I want to say an “unhinged” white man opened fire in a predominantly Black community in New York last week, killing 10 people and wounding another 3. Of the 13 harmed, 11 were Black.

But I think it’s unfair to shrug off his actions as “unhinged.”

That makes it easier to think, “Only crazy people do this.”

“This is the exception to the rule.”

“This isn’t a ‘white people’ problem, but an individual one.”

It makes it too easy to distance myself from the problem.

To NOT have to make any changes.

To NOT have to open my eyes and my heart to the reality that WE (including ME) share some culpability as a culture and a nation for hiding from, ignoring, and even outright dismissing the race conversation as a valid one.

When racism and the ideologies of white supremacy go unchecked at the highest levels of our government and leaders…

When we continue to allow them to permeate our systems and structures, fighting against anything that would bring REAL conversation and education to the table (because we white people don’t want to feel bad)…

We cultivate the very circumstances that don’t just allow, but encourage, the actions seen last week.

And I, Debbie Burns, have to sit with this.

To be uncomfortable with the rhetoric of my country that blatantly supports this.

To be extremely uncomfortable with the rhetoric of my family that mirrors it.

Sure, my fam likes to profess we’re good people…

But then we want to blame Ahmaud Aubery for jogging in a neighborhood that wasn’t his when three white men hunted him down and killed him. (“Plus didn’t he have something to do with marijuana or something?” we tell ourselves.)

We want to blame Breonna Taylor for being in her bedroom when police shot through the windows while serving a warrant to the wrong house. (“But she wasn’t in her bed,” one of my cousins tried to use as a defense for the police shooting. “She was standing up!” …Oh, so that makes it okay for her to be murdered?)

We want to blame George Floyd for resisting arrest. (“If he’d just done what the cops said…” Which makes it okay for someone to kneel on his neck for 9 minutes while he cried out for air?)

And yet, somehow the police were able to arrest this mass shooter in Buffalo after he killed 10 people without the suspect coming into harm?!!

Hmmm… Sit with THAT for a hot second.

And then start noticing how many white gunmen are able to be brought into custody vs the number of Black suspects who are killed while trying to be detained.

(Yeah… it’s UNCOMFORTABLE. Sit with it anyway.)

Because once you begin to see this, you can’t unsee it.

I know I can’t.

And yet, even as I recognize the role racism has in so many of these incidents, my brain (steeped in decades of “unseen” white supremacist thinking) still tries to deny what’s happening.

Still places words like “unhinged” in front of white perpetrators.

Still tries to find reasons to blame (or at least not believe) Black people.

It’s gross, even to me.

And yet that is my reality as I make my way from ignorance to uncomfortable awareness to conscious action + reprogramming to freedom.

It’s all of our realities until we, as a people and nation, decide that we’re done with this bullshit and choose to do everything in our power to eradicate racism from our homes, communities, and country.

I find it interesting that, as a group, we’re better at tolerating the violence than we are at tolerating the discomfort of growth and change.

So I’m gonna call a spade a spade:

This was a white supremacist act of terrorism.


And we allow it to happen every time we choose out of addressing the racism in our roots.

Reflections of Racism is my uncomfortable look in the mirror to identify the roots of racism and white supremacy still active in my life. I don’t have all the answers. I’m not standing as a voice for anyone but me. I’m simply sharing my inner monologue in hopes that my failures, faults, missteps, and mistakes can help someone else see, challenge, and change the white supremacist ideologies influencing their world too.

White supremacy isn’t a system I chose; it was one I was born into. But you better believe I’m gonna do everything in my power to choose out, burn it down, and build something better in the ashes.

*Photo by Liza Summer

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