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This morning I decided to write about something that scares me; something I know little about.
I decided to write about racism.
Do I dare to write about this? Unapologetically? Clumsily?
I am a middle-aged Caucasian woman living in northern Canada. I am a first-generation immigrant from central Europe. My family escaped communism in 1979, and settled in a small Alberta town where my father got a job at a coal mine and my mother as a cleaner for the provincial government. We were not subjected to racism. I was bullied at school, but not because of the color of my skin.
I have never written about my beliefs on racism.
I always told myself I didn’t know enough about it, or that what I do know is faulty. Or if I open my mouth, someone will set me straight and I will look like a stupid, racist fool.
This is what has stopped me from speaking out and being curious.
I, like countless other white people, have never thought of myself as racist. I am beginning to realize that this belief bypasses the problem.
To simply say, I am not a racist makes no difference to me, or anyone else—it is an open and shut case of being too lazy to lift the lid on my beliefs.
Yesterday, while going for a walk, I saw a Black woman. She had a baby strapped to her chest. She was wearing a colorful skirt, a light jacket, and on her feet, were too-large flip-flops. When I saw her, I wondered where she was from. I imagined huts in Africa, dusty-red earth beneath bare feet. Water jugs poised on women’s heads.
Did my mind churn out that question and image because she looked exotic, or because of the color of her skin?
Would I have asked the same question had the woman been white? If she looked, according to my beliefs, like she belonged in my predominantly white neighborhood?
My mind asks where people are from when I see them dressed in anything other than typical western-garb.
Is that normal curiosity, or a tinge of racism or prejudice? I am questioning my mind.
When I see beautiful Black women wearing bright-colored head wraps, I wonder where they are from. Now I am asking myself, what if they are from right here? Edmonton, Alberta. Born and raised and proud of their ancestral culture.
Why does my mind separate this way?
I hang my head.
This morning, an article titled, “I fit the description…” popped up in my Facebook feed. I read it. Then, I looked up the original blog article. “Nothing I am, nothing I do, nothing I have means anything because I fit the description…” wrote Steve Locke, a Boston-based artist and professor, who was detained by police officers for matching a description of someone who broke into a white woman’s house.
Steve Locke wrote the blog post in December 2015. Nearly six years ago! There are hundreds of comments on the blog, and a handful of blatantly racist ones. I had no idea situations like this were going on. I was “too busy” raising my children. Being a wife. Raising my spiritual vibration by meditating and practicing yoga.
My son recently signed a petition to “Charge the cops who shot Jacob Blake” and posted the link on his Facebook page. A family member commented, “Careful with the bandwagons you jump on. Better to wait till the full story is released? This guy has a history, and serious criminal record.” She included a link to the Wisconsin Circuit Court Access giving details of Blake’s criminal charges.
My son was disturbed and confused by this comment. He didn’t know how to reply.
I could hide behind the pronoun, we, but instead will say: I am being asked to open my eyes and examine my own ignorance about racism. I am white. This will remain my reality until my dying breath. People who are Black will be Black. This is their reality.
Is it the responsibility of the white people to change our practice of racism, however minimal? Yes.
I admit that I do not know a lot about racism. It’s likely that I am racist to some degree, and I don’t know how deep it goes because I’ve never asked myself to look.
I can only change myself.
It is my responsibility to discover how racist I may be and then eradicate my faulty beliefs so that I can see everyone as equal. This work begins with me. It is my job to examine myself, and not simply nod in approval as others protest, or post anti-racist articles and memes. I must ask myself to pause and reflect when I think that I am too busy healing from childhood traumas or codependency issues to bring in the healing of my racist beliefs.
I have been spiritually bypassing the race issue.
Will it make a difference if I educate myself?
Learn more about the plight of Black people?
What if I don’t want to participate in protests? Do the push against push? Does that make me irresponsible, because I am not taking a stand?
Can I educate myself, quietly? Change my thinking, quietly?
Be observant of my thoughts and reactions?
I ask myself, would I be thinking or acting this way if the person was white?
Do I have the courage to stay in the slimy, stinky realization that the answer would probably be no?
The most vulnerable admission is that I am afraid to speak what I am thinking. I am afraid I will be accused of saying something politically incorrect or racist.
My kids correct me when I’m being racist, my daughter especially. I appreciate it, although sometimes, I don’t understand it; however, that is no excuse for continuing in my ignorance.
The bottom line is: I will never know what it feels like to be Black.
I will screw up, and say stupid things, all the while knowing that it is not my intention to be racist.
Remember back in the 60s when cigarette ads promised better health? People believed them, and thought heck, if the doctors are saying cigarettes are safe for my health, why should I worry?
Today, we know the health dangers of cigarette smoking and yet, millions of people in the world continue to smoke, and believe that it will be someone else dying of emphysema, not them.
Like smoking, racism was an acceptable behavior at one time. It is no longer acceptable—and was never acceptable—regardless of what we were told and taught.
It is my responsibility to look up and wake up; even if it means I will feel stupid and ignorant as a result.
It is my responsibility to exercise my courage, to educate myself, to question my first thoughts and ask where they are rooted.
I commit to this from this day forward, in hopes that when I see a Black woman walk down the street, instead of wondering where she is from, I will not judge her or her too-big flip-flops, but know that she belongs right here.