Protesting Isn’t Enough
We must live our lives together.
Break bread together.
I’m a privileged white woman in so many ways it’s impossible to delineate. Not that I’ve lived a charmed life. Nor am I upper class. Nor am I free to walk the streets at 2am. That’s not the privilege I have. I have the privilege of living my life without fear of being me.
We all should understand the horror of what it feels like to be judged by the color of our skin. But we can’t unless we experience it. The most we can do is empathize. Or is it?
Funny story. Not really… last week as hubby and I did the dishes and packed up the trash, our front door opened. Our apartment is small. We were within a few feet of the door. A man walked in. He was very tall, quite large. Everything happened so fast it’s hard to detail out.
I looked over and froze, startled. My husband stood taller. I raised my eyebrows in question. The man quickly backed out of our doorway onto the porch. He spoke.
“Oh… um… sorry?” He said, flustered. I saw the keys in his hand. They looked just like ours. Same property-issued set. He saw me look at the keys and he looked too, then looked at our apartment number.
“What are apartment are you in? I asked, relaxed and smiling. “You just moved in didn’t you?”
He nodded, and it was clear by his expression he was mortified.
Our cat, Darwin, approached the threshold and simply stood there, head slightly tilted. Watching. He’s quite a social cat, our boy Darwin, and very smart. According to Darwin, our new friend posed no threat at all. Just a curiousity it would seem.
We all laughed. We introduced ourselves. He went on his way.
Nobody reached for a gun. Nobody called the police. Nobody tried to pepper spray anyone. Nobody yelled, or freaked out.
You probably think yeah, because he was white. That’s what I’d have thought. But he wasn’t. He was a large black man, a stranger, who’d walked into the wrong apartment and by some miracle it was our apartment. I think about it everyday. What if he’d walked into the apartment across the way where the guy who cleans his guns everyday lives?
I have always had friends of various cultures, ethnicities and faith. I have always welcomed that diversity in my life. I have always wondered though, am I unconsciously biased? Do I pre-judge instantly? I’d taken all the quizzes online and kept coming up with the same answer. No. It didn’t reassure me. Nothing did. Until our new neighbor walked in on us. Then I knew. But I wondered… in what situations might I pre-judge? Might my privilege ooze out? I know it’s there. And at some point I’ll recognize it.
I do have some very conscious judgments. If I’m walking down a sidewalk and see a group of young men with their pants down at their knees and a swagger in their step? I cross the street. I don’t care what color their skin is, or whether they’re just acting tough. I cringe when people from the suburbs use urban slang. I admit it. I do pre-judge people and it’s not right. I’m working on it. I’m an intellectual snob. I detest ignorance. I see no excuse for it. If you’ve got a smartphone, you’ve got an encyclopedia and dictionary in the palm of your hand. Use it.
All that said, watching the BLM protests makes me profoundly sad. I know so many who marched did it not for their friends or family, but for all those who suffer. Empathetic people of all races standing shoulder to shoulder. That should be a feel-good moment but for me it’s not. Because there is so much more that needs to happen.
If you’ve never had dinner at a black friend’s home… or invited them into yours, do it.
If your company isn’t diverse, recommend a friend for the next job opening to change that.
Make sure your kids playgroups include all the kids in the neighborhood, not just the ones that look like they do.
To truly have a society that can break free of systemic racism, we have to have a society that doesn’t try to erase our differences. We need to embrace them. And it’s not a one-sided deal. We all need to do these simple things. Integration isn’t just about schools or workplaces. It’s about life.
When the majority of us truly begin to live an integrated life, our attitudes will change. Our behaviors will change. Our legal and social systems will change.
Protesting is a powerful way to spark change.
But truly sharing our lives may just be the way to create it.