“People aren’t racist anymore” said the naive 17 year old white girl. Her friend let out a hearty laugh, while patting her on the shoulder. Then he leaned in and began to tell stories of his life before he moved here to Oregon. Stories that were unfathomable. Young black boys, his friends, getting beat up for no other reason that the color of their skin. My eyes were opened, but I still wanted to believe that we’re all good. I probably mumbled something like, “Well…maybe only in the south people are racists.”
Years later I read Uncle Tom’s Cabin. I can no longer remember passages from it, but I remember how sick I felt the entire time I read the book. I would read it before bed and cry in my sleep. I highly recommend you read it, just not right before bed. During that same time I picked up an innocent looking picture book to read to Christopher. I think he was about 5. It’s called “Who Owns the Sun”. It’s about a young boy realizing that while the sun, moon, and stars cannot be owned by anyone, that humans can.
I don’t know if violent crimes stemming from racism is happening more or if I’m just noticing more. Perhaps it’s the advent of social media that can broadcast injustices quicker than a flash of lightening.
I do know that I’m concerned.
I have many white friends who have adopted black children. I’m beginning to wonder if they’ve prepared their children for the racism they’ll face. Do they tell them to not walk with their heads down and wear baggy clothes because it could cost your life. A young friend was here today and said he was going down to the bar to watch the football game. I didn’t realize I was concerned about his safety until he came back a couple hours later and I felt relief. I do know that some of my friend will teach their black children these things. I’ve seen them post blogs about it. I read them and I feel confused.
I get that it’s still happening, but I don’t understand it. I don’t understand why and I don’t understand why it hasn’t stopped.
Today is Martin Luther King Jr. day.
My younger kids spent the last week or so learning about him. My daughter recites lines from a play; she’s so proud that she memorized those lines. I can barely hear her because in my head I’m screaming, “This isn’t a cute play. This is life and death. You don’t understand what this means!”
Then I remember that I don’t understand what it means, either. Not really. I, and my children, have this thing called “white privilege”. It’s the thing that we’re born with. We won’t ever be followed around in a store and deemed “unworthy” of the store because of our color. If I’m driving a nice car, I won’t be followed just because I’m black.
I didn’t even know what white privilege is until I watched the following video, please take the 4 minutes to watch the video.
A couple months back I picked up a book off my shelf to read. I remember just perusing the shelves and grabbing a book thinking, “Oh, this’ll be a nice read.” It was a book by Maya Angelou called “The Heart of the Woman”. I had no idea that it was about her life during the Civil Rights movement. She met both Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. She entertained Billie Holiday in her home and was even chastised by her for letting her son wear pants with holes in them even if he was just going outside to do yard work. She told Maya that they always needed to look their best no matter what they were doing.
I don’t know what to say. I don’t think I am expressing what I want to on this subject.
You know what scared me when reading the Maya Angelou book? I wondered if I would’ve been like many other white people. Would I be driven by fear of the evil black people walking down the street? Would I forbid my children to be friends with them? Would I let myself be entertained by them, but not sit next to them on the bus? Let them clean my toilet, but not use it?
I felt guilt for what I may have been like.
Today I read a blog over at Daily Kos about what Martin Luther King Jr. really did for the black people. When the author was a young boy he challenged his father by asking what Martin Luther King Jr accomplish over what Malcolm X. He talks of being taught how to walk down the street properly when a white woman is also walking down the street. I recommend reading the the article HERE.
I am still left with questions and thoughts like:
- what can I do to make a difference?
- who do I go to if one of my black friends is hurt by someone in authority?
- how do I teach my children how fortunate they are and what to do with their white privilege
- one of my very best friends is a black man, I wonder what he sees or instinctively thinks about when we go out in public together?
- am I a racist? I think of that. When I worked in customer service and I’d come across a name or hear a voice over the phone I’d create a picture of that person in my mind. Whenever I created a black person I wondered if I were a racist. I never thought of that if I created a white person.
- I’ll say it again, what can I do to make it better? Where does the change come? And how?
You can say that we’re better because we have a black president. Can the mother of a young educated black man who was shot to death while banging on the door of white woman seeking help say the same thing? He had just been in a car wreck. Without being questioned he was shot in the back by a police officer.
I’ll conclude this post with this:
As you listen to Billie Holiday sing Strange Fruit go peruse photos of lynching printed on postcards to send to your friends. The project is called Without Sanctuary.