Now is the time to right the world’s wrongs

Words matter.
Naming things matters.
How you show up for others matters.
Doing the internal work so you can support the collective work matters.
Taking a break to recharge matters, too.
And as you read this, I hope you already said to yourself: Black Lives Matter.
And Black Trans Lives Matter.

I hope you will keep saying these statements until we need not. More than anything, I hope you are doing what you can when you can to make the change we need to get to a place where Black lives do matter to all.

I’m white and grew up mostly around white people. I’m naming it because it’s important to say. It identifies the privileges I have had, the culture I grew up in that shaped my understanding of the world, the opportunities I was afforded because of it.

It does not take away that I grew up poor, am female, a lesbian and that I deal with the effects of those identities – classism, sexism, homophobia. But it does mean that I have been given the benefit of doubt when others were not. I’ve been supported and encouraged when others were labeled and discouraged.

Examples of white privilege

It’s why when I was 10 and we were kicked out of where we were living and walking down the road with our suitcases, my mom easily accepted a ride from a white, male police officer – who dropped us off at a motel to stay for a couple days.

It’s why when I left school early some Fridays, I could walk past teachers, mostly white, who were guarding the doors for kids who were skipping out. I was the smart, white kid at a mostly Black and brown high school, and so they just waved at me.

It’s why in my last semester of college, when I met with a white, female math professor at the last possible moment, shared what had been a rough few months and told her that I didn’t think I could pass her class – the class I needed to graduate and took pass/fail just to get over the finish line, she passed me by only requiring a passing score on the final.

Throughout my youth and young adulthood, I worked hard, studied, made the best decisions I could and always strived to be a better person. But many of the opportunities I was afforded came from being given the benefit of the doubt and the ability to make mistakes without my life being altered because of them. And many times, these opportunities were afforded to me because I was white.

But where’s the proof?

In sixth grade, we learned about WWII and the Holocaust. I was the outspoken anti-military kid who staunchly opposed the decisions to use the atomic bomb, no matter the argument my teacher or classmates made. The same social studies teacher tried an experiment of separating the class by eye color, telling those with blue and green eyes that scientifically they were smarter by showing us an article as “proof.”

The kids on the blue/green side, “my” side, began saying hurtful things about the brown-eyed kids and exclaiming how they always knew they were smarter and this proved it. I argued with them and eventually picked up my books to walk across the room and slam them down to sit with the brown-eyed kids. I became so upset that the teacher finally told us it was fake.

He intended to keep it going all day to show us how easily we could succumb to rhetoric and false scientific claims – just as during the Holocaust.

Perpetuating stereotypes

People believed that they were better than someone who could be made an “other.” Just like too many are continuing to believe today that some are worthy of love, compassion and the right to life, liberty and happiness and others are not worthy because of “X” thing about them: foreign, gay, transgender, Black, immigrant, refugee, disabled, poor, etc.

Some regularly downplay xenophobic remarks from the leader of our country because it means they can believe the pandemic is the fault of people in another country. But the words he uses matter and it impacts real people’s lives. Hate crimes against Asian Americans and Asian people across the world have risen because of it.

My senior year of high school, I took a rhetoric class with just four others. In the class for “overachievers,” we read works by authors like Thoreau with a new, young, white, male teacher who we all thought was pretty cool. Looking back, I wonder why there were only a handful of us, a class of mostly white kids, when we attended an inner-city high school on the west side of Buffalo, N.Y., that was predominantly Black and Latinx.

There were definitely more than a handful of intelligent, resilient, hard-working Black and brown students at my school. Why were they not in the class with us? From what I remember, the teacher chose who took the class, which challenged us to think beyond what we had been taught in any English class. I wonder if it was lost on him that there were no Black kids in the class? Or maybe he noticed and wanted to be one of those who taught in an inner-city school to “make a difference” and “celebrate diversity” but was too new to have much say yet.

As a high schooler, I was too wrapped up in my own teen drama and difficult circumstances to notice. We had mostly white teachers and because of the wonders of social media, I’ve been able to see one of their posts touting All Lives Matter when they should be repeating Black Lives Matter.

And so it’d be unconscionable of me to think that the disparity between the race of who was teaching and the race of the kids being taught didn’t influence our outcomes greatly.

Internal struggles

I arrived at that high school in 10th grade. It was my seventh school in six years, since we moved at least once a year. I had a single mom raising my sister and me with little support. I had been to different kinds of schools, from country to suburban to urban from a small town in Pennsylvania to all over middle and western New York. I got to see the different ways people interacted and were treated, an interesting perspective to say the least.

I was always the poor, overachieving, smart, sensitive, talkative and closeted redhead. My academic and social hierarchy generally depended on the school I was attending at the time, but I always had straight As and made friends easily.

My most difficult struggles were internal – hiding my crushes on girls as that was “not OK” and feeling shame for being the poor kid eating free lunches. I balanced school clubs, sports and having to work after school and weekends for most of my middle and high school time.

I was lucky enough to graduate valedictorian from a school that had a full scholarship opportunity to an Ivy League university – if you got in. And I got in because the rhetoric class helped with my entrance essay. I made the cut in large part because I was white and was afforded multiple opportunities.

We’re in this together

The words we use matter. The things we say matter. And what we don’t say or do also matters. Our silence about the things that are wrong and unjust matters.

The world is showing what happens when we allow ourselves, our leaders and others to repeat the wrongs of the past, to perpetuate systems that work for the few at the expense of the many, to encourage following without questioning, and to make others less than when we are all equally worthy of life, liberty and happiness.

Will you work to be on the right side of history? Will you acknowledge that taking care of others does not mean that you must suffer? That life is not a game of win or lose, where we must step on the backs of others to get to the finish line? That we need to come together, acknowledge where we have privilege, speak the truth about how we got to where we are and be willing to do what we can to make sure others can succeed too? That if we are afforded the chance to be successful, we should help pull up the person next to us?

We won’t always get it right, but we must keep trying and striving. Our future demands that we act now, speak now, and use our words with intention and thought. We either fail being individuals or we succeed together.

Dorann Zotigh is the board president of the Rainbow Center serving the LGBTQ community in Concord. Send questions and comments to