me. I was saying that to my friend yesterday -- I am preaching to the converted. But that isn't going to stop me. Because I also know a Facebook friend -- someone I know cares -- deleted her comment (which in turn deleted some of my comments, the whole thread, just poof) on a post I shared this morning from a man in a Bay Area clothing store who was asked by the owner to leave -- even though his family was about to buy something. I suspect she felt embarrassed or called out, when a woman of color said something about Pantsuit Nation being awful. 

And I was sorry. Sorry she deleted her comment. Sorry she didn't hang in there for the learning. I also understood. I have been called out and it stings. To want to retreat is a human reaction -- and I do not believe that shaming is an effective way to connect and learn and grow. But no one had shamed her, so I was puzzled. 

We have to keep stumbling. 

Desiree Adaway, my Freedom School teacher, says that in order to engage with someone in a productive way about race and racism, they have to be "teachable, reachable, and ready."

Yes, we each have to get there in our own way and in our own timing. But what I'm saying here tonight is that if you've been ignoring or avoiding the water, if you've been unsure of what to do or say, start by saying these names:

Nia Wilson.

Sasha Garden.

Say them out loud. And then say them to someone in your life who may not see the water. We have to do this together.   

I'll close with these words from L'Erin Alta:  

White women — If you are hashtaging the latest name to end in brutal, violent, race-fueled flames and leaving sympathetic comments about how the country is so terrible and sharing sad-faced emojis while ALSO refusing to talk honestly and regularly with your husband, father, brothers, sons, friends, colleagues, neighbors and associates about what is happening and what you all can do about it — you are a LIVING EXAMPLE of enabling hypocrisy.
As we add Nia Wilson’s name to a long list of unnecessary black deaths at white hands on US soil, find the courage to be uncomfortable and have hard conversations.
There are no more signs to wait for.
No more reasons to need.
This is IT.
Talk to your people. Use your voice. Make a difference where it counts — around the dinner table, lying in bed, in casual colleague chats, PTA meetings and the like.
You have more power than you know to turn this world around.
Your time is now. Use it.