I don’t actually like talking about race, and I don’t actually like thinking about it. If I sit too long in that space I find myself growing angry.
I’m not uncomfortable having the conversations—and unless you know me well you might not even perceive my anger—but when race is brought to my attention, or when I’m in a situation where I’m forced to consider it, I get angry.
Part of my anger stems from the lack of understanding, agreement, and acknowledgment of others’ experiences. Part of my anger stems from the nature of the conversations themselves: much of the dialogue we have about race is neither civil nor helpful. And if by some magical turn of events it IS both civil and helpful, very little is done afterwards in response.
I have an interest in talking about race and thinking about race, even though I don’t enjoy the conversation, because I think there are misconceptions, missed opportunities, and violence.
Today (because tomorrow this may change), I am naïve enough to believe that if more of us understood our own identity, we wouldn’t feel the need to attack the identity of others. We wouldn’t let our insecurities about who we are and who our ancestors were cause us to deny others’ humanity.
When I was young I was a white, evangelical Christian (more on that later). I was white longer than I was evangelical and longer than I was Christian, but at different points I’ve definitely been all three. I mean this in the least disrespectful way possible.
When I was white, there were some very specific things I believed about myself and very specific things I believed about other people.
1. I believed that I was an individual and that my actions spoke for myself.
2. I believed that I succeeded or failed by own merit.
3. I believed that I was special and that I had something to share that was significant.
4. I believed that I was important.
The specific things I believed about other people were extensions of the beliefs about myself.
I believed that others succeeded or failed by their own merit, just like my own. If you weren’t successful, it was because you didn’t want to be.
Because I believed I had something to share, I believed there was something people needed to learn from me.
When I was white, it didn’t occur to me that I was white. I didn’t know that my perspective came from a place of privilege. More than that, I didn’t believe that privilege existed.
And because I always had to work for everything that came to me, and because things were not easy, and because I felt like I was never given anything, I wasn’t willing to entertain a conversation about why some had more and others had very little.
Race is socially constructed, which means that it was made up. But now that it’s been created, I argue that it has become real.
Because I’ve been white in the way that others have been white (meaning: A. I didn’t know that I was white. B. Once I discovered that whiteness can be perceived as wrong, I was both defensive and instantly ashamed. Defensive, ashamed, and indignant: I hadn’t done anything. I hadn’t done anything wrong! I wasn’t racist. I didn’t understand why I would be blamed for actions of others who shared a superficial characteristic with me—a characteristic such as skin color.), I’m empathetic. Because I’ve been white in the way others have been white, I remain empathetic.
I was white because my friends were, because my classmates were, because my teammates were, and because my friends in the neighborhood were. I was white because it was easier, and I’ve always been lazy.
Now that I’m older (although not necessarily because I am older), I feel like I was delivered from an unhealthy racial identity to what I consider a healthy one. One that gives me life and gives me meaning. A racial identity I recognize as equal to others—not better than or less than, but equal.
I’m naïve enough to believe that because I have been delivered, others can be too.
I don’t know if this is a paternalistic idea, but it is where I sit for now.
What color is your parachute?