I don’t know how to say what I want to say.
I want to acknowledge that I have no perspective from which to write about this. Being born into a white, middle class family with married, sober parents afforded me protection and a luxury I have always taken for granted. I had a car and a cell phone at 16, I rode horses as a hobby, and the only prejudices I have ever faced have been based on my uterus or the fact that my parents weren’t in the 1%. I don’t know what it’s like to be a person of colour. I don’t know the struggle. I don’t know the fear. I don’t know the anguish of hundreds of years of entrenched racism and inherited disadvantages.
But it angers me. And I want to change it.
My grandparents grew up in mid-west America where people of colour weren’t considered people – segregation, KKK, and lynchings were common and accepted. My parents grew up in an America of changing values – they were small children when the last of the Jim Crow laws were finally abolished, but still raised by parents who were adjusting to the changes. My siblings and I grew up in an America that was much more removed from our grandparent’s – but it was still changing. We grew up with our parents and our teachers who urged us to treat everyone with respect and fairness regardless of their skin colour, who taught us about the cruelty of slavery and the one most offensive word we could never say. We grew up seeing everyone as equal – confused as to why racist people were racist, and why racism was still a thing. We learned that some older people – such as our less informed mountain people family members – came from a “different time” and that it was ok to brush it off when these otherwise good older people said inappropriate things. “From a different Time” became a reasonable pass for mild racist behaviour. “That’s just the way they thought back then, but it’s ok because they’re not racist.”
I never thought about the difference between “not racist” and “anti-racist” before last week. I’ve been sitting with what these terms mean, and what it means in terms of my behaviour, how I think, how I act. I say I’m not racist, and I believe I’m not racist – there’s not a part of me that would condemn someone based on the colour of their skin. It’s simply not the way I’m wired. But I haven’t been acting as an anti-racist, and I see that now. We lived in the South for most of my childhood, and racism was prevalent. I knew racism was bad and made me uncomfortable, and I then learned how to not be racist because I saw racism happening. I learned to condemn bad behaviour. But, hand in hand with that, I learned how to rationalise and apologise for “innocent” racism – from others and from myself. I laughed at jokes — It’s ok I laugh at jokes about white people too. I’ve given a wide berth on the sidewalk to someone in a big hooded sweatshirt – It’s ok, I wouldn’t walk close to any man in a big hooded sweatshirt. I’ve listened to elderly family members saying disparaging things and didn’t say anything — It’s ok, he’s from a different time period, and I was too young and scared to say anything.
So yeah. I’m not a racist. But my silence and excuses and inaction have contributed to systemic racism. And I own up to that. I’m a part of the “I hope something changes soon”/”I voted for Obama twice and donated once to the ACLU in 2016 and posted a couple of memes so I’m helping” self-serving pat on the back crowd who sits back, justified in their inaction.
But I don’t want to be that person anymore. Change starts at home, it starts within. And if I want to stop feeling horrified and enraged about what’s happening to people of colour, I have to change how I react when I see racism happening. I have to turn that reaction into action. I have to help where I can – with my votes, with my dollars, with my voice to extinguish racism where I see or hear it. While I can’t make up for hundreds of years of abysmal behaviour, I can do my part to try. This is not ‘virtue signalling.’ This me acknowledging that I haven’t been the best, and I can and want to do better.
My nieces and nephews, and my friend’s children are growing up in a time where Black Americans are empowered and rising up against the systemic racism that has been marginalising them. I feel like this is our time to change our culture for the better. To use our votes to remove racist, hate mongering, fear cultivating egomaniacs from positions of power, and to fight for lawmakers who give Black Americans and people of colour the voice, the chances, and ALL the opportunities that white Americans have.
Black lives matter. Past, present, and future. And I stand with them.