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Voices on the Path: Kevin Lawver 

'Asking people who are already suffering and in pain is an insult to centuries of injury. Have enough respect to do your own research first.'

click to enlarge Kevin Lawver recommends The Cooking Gene, A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South by Michael Twitty
  • Kevin Lawver recommends The Cooking Gene, A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South by Michael Twitty

KEVIN LAWVER moved to Savannah in 2008, and that is when he began his journey to educate himself on issues of social and racial justice.  

Kevin’s daughter attends Georgia Tech, and his son is a student at Savannah Arts Academy. 

Kevin and his wife, Jennifer, have been married for 22 years and they are both change-makers in our community.  

Kevin serves on the Board of Directors at Susie King Taylor Community School, and he is the Cofounder & Director of TechSAV, CTO at Planted.

Why does it matter that white people educate themselves? 

When your neighbors are hurting and asking you for help, you listen, and then do what you can to help. We don’t know our own history, and that’s not our fault, because we weren’t taught it in school.

Black people have suffered in this country since before its founding, up through the abolition of slavery, to Jim Crow and now through the prison pipeline and discriminatory practices at all levels of government and business.

Our denial and refusal to accept that these systems existed and still exist is complicity. Our comfort is not worth the continued destruction of our neighbors. It’s just time to stop denying our history and accept our role in fixing it. 

Why should white people not ask black people to help them learn how to not be racist? 

Because they’ve already done the work, and they don’t owe it to us to redo it. We’re the ones catching up, and we should do everything we can to catch up before we ask.

All of the information about how to move from racism and prejudice into anti-racism work has already been written. Asking people who are already suffering and in pain is an insult to centuries of injury. Have enough respect to do your own research first.

What do you say to “all lives matter” folks?

Saying “save the whales” doesn’t mean no one cares about the rest of the life in the ocean. Saying “cancer sucks” doesn’t mean that Alzheimer’s doesn’t also suck.

Black lives are under threat every day, in ways that we white people will never fully understand. “Black Lives Matters” is a plea in three little words, to recognize that threat, that pain, and the history that our country has proven over and over again that Black lives don’t matter enough.

It is asking us only to value our entire community as full and equal citizens and join with them to make the changes to the systems that keep them down. That is literally it. Saying “all lives matter” feels like a reflex, because accepting the truth of the plea exposes that we don’t actually value Black lives, which is the entire problem. 

What are some of your favorite resources that white folks can use to become better people? 

I can only share what’s worked for me, but the thing that really opened my eyes was Unpacking The Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh. It's a masterful explanation of how privilege works and how I lived with it my entire life without realizing it.

After I started acknowledging my privilege (both male and white), and that it wasn’t my fault that I had it, I was really able to get going. Local awesome person Monifa Johnson gave me my next big revelation when she recommended Understanding and Dismantling Racism by Joseph Barndt. It’s not particularly long, and is a fantastic way to learn the history of the systems that perpetuate racism, and the difference between personal prejudice, racism and how to move past my guilt of being an “unwitting accomplice” in those systems for so long and into action to make things better. 

After that, I’d highly recommend, How to Be Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi. Once I accepted my privilege and had my definitions, this book was a great way to think about how we move towards change. 

Sprinkling in history and black voices from the past has helped me understand the scope and history of the problem and that I’m not alone on this road. This struggle has been going on for centuries and will take far beyond my lifetime to win. Reading The Half Has Never Been Told by Edward E. Baptist is a great overview of the history of slavery in the US, its origins and how it spread.

Susie King Taylor, W.E.B. DuBois, James Baldwin, and Fannie Lou Hamer are all worth reading and researching. The documentary I Am Not Your Negro is a great introduction to Mr. Baldwin. Susie King Taylor’s autobiography has a lot of local history in it, and is a first-hand account of a truly unique and amazing woman. If you need a lighter and funnier introduction, How to Be Black by Baratunde Thurston is a great collection of essays and humor about the black experience. 

There will be voices that don’t hit you. Keep trying. Maybe Ta Nahisi Coates is better for you, or Audre Lorde, or Roxanne Gay. You will find someone who writes in a way that profoundly reaches you. 

Locally, I’d pay close attention to what The Deep Center is doing. 

What is the most important thing that white folks can do at this time? 

Stop. Listen. Be quiet and sit with your feelings. If you’re angry, really consider what you’re angry about. If you’re offended, sit with that offense and examine it. What are you offended about? Maybe it’s not offense but guilt and shame? 

It took me longer than I’d like to admit, measured in years, to accept my male and white privilege and to commit to educating myself, filling in the gaps where my education, curiosity and society failed me. There was a lot of shame and guilt. If that’s where you are now, please don’t stop. Don’t look away from it because it’s easier in the moment. I swear it gets better, because IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT that you were raised in this system and that you didn’t know. Accept that you didn’t know. Accept that you know now and commit to doing better in the future.  

Whatever you do, just keep trying to get better. Listen to more voices. Show up to things. Sit in the back and just listen. Keep learning, and unlearning. Be willing to be wrong, be corrected with grace, and improve.

I’m just getting started down this path, but there are people ahead of me on it who graciously reached back to help. When you meet those people, accept their hand and walk with them. 

We have to get beyond the idea that racism is one on one prejudice. It’s in the systems all around us. We have to commit to reforming those systems to make a more just and equitable world. In the words of Fannie Lou Hamer: “Ain’t nobody free till everybody is free.” 

Is there anything else that you want to add? 

There’s an instinct to create new things in times like these, and as a white man, it’s also been drilled into my head from birth that I should lead those things. Please fight that instinct. The work is ongoing and we are late. We need to show up for our neighbors and help where they tell us they need us to help. Let’s start there.

cs
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Kristy Edenfield

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