Since I got the news last night about Zimmerman’s “not guilty” verdict, all I can seem to do is clean my house and watch alien invasion movies where puny humans are toyed with and brutally dispatched by more advanced species. Both activities are therapeutic for me when I’m angry about injustice, but now I turn to another therapeutic tool — writing.

This is an open letter to African Americans and all USian people of color from one White female ally that I hope represents the voice of many other White European Americans during yet another pivotal moment in race relations for our country.

First, please know you are not alone. I realize you don’t need me, or any White person for that matter, to tell you this — to comfort you, or try to make you feel better. You’ve been dealing with this kind of outrage and dehumanization for hundreds of years, and I’m just a recent arrival who’s been awake for a mere 20 years and carries the privilege of being able to walk away from this struggle at any time. I also get that you don’t want my sympathy — you want action and change. I am here. I stand ready and in solidarity.

Second, please know that I know you’re not crazy. It’s a special form of violence inflicted on people of color, being told that their fears, concerns, experiences, and observations aren’t real. That somehow these observations and experiences didn’t really happen, and that the fears and concerns aren’t based in reality. Sometimes this crazymaking is something we Whites do on purpose, but I think most of the time it’s unconscious because of our own racial baggage. We don’t want to believe that your fears, concerns, experiences, and observations are real, because then what would that mean? What would that say about us? About this country we live in and what we’ve been taught about it? About our responsibilities? This is too much cognitive dissonance for most White people to process — still. A part of me wants to ask you to continue to be patient with us, but on days like today, another part is too weary, disappointed, embarrassed, and fed up to ask for your patience any longer.

Third, please know that I don’t know what to do anymore. I’ve been doing some form of diversity/anti-racism/anti-colonial/social justice/peace/intercultural work since my early 20s. I’ve been doing this work in my own soul, in my personal relationships, in my profession, in academia, and in my political and community activities. At this point, I don’t know what else to do differently or better.

I’m from the Los Angeles area. I was in L.A. in April 1992 when the L.A. 4 verdict came down, and I was there for the L.A. “riots”/”uprising”. [By the way, why do we refer to it as the “Rodney King” verdict, just like we refer to the George Zimmerman trial as the “Trayvon Martin” case? Why do we name these trials after their victims as if they were on trial? (maybe because they are?) ]. I was a student at UCLA just weeks from graduating, and I was one of hundreds who marched past the fancy boarded-up shops in Westwood to protest the verdict in front of the Federal Building on Wilshire Boulevard. For a few minutes, we blocked traffic on multi-lane Wilshire in this swanky section of L.A. where we could see the smoke rising from the fiery chaos in South Central just miles away.

There were lots of police around, and at one point a stressed-out White policeman stopped his cop car in the middle of the street, got out, pointed his gun at us and started yelling until one of his colleagues got him to get back in the car. This incident was shocking to me, but suddenly struck me as nothing compared to what Rodney King and people of color faced on a daily basis. It was also a key moment in my political awakening to notice how news reporters were unobjectively framing events and labeling people, and how these reports didn’t always match what we were seeing ourselves, and hearing from first-hand accounts.

So then, 20 years to the month last year, Dr. Christian Head, an otolaryntologist at the UCLA’s medical school (and the first and only tenured professor in his department) went public with the story of how he was racially hazed and depicted as a sodomized gorilla during an annual event at the medical school — blocks from where the policeman drew his gun on us students 20 years before. Not only had Dr. Head suffered years of discrimination and mistreatment, his concerns were minimized and he was told to keep quiet.

And now we have a “not guilty” verdict for a man who confronted, shot and killed a young unarmed African American teenager who was doing nothing but walking home.

I know there have been famous cases like Trayvon’s in earlier decades — Emmett Till, Medgar Evers — and many more such incidents we’ve never heard of. But now, in my own lifetime, I have seen history repeat itself. I’m not seeing progress. I don’t know what to do anymore.

Fourth, please know that I am listening. I realize that the last thing you want to do is be my mammy and take care of me, educate me, explain things to me (again), and help me feel better. I also realize that while in my heart I’m much more Malcolm than Martin, my anger pales in comparison to yours, and me encouraging resistance or action — non-violent or not — poses a far greater risk to you than to me.

And yet I worry — about you, about me, about us all. I worry about the quiet, measured manner that has become a hallmark of USians’ response to outrage and injustice, especially since 9/11. The extreme caution and precautions taken to ensure there was no violence after the Zimmerman verdict is perhaps constructive in material ways, but I believe it’s highly destructive in others. Where will this anger go? Into self-medication through substance abuse? Into workplace violence? Domestic violence? Self-hatred? Depression? Even higher rates of chronic disease as our cells try to assimilate the rage?

I’ve done a lot of work with anger over the years. It’s a powerful emotion, and a force for change. It’s a healthy emotion, full of information. It’s usually a sign our boundaries have been violated, or we have been silent for too long. It’s also often mixed with grief, which comes from loss.

So what do we do with this anger? What do we do in general? Trayvon Martin wasn’t even born when the L.A.4 were acquitted. How can we act to make sure the Trayvons that haven’t been born today don’t have to go through what he did?

If I had a question for you, there would be two. One, do you think we’re making any progress towards racial equity and justice? Two, what should I be doing to create this progress that I’m still not doing?

If you’re too mad at me to answer or talk right now, I get it. But finally, know that this verdict is not who I am, this verdict is not in alignment with my values, and this verdict is not a reflection of what I want this country to be. Know that to the best of my ability, I will continue to act in alignment with my values and what I want this country to be, in spite of what this country has been so far.

May we each fearlessly and passionately seek justice, so that we can finally co-exist as fellow human beings. Then, maybe, we can have peace.

28 Comments

  • Avatar Jan O'Brien says:

    Thank you Susana for so eloquently expressing what so many of us are thinking and feeling. This is a very powerful and beautifully written piece! May you “fearlessly and passionately” continue to share your talents with the world and may your words help to move us, each in our own way, towards the peace and justice that we seek.

    • Susana Rinderle Susana Rinderle says:

      Wow! Thanks so much Jan, I appreciate you reading and taking the time to comment. I appreciate the encouraging words — maybe “just” writing is “doing” something after all! :). Here’s to maintaining solidarity among allies!!

  • Avatar Annette Underwood says:

    Perfect for the day after. Thanks, Susana.

  • Avatar Eric Brewton says:

    Great Column as usual Susana! It sounds unsatisfying because of the fact Zimmerman may never receive the justice he deserves, but the one thing that Progressives and the African-American community can do is show up to voting booths no matter how hard they try to deny us. If we use our power at the booth we can go after organizations like ALEC that gave us “Stand Your Ground Laws” and root them out for good! I appreciate your your sincere feelings on the subject and hope that we all can forge a Progressive union that doesn’t allow any of our children to be subjected to what Trayvon Martin experienced.

    • Susana Rinderle Susana Rinderle says:

      Thanks for your thoughts and encouragement Eric! I’m feeling pessimistic about voting as our only tool, as that system is fraught with peril. bias and challenges as well. Plus it’s slow. I feel like we’ve got to go for a multi-pronged approach — vote, organize, educate, and disrupt the status quo.

      • Avatar Rufus Greene Jr. says:

        I agree…

        • Susana Rinderle Susana Rinderle says:

          Thanks Rufus!

          • Avatar Rufus Greene JR says:

            Hi Susana,

            I wanted to provide a little more thought to my response. I am angry, frustrated, and hurt by the acquittal of George Zimmerman. We as a country are moving backwards on many issues that affect growth and sustainability for Blacks but I have hope. As a Black man in America I feel this subversive erosion of the Civil Rights gains of the 1960s, but I have hope. These gains are being retrieved every day under the disguise of fairness, but I have hope. The destruction of a key part of the Voting Rights Act and Supreme Court ruling in Fisher v. University of Texas, are a couple of recognized actions by the “injustice system” by I have hope.

            My belief is that these eviscerated actions by the injustice system is another episode of some White Americans to demonstrate the taking back of their country. A country they claim to own with the invisible people of color as its inhabitants. The invisible Black people that have contributed to this nation through blood of war, servitude, creation of inventions, innovations through science, and so much more. With all of these contributions to this Nation I have hope.

            Last night I watched an insightful documentary on Netflix titled, “Park Avenue: Money, Power, and the American Dream. (Please watch this documentary, if you haven’t) The movie contends that America’s richest citizens have “rigged the game in their favor,” and created unprecedented inequality in the United States. Nowhere is this more evident than on Park Avenue in New York. 740 Park in Manhattan is currently home to the highest concentration of billionaires in the country. Across the river, less than five miles away, Park Avenue runs through the South Bronx, home to the poorest congressional district in the United States.

            I watched this documentary and I thought to myself the wealthy and their self interests and the republican’s who have this unsubstantiated fear continue to device ways to of unfairness and injustice to support their beliefs. Either by defunding needed programs that provide subsistence, safety, and shelter to many less fortunate. Or, to corrupt our justice and political system by way of huge sums of money. I see our solidarity of hope in helping us to survive through it all..

            Hope has been the spirit that has helped my people to survive the atrocities of North American slavery. Hope has been the spirit of my parents to become a part of the “Great Rural-Urban Migration North” to escape the “Jim Crow South.” Hope is for me is to see the coming of the next generation of young people who will work against oppression, racism, and classicism. Hope for me is to feel your sincerity, passion, and heart to educate and disrupt the status quo, Susana… Hope is to continue to take action by voting, educating, organizing, creating awareness, and speaking out…

          • Susana Rinderle Susana Rinderle says:

            WOW. Rufus. Thank you so much for taking the time to offer these words. Your hope is inspiring (how DO you keep it alive?), and I am lifted up to know I contributed to your hope. That definitely sounds like a documentary to check out, thank you. You say things here that I’ve said to others in the past, that we are witnessing the death-throes of a dying dinosaur system, and no life form goes down without a fight. It’s the fearful thrashing of a quickly shrinking minority as the tides turn, demographics shift, and old paradigms die. Lord I hope I get to see some of the pay off! Thank you.

        • Avatar Rebecca Dakota says:

          My thanks to both Susana and Rufus for sharing their understanding of what’s going on in our country. I agree with both of you, not only that injustice is still happening but that hope and vision and action are all required of us now. Indeed, the dying dynasties of oppression are up against a world view of our shared humanity and it is up to us to hold that visions and keep moving towards it, helping each other as much as we can.

          • Susana Rinderle Susana Rinderle says:

            Hear, hear. Thanks for reading and commenting Rebecca. Solidarity is needed among our many respective communities now more than ever!

  • Avatar Jean says:

    Thank you for sharing and putting into words so eloquently many of my own thoughts and emotions. Have been feeling troubled and lost on how to express these feelings as another White ally I don’t have your gift with words and am thankful you found them for me. I especially connected with the fourth part. I AM LISTENING and I worry where we go from here as well. What do I do to make it better, not worse? Have we made any progress? I am so ready for some real and meaningful change. I want to channel this anger into something useful. I agree with a multi-pronged approach particularly the disruption of the status quo.

    • Susana Rinderle Susana Rinderle says:

      Thanks Jean! I’m glad that my attempt to manage my own emotions seem to be connecting with others and serving as a mini-catalyst for change in their own right. As you read, I certainly don’t have the answers, but I am now even more committed to looking for opportunities to connect, organize and take action (especially in the context of all the other shenanigans going on nationally on a variety of issues). I’m hoping maybe some African Americans and people of color can also comment and let me/us know where we’re still falling short (or if we just need to keep “keepin’ on”!). I’m already in conversation with one African American ally here in Albuquerque about a possible “thing.” Stay tuned.

  • Avatar Mary Ann Demaree says:

    Thanks from me also Susana. I, too, am tired of the repetition of racism, perhaps in more veiled and subtle ways now. I don’t know what to do either. I’m glad you expressed so much of what is in my heart and on my mind. I look forward to learning what I can do to help

    • Susana Rinderle Susana Rinderle says:

      You’re welcome and thank you Mary Ann! To keep in the loop moving forward, it’s best to “subscribe” to this blog — or better yet, follow me on Facebook and/or Twitter.

  • Avatar Jarrett Nicholson says:

    Powerful article, Susana. And powerful questions you pose. We ALL should feel the need for some serious soul searching after this verdict. And if we dont, it is that complacency that will be most detrimental! Thanks for sharing this.

  • Avatar joe says:

    It’s nice to know we have support/affirmation/validation from a white woman. Thanks to you, I know I have something to live for. You’re just like that wonderful woman from the Blind Side.

    Mean? Yes. This whole thing is complicated and everyone needs to know that you can’t just separate yourself from more explicitly racist people. You acknowledge that your response is not the best one at the beginning of your letter. You’re right about that.

    Should you shut up? No, but be willing to hear the hard stuff.

    • Susana Rinderle Susana Rinderle says:

      Hi Joe! Oh I’m not so hot about the comparison to Leigh Ann Tuohy 🙂 but I very much appreciate where you’re coming from! I’m used to hearing the hard stuff (mostly from Whites these days), and it’s never fun but it’s important to be open and courageous that way. Any thoughts on what hard stuff I — and Whites in general — are still not hearing?

  • Avatar Carmen Smith says:

    Oh, what a soothing response after so much drama! Now, after a great deal of thought I will try to answer your questions. But, first i have a couple of questions for you. Susana, why are you explaining yourself? You owe “us” nothing sweetie. You have done nothing wrong, nor are you responsible for what has happened–My next quesion. Why are you labeling yourself as a “white ally?” You are an American. You are a concerned citizen who cares about injustice in our country. My last question is–Why are you asking “us” …black people to help you? Hell, it’s obvious we can’t answer that question ourselves, because we have been perpetually oppressed for so long, we have become hopeless and frustrated as Americans. Just think about it. Racism is a very insidious snake…look carefully within yourself.

    Now, let me see how we can all collaborate as Americans and see how we can move our country forward. Susana…please do not do this:

    http://youtu.be/k48qU4fxqSg

    While i understand how the Angry Grandpa-(staged or not) may feel, Geez, pop’s you just destroyed your teeth! Don’t you need those when you try to eat? That, to me is similar to folks going out and burning the homes and businesses in their very own neighborhood! LOL!

    Susana, when I read your background and qualifications I see much you can do. One of the things I see Americans struggle with is access to information that they reasonably understand. The legal system is one of them, the financial industry and how they work is another–politics is another. Have you thought you could use your education to create easy to understand methods that would help educate and empower communities that may not have the same access as other communities? Are there some valid skills you may have to compose a fundamental dialogue that will help communities to empower themselves instead of living in the shame of labels and stereotypes? You could publish it to communities who seem to be frustrated because of their lack of understanding of these things? Have you thought of assisting educators with composing practices and pedagogy that would be relevent and meaningful to the populations they serve in their classrooms ? We need educators! We need good one’s! You have the education, passion, love and sincere frustration that our community needs, but first you must not label yourself as something you do not want to be seen as. Thank you so much for your passion, your love, and your sincere desire to make change in this country, but do not be caught up by what you see on TV or read in the papers–use your heart, your God given natural talents, and do the best you can. This will help ease your frustration and yet, you will know in your heart you tried.

    • Susana Rinderle Susana Rinderle says:

      Ms. Carmen, thank you so much for your encouraging and straight-talking message. I LOVE that video, I needed that! I will take your advice however about not going there! LOL! My answers — I am explaining myself because I feel White folks need to say something constructive in this situation, and since I had something constructive to say, I felt I should say it. I am labeling myself as a White ally because although I am a USian (you assume correctly 🙂 ), the fact I am White is relevant in a case like this. And touchĂ© about why I’m asking Black folks! I just don’t know what it’s like to be Black in America, so I figured I’d ask! 🙂 Thank you also for your suggestions, many of which I’ve done at different points in my life, and at this point I’m trying to facilitate self-discovery and new behaviors in people with some measure of power (perceived or not) in organizations. I will hold your message hear my heart as I continue my reflection and dialogues with others. Take care!!

  • Precious Susana,
    First, I want you to know that I will continue to read and will constructively respond. I tend to feel, listen and hear these days with my heart from which springs the only levels of peace that can be known. I know that I need to listen and hear because my first reaction was from the level of the mind in your opening paragraph and the symbolism that lies within the choice of words used…”for it is truly time to clean our own houses…and define who the “puny humans” are and who “the more advance species are”…and then come to know that it is not a “you” that has been dealing with this level of outrage and dehumanization for hundreds of years, but a collective “we” that have witnessed and felt whatever it is that greed and hatred have brought forth; for there can only be a collective in the scheme of peace. Injustice to one is injustice to all. It is in the vein of the other and the projections outside of our being ONE that holds the source of illusion and thus trouble for us. It is said that insanity is continuing doing the same things and expect different results. It is further said that the same level of consciousness that created “it” cannot transform or change “it”. I’ve always believe and have known at a very deep level that as long as we continue to avoid knowing ourSELVES, to do the hard work of looking withIN, understanding sentience and our connection to all…the results will continue to do be the same. My sister, I appreciate your sharing and I will reflect, read through all of the posts and come again to this topic. In the meanwhile, in the Spirit of all that is and will be, it may serve clarity to examine and take a serious look at the beliefs that we each are attached to for body follows mind. It is not only a split occurring between races but also within. Perhaps, when we do that level of inquiry and understand, we will be able to come to peace and surrender. Ashe’, Aho, Amen

    • Susana Rinderle Susana Rinderle says:

      Namaste Emilio and ometeotl!

      • Very nice heart felt conversation Susana! Very Precious. Thanks for all you do…This serves as a great form of cleansing as after a while one wonders through degrees of rejection and anguish and the temptation to sell out and what others will think or that they have done something wrong or left something unsaid or undone; and for some that leads to the temptation to quit or give up and stay to self. Your writing opens a channel of cleansing that others at least might breathe. There is a wholeness available and peace is maintained. Thanks again. I offer the following as a part of my reflection to all of our brothers and sisters. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Df8-O4ORz5g
        Namaste and Ometeotl!

  • Avatar Selina Grissom says:

    Thank you…I’m in SC right now and grew up in Florida…I used to consider it “home”…but not anymore…I’ve noticed one thing and it sticks out like a sore thumb, the elephant in the room…NO one around here is talking about the verdict…NO one…I’m ashamed of this verdict and the injustice done to this young man and so many like him…and I’m embarrassed by anyone that thinks this jury made the right decision…because they did not…my heart is breaking right now…I have no words for how deeply and utterly sad I am over this entire case…I’m even more bewildered by the fact that in this day and age, in the year 2013, we are still dealing with racism and inequality of ANY kind…I’ve never understood it and I guess I never will…

    • Susana Rinderle Susana Rinderle says:

      Selina, I hear you and feel you. A lot of us don’t seem to feel “at home” right now, and what seems to be adding to the grief and anger over the verdict is how the conversations about it are happening – or not happening. How deeply disturbing and disconfirming that no one is talking about the verdict in SC. It’s like that awful scene in the film “The Prince of Tides” where the mother and her children sit down to dinner with the father right after they murdered the escaped convicts that broke in and raped them…as if everything were normal. Bewildering indeed.

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