I grew up in a town without race. Over the course of my four years in high school there were a total of two students who were not white. In my graduating class there were 120 students one of them was not white. The other not white student graduated years before me.
Race, difference and tolerance were never discussed at school. They were hardly touched on at home. Except for those times when my dad would lament “I’m not prejudice accept when it comes to Indians.” (A side note here, my dad did develop a deep regret for his ignorance of First Nations people in his later years. He expressed remorse and worked for forgiveness (which came easily from others but I don’t think so much from himself) for his prejudice. )
I grew up white. In a white town. With little exposure. Expect for the box in the living room that perpetuated racial myths and stereotypes with ridiculous inaccuracy.
This lack of exposure lead me to grow up rather naive. I actually believed we were all equal. I thought we had made progress. I thought for sure folks were not walking around judging others by their skin color. Cause in my brain this made absolutely no sense what so ever. I really could not wrap my mind around the idea that a persons intent, behavior, level of deviance or criminal intent could all be wrapped up in skin color.
In my naive mind it was like assuming cause someone had an apple they hated oranges. The leap was that hard for my small town mind.
Yet as my word expanded I was more and more shocked. My sheltered world began crumbling piece by piece. The first was with an Uncle who let me know I best buy a house quickly before “the Asians bought them all and made it impossible for me to get what was rightfully mine.” I was stunned in to silence. A silence I continued to witness around me whenever there was blatant disregard for the humanity of a race other then ones own. I was confused that such injustices (small or big) were silently being swept under the carpet with such apathy and disregard for the humanity in us all.
In my late twenties I moved to a foreign country. I will never forget the moment I stood in a busy marketplace and noticed I was the only white person around. Throughout my year, I was pointed at. I was cursed at. I was called a name or two. It was humbling. I was never in danger. And truth be told my white privilege even followed me to this foreign country. My safety was never once jeopardized. In truth more of my interactions were in total fascination at my english and my white skin.
I now again live in a foreign to me country. The state I live in is by far the most colorful culture rich place I have lived. My boys hear a wide range of different languages and encounter a rainbow of skin colors. But with that has come the noticing as well that all is far from equal around us. Along with the division of race, I see a stark division of class lines. Lines not visible to the eye but clearly noticeable to the heart, outline my every outing.
I mostly feel overwhelmed with confusion. I mostly feel small to issues bigger then my single self. Yet, as the case of Trayvon Martin spreads throughout my Facebook feed I am stunned out of any sort of silence. Friends I barely know such as Erika Davis – Pitre beg of me to examine once again what it means to be human. What it means to share humanity with others. This was the beginning :
Thank you everyone for your thoughtful responses here about the Trayvon Martin case.
I just spent most of the night thinking about this case and wondering what I could do to help raise awareness of what I see as a serious problem across the nation, the assumed criminality of black males.
Granted, it doesn’t always end in physical death or physical incarceration but it does leave many of us in the black community in a psychological prison of self doubt, anxiety and I feel that it leads to a kind of spiritual death of personal freedom.
So you will have to forgive my impatience with my continual need to explain to folks who don’t have to think about this situation often, of how it feels to be Black in America.
It may not be as bad as it was 60 years ago but it is still bad.
Bad enough for a teenaged boy to wind up shot to death because he looked like a “criminal” and because it appears that he did what I taught my own children to do if they were confronted by a stranger that was following them: run, scream and fight like hell!
And to those of you that question the racial aspect of this story, I have a couple of questions for you:
What have you taught your own kids to do if they are being followed by a stranger?
What would have to happen for you to believe that this incident happened because Trayvon Martin was a black teenager at the “wrong” place at the “wrong” time?
What would acknowledging this as a racist incident do? Why the denial of that?
I really want to understand this.
I hope that you will answer my questions.
And please keep this story on your wall! Many things are happening in this case because of all of the media attention! –Erika Davis-Pitre
She asked me some hard questions and I don’t know that my answers are any where near complete yet. And then Jeff Sabo added his voice to it all with The White Man’s Burden, a deeply moving piece. Then Flo Glascon asked me so many more meaningful questions with her piece Shoot First, Apologize Later?
It is clear the issues this small town girl thought were long gone still fill large pieces of our world. It is clear there are many more questions to be asked more conversation to be had. What is clearest of it all though is that stunned silence and carpet sweeping apathy are not options. This is our shared humanity as living beings. This is not okay to ignore. It is not enough to hide with in feelings of smallness. One question, one answer, one conversation, one human being to another. It’s time to make real the feeling, the knowing that it is simply ridiculous to judge a person by their skin, race, gender, their sexual preference or any thing other then their shared humanity.
I beg of you to unfold your own knowledge and carefully examine it for the leaks that keep you silent. Ask yourself the questions Erika and Flo ask. Ask your neighbors. Talk to the store clerk. Only once we see through the sorts of eyes that only witness are shared humanity will the whole world be as safe of those of us born in to this privileged white skin.
Beautifully written Shannon and courageous. You are an inspiration!
What a wonderful piece! Thank you so much for adding your voice to the courageous conversation we are all having!