The other day I read an account of a Professor stopped for questioning by the police. By the time I’d finished reading his account, I was weeping–out of frustration, helplessness, but mostly out of plain sorrow. The kind of exhausted sorrow that sits on your chest like a hippopotamus with nowhere to go.
I’m all out of explanation and I’m almost out of words. I’m not sure adding more words onto the pile that has already been written is prudent or worthwhile. It’s not enough to simply say, I am sorry.
So I will say this: I see you.
To my fellow Americans, I see you. I see how you and your lives continue to be judged by the color of your skin. I see you are held to a different standard. I see that some white people think you feel less pain, or don’t work hard enough, that you aren’t as deserving, or that you choices led to a life of less than. I see that your achievements are attributed to something other than merit. I see the assumptions people make about your experiences. I see that it is often negative before it is positive.
The police stopped this man, this Professor, because he matched the description of someone they were looking for. Except he didn’t. Not really. His skin matched the description.
And here’s the harsh truth: While many people read that and thought Oh, that poor man, there were plenty who were thinking Oh, that poor man, but….. it was a black man who may have committed a crime so I can understand why the police stopped him.
That is the justification that white people make. That is the momentary twinge of apology buried under a few hundred years worth of prejudice and denial.
I hear that no matter how eloquently you speak or how bluntly you yell, you are still told you’re wrong. I hear that despite taking the high road for three hundred years, you are still ignored, shut down, shut up. I see that people are busy trying to erase your narrative, to steal your stories from history. I see that no matter what you do to shine a spotlight on injustices you are told you are wrong, un-American, greedy, don’t know how good you really have it.
It’s impossible to write this as a white woman and not sound ridiculous. And I’m not writing to legitimize your experience or lend validity to it. That is pouring vinegary insult on an open, gaping wound. I’m not here to give advice or voice to your pain.
I’m here to tell you I will tell my children what it means to be white.
What’s it like to be white? I don’t worry about my sons being shot because they’re playing with toy guns or being pulled over for driving a car that looks too expensive. Statistically, my kids are going to grow up a-ok. White, educated, middle class boys. If they screw it up, it will be because of choices they make, not because of the choices absent to them.
What is it like to be white? I am protected. I can navigate the system. I can get a mortgage, a job interview. My name, my hairstyle, the type of clothes I wear–none of those are likely to trigger a negative response. I can rent an apartment, walk through a store, turn to the police for help. All these things I have done my whole life without being aware of doing.
That is being white. Walking, running, hell–skipping through life without thought to all of that.
I won’t make excuses because there are none. Ignorance, hatred, bias, fear. Whatever. They’re meaningless words. More justification, excuses, more willing suspension of disbelief.
I see there are some who want to shove what you have to say under the rug, make excuses, deny. I see there are some who want you to go away, cease to exist, die–just because your skin is darker than theirs or mine. That is when my words fail.
But yours don’t. Don’t let them.
I see you.
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Yes, yes, and yes. We must think about these issues. As Secretary Clinton said on Monday night, we all have to consider the implicit bias we carry with us.
Just this past Sunday my most treasured Sunday School volunteer, who is helping me implement a year of work for 5th and 6th graders on bias, discrimination, and justice, said she needed to give me a warning. She thinks we have some kids (and, I think some teacher helpers) who will not be ready recognize or accept the concept of discrimination, bias, and inequity, based on what she’s seen in her initial lessons this year. She wanted to double check that I’m willing to open some eyes and minds and take a good hard look at what some consider controversial subjects. I told her in no uncertain terms that’s exactly what we’re here for, and she should go full steam ahead. If our kids aren’t getting this kind of awakening at home, I’m damn well going to make sure they get it in church.
My heart is broken just as yours is. This part of my job is one way I can help work for change.
You are doing wonderfully. Speaking with a friend today, who is very much like me in thinking and spirit, we both admitted how much more we should be doing with our own kids. And to be honest, I think we’re probably ahead of the game in terms of what most people do anyway–but there is so much more we can do. So I’ve made it a priority to talk to my kids about race (I’ve been kind of hyper focused on gender…) more. I don’t want them to have sympathy. I want them to be angry enough to want to change things. You are doing good, important work. Keep it up.
Yep, things must change. The denial of a problem is what confuses me. Trump’s solution? More police…hmmm… I’m a huge fan of Bryan Stevenson. His book, Just Mercy, is a great read. His TED talk is really convicting. Of course the idiots who fly a confederate flag at their house, a house I drive by each day to work, aren’t going to be reading anything other than “Mein Kampf”…that is if they can read. “Make America Great Again” is really a dog whistle for any racist who wants to make America white again.
The arc of history bends toward justice, but that arc doesn’t have to be so long, does it?
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Wait…Confederate flags in the Pac NW? Really? Is that a thing? It makes me sorrowful that may be a thing. The last sentence of your comment is lovely and so true. Indeed–why does it have to be so long?
Yep, they claim it’s a heritage thing…sure it is. I wrote a short story about a guy who steals a neighbor’s Confederate flag and things do go as planned.
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Reading your posts. I’ll say it again: I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE reading them! Inspiring and truthful. Written from the heart. You’ve touched my heart.