Until Santa Claus understands generosity, White Solidarity for Black lives will be fleeting
One of my first lessons on understanding the meaning of white solidarity for black lives was when I first learned about Santa Claus in the first grade. Before my first-grade teacher told me about Santa Claus, my parents did not mention him to me at all. I assumed that it was because my father is from the US Virgin Islands and my mother is from Belize, so they had no clue who he was. Just like any child of immigrants, I would have to teach my parents about an American tradition that all American children participated in.
I will never forget my father’s facial expression when I shared my excitement at the prospect of receiving gifts from Santa Claus that year. He looked away from me and toward the window in the living room. We lived on the 6th floor then, and unlike the story of Santa Claus, we did not have a chimney but barred windows. The view from the window did not oversee vast lawns, but patches of grass that separated the public housing buildings that surrounded us. He looked down at me again and said, “do you think a white man would come through this window to give a black girl presents?” I held his gaze, shocked that he was not excited as I was, and at that moment, I thought about how to answer my dad’s question.
My father’s question was just as relevant at that moment as it is now because it exposes the true meaning of white solidarity for black lives. As a 7-year-old, I thought long and hard about how to answer my father’s question. I thought about the last time a white man was in my neighborhood and gave me presents. At that moment, I could only think of one white man, a Jewish man that went door-to-door to sell his overpriced curtains and I had no other examples of white people that generously gave black children in the ghetto presents.
At 29 years old, I thought long and hard about how to answer this question too. Although the Black Lives Matter protest I attended had a beautiful blend of ethnic and racial diversity, which included everyone from medical professionals to laypeople, I thought why white solidarity for Black lives was so present now. Where was white solidarity for black lives in the black sanitation workers strike of 1968 when they held up signs “I am a man”? Where was white solidarity for black lives in the public terror and lynching of black bodies that hung from trees for centuries and when photos were snapped for postcards? Where was white solidarity for black lives in the many acts of public violence also caught on the video of Rodney King, Oscar Grant, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner… the list goes on. Like my father, my most profound question was would this same white solidarity for black lives show up in the black ghettos, and my everyday life?
I knew that when the visible Black Live Matter protest in the streets died down and racism in America was no longer a buzz word, the disillusion of togetherness would reveal nothing but the truth. The white folk would no longer have to shout that “Black Lives Matter” and they could return to their lives and neighborhoods. They can return to the power and comfort of being white in America and being white in the world. On the other hand, my black skin would not gift me the same privilege to relax.
I whispered “Black Lives Matter” to myself as I walked in the direction of my majority-white neighborhood where white liberals had Bernie Sanders stickers at the corner of their house windows. These same white people stared at me with narrowed eyes when I took out the keys to my apartment wondering who let a black woman move in. I was in black America and there was no such thing as turning it off no matter whether I lived in a good neighborhood or the ghetto.
For a moment, my childhood innocence tricked me into believing that my skin color would not matter to Santa Claus. I upheld the expectation that Santa Claus was not only a gift-giver, but he was the emblem of true generosity. I believed in Santa Clause's ability to recognize all children as humans would transcend the fact the I was black, had barred windows, and did not have a chimney. As a person who practices mediation for self-care, Buddhist principles emphasize generosity as one of the fundamental practices of life. From the protest around the country, I knew that most of the white people that joined the protest with Black Lives Matters signs had generous intentions. To be generous in white solidarity for black lives is to volunteer at an inner-city public school and being ok with returning to your majority white and nice neighborhood because it is safe. To be generous in white solidarity for black lives is to have one or two black friends that solidify the fact that you cannot be a racist. To be generous in white solidarity for black lives is to set time aside to make a sign, to brand a t-shirt, and to participate in Black Lives Matter protest around the country. However, the few acts of being generous do not always align with the consistent state of generosity.
The Buddhist principle of generosity highlights that it is not only a physical act but an inward disposition. Generosity is practiced by outward acts of giving and which in turn makes possible still more demanding acts of self-sacrifice. Generosity in white solidarity for black lives means understanding your privilege not only when protesting among black people, but in everyday spaces that you occupy. Generosity in white solidarity for black lives is understanding that racism is not only a term reserved for Southern white folk but how white people from the Northeast to the West continue to perpetuate racist systems through their complicity and silence. Generosity in white solidarity for black lives looks like not being complicit that you are living in a nice neighborhood, while black ghettos surround you. Generosity in white solidarity for black lives is not hiding around ignorance but taking action to understand how institutional policies like red-lining benefit you but disregards the lives and limits the choices that black folks have to thrive in this country.
Self-sacrifice should be a grounding principle of white solidarity for black lives. Self-sacrifice in white solidarity for black lives means raising your voice for public schools in low-income communities that do not provide the same quality education for black children as the schools in majority-white neighborhoods. Self-sacrifice in white solidarity for black lives is risking your job for what is right when you witness bullying of a black colleague in the workplace or when your company refuses to promote black employees. Self-sacrifice in the black lives matter movement means not only showing up to protest, but donating to black organizations that do work in their communities, and holding other white people accountable around you who uphold racist beliefs through their actions. Self-sacrifice in white solidarity for black lives is not to be complicit with ignorance, but to actively seek out resources to do your self-work so we can move forward in dismantling all forms of white supremacy. Self-sacrifice in white solidarity for black lives asks the question of what are you willing to give up of your white privilege and your power for the sake of valuing black lives and future black generations?
That Christmas I did not wait to see if Santa Claus would show up because I believed my father when he told me he was not real. From the moment I realized this truth, I told all my friends at schools and my cousins that Santa Claus did not come to the ghetto. I know that another black child is waiting for Santa Claus this year to deliver his or her presents even if they live in the ghetto. I hope their story will be different from my own. I hope one day that these children will tell their children that no matter who they were and where they lived Santa Claus would show up anyway. I hope they will be able to tell their children that Santa Claus showed up more than once and he was even there on the off-season. I hope the story will be that Santa Claus made sure to carry tools with him to dismantle the bars on housing project windows. I am still waiting for Santa Claus to realize that long-lasting generosity is about self-sacrifice. Until then black children will lose faith waiting for him to consistently show up in their everyday lives.