Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Let's Talk About Race, Baby; : Let's Talk About You & Me

Oh yeah, I'm still going there.

I'm not done thinking yet.

And it's still not going to be comfortable.

Start here. NPR.

Yes. You have to.

Yes. It's listening.

A whole 6.5 minutes of your life.

And yes, you will have to listen actively and think.

Now, go do it, because my daughter and all the other little black kids out there in America are worth it.

Right now it seems, there are a couple of kinds of racism happening.

We still have the in your face lynching ropes and supremacy groups and idiots tossing around the n word.

We also have something subtle and almost invisible. Not to mention all the stuff on the sliding scale between those two.

A discrimination that is learned by omission, not out of evil intentions.

I was in high school in the 80's. Small town in the Mid-West. Not diverse. I can count on one hand the number of black kids I saw in those halls in my 4 years. I can still tell you their names. There were only a few, we all knew their names.

I wonder how that felt for them. We all knew their names. There was no escape, no chance to blend in on a bad outfit day or a moody teenage day.

Us and them.

I wasn't raised in a home where we spoke with racist language. I wasn't raised in a particularly judgemental home in terms of race. I don't remember us being particularly anything. I was an 80's high school girl. I remember lip gloss and jelly shoes and pegged pants.

We watched The Cosby Show. I had Michael Jackson albums.

We watched The Cosby Show without knowing any better.

I wasn't friends with any of those kids in my 4 years.

I wasn't mean. I didn't call them names or talk behind their backs. We were in classes and extracurricular activities together.

But I wasn't friendly to them either. I didn't make eye contact. I didn't say hi.

We weren't friends.

I was a little afraid, intimidated.

I'm not sure I knew or realized it then, but I was.

Somehow there was just this unspoken rule that you didn't mix with them. It went both ways, they didn't mix with us. We all knew the silent rules.

Them and us.

This is where we get honest and real. Either you lie or you're better than  me.

There aren't many of us white people with black friends. There are fewer still with black besties.

Even those of us with our mixed up families, white parents and many shades of brown kids, we have white adult friends.

We still don't mix with each other.

We get together to let our black kids play with each other, to give them time to hang out with other kids that look like them, but it's different, and we all know it.

It's almost like we don't know how to intermingle.

I will easily and often strike up a conversation with a stranger in the grocery store or some waiting area, but only with a white person.

Be honest, when that cart walking toward you in the grocery aisle has a black woman pushing it, you don't make eye contact or smile, but if it's a white lady you do.

That white woman sitting in the waiting room of the dental office or therapist or doctor is someone you'll share 5 minutes of small talk with, but that black woman, you'll stare at a 12 year old magazine or delete email off your phone or do anything but start up that conversation. Even when you are both sitting there with a black child on your lap.

Maybe this isn't you. Maybe you are better than me and don't behave this way. I hope for all of us that you are better than me.

I do behave this way. I always have.

It's a similar feeling I had when I became a new Christian and I thought it had to be all about surrounding yourself with fellow believers as a sort of weird protection. Then later I got angry and wanted  needed, to be out of the Christian bubble and back in the world, for sanity and for doing what God actually asked of me; to love everyone.

And I never gave it a second thought until last Saturday when I watched a little gaggle of 6-8 year old girls try to play basketball in the church gym.

I was ticked off to tears over what I saw.

I drove home crying over my daughter and the following thoughts of "what have I done to this child by adopting her"?

I talked. I blogged. I argued. I thought.

I watched some more.

I caught some current media stories.

I thought long and hard again, about myself.

I don't run around bashing blacks or calling anyone the n word or lumping in judgement on fashion or music or food, but hot damn I'm living just as racist a life by privilege and omission as if I were.

And maybe that's all my point is. That I'm looking in the mirror and seeing that I need to be somebody else.

Maybe it was just noticing that the little girls were doing what was modeled to them by their parents, none of us brought up to be racist. None of us intentionally widening the divide.

But none of us shrinking it either.

In a way, with our affluent white lives, we don't have to change anything. We almost never have to mingle or be around each other unless we choose it.

Us and them. Them and us.

Maybe it's that the singular word racist doesn't come close to covering the experiences that are included in it.

All of a sudden though, my life, my heart, in included in that single word.

So go ahead now, fill up the comments, tell me how wrong and misguided I am. Tell me my experiences are imagined or unique. Tell me you don't unconsciously behave the way I do and never gave it a second thought.

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