To white people who have been allies for awhile: Help, with the discourse within the community, those of us who are bearing most of this work. Help provide and foster care and rest for Black people.
To those who are newly in this and their eyes are just opening: Welcome. You’re a little behind, so let’s get you along with the rest of the group. You’re not going to get a parade, but we’ll help you get to where you need to be.
To those who are confused by this, those saying, “Where’s this coming from?” or “It’s just a few bad apples,” I don’t want you to just understand history, but also have empathy for it. It’s not so much what you know with your head as what you know with your heart. Without that, it’s not going to click.
And to those that are outright resistant to this, I want to sit with you for a while, not to have an argument but so that you can listen and let my pain and grief wash over you, and so I can connect with pain and grief that you have. I think the word is “ubuntu”: in hurting me, you’re hurting yourself. Why are you hurting yourself? Love yourself and love me. All I really have to say is break open your heart and have empathy.
I was talking to a friend the other day whose client is this white man who has a disorder where he doesn’t feel sympathy for others. It’s just something he’s been in counseling with for a while, but in the middle of all this, something clicked and he was suddenly in her office weeping because, he said, “I feel disgust at what’s going on and I feel so awful about white supremacy.” It touched something inside of him, created a switch, which is now this pathway to revolutionary change in his life.
I can’t help but wonder if the strong response to George Floyd’s death that has arisen in the time of the coronavirus is partly because COVID-19 required us to be separated from one another and take times of rest and contemplation whether we wanted to or not. And in that quieting of the noise around us, it allowed for some people who may not have ever stopped to think to just stop. Maybe now they realize that they have felt loneliness. They have felt pain. They have felt something that they haven’t felt before.
At the apex moment of people feeling all the awful things that come with the coronavirus, the George Floyd killing happened, and I think it touched something inside of people who are already hurting. People who wouldn’t have said anything before, or who weren’t awake to this before, are finally saying, “Oh, I get it now.”
Jocelyn Bell, 29, is a sociology PhD student in Providence.