The first story I read about Mr. Floyd was about the words he was saying as his life was being taken from him. I cannot get that out of my head or out of my heart. A grown man being murdered in front of the world as he called out for his mother. I shudder at the callousness with which some people treat human life. I reacted intensely to the very first picture I saw of Mr. Floyd being murdered and the story that was written with it. I cannot watch the video. I don’t need to. Mr. Floyd’s face in that picture is all I need. My initial reaction was powerful. This man was helpless, restrained, and killed. I was horrified. I reacted to the death of a man who another man/men acted as jury/judge/executioner. He cried out for his mother, his deceased mother. I read this, and reread this, I cried.
Crying isn’t enough.
I want to do more than post a black square or read other people’s words. By ‘more’ I mean I need to start with ‘me’. I need to ‘do’ something and that should start with checking in with where I am.
I have been searching for questions to ask myself and take this self inventory to see if I would be considered racist.
I wanted to take an honest, hard, look at who I am and my belief system.
I had to search for questions to ask myself. I didn’t think creating the questions was a fair way to quiz myself. I found the following questions here.
- Did you ever act overly friendly to a person of another race to make sure you didn’t seem biased? Yes. I am sure I have. I couldn’t give specific examples, but I know that feels like ‘me’. Who wants to ‘look’ biased?
- Do you have uncomfortable thoughts about a person’s race, even if you don’t verbalize them? No. I don’t think I have. But full disclosure: does that mean I haven’t had uncomfortable thoughts about a person, who was of a different race. No. In trying to be completely truthful my uncomfortable feelings have been situational not race related. I have felt most uncomfortable around persons of my own race who I have felt threatened by. Again, situational.
- Did you ever ask someone for advice about dating a person from their race? No. The closest I came to dating anyone (and I use the term loosely-you’ll see after continue reading) of a different race was when I was about 13 years old. My father had taken some of us out for a ‘vacation weekend’ to watch movies, play and stay in a hotel in another city, where there was a pool. Dad was in our room sleeping. I was at the pool and a fairly large group of kids around my age were there swimming as well. They were all African American. They invited me to their room. I went. We hung out. Talked. Laughed. A lot. They asked questions. I’m sure I asked questions. But I couldn’t tell you what about. I was the only white person in the room. I don’t think I recognized that at the time. It wasn’t an issue to them or me. Suddenly someone flipped off the lights. There was no way to see anything. Someone kissed me. The lights came on relatively fast. The room was so full of kids I could not have known who kissed me. Being a middle child with issues of self worth I was tickled that someone wanted to kiss me. That’s the only thing I took from that experience. It still makes me feel good.
- Did you ever make snap judgments about a person’s preferences based solely on their race or ethnicity? Initially I want to say ‘no’ because I don’t want to think I have or would. I can’t think of specifics where I have. But I am going to say ‘yes’ because I am uncertain enough that I cannot say ‘no’.
- Did you ever ask someone questions about their race, as if they were a spokesperson for all other members? No. But probably because I’ve never been close enough (relationship wise) to ask someone their thoughts. Though knowing myself, I probably would. Not because I think one person is a spokesperson for an entire race/culture, but because I would be curious about their thoughts and experiences.
- Have you noticed someone’s race and behaved differently in some way because of it? I think this circles back to the first question. I will say yes. Because I wouldn’t have wanted to appear or seem racist.
My friends suggested I ask myself a couple of questions.
- What is racism (my definition not what I search and find out): Forming an opinion of another human based on the color of their skin, discriminating against another human based on the color of their skin, thinking I am superior to them based on the color of their skin.
- Would I cross the street or distance myself from a person of color as we approached one another: no.
I don’t think these questions are the ‘deepest’ or most prodding questions. But they do make me think. I am very aware that I have not lived a culturally diverse life. I was born white into a white family in a white neighborhood. It’s just what it was. I was not taught hate or exposed to hate towards others because of differences. My parents taught us respect and did not specify that respect was only for a certain ‘kind of people’. It didn’t occur to me that people were to be treated different. As ignorant as it sounds, this may be why I have struggled with understanding such a broad sweeping of hate in our world. It doesn’t make sense to me. I mean, where is all of this energy coming from to expend on hate?
I do not believe I am racist. I may be ignorant. But I don’t believe I am racist.
While writing this it was not lost on me that my experiences have been somewhat, but not completely, limited. And positive. My upbringing had a basic foundation of respect built in. Yes I have met and engaged with people of color. I don’t live under a rock. Do I see people different than myself? Absolutely. I won’t apologize for that. I’m intrigued by that. Anyone that does not look like what I see in the mirror is different. And to me, intriguing. What is your story makes me look. Having better fashion sense makes me look. Having any fashion sense makes me look. Hair styles make me look. I can’t tell you how many times I have passed a complete stranger who’s hair was amazingly different and I blurt out “I LOVE YOUR HAIR!”. I have never had a bad reaction to that. A skippity-walk makes me look. A sad expression makes me look. Someone reading a book while they walk makes me look. Couples pull my attention, I wonder how they met, I wonder how long they’ve been together, I wonder….. Yes, I look at people, and am curious about them.
But I don’t think this can be the end of my self awareness and self inventory. How can it be? I realize that my wanting to question this is because I lack a better understanding of what people of color have experienced. I know the history. I am educated. But I need to be better at understanding the depth of it. The truth of it. There is no hesitation in believing racism exists. That we need to make changes within personal thinking and systematic processes. I have no doubt about this. None. As I delve further I realize I am uncomfortable when I hear people using any term of degradation to define others, including whites. When I see terms referencing white people as “lily white”, “white trash” (etc) with the same demeaning tones, I have the same feelings. In my simplistic way of thinking I don’t believe we are going to build up anyone by degrading anyone else. It feels divisive and hostile. I don’t understand. Yes, I know the arguments, from both sides. It still doesn’t feel right. And sadly, when I looked up derogatory remarks for ‘race’ it was disheartening to see such an extensive list. It was all inclusive. This may not be the conversation people want to hear but it’s the conversation that has long run in my head.
I know there is nothing I can say that could possibly reach the depths of what people of color have suffered. I will never know it like a person of color knows it. My voice isn’t mighty. It isn’t eloquent. It is my attempt though, to evaluate and address what it is in my immediate control and capabilities. Me.
I do not believe I am racist. But I know I can do more, or be more. I can’t live as though the things that happen are not happening in my world. It is my world. Where ever it is, we are small enough, that it is part of everyone’s world.
I recognize that the lack of cultural diversity that I have experienced is my loss, not my privilege.
I have to do more than cry.
I will cry. But I will do more.