…and why are so many hell-bent on saying that they do?
As I start writing this blog, I cannot ignore the anxiety and hesitancy I am feeling by doing so. I am worried of offending and I am worried that I could come off as someone who is conveying that they understand, when in all reality, there is no way for me to even begin to understand. I am worried that who I am will devalue the message I am trying to present and I am worried that my own ignorance on these matters will cause even more hurt when so much pain has been inflicted for far too long. I am most worried my words will not adequately convey what is in my heart. So who am I? I am a white woman. I am the product of an upper middle-class family. I was raised in a small city where people of color account for 6.1% of the population (United States Census Bureau, 2010). I am someone who was raised to believe that “all men (AND WOMEN) are created equal” and because of that, racism really did not exist, at least not on a large scale. I am someone who knows nothing of what a person of color faces on a day-to-day basis, but I do know one thing, and that one thing is that this is an uncomfortable subject and it is a subject that NEEDS to be talked about.
When the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement came to national attention, I was one of the first to say “all lives matter.” I cannot express how incredibly fortunate I am to have a dear friend who is not easily offended by my ignorance. I am fortunate to have a friend who was able to gently explain to me that, in the reality we live in and as unfortunate as it is, the truth of the matter is that all lives do not matter, and that is what BLM is addressing and trying to change. I am so thankful for my friend who is willing to make herself vulnerable in order to share her experiences with me so that I can crawl out of my own bubble and face the hard truth of racism and discrimination that I simply have just not wanted to recognize.
My parents ingrained in me the notion that we are all to be colorblind. I respect their intentions in doing this, but I am finally starting to understand how that mentality has contributed to the belittling of the individuals who are facing and suffering from the harsh reality of racism. When I look at it now through a different perspective, I realize that by carrying this attitude, I have been demonstrating ambivalent racism. I held the attitude that although minorities could be treated unfairly, the burden of responsibility was placed on their shoulders to “pick themselves up by the bootstraps,” and if they did, well then, they would be able to get ahead and succeed in life (Schneider, Gruman, & Coutts, 2012). For a long time, this soothed my conscience any time I would see the injustices and the suffering in communities that were made up of people who did not look like me.
I could be worse, right? I have been around people who demonstrate blatant racism. I have been around the people who have shouted racial slurs and have made it no secret that they thought themselves better and more deserving just because they were white (Schneider, Gruman, & Coutts, 2012). And for heaven’s sake, it’s not even like I was demonstrating aversive racism, right? I have family members swear up and down that they are anything but racist; they know that being racist is not a good thing, so they adamantly deny their racism, but once they are done denying that they are prejudiced, the hateful and condescending words come spewing from their mouths (Schneider, Gruman, & Coutts, 2012). Wait, wait, I can’t REALLY be THAT bad can I? I’m not even a symbolic racist! I don’t have to preface my thoughts and ideologies with the phrase that “I have nothing against people of color . . ..” I don’t condemn programs that were created to give the disenfranchised equal access to rights and privileges like the symbolic racist does (Schneider, Gruman, & Coutts, 2012). No, I am just demonstrating the qualities of an ambivalent racist and that’s the least racist one!
I, Emily, the ambivalent racist.
I, Emily, the racist.
I am a racist.
No longer may I take advantage of the privilege of trying to soothe my own conscience. So, what now? The only thing that I can come up with is it is no longer acceptable to stay silent. The only thing that I can come up with is that if I want to break free of my own racism and my own shame, I have to speak out and against the racism that is running rampant in our society, and to accept my own responsibility in its existence. I present this writing with little to no solution in regards to the stain on my own character and the stain on the character of society; I only write so that maybe a conversation can be started and with the hope that one day, a solution can found so that wounds may begin to heal.
So no, all lives do not matter. And, until that day, the day when black lives, and brown lives, and LGBTQ+ lives, and indigenous lives, and the lives of all those oppressed REALLY DO MATTER, I will stand, and I will fight, and I will no longer be silent.
**End note: I have attached a video that I encourage you, the reader, to watch. It’s about a half an hour long, so if you have some time, I highly recommend it. Two friends of mine that I grew up with held an event in response to the recent series of shootings of black individuals by law enforcement officials. Its purpose was to bring together a diverse audience and to have an open and candid conversation. The conversation was uncomfortable at times, some comments were prickly, but it was a safe atmosphere that has hopefully set in motion the change that many of us want to see.**
Cichocki, C. (Director). (2016). The Grand Exchange: Understanding the Black and White [Internet Documentary].
Schneider, F. W., Gruman, J. A., & Coutts, L. M. (2012). Applied Social Psychology: Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems (2nd ed.). Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore, Washington DC: SAGE Publications, Inc.
United States Census Bureau. (2010). Community Facts. Retrieved October 2, 2016, from American Fact Finder: http://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?src=CF