"So, My Fellow White People..."
by Heather Saunders
The current butted us up against a large tangle of tree branches and flipped our kayak within seconds. I came up gasping for air, barely making sound. My friend’s son, Oliver, came up simultaneously gasping and screaming, “I’m going to die!” HIs six-year-old body flailed with fear as I reached across the branches to pull him close. His shrill cries of pending doom filled the air. “Breathe, baby, breathe. You’re okay. Your dad is coming,” was all I could think to say as I locked my gaze on his bewildered eyes. His dad made it to us and grabbed him so tightly as Oliver told him he thought he was going to die. His dad repeated that he was okay and safe.
The night before this trip, we were reflecting at the dinner table on our high and low points of the previous year. I shared that my low point was losing a teen I was very close to. Oliver asked me how he died. I looked at his dad, who gave me the nod to share the truth. I told his son that he was shot. He asked why, and I told him I didn’t know. He looked sad and, after everyone shared their low points, determined to the group that my low point was the worst.
After calming down from the traumatic kayaking flip, Oliver said to me, “I knew you weren’t going to let anything happen to me because you already lost someone, and you weren’t going to lose someone else.” His comment sank into my soul. My eyes welled up with grief as I thought of all the Black parents and caregivers who have graciously allowed me into their lives over the years. I thought of how many of them would have done anything to be just an arm’s length away when their babies were in harm’s way. I thought of how the feeling my friend had when he saw the kayak flip and his son disappear is the feeling so many Black parents and caregivers have when their babies leave the house every single day, walking into a racist society that at any moment could plunge their lives underwater with no life jacket to save them. I thought of George Floyd crying for his mama and how she would have barreled her body at that officer, mace and all, to save her son. This is what it means to say, “Black Lives Matter.”
So, my fellow White people, I’m asking you to take a hard look at this country and the structures we White people have put in place that determine Whiteness as the standard from which everyone else falls short. I’m asking you to walk into the discomfort and stay. I’m asking you for more than a conversation. I’m asking you to seek revelation. I’m asking you to feel the generations of White body supremacy that pumps through our veins. I’m asking you to view our history of racism as a legitimate disease, a pandemic that has ravaged our country since its founding. I’m asking you to name our symptoms and seek to treat that which wrongfully lives in us. I’m asking you to commit to treating this disease for the rest of your lives. I’m asking you to raise up children who have, by nature, inherited the risk factors but, by nurture, will never exhibit its symptoms. This is what it means to live “Black Lives Matter.”
Heather Saunders joined Lawndale Christian Legal Center in July 2015 as a Case Manager. She brings over ten years of experience working with youth and families. Some of her past roles have included mentoring, group facilitation, family mediation, and crisis intervention. She received her Masters and Bachelors of Social Work from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.