It's my birthday today. I am grateful to be surrounded by a loving family and I appreciate the kind birthday wishes that have sprinkled in this morning. But I feel deep sadness today. I feel the weight of the emotions of the world bearing down on me today. The world is in so much pain and even my privilege won't allow me to mask this one simply as an opportunity for growth.
I'm hopeful there's an awakening happening in our country right now, but I'm also not naive to the pain, hate, and destruction that has been exposed like a raw nerve. The almighty power of love can only power through when we are honest, selfless, and exposed. And we have only just begun that process.
My eyes have begun to see something that has always been there; yet I failed to see. And it makes me feel sadness, anger, shame, division, and otherness. Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.
I was wrong.
I believed that racism was something that used to be. I believed that having a black president meant we were past that. I could see that race was deeply tied to poverty and I didn't question that. I believed that the rising wave of "wokeness" I saw around me meant that we were above racism. I wanted so badly to believe in the notion of being color blind that I didn't ever discuss race or racism with my daughters. By ignoring it, I thought that meant it wouldn't exist in their world. I wrongly believed I would draw attention to race and "otherness" if I said anything to them. I believed that if I just stayed in my lane and believed in the power of love and goodness, then love would prevail.
I was wrong.
Turns out, that belief that we are "woke" and not part of the problem is bullshit. My failure to speak to my kids about race is a sign of my ignorance about the reality that millions of people across the globe experience. I read a very powerful article yesterday that stung so much, and yet hit me so deeply that I had to read it 3 times. It's from a black woman and it's a letter to her white friends. The author said:
"Stand up for what's right. But first, make sure you look in the mirror long enough to see what's wrong."
This makes me realize this is the time for me to talk less and listen more. It's not helpful for me to to try to abdicate myself or make myself feel better by saying I'm an ally in the #blacklivesmatter movement. It's not about me. It's time for me to listen, learn, and take off the blinders. I can never proclaim to understand the black experience. I live in a very white-washed world of privilege. But I can learn what it means to become anti-racist. I can look in the mirror first.
We've heard a lot about white privilege this week -- the privilege we have simply by being born with a certain skin color. It isn't earned. My privilege was amplified by being born into a upper middle class family. I've been driven toward working hard and achievement all of my life, but I can't ignore the advantages I have been given. My friend Natalie Lemas explained privilege really well by comparing it to the starting line of a race. We all have the same finish line, but imagine if our privilege determined our starting point in the race. I'm not the fastest runner, but I have to believe that if I'm given a 2 mile lead as my starting line in a 5K race, I'd still beat someone who had to start at mile 0--no matter how fast they are. We all worked hard in that race, but they would have to work so much harder to try and catch me.
I'm not ashamed of being white. I'm ashamed that I've had blinders on to real systemic racism that clearly exists in my country and across the globe. The truth is, I didn't want to know any of this. And now I can't not see it. The poverty, wealth divide, and a system that gives anyone the "same opportunity," but creates a biased and uneven playing field in actually winning those opportunities. I was wrong in dismissing race and wealth disparity by saying "we all have the potential for the same opportunities--it's what we make of them."
I've spent the last week looking in the mirror, examining my beliefs, and beginning to shift my focus to the black narrative. I need to learn. I need to understand the world from their eyes. I feel anger and sadness as I hear their reality. The dialogue in my home has shifted, as I acknowledge my mistake in trying to shield my kids from racism by not acknowledging it. My daughters and I cried heavy tears of grief together this week as we watched Just Mercy (fantastic movie that everyone should see). At 10 and 11 years old, their beautiful vulnerability and compassion was so palpable as they cried--we all cried a lot. Despite me not wanting to rob them of a naive innocence, they understood the importance of us watching that movie. They give me hope.
My friend Dan shared a wonderful article about how far our country still has to go in taking the blinders off on race and inequality. I found the article to be thoughtful and truthful about acknowledging our roots and blindness to a system that perpetuates inequality. I highly recommend reading the article yourself, but there was one very poignant thought that echoed my hope:
"But I, and I suspect many others, believe in another America -- the one that never was and yet must be."
I'm a hopeful person who believes in the power of goodness and love. I choose to believe we are growing and learning; though it's very painful. I don't think I'm alone in my heavy feelings today. The world has a lot of anger, grief, and healing to work through right now and that is painful. It's especially painful when we are watching it all amplified in real time via social media. I still believe in love and goodness. But we need to get honest, exposed, and selfless before love will prevail.
I have a lot to say about all of this, but I also feel I'm part of the problem, as yet another privileged white voice chiming in to say I want to be part of the solution. The truth is, my world is very white and I need to make room for the real voices and perspectives that need to be heard. Here are a few of those voices I heard this week that deserve to be amplified:
Podcast: Brené Brown with Ibram X. Kendi on How to Be an Antiracist
Book: How To Be An Anti-Racist, by Ibram X. Kendi
Book: Me and White Supremacy, by Layla Saad
Dear White Friends, I See Right Through Your #blacklivesmatter Posts, by Elyse Cizek
Just Mercy (free through most media outlets for the month of June)
How the Obama Era Gave us a Dangerous Patriotism (CNN: 10/18/2016)