Reflections and Resources for White Allies: On Anti-Racism & Compassion in Action

4:06 a.m. sounds like birdsong…

Almost as intense as a Tikal morning… fewer howler monkeys. No Jaguar screams in the dark.

But birds…. so many.

Bullfrogs croaking in the reeds across the bay.

The high whine of clouds of tiny wings, beating.

The lazy morning roll of a surfacing fish and the hum of the docked ferry in the distance.

Stars leaned in close and whispering.

Naiad breath drifting in a low mist across a pink black bay.

Indigo sky.

The ghost of a blue heron splitting the line between earth and sky.

Steam rising from my teacup. 

It has been a week of early morning walks with my friend Alix, late afternoons listening to my book while watering my seedlings, experimenting with aeroponics and my new Tower Garden, laughing with my daughter, and social distancing visits with my parents in the lawn. This week tasted like the first rhubarb, asparagus, and fiddle head ferns of the season, baked into pie and drenched with hollandaise sauce, respectively. This week sounded like water snake swimming right up to my foot, dangling over the edge of the seawall, before we noticed each other and both of us screamed. Snakes scream very quietly. We celebrated our anniversary with two delicious meals, both cooked at home. I planted a rose bush. The boys took the first swim of the season off of our dock and I pulled a lot of weeds. Morning glories, while pretty climbing the ironworks, are insidious in every other way.

Meanwhile, a man was murdered and Minneapolis exploded like a tinderbox in response.

Anyone else glued to the news this week watching the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd?

Anyone still grieving the death of Ahmaud Arbery?

Who’s still pissed about a Harvard graduate, writer, former Marvel editor, current biomedical editor for Health Science Communications, and board member of the Audubon Society who was threatened by a white woman who called the police on him for asking her to please leash her dog in Central Park? 

A number of my black friends are stepping back, looking for a safe space in which to grieve, rage, lament “not again,” and weep through yet another proof that black lives do not matter and the reality that it’s an extremely dangerous thing, as a black person, to encounter a policeman, even when you are unarmed and non-violent. 

My white friends (not all, but many) are decrying the riots as 100% the wrong way to go about voicing that grief, rage, over the repetitive brutality at the hands of people with more power. One post asserted that “Minneapolis ruined it” with the rioting… ruined the platform they’d been given to support the protest and fight for justice.

I can understand that position. It’s an easy one to take, because really, WHO thinks it’s okay to break into a Target and steal a bunch of stuff. I mean, it’s not like Target is the offender. That’s a company, not a government entity related to police brutality. But then you take note of the fact, the FACT, that that policeman had a record of 18 police brutality reports against him without losing his job, and the FACT that he was not arrested until AFTER the second night of rioting, burning, and looting in the streets.

So… if that’s what it took to get a public murderer arrested, did they ruin it, really? 

But then, my other friend posts “People Over Property.”

And I have to pause and reflect because, since the beginning of America, black people have BEEN property, or have been deemed less important than personal property. And I agree that it’s people over property every damned time. And in this case, the life of George Floyd and his public lynching (let’s just call it what it is) is a WAY bigger deal than the contents of a Target store. Even if the two, on the surface, seem like they aren’t connected.

I’ve been thinking about a few things, in the light of all of these terrible events, and asking myself some fundamental questions, like:

• How many times would I have to be steamrolled, threatened or ignored?
• How many people would have to die or be brutalized in my community by the people supposed to protect us?
• How many days could I stand to live in fear for my own life or the lives of my sons going about their everyday business?

How many times would I have to be told to sit down (at the back of the bus) and shut up before using my “respectful inside voice” became laughable and the only reasonable choice left was to SHOUT in the face of a police officer who didn’t pull the trigger but represents the system that did?

Before I would snap, lose my shit, and be ready to burn things to the ground and smash things up to make people HEAR ME and ACKNOWLEDGE the death and destruction being perpetrated on my actual person, my actual family, my community and my people?

How many times?

I don’t know the answer to that, but I suspect, within myself, that it would have happened sometime well before the public lynching of an unarmed man who lay on the pavement begging to breathe and asking for his mother. 

I’m not saying that rioting is right. It’s not right. But it’s becoming more understandable to me. And there is a long history of rioting moving the needle on important injustices:

• Women’s suffrage
• Bread riots during the civil war
• Memphis riots in 1866
• Race riots the summer of 1967
• The Boston tea party
• The Dorr Rebellion
• The Stonewall riots
• The LA riots

Google ‘em if there are few you haven’t heard of.

When the government isn’t listening this is one way to bend their ears. Out of each of those horrible events came NEEDED change, when being nice and using established channels just wasn’t working. 

I 100% agree that looting is wrong… but what’s happening with police brutality, particularly as it affects people of colour, is also deeply, desperately, 100% wrong…. and there is a history indicating that extreme measures against extreme injustice is, sometimes, the thing that finally gets the powers that be to sit up and take notice. And which is the greater wrong at the end of the day? Looting, or murder as the tip of the iceberg on several hundred years of systemically sanctioned injustice?

I have the luxury of not worrying about being kneeled on to death…

if I’m arrested for a non-violent crime, so it’s pretty easy for me to stand back and say: “Well, this is how a person should react.” And I’m acknowledging that until we’ve lived under the kind of brutality and oppression that has characterized the black experience in America we don’t get to pass judgement on the expressions of it.

If the shoe was on the other foot would I see it differently? 

I think I might. 

All I’m saying here is that these riots are UNDERSTANDABLE… they may not be “right” but they are understandable. And, actually, I don’t think I even get to decide if they are right or not… history makes those judgements with a clearer eye than an individual with a bias in the moment. And they have, in the past, been a vehicle to needed change…

So, the question I’m thinking about NOW is… WHY? 

• Why have we let it get to this point? 
• Why have we not moved against police brutality, as white people, harder and sooner? 
• Why have we allowed a system in which people with less power are actively murdered on the regular by people with more power? 

As the dominant power (economic, political, social and otherwise) why are WE as white people allowing this and creating an environment where it’s acceptable, or if not acceptable, at least tolerated? 

Is it possible that OUR lack of action on the side of equality and right has pushed people past the breaking point to the riot point? If state and federal government had moved hard against this kind of thing at any point up ’til now would people still feel the need to riot? 

I don’t know the answer to that either. But it feels like it’s very possible that Dr. King’s analysis is a right one… that riots are a result of chronic “unhearing” on the part of the powerful. If that is true, then we are complicit in creating a system where rioting is the only way to be heard by powers that be. That’s another tragedy. 

And, if we are complicit, then what is the right thing to do here?

• On the individual level
• The community level
• The state and federal level

What should we be doing so that this STOPS happening? And so that the system that is putting unarmed, non-violent people in peril CHANGES so that other people don’t feel the need to resort to violence and looting in order to get our attention. 

I don’t have neat and tidy answers.

I’m thinking on it. I’m pretty sure there are action points that too many of us have been missing. I’m committing to personal growth in this area.

On the off chance that you’re thinking about these things too… this week’s post is going to be largely dedicated to the topic of we white people doing our damned work. Educating ourselves. Standing up. Being willing to take risks (tiny ones by comparison). And using our privilege to DEMAND better for our brothers and sisters gifted by the universe with more melanin than we enjoy. I’ve become convinced that the only way change happens is when we, with the systemic power, stand up and insist on it. So let’s get started, shall we?

Things to Read:

Rule number one: Don’t ask other people to do your work for you, do it your damned self. I am taking that to heart. There are TONS of great books by authors of colour that we can listen, learn and grow from. Here are just three I’ve read that I recommend. There are more, but start here.

Start here. Seriously.

Written by a white lady, for white people. If you don’t yet understand the difference between racist acts vs. racism, this book will break it down for you. 

It will also help you unpack the ways in which white people’s fragility when it comes to discussions of race is impeding progress. Ever said, “Not all white people…” or made a move to correct or defend your position when challenged by a conversation on race? This book is for you.

In White Fragility, Robin DiAngelo does a masterful job of helping white people see whiteness as a racial issue and helping us pull that massive plank out of our own eye before pointing at others. It’s a call to cultivating the stamina and humility we need to have the really hard conversations that are necessary to advocate for change. 

Inspiring, enraging, &

Ta-Nehisi Coates is, simply, brilliant. This book breaks down the history of race in America as a letter to his son. It’s about his own awakening to what it means to be a black man in America, his experience, that of his father, and then looking forward to his son. 

When you’re done with this book head over to The Atlantic and read everything this man writes. Seriously.

Required Reading…

This is billed as “young adult” fiction, but The Hate U Give is truly required reading for anyone who wants to begin to understand what it’s like to grow up black in America.

I’ve recommended this book before. I’ll recommend it again. READ IT. Make your teen kids read it. Talk about it. Get uncomfortable. That’s where the change starts.

75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice.

This week I read this article, 75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice, by Corinne Shutack. I’ve done, like, ten of them, max. I have work to do. A lot. 

I see friends wringing their hands and asking, “But what can WE do?” 

This. We can do this. Just keep this list open as a tab on your computer and be reminded to get to work. On the daily. 

Things to Watch:

These were recommended by my friend Robin this week. She’s been a social justice warrior since she was one of the first kids bussed in Florida when they desegregated schools. Most of her work has focused on the incarcerated population. It is one of the many things I admire about her.

United Shades of America

United Shades of America is a Cable News Network American documentary television series starring comedian W. Kamau Bell. Bell visits communities across America to understand the challenges they face. The show won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Unstructured Reality Program at the 69th, 70th, and 71st Primetime Emmy Awards.

It’s funny, and it gets real. 


Combining archival footage with testimony from activists and scholars, director Ava DuVernay’s examination of the U.S. prison system looks at how the country’s history of racial inequality drives the high rate of incarceration in America.

We recognize that this is a departure from our usual theme of women’s health and wellness

But, this week it felt like NOTHING mattered more than this. And the treatment of people of color is a health and wellness issue. 

Because black lives definitely matter. 

Jenn Sutherland-Miller

Jenn Sutherland-Miller is the project manager for Beyond the Red Tent. 
This article was reprinted from Jenn’s Monday Love Letter, a weekly gift from the heart toward mutual growth and encouragement. If you’d like to subscribe, click here. It’s free. You can follow her at Jenn.Lately, on Facebook, or Instagram.   Header photo taken by Lorie Shaul: A ‘Black Lives Matter’ sign along 38th St in Minneapolis on Wednesday, after the death of George Floyd on Monday night in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

January 21, 2021