Hello Everyone,

I’m Lauren Nile.  I’m African American, and I’m happy to take advantage of the opportunity to share with my European sisters and brothers, some of my thoughts and feelings regarding two specific questions that I have been asked to address about racism in the United States today, what I want European Americans to know, and what I want you to do. 

Over the past three-plus weeks since the murder of Mr. Floyd, many European Americans who want to respond in a helpful way have been asking what they can do to help, and I know that many African Americans have responded to that question with a degree of resentment.

I think for some African Americans, the resentment stems from the fact that in addition to having to deal with, and navigate all of the familiar challenges that we face regarding race and racism, the request that we also now take on the additional task of educating you regarding issues of race and racism, just seems like too much.  We want to be laser focused on our activism right now, on trying to transform the culture of police departments across the country so that we are no longer killed at what feels like the drop of a hat.  We want to be laser focused on getting legislative work done at the local, county, state and federal levels to hasten the process of bringing true equality to human life, irrespective of the color of the body into which our soul happened to have been born.  We want to be focused on fixing what is a racially broken society.  I think that for many African Americans, to add to that agenda the task of educating white Americans at this time, feels like a burden.

I believe that for other folks, the resentment stems from their belief and/or observation that you never asked the question before.  So their question, is….why now?  Why are you asking now?  Is it because you’re finally seeing the incontrovertible video evidence of what’s been happening, of what we’ve been telling you has been happening in our communities for so long, for literally decades?  Why did it take that?  Why did it take the brutal murders of so many innocent human beings before you became curious about what you can do?

For others still, it may not be resentment, but simply the fatigue that is present after many, many attempts to inform their European American friends, colleagues, and for some,  family members, about the nature of the daily racial indignities, and being responded to with the very familiar, common and thus predictable denial/defensiveness responses:  “Oh come on, that didn’t happen to you because you’re black.  That happens to everybody.”  “Well, why do you have to make it about race?  Maybe the guy was just having a bad day.  Everybody gets bad service once in a while.”  “Well, if I went to the other side of town, the same thing would happen to me in reverse.”  I suspect that many African Americans just don’t trust that it’ll be different this time.  They simply don’t trust that this time, you’ll actually be able to hear them.

Well, in truth, I feel a bit of that indignation myself, but much more than indignation, I want to give you some answers.  I’m actually eager to give you some answers.  Would I have preferred for European Americans to have expressed support in the way that they currently seem to be, a long time ago?  Of course.  Of course I would.  But……you’re trying to be supportive now, and I believe that we should provide some answers to your question, because I know that we do have some answers. 

So……..because I’m an educator, because educating Americans about issues of race, racism, other isms, and the oneness of humanity is what I do, and one of the two things about which I feel most passionately in life, I’m happy to take this opportunity to provide you with at least my answers to the two the questions that I’ve been asked to address today –  what I want European Americans to know about race, and what you can do about racism.

Now, before I begin, be aware that there’re many, many possible answers to those questions so as only one African American, I’m speaking for myself only.  The next several African American people to whom you pose those questions may have completely different answers to them.

First, what I want you to know about race.  I want you to know the following.  Know that:

    • Our species was born in Africa.
    • That all human beings are equally human.  Equally.  No matter what we look like. There is no superior race.  There are no inferior races.  We are biologically, psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually, one human family. Period.  Full stop.
    • Know that we all human beings share 98% of our DNA with our closest non-human relatives, the chimpanzee, and that no human beings alive today share anymore DNA with them than that.  Know that we are one human species, and that that’s why we can all procreate together (including people who look as different as Pygmies and Swedes) and why we’re all in this worldwide pandemic together.
    • Know that as a species, we have so many different looks because when between 90,000 and 180,000 years ago, the first modern-day African human beings began walking out of Africa on then-existing land bridges, they eventually found their way to every continent on Earth except Antarctica, and over a period of 20,000 years, slowly and gradually adapted to their new environments, their new climates.  So, humanity’s different races represent only a physical adaptation to climate, not as I believe many people unconsciously believe, an evolution “up from” Africans to Europeans, who, according to that theory, are the apex of the human species.  I want you to know that once we achieved human form, the “races” of humanity resulted from adaptation (to climatic differences), not from evolution.  Further, I want you to know that if you took every African alive today and put them in Europe, and if you took every European alive today and put them in Africa, in only 20,000 years, a drop in the bucket, evolutionarily speaking, they will have totally exchanged physical appearances.  All of the African people would look European, and all of the European people would look African.  But…..their insides – their hearts and their minds, would still be the exact same.
    • I want you to know that you are, therefore, literally our children.
    • I want you to know that when in the past, we have had equal opportunity, we have often thrived.  We have excelled, in education, in business, and in other areas, sometimes, outperforming you.
    • I want you to know that although some of us may speak, and dress, and walk and worship, and celebrate differently than you, that that doesn’t make us any less civilized, any less human.  It is just a different way of being human. 
  • I want you to know that the racial reality of Americans of Color and European Americans in the United States is vastly different.  You don’t have to think about being white.  Subconsciously, for many white Americans, being white is the “human default”.  In other words, being a white person is synonymous with just being a person.  BUT…….not so for people of color.  Being a black person isn’t just being a person, it’s being a black person.  Being a brown person, isn’t synonymous with just being a person.  It’s being a brown person. Being an Asian person…….Being an Indigenous, or Native American person……Being a person of color, of any color, is not synonymous with just being a person.  That is one of the roots of racism.  Understanding why that is, is one of the seminal tasks of those who wish to seriously work on eliminating racism from the human species.

So now, what can you do? 

In terms of institutional racism, actively work on dismantling it.  Whether you work in the field of education, or social work, or law, or medicine, in a non-profit, or in government, or in corporate America,  wherever you work; and furthermore, wherever you live, shop, recreate, worship…..in all areas of life, notice who isn’t present, ask about equality of  access to whatever  the arena –  employment, housing, education, whatever, and take specific steps to eradicate inequality of opportunity in that regard.  Be not only non-racist.  That’s a start, but it isn’t nearly enough.  Be anti-racist in your life – all aspects of it.

In terms of personal racism, I have a list of seven things that I would like you to do:

  1. Stop engaging in aggressions, or aggressive behavior of all kinds directed at us.     they microaggressions, macroaggressions, whether the source be unconscious bias, conscious bias…….Just Stop it!  Stop all of it. Stop assuming that we’re criminals.
    1. Stop following us in public places, when we’re cycling, or just taking a walk.
      • 18 year old Trayvon Martin.
      • 25 year old Ahmaud Arbury
    1. Stop following us when we shop.
    1. Stop engaging in the defense/denial responses when we tell you that these things happen to us on a regular basis – that we are followed around in stores, all the time, that we are profiled and followed in our own neighborhoods, that when we shake a white person’s hand, we sometimes see them swipe their hand down the side of their pants, that in restaurants, and other public places, white people often stare at us.  Don’t respond by saying, “Well that happens to everybody”, or “Well what were you wearing?” or “Well, the same thing would happen to me if I were I were in a black neighborhood”, or “That waiter was probably just having a bad day.”  Don’t do that.  It is horrible to have the experience, and then have you deny it. Just listen and believe that what we are telling you is true.
    1. And when you see another white person engaging in that behavior, interrupt it.  When you see something, say something.
    1. Stop calling the police on us for asking you to put your dog on a leash, or entering the apartment building in which we live, or studying, or barbecuing in the park, or sleeping in a car, or sleeping at in our own bed, at home! (Breonna Taylor) Stop calling the police on us for just being black!  Just stop it!
    1. And for God’s sake, stop killing us! Police officers all over the country, as just a few examples, I want you to stop shooting and killing us when we’re reaching to get our ID out of our pocket (Amadou Diallo) or our car’s glove compartment (Levar Jones https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-XFYTtgZAlE).  I want you to stop shooting and killing us in the back when in fear, we’re running away from you (Rayshard Brooks). I want you to stop shooting and killing us when we’re buying a BB gun in a department store (John Crawford III). I want you to stop suffocating, to stop chocking to death handcuffed black men (Eric Garner and George Floyd).  I want you to stop shooting and killing us when we’re playing cops and robbers with a toy gun (12 year old Tamir Rice).

White Americans, again, as just a few examples, I want you to stop your vigilante actions in which you hunt us down and kill us for looking at a construction site while jogging (Ahmaud Abery), or walking home after getting iced tea and candy from the nearby convenience store (Trayvon Martin), or because the music in the care in which we’re riding is too loud (Jordan Davis).  I want you to stop chaining us to the back of a truck and dragging us to our death on a gravel road just because we were born black (James Byrd, Jr.)  I want you to stop torturing us to death and mutilating our bodies for at 14 years old, allegedly flirting with a white woman (Emmitt Till.)

  1. Stop trying to connect with us on an individual basis as a black person.  When you meet us, don’t tell us about all the black people you know, or about the Temptations concert you went to last month, or that you had dinner at a soul food restaurant last night, or about the only black kid in your high school, or about the fact that you have a half-black grandson.  It is exhausting to be objectified, i.e., to be dehumanized in that way.  Just connect to us as a person first.  See our humanity first.  If you’re in a beautiful setting, for example, talk about the beauty of the landscape.  Just do not mention all of your “black stuff”.  It’s absolutely exasperating.
  1. Stop making assumptions about our intelligence, about our likes and dislikes, about our tastes, our interests, our childhood, or anything else, based on our race.  In other words….know that we are just as diverse in our taste of music, and food, and recreation, and politics, and religious beliefs, and in every other facet of life, as every other human “race”.  I want you to know that we are not all the same.
  1. Educate yourselves about:
        • The history of our ancient civilizations in Africa, the Americas, and India, and the significant contributions that they made to human civilization, before Europe’s ascendancy.
        • The contributions that African Americans and other Americans of color have made to American society in medicine, in engineering, in architecture, in the arts.  Learn about our countless inventions, and about our significant contributions to every military venture in which this country has engaged.
        • The history, the real history of our oppression, of what happened to Americans of Color beginning approximately 600 years ago.
        • How Europeans gained control of most of the Earth; that it was not the result of superior intelligence.
        • That human intelligence spans the same bandwidth in all races; that in order for there to truly be differences in human beings based upon intelligence, the most intelligent race would have to have a larger brain than other races.  But know that as a species, we haven’t been separated from each other nearly long enough for that kind of change to have occurred.  It takes only five thousand years for skin color to change.  A change in brain size, takes millions of years, far longer than the 90,000 to 180,000 years that human beings have been apart.
  1. Become self-aware.  Work on your unconscious bias…..just work on it.  Do so by:
  • Taking the online Harvard Implicit Association Test.
  • Taking the “Waking Up White” course or any other course designed to de-couple, or uncouple from a person’s race, your unconscious associations regarding their intelligence, criminality, morals, and all other character traits.  And if that course is too advanced for you, start with a basic Diversity 101 course, and then take the more advanced Waking Up White course.
  • In other words, know and understand what you think, what you feel, what your unconscious biases are, your implicit assumptions, your “couplings”, and why and how you acquired them.
  • And for goodness sake, work on the guilt that you may feel about this, and then move beyond it.  Your feeling guilty shows that you’re a good person with a conscience and a heart, and that’s good, but it helps not in the least.  We need you to feel outraged about racism.  We need your outrage because it is that that will spur you to become courageous and steadfast allies, and that is what we need of you – your allyship.
  1. Educate Other White People

Advocate to your family and friends, that they take a basic Diversity 101 course followed by the Waking Up White course, or some other course designed to break up their unconscious bias, and talk to them about the critical importance that they do so.  And finally,

  1. Continue to be activists.  Continue to support us……
    • In our demonstrations;
    • When we testify before legislative bodies;
    • When we call for a boycott of businesses; and
    • When we ask for your help making phone calls, stuffing envelopes, or whatever else will be supportive; and finally,
    • SHOW UP!  Show up for justice.  Show up for your fellow human beings.  Show up for yourselves, for your own sense of personal dignity, responsibility and just your own goodness. And show up for our country, because I just don’t know how much longer we can continue, as a nation, with our current level of racial inequality.  I just don’t know.

You asked what I want you to know; what you can do.  As I said earlier, if you asked another African American, you may get a very different answer, but those are my answers. Those are the things I want you to know. Those are the things I want you to do.  I hope and pray that you do them.

More from Lauren Nile:

Web:           www.LaurenNile.com
Book:         https://laurennile.com/publications/
Essays:     https://laurennile.com/non-published-writings/
You Tubehttps://www.youtube.com/channel/UCZPgf_AAMrg–NCkNY561vw