How I Feel about Race Right Now
I grew up in a town with very few black people. Longmont, Colorado, just 15 minutes from Boulder, has a population of 83% white and 0.9% black. In 1925 the Ku Klux Klan had such a strong influence, they literally ran the town’s city council. This had a lasting affect on the town and, of course, on me. I’m writing this piece to talk about my specific experience and internal emotions about race because in order for us to truly become ALL ONE, we have to speak authentically about our experiences.
I am a spiritual leader with the words ALL ONE tattooed on my hands. Though I do preach this message, I believe it is extremely ignorant to assume it is or will be true socially without a deeper look at who we are as individuals and how we interact with the institutions which currently exist. The end of the old world isn’t going to be, as many hoped, a violent explosion where we start back from the beginning. It’s a slow transition from one way of being into another. It takes dedication, consciousness, awareness, immense amounts of honest authenticity, compassion, and sincere effort to creating spaces for groups who are oppressed.
As someone who lives on the internet, I’m aware of issues I wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to. As an empath, I feel them deeply. When Ferguson happened, I felt so much pain, I did the only thing I knew how to do, and I reached out to the targeted group. I started friending every POC I could find on Facebook talking about their experiences with race. I sent messages asking, “What can I do? What can I do?” — the majority of which went unanswered, not surprisingly.
Koa did answer and she continues to help guide my feelings about race back to me. She has taught me that the most important thing a white person can do about racism is talk about their experience of race with other white people. Racism is a problem with whites. It’s a problem with our majority institutions caused, as intelligently theorized by my friend Koa, by White Pain.
What is White Pain? When I think about racism, I feel immense pain. When I was younger I said, “I wasn’t there. I didn’t enslave anyone. I would DEFINITELY NEVER have had a slave. I’d be one of those rogue women begging her rich daddy to set them all free and marching in the streets in big flowy dresses. I was sure of that. But as time went on I started to see how much oppression still exists. I realized, I’m not marching in the streets now or telling my indoctrinated dad to hire more black people for his business. I realized, maybe I wouldn’t have been standing up for POC back then because if it’s awkward to do it now, imagine how awkward it would have been back then. Then I start to feel responsible. I start to feel the guilt and shame of my inaction and the inability to know what I can possibly do to make the world better for us all.
My own racism hurts me as well. When I see any POC I think “Oh my god, there’s a black person.” Then I think, “Oh my god why the fuck can’t I stop reacting like that?” I am so uncomfortably aware of any POC around me that I don’t even know how to act. If I smile at them or compliment them, I feel like they’ll think of me as just trying to prove I’m not racist. Am I just trying to prove I’m not racist? If I don’t talk to them, am I being more or less helpful? This dissipates after becoming acquainted with a POC and it is then replaced with a new awkwardness of how to navigate conversation. The things POC get harassed about like their hair, culture, experience are also things I’m immensely curious about. I desperately want to be honest about my curiosity but am petrified of saying something wrong, offensive, or ignorant. I erase a lot of Facebook comments and withhold others because of this fear.
Racism itself isn’t the only thing that causes my White Pain either. To use another phrase from Koa, Black Pleasure also causes me pain. Why can’t I dance like that? Or sing like that? My voice sounds like a squished tire compared to the black voices I’ve heard carrying the richest, fullest tones imaginable. My body moves like a weird lawn ornament when I dance, and no matter how many YouTube tutorials I’ve watched, I can never make my body twerk. What even is soul food? I grew up on soul-less food, fast food, hamburger helper, capitalist-created boxes marked “frozen dinner”. The culture that I belong to is privileged and it makes my life easy. It’s Hollywood and diets and shopping trips to the mall and looking like the main character in most Disney movies and not feeling like Barbie was that unrealistic of a body expectation. It’s anorexia and pop music and the person crying because she’s homesick and tired of all the “crazy” on reality tv. It’s fake. It’s empty. It lacks real connection or authentic expression.
Growing up, the only POC I saw were on TV. Magic Johnson was my idol. I had t-shirts and toys with his branding. I listened mostly to rap, both underground and pop. I memorized Petey Pablo, Twista, Busta Rhymes and Outkast tracks, rapping as fast as I could along with them to the disdain of my single parent who said very casually racist things.
Once, after a track meet where another school had come to compete with my high school, I saw the most black skin I’d ever seen in real life. It was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen. I started imagining how it would feel to be black. I imagined my hair, an afro when I was feeling rebellious, braids when I was feeling pretty. The look of gold jewelry when it didn’t just kind of blend in with my body. Pigmented lipsticks and eyeliners popping bright and my big smile. I spent a considerable amount of time in this fantasy, never once realizing the oppression that would go into looking like I wished I wanted to look.
Once, I had a dream, which I am sure was a past life memory of being trapped on a slave ship. Everyone around me was sick and dying, shackled, poisoned, afraid and hurting. I became filled with the light of an angel and I touched everyone around me with the same light. I don’t know if the light healed them or killed them. All I know is that I didn’t survive the trip to America, where I now live as a white person benefitting from the institutions perpetuated by that time.
These are my experiences with race. I read Tumblr, I listen to black voices, I call for reparations, I follow hashtags and protests. I will not vote for a racist, unaware president. I’m upset that Orange is the New Black has all white writers because I honestly hoped it would be a place for me to learn more about POC. My experience as a straight-haired, skinny, educated white person is so indoctrinated, so normalized, so unquestioned, that on one hand I feel hearing the voices and experiences of POC is essential. My craving for them as the solution to my White Pain is strong. But when will I have heard enough? When will I realize that my pain is coming from my own inability to connect with my own culture? The white power structure of oppression and pain waits for me to inevitably return to it in order to heal. For now, honest Black Pleasure will show me what to be aware of and maybe even what to strive for. I can feel for just a little bit longer the necessity of looking and seeing a foreign life to me, otherwise underrepresented.
But the behemoth of White Pain is waiting for me. It’s waiting for me to ask questions like why do we make movies and shows where POC are killed, enslaved, and suffering instead of successful, happy, and joyous? What anger in our hearts made oppression start? Why are we so jealous and what are we lacking? How can we make our own culture better instead of appropriating others? And what can I, as an “innocent” empath, do to make the world a more fulfilling place for us all?