Image courtesy of Gherdai Hassell.
AN EXCERPT FROM OPEN
LETTERS BY BLACK INDIVIDUALS
Featured Letter Written by Zawadi Rowe
Art By Gherdai Hassell
Each of our letters may resonate with people at varying stages of allyship. We write not only for those striving to be allies, but for those in the Black community as well, as some of us, too, are more seriously reckoning with the dangerous legacy of racism and anti-Blackness for the first time. As each of you take the time to gain a deeper understanding of what anti-racism may look like in its countless forms, we encourage you to reflect on your personal journeys up until this point and the direction in which you plan to take hereafter. This is just the beginning.
Black lives matter. Without the phrase, many of us knew this far before the year 2020. Now that a critical mass has acknowledged it, long needed discussions and actions (including performative ones) are underway by organizations and individuals who just six years ago did not see color and refused to acknowledge systemic racism, among other things.
American or not, if you live within state borders and find yourself wondering how we got here, you owe it to yourself and this society that you are a part of to gain a fuller understanding of where exactly you are. Make the time to learn the history and realize the history you will become a part of. There is no pass on willful ignorance or being neutral (how do you do the latter, by the way?).
I have friends who want to know more now. Though they’ve been here for years, they never truly understood the racist underpinnings that laid the groundwork for where we are today. And yes, some of these people are Black: whether born here, from East Africa, from the Caribbean, etc. And that’s okay. We each tread on a unique path, walk in different circles, and interact in spaces and places differently. Their time is now.
Image courtesy of Gherdai Hassell.
I know that there’s a lot to learn and unlearn. As a first generation American, I did not inherit much family history to guide me in my understanding of these United States. My parents had only experienced about 15 more years of this country than myself, which is not insignificant, but does provide context to the amount of lived and learned experience that was passed down. Compare that to those who had been here for generations and didn’t rely on the selective American history that the formal education system taught and it’s clear that I had a lot to learn (and unlearn). And I did learn. And I keep learning. It’s never really over: there are always more details.
For those in a similar position to my friends today, I recommend reading The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson to start. Please don’t be intimidated by the size of the book. Even if you aren’t in a similar position, I recommend reading it anyway: it’s my favorite book and, like I said, there are always more details. While your typical news and social media sources may provide some helpful context on the history of racial inequality in America and its social implications today, you must go beyond the soundbites and quick reads if you truly care to understand. Black or ally in progress, I encourage you to invite others to read, learn, and discuss alongside you.
Once you have a strong foundation underneath you, continue to enlighten those who were once in your position. Deep education is a form of action that should not be overlooked, is continuous, and is by no means the only form of action that you should engage in. It will become clear that your concerted efforts with other Black people and allies in progress are integral to progress, which should never be mistaken as inevitable. It will become clear that while we are tackling a nationwide issue, your localized community involvement impacts the country. It will become clear that your daily, individual choices make a difference. It is the resolve of everyday people like you that will better our society.