I don’t walk in a Black person’s shoes, but I can stand with you.

Published by Emma Kenfield on

I've Never Walked in Your Shoes,
But I Can Stand With You

I’ve had trouble facing the world since George Floyd was murdered on May 25. I will be utterly transparent here: it is something my mind would rather bury. The injustice that remains following years of supposed “progress” is something I don’t know how to grasp. Because facing it, refusing to bury it, would mean hopelessness and shame, at times feeling breathless and unable to move. 

And yet, this is the reason it must be faced. No matter the pain, no matter the frustration and anger that would leave me frozen and defeated, I will never have to feel what George Floyd and countless others did. 

I may feel suffocated by the horrors of the world, but if I try my best to keep going, I can breathe. 

George Floyd, on the other hand, will never catch his breath again. 

For this, I have to face it. For him, Breonna Taylor, Ahamud Arbery and the other countless lives that were taken unjustly, I must face it every day. 

Day 3 of Atlanta protests, on May 31 at the Capitol. Gabe Ossa | Avant-Youth

I am not Black. Therefore, I have never feared for my life at the sight of blue and red flashing lights, or at the sound of sirens approaching from behind. It doesn’t matter if my music is too loud. They won’t label me a thug. It doesn’t matter if my wallet is visible. They won’t shoot me when I reach for it. I am not Black. They won’t kill me. 

Stereotypes may exist for all, but the stereotypes that come with my appearance have never posed any danger to my life. This is the privilege I was given.

I don’t deserve this privilege. No one does — not any more than the next person. When you’re born, you’re not given a choice of life in comfortability or life in fear. It’s a game of chance, and if you’re brought into the world as a Black person in America, you’re stuck with the latter against your will. I don’t deserve this privilege, and Black people don’t deserve to live in fear. They were born Black and handed an abundance of negative stereotypes and disadvantages because of their skin color. For that, I will forever be sorry. 

I am also sorry if my hesitation to speak out as a White person could be translated into ignorant silence. Truthfully, when the protests began, I questioned if I was at liberty to say anything on the subject. I never wanted to diminish the severity of Black people’s situation by making anything about myself. Because it is true: I can’t understand; I can only try. And in most circumstances, when people try to speak on things they’ll never experience, it drowns out the testimonies of those who actually deserve to be heard.

But this circumstance is different, and silence is a cop-out. It’s weak. Black testimonies aren’t drowned out because White people speak out. They go unheard because America doesn’t allow them the same voice. I was given a voice by chance, and it would be shameful not to use it when the Black community needs it the most. 

Upon consulting my editors (all of whom are non-White), I’ve learned that even to them, the phrase “I will never understand” breathes feelings of hopelessness and despair – the very hopelessness I had feared at the beginning of this piece. 

Would I ever undergo what my fellow Black colleagues experience on a near-regular basis? No. Instead, and as it turns out, I actually can understand what it may feel like to be subjugated to discrimination [particularly as a woman].

So I can start somewhere, and trying to understand is paramount.

Day 6 of the Atlanta protests, on June 3. Hagen McMenemy | Avant-Youth
On day 6 of the Atlanta protests, protesters and supporters alike kneel out of respect for the dead at Piedmont Park. Hagen McMenemy | Avant-Youth

I encourage my White friends and strangers to speak up as well, to allow yourselves to feel the level of empathy required to change the world. We were dealt the hand of comfortability. Use it. Or face the fact that your denial, silence and inaction is costing the Black community its freedom. 

Start by looking inward. Confront your own biases, the stereotypes that keep us as a society from progressing towards equality. Ask yourself why you believe some of the stereotypes you hear about Black people. Talk to people who are different from you. Be curious, ask questions and allow them to change your mind. Then, change the minds of those around you, even if you piss them off or cause discomfort. 

I also encourage you to donate, sign petitions, support Black businesses and contribute however you can during this time. There are many resources online, and countless social media posts suggesting ways to give aid — with or without money. Black America needs more than just your words. It needs your action. 

To my Black readers, strangers and friends, know that I am with you. You are seen by me, you are heard by me and you are loved by me. Black lives matter. Your life matters, and I am your ally in the fight towards equality.

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Emma Kenfield

Emma Kenfield

Emma Kenfield is an eager young writer with a taste for the unusual and a passion for the truth. She is currently a junior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, studying media and journalism. She reads and writes poetry in her free time, collects Elvis Presley memorabilia and describes her aesthetic as “grandma-chic.” After working as a reporter for a few years, Kenfield wants to become a lawyer, practicing media and First Amendment law.

1 Comment

Day-to-Day coverage of the Black Lives Matter Protests in Atlanta | Avant-Youth · June 16, 2020 at 6:26 pm

[…] Given our stance within the larger issue at hand, we’ve been hitting the streets every day to capture the movement at its highest. From May 30 to June 8 (when Governor Kemp pulled the National Guard), we captured the protests progression, as well as the sentiment of the people. […]

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