I’ve been sick the last two weeks. Just my regular old stuff, in bed whole days, running low grade fevers. And in the midst of that, the world started to burn, but really the fire was already here, just as much as possible swept neatly away from mainstream (white) culture.
And here’s where we encounter problems with the narrative right away. Do you see it?
I have been shifting my worldview about race now for several years, that’s right, only a handful of years. I spent a long time keeping step with the status quo, and honestly I haven’t pulled that far away from it yet. I’m learning.
I think it was the idea of white privilege, and really pursuing wrapping my mind around it, not reacting to it, that made me press in. We live in a deep and layered racist system. This is reality. My mom found this on white privilege, and it’s really a great way to begin understanding. It’s funny how my family have all been on this journey, but from different angles and catalysts in our lives. Once you’re on this path, you begin to reach out further and further, to become comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Wish we had done it sooner. Confession time. I grew up in a small town in Texas, and yes, laughed at racist jokes that we thought weren’t racist (I’m not sure how), I told jokes or stories that perpetuated racist stereotypes, not a lot of them, I didn’t realize, and I didn’t mean them that way, blah, blah, blah. Oh and they were things that really happened! —sometimes anyway. We never said the “n” word… we didn’t feel like we were racists… There’s a reason, in a racist system hundreds of years in the making, that narratives with stereotypes have truth in them sometimes. Just because something happened, doesn’t make it not racist to perpetuate that stereotype (remember white privilege here).
Then we had close black friends, and had I’m sure already hurt them, but had also stopped it with the joking around that was clearly wrong (because it was always clearly wrong), and I did something awful. As an older teen (I’m not sure how old), I had been introduced to Blazing Saddles by my dad, who had explained its history to me, and how it was the exposing of white people being racist in this funny way. And I know, in the time it was made, that it did have an impact shining light on racism. It also, even it its day, was harmful to black people. There’s a lot that is harmful to black people. I didn’t know (“I didn’t know” means nothing). And I showed it to a group, including a black friend who was younger than me by several years. And I didn’t explain it to her. Right, you get the sinking feeling. I’m still ashamed, and I should be. I found her crying on the floor of our home office. I did my best to explain, and apologized deeply. But it didn’t erase the harm. There is a good end to this story, but I hesitate to even tell you. Because then the narrative is that all you have to do is say sorry (and “I didn’t know”), and that’s simply not true. My friend is incredibly gracious, and I do not deserve the love and trust she’s continued to give me since then.
I think the first thing that happened for me was picking up books by black authors, fiction actually, really really good fiction (and I didn’t even realize these authors were black at first, so I wasn’t trying real hard). I adore Helen Oyeyemi, and didn’t even realize she wasn’t white, until I was halfway into Boy Snow Bird (I highly recommend Gingerbread by her). It’s funny how you picture most people white until you’re told they’re not, well, no, it’s not funny. (Maybe you don’t do that, maybe you’re color blind and you see people in all the colors of the rainbow… I digress.) So when reading The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemmison, I had this experience —awareness of how I was viewing even an imaginary world. And then to find as well, layer upon layer of how we use each other, mistrust each other, prejudice thrown every which way, and a whole group of people secretly/openly enslaved and oppressed. It was amazing, the parallels. Fascinating. The whole Broken Earth trilogy is amazing, the human drama, a complex mother-daughter relationship, volcanoes, magic, and it’s just a good read. Read books by black people.
Instagram, oh Instagram. I really do love it. I was really getting into it a couple of years ago, following people after looking at comments or reposts, following someone else. Ended up seeing a post (from a white snarky sweet anglican writer) with recommendations of people to follow for racial justice and racial reconciliation. I followed several, and I was about to go into describing them, and then I realized, no. Please go follow them. Here are some current-ish links to posts for each one. I love all of these incredible black female voices. I have learned so much just reading their posts and the comment threads. I want to center these voices for you. (And if you don’t know, read their first comment posted with the photo, sometimes the photos are words.)
imagine what could be – @austinchanning
we did not acknowledge – @blackcoffeewithwhitefriends
how long, O Lord? – @oshetamoore
be the bridge – @latashamorrison
a sense of calm – @mockingbirdhistorylessons
So that brings us to protests, and riots… oh no. Ok, if you actually looked at the posts, you know where I stand, and who I’m standing with. Blatant harmful racism throughout this country, a minority maybe, but not a tiny minority. Among the people who lawfully have the power, the upper hand. Forever, it feels like. And complacent white moderates.
Martin Luther King Jr. said this in “The Other America” (and I know everyone is posting this, because it’s the true narrative of where we are, and should be incredibly convicting that we are still here):
I am not endorsing rioting, I am saying it should not be a surprise. And that maybe we should listen very closely to these peaceful protestors, and their heart’s cry. Righteous rage.
Within the productive good things happening out there, there’s vulnerability, and a real life risk being taken for one another. Not all will go well, that’s what true risk is. But we could shake up the mainstream narrative. We could elevate those that have been subjugated. The clear picture, if you’re looking, is that in America, black bodies are expendable. That’s why #blacklivesmatter is important, and relevant. Obviously, other bodies matter. My brother is a cop, and so was my dad, “blue lives” (or people’s lives within these institutions) obviously matter.
I’ve just ordered 3 books that I’ve been meaning to read for 6 months now. I was lazy, so now I get to wait cause they’re all backordered. Don’t worry, Chris has books, and has been researching these subjects since grad school, so I got stuff to do. The books I’m waiting on:
I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness, by Austin Channing Brown
Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, by Reni Eddo-Lodge
How To Be An Anti-Racist, by Ibram X. Kendi
If you made it here to the end, thank you for listening. Let’s all keep listening.
I saw this from Latasha Morrison’s stories this morning on IG, really hit home to me. Posted by Daniel Hill (@danielhill1336).