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Washington Spirit players on racism, #BlackLivesMatter, and progress: Rose Lavelle on doing the work

Understanding racism is everyone’s job, dismantling it requires white America’s acceptance, and then action

Lucas Muller / Courtesy of RSL Soapbox

In the wake of the brutal slaying of George Floyd, protests, which began in Minneapolis, where Floyd was killed, have sprung up across continents. Nearly every large city in America has hosted demonstrations, and some smaller town uprisings have made news too, but there have also been mass gatherings spurred by the Black Lives Matter movement in Australia, Ghana, South Africa, England, France, Belgium and more. The key difference in these uprisings is that people, specifically white people, are listening.

This has led to many athletes — America’s most visible entertainers — using their platforms to discuss racism and push for genuine, long overdue changes. In this mini-series we’ll look at what some Spirit players are doing and saying during this potentially transformative moment of American history.

As someone who has been to far too many protests of unjust slayings of Black people by law enforcement and law enforcement adjacent actors, these gatherings can be exhausting. They are cathartic in that they are a place to collectively grieve, to shout, and to demand the realization that an ultimate wrong was committed, and why and what must change. However, Black people are limited to this without buy-in from white Americans on a commitment to anti-racism. Being aware of it is one thing, working to dismantle it is another. It is, frustratingly, the only salve to a 400-year-old plight. In this moment of mass racial reckoning, we might be getting somewhere.

Around the country (and globally) white people are beginning their journeys toward understanding the necessity and practice of anti-racism. We’re seeing this symbolically in the tearing down of confederate statues by both Black and white, but we’re also seeing it across social media, with white Americans pledging to face discomforts that society was constructed to shield them from.

To that end, Rose Lavelle published a thoughtful statement on privilege, accountability, and committing to the fight.

‘I’ve never been one to be outspoken on social media. I’ve chosen to keep it light-hearted and fun. So, to start, I want to acknowledge that my white privilege has allowed me to use my platform in a light-hearted manner without confronting larger issues. I realize my silence has not contributed to addressing these issues and, therefore, I am part of the problem of racism and inequality. Because, to spark change, we need everyone to do their part, speak up, and demand better. I was not doing my part and I must own up to that.

With that being said, what has been transpiring in this country is heartbreaking. I’ve struggled to find the right words to say and I know I will never experience the fear and pain of being a black person in America, but I’ve seen the injustice and reason for this fear and stand with the black community in this fight. We need voices, we need action, and we need change. This is just a starting point, but I am committed to helping, listening, and continuing to learn so we can make this country a place where those that have been systematically oppressed can truly walk free. #BlackLivesMatter #JusticeforGeorgeFloyd’ –Rose Lavelle; source: Twitter

As a Black person in America, I appreciated this statement for what it admitted. In past moments of heightened national racial awareness and tension, this type of introspection wasn’t expected, let alone the norm. Being an ally simply meant not being overtly racist — and that has been the bar for white Americans for the entirety of my life, my Mother’s life, my Grandparents’ lives, and so on. Here, Rose faces the comfort whiteness has afforded her and resists the urge to tout the simple fact that she isn’t racist; and reflecting on what that means.

White people self-flagellating will not solve systemic racism, but white Americans’ awareness of the difference between ignoring, thus enhancing, racism, or being actively anti-racist is a start. The acceptance of the importance of the latter makes this moment feel different. Though it is deeply personal and uncomfortable work to dissect a society that has been constructed to insulate from the expansive and heinous evils of racism, it is also vital.

In order for the momentum of these protests to continue once people are no longer in the streets and big block letter ‘BLACK LIVES MATTER’ murals are lost to the routine everyday life, it will be up to white Americans like Rose Lavelle to continue working to understand, confront and actively oppose racism. This one feels different, and I hope that our history books can reveal it to have been — it is beyond overdue.