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June 30, 2020

June 11, 2020

I Thought Not Being Racist Was Enough

There is no right way to write this kind of post. I have been thinking about it for several days now, trying to figure out the correct stories to reference, how to present the various angles, and how to communicate the intention and purpose in a way that helps and does not hinder the current narrative on anti-racism.


I know writing about racism as a middle-class white woman might be redundant and offensive to some, but I truly hope that this can contribute to the growth and understanding for everyone. Ultimately, I have consulted with different sources and have determined that writing this is worth whatever the risk may be to at least make my stance clear in support of anti-racism.



My journey is very whitewashed, but hang with me, please, as there are likely a lot of white people who seem to be going through a similar process and we all just want to get to the right place together.


I also want to be very clear that I am not “making things up” for my younger self; I have kept journals since I was ten years old and have always been a very self-reflective person with an acute memory for how I thought and felt as I grew up. 



Growing Up Without Racism


The following statement may seem impossible, but it’s 100% true.


I grew up in a world without racism.


WHAT?!


Well, obviously, THE world was not without racism, but mine really seemed to be. We lived in small suburban areas in Northern California. I can count on one hand how many black classmates I had from preschool through graduating high school. We learned about the history of slavery as something horrible; something horrible us West Coast people would have never done (when, in reality, most of our white ancestors who had migrated from the Midwest and East Coast had likely been slaveowners).


Honestly, the most exposure I had to African-American culture was on television and movies. Sitcoms, dramas, talk shows, game shows, and sports had plenty of positive diverse role models in the 1990s. My parents never said anything negative about other races. As God-fearing parents of two daughters, their main theme for pushing us was that we could be anything we wanted to be [in a man’s world] and that all of us were children of God and equally loved in Christ.


This always made sense to me. They raised us to be colorblind and not racist. We learned very late about curse words and racial slurs, and both sets of vocabulary did not belong in our communication. 


Here is what I believed about black people when I was child.


Black people were beautiful. 

Tyra Banks. Halle Berry. Will Smith. Denzel Washington.


Black people were strong. 

Muhammed Ali. Michael Jordan. Serena Williams. Jesse Owens.


Black people were passionate. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. Sidney Poitier. Aretha Franklin. Ella Fitzgerald.


Black people were intelligent. 

Oprah. George Washington Carver. Colin Powell. Condoleeza Rice.


Black people were heroic. 

Rosa Parks. Harriet Tubman. Sojourner Truth. Jackie Robinson.


I believed these things so much to the point that I had no problem expressing what I understand now to be my version of natural positive racism.


“I wish I had been born black.”


I wanted to be better at sports, to be a better singer, to be able to dance, and to have naturally dark skin and really cool hair. This was not rocket science. Black was better.


Apparently, after my simple childlike honesty, an older relative had later quietly confronted my mother, asking her, “Did Christy really mean that she wishes she were black?” When my mom relayed to me the relative’s shock, I was just as surprised.


“Why wouldn’t I want to be black?!”


Growing up in a world devoid of racism to the point where I thought black was better was how white privilege played out for me.



Learning About Racism From A White Perspective


As a young adult, I read three books that really began to open my mind about racism. Yes, these books were written by two white women. But as a person from the West Coast, I could not get a handle on why slavery had even existed in the first place, why the Ku Klux Klan was even a thing, or why racist stories from the South still kept coming up in conversations.


Harper Lee first wrote Go, Set a Watchman. Apparently, that manuscript was rejected in 1960, and so she wrote a prequel, the well-known and loved To Kill a Mockingbird. Atticus Finch was established as the great lawyer against racism, the lone ranger standing up for the rights of mankind in the South. Then Go, Set a Watchman was posthumously published in 2015, and everyone realized that the racial complications in the South were much more layered and very complex. The daughter, Scout, was the real hero and potential agent of change in the culture. 


What I find interesting about Lee’s perspective was that she wanted to expose the complications of systemic racism in 1960, and the publishers essentially would not let her. So she had to “dumb it down” and make the white lawyer father the hero instead of the not-so-upright quasi-neutral villain she had originally intended Atticus Finch to be.


Scout is the hero because she realizes something is wrong, and she understands that she has to do something different about it. Even if it will be a struggle.


Gone With the Wind was the other book that started to expose the terrors of the Civil War for both sides for me. Obviously, slavery was wrong. Plantation owners had their entire lives turned upside down because they had played along with the falsely secure systemic racism of slavery, and during the Reconstruction Era, their lives took a totally different turn. What I learned from this fictional work was that before the Civil War, it had been bad for black people, then after the Civil War, it was bad for everybody. The division and mistrust between the communities was so deep and so severe that “recovery” was going to end up a ragged and grueling process (that is still not complete).


Note: the book is over a thousand pages, but digs much deeper into the racism issues than the movie ever does.


Being a young adult exposed me to more comments from various sources about “how the neighborhood had changed,” about how it didn’t work out for someone when they dated a black person, and about general suspicion of “them.” 


My world was still basically “without” racism, and I had no reason to seek it out or find more explanations aside from what I found in books or on the internet.



Deciding Not Being Racist Was Enough


I never had to deal with “deciding” if I would be racist or not. I just wasn’t. I didn’t have any negative feelings or reactions toward African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans, Jews, Arabs, or any other “other.”


Because I was not faced with racism on a regular basis, it didn’t need to be a serious issue for me to deal with or confront. My non-white friends and I tried to not take our “racial status” seriously and joked about the stereotypes that we did not feel were relevant to us.


I wonder now if they were joking because they felt the same way, or if they were just trying to save face around me because I didn’t think race was important.


I 100% believed that if we just all stopped talking about race as if our differences were a negative thing, that it would go away. I thought it was a mass media strategy to overemphasize our differences in an effort to divide us further.


So, I took the position that racism was irrelevant to me and therefore those who wanted to talk about it over and over again were just making matters worse.



Realizing Why Anti-Racism & “Black Lives [DO] Matter”


I think it’s really important at this point to be very clear that this should not be a political party issue. I know it seems very much like “Republicans are racist” because of the current political climate and leadership. But as racism in America has been exposed as built into the actual foundational system, this means that ALL political parties have also been systematically racist. 


As evidenced by only ONE president out of forty-five in the history of the United States who has not been a well-to-do white male.


If the system needs to be broken down and rebuilt, I believe this wholly extends to both the Republican and Democrat political parties.


Enough about political parties and systems, though. If I also dive too deeply into the police state, incarceration, and public funding complexities right now, this will be a book and not an essay.


This is a humanitarian issue, and we are all human and bleed red.


The sign regularly shared on social media this past week explained it best.


“We said ‘Black lives matter.’ We never said ‘only Black lives matter.’ We know ‘all lives matter.’ We just need your help with #BlackLivesMatter for Black lives are in danger!” 


THIS IS GOLD. It’s simple, it’s clear, and it’s true.


I have been very selective about what I have decided to share and repost to social media throughout the past week. I did not want to be a “bandwagoner” or someone who just jumped on the trending hashtags to forget about it the week after. I wanted to try to understand how I could help this cause in an uplifting and positive manner. 


This is my small effort to express the realization that white privilege does not always look like yachts and mansions. White privilege is also the innocence of not having to deal with racism in a personal way.



Conclusion


I’m not going to sit here and count how many black and mixed people I know or are friends with or love. I live a very white life in a very white country (Germany) and the only time I have ever felt singled out for the way I look with blonde hair and blue eyes and white skin was for four days when I visited Morocco.


Four days. Out of over 12,000 days.


People are people. We all have our individual stories, our struggles, our successes. But for whatever our struggles as white people, or more specifically as white women have been, we as a group have not collectively been oppressed. We have actually had the most privilege and most opportunities for our gender.


Black people need us (us, as in EVERYONE) right now to be honest about our thought processes and feelings. Black people need us to not just remind each other that racism is wrong, but to TELL each other that racism is wrong and that we will not accept that kind of talk or behavior anymore.


I love that my generation of Millennials appears to be spearheading the change, but we have got to SUSTAIN it. The people who would rather chill in the safety of their comfortable systemic racism are totally hoping they can just ride this out one more time and things will “go back to normal.”


I have said a lot of things in this post that I have felt at different points in my life that maybe you agree with, maybe you don’t.


But there is something that I absolutely still stand by and will until the day I die.


Black people are beautiful. 


Black people are strong. 


Black people are passionate. 


Black people are intelligent. 


Black people are heroic. 


BLACK PEOPLE ARE IMPORTANT, and not just because they’re awesome, or we know or love them, but because they are made in the image of God and we are all equal in His sight. Even “outside” of any belief system, we can all agree that humans deserve basic rights to be treated with dignity and respect.


I understand now that I can’t understand being black.


“I understand that I will never understand; however, I stand with you.”


How we take our stand against racism now and everyday is absolutely going to make a difference. We can “stand” on social media, in demonstrations, and on our platforms. But our stand means nothing if it doesn’t first come from our hearts and show in our relationships. It means even less if we only were able to “sustain our stand” in the beginnings of the social movement. We need lasting change, and it begins in ourselves.


Let’s decide to be anti-racist and be the generation that takes a giant step forward in making the world a better place for black people. Finally.


P.S. Can we all just agree to push Oprah to run for president on a New World Party nomination come November?


“Turn your wounds into wisdom.” - Oprah


Let’s pray for courage, wisdom, and perseverance. And not stop until we have it for everyone.


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