But Some of Us are Brave: Amber Jekot

(This post is one in a series on race titled But Some of Us Are Brave.” The series includes posts from a diverse group of writers from our community. It takes a considerable amount of transparency and vulnerability for the contributors to this series to pen these posts and voice their experiences. We appreciate their courage, and we hope their willingness to be brave will spark some authentic community conversation on this sensitive and important topic. We hope you will read these posts thoughtfully and join the conversation by responding honestly and respectfully, and by sharing them with your friends and acquaintances. — ABT )

A Movement towards Color-Sightedness

My name is Amber Jekot and I’m a recovering racist. I say recovering because I confess that I have not arrived. I say recovering because I’m working towards becoming more conscious of an experience that is not, nor will ever be my own. I both admit and commit to the ongoing journey towards race consciousness, a journey that, like Lucas Land and Kelsey Miller before rightly articulated, begins with submitting myself to the position of a student. I am indebted to the friends, professors, and community members of color who have been patient enough to teach me, a patience that must have, at times, been painful.

I know something of being misunderstood, just as everyone does. Being misunderstood, misrepresented, victim to false assumptions. Yes, these are experiences common to us all, and I don’t know about you, but I can’t stand being misrepresented. I am careful to articulate my words so that my intentions are communicated in such a way that others can understand.   I present myself professionally because, let’s be honest, my size isn’t proportional to my age. I choose prudently those with whom I share my pain because there is nothing worse than baring your heart to someone who doesn’t validate your experience. I can remember the emotions evoked during such times, blood rushing to my face, exasperation rising in my lungs, and the resulting inability to articulate a retort due to the magnitude of my frustration: “How can you discount something just because it was not your experience?”

Well, the things that bother us most about other people generally have their basis in what we lack within ourselves, a frustrating reality indeed. One of the lessons I have learned in my personal journey toward becoming more conscious of racism was the debunking of the colorblind myth, a lesson for which I have Dr. Sanders to thank.

Dr. Sanders, a black man whose height can only be described as tremendous, came to talk to a group of students, myself included, whose understanding of race was as small as our comparative statures. Dr. Sanders shared that while generally well-meaning, the following and often-used statement is offensive to him: “I don’t see you as a black man, I just see you as a man.” Upon first glance, perhaps this statement does seem innocent. It did for me. I scooted up in my chair with curiosity, and quizzically listened as Dr. Sanders continued: “That statement is a ridiculous as you saying to me, Alvin, I don’t see you as a tall man, I just see you as a man.” He paused, giving us the time to take in his height, and then he continued, “Are you all seriously going to tell me that you don’t see my height?”

standing in waterHe went on to explain that when people choose to not see color, it often feels like people are also choosing to not see the effects that racism has on people of color. There is something about largeness that people are comfortable with; there is something about blackness that causes us to pause. Our culture doesn’t claim mottos such as size-blindedness, but claims colorblindness, a reality that divulges a discomfort implicit in the mention of race.

In claiming colorblindness it often seems that we are neglecting to acknowledge the impact of color, neglecting to acknowledge realties such as these:

People of color are overrepresented in the US penal system for illicit drug use despite the fact that “Data on illicit drug use collected by the Health and Human Services Commission has consistently shown over time that whites, African Americans, and Latinos use drugs at roughly comparable rates” (Mauer & McCalmont, 2013, p. 6; Stevenson, 2014; Alexander, 2011).

According to the CDC, “The infant mortality rate among African Americans is 2.3 times that of non-Hispanic whites.” Additionally, African American infants are 4 times more likely than non-Hispanic white infants to die due to complications related to low birthweight.”

Perhaps such a reality feels too heavy to hold. Perhaps colorblindness is our way of saying “this can’t be so”— well meaning but vision-impaired.

When I read books like Just Mercy or the New Jim Crow, books that detail breaches of justice in the US penal system, I find myself having to put these books down because the reality feels like “too much” for the present moment. When I find myself overwhelmed by stories my friends of color share with me about implicit or explicit racism, I have to “escape” from my thoughts because I can’t imagine that anyone could treat my friends with such disdain. The pain, which feels overwhelming for me, is something that I, as a white, middleclass woman, can choose to pick up and put down, to look at or keep my eyes closed. That is privilege.

solidarityPerhaps those who are the most brave are the men and women of color who have boldly continued to share their experiences despite my own and others invalidating responses. To you, the brave, please keep speaking. The journey of the color-blind and color-sighted are indebted to your vulnerability. To those who are on the journey, however far along you are, or if perhaps you’re ready to begin the journey: let’s commit together. Instead of falling prey to white guilt, let us instead capitalize on this energy and direct it towards forward momentum. Let us speak alongside our brothers and sisters of color because this burden becomes lighter when we see and speak together.   Solidarity, a good friend recently shared, means that no one or no group should have to stand alone.

amber jekotToday’s Act Locally Waco blog post is by Amber Jekot. Amber is an 8-year Waco resident who works as a graduate assistant at the Texas Hunger Initiative. She is finishing a masters of social work at Baylor University and a masters of divinity at Truett Seminary. She is passionate about the intersection between food, justice, and community and has been known to take trains without knowing her destination. You may contact her via email at [email protected].


Alexander, M. (2011). The new Jim Crow: mass incarceration in the age of colorblindness    (revised ed., p. 1). New York: New Press.

Fact Sheet: Health Disparities in Health Insurance Coverage. (2011). Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/minorityhealth/reports/CHDIR11/FactSheets/Insurance.pdf

Mauer, M., & McCalmont, V. (2013). A Lifetime of Punishment: The Impact of the                Felony Drug Ban on Welfare Benefits. Retrieved from                      http://sentencingproject.org/doc/publicationscc_A%20Lifetime%20Punishment.pdf

Stevenson, B. (2014). Just mercy: a story of justice and redemption (p. 1). New York: Spiegel & Grau.


But Some of Us are Brave: Kelsey Miller

(This post is one in a series on race titled But Some of Us Are Brave.” The series includes posts from a diverse group of writers from our community. It takes a considerable amount of transparency and vulnerability for the contributors to this series to pen these posts and voice their experiences. We appreciate their courage, and we hope their willingness to be brave will spark some authentic community conversation on this sensitive and important topic. We hope you will read these posts thoughtfully and join the conversation by responding honestly and respectfully, and by sharing them with your friends and acquaintances. — ABT )

By Kelsey Miller

I want to recognize the great work Lucas did in his post in this series by echoing his confession: I am racist. We all are. I say this in a spirit of deep repentance, which is where any truthful conversation about race must begin. This beginning also protects us from the dangerous temptation to think that we will somehow transform our culture into a utopia where we will each transcend racism and become color-blind. Better instead to accept and find meaning in the challenge of the work of un-packing our own biases, conscious and subconscious. That is good and fruitful work that we might all dive into together for a lifetime.

I grew up outside Chicago in a very white, very privileged suburb. It was not until I moved to Texas that I first heard a blatantly racist comment, spoken by one white person to another. The naïve temptation in that moment was to believe that somehow, the more highly evolved North was devoid of racism, while the South is filled with it. With more exposure, I soon learned that racism is not a geographical problem or cultural problem; it’s a human problem. Still, in the last few years that I’ve lived in Texas, I am sobered by the number of times I can recall where I said nothing in reply to both explicitly and implicitly racist comments.

One tool that has helped me to analyze some of these comments and attitudes, and to continue questioning my own stereotypes and biases, is to read books and articles by African American authors who are critically engaging issues of race, power, and privilege in our culture. I am deep into Bryan Stevenson’s new book Just Mercy, and I believe his prophetic witness to the deep brokenness in our criminal justice system in the form of racial and socioeconomic disproportionality is changing me permanently.

Stevenson writes, “Today we have the highest rate of incarceration in the world. The prison population has increased from 300,000 people in the early 1970s to 2.3 million people today…One in every fifteen people born in the United States in 2001 is expected to go to jail or prison; one in every three black male babies born in this century is expected to be incarcerated.”

Stevenson goes on, “Some states permanently strip people with criminal convictions of the right to vote; as a result, in several Southern states disenfranchisement among African American men has reached levels unseen since before the Voting Rights Act of 1965.”

If you did not already know this, does it surprise you? I am shocked by the statistics and stories Stevenson shares in this book. Stories of systemized violence against people of color, of intentional legal misrepresentation of African American clients, of scores and scores of laws in our country that are less than 50 years dead that routinized and systemized the inferior status and treatment of people of color. I can own up to the fact that it is a privilege to be shocked, but I hope never to stop there. It is only when you and I use that shock to fuel us to keep reading, to keep listening, and to keep having the hard conversations that it becomes truly valuable.

Stevenson’s work has empowered me to engage more critically and respond more vocally to daily instances and examples of the dangerously disproportionate systems he unpacks. For white people, this means first confessing our own participation in racism, even if we think it only happens inside our own heads, and then resisting the urge to remain silent when other white people make openly or implicitly racist remarks. I used to think that it wasn’t worth risking a relationship or upsetting a temporary calm to call out wrong when I heard it. And I doubted my own strength, or that a few comments from me on the destructive nature of racism could be effective. How often do I tell myself that lie? That people can’t change or won’t understand, and it’s better for me to just be quiet?

Perhaps the more sobering question is this: is false harmony more valuable than the everyday pursuit of equality and justice?

A switch flipped when I realized that I can choose to either sell out people of color by refusing to openly condemn racism when I see it in action, or I can summon the courage to say something when it would be easier to be quiet. I’ll admit that this understanding of “bravery” is really lame and cheap in the wake of protestors who took to the streets of Selma, the bus boycotters who endured beatings and abuses, the unjustly tried and accused who faced all-white juries presented with zero evidence, followers of Dr. King and Malcolm X who were willing to give their all so that they might be heard, and so many more. Still, my voice is what I have, and speaking up is one thing I can do. So rather than be immobilized by the weight of my privilege and frustration, I can choose to say something. I can decide that false harmony is not more valuable than the everyday pursuit of equality and justice. I can risk the hurt feelings or shock of neighbors, colleagues, family, and friends when I tell them that comment they just made was NOT ok (and why).

And, since I started this post with a confession, I’ll end it with one: I am pretty terrible at being brave, most especially about a topic as challenging and uncomfortable as racism. But I’m trying, and I’m working on it, and I’m learning from people who are much braver and wiser than I am.

Will you join me? How can we be brave together today?

kelseyKelsey Miller is a Child Hunger Outreach Specialist at Texas Hunger Initiative’s Waco Regional Office. She is passionate about more people gaining access to and education about healthy foods and our food system, and thinks the expertise of those experiencing hunger and poverty should always be our starting point. Kelsey lives with her husband and rambunctious puppy in Waco, and is also pursuing an MSW from Baylor part-time.