Open Letter to a Friend Waking Up to Racism

Protesters in Seattle hold hands in front of a photo of George Floyd June 1, 2020. (CNS photo/Lindsey Wasson, Reuters)

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My dear friend, 

Welcome, I’ve been expecting you. Do not be afraid. It is normal to feel frightened and to hide at the beginning, for you are aware that you’ve been in denial for quite some time. I know how you feel. I’ve been there.  I’ve felt the confusion when you notice that our “democracy” seems willing to give its life for you only if you are white. The denial and hiding when you avoid the topic so you can still believe in the story you were told when you were little. The guilt and fear when you admit that you have been lying to yourself in order to avoid responsibility. Finally, the feeling of impotence when you open your eyes, for racism feels overwhelming and invincible, especially when it is first confronted. Know this: We’ve been there.

I want you to know that I love you. And that every small struggle that I’ve participated in against racism, has been first, to liberate the victims, and second, to wake you up. You are the fruit of many tears and prayers. So I am happy to see you now by my side. 

Am I angry at you, you ask? You bet I have been. Each time I spoke about this subject and you treated me like I was crazy hurt me deeply. It is sad that only in the midst of this new crisis do I feel like a sane person, for my opinions have been confirmed. Each time that you told me that racism wasn’t real and that I was just “obsessed” with it. Each time that you underestimated my experience under this dark skin, and the testimony of the enslaved, of the lynched, the deported, the exterminated, the segregated, the incarcerated, the colonized, the assassinated by police, and the caged by ICE; you bet that my soul bled! But only intentional racists and indifferent, lazy racists make me angry. Now you are here. With me. Just where I needed you to be all along.

I already told you that I’ve been where you are. I am not better than you, I just woke up earlier. As a Black Puertorrican I could not sleep for long. I grew up listening to teachers and relatives speaking to me about the US as the protector of democracy and equality, only to realize in adulthood that my people’s economy and future is controlled and exploited by that same country. A country whose leaders we can’t vote for. This already gave me some perspective about discrimination on communities of color. But any remaining naivety was slowly asphyxiated to death after arriving here on the mainland in 2016. 

After feeling through the years the harming looks some people give me, the indifference to our situation even by some members of my church and my order, seeing how Latinxs and Blacks are treated, and especially the choking piety those who want to praise Jesus while letting their neighbor die, I could not hide from racism any longer. Ever since that full awakening, I have been studying racism and trying to figure out how to remove this cancerous tumor from our midst.

Now allow me to tell you a couple of things. Do not be cheap! Do what most people don’t do: study racism seriously. The only way you could insult me more is if, now that you have finally woken up, you feel that by “magic” you are now competent to solve the problem. For centuries in the US and beyond, people of all stripes — enslaved rebels, abolitionists, activists, lawyers, politicians, reporters, professors, religious — have spilled their blood and sweat in order to understand and know how to destroy the demon of racism with their ideas and actions. Honor them now, as you did not before, by studying their histories, theories and tactics before opening your mouth. What kind of surgeon would you be if you did not understand the nature of the tumor you’re dealing with and the best techniques to excise it?

As you’ve seen lately in the news, many people are already doing the antiracist work that you want to do now, not just on paper, but also in the streets. Some of them will have the same religious views, the same ideologies, and world views that you have. Many will not. Some will talk, some will participate in peaceful protests, organize nonviolent resistance events and some will sing “We Shall Overcome.” Others will not. Don’t use these differences as yet another excuse to return to your old ways and avoid your responsibility. Join all of your sisters and brothers of good will in fighting for justice and bring your peace with you. 

It may be tempting to point to violence and looting to justify staying inside and not showing support. Don’t. There might be people who recur to violence and looting for no reason, but many folks also feel that if they don’t write graffiti on a wall, the press will not cover their protests. This is not new. Let’s not forget the revered Boston Tea Party! Whatever their reasons are, you just have to simply and persistently follow the Teacher. Be the salt and light that God wants you to be. If you want to see nonviolent resistance, you get out there and make it happen. Pray for the end of violence and its victims. But do it as you fight the injustice that causes it.

Finally, do not be fooled by the idea that because of your past you can’t get involved or that we will be angry at you for joining the party late. As I said, we only get angry at people who do not do their homework. They make people of color not just suffer under racism, but also carry the extra burden of having to fight it by themselves. So join us. Let’s each do our part. We owe it to Ahmaud Arbery. We owe it to Breonna Taylor. And we definitely owe it to George Floyd. Honor them by the way you live. Make them proud.

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