Dismantling Statement Culture in Five Steps

The morning after Daunte Wright was killed by veteran police officer Kim Potter, my Executive Director (ED) called me. She was feeling broken up and outraged about the senseless killing of another young Black life. She asked me to write a statement.

I am tired of writing statements. My ED’s heart is in the right place. Of course, she’s devastated by the state-sanctioned killings of Black and Brown bodied people like Daunte Wright and Adam Toledo. I value her deep compassion. I am just tired of writing statements.

I’ll confess, I’d seen the headlines about Daunte’s murder while scrolling my social media feed. However, I quickly decided not to read the details. I kept scrolling. When my ED called, I hadn’t read the details yet because each headline and story hits too close to home — for me and the millions of parents of Black/Brown/Indigenous/Melanated children across this country.

Every single time our children drive away, we whisper impassioned prayers for their protection. With each and every story, from Amadou Diallo to Adam Toledo, I’ve become more protective of my stress levels and mental health. Headlines give me everything I need to know. There are days I just can’t go further. There are days I don’t feel strong or resourced enough to read the details.

The details wash over my body and shake me awake from the stories I’ve made up about feeling “safe” in this country. As a Black-woman, as a mother, as an empath, the details read like a brutal and repeated horror movie that refuses to end. All while news outlets seek to sell headlines and clicks, and organizations seek positive impressions and public kudos, the individuals who write the stories and lead and work within the organizations become bystanders who get to disassociate themselves from the realities and responsibilities for a culture that invests in statements instead of the consistent racial equity and inner work desperately needed to address the intergenerational narrative that feeds the White fear that takes the Black/Brown/Indigenous/Melanated lives we mourn in these statements.

Why would I [or anyone who understands the narrative of White Supremacy Culture] want to read the same old story about the “good” hard-working police officer just doing their job when they stopped the “bad” scary Black person who must have deserved to be targeted, assaulted and/or killed. I don’t need the details to know the story.

Why would I [or anyone who feels the impacts of White Supremacy Culture] want to write another statement condemning that “good” hard-working police officer and the system that empowers them, when I know [and you know] most readers will read the statement and go back to their lives until the next statement needs to be written.

Because I’ve been doing my best to tune all the bad news out, I’d seen the headlines when the six Asian American women were massacred in Atlanta but did my best to avoid the details. My Executive Director asked me to write a statement about that tragedy as well. I wrote it.

As I wrote, I felt a wave of sadness rushing over me and saw their children’s faces, as I pictured my own family, and imagined what it must feel like to live the depth of this tragedy in the public eye, all while the NRA and gun lobbies continue to spend billions of dollars each year to protect 2nd amendment rights and the man who pulled the trigger. The very police officers who coddled him don’t give a second thought to turning routine traffic stops into murder scenes cordoned off by yellow police tape and Blue silence.

I wrote both statements (reflecting our outrage about the murders of Daunte Wright and the sacred lives lost in Atlanta). I’d written a statement about Breonna Taylor and George Floyd’s murders as well. And, wait now, with all of you for the verdict in the Derek Chauvin case.

In the last year alone, I’ve written three separate statements about the violent deaths of Black/Brown/Indigenous/Melanated people. The majority of those statements have been about Black lives taken by individuals embedded in a system working the way it was designed. Anti-Blackness is baked into this cake we call America. It’s in the flour and the baking powder that we sift together in this country of ours.

I wrote the statements. But, if I was being true to myself, I wouldn’t have written any of them. I would have stepped away from my laptop and kept it real. The real is, if this is going to change, individuals have to change, White Supremacy Culture has to change, and Statement Culture has to become a thing of the past. It must be replaced with the kind of outrage that says ‘not on my watch, I will not sit idly by and watch Black/Brown/Indigenous/Melanated people be murdered in the streets day after day without doing something real and uncomfortable to change it.’

If you are ready to change, here are five things you can do today:

  1. Become more self-aware, admitting and facing the places where Anti-Blackness and racist ideas originated and still live within you. As they say in the 12 steps, take a fearless moral inventory. Where are you contributing to this culture with the ways you think, the ways you show up, and the ways you are silent in the face of injustice (small injustices in your classroom or boardroom)?
  2. Become clear about intention vs. impact (really clear). Understand your responsibility in it and listen to Black/Brown/Indigenous/Melanated people who are telling you, your good intentions are received as harmful. Listen to the people most impacted by White Supremacy Culture and Statement Culture. Listen to us, especially if we are putting in the emotional labor required to tell you our truths.
  3. Be willing and available to face and repair any harms done. This is another 12 step principle, make amends. Really make amends with changed language and actions.
  4. Seek out help and resources for your organization. If you work at a school, non-profit, or corporation, you are a microcosm of our society. It is time to challenge racist ideas and learn about racial equity. Trust people with lived-experiences. I know White-bodied people are building Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion empires and there are White-bodied practitioners I respect (and I encourage them to speak to “their people”). However, if you really want to understand and know the truth of the experience for Black/Brown/Indigenous/Melanated people who are consistently de-centered in the American context, center them and listen. Center them and follow their lead. Invest in practitioners who get it at the cellular level.
  5. Invest in racial equity or restorative justice coaching for individuals (i.e, org leaders, teachers, authority figures etc…). Individuals are microcosms of the organizations they lead or represent. There are so many brilliant Black/Brown/Indigenous/Melanated coaches who can support you one-on-one to begin the work. Please Do Not ask your Black/Brown/Indigenous/Melanated friends or colleagues to do the emotional unpaid labor of supporting you. Take a bold stand through a level of personal responsibility that is committed to change, especially if it feels uncomfortable and unsettling. Invest in a coach with valuable lived experiences. I happen to be one of them but there are many.

These are just a few preliminary ideas. These ideas merely scratch the surface. They are tiny stones thrown into a still pond, that can begin a ripple.

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Damali is an evolving creative who aspires to change the world for the better (beginning with herself).

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Damali Robertson

Damali Robertson

Damali is an evolving creative who aspires to change the world for the better (beginning with herself).

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