No, really. I mean it.
Look me in the eye, and admit that you have racial biases and have judged people based on race. Look me in the eye and say that Gay and Bi people and Trans people make you nervous. Look me in the eye and tell me that somewhere in your life you learned to believe that poor people are lazy and rich people don’t care about anything but themselves. Look me in the eye and tell me these things, and I will wrap my arms around you and say “Thank you!”
Thank you for being honest.
Thank you for being real.
Thank you for being willing to put down your defenses and speak the truth.
If more of us did that, this world would be a safer place for my son, who happens to be a young black man.
If more of us did that, this world would be a safer place for kids like Leelah Alcorn and Taylor Alesana, who happened to be Transgendered Teens. Or these 5 young people, who happened to be Gay, all from the same small town in Iowa.
Now, please understand, that I am absolutely NOT saying that you should be proud of your biases. And you shouldn’t be proud of unjust actions or words, or behaviors that were the result of those biases. The thought of any human being, including yourself, making snap judgements about someone based on their race, (or gender, or sexual orientation, or financial situation, ect…) should make you cringe. Should make you want to work really hard to change that trait within yourself, and within your community. But until we actually admit that those thoughts and actions exists, IN OURSELVES, and until we call them out and bring them to the surface of our consciences and shine a big old spotlight on them, NOTHING will change.
Not in us, not in our communities, not in our nation, and not in our world.
I am a middle-aged (44) white woman who has privilege up the wazoo. I strive to be the best human being I can be, but, just like you, I carry around a suitcase packed full of biases and judgements. Some of them i put there myself, and some were packed for me. They are a by-product of the country i live in, the family i grew up in, my religious background and upbringing, and my financial status, and a myriad of other crap, and i couldn’t tell you exactly how they got there, but there they are. And the funny thing I spent a lot of my life not even aware that I was carrying these ugly things around.
One of the by products of growing up in the 70s and 80s, in a white, middle class, Christian home is that I have racial biases. I had no idea HOW racially biased I was until i was 30 and I brought home my oldest son, a beautiful baby boy with chocolate-brown skin and ebony eyes, and a headful of tight black curls. At first I shrugged off the comments about how “lucky he was to have people like us,” and how we were so GOOD for being willing to give him “a better life”. When the old lady said that it was sad that we were adopting him, and not the blond-haired blue-eyed girl we were also caring for, I shook it off. At first, I really did think that race would only be as big a deal as we made it, and that loving him would be enough to get us through whatever came up.
In other words, I was clueless.
I knew NOTHING.
But you see, I didn’t KNOW that i didn’t know anything, so I didn’t know I had to change.
Until Trayvon Martin.
His murder was my catalyst. I looked into the face on my TV screen and Facebook news feed and in his eyes, I saw my own innocent son. I saw my little boy with the radiant smile, who was so obviously harmless, and I realized that my sweet little boy was very quickly growing up. He was going to be a teenager. And then a young man. A young black man in a town that was 92% white. And then, in the blink of an eye, I would be the mother of a full-grown,32-year-old, black MAN. And I realized that although i knew how to love him, it wasn’t enough.
I looked into my world, and my heart, and my mind, and examined it all from a different perspective. I talked to a very wise friend who shared her truth with me, and urged me to look closer at my world. I decided i didn’t like what I found. I admitted, and then confronted, out loud, my ugly racial biases. I saw, for the first time, just how privileged i was to be me. I saw, clearly, and really for the first time, how my ignorance fed into the culture of discrimination in my community, and my world. I turned the spotlight inward, and it changed me forever.
And thankfully, it continues to change me, but only when i allow myself to be real, and say things like “Oh crap! This poem ROCKED MY WORLD. She just called me out on some stupid racist bullshit that I still do!! I’ve thought those things, and made those judgements. SHAME ON ME! But now I know, and when I KNOW, even when I don’t like knowing that that garbage is in there, THEN I can change for the better. Because I am Jennifer, and sometimes, I am still racist.”
My son is now 15 and as we watch the video of the shooting of Walter Scott, I watch his almost man face for his reaction. “This makes me sad. And mad. That could be me, mom.” he says, and my heart breaks. And I want to make the world better for him. Safer. But I need your help to do that. I need you to be willing to go into the darkness.
Imagine what the world would look like if people could admit, if only to themselves, that they do indeed have racial biases? If cops admitted that they do indeed profile young black men or even that they get a little rush from the power they hold with a gun at their side. Imagine if they shined a spot light into their dark places because they job required them to make life and death decisions, and they NEVER, EVER wanted to make the wrong one. Imagine how much better they would be at their job if they did that, and SAW their biases and racism, and spent time and energy CHANGING, instead of just denying the fact that they, just like you and me, are products of a broken culture?
Can you imagine that world? Can you join those of us who can?
Or will you continue to insist that YOU are the exception. That you are kind, and nice, and really, really, NOT (insert bias here) Are you going to keep insisting that the problem is those other people over there? Just because you are NICE, doesn’t mean you can’t be racist, homophobic, or judgmental. Here’s a test. Did you click on the link to the poem? Have you ever, even once, thought those kinds of things? Have you ever said “That’s so Gay!” and really meant “That’s so (insert derogatory or negative word here) Have you ever passed by a homeless person and had the thought that if they could stand there holding a sign, they were probably capable of getting a real job? Then guess what, sugar? I’m talking to YOU!
Will you admit it?
And then, will you change it?
If so, then know that I’m wrapping my arms around you and giving you a great big squeeze hug.