My heart hurts. My throat is tight. And at any moment tears start to flow, for no apparent reason, yet for ALL the reasons.
At the moment I’m writing this, I hear sirens screaming, somewhere not far from where I sit. My brother is on the police force here, and I worry about him as he does his job, and more than ever now within our current social climate. I ache knowing that he is considered by many to be ‘enemy’ because of the uniform he wears. I ache knowing that there are many sirens bleating from every corner of this country, and all over the world right now. Sirens that are literal, and sirens that take the form of voices and fists raised to the systemic racism that has “all of a sudden” taken over our public discourse. But we all know this issue is NOT ‘all of a sudden’ – these sirens have been sounding for decades. But it’s been like a dog whistle, audible only to some.
I have an anxiety-like feeling, as if I’m homesick - but it’s not quite that either. It’s a deep feeling of loss, of longing, of mourning for lives lost and opportunities never realized from being under the thumb of racial oppression. It’s been going on right under my nose. And I didn’t get it. My eyes were not focused or attuned to it. My ears were not calibrated to hear the dog whistle.
It sickens me to see how I unknowingly and unintentionally may have contributed to the subterranean perpetuation of racial inequality, by being in my own world, being passive, and not speaking against it. How could I have been so myopic? My instinct is to apologize, and at the same time part of me says “It wasn’t your fault you didn’t get it.” But is that even true? I don’t even know.
Whether or not it was my own fault I didn’t get it, doesn’t change what my responsibility is NOW. It is sure as hell is my responsibility to get educated and aware, immediately and ongoing. It is sure as hell my responsibility to learn all I can, to recognize racism in its many forms, call it out, and be a contributor to the advancement of equality.
Up until about 2 weeks ago, I had NO IDEA that saying “All Lives Matter” was a disgusting racist affront to the “Black Lives Matter” movement. Here I was, thinking I agreed with both and that there was room for both sayings. Oh how wrong I have been. And oh how wrong most of us have been. And up until about 2 weeks ago, I’d never heard or seen the acronym BIPOC, which you can read about here:
And the term ‘white privilege’ I’d heard but had never considered what it truly meant. It was a phrase on the periphery of my awareness, and it was prickly to me. I admit I didn’t like the term, because it felt to me like it was some sort of reverse racism, even though I’d not actually made an effort to learn about what it meant to BIPOC. Here’s an informative article explaining the meaning of white privilege:
There have been many times I’ve been witness to blatant racism. As a very young child of maybe 7 years old, I heard an uncle and a grandfather use derogatory terms, that later I came to understand as such. As a new college freshman in 1984, moving into the all-girl dorm at my school, there was one girl on my floor who was black. Her name was Tonji. Her assigned roommate, a white girl from New York named Carmen, refused to live with her. Carmen sounded her white siren, and within those first few crucial days of freshman year, when everyone else was bonding with their new roommates, Carmen (with her Mother!) was pitching a fit to get a new roommate assignment. I don’t recall any manner of mediation happening, or any education being provided to Carmen, or to the rest of us on the floor. Carmen ultimately moved out, leaving Tonji to room alone.
The memory of this makes me cringe, but it’s nothing compared to what Tonji must have felt. No one called Carmen out. Nor did any of us step up to volunteer to switch rooms to live with Tonji. Remembering this makes me cry even now, 36 years later. Tonji’s tears during those first few weeks of school were heartbreaking, and the rest of us knew what had happened was all kinds of wrong, yet no one stood up to it. We were complicit. (Did I even understand that concept at the time?)
I felt the shame and shock of it. And then we were a bunch of 18 year-old white girls trying to console Tonji, inviting her to come to the dining hall with us, ignorantly thinking that we could ‘fix’ it, and cheer her up by including her. But the damage was done. She did not trust us. And why should she have? Because while we encouraged her to eat with us, at the same time there were whispers among some of the girls. “I’m so glad it wasn’t me assigned to her room….I don’t know what I would have done.” My own roommate admitted to me that before I arrived, she thought that I might be black, because of my last name. (In 1984 there was a popular TV show called “Benson,” and Benson shared my last name. The character Benson DuBois was black. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0078569/) The unspoken words were that had I been black, she would not have wanted to room with me.
I recognize, understand and acknowledge that I have been steeping in white privilege all my life. I’m looking back at things I’ve thought, said, and believed through the lens of new understanding. I’m sad and sorry to realize my ignorance to the subtext and subtleties of the racism experienced by people of color. This has to change.
There’s much work to be done, by me and by us all. It MUST begin with shedding all that you thought you knew, to make room for new learning. It requires deep introspection, likely painful dismantling of what has been comfortable, and active shifting of perspectives.
It’s long overdue.