My name is Jackie Venson. I was born and raised in Austin, Texas. I’m a full-time musician. I was named the first black woman to win "Best Guitarist" in Austin Music Awards’ 38-year history. I have fought the last 10 years to create space for myself without the shackles of a major record deal or backing.
This past week I’ve spoken about my experience, my pain and my anger.
And in response I’ve gotten a lot of messages from white people asking questions. I don’t have the mental capacity to respond to them all individually, but I’d like to address them more broadly here. With some of the most common being:
How can this happen? (In relation to George Floyd’s death)
We have a system and police force that was literally founded on the principles of slavery. The institution of policing in this country was created in large part from slave patrols after the Civil War. If you find that hard to believe, you can find more about this from Time and their article "How The US Got Its Police Force." Here’s a relevant quote: "In the South, however, the economics that drove the creation of police forces were centered not on the protection of shipping interests but on the preservation of the slavery system." How can a system with its roots so deeply entrenched in evil, protect and serve all people?
And you may say to yourself in response: "That was over 100 years ago, how can that be relevant today?" From then to now, the police system in this country hasn’t seen us as human beings first; we’re seen as threats or potential criminals above all else. We’re seen as objects with pre-conceived notions attached. Guns drawn as soon as they get out of the car for a traffic stop, shoot first and not only not ask questions later but spin the hell out of what actually happened. That’s how it’s relevant. When a system is born in hate and blood, then it needs to be abolished and rebuilt.
Why are the police attacking protesters and being so aggressive?
Because it’s easier to use force and aggression than to untangle everything I said above for a positive change. And because it’s harder to admit that policing tactics in this country don’t serve the people, they serve select groups that usually fall along certain racial and/or financial lines.
How can I help/what can I do?
Educate yourself. Below isn't the end-all, be-all solution, and I’m also not your black guide on how to be a better human, and neither are your black friends. Be mindful of their trauma when speaking to them. But I have gathered some resources, and it’s probably a good start for most.
Below is a list of books by black authors speaking on very important subjects that you weren’t taught in school. Here is a list of black-owned bookstores you can support when purchasing these books.
"So You Want to Talk About Race" by Ijeoma Oluo
"The New Jim Crow" by Michelle Alexander
"Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America" by Ibram X. Kendi
"Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?: And Other Conversations About Race" by Beverly Daniel Tatum
"White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism" by Robin DiAngelo
"Between the World and Me" by Ta-Nehisi Coates
"The Fire Next Time" by James Baldwin
"The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley"
These are only a drop in the bucket, and more can be found with some searching. A book can teach you only so much; continue to listen to the people around you and their struggles. My hope is that it’s a start down a path for y’all.
Let your voice be heard. Whether it’s getting out into the streets of your city or checking your friends/family that say racist and hateful things. Set boundaries, shake the dust off of your moral compass when it comes to the people you love. White silence is violence.
Donate, if you can, to local groups fighting for justice and against the horrible things we’ve all seen over the last week and against the centuries-old systems that allow and encourage them to happen.
Spend. Put your money where your mouth is and support black-owned businesses and black creatives. We’re here and we exist in all facets of media and business.
The biggest thing you can do: Don’t let this die. Let this time period create permanent change inside yourself. The worst thing you could do is to "wait for this to blow over" and then return to the same echo chamber where you don’t have to confront systemic racism. The black people in your life don’t have that luxury.
I’ll end this with my own questions to you:
How much work are you willing to put in?
How are you going to step up?
How are you going to make permanent change to your world and within yourself?
What side of history are you standing on?
The fence is on fire. It’s time to choose.