When I needed you to speak up
"African American children peering into a Whites Only playground in Mobile, Alabama," 1956 by Gordon Parks.

When I needed you to speak up

The last few weeks have been a tumultuous time in America. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is completely unprecedented in our lifetime, we thought racism would take a day off. Unfortunately, it didn’t. In addition to exacerbating inequity related to healthcare access, we also learned about too many Stand Your Ground and police killings of unarmed black people. Exercising their First Amendment rights, many people of all ethnicities took to the streets in protest. Others used their voices to express solidarity on social media. I want to talk about this group of people.

I fear that when non-Black and non-Brown people in particular hear their non-white friends urging them to use their voice, they think we’re referring to a Facebook status or a tweet. That is a nice start, and we appreciate the show of solidarity, but that is not enough. Below are instances when people of color need you to speak out against injustice.

  1. I need you to speak up in the store when you notice security following black people who are clearly not stealing anything.
  2. I need you to speak up when you see a white person cut in front of a person of color in line at the store and pretend not to see them.
  3. I need you to speak up when the hostess at the restaurant seats the white family first. (and when they add 18% gratuity to the black family’s bill, but not the white people’s)
  4. I need you to speak up when you see a black person jogging in the park and you hear your friend call their kids to come closer.
  5. I need you to speak up when you hear white youth say the “n” word in song lyrics on Tik Tok or IG Live.
  6. I need you to speak up when your bestie describes a predominantly Black neighborhood as ghetto.
  7. I need you to speak up when you hear anyone use the words black, brown, underserved, poor, disenfranchised, and inner city interchangeably. All of these words mean different things, that is why they are different words.
  8. I need you to speak up when someone in your family describes another human being as illegal.
  9. I need you to speak up when your misogynistic acquaintances describe a person of color’s body as exotic or Amazonian.
  10. I need you to speak up when you hear a fan at a football or basketball game call a player a racial slur.
  11. I need you to speak up when you notice your friend clutch her purse when a black or Latino man gets on the elevator.
  12. I need you to speak up when your friend describes Muslims who wear turbans, hijabs, and burkas as suspicious or terrorists.
  13. I need you to speak up when the counselor says that the student transferring in from the predominantly black school should not be placed in advanced level classes because they probably won’t be able to keep up.
  14. I need you to speak up when your teacher colleagues describe the little black girls who talk too much in class as defiant, but describe the white ones as eager to learn.
  15. I need you to speak up when you see your kids’ summer reading lists and there are no books by writers of color.
  16. I need you to speak up when there are no non-white girls on the cheerleading squad or dance team.
  17. I need you to speak up when you enter the Chamber of Commerce building and don’t see them offering business development resources to minority business owners.
  18. I need you to speak up when foundations don’t offer grants to entrepreneurs and artists of color.
  19. I need you to speak up when you see the upcoming programming at your local theater or art museum and see a huge swath of the population not reflected.
  20. I need you to speak up when you look around your nonprofit board room and see nothing but white people.
  21. I need you to speak up when all of the contractors and vendors your company engages are owned by white men.
  22. I need you to speak up when your colleague asks a woman of color a question about her hair or her diet that you know they wouldn’t ask a white woman.
  23. I need you to speak up when your supervisor gives you credit for something that you coworker of color either did or helped you with.
  24. I need you to speak up when you find out about the meeting after the meeting where decisions actually get made. (Yes, we know about the meeting after the meeting.)
  25. I need you to speak up when you’re on the search committee for a job applicant and your boss starts leaning toward the white candidate because they just got a vibe that they would be a better fit for the team.
  26. I need you to speak up when you see the speaker lineup at a conference or workshop and there is a lack of melanin.
  27. I need you to speak up when people make chide remarks about Jewish people owning Hollywood or controlling the banks.
  28. I need you to speak up when your relatives describe Asian people the same way they would describe a rug or piece of furniture.
  29. I need you to speak up when trans men and woman are misgendered and/or denied healthcare access.
  30. I need you to speak up when there is an everyday injustice, because if you speak out then, we don’t get to the point where there are people screaming in the streets for the freedom they were born with.

I don’t need you to speak up in a crisis. As a black person in America, I am groomed to survive crisis. I need you to speak up about the everyday drudgery that makes things more difficult than they have to be.

This Post Has 20 Comments

  1. Nancy Keefe Rhodes

    Wow, one of the strongest things I have read. Thank
    you!

  2. Denise Santos

    Thought-full piece. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Pats Laniak

    Thank you for explaining what should be.
    Thank you for informing with actions and words which will help us be better people.

  4. Mary Walton

    Thank you for reminding me!

  5. Aloma Marquis

    Yes. Thoughtful & thank you. And I add a thought that may be more pressing, to people who think you are white you must do these things to recover your own souls which you have mostly lost in gaining the whole world. As difficult & damaging as it is to live among you I can’t think of a worse fate than to lose one’s soul for things that are passing away even as we speak.

    1. Mostapha Bani

      That’s an amazing way to inform about any kind of racism.

  6. Mary Cunningham

    Very interesting and thought provoking. I will share with everyone on my contact list black and white . It is definitely needed. It is something that will definitely change my everyday existence. Call it out before it gets to the point we are at now!

  7. Jeanne Maleckar

    Thank you so much for the profound provocation of thought!

  8. Amina Wolf

    sharing. Very powerful.

  9. Shelli

    #15 hit home. When I was teaching, we had a few short stories by BIPOC authors and one full length novel. Mid unit, our 3 white male administrators went into the classrooms and literally ripped the book out of the hands of our sophomores. A few (7) white LDS families had decided that the book was profane and not appropriate for all students (over 1500 in the school). The book was Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel, a female, Latin American author. Our entire department was outraged, our students were confused and upset, and our parents and families were crushed. This was a unit that had full families involved in reading the novel (which is a freaking awesome thing in a high school) because, for the first time, there was a literature selection that honored the culture and heritage of the majority of our students. It was HORRIBLE and when we confronted the situation, we LOST. Though they did not follow the district policies for the removal of the novel and were basing the removal on the moral perspective of a tiny selection of parents who just happened to have the ear of the school board, the “banning” of the novel for classroom use held firm. The same complaints could have been made of Shakespeare, however, he had the magical combination for acceptance: white skin and a penis. It was my first truly harsh look at the racial inequity my beautiful brown students were facing at our school and it changed me. How could I remain silent in the face of such a blatantly prejudiced decision?!? It highlights the need for all of us to speak out and use whatever sphere(s) of influence we have to shine a light on the inequities that result from our systemic racism. Thank you for this post. With your permission, may I repost this list and use it in designing classroom activities? I will give you full credit. Thanks again.

  10. Rhonda Whitfield

    Well written facts! Speak up family

  11. Sheila Williams

    Thank you. Very powerful and thought provoking. Will definitely be sharing and speaking more about when I need you to speak up. I have been approached by white friends who tell me how sorry they are about that is going on and want to know how I’m feeling and dealing. There are also friends who shy away and won’t say anything or react.

  12. nimbilasha cushing

    Thank you for sharing this, Natalie. It is pertinent and timely. I believe that right now in this hour, white people are
    listening in a way they haven’t done before. The images of the rallies are young Americans, many are white. The tide
    is changing but we must continue to keep vigilant.

  13. Serena

    This is us!!!! This is what we live everyday. This is the whole truth!

  14. Jeff Kessleman

    Thank you for including religious minorities in your list. I will try to remember athese and try to just keep the question “who is being treated unfairly right now” foremost in my head.

  15. Kelly

    I found myself nodding again and again – and being stopped cold by a couple that I DO 🙁 Learning and leaning into change. TY for the opportunity to do more of that here.

    About #26. “I need you to speak up when you see the speaker lineup at a conference or workshop and there is a lack of melanin. ”

    I have often complained about all white stages in my industry, but I’ve committed to call leaders out and already had two opportunities to do so in the last week.

  16. Aunt Janice.

    Thank you for reminding us of the thing’s we overlook or brush off as if it’s not that important because we see it or here it on a regular basis.Eye opener for sure.

  17. Barbara Surrey-Price

    Kelundra, you may remember me. I was once your Sunday school teacher at Total Grace Christian Center. I am very impressed with this timely blog and will be sharing it on my facebook page and with my white co-workers with the hope that it will get to those who are really wanting to do some of this work. Thank you for this very thoughtful piece.

  18. Dawn Linton

    Thank you for this post. I will be sharing it to my FB page. I’m hoping changes will be made in the thinking of the white privileged minds.

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