Dear John Metta,
I’m a racist too, and am so glad to have the opportunity to say that about myself to someone who understands what I mean. I can’t begin to thank you enough for your eloquent description that for me FINALLY begins to touch on and name some of the levels of White racism so baldy evident in our collective, collusive silence. I’m painfully and deeply familiar with it as I grew up a woman of so-called privilege in the segregated South. I left immediately after college for what seemed like many reasons at the time.
Having spent large chunks of my life in 7 states, and 4 countries, on 2 continents, I have understood that most of what galled me about the South I grew up in, truly underlies almost every ill you can name in America today. I’ve also learned, sadly, that it’s endemic in various forms around the world: prejudice against “other” because we humans have a natural inclination to selfishness and greed which blind us and make us too ignorant to see what we hold in common with one another, AND with the earth and all its various forms of life. Our selfish, greedy prejudices have been with us all our history as humans. It’s been scientifically demonstrated as instinctive in babies, but it can be shaped into something else if we try. We’ve locked ourselves into a mendacious cultural prison here in America, and I’m SICK TO DEATH of it.
Your observations have freed me in a way I’ve wanted to feel free to speak for DECADES. I hope some day I can talk with you and so many others face to face and explain to you the pain I have felt on behalf of blacks for longer than I can remember. And here I am as a member of a so-called mixed-race marriage, which is really a cross-cultural marriage, who KNOWS, like you, that I’m a racist, and I know why too. Here in America, very few aren’t, and the only group I can’t point to thatc. aren’t are children who have been raised well, or are too young to know the difference. It’s just too DAMNED HOT a burner, not to know that it’s on — even though we all know enough not to touch it.
I was trapped by the same power crazy, ego driven mania that has been running hard in the American South since the “end” of slavery. People looked at me wondering why I was unhappy, because I had “everything”. Yes, I did — everything but honesty.
I was caught in a sordid game of deceit, denial and delusion that was necessary to support long and deeply held lies, and a power structure that is STILL taking every opportunity it can find to quietly brutalize, degrade and destroy lives for it’s own shallow agrandizement and advantage. This wasn’t being done by ugly talking, white supremacist skinheads, it was being done by fine, good upstanding people who were generous, and helped others regularly and often, and not solely others of their own kind. Those folks had many good instincts, but were also blinded by their culture, by greed and by fear. I might as well have been speaking Martian to them every time I tried to express my point of view.
My “jailers” were well, educated, well spoken, and unfortunately, well schooled in the ways of belittling and controlling others for their own benefit, often enough with “kind” and “gentle” words and deeds. It was a nightmare for me — living in a prison of privilege built of self-deceit, denial and delusion. I think I identified with the few black lives I had contact with, because they were the first profoundly, and reliably kind people I encountered in my life.
Of course at a young age, I learned that being too friendly with black folks was a bad idea. (How I learned that, is a story worth telling.) Despite what I learned, I was stubborn and persisted (in my childish way) until we moved to a place where the only blacks I encountered were servants, two blacks of authority in my school, and a literal handful of students in a student body of 2000. “Oddly enough”, after we moved, life for me there was MUCH MUCH worse. I hope I can begin to unlock this story in words, and that some day I will succeed. But what I want to say to you now is that I KNOW in my bones, my history and my memory what you are living, and I want to stand with you and talk about this.
If you look across the planet (and in my experience living in many locations, I have seen first hand) that the oppression that occurred and is still happening in the American South is going on across the world in different, subtler forms. What you described in your White Aunt from the North is also going on all around the world. That collusive silence allowed Hitler to lead the Germans to a horrible end, and that collective, collusive American silence, which we richly benefit from, is leading the WHOLE WORLD astray in more ways that I have time to list right now. In fact, I think I can argue that almost ANY widespread problem you see today in America is based on the same damned mistakes that were made when slavery began, and in our failure beginning LONG AGO and continuing to this day, to cease making those mistakes and to right the terrible wrongs created by them.
I also understand and believe is that it is in our power as Americans to make a change that could help people across the planet turn the corner on this heinous way of approaching the world: dominion over others for one’s own benefit. But I don’t think we can do it until we as a country address and redress our own original American sins, of slavery, Native American genocide and racism. (There are a few other “isms” I could throw in there, but they’re a little bit different too, and will have to wait for another day.)
Most importantly, I want you to know your words are not falling on deaf ears, and I want to help start this conversation however I can. I started it last night on Facebook after reading your message in a post made by a friend from the North, and I’ve had a heartening reply (albeit a cantankerous one that befits the culture we were raised in) from a friend I haven’t seen since high school.
There is another point to be made here too. There are plenty of good folks everywhere who are learning and practicing life in ways that are much different from what you described, and from what I KNOW to be true. There are communities all across this country LONGING for and building different ways of living and relating, and groups of people all over the world, connecting across cultures and every boundary imaginable, thanks to social media. You are not alone, and you don’t have to isolate yourself from all white people. There are plenty of us that see this and want exactly the change you rightly expect and should feel free to demand.
I have no children of my own, but I want this BADLY for the next generations. I see in them an openness, honesty and and desire to embrace differences unlike any in America’s past. They demand the same kind of authenticity in others that my own generation (I’m 56) often runs and hides from. There is great power in the coming generations and we owe them a chance to create the world in a different mold that the one we inherited.
For me BLACK LIVES MATTER just like everyone else’s lives, and for some special reasons to do with black culture in all its richness and strife, and because it’s so REAL. Black lives also matter, because you are the keepers of the keys to the kingdom. Without your voices, we cannot heal as Americans, much less live in full integrity. It’s just not possible for an individual to accomplish. It’s a cultural problem and we have to do this together. We MUST.