I want to encourage people to listen. If someone wants to tell you about the adversity they face each day, getting followed in stores, car doors locking and purses being clutched more closely when they walk by, having great phone interviews and suddenly it’s not a good fit when they attend an interview in person. When people spit on them or threaten them without cause, including the police, listen. Not the kind of listening that you spend time preparing your clever counterpoint either. In fact, if that is your reaction you need to educate yourself or at least check yourself. Why do you want to preserve an untruthful perception of the world when you can help? If you educate yourself, you will see the injustices. Not only have studies been done to expose racial disparity you can also talk to your friends about it.
I want to live in a world of diversity. I want to value my friends and loved ones who have different experiences than me. I want to support them and help them when I can. That’s across the board, but when it is something so vicious that people still openly and vehemently deny it makes me angry. There is evidence everywhere, undeniable evidence. Even more so though why not just believe what your friends and loved ones are telling you. Listen to them, don’t dismiss them, and help them if you can. Don’t we all do this with the people we love and value anyway? If you have a reaction to this it may be revealing something about yourself that needs examining. If hearing these accounts of what they face regularly makes you defensive, you very well could be part of the problem.
There was a time (for white people) when everything seemed better. All that really meant is that it was easier to ignore. It was more subtle or hidden enough that it rarely crossed the white American radar. It was still happening mind you, it just didn’t seem like as big of a deal unless you were paying attention. It got quiet enough that people could call people of color and allies crazy when they brought it up. It could be dismissed and the life that you were leading would prove that you are right. You didn’t see any of the stuff they were talking about, but then you wouldn’t, right?
Growing up myself I heard people say that it wasn’t an issue anymore. They didn’t even talk about it in school that much, so when people told me it was over I believed them for a time. The internet blew that wide open though. People were talking about it there. Rage Against the Machine, one of my favorite bands was talking about it. So I started looking and talking to people. I saw a PBS documentary called “Eyes on the Prize” that discussed, in great depth, the Civil Rights movement complete with interviews of the involved parties. I read books about it.
I try to be better, I still make mistakes but I try to learn from them. It is a series of learning. Realizing how deep it goes, how subtle it can be. Having the experience of being a white person with other white people and hearing how they would talk when people of color weren’t around versus when they were. Hearing blanket statements about African American people made based on one bad person but not hearing the same thing when it came to white people. I would even hear the most offensive terms fall easily off people’s lips when they thought it was safe to use them. I’ve had many discussions, debates, and even arguments about it.
I’m still working through it. I’m still trying to be better. It’s been so separated from us as white Americans that we don’t really have to think about it if we don’t want to. We don’t have to learn about what’s happening even today right under our noses. When you do pay attention, it doesn’t feel good to see what’s going on. It feels better to turn away and go back to our bubble. It’s a mistake we all make, but that’s getting harder and harder thanks to cell phone cameras and brave souls who release their footage.
I feel like now it is pretty obvious that it never went away and has even been refueled recently by certain influences or at least brought back to the surface. When protests happen now some see needless destruction happening, I see multiple eras worth of pent up rage finally being released. Some see people making mountains out of molehills, I see people who have been carrying two worlds on their shoulders their whole lives screaming for help. I have even heard people say that this bitterness and perception African-Americans have toward white people was something they were taught by their previous generations and they were oversensitive in today’s world. To that, I say two things. One, watch any episode of “Eyes on the Prize” and see how quickly you are able to forget about it and two, what do you think the white supremacists were teaching their kids?