I wish racism never existed. But it does. So now I have to talk about it.
Because isn’t that the beauty of life? Learning, and growing as a person? Bettering ourselves?
Welcome. I’m glad you’re here. Please read this slowly, and quiet your thoughts. You and I are friends here. Take deep breaths. Unclench your fists, loosen your jaw. Don’t think about counter-arguments while you read my sentences, don’t reply as soon as you read this. Read this twice. But please, just listen. Take another deep breath.
If you take away nothing else from this article, take this: empathy.
I am not a black person, and therefore I can only speak on my observations, but I would like to take this week off from my creative endeavors to speak about racism.
A man noticed that his axe was missing. Then he saw the neighbor’s son pass by. The boy looked like a thief, walked like a thief, behaved like a thief. Later that day, the man found his axe where he had left it the day before. The next time he saw the neighbor’s son, the boy looked, walked, and behaved like an honest, ordinary boy.The Te of Piglet by Benjamin Hoff, page 109
This quote comes from a Taoist writer Lieh-tse, and I think it concisely illustrates how we tend to see what we want to see.
We do this thing as human beings where we form subconscious biases. Sometimes we don’t even realize it, but biases can be deeply ingrained and spread across an entire culture. If one person says, “Redheads are cheaters,” then even if you disagree with it, it’s still in the back of your mind. If a hundred people say, “Redheads are cheaters,” then you might even begin to see patterns in redhead behavior that justify these claims, especially if you don’t really know any redheads and all you see is cheater redheads on the television.
And actually, let’s say that several years ago, it was legal for brunettes to abuse redheads in order to “keep them in line”, and brunette people used to call redheads Gingers as they spat on them. But that’s all over now, and you don’t realize it that redheads are still being treated pretty unfairly, because you don’t have to pay attention to that stuff—you’re not a redhead.
So let’s say I’m a redhead. People think I’m a cheater, so I’m placed in a harder school class than my peers, which is set up to prevent me from cheating. But while the Cheater class and the Non-cheater class are both called “Math Class,” the class for redheads is far more difficult for seemingly no reason other than the teacher is always grumpy. The Non-cheater class looks like fun; they have group projects and pizza parties, and even though those kids still cheat, they either don’t get caught, or when they do, they only get a detention day. They’re told they’re smart and they’re hard-workers; they’re good kids at heart—like me—but they also make mistakes—like me.
And also, let’s say that as a student, I personally learn better in a group setting than alone, but in my cheater class I’m forced to be quiet. I don’t understand what’s so wrong with talking to my peers? Talking to my peers is fun, and I’m just a kid! We teach each other, and nothing seems wrong with that! We meet after school and try to understand the homework better, because most of us redheads don’t really “get” the course.
Lastly, maybe I really really want an A in the class because my mom said if I worked hard in school, I could go to college and make enough money to take care of my poor family, who goes hungry every day. My redheaded little brother is dying, my redheaded father broke his leg and doesn’t have the money to go to the doctor, and my redheaded mother works 60 hours a week at a sucky job. Even though I’m a kid, I feel a lot of pressure on me to do well so I can help my family, but I’m struggling really hard in the class. But there are no tutors, the teacher yells at me when I ask questions. All I want to do is succeed, but I don’t know how. Nobody’s ever explained it to me.
So on the final exam, in an act of desperation, I cheat.
And I get caught by the teacher.
And when I start crying, I’m beaten for acting out.
And then maybe when I scream and try to get away, the teacher gets too carried away with the beating, taking out her pent-up rage against redheads—who make her life so difficult; she hates being a teacher to a bunch of redheaded snot-nosed cheaters—on me,
and she kills me.
(On accident, of course.)
The teacher is short. I was tall for my age, and the teacher says that she felt threatened by me—I was a cheater, I may have had a knife. She says my harmonica was sticking out of my pocket and she mistook it for a knife handle.
And on top of that, all the brunette and blond and black-haired bystanders think to themselves, “Well, don’t be a cheater.”
Doesn’t it seem like there were multiple instances in which I, as a redhead, could have better been set up for success at my school?
Perhaps, rather than place me in a separate class (read about how black people have been historically racially excluded from housing opportunities), I should have been allowed to be with the non-redheads?
Perhaps, rather than make the class harder in order to prevent cheating (read about how often, black people receive harsher sentences than white counterparts), the teacher could have assigned preventative activities to help me learn why cheating is wrong and how I can succeed without cheating?
Perhaps, rather than punish me mercilessly (read about how the justice system should be aiming to end the cycle of crime), the school could have tried to rehabilitate me, or even merely failed me on my exam, thus sparing my impoverished family further emotional suffering and financial debt?
And then this situation continues to happen again and again to other redheads because nobody is even willing to discuss how “cheaters” is code for “redhead.” Non-redheads will say, “But you were all in Math Class. You had the same opportunities and you made your choice.”
And from my resting place, I cry, I wish I had another chance.
This isn’t a perfect comparison of what black people are experiencing in America,
but it illustrates my point:
Shouldn’t our government empower its people to be the best versions of themselves,
rather than blame them for being cogs in a system that they can’t control?
For being cogs in a system that doesn’t even value them?
Most everything I know about racism, I learned myself. I grew up in a small town in which there were more Amish elementary students than black students. Nobody talked about race. It was assumed that everyone was white, that the world was white, that white was the default. If you ever described someone not white, you would immediately specify that they were black. If someone listened to rap, the kids called it “black people music.” I understood that racism existed because families still used the “n”-word and my school had groups of Carhartt-clad white boys who were basically niche KKK groups. And in my heart, the heart that knew animals had souls and that trees were our neighbors, I knew that racism was wrong.
But I had very little experience “dealing with race.” In a milky white town, I was sheltered from having to think about race. Everything I remember learning about race, I learned myself. And mostly, from the internet, which made me realize that there is a whole wide varied world of billions of people, so many of whom aren’t white, and who often suffer for it.
When white people resist the idea that racism still exists today, they tend to use examples like, “Well, I’m bullied for being fat!” or “I’m prejudiced against because I have tattoos!” People in this world are bullied and tormented for all sorts of wrong reasons, and of course if I had it my way, I would take away everyone’s suffering.
But those examples don’t really truly compare to racism. Being fat or having tattoos–those are things a person can change. A person can exercise, a person can choose not to have tattoos. No person can choose how they are born. What color their skin is.
And moreover, “being fat” or “having tattoos” don’t have long, government-reinforced histories of oppression.
How often are fat people lynched by skinny people? (Of course, don’t get me wrong, fat-shaming exists and it’s wrong.)
Have fat people ever been segregated from skinny people by law?
If you’re able to find even just a few examples of this in America,
I assure you, it doesn’t compare to the amount of racist altercations that have resulted in serious injury or death.
Skin color carries so much weight:
A white person can be anybody they want to be, depending on how they act and dress.
But black people are often shown by the media that all they will ever be seen as, is “black.”
A black man can go to college and become a doctor, or a black man can be the pastor of his church, or a black man can be a Republican and vote for Donald Trump,
but when that black man walks down the street at night with his hood up, an armed person (cop or civilian!) may see him and think he looks like a thug, walks like a thug, behaves like a thug.
Because his skin color comes first.
And we’ve seen how this can play out
Black Lives Matter.
What makes people so uncomfortable to merely accept that black lives matter?
Why must they always add, “All Lives Matter”?
If I said, “Christian Lives Matter,” would you be so quick to add, “Atheist lives matter, too”?
If I said, “U.S. Military Lives Matter,” would you be so hasty to add, “Pakistani civilian lives matter, too”?
If I said, “American Lives Matter,” would you even think to add, “Mexican lives matter, too”?
When we say, “Save the rain forest!” It doesn’t mean that all other forests can burn to the ground and we wouldn’t care. It means that the rain forest is rapidly being destroyed and it needs our help.
When we say, “Black Lives Matter,” it shouldn’t be a political stance. When we say, “Black Lives Matter,” it does not mean that all lives don’t matter.
It’s not “Only Black Lives Matter.”
White people needn’t feel guilty, just aware. We can’t go back in time and prevent slavery, nor can we change the way we were born. If I lived in the 1800’s, I hope I would have been one of those people campaigning for abolition and helping slaves escape their white masters.
But I live now. And I live for tomorrow.
Most people who know me, know that my boyfriend is black, but even if he wasn’t, I would still be here, saying Black Lives Matter.
Even if I didn’t personally know a single black person, I would still be here, saying Black Lives Matter.
Because I feel it’s the right thing to do.
Because, even though I’m white, and even though my individual life would be absolutely fine if nothing in this country changed,
I have a voice in this world.
And I will use this voice to spread love. To teach people. To amplify those whose voices are ignored.
I know this system is messed up because I have ran drills in my head, preparing myself for a variation of a scenario that I can only pray never happens,
in which I mentally prepare to throw my white female body between Bryant and the wrong agitated police officer with a gun.
Because it seems to me that Bryant and I would have a better chance of both surviving any altercation or simple misunderstanding with “the law” if my whiteness acts like a shield,
than if I were to leave the situation for the officer to “handle.”
We’ve seen how some officers “handle” situations with knees to the neck. George Floyd said, “I can’t breathe,” and the cop responded, “Fuck your breath.”
Not my Bryant’s breath. Please, please, please, never Bryant’s breath.
When in doubt, society sides with the police.
When in doubt, history sides with the white.
When in doubt, black people must be at fault.
So what are black people to do?
If they’re ever in an escalated situation with a police officer, they could be totally peaceful and yet still die. And if they fight back, well, then of course their death would be justified.
Perhaps some people may read this and think, “But you’re stereotyping police officers based off the few bad ones! That’s exactly what the police are doing with black people! You’re no better!”
I understand this. Absolutes don’t really exist, and generalizations are slippery slopes that cause further divide. (And I want to clarify that I am not asserting that all cops are bad.)
But my friend, here is the difference: the police are the people in power.
The police have the authority. They have the platform. They have the resources. They have the support.
And moreover, police can denounce their position. Police can take off the uniform and be “undercover.” Police in plain clothes can walk into a crowd of people where nobody knows they’re an officer. Police can change their “policeness” as needed. They can add or subtract it from their identity.
But black people?
Before a black person opens their mouth, they are black.
And this is why I’m terrified to have a child.
Because no matter how much I could try to protect my child from the horrors of this world, it only takes one misunderstanding to cost a black person their life.
I could raise my child with so much discipline and education, forbid toy guns in the house (like Tamir Rice’s mom), and yet it only takes that one moment of circumstantial childhood naïveté meeting an armed person’s immediate racist bias, to end every loving breath of my baby.
And my heart breaks again, and again.
And this is just at the thought.
This is real, my friends.
Racism is a societal disease.
Sometimes, we need to let go of our pride
let go of our stubbornness
and care about others just as much as we care about ourselves.
Because we are all connected,
and when society is sick,
And don’t we have a duty
to help our neighbor?
Isn’t it the right thing
to help the down-trodden,
in whatever way we can?
Even if it’s as simple as telling your friend,
”Hey, what you just said was racist.”
Change begins in the hearts of individuals.
You have a voice in this world. Use it with care.
Read this great article by a Minneapolis council person on Time!!
Here are some resources for white people: Google Doc [not made by me].