On Fighting Racism with THE Four-Letter Word
“We must resist racism every single day. We must resist it with love.” --Don Lemon
The aforementioned quote is from the yet-to-be-released book by CNN anchor, Don Lemon, titled This is the Fire: What I Say to My Friends about Racism. I was moved by this quote, especially as James and I were preparing the re-launch of our website which features, on our landing page, one of James Baldwin’s most notable quotes: “If I love you, I have to make you conscious of the things you don’t see.” Much like Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, Don Lemon, too, addresses his nephew, recalling in letters what it has meant for his ancestors and for himself to constantly face an oppressive society and, still, want to call this place “home.”
As we welcome in a month when we remember the accomplishments of African-Americans while passing out heart-shaped chocolates covered in red foil, I am thinking about how much “love”—yes, a word that is both weighted and often oversimplified—actually has to do with antiracism work.
In our workshops, when the opportunity presents itself, James and I are always encouraging participants to move closer to the folks in our lives who we feel most inclined to move away from: the raving conspiracy theorist brother, the aunt and uncle who defends the Confederate flag and has one prominently flying from their porch, the mother who insists she “doesn’t see color.” What would it mean for us to call them first when racially-charged events happen in our nation? How would they respond if you keep showing up with “Black Lives Matter” emblazoned on the front of your shirt, offering gentle comebacks for every bigoted word uttered, a hug and kiss on the cheek (post-Covid) and an “I still love you” whispered in their ear after every intense conversation where you’ve fiercely advocated for the Black and brown people in your life, in your community, in your world?
Make no mistake, resisting racism with love is a charge that is more complicated than we think. It calls for us to hang in there when we’d rather quit on the folks we know harbor racist ideals in their hearts. And this is especially important for white folks, because without you as a barrier and sounding board for these friends and family members, they are moving about the world cutting down Black and brown folks, and other people of color, with their rhetoric.
As we move further into February, the shortest month of the year and also the one dedicated to remembering the contributions of African-Americans, I would like to implore our partners to take the next twenty days to recommit to moving towards antiracism. Maybe this means that you pivot in your approach with family and friends, that you mend some broken relationships, that you make some phone calls or write some letters. In a month where Valentine’s Day is tucked in its center, it is a great time to be repentant, expressive and move with our hearts wide open, especially if it means creating a better, more inclusive country for all of us.
Love is the heavy lifting. Hanging in there is the work. Calling in and staying close is the charge.
Zenique Gardner Perry