Hey there, awesome readers!
I’m not going to lie to you. I knew when I sat down to write this piece that it wasn’t going to be easy. What the hell do I know about racism? I’m a white woman living in what’s called a white supremist world. Something I don’t quite understand and yet I know enough to recognize that there’s something wrong here. Something very, very wrong. And to be quite frank, I wasn’t even aware that racism “still exists” until recently.
This was my wake-up call …
I woke up one morning and while standing in the kitchen waiting for the coffee to brew, I was scrolling through Instagram on my phone. That’s when I noticed the blackout posts with the words Black Lives Matter and RIP George Floyd plastered everywhere.
My first thought: OF COURSE, Black lives matter. ALL lives matter.
My second thought: Who is George Floyd?
And then I watched the video. The heartbreaking video of a man begging for his breath … for his life … for compassion … while a police officer pinned him down with three others watching.
Cause of death? The color of his skin.
And yet, the more I became aware of the crap that goes on in our “civilized world”, the more I realized that I really know nothing about racism. And THAT, I thought, is where I need to start.
Like many people, I have never considered myself to be racist. And yet I think back to that time when one of my best friends, a black man, and his white girlfriend announced that they were pregnant. My reaction? “Mixed babies are the cutest!”
With a sincere heart I ask: Was that racism?
And go back to the question: What do I know about racism except that it exists all around us. For some, it lurks like a shadow in the background. You see it in news stories and on Facebook posts, but it never really touches “you”. For others, the shadow is thick as gumshoe and worn heavy as innocence dipped in tar.
I want to say something to show my support of ALL races. I want to say something that talks about my disgust for what happened to George Floyd. I want to make a list of all the people I’ve learned about in these last few weeks that have suffered at the fouled hands and intentions of racism. And yet I’m afraid to say the wrong thing. I want to say that I love ALL people … that I don’t even see color. But then I read articles about how THAT’S racism. “If you don’t see my color, you don’t see me.”
For a white woman, this is all so very confusing. It’s like wanting to take a step … a stand … yet feeling paralyzed for the toes I may step on; for the feelings I may hurt; for the racial comments that may come out of my mouth. Unintentional, and even oblivious to my own words. Words that could be so very hurtful to others. Do I say nothing? Is saying nothing a form of accepting – even excusing – the wrong that’s in this world?
And so, I did what any confused writer does when they want to write about something but aren’t sure how to go about it: I reached out to others and asked them what their thoughts are on this.
I spoke to a friend who is originally from West Africa. He is black. I mention this because it occurs to me that the color of his skin shouldn’t be obvious just because of where he’s from. Usually a very happy and optimistic person, I could tell by the weight of his voice that this was a topic that he has experience with. I could actually “feel” his relationship with racism.
“I honestly don’t know if there’s a right or wrong way to talk about racism. But I think that a person has to be genuinely interested in wanting to understand it.”
His response to my question: How – as a white person – do I know what the right thing to say is?
Then I spoke to a young black man who, thank goodness, has never experienced racism. Perhaps because of his age or where he lives, racism is not a part of his day-to-day.
I spoke with people I’ve known for years and who confessed to living with racism every day, yet never speak about it. I had no idea.
I spoke with a woman who reminded me of a proverb: I am you. You are me.
And then she followed up with a sad truth. “Unfortunately, we’re not there yet and some people will never want us to get there.”
Lastly, I spoke to my youngest daughter about this and her insight was posed as a question:
“Mom, do you know how many races there are?”
“I really don’t know,” I answered. “Perhaps thousands?”
“One,” she said. “The HUMAN race.”
And this made me realize that maybe the reason why I don’t have the answer to my question (What do I know about racism?) is because I’m focusing on the wrong question. Perhaps the real question shouldn’t be, “what do I know?” but rather, “what do I see?”
When I look at others, am I seeing an individual, or am I seeing a race?
As I ask the question, I’m realizing that it’s one that needs to be answered every single day, every single time I see another human being. Until finally it becomes a habit to see people with my heart, instead of with my eyes.
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