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.