I DID A THING
Recently, I did a thing. This THING made me nervous and uncomfortable. BUT this was important. Consequently, it’s important for all of us. I made a promise recently and this promise was to LISTEN. What do I mean by this? I claim to not be a racist. I truly don’t think I am. But what I’ve found through listening is my definition of being a racist isn’t a fully encompassing version of what racism actually is. This THING I did made me discover a reality I never knew.
Racism is defined as prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against a person or people on the basis of their membership of a particular racial or ethnic group, typically one that is a minority or marginalized.
Noted. But here’s where my definition and reality come to a crossroads. There are unconscious bias pieces of racism as well. Not just the screaming, confederate flag waving craziness my mind visually goes to when I think of the word racism. Furthermore, when I listen and think more deeply about the unconscious, I would be lying if I said some of the thoughts had never crossed my mind. Have I tried to squash them because I know they are wrong? Sure. But it doesn’t negate the fact they entered into my conscious in the first place.
A THING CALLED LISTENING
So back to the thing I did. First, I re-shared a story on Facebook. The story definitely made me sad. Consequently, it also made me realize racism isn’t reserved just for people in a lower socio-economic class. (For the record, I’m not saying that makes it any better either.) It’s not reserved for a person someone might term as a “thug” (who, by the way, is a human too and it should be noted may just be dressed differently than you).
Nope. It’s happening to PEOPLE with jobs, in nice neighborhoods, raising families. In this case, someone who by the sheer fact of having a skin color darker than my own, causes them to live in fear of taking a walk in their predominantly white neighborhood.
When I shared this story, a friend and former colleague commented on the post about the reality this story is for her family. And admittedly, I felt ashamed. This was a reality I never knew.
We used to work together, her at the Indiana Fever and I at Reebok/adidas. I always enjoyed our working relationship and respected what an amazing person Ashley is. Always hard-working but regardless of the long hours, greeted me with a smile. Inevitably things would go wrong with deliveries or product as they often do in the apparel industry. Gracefully is the word which comes to mind to describe how Ashley would deal with these issues. Communicative, responsive, and always polite even when things were wrong from my end.
But here’s the thing. We had many conversations over the years. Not once did I ever acknowledge the reality of her world lens. By no means am I saying I have some different lens today suddenly showing me this world either. But I’m disappointed in myself for never asking. Moreover, never truly listening to pick up on this.
We both went to Purdue, but our experiences were vastly different. I did not know about this difference in experience until today. Why? Because I finally asked. We talked about it. Years ago, when we discussed our common ground of Purdue, it was from a very different lens. I didn’t ask. Furthermore, I didn’t listen.
ASHLEY’S REALITY I NEVER KNEW
After Ashley’s response to my Facebook post, I didn’t respond immediately. In fact, I had private messages pulled up two times before I finally hit send. I explained to her I really had no idea this was a reality people were living. However, in my effort to listen more, I wanted to talk to her about this. I asked permission to discuss and then write about it. She agreed. As we began, she said:
If you are comfortable enough coming to me, I don’t want to be dismissive. As long as people are listening, how can I be dismissive?
Ashley and her husband, Mauri, live outside of Dallas. She described her neighborhood as older, financially well-off, and very few young families with even fewer families of color. In other words, “we stand out.” Admittedly, this isn’t the first time she has encountered living in a place where she stands out.
She and her mother lived in Geist, a suburb of Indianapolis, for a number of years. Her mother always told her to, “be careful and keep your eyes on your surroundings.” While this may sound common for a mother to say to any child, especially a daughter, this phrase had a very different connotation to it than my own experience. She saw the funny looks given of a black child in this predominantly white area of the city.
Ashley went on to tell me about experiences even more shocking. Her mother is very light skinned. So much so, some of Ashley’s friends have always assumed she was either mixed or white. Not the case. To that end, she told a story about being in the mall. Her mother getting a hello and pleasantries from the staff. However, when Ashley turned down the same aisle to join her mom, the staff approached her suspiciously and even followed her. Ensuring she wasn’t up to something.
A reality I never knew.
MORE REALITY I NEVER KNEW
Mauri is a lawyer. He graduated from Notre Dame, a fact he is both proud of, but also has to use as a shield of protection. He once had co-workers give him a hard time, accusing him of being pretentious for having a Notre Dame law sticker on his car. His response, “you think this is pretentious? I’m a black man in America. This is protection.” The sticker serves as a buffer if he gets pulled over for accidentally running a stop sign or having a taillight out. This may prevent him from getting pulled out of the car for looking “suspicious” or worse. Not only does he know the law, but he can be treated with respect.
A reality I never knew.
This next experience made me tear up. It does even again as I sit here typing this. Hearing her voice. Hearing her little boy’s voice in the background asking if he could watch another Paw Patrol. I asked about the conversations they have with her 4-year-old son, Logan. Once per week, they ask Logan what he should do if the police should ever stop or approach him. He puts his hands up and says, “Hands up, don’t shoot.”
A reality I never knew.
BEING BLACK- THE REALITY
Ashley’s grandfather was a sheriff. Her parents both military. Therefore, this perspective is coming from someone who respects and admires what people out there serving and protecting do for us locally and abroad. But they also have to teach their 4-year-old son the realities of this world and what his skin color could mean. She continued to explain some of their house rules.
No water guns. No play guns in the house. And the difficult conversations she has to have when he is playing at a friend’s house. Logan is not allowed to play with toy guns. As I type this, my two white children and their white neighborhood friend are running around three yards playing with laser tag guns.
This is a reality I never knew.
At all times, being black means being conscious of your surroundings. “You know the feeling you get as a woman walking to your car in a parking garage by yourself? This is the feeling as a black person you get when you walk out your front door.”
The extra vigilance. The extra precautions to make sure you are happy and friendly even if you don’t feel like being happy and friendly to someone.
Ashley and Mauri are flipping a house in a white neighborhood. They take extra precautions to ensure the neighbors know they are there working on the house and not robbing the place. “It is exhausting to constantly ensure people know what we have to offer versus them just being acceptive of who we are.”
A reality I never knew.
In these past few weeks, Ashley has been brought to tears over the existence of hate in the world. Her son noticed this last week and asked why she was crying. She explained there will be people in his life who may not like him just because of his skin color, “it makes me sad as there are people hurting each other because of this.” Logan jumped to action saying, “Mommy, I will protect you and baby sister! I’m a superhero!”
She cried harder. (and I cried hearing this story for the record.)
The reality is, he’s public enemy #1. It’s more likely they will have to teach their unborn daughter to advocate for him. Be a champion for her older brother. Teach her awareness and how the world will perceive them both.
“She will have to walk home from school with him. Yes, because she’s younger, but also because her being with him makes him be perceived as less of a threat.”
A reality I never knew.
BLACK LIVES MATTER
Let me preface this with, I personally find it offensive to respond to Black Lives Matter with All Lives Matter. Of course they do. That’s not the point. I asked for Ashley’s take on this.
“At a breast cancer walk, would you go in screaming, ALL CANCERS MATTER? Of course not. It’s ridiculous and insensitive to the cause. Same thing here. Sometimes it’s okay to focus on part of a problem not getting enough attention. I think the biggest problem right now is people are too scared to be introspective. It’s HARD to really think about racism. People don’t want to think deeply about themselves, their upbringing, and maybe someone they love having said something hurtful about a race.”
This sometimes-painful introspection leads to avoidance of our own deeper thoughts about the subject. It’s easier to dismiss a phrase than to really think about our own reality. To listen. To make attempts at understanding a reality I never knew.
Yes, all lives matter. But part of our HUMAN race needs attention right now. We, as a society right now, need to focus on the realities of racism against our black friends. Giving some thoughts to not just radical racism because on some level, we’ve hopefully outgrown that. But the micro-aggressions to our friends of color are the reality. And in a lot of ways are more hurtful because micro-aggressions are under a mask of “I’m not a racist.”
But is this reality? Let’s listen.
WHAT CAN WE DO?
As a white family, I asked what we can do.
Broach the conversation.
Ask our children what racism looks like. Make sure they understand it’s not just the big and blatant racism, but micro-aggression through word and subtle action.
Look at our own parent friend group. Is there a bias?
Start soft. Easy examples which can translate for kids to make them understand. An example of this, your child is a soccer player. What would he do if a teammate makes fun of someone for being a basketball player? Making him understand and come to the defense of the basketball player and appreciating their differences. Now translating the scenario into a white and black conversation.
Have conversations in an age appropriate way, but the key here being HAVE THE CONVERSATION. And continue to have the conversation. Encourage your child to not be complacent. Practice scenarios of how they can be an advocate and come to the defense of a friend or even acquaintance if they see them being wronged.
Another thought I found really interesting is to also help your child understand maybe someone else just doesn’t know any better. BUT, in being an advocate, they can be a teacher. Another child making a racist comment or action doesn’t make them inherently a BAD KID, they frankly just don’t know any better. Pointing out the issue and showing them what was wrong may be a step to molding them differently.
“That’s the beauty of being a human.”
Be open and honest. Look inside ourselves and know there are things we don’t understand in this life. While this introspection may be hard, it is absolutely important.
In summary, listen, learn and educate. Realize there is a different reality for others in our own human race. Consequently, I personally have found there is much more to learn on a reality I never knew.
Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better. – Maya Angelou
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