Editor’s note: This commentary is by Kathryn Dungy, who is a 20-year resident of Vermont where she is a professor of Latin American and Atlantic World history specializing in race, class, and gender in the Americas.
Dear white friends:
I’m not ignoring you…
well actually I am.
But I need to right now.
It’s not about you.
But it kind of is.
I need space.
I have lived my whole life in your space
My existence to fit a world that simply accepts you just as you are
Because that micrometer layer of melanin-challenged epidermis gives you
an automatic ticket to the party the dominant culture has been throwing for at least the past 500 years.
I don’t hate on you.
In fact there are many of you whom I deeply love.
But I am tired.
I am not coping well.
I am feeling déjà vu all over again.
Please dear white friend,
check your people.
I am tired of being the educator.
As the descendent of a man who was lynched for the audacity of owning land and serving as an elected official of his parish,
As the descendant of a family whose skills and business acumen so threatened the white establishment that they had to flee the city just hours ahead of a lynch mob,
As the child who was counseled by her elders
Whose advice has proven true Over and Over and Over again
That I have to always be three times better at whatever I do just to get half the consideration,
As the descendant and comrade of Black, Indigenous, Brown United States citizens who have fought for generations to be
in things that to You are as ordinary and routine as swimming lessons, a day at the movies, social clubs and organizations, a TV commercial, a job search, a music concert, social media, a school history lesson, summer camp, a holiday ornament, a municipal election, a meeting at work, a walk in the park, a textbook, jogging, a cartoon, shopping, an advertisement campaign, a sporting event, a doll,
A jar of syrup
And been snubbed, humiliated, fired, demonized, criticized, marginalized,
Or just plain ignored.
You will see why I don’t trust your folk.
Living in my skin has left me exhausted.
I, along with my Black, Indigenous, Brown comrades, will once again pick up the slack and will be right here still pushing on when you realize what
Work it is to be an agent of change against this systemic granite rock called racism.
I won’t be surprised when you wake up one morning with something better, different, less exhausting to do and escape into your forgetfulness of privilege.
Again dear white friend.
Glad for your support and resolve.
Please keep fighting the good fight.
Not mad at you.
Just resolute and determined to
For my niece
The Black, Indigenous, Brown boys and girls of my friends and relatives
The Black, Indigenous, Brown boys and girls of those I have never met
Because my microlayer of epidermis
Allows me to forget.
Affords me a rest.
So thank you white friends for sharing the mantle these past few weeks.
I’m going to rest while I can. I’m going to catch my breath a moment while you Tweet, Message, Question, Rant and Rave.
But I need space.
I need time
On my own terms
Without filters or explanation