In the face of racial injustice, the time to act and implement change is now

Dr. Valerie Williams Goss is a doctor of human services and a therapist in private practice who works in Oregon and Nevada. Her research on the unique issues interracial couples and biracial children encounter has been utilized in different programs in both Oregon and Nevada. Dr. Williams Goss also has worked with a number of college and pro athletes, and has been one of the few consultants specializing in multicultural families and grandparent rights.

Twenty-eight years ago, as a white woman getting married to an African-American former Air Force sergeant, I had no idea that I would have a front-seat window to the disparaging acts of racism that would plague his community on a daily basis.

Together we have watched countless murders of innocent black people, him with a lens of fear and anger. Me with a lens of hopelessness. While we could discuss these horrific acts, I could never fully understand what my husband had to deal with daily: the stereotypes, the extra comfort he had to give people in order to keep a job, the comments that were made behind his back when he was a coach, or the police harassment. While we watched these things together, I could never fully understand the impact it would have on him as an individual or a father. I made up my mind early on, that the one thing I could do, was educate others about their racist behavior. I took that job very seriously from the moment we met.

My mother always told me: It is up to men to stick up for women, straight people to stick up for gay people, and white people to stick up for people of color. Once I integrated into my husband’s community, that is what I did. I have made it my mission to educate as many white people as possible on the true injustices taking place in communities of color. This is my appeal to other white people to do the same. As I write about my experience as a white person surrounded by privilege, I am also purging the fear that I have for my own black and brown family.

My husband’s innate distrust of the police became a little more personal as I raised our brown children. One of my children I was blessed to inherit from my husband’s first marriage, and the other we had together. At this point I really knew that in order to help my family, I had to be the spokesperson for change, because as the only white person in my nuclear family, I was the one that had to jump on the stereotypes when I heard them. Or confront people when I heard the disparaging comments about people of color. I was the one who had to make sure my kids were not getting in trouble at their predominately white schools for things that the white kids were not getting in trouble for. It was my job when I heard racist comments in the gym, to turn around and tell people that they sounded racist and attempt to educate them on why what they said was unacceptable. Quite simply, I realized when my kids were small that it was my job as a white woman to speak up for my brown family. It was not my family’s job to defend themselves.

Protestors in New York gather behind a banner spelling the name of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images)
Protestors in New York gather behind a banner spelling the name of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images)

Recently, my son, Nigel Williams Goss, was drafted into the NBA. When word got around that my son played professional basketball, I heard a plethora of racist comments congratulating me for having a white son playing in a predominately black sport. I had to tell countless people that my son is biracial and then used those moments to educate even my racist clients about what their words and behaviors meant to the world and how hurtful they were. I risked my job many times by confronting people about racist comments they were making, but I could not have kept silent because it was my job to speak up. When Nigel was playing at Gonzaga in the 2016-17 Final Four, there were people making comments about him being “different” because he was an Academic All-American, while also being a brown athlete. Again, I had to confront those people who were making comments in front of me, making it clear that what they were saying was racist and stereotypical.

Since Nigel has been a professional athlete and has more money and nicer things, he has been stopped by the police more, asked senseless questions about where he got his car, why he was driving in that area, whether he has a license, all of the typical racist experiences other black drivers go through. However, I cannot interrupt that behavior. I cannot educate the officer harassing my son. I cannot tell my son what to say or how to act to the police, because I am fully aware that he could be doing nothing at all and still be killed. That is the reality that all mothers of brown children face. No matter what color mothers are, and how much we try to interrupt the racist behavior in smaller institutions like schools, basketball games or gyms, we cannot stop the police from killing our kids and getting away with it. The reality of that is crippling.

As a mother, I still feel helpless. As a white person part of a privileged race, I feel empowered and compelled to educate. Until white people begin to tell the stories of the injustices we witness every day as visitors in the black community, and as disgusted spectators in the sport of killing black people, this will continue to be perpetuated as a “black issue.” This is not an issue for black people to solve. It is an issue for the rest of us to work on because we are the ones perpetuating it. It is like a domestic violence case when we blame the woman for staying instead of blaming the abuser for abusing.

We cannot expect black people to change society’s racist attitudes or stop the police from killing innocent black people. How can we expect the victims of these crimes or their communities to do it alone? If white society does not take a stand, it will not get done. White people need to step up, show outrage at the violence and support the black community that offers the world so much. We need to go to our leaders, connect with our white constituents and push for change. We need to be on the frontlines. While it is a “black issue” to people of color based on the impact, it is not an issue for black people to change on their own. It is not up to the families of innocent people of color who are murdered to fight this battle. It is up to the rest of us. Instead of saying how bad we feel, we need to do something.

This is how you can help, white people:

When people are making racist jokes at work, don’t just say, “It was just a joke.” Confront the origin of the joke. When people are talking about black and brown people in a disparaging way, confront the behavior. When our local and government leaders have allies and are connected to white supremacist groups, do not make excuses for them, visibly show outrage on social media or whatever platform you have, and do not support them. When athletes take social justice issues seriously and make statements for change, get behind them instead of being angry at them for having an opinion. When Colin Kaepernick takes a knee, instead of being narcissistic and talking about how many people you know who fought for our country, really try to understand what he is saying about the injustice he feels as a member of the black community and feels for others who do not feel justice in their lives. Listen to the experiences of people of color, don’t just use your privilege and power to promote falsehoods.

When a black person is killed in broad daylight in a police altercation in yet another senseless murder, show your outrage, take a stand and do something proactive. Finally, ask yourself: Do you, as a white person, have to teach your white children where to put their hands if the police stop them, or how to safely reach for insurance paperwork in the car so the police don’t think your child is reaching for a gun, or what to say in order to stay alive? Because you don’t have to do that, then show some empathy and advocacy for those of us who do. Respecting communities different than your own and advocating for those that need it the most are the two elements that will help promote change.

I would be remiss if I did not share this secret, and I know my multicultural family would approve. People of color no longer want to hear that your best friend is black. Or that your best friend in high school was black. Or that there is a difference between “kinds” of black people. Those statements are insulting and date back to generations of slavery, prejudice and discrimination. Those statements are what make mainstream society believe that the current killing fields that black and brown people are experiencing are somehow separate from current American values. The sad thing is: These are our current American values, and it is up to the people who are perpetuating these values to change them.

I am calling on all my white friends and family to do so. I don’t want to hear “your son or daughter was such a good kid” if he or she is killed. All these victims were someone’s son or daughter. Maybe we can prevent one more black murder by the police if we all show some dedication to the cause now. There is no more time to waste.

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