Let’s Talk About Race.
“Growing up I would say we never really talked about race. We were in a very white community – whether it was in our neighborhood, our school, our church, it was very white. Even going to college at Marquette it was still very white, and I didn’t really think about race a whole lot. I would say within the past few months I have had more conversations about race with my family and my parents and friends than I have had in my whole life. It has been a learning curve for me for sure.”
Currently, Erin is the Coordinator for Student-Athlete Development at the University of Tennessee. Originally from northwest Chicago, Erin played soccer at Marquette University. One thing I have always admired about Erin is the way that she has always been committed to being better. Whether it is at work or in her personal life, Erin is someone who is willing to admit what she doesn’t know – but how she is going to work to make it something that she does. It was no different when it came to issues surrounding systemic racism.
“Reading White Fragility and then having follow-up conversations about it has been very helpful. For me, I can read something and then internalize it. But being able to speak about it with someone really helps take it a step further. Social media can be such a love/hate thing, but in doses, it can be very helpful as well. Reading the books, watching the movies, doing the research, and communicating about it with people has been extremely eye-opening for me.”
Where does uncomfortableness stem from?
No matter how much research someone does, speaking about a situation that may not directly impact you can be uncomfortable. As Erin mentioned, uncomfortableness can stem from a lack of knowledge.
“Whenever you are in a conversation and you feel like you are not as knowledgeable as you should be, that is where the uncomfortableness starts. If I don’t talk about it or read on it, then I don’t learn. The uncomfortableness for me stemmed from knowing that I don’t have as much knowledge about race as maybe I would have hoped to have in my life up to this point. And knowing that I will not be able to fully ever put myself in someone else’s shoes and be able to feel how race has really affected them in their personal lives is a little bit uncomfortable for me.”
Racism is so deeply rooted in our society that for people who are not directly affected by it, it can feel like they are having to unlearn a lot of what they saw, heard, and were taught growing up that may have been inherently racist. Erin’s situation is no different – and she mentioned that it starts with acknowledging the privilege you may have.
Unlearning Is Just As Important As Learning
“I have had to unlearn a lot because I never really educated myself around race or talked about it or even had to be consciously aware of what is happening. I have black friends share stories with me about how they have to go into the store and buy something so people won’t suspect that they are stealing. And that would have never crossed my mind. It’s white privilege. I am a white female and I don’t even have to think twice about that stuff. I also learned that racism does not have to include an action to be racist. Racism is present tense.”
If you are a non-person of color and are wondering where to start in allyship, unfortunately, neither Erin nor I can give you all the answers about how to be an authentic ally. However, what I can tell you is that an ally is not someone who just posted a black square on social media and said nothing else about it. Be intentional. Ask yourself are you genuinely wanting to learn more about racism because it is important to you, or is it something you are doing to check off of a box. As Erin shared, no matter how uncomfortable you may feel in learning where you may have let your privilege show, it is always worth it to know you will be better.
Be Willing To Have The Hard Conversations.
“For me, I look at hard conversations like a workout. You may internally struggle as you educate yourself and unlearn things, but by the end, you will feel so much better. If you need to pump yourself up to do it, do it. It is always worth it.”
Thankful for your vulnerability today, Erin. Dismantling racism is deep, challenging, extensive work. But it is the best work we will ever do.
Keep Watering Your Garden today.