For the past year and half, I have been very disappointed – in my country, my fellow citizens, and myself. I was born in the 80’s, an age of prosperity when I thought everything was great and would never change. Let’s be honest, most of us (at least us naive, young ones) thought that way. But as I’ve grown older, things have changed – the economy, the climate, and the attitude of our Western society. Especially within the past year and a half, I’ve found myself frequently wondering how long America can possibly last – people freaking out over Ebola, fairly pervasive drought, and an increased violence (or perhaps awareness of violence) within the nation’s police force. Tired, hurt, angry people take to the streets in protest (as is our Constitutional right), police presence increases, the situation escalates, and then come the riots – Ferguson, Baltimore. Now this past week, the Carolinas hit an all time low for my lifetime when nine, honest, upstanding black citizens were murdered in a church by a perpetrator who declared his crimes are racially motivated. Among the victims were grandmothers – nearly 80-year-old grandmothers.
It’s hard to find words, but I must because, apparently, I have been silent too long. And I am ashamed that it took something like this to make me realize that I needed to speak.
It doesn’t take a genius to see that the United States is facing serious, pervasive problems, and these problems are dividing us and threatening to dissolve us into barbaric bands of creatures that don’t behave even as well as animals do. While the problems we face are many, let’s talk honestly about one problem that must be dealt with before we can take on many of the others, one that continues to divide us, one that seems to make people uncomfortable and shockingly defensive, one I naively thought was behind us. Let’s talk about racism. Because, apparently, racism is still alive and thriving here.
“Racism exists because we don’t talk about it. We don’t. We argue about it. Or we try to convince ourselves it couldn’t possibly still exist. But there isn’t enough productive dialogue going on for a solution. Accusations, denial, defensiveness…none of these things are going to fix it. We need to all be listening to what is being said and then talking about solutions. In fact we should be do like Papal conclaves and not let anyone out until a solution is reached.” – Vanelle LeBlanc
Vanelle is a friend of mine, and her words spoken in the wake of the Charleston shooting have stayed with me this week, weighed on me, and truly made me think critically about this issue. Americans need solutions to racism, not the bickering with which we are all too familiar, because we are likely the most diverse nation on earth and really need to work together. But Vanelle is right. Rather than talking about solutions and taking responsibility for this issue everyone argues and passes blame. But in her perspective regarding the situation, I think Vanelle may have actually presented a solution without even realizing it. Now, I know that this issue is complicated, every issue has multiple sides, yada, yada, yada…but for now, I want to talk about just one simple solution in a productive way. And since I’m white, I want to talk to the white people; I know them best. While all people of all races are more than welcome to listen and take in what I have to say in, White People, what I have to say today is for you.
I was born in Charlotte, NC and raised in the rural area of western Stanly County. It’s not a wealthy area, and there aren’t many jobs, especially once all the textile mills moved overseas. However, it is very beautiful with gigantic trees, vast open fields, and local wildlife. In Stanly County, Albemarle is “town”, and “town” is not big. Of course, it has never been legally segregated during my lifetime, but as I grew up, the communities within “town” were distinctly one color or the other. There were only a handful of people of Asian, Indian, or Latin American descent living in the whole county, and I still doubt anyone of Middle Eastern decent lives there. In my rural area, you could only find white people, and to this day, you won’t find many that aren’t white. Of course, this meant that as I was growing up, the people close to me were all white, and you become most comfortable around the people with which you live. Now, I was very fortunate to have parents that taught me a person was a person and I was never to judge a person by his/her appearance. That included skin color and clothes. But let’s be honest, when I went to college, there were suddenly many different people in my world – the “others”. There were a lot more of them than my naïve little self had realized. It was unsettling because I didn’t know them and didn’t know what they would do. And yes, being around black people, people who practiced other religions, and people with different racial and cultural heritages was not always “comfortable” for me – initially.
I don’t mean in anyway to trivialize America’s racism issues, but a wise, science fiction character once said, “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” Yes, I just quoted Yoda because it really is true and applicable here. Racism is rooted in fear – fear of the “other”, whether that other is Black, Middle Eastern, Muslim, Asian, Buddhist, Wiccan, etc., etc. When fear is allowed to fester and not confronted, it grows into something far more sinister – resentment, anger, hate, racism. Now, I’m sure we could talk about how such fear is the result of survival instincts and evolution and how it helped us avoid the tigers when our weapons were wooden clubs, but the truth is that at some point, human beings decided that we would be much better equipped to fight off the tiger if we worked together as a group, and thus society was born. While a fear of “others” may be natural, it really isn’t that helpful…especially when the “other” is a member of our own species.
Fear leads to racism, and if we are ever to overcome racism, we have to overcome our fears. The Charleston shooter (no, I won’t give him attention by using his name) verbally expressed his fears when he told a survivor, “You rape our women, you’re taking over our country, you have to go.” Really? Such a statement is completely irrational, especially when uttered in a place of worship in reference to a group that included grandmothers. Such a statement absolutely expresses racism and hate. It also expresses irrational, unfounded fears that should have been dealt with long ago and certainly not encouraged or fed.
Unfortunately, I cannot help the Charleston shooter deal with his racism, hate, and fear. He will accept the consequences of his actions and will never read my words, but hopefully I can say something to you that will at very least cause you to question any feelings of fear or apprehension you may have when you come in contact with black people or any of the “others”. Perhaps that questioning can prompt you to actions that will prevent your fears from growing into hate, racism, and abhorrent actions (whether those actions take lives or harm emotionally, financially, intellectually, or spiritually).
So how do we stop the fear I’ve pointed out? Well first, we have to admit it’s there (Would it make you feel any better if I called it apprehension? I will if need be.), or at very least, we have to commit to doing some things that might make us uncomfortable – initially. Please do me a favor and think about where you live. What race or culture group do your neighbors belong to? Can you identify several groups? What about your friends? Medical providers? Coworkers? What about those who join you in worship or intellectual discussions or creative pursuits? The people that join you in your activities and hobbies? If they are all white, why?
Are you suddenly uncomfortable or do you feel reservation when a group of black people walk near you? Why? Please, please ask yourself if the people that make you uncomfortable are really showing signs of aggression. If so, what are those signs? Make a mental list! If you can’t identify truly aggressive behaviors, like calling you names or attempts to physically overpower or intimidate you, that list is empty, and your fear is unfounded. Clothes do not make the person. Loud voices do not equate aggression, usually those voices are coming out of folks having a good time or, sometimes, fights with their family just like you do.
Finally, expose yourself to your fears. Make yourself uncomfortable. In time, you will realize there’s really nothing to be afraid of. So I return to Vanelle’s point – talk. Meet black people and talk to them rather than letting movies, TV, and the internet dictate to you what kind of people they are. (Please do this with Middle Eastern people, Indian people, Asian people too.) Listen to what they have to say!
When I was in college, I put myself in situations that made me uncomfortable. And it didn’t take me long to have experiences that assured me the “other” people were just people, they weren’t going to hurt me, they were actually like me in more ways than they were different, and they were really, really interesting. It has made my life better, and it has also made me into a person who wants to learn from others rather than get away from them or harm them in any way.
Please don’t get defensive with me. I’m not going to argue today. I don’t want to hear about what black people need to do. I’m not going to presume to tell black people what they need to do because I can never experience the world as they do. I’ll leave that responsibility to one of them. I do however experience the world in ways more like you do, and I do know what many of you need to do and what I need to continue to do.
Is this the only solution we need? No, it’s not, but it is a step in the right direction. And why, wouldn’t you want to do everything in your power to make yourself blameless? Stop being lazy! Stop passing blame and take a little responsibility for the state of our country and our society. It is your fault, and it is mine. Fix the one thing you have the absolute power to fix – yourself. Because I am owning this issue, I am speaking to you. Trust me, I’d prefer to write fun stories or blacksmithing posts, but my conscience won’t hold me blameless until I call you out and give you at least one tool to start making yourself better. I’m ashamed it’s taken me this long to do so.
If reading this piece didn’t make you uncomfortable, you are likely already taking the steps I’ve described above. Thank you for doing that. Thank you for contributing to positive change and making the world a better place for everyone. Please continue this every waking moment and teach it to the children in your life.
If it did make you uncomfortable, or if you feel defensive, please, please, please ask yourself why this one little article, the mere musings of some woman in NC, upset you. It is the very first step to getting to know yourself, making yourself a better person, eliminating racism, and making our country a better place to live.
The world is infinitely more complicated than it was a thousand years ago. As much as each one of us would like to say, “I made the life I live all by myself; I’m independent,” we didn’t, and we’re not. We are all relying on each other to make it through each day, week, and year. Labor is divided and specialized. Only a handful of us know how to grow or get food. Only a few know how to build a house or fix a broken machine. The only way our species survives and thrives is through the cooperation of the group, but for some illogical reason, we don’t act like it. And that baffles me. Divided, hate-filled groups have but one end, and it’s not the end I choose. Let’s stop wasting the hours allotted to us. It’s time to evolve.