Guest columnist Natalie Romain: ‘If you call yourself an ally, listen’

  • A trio of young women sport matching shirts during a protest, march and vigil against racial injustice and police brutality, Tuesday, at Holyoke Heritage State Park. gazette staff/Jerrey roberts

  • Protesters of police violence and racism march and carry signs in downtown Northampton, Monday, June 1. gazette staff/carol lollis

  • Rolando Serrano chants with a crowd gathered at Holyoke Heritage State Park during a protest, march and vigil against racial injustice and police brutality, Tuesday. gazette photo/jerrey roberts

  • Myra Oyedemi of Easthampton makes the heart shape to passing cars at the rotary in Easthampton on Thursday, just before in a citywide action to protest the killing of George Floyd. Gazette STAFF/KEVIN GUTTING

Published: 6/8/2020 10:39:46 AM

If this message is blunt, so be it. I am sick and tired of writing out kind messages to soften my words so that white people don’t feel attacked, because time and time again they have felt attacked anyway.

You may feel attacked, but you are lucky that the weapons being used against you are just words, rather than a bullet or a knee being pressed against your neck until you can no longer breathe. If you are a true ally, you will hear the words of your black peers and listen to what they have to say, instead of getting defensive because your whiteness and your privilege is being put under a microscope.

So if you call yourself an ally, listen. If you don’t care at all and lack empathy for black Americans who have suffered from years of oppression and abuse, it makes me positive that you are not a person that is worthy of my time, energy, or breath.

First, I want to say that I am sorry to George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and Tony McDade. My heart truly aches for you and your families. Your lives mattered to me and I am sorry that they did not matter to this country.

Black Lives Matter. This movement will not rest until we can stop adding your names to the list of the numerous other black men and women who have been taken from us. I will not list them, but in our hearts we know. We carry all your souls with us as we fight for justice.

I, personally, think of my cousin Rene Romain, who was shot in the back and killed by the Boston Police in 2002. I never got to know him, yet like anyone with empathy, it hurts knowing that our family gatherings will always be missing a person who was taken from us too soon. It hurts to know the pain that my uncle went through, losing a son.

My heart hurts for every black person in this country. I want to say to my black peers right now, please take care of yourselves and your mental health. I currently attend a college with some of the most courageous and strong black women I have ever met. While you have all been finding resources to post on Instagram and other social media platforms, I have been sitting in my room, trying to stay away from the news, and choking back tears.

I felt selfish, I did, but most of all I felt weak. But I knew I needed to take that time to gather myself and figure out what I wanted and needed to say. I have felt hopeless, because I know there is nothing that I can say that will be able to knock sense into every single person in this country (liberal, conservative, and everywhere in between). What I can do is address the communities I do know.

To my white peers from Northampton:

I won’t go into detail about personal experiences I and my other black friends from this city have experienced. This is not about me and you should not have to hear “examples” just to believe that black people experience discrimination in Northampton. It is sick to make black people relive their trauma just for some “proof.”

I will say that racist occurrences are common. Northampton is known to be this “liberal safe haven,” people even dare to call it diverse — that is laughable. Think about how many black people were in our grade growing up. Think about how many black or just nonwhite teachers we had growing up. Think about why most nonwhite people in this city are restricted to living in the same areas.

This is due to the institutional racism embedded in our country, and just because we live in the North, in Massachusetts, in the Pioneer Valley, does not make us immune to this reality. We are just as messed up as the rest of this country. The only difference is we hide the truth behind this word “liberal,” as if that makes us immune to racism.

This is dangerous because it has caused a lack of conversation in this city on the topics of race. It is, and always has been, time to talk about the racism in our community. There is a tremendous amount of work that needs to be done in this country, and if you cannot even recognize the work that needs to be done in your own backyard and in your own homes, then I feel pity for you that you are so delusional.

To my white and nonblack peers from Williston Northampton School: There were few white and nonblack allies at Williston when I was there. Chances are you were not one of them. Regardless of if I consider you a friend or an acquaintance, the black community (myself included) likely did not feel supported by you. There were numerous racial injustices being carried out at Williston, if you cannot see that then I am not surprised — just incredibly disgusted at your ignorance.

These issues often went completely ignored by the white population at Williston, which we all know is the vast majority of the school. Real issues, such as the use of racial slurs, were passed off as gossip or drama. While your black peers were in pain, you chatted at the lunch table about how crazy it is. It is not crazy. The racism and discrimination black students face at Williston is not crazy. It was an is injustice and you ignored it.

Most of you stood by silently and did nothing, while your black classmates worked tirelessly to have their issues and concerns recognized (they never were). You do not have to continue this way. You do not have to be tainted by your past, having failed as an ally (if you identify as such). You can step up right now, while the whole country and the whole world is listening and watching.

To all my white and non-black friends, family, and acquaintances: I am not going to beg you to do anything. I am tired of begging for people to simply care. It is exhausting. It is not black people’s job to educate you. Pick up a book. Watch a documentary. Read an article. If you have the resources, donate. If you have the time, sign petitions. If you really care, have the hard and uncomfortable conversations with your own friends and family.

Importantly, think introspectively. Think about why it may be so easy for you to post that selfie or that picture of your coffee, while your black peers cannot even pick up their phones and go on social media without feeling immense pain. Think about why it is so easy for you to focus on the destruction of property, rather than the continuous destruction of black bodies.

Think about what you have done wrong in the past, but what you can do better in the future. Speak up against injustice! Silence does its own immeasurable damage.

Natalie Romain grew up and resides in Florence. She attended the Williston Northampton School and is currently a rising junior at Barnard College.

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