a white person talking to white people about racism.
Before I say anything, I want to say that I know how delicate talking about this is. I will not handle it perfectly. But I keep hearing over and over that silence is equal to agreement, and I haven't said anything online. In person, yes, but somehow words online become amplified and contorted and haunting if not perfect, which scares me to write them down. But I am realizing how important it is for me to say at least something. I am privileged to be unaffected.
I wouldn't consider myself a highly political person, mostly because I have become highly distrustful of much of what I read. Isn't everything skewed? Written for money or power or some other distasteful agenda? I may be a bit cynical about it all. Maybe you are too. Maybe you are sick of alarmist headlines and exaggerated viewpoints. But you don't have to be wary of politics or Facebook articles to see that racism exists. Can't we look at the photos from Charlottesville and see it clearly? So, I want to share with you the small bit racism I have seen. As a 23 year old white, middle-class female. And then I have one plea for you.
a few stories:
The Annie Remake
The first time I remember being hit head-on with racism was at work a few years back. I was chit-chatting with my boss while we unpacked a few boxes. She is a popular, church-going, business-owning kind of lady.
"Me and my son went to go see the new remake of Annie last night," she says. I hadn't seen the movie yet. I ask if it was any good. She lets out a small puff of air, still unpacking boxes and thoughts. "Well, my son [around 9 years old] didn't ask me why there was a black man and a white woman kissing."
I get a little sick feeling in my stomach. "That's good!" I say. Surely...no. But yes. She stands up, hand on hip, shaking her head, "I mean," she pauses, "It's fine for my kids to have black school friends, but I don't want my kids kissing all on one." And my stomach just drops, and she goes back to her box. I am red and hot and teary, and I excuse myself inconspicuously. I say nothing.
I call my mom after work and sob. I didn't know people like that were real in the sense that they existed in my world. My mom consoles and marvels with me about the deep sadness of it all. I remember asking my mom as a kid if I was allowed to date a black person. "I'm not worried about the color of who you date, but I would be so scared for you. There are crazy people out there, and everywhere you go people would be looking at you two." My mom was rightfully worried, apparently.
The Halloween Candy
It is a few days before Halloween, and I am an assistant working at an interior design firm. My boss and I are standing in the entryway of a home in a large, high-end neighborhood, wrapping up a meeting with a client and her husband. She is blonde, he looks like he'd be on the billboard for a golf course.
There are two buckets of candy at the foot of the stairs. One is nearly the size of a Rubbermaid container you would see in a garage, and it's filled with the good stuff, like the king size Reese's Cups. And then there's a smaller one, filled with...less delightful candy. The super cheap assortment bag kind from the dollar store.
My boss points to the bins and makes a joke, "Are these the naughty and nice bins, or did the store just run out?!" The woman is giggling while she speaks in a little bit more of a hushed voice, like she was confessing she cheated on her diet.
"Well, every year you can tell when kids from our neighborhood come by, so we have all the good stuff of course. But then you'll see some crappy car pull up and a bunch of black children come running up, and I'm like, 'Come on! You don't live here!' So we have the bad candy for them," she says, and laughs. Everyone else but me laughs, and I stand there kind of shocked I suppose. Her husband smiles and elbows her lightly, "Wow, that probably sounds racist!" She throws a limp hand. "Oh well!" I wish I was making this up.
Again, I say nothing. I come home and tell my friends. "Can you believe that?!" I say. I'm angry. I see firsthand for the first time that some people limit their generosity to those who look like them. They are generous to black people as long as they can put their picture on the fridge. Africa seems like a safe enough distance. But please don't bring your crappy car with your black children in our neighborhood, please.
The N***** Word
That's the word she whispered in my ear.
I am a receptionist sitting behind the glass of an aesthetic medical office last year, watching a black woman and her child in the small, spa-like waiting room. The mother is eating out of a to-go box, her food spilling on the floor. The child unwraps a few waiting room mints, and leaves the wrappers on the ground. He is bored and walks about as kids his age tend to do, and his mother chastises him loudly. I was annoyed; I would be the one to clean the mess up as soon as they took their appointment.
My co-worker, a white woman in her 40s wearing a white jacket and scrub pants, leans into my ear before she takes the black woman back to her appointment. Her breath is hot as she says: "That right there is a nigger for you. Disgusting." She steps back to look at me with arched eyebrows and a tight mouth, as if I might second her with a head nod. It is not the first time I have heard her use that word.
I say, "Don't ever say that word to me again." She starts to talk and I interrupt, just repeating myself. "Don't ever say that again." She walks away, calls the woman's name to take her to her appointment.
I don't say anything for days. I'm angry and confused and wondering why this always happens to me at my job, and why I'm not more like Christ or at least somebody with courage to do the right thing in the moment. But God keeps pressing on me, "Say something, it's not too late." It feels awkward, but I become aware that being white in itself is a privilege, and with that privilege comes responsibility.
I craft a text and press send. It's cowardly, but kind, and I say I am trying to be more like Jesus (she says she is a Christian), that I am looking for prejudice in my own heart as well, but that the N word is wrong and hurtful and could she please not say it anymore?
I receive multiple texts back. Did you ask the other people at the office not to say it? They say it too, and you're singling ME out? Thanks but no thanks, mind your own business.
Then she posts on Facebook. She is happy she has friends that don't judge her, that accept her for who she is, that aren't backstabbers.
She comes to work for the next few days, but refuses to sit in the same room as me after quite the show of moving her things to the break room. When she must come to the reception area, she either ignores me or blames me for mistakes on patients' charts or in the daily schedule. She gives me back a Dave Ramsey Financial Peace CD set she asked to borrow. "I don't want your CD's anymore." This woman is in her 40s with two teenaged children. I am amazed that people like her exist.
On Friday I ask to meet with my boss, and I give her a month's notice. The weekend passes, and Monday morning comes. I am the first to arrive, and I am asked to immediately leave by my boss. She explains. "Now, Lisa [name changed] told me about you and the whole 'N word' thing. She's all upset and I figured you might as well go ahead and finish so it won't be so weird. If you could just pack your desk things up and go before she gets here, I'll send your last paycheck."
I call my husband in the car and tell him I'm relieved to be gone. I cry a lot. I tell him I'm angry that an entire business was fine with racism. I remember saying, "It's not fair that black people have to deal with white people like her." And I meant it. But I'd be lying if I said I didn't cry for my own self too. I am sad that I did something right, even if it was just a text message, and was punished. I realize that standing up for what is right is sometimes a sacrifice, even if it is small. I am broken for something.
The Plea & Forgiveness
There are more little stories that come to mind as I write. Like the time a co-worker told me the sweet old white man I worked for threw away an application strictly because the woman was black, even though she had more experience and professionalism. And then the stories that had nothing to do with me but took place in my beloved state of South Carolina. A sane, racist white young man my age, from the city where I live, shoots and murders black men and women in their place of worship.
This morning I had breakfast and went shopping with one of the girls that was in my small group at church. She is in 10th grade, and she recently repainted her room turquoise and hung tissue paper balls from the ceiling. "I'm all about turquoise right now," she said. She also told me about how someone she recently met said they supported Trump, and she didn't like that. "But I thought it was cool that, you know, we could disagree and still get along," she told me. She is kind and thoughtful and way more disciplined of a person than I was in 10th grade.
But she is black. And because of that there are people who think it is justifiable to call someone of her skin color a nigger. A hurtful, evil word. Even though they did not choose to be white, and she did not choose to be black. There are people who think she deserves the crappy halloween candy because she is black. There are people who don't want her kissing their white sons because she is black, or working at their office because she is black. That she deserves to die where she worships Jesus. Because. She. Is. Black. I led an entire small group of young girls and every single one of them were black. And if I were standing next to those precious girls when those people said those things, would I be silent?
What about the worship leader at my church who is black? What about his wife, who is black? They are coming over to dinner this weekend. Does their friendship only mean something to me so long as it doesn't make me have to have uncomfortable conversations? Can I pass the bread knowing I had the chance to stand up for them, but I didn't?
I hate writing any of this out, because I don't want my friends to live in a world like this. But they do. But we can do something about it by speaking up. So I'll say it here, and from now on make it clear.
I do not tolerate racism. My business does not tolerate racism. My church does not tolerate racism. I stand for the equality of any color of person, and I plead for those who disagree to turn from their sinfulness.
If you agree, say something. But if you know that you have had a sinful mindset towards those who don't look like you, you can ask God for forgiveness. In a ridiculous abundance of grace, Jesus died to pay for your sin and for my sin, and to allow us to walk in freedom from it. Please don't look at that gift and waste it. He wants you to have abundant life. That starts with confessing to him that you are sinful and separated from him, but that you want to turn from sin and let Him be the Lord of your life.
And for the record, if you spend your time on Facebook arguing with people about why you feel exempt in saying something as a white person because you have never owned a slave or because you don't think black people should "victimize themselves"? Please stop valuing your pride over your brothers and sisters on this earth.
Anyway, its a million hours into writing this, and I've said what I feel like I should. If you are reading this, I love you, and I'm praying for you. Pray for the leaders and other believers in this time.