A couple of weeks ago, I spoke this poem, “The Risk of Writing on Race,” aloud to a room full of festival attendees at a writing conference. There were a whole lot of things we panelists got wrong that day, mistakes I hope to never make again, mistakes I’m still processing, one day at a time. But these words, spoken as a white ally in the fight against racism and injustice, were the truest thing that came out of my mouth that day. Might we take steps forward in change.
I risk isolation.
I risk loneliness.
I risk being wrong.
I risk being right.
I risk speaking too soon, I risk not tuning my ears to listen, I risk not posturing my body to learn and grow and change.
I risk thinking I have all the answers. I risk not realizing how I am both drowning and floating in systems of whiteness, not understanding the dominative waters I so easily, so blindly occupy, still.
I risk believing my point of view better, my understanding more elevated, more woke, more racially untethered and anti-racist than some of my brothers and sisters.
I risk thinking I’ve arrived.
I risk labeling others and I risk being labeled myself. I risk putting boxes around everyone I meet, I risk others putting boxes around me.
I risk thinking of myself more highly than I ought, and I risk not thinking this conversation is for me, because of my past, because of the sins of my ancestors, because of my white skin, because of my upbringing, because of me.
I risk white tears, just as I risk the tears for deeply embedded, deeply rooted systems of injustice, tears that weep for my sons, for my husband, for my brothers and sisters of color, and for my white brothers and sisters, too.
I risk co-opting the stories of those my heart loves the most, and I risk the true definition of being an ally, that this conversation, this fight, this form of protest is not about me, but it’s about the elevation of silenced voices.
But I also risk not believing justice is for me, because I believe myself exempt from the conversation.
I risk being silenced and I risk keeping silent.
I risk saying too much, but even more so, I risk saying nothing at all.
So somehow, I choose to risk, even though my heart beats and my tears sometimes fall and my mind wonders if I’ve made the biggest mistake of all.
For this risk is bigger than me and this risk is everything – even though it is my privilege to even choose to risk in the first place.
But this risk, I say, is life.
Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to go tune my ears to listen. I’m going to posture my body to learn and grow and change. What say you?0