Recognizing Racism (Including My Own)

I had two experiences two days in a row that had me crying foul against what was coming out of someone’s mouth.

That I can recall, these are the first instances when I called out Racism in those around me.

I finally opened my mouth.

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Bishop Desmond Tutu said:

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.

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El Paso, Texas – Ciudad Juárez, Mexico

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El Paso in the foreground; Ciudad Juárez in the background

I was chatting with a girlfriend and the subject turned to the racial integration of the cities we had visited around the United States… a really great topic, actually. We talked about what cities were really White (Seattle & Portland, although there are many Asians in the Pacific Northwest), the way so many cities are segregated (Orlando and San Diego) and then I talked about El Paso being a place where there wasn’t anywhere I could go that I didn’t hear Spanish. As I was learning Spanish, it was nearly an immersion experience and I loved it.

My girlfriend, someone I consider incredibly enlightened with race issues being of a minority herself, said, “El Paso really is part of Mexico.” And she laughed. I was rather shocked, but gathered my wits and said, “I do not find that amusing and it is rather racist.” I continued that people flee Ciudad Juárez for El Paso. I have listened to Americans malign El Paso for decades and it pisses me off. El Paso is a magical place in the middle of the desert and for many, many Mexicans, living there can, quite literally, be life-saving.

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This is taken from US Interstate 10 in El Paso, looking into Ciudad Juárez.

My friend realized what she said immediately and apologized profusely, saying she didn’t even realize how racist that was thinking it.

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This offers a small glimpse into what is just on the other side of the Rio Grande, looking into Ciudad Juárez.

Confession of My Own

As we left the El Paso discussion, I felt safe enough to share one of my own Secret Shames.

I do not say or even think (obvious to me) racist thoughts in my day-to-day life. However, put me behind the wheel of a car and the racial epithets fly unbidden. Only in my head… never out of my mouth… but it is still incredibly disconcerting. And wrong. I’ve meditated on it many, many times over the years trying to purge it from my psyche. I’ve looked at it trying to figure out “Why?” All I can figure is it was how I learned stress relief in a car, hearing it growing up. I have learned in therapy that the younger imprints can be some of the hardest to delete from our habits.

I will not give up trying.

“Think Good Thoughts”

A beloved family member recounted a story of going to a Christmas Concert in a local park and seeing a young Black girl carrying a sign that said (to the best of her recollection), “As night falls, the guns come out.” My relative was quite upset seeing it and said she wanted to go talk to her and tell her to “think good thoughts,” to not think so negative.

I winced, took a deep breath and gently explained how that is a horrible racist-ly negating thing to say. I said that Blacks are told what and how to think all the time by Whites and they have every right to demonstrate the pain and anger they feel in public. And it is our duty to be quiet and listen.

exhausting

My relative was somewhat receptive… she is trying hard to move along with the times, but it is confusing for her in ways I cannot imagine, she having lived through the Civil Rights years.

Right after that discussion, she said one of the other Never-Say-to-Blacks (or People of Color) statements:

“I Don’t See Color”

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I took another deep breath and quietly said, “You do see color. You look in your closet and pick out clothes that match. Colors of people might not be in the forefront of your thinking, but saying you do not see color is not a compliment. It is an insult.

In Why I Hate The Phrase “I don’t see color,” Roni Faida says:

Tell me this, if you were walking down the street and saw a Black man with a hoodie on with his hands in his pockets walking toward you, you really think you wouldn’t notice his color? If your child was going on a date and you saw that the date was Black, you mean to tell me you wouldn’t notice that fact? Come on now, of course you would.

Maybe you are one of those people that really wouldn’t mind. Maybe you truly believe that you absolutely don’t care about the color of someone’s skin. But answer me this, how many people of a different color have been to your house to eat? How many times have you broken bread in the home of a person of color? When you reach for the phone to call one of your dearest friends, are any of them a different hue than you?

Exactly.

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I am ashamed of how racist I am seeing myself. I can’t even say the terribly racist statement, “I have a black friend,” because I don’t have any. That’s how racist I am. I represent the segregation of America. And it sickens me.

Obviously, I need to devise a plan to remedy this really negative oversight.

Pondering, pondering

Alllll that said, I am proud of myself for opening my mouth finally. I will keep doing it, too.

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