In the time of global pandemics, I think it’s appropriate to talk about another sickness that lives in hosts all over our country: Fear. In the brilliant words of Niecy Nash: Stop calling the cops on black people for no goddamn reason. (Also known as non-emergency situations). Cops: stop using lethal force on black people for non-emergency situations. Self-appointed vigilantes: mind your own goddamn business. Everyone: stop stealing black culture without respecting its history, community members and their lives. Finally, stop blaming crimes on innocent/ imaginary black people. Mind you, this chain of commands is endless.. those are just issues at the top of today’s agenda.
Every single day someone is unnecessarily killed/ persecuted as a product of our white fear.
White fear manifests in a variety of behaviors, many of them at the cost of black lives, black freedom. White fear is a learned behavior, it echoes the past, and is upheld by dominant culture. (Look at our President! Comparing media criticism to a lynching is pure ignorance.) Similarly, white privilege is something white people are born into in our society, a product of our sordid history. Accepting it is a humbling step in the way of progress. Unfortunately, many white people are unaware of their privilege and willfully deny it. I BEG everyone to please dig deep inside and examine our innate biases and advantages. We must dismantle these harmful behaviors to make room for a better future. Depending on how “blind” you are, you may need supplementary information about systemic racism in the form of reading material and research!
Now what does henna have to do with my white privilege? Well...A LOT! Henna likely originated thousands of years ago somewhere in Africa or the fertile crescent. So, I’m stepping into a space that I need to respect and acknowledge rich history and vastly different cultures that are not my own. I have a responsibility to raise up the voices of those who do not enjoy the same privileges I was born with, here in the United States, in this time.
Henna is a healing and connecting plant that I love to use to facilitate interactions with other cultures, provide support and bestow blessings. My experience doing henna the past 10 years has opened me up to have incredibly difficult and healing discussions that need to be had in order to bridge cultural disparities. My goal in using this plant is to spread love, joy and acceptance. Part of that is speaking up about social justice and renouncing white fear. I cannot love this art form without loving and advocating for the people & cultures that historically use henna. (I am leaving out many cultures (South Asian, Arabic, Jewish, etc) that henna holds significance in, for the sake of this discussion).
Please allow me to reflect on an innocent interaction of the past (that’s happened many times over) to observe a picture of racial differences. Applying henna on the hands of a small black child. A common enough request: to transcribe the names of family members on skin. However, not as common on white kids. Young white children more often ask me for things like butterflies, flowers, or characters. Why do you think often times young black children request the names of their family members? Perhaps they see their family with similar tattoos. Something so innocent and simple, illustrates the stark differences of our realities. Hold your family close, because the future is uncertain.
As I hennaed the names of her family members on her tiny hands, I began to fear if I am memorializing them, are they still with us? Will they live out the natural course of their lives? These dark thoughts take over, but for a second, her toothless smile reminds me of what it’s like to see the world through the eyes of an innocent child. The possibilities seem endless, the world is bright, and no one wants to hurt you. (Of course, childhood experiences greatly vary). I smile back at her, as worry weighs heavy on my heart, trying not to let my fear of the future slip through my eyes. I imagine a world where black mothers don’t wait up at night, sick with worry over the whereabouts of their children, where cops are trusted to protect and serve, where young men can go for a jog and come home safe. It sure is a privilege not to worry so much about the lives of my family members in ordinary circumstances.
I can’t force you to care, I can only show you and ask you to recognize your privilege and act accordingly. How many situations can we prevent if we open our eyes and see our fellow man as equal, as they are. My good friend Fei put it into context so eloquently: “It is a question of humanity and race always gets in the way”. We are the same in humanity, yet we have different experiences shaped by our race and culture. If you have never loved someone black, look into the eyes of a young girl who loves her family and try to convince yourself you don’t care. I’m sick and tired of telling people I’m going to pray for them. In the wake of tragedy, politicians give the standard “thoughts and prayers” then move on with their lives. It feels so empty. I don’t want to feel empty anymore. I don’t want to stand by in silence while I watch the horrors of the past unfold before me on a cell phone recording time and time again.
My fellow humans: please take time to examine & sit with your fear and privileges. We can do so much better. Call your black friends and tell them you love them, that you are here for them and ask how they are doing. LISTEN to them. Talk to a counselor if you are struggling, there are free mental health services and hotlines to call. We need empathy and humility to attempt to heal the world’s injustices.
Finally, I would like to hear from YOU! Tell me what you are struggling with, what I got right/wrong, or what I missed addressing. I post because I want to hear your experience so I can understand how to change the world.
Peace, love & henna
(Note from the author, I chose to use the colloquial descriptors of black/white for a reason, and mean no disrespect. We can say Caucasian or African American to be politically correct but it all boils down to the same issues. Political correctness, in my opinion, is NOT helpful.)