I’ve never been one to go on a mass unfriending spree on Facebook, clearing out my timeline of the thoughts and opinions of those with whom I disagree and sanitizing the place so that it looks just like me. That’s not how the world works and I prefer Facebook to look more like the world and less like what one might imagine a communal society would be. Different people sharing different ideas is one way we all grow.
But last week, for the first time ever, I wanted to. I really, really wanted to.
As the Internet erupted in the wake of the Grand Jury’s decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for the shooting death of Mike Brown in August, I watched as everyone divided into groups and prepared for battle, myself included, and I wondered why we couldn’t all understand that the world would be a much better place if we could find some place to meet in the middle and move forward, together. But I just don’t think that can happen. The separation between groups is too great.
There are those who say racism exists and those who say it’s a thing of the past, and I’m not talking about institutional racism which is another beast entirely. There is delusion and division and derision, insult hurling, and statements that start with “I’m not a racist, but….”
(Hey, so, chances are if you say “I’m not a racist, but…” the next thing that comes out of your mouth is probably going to be racist.)
Those who want to fight against racism have to get in the trenches and dig in for the fight, which is where I find myself as 2014 draws to a close. It’s not a place I imagined finding myself because growing up I was taught that racism was a thing overcome in the 60s. We were all taught that.
Right now we’re finding out that was pretty much a big lie and it’s hard to admit that what we thought was true is actually quite false.
We thought racism ended when “separate but equal” was shot down by Brown v BOE. That the Civil Rights leaders marched racism right out of our country, arm in arm, singing “We Shall Overcome” like 20th century Pied Pipers. We’ve watched Dr. King “I Have a Dream” speech, read it, studied it. I taught it (and his Letter From Birmingham Jail, which is definitely recommended reading). In school we zeroed in on the peaceful protests and sit-ins and rarely were the stories of the more violent protestors being written about in anything other than derogatory and frightening lights.
As the riots raged in Ferguson and protests popped up across the country, I wondered what the world had been like during the Civil Rights Movement. Mama remembered Rosa Parks respectfully making her point. By the time she started studying history in school, protests and riots had been written out in favor of the examples of passive resistance, but there were riots. There was violence. There was anger so bottled up it had nowhere to go but out. And as history shows, a great deal of that violence was perpetrated by white people stoning black children who dared try to go to school or have lunch at the counter instead of the back of the store.
History books are written by white men. Anyone who’s paying attention can see revisionist history hard at work with just a quick glance around social media these days as anyone who brings up the real, actual racism alive and well in our country is accused of “playing the race card.”
Here’s a thought: When thousands of people stand up and say “Racism is alive and well and it’s killing our people” they’re probably not lying. That many people uniting their voices under a shared and terrifying experience aren’t wrong. The one or two people you know who say “nah, that’s not true” probably aren’t correct. How is that so hard to see and understand?
I can only think that people who can’t understand it are incapable or, worse, unwilling, and I can’t understand that.
Understanding racism as a white person, challenging it, means challenging pretty much our entire existence. It means confronting the way we were raised and the tiny prejudices which were slipped into our consciousness without our knowledge. It means asking what someone means when they quote that scripture about being “unequally yoked” or pointing out the fact that it’s unnecessary to qualify a person’s identity with his or her race.
“So and so at the corner store…he’s Black…was telling me…”
Little things like this, non-violent but pervasive beliefs some of us don’t even realize are part of the reason why racism persists. So long as we don’t challenge ourselves to do better–to BE better–it will continue to infect the future, and I’m not okay with that. I care about racism because I care about our collective futures.
I want to believe in the possibility of a world where my fellow mothers and I share the same worries when our kids leave the house and not one wherein my black friends have to worry about whether or not they’ve done enough to teach their sons The Code. I believe in that world where people are judged on the content of their character and not the color of their skin. Right now, this world isn’t that world. But it can be.
No one can take the high road in the fight against racism, not really, and that’s because there is no higher road to be taken. Taking the high road is akin to turning the other cheek which is ignoring the issue, and this is an issue which demands to be confronted head on and not buried like some skeleton in our nation’s closet.
Besides, that closet’s getting kind of crowded, don’t you think?