I was wearing my orange cardigan, the one that matched the exact shade of my newly painted coral toe nails. I had a turquoise necklace and my new sheer coral lipstick. I was summer Abby, and I looked good. This was the exact Abby that the neighbors informed, needed to come pick up their trash. They didn’t say that exactly, but they did let me know that our dog Lucky, or more accurately, my dog Lucky, managed to butt her giant head up against the gate yet again, squeeze through the gap and then use her giant noggin to knock over their trash and have her way with it. The remnants were left all over their driveway.
Embarrassingly, this is not the first time the dog has done this, but notably this is the first time I was asked to clean it up. I suppose I could have been annoyed. I mean, I was looking SO CUTE that day, but I know a little bit about my neighbors, and I knew them asking me to make it right, meant they believe I cared enough about our relationship to honor their request.
I had to have a relationship with my neighbor before she would even expect me to care about the mess I had made. I don’t think this is true just in trash. As I have been called further into the work of racial reconciliation I have found the same thing to be true. Historically, white people have blamed other cultures for messes we create. We let our privilege get out and make a mess in someone else’s lawn and then we roll our eyes and wonder why those people don’t handle the mess.
Historically, white people often take the resources we have and remove them from communities, then we balk at the ways the communities learn to get by.
Recently my friend Danielle has been tagging me in posts on Facebook about white people making unfortunate missteps, whether blatantly or accidentally, in the realm of racial reconciliation.
“Abby Norman, you better come get your people.”
At first I laughed. What do you mean my people? I do not know these people. They do not speak for me. Why do you think every dumb white girl is my people, what are you trying to say?
What Danielle was trying to say was that as a white woman, with white privilege, it is my responsibility to educate other white people so everyone can live in a better world. Too often white women, and specifically I, have depended on black women to educate white communities about their lived experiences.
Essentially white communities are asking black people to live an experience that is set up to be far more difficult for them, and succeed by white standards. AND THEN we are asking them to re-live and explain it all over again in front of us so that we will believe them. Sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we don’t believe them. And the astounding thing is how many times black women are willing to risk it to help their white sisters understand. But that isn’t their job.
White Ladies, the white community is our space and our responsibility. Our sisters of color have to exist in a world that is even harder on them because they are women and also because they are not white. As a woman we should get this on a deep level. We, after all, exist in a man’s world. Instead of pitting us against each other, shouldn’t we join ranks in empathy?
Danielle didn’t just randomly start tagging me. We had many conversations over many days about race and racial reconciliation. She expressed to me how tired she was and I told her I understood. She believed me. She trusted me when I told her I wanted to do my part. She pointed out where my part might be.
It is easy and safe for me to talk about race with black women. I don’t exactly say anything they don’t already know. I get a lot of laughs and some pats on the back for being woke. But it doesn’t really help anything. Preaching to the choir is fun, but it doesn’t actually spread the gospel, you know?
What is less fun, is picking up my own trash. I don’t want to get all sweaty and stinky in my cute orange summer sweater with my cute orange toe nails. It stinks and there isn’t even anyone telling me I am doing a good job. Picking up the trash of white supremacy is my job. As a white woman I can no longer expect my sisters of color to do the dirty work of dismantling the systems that privilege me. I need to honor my relationships with women of color. It is my community, my dog if you will, who has gotten out and spread this white supremacy trash all over their lives. It is my job to clean it up. They only asked me because I told them I care.
We echo the words of Eugene Cho: “To our black sisters and brothers: We are so sorry. We are angry with you. We lament with you. We demand justice with you. #AltonSterling”