Who else has hit the gym hard on the first of the year and then by the middle of January you’re on the couch eating cookies and mad at yourself for not cleaning off your car in the middle of a snow storm to go run on a treadmill? I gave up on the new years work out fad years ago and I am far healthier now than I’ve ever been because let’s face it; resolutions don’t work. At least not for me. But hey, if you are one of those super humans who can tell themselves one day a year that you are going to stick to something and it works, more power to you. I believe more in making small changes each day to work on myself, but I very much look forward to choosing a single word that I hope will play an important role. Not only in my life, but on society as a whole. Going into 2021 there is nothing more important than EMPATHY.
Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference. The capacity to place oneself in another's position. But how? How can we attempt to do so when not all people have had the lived experience of others? How can I, a white, middle class, able bodied, neurotypical, young, straight woman begin to empathize with marginalized groups?
I often think of the harm I have personally caused growing up prior to knowing anything about accurate history and race. I think of the color-blind notion that on the inside we are all the same. I think back to teaching a lesson in which I brought a white egg and a brown egg into school for Martin Luther King Junior’s birthday and cracked them open amongst my 5 year old students to prove this very point without sharing the real story of Dr. King. Looking back on this memory of my first year teaching I feel physically ill. Oh, and did I mention I was one of the “good” white people? Ya know the type….the one who had Black friends, whose first boyfriend was Black, who loved everyone equally, who cared deeply about her Black students. I hope my sarcasm comes across in my writing because so often white people make the argument that there is no way they could ever be racist simply due to the fact that their cousin’s best friend’s sister is married to a Black man. When in fact someone can even have Black children and very much be a racist.
I (like all white people), did not have to see what was happening in the world around me because it did not affect me and when things do not directly happen to you it is relatively easy not to see them. Sure, I had empathy on a very superficial level. I was outraged when Trayvon Martin was killed and shocked when his murderer got away. But my outrage did not turn into action at the time, which is a problem. Without white people doing the work to unpack their privilege and dismantle racism we will continue to watch these horrific events unfold before our blind eyes as we have time and time again since 2012.
Fast forward to about 5 years ago when we were toying with the idea of starting Kind Cotton and I was really thrown into figuring out social media. Many of the people I followed and admired were talking about race and talking about it in ways I had never heard. I started reading and doing countless hours of reflection within my white identity. I joined an anti-racism group, I spoke often to others in my inner circle about what I was changing and what they too needed to do in order to unpack their privilege. I swallowed my “pride” (also known as white fragility) to take a look into why certain things made me sensitive. I admitted my racism and still to this day understand the benefits I receive for merely living in a racist society that upholds white supremacy. I understand that if I am not grounded in action, I am complicit. I listen to BIPOC voices and amplify, but I also recognize that I do not need or deserve a damn trophy for merely being a decent human being. Above all else, I now realize that the best way to empathize with someone is to see them. America needs to open their eyes and their ears to what is happening in our world and make a change going forward. We need people to step outside of their privilege and believe the Black experience. We need people to stop hiding behind their Christianity and allow all people to be and feel loved. We want to be kind humans, but the moment we (white people) feel uncomfortable we become defensive and play the victim, which only leads to more dangerous situations. If only we could all take a step back and see the pain of others, the love, the joy then maybe we’d stop dehumanizing one another.
You don’t have to have lost someone from COVID to wear a mask. You don’t have to be Black to say, believe, and put into action Black Lives Matter. You don’t need to feel scared that your rights are going to be taken away because of your identity or who you love to be an ally to the LGBTQ+ community. I hope that in 2021 people can have empathy without experience. I wish for others to take a step back, take a look in and continue moving forward with love, empathy, compassion, inclusion, justice, and true kindness. EMPATHY = HUMANITY.
As always, in order to release a new item in our store we have to feel passionate about the story behind it. We have to believe in what we are putting out to you all because we want to continue our mission of putting books in the hands of kids through products that promote a redefining of kindness as it relates to action. So, without further ado, we present you with our first tee of 2021 (releasing tomorrow)...we hope you love it as much as we do!