I wrote an article recently about my commitment to making my voice heard in regards to the racism I was raised around, the racism I still see exhibited from others, and the culture existing in law enforcement that fosters racism and bad behavior in some officers. In the wake of its publication, I was asked one question more than others.
Why didn’t you say something sooner?
A very valid question. Not the most valid question, in my opinion, but we’ll get to that.
First, let me answer why.
I come from a family of law enforcement officers. The one who raised me was also mentally unstable and abusive. Growing up, I knew he was racist. He frequently expressed racist views to me and my siblings. I do recall some discussions with him in which we expressed disagreement. But they were only when he was in a good mood. Typically when he was in a good mood, we did everything we could to keep him that way. So even were I able to somehow get in touch with his superiors (in a time before email and website contact forms or even having my own phone to use) I would have been too afraid to ever actually do so.
And I’m not sure his superiors would have listened or had any recourse.
I grew up in a middle class neighborhood that was almost entirely white. The area in which I grew up was largely segregated. Most of the towns and cities around us were also white, and the adults in my family openly discussed not going to the neighborhoods that weren’t white because they weren’t, in their opinions, safe.
This meant that the struggles others faced were largely invisible to me growing up.
I moved out of my family home as soon as I was able and within a year was living with my husband and helping to raise my stepchildren. Soon after, I became pregnant with my first child. As I grew into adulthood, the struggles of others were no longer hidden. I saw them in the news. The advent of social media brought them into my home in tangible ways.
But I was also starting a new journey through motherhood. While I made a concerted effort, one I still put the full force of my being behind every day, to ensure that my children are raised very differently from how I was raised, I still didn’t jump into social action right away. I didn’t know there was anything I could do.
Eventually I did focus on creating change within my community, particularly in regards to projects that focused on education, literacy, and food security because I felt those issues are important to all people, regardless of race.
But, no, I still didn’t focus my attention on issues concerning racism.
Other things happened, too. Life, with all its inherent ups and downs. More kids, health issues, family struggles, moves and deaths and graduations and crises and . . . well if you’ve done any amount of living, you know.
So, does any of this provide for you a satisfactory enough answer?
I look at the answers and in some respects I think, Hey, this is all valid. It’s not that you didn’t care. Life just got in the way and the issues our nation is discussing now weren’t in your face.
Then I look at them again and think, You failed. This isn’t good enough. Why haven’t you spoken up sooner?
No matter what you think of my answers, your opinion of them won’t ever change them.
That’s why the question,”Why didn’t you say something sooner?” is not the most important one to ask.
Whether you’re discussing with someone the issue of racism in our country, or police violence, or domestic violence, or rape culture, or sustainability, or childhood hunger . . .
Whatever the issue, if it matters to you and you’re discussing it with someone who says, “I hear you. I understand. I want to help,” then WHY can be placed on the back burner.
Yes, it’s a valid question. But you can get to that later.
Instead, ask WHAT.
- What can you do to help?
- What ideas do you have to help bring about change?
- What are you willing/able to contribute towards enacting change?
If you’re serious about change, if you’re dedicated to a cause, then WHAT is so much more important. It’s so much more timely.
Asking what keeps you moving forward. The answers you receive could be the stepping stones needed to hurdle obstacles.
When change has been achieved, when you fought the good fight and hopefully have a moment to put up your feet and take a breather, even if only for a moment, then ask why.
Those answers are the guidelines for ensuring you, and the cause you fought for, don’t end up sliding backwards and repeating history.
Ask what. It’s important.
Even if the conversation is just with yourself.