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Opinion

A Message to My White Friends: Please Use Your Outside Voices!

An Influencer in Aging's call to action on racial injustice

By Raymond A. Jetson

Over the past year, as the country has vacillated between expressions of division and hatred, I have received a number of text messages, social media messages and phone calls from people I would like to believe are friends. They also happen to be white.

In a recent conversation, one of these friends told me she was amazed that anyone could look into the cold stare of police officer Derek Chauvin as he pressed his knee into George Floyd's neck for almost 10 minutes and not believe he was guilty of murder. My friend was using her "inside" voice. In other words, her message was shared — within the context of our friendship. It was not meant to be overheard by others.

I am in search of accomplices, not just allies.

As a child, I was frequently admonished to use the "right" voice depending on where I was and what was being communicated. I confess that I was often guilty of using my "outside" voice — then defined as loud, indiscrete, angry or even exuberant — on the inside.

I wish my friends were guilty of the same transgression. I am in search of accomplices, not just allies.

In a world at risk of being overrun by hatred and emboldened delusions of supremacy, I ask my white friends this: Please use your outside voice. I need you, in a very public way, to tell your family, friends and colleagues the things you say to me in private about racial injustice in America.

Please tell them of the disconcerting similarities between the post-Reconstruction era and today's unfolding playbook. I agree the toxic combination of legislative action coupled with threats of physical violence is but a redo of days gone by. But I am not the one who needs convincing.

Tell them it is not playing the race card to note that armed mass murderers who are not Black, even those who kill police officers, are most often apprehended alive, while unarmed Blacks too frequently end up dead.

Tell them that calling attention to systemic inequity and historical marginalization of whole groups of people is not an attempt to cancel everything and everybody.

Use your outside voice and every communication platform you have in service to truth and equity.

You may have moments of sincere discomfort. I encourage you to lean into it.

Use social media. Speak up at work, at business gatherings, in your faith communities, on the golf course and after Sunday services.

Be intentional in your efforts and consistent in your delivery.

I know you may have a hard time telling hard truths in an outside voice. You may have moments of sincere discomfort. I encourage you to lean into it.

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The discomfort you experience will pale in comparison to the discomfort of being a Black male raising a Black son in a world more like the one I grew up in than the one I hoped he would live in.

My friends, you should know I don't use the word "friend" lightly. You are my friends because you are fair, respectful, reasoned and caring. I value our friendship. But I value principles of dignity, equity and the well-being of all people even more.

I have heard your thoughtful reflections in hushed tones. Now is the time for others to hear you loud and clear.

Raymond Jetson
Raymond A. Jetson, a Next Avenue Influencer in Aging and former Louisiana state legislator, heads the Baton Rouge, La. nonprofit MetroMorphosis. He is a board member at Encore.org, a national group bridging generational divides. Read More
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