As I lie awake nursing my three month old, tossing around my normal mom worries, I can’t stop wondering, “what if my babies were black.”
How would I talk to them about their teachers? Their playmates? The police?
How would I prepare them for a world where so much is stacked against them and where most well-meaning white people, like myself, don’t realize we are actually feeding this fire.
My news feed is full of people like me desperately asking, “What can I do?”
In response to this, I find myself turning to a practice that has saved me many times over: self-reflection. So I’m throwing myself into the fire and digging around in the ashes to find out how I am actually contributing to white privilege and subtle racism everyday. These are the questions I started with:
Why am I more comfortable when a black person walks, talks, dresses, and acts more like me, than someone who is sporting their own cultural identity?
How many times have I felt relief when a person of color used social norms that I’m familiar with instead of their own?
How many times have I remained silent when someone labeled a person of color as being too loud, too aggressive, too black?
Or when a coworker, family member, or friend has made a racist remark and I’ve said NOTHING.
I hate reading over these questions. I’m ashamed that my black friends might read this and feel differently about me. I want to continue believing that I’m open to all people and therefore not racist in any way. Self-reflection sucks sometimes. But it’s all any of us have to start to create change.
Here’s the tricky part, I’ve always felt that racism was an identity that I had no part in. After all, my mom raised me to believe we are all equal regardless of skin color. As a young adult, I watched as she fell in love with a black man and subsequently lost her parents and siblings because of their overt racism.
And then there’s the fact that I spent two years in West Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer. How could I be racist living and serving others in an African village? This mindset is precisely why we’ve gotten to this terribly confusing and violent place. White privilege is woven into every aspect of modern life. And it shows up on every continent. Guess who was treated as ‘better than’ in that tiny African village? I was. Because I’m white.
I spent nearly three decades of my life living in Louisiana and another decade living in Minnesota. The biggest difference in the 1,000 miles stretching between these two places is that one place hangs their racism out in the open and the other denies its existence. I can’t tell anymore which is more damaging.
As I lie here nursing my young son, my head and heart reeling with grief and confusion in the aftermath of recent events, I can say that in order for me to have a chance at creating change I have to look in a most unsuspecting place, the mirror. Bit by bit, as I address the impact that white privilege and racism have had on my life and my children’s lives, I just might have a shot at teaching my sons differently.