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  • Writer's pictureJenny Penland

To My Black Friends ‣ I love you and I'm sorry.

To My Black Friends:

I am choosing to write this as an open letter instead of a message, text or phone call because I do not want you to feel any obligation to read, acknowledge, or respond. It is not your job to teach anyone how to treat you, or to make anyone feel better about feeling bad for you, and that is the last thing I want to perpetuate. I know you already know this; but I want to directly acknowledge that I know this and respect this, too.

I recognize there are things I can never understand or even scrape the surface of, but I want to make it abundantly clear that I am on your side. To you and to anyone reading this, in no uncertain terms - I fully support the Black Lives Matter movement, I fully support the protests and I am fiercely anti-racist.

My mind works in analogies and best as I can explain, I source empathy by extrapolating from my life experience and then multiplying it out in my *imagination. To consider a pain scale, I regard you and so many others as bleeding out from the jugular. Right now, the pain I feel is the equivalent of cringing at your injury. I’m sickened, I have palpitations, my heart feels as though it’s crumbling beneath my chest. But this visceral reaction, although uncomfortable, is harmless to me. I know I will never understand the magnitude of your pain. I’ve never been stabbed, I never want to be in stabbed, and in this analogy - I have the comfort of knowing that I never will be stabbed. I recognize my privilege in that. I’m grateful for my privilege in that, and at the same time, I’m so sorry, because I know it is inherently wrong and unfair. I feel guilty, and I know that guilt stems from my understanding that you cannot fix this alone. White people have to fix themselves, which means a lot of white people have to change their minds, which seems so heartbreakingly implausible to me. It is this seemingly insurmountable task from which stems my feelings of dire obligation to try to help change (or mute) these minds on your behalf. Because, as disgusting as it is, we both know they value my opinion over yours. To some degree, they want to stay in my good graces. I know that part of my white privilege is that white people (particularly cis white males) will at least *pretend to respect what I have to say. I know my pen is my sword, and I try to yield it for good. That’s largely what I use social media for, but I know my delivery has room for improvement and I promise to continue doing the work.

I’ve been accused of virtue signaling by a few people (read: white, staunch republicans) over the years and in those instances, I never batted an eye, because I know my intentions and I know if those conversations had occurred in person, to their faces and behind closed doors, I’d only be harsher towards them. I recognize that you may not know that though - so for whatever it’s worth, I want to provide my assurance: I have no space for discrimination of any kind in my life. I have ended friendships and familial relationships over racism and I do not miss those people.

That said, I’m positive that there have been instances in which I’ve misspoken or spoken out of turn. I would not want to be silent on social media, and you misinterpret it for my being complicit or complacent, but I also don’t want to contribute to your pain.

So, in the instance of George Floyd, I took a step back to choose these words carefully. I recognize the luxury of being able to do so. I recognize the luxury of turning off the television or scrolling past my news bulletins. But what can I possibly say besides I love you and I’m sorry? I consider what I regard as my strengths and try to imagine if I were a close friend, or acquaintance, or colleague of George Floyd’s family. Perhaps they would want me to give a statement to the judge or testify for the prosecution. Perhaps they would want me to sit by their side quietly. Perhaps they would just want me to leave them alone. Even with the best intentions, these can be tough calls - and there’s so much room for error. I don’t say this from a place of “feel bad for me cause I don’t know how to help you” - I say this from a place of “all I want to do is help you without hurting you more, and best as I try, I always feel like I’m coming up short.” I want to be the friend you need, and sometimes I don’t know what that looks like.

Being an ally is an ongoing practice and I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all solution for how someone in my shoes helps someone in yours. I saw a post about there being many lanes, and I try my best to stay in mine. I want you to know I’m committed to doing whatever is in my power to stop the bleeding. I will continue to donate money to the organizations fighting for your equal rights, I will continue donating my time to Guardian ad Litem and community programs which serve our most vulnerable, I will continue reading as much as I can get my hands on as to how to be a better advocate, I will continue studying adverse childhood experiences and how these contribute uniquely to your struggle, I will continue raising my daughter as an ally and protector, and I will continue speaking out against racism and inequality.

That provided, I believe I have a responsibility to be immaculate with my use of language. So I want to close by acknowledging your total and irrevocable right to call me out. I recognize it takes time and energy to do so, and I’m not asking that from you. You do not need my permission, but you have my invitation. If I say, or have said, do, or have done anything contrary to my intention of supporting you - you have my invitation to say so in whatever manner you see fit.

I have been writing a letter to my white friends, as well - but I think right now, it’s best that I reserve my platform to you. I will be sharing your posts, articles and direct resources throughout the week without further comment and if there’s anything you need from me or anything you feel I should address further, do not hesitate to ask.

In solidarity,



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