What are we afraid of? I want every white relative, friend, and acquaintance to really wrestle with that question. When we see black people protesting, resisting the violence of white supremacy, what causes us fear? Are we really worried about our own physical safety? The safety of the things we own? Or are we worried about what is at the root of that understandable anger? Are we worried that, in spite of efforts to whitewash and paper over the racist nature of our nation, it emerges again and again? 

Are we worried that we cannot cover the stinking abscess of white racial hatred with the inadequate bandage of color-blind philosophy? But we’ll try anyway? That we will claim racism is all in the past, only to have it burst forth in the regular police and vigilante killings of black men and women? That it continues to pour out in the disproportionate deaths of black Americans via COVID-19, as well as every other major health issue? 

We should be worried — because we are culpable. All of us — every last white person, including me. Not someone else’s ancestors because mine didn’t enslave human beings. Not someone else because I can’t be responsible for what my ancestors did. Me, in the here and now. I live a life that allows me to disregard violence to black bodies. I live a life that allows me to overlook the locking up of generations of black men and unequal health and education funding.

I am responsible. We are responsible, each of us white people. And so we must act. Speak out to our white family members, friends, and colleagues, in person and on social media. Show up to protests. Donate to black-led organizations and bond funds to help people get out of jail. Reach out to black friends, family members, and colleagues to offer support, without any expectation that they will take it or even respond. Teach our white children and students about racism and their responsibility. 

We can’t each do all of this. And no one person can do everything. We don’t need to do everything. We just need to do something.

The antidote to our fear is not to suppress the cause — it is to embrace the struggle. Not the struggle against our black siblings, which has been perpetuated so long by powerful interests, but the common struggle in which we stand alongside our black siblings against those powerful interests. The antidote to our fear is to acknowledge our complicity in white supremacy and become accomplices to our powerful, brilliant black siblings, if they will have us.

What are we afraid of? We are afraid that changing our world starts with giving up power, giving up security. 

We are afraid that changing our world starts with changing ourselves.

Jim Schwartz is an Oak Park resident.

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