A poem to my white kindred who carry it too:
If I’m feeling unwell,
a white man protected
by thick layers of privilege,
then I know
that I can’t know
what Black people are feeling
and all those days
But something is off,
and I can speak to that.
Energy is low,
like there’s lead in my legs.
Earlier this week
I went for a test,
suspecting I’d been exposed,
and when it came back
negative, that no,
I wasn’t carrying coronavirus,
I reconsidered what it was
that I felt …
I know that I’m sick
with acute grief and anger
for the police killings
and the systems that have always killed
our Black community,
with something else,
something more chronic,
that has always
been buried in my cells.
I’ve only known
for some years
exactly what it was:
of white supremacy.
older than this country.
And I’m a carrier.
I write this to my white siblings,
parents, grandparents, and ancestors
who have carried the virus in their bodies, too.
Who have been shaped, no … warped by it,
and who have passed it to me.
The virus of white supremacy
has so many insipid symptoms
that we keep invisible and “normal”:
the lie of our superiority;
the endless, entitled physical and material privileges;
the worship of the individual over the collective;
the apathy and excuses for the suffering of others;
and the strict code of race-silence we obey …
These, and so many more,
have allowed the virus be passed down,
consciously and unconsciously,
through the generations
for over 400 years.
Black and Indigenous people
know the virus best,
and have always known it for what it was —
a sickness —
subjected to its violent flares
since the beginning.
They’ve tried to tell us
They’ve seen our spirits are sick.
They’ve wanted us to get better.
To do better.
To be better.
But we’ve refused.
Maybe what’s most dangerous
is that so many of us feel asymptomatic,
denying the ravages of the virus all around us.
Racism in my neighborhood? No, not here. Maybe there.
Racism in me?! No, no, not me. Maybe them.
The stigma of carrying the virus,
publicly owning it,
is the unspeakable shame
we fear most,
and so we deny it,
busy-body ourselves in other matters,
rationalize the suffering of others,
and withdraw into numbness.
Social distancing isn’t new for us, no —
we’ve practiced it around Black people for years
to distance ourselves
from the violent toll
the virus takes
on their community.
From our complicity in it.
We can’t get better
if we don’t know we’re sick
the virus is as deeply embedded in our bodies
as it is in our systems.
Just as no corner of our life is untouched by white supremacy,
no system in this country —
education, health, “justice,” and on and on —
They’re all sick too,
stemming from diseased roots.
We must remember that this 400-year pandemic,
Maybe we start by getting quiet.
Quarantine our defensiveness, denial, and doubt.
Lock it away, and not just for two weeks.
The virus wants us reactive, flustered, apathetic, and busy-minded.
It thrives in that mess.
But in the quiet
we can listen, look, remember, and trust
what comes up:
Can you listen to the folks surging to attack the virus?
Can you hear the calls for justice for George, Brionna, Ahmaud,
and millions of others?
Can you see the virus in your life, in every place you look, every choice you’ve made?
Can you see it in your own weary face, hollow and drained by the fear and the lies?
Can you remember our history
to know that it’s always been here?
Can you trust your instincts
to resist the unnatural, callous pull into apathy?
These weeks so many white folks
have poured into the streets
and into the feeds.
So many of us sound ready —
all of a sudden, for most —
to take action
and find solutions
and do and do and do,
as if others haven’t been ready,
as if there was a quick cure
for this sickness.
True, some medications might mask the symptoms:
or the right book
or the right words
won’t make us better …
And we won’t take right action
if we only situate the problem out there
with the “racists” and the “corrupt institutions.”
Some of us place the blame for suffering
on Black people themselves;
the most wretched way of removing ourselves.
Others of us depend on Black suffering
to fuel our purpose
and give our lives meaning
all this feeds the insatiable virus
and buries it deeper within …
Doing and taking action
will not only be ineffective,
without the shifts from within
to guide them.
If we can’t see that Black liberation
also means our liberation;
that Black humanity
also means our humanity —
that our fates are intertwined and have been for so many years —
then we act from the wrong place.
And even as more of us see the symptoms,
there’s still no easy cure.
The virus is hardy, cloaked, deeply embedded
and will continue looting Blacks
of their lives and livelihoods,
and slowly seeping the humanity from our spirits.
We’ll still pass the virus on to our children,
a fear that catches in my throat.
So, what if we slowed down
to speed up, white friends?
Understood there’s no bypass to absolve us;
that each of us must fight the virus
of white supremacy,
and we can begin with the sickness
in our hearts, minds, bodies,
and the symptoms in our lives.
This is where “the work”
of systems change starts,
of spirit change.
Then we may know how to listen
to Black and Indigenous leaders,
to our own humanity calling,
and action will become clear.
Let it begin here, or begin again,
no matter who or where you are.
And yes, it will take time,
so there’s no time to lose.
My white kindred, in our work together, let’s:
Invite all, no exemptions;
Invite compassion, for self and others;
Resist denial and defensiveness when it comes;
Resist shame from paralyzing us;
Continue opening our minds, hearts, wallets, everything;
Continue feeling without judgment;
Reflect on our relationships with the Black people in our lives;
Reflect on what we think to be true about them;
Break the cycle of forgetting and apathy;
Break the unspoken contracts of white silence with each other;
Trust in the process of inner work;
Trust in Black leadership to guide us in the outer work;
Fuck up inevitably;
Fuck it and keep going.
let’s refuse the comforting call
when the virus tries to lure us back
into forgetting this moment —
because it will.
Josh Parker is a white, privileged son of Oak Park (OPRF ’99) and longtime educator, now working in the Department of Racial Equity Advancement in Seattle Public Schools. This poem was originally published on Medium.com on 6/20/20.