I try every day to flip the script and challenge myself and others on questions of race. Not only when deciphering the news, but also in the daily decisions and encounters I have with other people. I try to confront, not only my own stuff, but others where and when I see it. Sometimes, I am successful. Speaking up when a family member calls President Obama and his wife “uppity”, or when a friend blames a victim of police brutality for “not being more respectful of a police officer.” But sometimes I fail.
Recently, I was at a club meeting for the Rotary. The speaker was the head of Public Safety for the county I live in. A white man, he gave the whole “respect” speech. You know the one. “If people treated the police with respect, the police wouldn’t feel like they need to use force.” I wish I could say that I stood up and said “What an incredibly racist/white privileged thing to say.” I didn’t. Even though I thought that, I was a coward and, instead, I asked about what is being done about PTSD in our police departments. The kind that makes an officer see a 12 year old with a toy gun as a threat. While it was a question with challenge in it, it did not go far enough. I am still angry at myself for taking the easy way out. Hopefully, the next time I get angry about a comment like that I will be more honest. But let’s face it…. my anger will be better tolerated because I am a white woman.
As a kid growing up in a suburb of Detroit (one of the most segregated places in the country.) I remember asking, “How can you hate someone you don’t even know?” I can’t remember what I was told. Whatever the answer was, I am glad I have never felt the need to stop asking that question.
I am glad you are talking to white people about race again. While I see white privilege in our society…. in our “justice” and educational systems, in our neighborhoods and community groups, I need people in my life who will point out the obvious. I need people to challenge me with the “Why didn’t you say something?” or the “Why did you just stand back?” I need to learn how to be that person and support others who do it as well.