Taking it Personally: Race, Responsibility, and Other People’s Shoes
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…Until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
-Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird
So stepping into the arena to talk about racial justice may seem out of the blue and on-trend at best, and convenient at worst.
But it isn’t.
In light of the recent public incidents of the killing of black people, at the hands of both police and vigilantes, and in light of the protests sweeping the nation, I feel compelled to speak up loudly and from the heart. I stand with Black Lives Matter. I believe in equality in actions and not just in words.
Taking it personally
The killing of Ahmaud Arbery hit me hard. I’m a runner. I go out jogging by myself all the time. In new cities, in new neighborhoods in which I don’t live nor “belong.” But never has anyone asked me why I’m there. Never have I been followed or harassed.
As a woman, I think about these things often when running by myself. A strange man coming after me. How much energy to save for a sprint, should I need it. Thankfully, nothing sinister has ever actually happened. Imagine that feeling, that adjusting of consciousness of your surroundings, to always believe someone could come after you—not just on a run, but at any moment. Driving down the highway, walking home from a trip to the corner store, sleeping in your bed.
It gives me chills to think about. It made me cry. It made me angry. It renewed my sense of urgency that I needed to do something more meaningful, impactful, to stand up for my oppressed brothers and sisters, whomever they may be.
And while I was planning out my new journey of education, action, and activism, just three weeks later, another devastating blow. George Floyd. Another black man murdered. And this time by police.
Are you kidding me?
The smile on the officer’s face, sinister and vile as a movie villain, while needlessly kneeling on a man’s neck.
Are you kidding me?
No weapons on the suspect, pleas of “I can’t breathe.”
Are you f*cking kidding me?
Leaving behind a six-year-old daughter.
The act was vicious, violent and ruthless. Full of pride and ego and state-sanctioned power. And now, again, white America can see clearly why our black and brown brothers and sisters have been saying all along: “Stop killing us” and “I can’t breathe”.
When the arrests of killers are only made after sweeping public outrage, it is a disgrace to everything this country purports to stand for. When authority figures charged with the safety of a community cause destruction & death, when they have forgotten that they are not judges nor juries nor executioners, steps must be taken to right wrongs.
And while I have always supported equality and social justice and have always abhorred oppression, bigotry, and hate, I have not done enough. That changes now. It must. I cannot be a vocal arm-chair ally in times of crisis, and silent in my privilege through quiet days of peace.
George Floyd with baby Gianna
Ahmaud Arbery with mother, Wanda.
or mother should have to suffer this.
Activism on the Fly
From here on out, I will be more vocal in my support of social justice, racial and LGBTQ equality, environmental issues, and other causes I believe in.
Activism will take on more of a spotlight here at A Wheel in the Sky as well as in a new platform I’ve developed especially for this.
Activism on the Fly will be a space to document my own activism journey, and to share resources, tips and actionable steps to help others show up, speak up, and stand up for a better world. The page is under construction, but should be up and running by Monday and will be updated regularly.
If you want to be part of the solution and don’t know how, if you find yourself overwhelmed by the injustice and by how may uphill battles there are to be fought, if you’re looking for actionable steps to take, if you need resources to better educate yourself on inequity, activism and social justice, I invite you to come along on this journey with me.
On white privilege
I can not understand how it feels to be a person of color, because I live in the privileged position to have been born a white woman.
It is also difficult for me to understand how other people who look like me can’t see this simple fact. But I try. I try to give the benefit of the doubt that not everyone sees the world through my lens, has grown up in the same way I have, has traveled and gained a larger perspective. I allow that it is very easy, as a white person in America, to remain ignorant of these issues, and indeed it is a far more comfortable place to be.
I have problems too. I have no idea what I am doing with my life. I don’t own a home and it’s hard to wrap my head around how I would be able to pay rent in the city in which I work. I can’t hang on to a relationship, even a good one, to save my life. I don’t make a lot of money. I have the wrinkles of a 40-year-old and I’m only 34!
Really, my life is good. Both because I’m super lucky (#blessed) and because I choose to look more at how lucky I am than at the individual problems. But maybe you have it worse than me.
Maybe one of your loved ones has died from the Coronavirus. Maybe you are dealing with a health condition that causes you a lot of pain. Maybe you suffer from crippling anxiety, crippling debt, or are living with trauma. Your problems are REAL. And your pain is VALID. But if those problems are not made worse by the color of your skin, then you also do not know the experience of being black in America.
The term white privilege doesn’t mean you have a dope ass life and everything is perfect. It ONLY means that the color of your skin is not one of the factors making your life tough.
Whose lives matter
I stand with Black Lives Matter.
If you are trying to remain neutral by stating that “All lives matter”, you have failed, because that loaded statement is far from neutral.
On its face, the sentiment seems logical, liberal even. Of course all lives matter! We believe in equality, after all. For black and brown people, for our gay and lesbian and trans brothers and sisters, for everyone. And if it’s an honest mistake, that you don’t understand how damaging the words “All lives matter” are, then please know your words are tone deaf, triggering, and actively against equality. They are the counter-protest to people fighting for the right to live free of harm and oppression. Re-read those words, if you don’t mind, as it is an important point to understand. If you’re using that phrase you are a protestor, too. Is this truly what you want to fight against?
BLM says nothing about other races. It does not say “Black Lives Matter over white lives” (which is laughable if you live in America.) It does not say “Black lives Matter and Police lives don’t.” It does not say “Black lives matter more than everyone else.”
It is not Black Lives Matter More.
It is Black Lives Matter Too.
If you are on the fence about what to chant, please stay silent for a few days, think for yourself, critically and empathetically. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Imagine talking to your children about tips for not being killed in a routine traffic stop. Imagine your son being shot, carrying no weapons, just a candy bar, on his way home from the corner store. Imagine your best friend being targeted, hunted and shot dead in the street, in broad daylight, while jogging. Understand that the words you choose matter, and please think with your heart.
On Travel (or, ‘Where do I get off?’)
This is not a side note or a tangent or one part of my multifaceted personality that I’m choosing to highlight.
No, my belief is that travel and activism go hand in hand. That the more you see, the more empathy you feel. That meeting people and seeing new places and experiencing different cultures allows you, even forces you, to look critically at your own beliefs. At the way you were raised and the beliefs you took for granted as right, true. Something so simple as the foods we eat across different cultures demonstrates that there are a million and one ways to look at the same object. The way we dress, our cultural rituals, the gods we pray to. All can vary wildly.
And yet you see, at the same time, the core values you hold dear are universal and intrinsic to human beings, across cultures. We all want to live happy, healthy, productive lives. To live free of fear. To love. We all want what is best for our families and the people we care about.
You begin to understand that we are all wading through life, seeing the world not as it is, but rather through our own specific lenses. Where I grew up and the things I was taught as a child, all the experiences I’ve had have shaped my own lens. And once I stepped out of my comfort zone, away from the people I knew and the things I was used to, I saw that there is so much more than the small bubble I’d grown up in. My eyes grew wide and I saw things I’d seen before, but in a new light. I bettered my ability to put myself in someone else’s shoes.
This is what travel does. It is a teacher. It helps us grow and expand. It shifts perspectives and almost always for the better. It is difficult to be small-minded, to be righteous, to be sure, once you see how vast the world is and how small you are in it. The social constructs you grew up in begin to feel tight and itchy. You feel the dissonance of what you once “knew” crashing up against new ways of thinking and understanding. It’s uncomfortable. It can be painful. Like all growth.
But, the more we see, the more we learn, the more we walk around in someone else’s shoes, the more open we become, the more empathy we gain, and the more responsibility we feel.
Activism springs from that responsibility.
As far as I’m concerned, they are part and parcel. Peanut butter and jelly.
The world would be a better place if more people traveled.
America would be a better place if more people traveled.
I’ve said these things a million times before, not even thinking of the weight of the responsibility as a traveler and travel writer.
I’m here now. I’ll be traveling soon, but in the meantime, I’ll be looking at this responsibility more closely. I’ll be educating myself and honing my skills as an ally, advocate, and activist. I’ll be taking actionable steps to make the most meaningful impact I possibly can. I’ll be increasing both visibility and my own accountability by documenting this process. And I’ll be a more vocal supporter of causes that need voices right here.
Every dollar you spend and every action you take is a vote for the kind of world you want to live in.
I’ll be using my votes wisely.
Activism on the Fly is a YouTube channel created to document my own journey to becoming a better ally, advocate, and activist. If you want useful information to how you can make a difference, are interested in taking your own activist journey, or just want to watch me stumble through mine, please check out the page, and click subscribe for regular updates.
Thanks for coming along.
Until next time,
Peace and Love