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June 20, 2020

I Hid Behind the Black Square.

It has come to my attention that I might be racist. It hurts to write those words, and I want to immediately erase them.

I feel ashamed. I want to justify. I want to prove that I am a good person. But, this isn’t about me. Or is it?

With the senseless murder of George Floyd, my country is at odds. There have been riots. There have been many Black people and people of color who have been injured or killed in the process of fighting for their rights. Cops have faced attacks, threats, and yes some have been killed in the process for fighting what they believe is right.

What is right?

Is it really that black and white?

I see it all and I feel frozen. Sickened. Heartbroken. Powerless. But am I really the one who is powerless? It has taken this “race revolution” for me to look in the mirror and, for the first time in my adult life, actually confront the fact that I am white. I’ve always marked “Caucasian” on any doctor appointment or official form but never have I once questioned what it means to be white.

That is racist.

Not recognizing my own race, my own privileges, is racist. Because by not recognizing my race and the opportunities it has provided me, it is also ignoring that other people of color may not have had the same opportunities that I was given.

I cry even as I write this. I cry because I think deep down I always wanted to believe that all people are treated equal. That we are all one. But it has really taken this experience for me to take a long, hard look and realize it was all an illusion. A white, man-made illusion that has been ingrained in me my whole life.

Racism did not end when slavery was abolished. Racism continues because of our inability to look it in the face and talk about it. Believing that I am white and love everyone and believe we are all treated equal is what perpetuates the problem. Because the fact of the matter is, I only see race through my own lens, as a white, middle-class woman.

So what do I do about this? Shame myself? Shame for being me? Shame for being white? Shaming myself for the color of my skin or yours does not fix the systemic problem. Today, I seek to understand. I seek to open my eyes to my own, although unintentional, racism. I seek compassion for myself and others as we confront the uncomfortable. I seek to allow space for those of color to be heard.

Allowing space is different than remaining silent, however. I am all too familiar with this and it has been a safety blanket for me over the years. Don’t see race. Don’t talk about race. If you talk about race, you are racist.

On blackout Tuesday I posted a black square in solidarity for the Black community and to allow their voices to be amplified. The truth is, though, I hid behind that black square like a coward. “If I put this black square up,” I thought, “it shows I care.” I will allow their voices to be heard, but I don’t have to speak mine.

The truth is, I wanted to speak up. I wanted to shout at the top of my lungs, “This is wrong! This has to stop!” I wanted to speak but what if I said the wrong thing? What if I offended someone? I would never intentionally want to do that. Then the thought trickled back in, “What if someone thinks I am racist?” That thought alone paralyzed me.

In reality, by not opening the conversation, by not allowing myself to be with the uncomfortable, I have also silenced Black people. I have not held space for them to tell me their experience. I have put up a black square that said, “Hey I support you from over here, but I don’t even know how to begin to talk about racism.” I am scared. I am scared that you won’t understand me. I am scared of what you will think of me. 

I made it about me again.

Today, I want to change that narrative of the black square. With all its good intentions, it served as a place for me to hide. It served as a black wall that ended the conversation before it began. Instead, I hope to open that door. To say, “I am sorry. I didn’t know what holding space and amplifying your voice meant until this moment.”

Forgive me if I misspeak or if my words are clumsy and awkward. I am still learning what it means to be me. I also want to know what it means to be you. I realize now that silence is worse than any misstep I might make.

I love you.

Can we try again?

~

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