Racial Distancing, Part 2
So, maybe my last post didn’t resonate with you. Maybe you weren’t able to make the connection between my upbringing and my internal struggle with being black. And maybe you won’t.
But maybe it did.
Maybe you were.
Maybe you want to know more.
So let’s continue…
I read an article titled “8 Tips to Avoid Perpetuating Covert Racism Through Communications,” that breaks down many of the ways that we can begin to create systemic change. It is very basic and by no means, an end-all to the very complex conversations and feelings that surround the topic of systemic racism, but it’s a great start. I’m going to use these eight ways as a thesis for the argument that my parents (because of their own experience with systemic racism) did not prepare me to enter into a world that would always (fair skinned or not) see my color. Let’s start with the first four:
1. Recognize and understand racial privilege.
My step-mother, who I mentioned came from a rural town in Oklahoma, did not recognize or understand her racial privilege. She grew up in a world that was mostly white, so her exposure to cultural issues that affected black people, was almost non-existent. YET, she assumed that her understanding of the world was correct. Albeit, innocently… also dangerously. Because she didn’t (personally) dislike black people (and, in fact, loved a black man and his daughter) she assumed that it was that simple. Just “like” us (or love us) and we’ll forget everything else. Colorblindness was her answer to centuries of social, cultural, and systemic oppression. No.
Her approach to my questions about race and why the world worked the way it did was met with simplistic and often frustrated responses. Responses that were made to shut me down. Not because she didn’t want to answer or because she sought to cover up some truth, but because she didn’t know. And here’s the thing about white privilege… knowing isn’t a requisite. This is why white people often argue from the perspective of innocence (“We didn’t know it was this bad”). They really don’t. It was cast upon them by a power (often) long before they were born. But… it’s not an excuse. And let me tell you why with the use of a metaphor:
It is my responsibility as a citizen who drives, to obtain a license. I must take a written and then a driving course to pass my exam. Now, you may not know this, but not all of the information in the study book is on the written portion of the exam you are presented. AND you’re allowed to get a few wrong. However, if you pass, you are still expected to know the laws that govern driving in your state. AND if you break one of the laws and get caught, even if you weren’t aware of the specifics that attend that law, there is a penalty. Sometimes a ticket, sometimes jail time, sometimes prison time, depending on the offense.
So, White people, even if you don’t know, it’s your responsibility to learn. To educate yourself as if your life (your record, according to the metaphor) depended on it. Especially because you long ago exhausted those three strikes.
Which leads to my next point…
2. Educate yourself
Yourself. Don’t ask me to recommend books to read, movies to watch, or
foundations to donate to. Google works the same for all of us. However, it is your responsibility to educate YOURSELF, so that you can educate your children. Now, I can only speculate, but I think my parents experienced their own hardship with being an interracial couple. I never noticed it, probably because I didn’t know to look for it. But I suspect it just the same. Mostly because the way that this nation has protected itself from the cruel truth, has largely been by denying the existence of that truth. Hence, my parents’ colorblindness.
So, their ignorance became mine.
3. Amplify the voices and experiences of people of color
Now, I hadn’t even considered this until just this moment, but I constantly felt crushed as a child. I didn’t have Cadence’s personality as a kid. She has the personality I possess now because her dad and I do a great (maybe too great? lol) job allowing her voice to be heard. She’s allowed to be “mad, but not be mean” (a quote we often use), we encourage her to be a “good listener” and a “good friend” and to have a “good day or a bad day”. We empower her to self-regulate and make good choices. We AMPLIFY her voice and experience.
As a kid, I was grounded A LOT. Friends and family have asked me as an adult why I was always in trouble. And honestly, I had a mouth on me. If I wasn’t talking in class, I was talking back to my parents. Because I never felt heard. It was often worth it to get the last word and be smacked in the mouth or sent to my room, just so that I could exert some of my autonomy. In some ways, the way that they handled me, made me feel enslaved. It made me resentful. It made me afraid of my power and it took me many many years to find a voice that was kind AND loving. Much of my voiced feelings came out with anger and defensiveness because I didn’t trust that I would be heard. This same mentality is what you’re experiencing with marches and the burning of entire towns. When you crush a spirit for so long, when you have ingrained inferiority in their daily existence, when you have shut them up for so long, they feel that they have nothing else to lose.
4. Develop interpersonal relationships that help maintain accountability
To understand the depth of social oppression, you must also begin to listen and empathize with the people who experience it. This is uncomfortable. Trust me, some of us (me, I’m us) feel that discomfort too. I have been given, for the first time in my life, a real platform to voice many of the concerns I’ve felt for all my life. I am finally able to iterate it intellectually and speak out boldly. But it does not make it comfortable. In fact, because of the way I was raised, I’m often afraid that I’m being or doing too much. My knee-jerk reaction is to apologize profusely before I even get to my point. And the point is: I’M FUCKING ANGRY. Imagine… for a moment… someone apologizing profusely for their very valid anger. I’ve legitimately considered typing out a disclaimer to protect my parents because I love them so much and I’m thankful that they gave me enough of what I needed to get here. I do believe they did their best, in the deepest part of my heart. But I also know it wasn’t good enough and that’s the fucking problem with this nation right now. So that’s that on that.
Relationships are integral for the rebuilding, no not rebuilding… destruction of an oppressive social and economic system. But I’m not talking “Kumbaya” and invites to the cookout. No. Constructive, focused conversations with your friends and your peers and even people you don’t agree with (that’s hard, I know) about how we got to this point and how it has been at the center of seemingly decent relationships, career paths, and economic equity.
Have these conversations with your children. Make them a part of the dismantling before their White privilege keeps them from desiring equity. Don’t look away. If you need a mental/self-care break, fine. But come back to the table ready to huddle up and then “Break!” to take action.