On Behalf of the Laurel School Black Student Union
“One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an antiracist. There is no in-between safe space of “not racist.” The claim of “not racist” neutrality is a mask for racism.”Ibram X. Kendi, How to be an Antiracist
“The beauty of anti-racism is that you don’t have to pretend to be free of racism to be anti-racist. Anti-racism is the commitment to fight racism wherever you find it, including in yourself. And it’s the only way forward.”Ijeoma Oluo
To the Laurel School students, faculty, and staff:
As most of you are aware, on May 25, 2020, a 46-year-old Black man named George Floyd was murdered by a white police officer outside a Minneapolis, Minnesota convenience store. A little over two months before this incident, on March 13, 2020, a 26-year-old Black woman named Breonna Taylor was fatally shot by the police inside her apartment in Louisville, Kentucky. And on February 23, 2020, less than a month before Ms. Taylor’s death, a 25-year-old Black man named Ahmaud Arbery was pursued and killed by two armed white residents of a South Georgia neighborhood.
Mr. Floyd, Ms. Taylor, and Mr. Arbery’s deaths were not unfortunate accidents; they were prejudice-motivated murders committed by white people, mainly police officers. For many of us in the Black community, their deaths feel eerily and frustratingly familiar. For far too many years, we have witnessed, as well as attempted to personally process and make sense of, the thousands of innocent, unarmed Black individuals reduced to hashtags by state-sanctioned, anti-Black violence. We are all grieving, angry, afraid, and emotionally exhausted as we are once again reminded of the harsh reality and dangers of being Black in the United States. The pain we are collectively experiencing is exacerbated to a great extent by the public health crisis that is disproportionately affecting our Black community due to health inequities and structural racism.
Amidst the rapid spread of race-based hatred in addition to the coronavirus, one might have expected that the first instinct of non-Black people would be to stay silent. But the recent protests and public cries of outrage have proved otherwise. These protests, which have occurred on four continents, remind us of the power our collective voices hold when we stand in solidarity to challenge, dispute, and eliminate the systemic racism and anti-Black sentiment that poison our global society. They also mark a momentous period in the history of social movements in our nation. Despite the fact that we are just mid-way through Pride Month (June), the world has already observed on an unprecedented scale the collaboration of two indispensable movements: Black Lives Matter and BGLTQ (Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Transgender, Queer) Pride. The unwavering allyship of many BGLTQ+ activists, advocacy groups, and organizations has ensured that the senseless and frighteningly common murders of BGLTQ+ Black folx, especially transgender women, are not forgotten and erased.
This Pride Month, let us recall the intertwined histories of the two movements and remember that the 1969 Stonewall uprisings — the catalyst for the gay rights movement in the United States and around the world — were led by fearless Black trailblazers. Let us commemorate the efforts of individuals to challenge the whitewashing of Pride and make strides to terminate the marginalization of Black people within the BGLTQ+ community. Most of all, let us honor every Black life prematurely taken from Earth, including non-cisgender Black folx such as Tony McDade (May 27, 2020), Nina Pop (May 3, 2020), and Monika Diamond (March 18, 2020). It is only until you embrace the inclusivity of the Black Lives Matter movement that you can fully support our cause.
Beyond uniting people with varying experiences, identities, and backgrounds, the recent protests remind us that the fight to disassemble white supremacy, which is alive and well in this country, and achieve justice for the Black lives lost to police brutality, homophobic attacks, transphobic violence, and racist hate crimes will be perilous and harrowing. However, we are hopeful that if all members of the Laurel community band together, then we can do our part to work towards building an anti-racist society.
While it should not be necessary to discuss whether Black Lives — cisgender, transgender, female, male, gender non-conforming — do indeed matter, it is critical to note that these conversations are not to solely take place in our Black community. Anti-racist work should not just be done by those most affected by collective trauma, but instead by everyone, regardless of their race, ethnicity, ability, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, or socioeconomic status. Thus, we extend our gratitude to any non-Black Laurel students, faculty, or staff who have stepped up to do important social justice work alongside our brothers and sisters. We also recognize the statements of solidarity many students have posted on social media and are appreciative of anyone who has sent personal messages to their Black friends and acquaintances.
Although the outpouring of support our Black community has received is heartening, we must not stop here. The Black Lives Matter movement is, and always will be, a permanent human rights movement and not a “woke,” transient trend. You must keep this in mind as you work towards ensuring the movement continues to gain momentum and evolve as the summer progresses. The growth and maintenance of the Black Lives Matter movement depends on whether you are willing to raise your voice to speak out against the injustices your Black peers, students, and colleagues are forced to face every day.
For any of you who are tempted to sit idly or do the bare minimum as those around you risk their lives for an incredibly relevant and salient cause, we ask that you reflect on how your lack of action may affect your Black peers, pupils, friends, and teachers in the future. For those of you who have expressed anti-Black beliefs, have said that ‘All Lives Matter,’ and have spoken (or sung) racist slurs but posted a #blm photo or released a statement of solidarity, we urge you to reflect on your hypocrisy. For those of you who are actively participating in the Black Lives Matter movement, we thank you and encourage you to also reflect. Reflect on how the Laurel community can become more inclusive and blatantly anti-racist. Reflect on how the Laurel administration can do a better job of respecting the voices and listening to the concerns of Black students. Reflect on how the Black Lives Matter movement and protests have affected you. Reflect on how you can use Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, and Tik Tok to be a mindful agent of change. Reflect on any instances when you witnessed bigotry, prejudice, or racism but was not an upstander. Most importantly, reflect on how to be as supportive of an ally as possible.
To be an effective ally is to acknowledge that silence, both literal and symbolic, is an unmistakable form of privilege, ignorance, and compliance. Therefore, when presented with the choice to either engage in performative activism or non-optical allyship, a true ally chooses the latter without second thought. They never assess the pros and cons of posting a statement of solidarity on social media, do not compare the risks and advantages of publicly demanding change, on no account wait to describe their stance on racism until they feel pressured to do so, and never prioritize their ‘brand’ and image. To those of you in the Laurel community: if your first instinct is to prove your social awareness by telling everyone “look at everything I’ve done” instead of taking personal accountability and asking yourself “what more can I do,” then you are far from possessing the right to call yourself an anti-racist ally. Ultimately, surface level ‘commitment’ to the Black Lives Matter movement is inadequate.
It is not enough to attend virtual vigils or watch the news. It is not enough to post an image of a black screen on Instagram or decorate your cars with #blacklivesmatter, #sayhername, and #justiceforgeorgefloyd. It is not enough to just say you stand in solidarity with our Black community: you must actively demonstrate that you do by attending protests, signing petitions, reading books about the Black experience in America, eating at Black-owned restaurants, or shopping at Black-owned stores. As American political activist and author Angela Y. Davis states, “in a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist. We must be anti-racist.” For this to happen, all members of the non-Black community — specifically white people — must set aside their fragility and not only resist, but also outright reject, the urge to remain indifferent and complicit. Now more than ever, it is important for us to share space and come together as a community to lean into discomfort.
Regardless of whether Black Lives Matter stops trending on social media and news coverage of protests recedes, your responsibility to further educate yourself and find ways to actively support the Black Lives Matter movement persists for the rest of your life. Do not rely on your Black friends, classmates, and coworkers to answer your questions and reassure you that you are not racist. Instead, use the resources listed here to gather information and increase your understanding of the effects of prejudice, bigotry, and police brutality both in the United States and in the world. These attachments should be seen as a starting point rather than a comprehensive guide. With that being said, taking copious notes on the materials and toolkits linked on this document should prepare you for any conversations you may have in the future.
Given the relatively short length of each source, there is no excuse for merely skimming through a handful of editorials and resource documents. It is your obligation, even if you consider yourself an anti-racist, to understand there is always more change to implement and more awareness to raise within yourself and the communities to which you belong. Your pursuit to learn and improve should never cease. After all, Knowledge is Power: it is our hope you will use it wisely and responsibly as you, along with millions of others, continue to combat the systemic oppression that has negatively impacted Black folx for hundreds of years.
Laurel School Black Student Union
**This message was last updated on June 11, 2020. Click here for access to the latest list of resources.