Love and accountability, not guilt, are the foundation of my letter. When I realized the magnitude of the damage my people have done to yours, I felt guilty for good long time. After ruminating on it I realized that guilt is an obstacle to moving forward.
I developed an accountability and action mindset about race. As my friend and mentor Glenn Martin says, “those closest to the problem are closest to the solution.” I study race and share what I learn with my white brothers and sisters to influence the way we think and act. It had not occurred to me before to write to black people. I am grateful to Lisa for the suggestion.
My ancestors bought and sold and tormented and discriminated against your ancestors setting us on different trajectories that continue to in large part determine how we live today. On behalf of my ancestors, I apologize to your ancestors for our brutality. On behalf of my contemporaries, I apologize that so few of us recognize that the privileges we enjoy today are rooted in the opportunities we deprived you for generations.
White people systematically make it extremely difficult for you to succeed and then often treat you terribly when you do. Many white people continue to think you are inferior and that there is something wrong with you. There is nothing wrong with you — there is something wrong with us.
White people often make you feel like you don’t belong or deserve your opportunities. You 100 percent belong and 100 percent deserve everything you achieve — in fact you deserve your achievements even more for having to break through so many barriers erected by us to access them.
Systemic racism impacts your health and longevity: overpolicing, mass incarceration, and the poor quality of housing, schools, jobs, air, food, health care, and recreation available in your neighborhoods all take their toll.
We place dumps, sewage treatment facilities, and other services we use but don’t want in our neighborhoods in yours. We allocate tremendous resources to incarcerating you while allowing public housing and veteran’s hospitals to crumble. I am not implying here that all black people live in public housing nor that all veterans are black.
I am sorry to you, black men, for how we fear you, and how out of this fear, we persecute you.
I am sorry to you, black women, for the burden you bear for our fear of black men. For having to worry if you will ever find a husband and have a family because the ratio is so unfavorable. For raising children on your own because their father is incarcerated, dead, or driven away by the stress of being a black man.
I am sorry to you, black children, for all the disturbing images you have seen over the last year. I hope that you feel that you are loved and valued, despite how it may seem.
I am sorry to you, black elders, because it seems like we are turning back the clock after you struggled so hard to make progress. We will keep your struggle alive.
I hope that despite the incessant onslaught of aggressions large and small we inflict on you that you do not allow our madness to affect your self worth.
I wish that we would have more opportunities to get to know each other so that we would learn how beautiful, smart, funny, kind, and sweet you are.
I hope that more white people will begin to take an accountability and action approach to race. To recognize that the problem of race in our country is our problem and we need to change our attitudes, behaviors, workplaces, policies, institutions, communities, and society.
Black people, thank you for being my friends, bosses, coworkers, mentors, mentees, PTA colleagues, and neighbors. I want to particularly thank my many black millennial friends who are entrepreneurial, smart, resourceful and revolutionary. I have tremendous faith in you.
Thank you for all you have patiently and generously taught me and how you have stood by me even when I made mistakes.
I hope that in 2016, more white people will sit down for a cup of coffee or meal with you, invite you into our homes and visit you in yours. I hope that white people will humbly ask for your feedback about what we could do better and that when we do, you are honest and don’t hold back. And I hope white people will apply your guidance.
I hope that we can work side by side with you to dismantle systemic racism and build a new, inclusive society together, a society that will benefit us all.
The way we oppress you harms not only you, it harms us. It deprives us of our humanity and yours.