I’M white. I write for a paper largely written by white people, for a predominantly white audience in a country that is systematically white. Whichever way you come at it, this is privilege. Being born white in a white society is an asset that makes every area of my life easier by default. I know that as a white person I can write under this title, publish my work without struggle, and not be seen as angry or as that reflecting negatively on my race. Today, I’m using this position to start talking about that.

I’ve wanted to write about it for a while, but I’ve chickened out. Honestly? I don’t want to screw up. I don’t want to offend. I don’t want to disappoint people by saying the wrong thing. I don’t have the lexicon borne of politics, sociology, economics, history or life experience to add to the subject easily. There’s no way to employ the reflexive grace or grit I usually try to without a second thought. The world doesn’t need more white noise.

But I know this nervous self-censorship is a crap excuse for not talking about important things. I have a voice in the media, and with that, a responsibility. If the media only talks about race in extremes – handling it with kids gloves whenever someone dies or uses lazy language to ratify a stereotype – then the media is not democratic. It does not serve all people. Visual, recognizable racism isn’t the only kind. Failure to engage with black discourse, or to use our privilege to elevate it, is something many of us are guilty of.

That’s why I want to talk about Lemonade. This week Beyoncé released a visual exploration of black womanhood and systemic injustice. In particular, black womanhood in the southern US. Because it was Beyoncé, the world stopped and listened. But because it was Beyoncé, an icon with such reach – particularly among white people – many denounced it, opined about its irrelevance or dismissed it as pop fluff. The majority of the dismissal I’ve seen has come from white men (see: Piers Morgan). The fact that this album is borne from experience diametrically opposed to theirs is precisely why they should listen. You can’t shake your world view unless you expose yourself to someone else’s. Someone who isn’t like you.

Lemonade has occupied my thoughts for a week now. I’ve watched it over and over, absorbing the language, the stories, the women, and reading every bit of commentary I could find. Not being a black woman, I know it’s not mine. I can’t claim to see myself or my experience in it; this testimony to the experiences of black womanhood, so I’ll spare the one-dimensional white analysis of something I don’t and never will understand. It’s not my position to steamroll this conversation when so many other voices have far more necessary things to say.

But I will use it as a mirror: why has it taken a music video to make me publicly bear witness to the injustice and discrimination the black community has faced and continues to face? Why has it taken Lemonade to make me determined to be a sincere ally? Why do I enjoy a black culture, and the fruits of it, but have spent my life ignorant to the experience that shapes that identity? How often have I have enjoyed black womanhood, but not celebrated it?

I’ve been thinking about these questions since my daughter asked what the album is about, and why I was listening to it on repeat. Trying to distil cultural testimony into language a pre-teen can appreciate has been a wake-up call.

To understand how the power structures of a white society affect others, we need to listen to the voices that aren’t white.

How often do we do that?

It’s not enough to not be racist on a personal level. With my passivity, I’ve been adding to this oppression. Which is why I’m determined to become a better ally.

I know becoming a genuine ally is something that needs a lot of work beyond listening to an album. It needs constant re-examination of living in a society that systematically puts my voice above those of people of colour. It will require actively bringing discussion of racial iniquities into white spaces, and knowing when adding my voice is a hindrance. I can’t just enjoy the music without following it up.

White people have work to do in the fight against racism, and it starts with learning what that means beyond calling out the obvious instances. As a feminist, I need to be aware of when the distinction of black voices and experience are lost under the umbrella of intersectionality.

This is very much a journey, and one that I’m starting out knowing pretty much nothing. So I’m exploring Warsan Shire’s poetry. I’m thinking about Michaela DePrince, and what it’s like to be a black ballerina in an industry that valorises white beauty standards. I’m reflecting on how many times Serena Williams’ successes have been shadowed by body shaming. I’m reflecting on the pincer grasp of misogyny and racism. I’m delving deeper into Black Lives Matter, finding out more about Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, and the language used to tell their stories.

It’s time we all rejected the good kid/bad guy narratives that simplify black stories in white media, and how this prevents us seeing others as fully human.

We should think about how passively we consume black culture, and the diversity of the experience behind that label.

We should seek out voices that challenge our perspectives, and bring them into our lives. Lemonade can be a catalyst for us all: to listen and to learn.

It’s a beautiful album – musically, poetically, and socially. One that transcends the expectation of pop music to be unchallenging. As a white person, the best service I can do to Lemonade, and what it represents, is to engage with the voices that surround it. I’m thankful that every time I’ll listen, I’ll be reminded there’s work to do. I’ve lived my life already at the door – I need to hold it open.