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An open letter to Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin

‘We White people must act’

Rebecca Rona | 7/17/2013, 7:03 p.m.
Dear Miss Fulton, I agonize over your loss, the loss of your precious Trayvon. I am the White mother of ...

Dear Miss Fulton,

I agonize over your loss, the loss of your precious Trayvon. I am the White mother of two sons. And I too am Trayvon Martin. I too am Trayvon Martin's mother.

I imagine the anxiety Trayvon must have felt the moment he realized George Zimmerman was targeting him—the tremendous fear that soon engulfed him. The desperation.

I grieve for Trayvon and for all the other Trayvons and all their parents. And, yes, I am deeply troubled—terribly angered—by the verdict that was handed down.

I'm in pain. And I'm thinking.

We White people must act. White people must realize that dismantling racism is our responsibility, too. It is wrong for us to feel that the job of confronting and addressing racism belongs only to those people discriminated against, marginalized and oppressed.

Yes, of course, good people should write, speak out and demonstrate in the streets. Good people should pray in churches, synagogues and mosques. And hold conferences. But that will not be sufficient.

Preaching to the already convinced and long-ago converted has its merits. Educating has its merits. In fact, for years I worked within a wonderfully diverse group of people intent on doing something about racism. We organized and took part in diversity dialogue. We learned more than we'd ever known before about prejudice, racism, bias, discrimination. We learned about each other's cultures, and heard about their experiences and their pain. We role-played methods of responding to bigoted remarks.

We discussed the concept of White privilege, and we learned that the point wasn't for the White people among us to feel guilty, but for us to become more aware and then do what we could to improve society. We sponsored a conference about racial profiling and another about the impact of racism on the criminal justice system. We produced plays and created projects in the community. We formed friendships with each other.

All this had great merit, but it wasn't nearly enough. We hadn't reached—with some exceptions—the people most in need, the people who most deserve to be called racists.

Let's not quibble about whether the White people who believe they are not racists are actually, indeed, racist. Let's focus our attention on the big-time racists and the everyday racists and institutional, systemic racism.

There must be a multipronged effort with numerous objectives to somehow root out racism and racial profiling in this country—to reach those racists, to delve into their hearts and minds and get them to change their thinking. There must be a variety of actions to get the police, prosecutors and judges to succeed in achieving justice. I prefer education and policy implementation. I prefer changing hearts and minds. But if it takes new laws to ensure that people do what they ought to do of their own accord, so be it.

I'd like to see major and sustained outreach to White pastors and ministers throughout the country. They could achieve a tremendous amount if they were on board.

Yes, all this is huge and daunting. But let us not dismay. In the midst of our grieving, let the work begin.