Disclaimer, I guess: What follows is a reflection on fighting my personal racism and a call to donate to organizations actively fighting systemic racism & police violence. Why am I writing this? Is it self congratulation? White guilt alleviation? I don’t know, probably yes. I’ve seen so much outrage on the social media and everywhere I look and we’ve got to keep talking about race, channel those feelings somewhere, for some good. So here ‘goes.
Oh, everybody knows Brentwood.
This week I’m in New York checking out apartments for my move here from LA in the Fall. I knew I wanted to live in Brooklyn, so my mom and I rented an Air B’nB in Bed-Stuy. We have loved it—chatting with neighbors, walking around the brownstones, going into corner stores. But it has been… unnerving, strange, uncomfortable… to recognize myself as a “gentrifier” during the days of the horrific deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. I know this moment is not about me and my voice and my experience and alleviating my White Guilt. But it’s definitely prompted my mom and me to ask ourselves and examine questions like “do we feel uncomfortable in this black neighborhood? Are we race tourists? How can we live our lives in a way that promotes human interaction and not segregation, exploitation, and violence?”
On the subway my mom observed that this was straight up the most people she’s even just been around, encountered, in a long time. In LA (especially West LA, where I grew up) we live in our very segmented communities, we drive in our cars, we don’t interact with people outside of our social spheres or physical communities very much. This means day to day life for families like mine involves interaction with other white upper middle class people, almost exclusively. We were talking about LA vs. New York with our (black) host and his (black) neighbor. Most of the conversation focused around the Changes In The Neighborhood, a nice little phrase everyone from black residents to realtors have been using during this trip of mine to describe the white-washing of Brooklyn. When we told the neighbor where we were from, he responded “Oh, everybody knows Brentwood.” And there it was, hello OJ Simpson: the racial catalyst of the ’90s made clear as day before my eyes.
As I walk by black men on the street I have to ask myself “am I afraid?” I wish I wasn’t, I intellectually know I shouldn’t be. I am actively fighting it. But I grew up in an economically and racially segregated community (it didn’t help that I barely left Brentwood, Santa Monica, and the Palisades before my 18th birthday) where OJ Simpson happened to murder two people and become the center of conversation about race in the ’90s. I was a kid then, in the early ’90s, during which time the OJ trial and Rodney King riots and the racist media coverage must have infiltrated my subconscious. So that legacy & our segregated upbringing keeps burning on in white kids like me whether we like it or not. And I think it’s partially our unwillingness to acknowledge our complacency, complicitness in this segregated world that allows for the death of black men by police to keep happening again, and again, and again, and again. Because aren’t the police tactics that are taking black lives justified by keeping white communities “safe” (and therefore segregated, not theirs)?
So yes, I am moving to Brooklyn and hope to become part of the neighborhood, not a problem within it. I reject the idea that I should be afraid of people who supposedly “look different” from me. But more than that I’m going to take my privilege in the form of my white upper middle class birth and put my money where my mouth is. Because WHAT ELSE can I do? I can begin the self-work, have conversations with friends and family, call Congress. I’m going to keep reading books by Ta Nehisi-Coates and Zadie Smith and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie to try to understand the experiences and racist realities of black people (and you should too). I am a writer, so yes, I’m even writing in the hopes that will help at all. Please tell me what else I, my friends and family and community can do. But there’s gotta be more, and there are definitely other people out there whose voices deserve to be heard, fighting tooth and nail to build a safer and more equal word. I want to support them. So here are some organizations I’m giving to and I hope you will too.
Million Hoodies Movement: Million Hoodies Movement for Justice (MHJ) is committed to strengthening the racial justice movement by building new leaders to confront anti-black racism and systemic violence to create a democracy that works for young Black and Brown people.
Facing History and Ourselves: We help students learn about hatred and bigotry so they can stop them from happening in the future.
YWCA: Eliminating racism, empowering women.
Please suggest any other organizations or ways to take action in the comments. Thanks.