Guest commentary from Rahem Mulatu: “Dear White Friends, where were you?”
My Dear White Friends,
I want to come to you with my raw feelings of pain, anguish, tears, and a heavy heart. I want you to feel and see my vulnerability. I plead with you to not disregard or diminish my sorrow. I am grieving My Dear White Friends! You are My White Friends that welcomed me with an open heart when you saw me at the office, grocery store, library, school, park, church, movie theater, community center, gym, City Hall and restaurant. Even though I could not show you my vulnerability because I did not want you to think of me as timid or aggressive, I am carrying years of pain caused by the implicit and explicit bias of discrimination. Unfortunately, to make you feel safe and comfortable, I made sure to stay in the imaginary box you created for me and continue to be an abiding citizen in the system and institution you chose for me.
My Dear White Friends, you might say, “I was not there to create those systems and institutions to choke you literally and figuratively.”
But, I ask, “Where were you when they chose to defund the education system so my neighborhood school was left without support while expected to educate me? Where were you when they left my neighborhoods without grocery stores for miles and filled it with liquor and convenience stores? Where were you when they decided my neighborhood did not need parks, sidewalks, and street lights that function?” My Dear White Friends, I know you are health conscious, but did you know that I am stricken with chronic illnesses, which could have been prevented if I was able to access healthy food and medical care? Where were you when the police officer who swore to serve and protect all pulled me over and made me pray that I wouldn’t die that day? My Dear White Friends, the education, health, justice, political, and economic systems have been putting their knees on my neck, only allowing me the breath needed for mere basic survival — but you chose silence!
I beg you, My Dear White Friends, find it deep in your heart to understand my frustration if you see me cry, scream, and protest peacefully. Do you not agree that I should breathe the same air you breathe? Walk and drive on the streets without fear as you do? Would you not agree that I should receive a quality education and good health care? Why should I be denied the same opportunities and promotions you are afforded simply based on the amount of melanin in my skin?
My Dear White Friends, hear me out. I have gifts, talents, passions, hopes, and aspirations as you do. Do not disqualify me because of my skin color. I have great things to offer to our nation. Our differences make us beautiful, strong, and great. Please, do not let adversity lead us to utter destruction. My Dear White Friends, your silence is blocking my breathing. You are the privileged who must use your privilege for a good cause to ‘unchain’ and ‘unlock’ your friends like me who do not have that privilege.
Your Black Friend
Rahem Mulatu was raised in Thornton where she attended high school and college.
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