I think I have had some white friends “unfriend” me lately. Or block my posts. I haven’t looked hard enough to know for sure, but I see that some people’s posts no longer show up on my facebook feed. I’m guessing it is because I’ve been reposting a lot of articles about race that make them uncomfortable. And frankly, I’ve made a conscious decision to do so because of that–and here is why:
When I was a kid, way back in the late 60s and early 70s, every summer we travelled from Southern to Northern California to spend a week at my grandparents’ cabin on a lake. The cabin was small and we children would be sent to bed early and the adults would stay up talking, only the staying up talking was always more of a political debate than anything. My father, who looked like Carroll O’Connor but talked more like Meathead, and my grandfather whose politics at the time were right of Archie Bunker’s, would raise their voices while we tried to sleep in the next room–and the conversations were not just about the war, about poverty, but, invariably, undergirding it all, was race. Because my grandfather lived a very long time, his views had time to change. And while I still wouldn’t call him a liberal, he did, at one point, concede that my father had been right about some things.
My father’s relationship to his father-in-law remains a mystery to me. But they were family and for that reason, hung in through all the yelling, came back to the same dinner table, told horrible jokes about fishing together. As I’m romanticizing those days through a nostalgic fog, I like to think the reason they could do all this is because they had the ability to be authentic with each other. They didn’t have to agree with each other, but they had to be authentic.
And so, if you are still wondering why I keep posting about race, it is because I need to live up to that standard. I’ve done a disservice to our friendship by being any less than authentic because I wanted to avoid disagreeing with you. Lets talk about this, for real, lets understand each other’s concerns and innate programming–you are that important to me for us to do anything less.
We talk about race in our family. A lot. Since I was a kid and since I’ve had kids. Because it is important. Because it is the thing that gets in the way of us becoming the kind of country we dreamed about all those years ago when the crafters of our Bill of Rights owned other people.
We talk about it because we know we have a lot to learn, we white liberal folk who don’t mean harm and yet inflict it with our ignorance.
White friends and family, I know you don’t mean harm. I know you. I know you don’t mean to be racist and truly believe that you are not, so I’m going to give you a gift right now. You know me. I may be the most liberal person you have ever met (unless, of course, you have met my mother). I’m a feminist. I’m a little outspoken and I’m sometimes a little condescending. Okay, if I’ve had a drink or three, I’m probably a lot condescending.
Here’s my gift to you: I am racist. I don’t want to be. I don’t want my motives and actions to be ruled by my subconscious which has been imprinted with images from movies, television, literature, and the newspaper that paint a picture of black men as dangerous. I don’t want this legacy of a history told from the point of view of the oppressor/victor that I learned all those years ago when Latino/as, African Americans and women of all stripes were left out of the history books. But it is there. Last Sunday, a guest preacher at my church raised this issue so thoughtfully and poignantly, he gave me permission to consider how, despite being raised by the two most liberal parents in the world, I have also been raised by the images that soaked in to my brain despite the morality those parents taught and modeled for me.
How is this a gift? Perhaps this is more condescension on my part, but if I, most likely the most liberal among your friends, am willing to admit that I am not proud of my behavior and motives, does it give you room to analyze your own?
I know you don’t want to be racist. I know you don’t want to seem insensitive. And I know you can’t understand why I keep posting about #blacklivesmatter. I also know you can’t understand what drives most of my liberal tendencies, and that’s okay. But let’s stop talking around each other and start talking to each other, because I can’t live in this world the way it is without speaking up.
Until we can all hear the stories of mothers who can’t allow their sons the same freedoms your dogs have (running in public, playing in the park), of mothers who can’t allow their sons to play with toy guns in public or in private … until you are willing to hear those stories and hear how those lives are so very different from your own through no fault of any difference than the color of their skin … until we can have that conversation, bumpily and incongruently and with all the mistakes of trying to understand, we just can’t move forward.
And that’s my invitation to you: to engage in the conversation, because it isn’t just an issue of police reactions to young men of color, it is also a matter of being welcoming in your home community, of inviting new people into your life and allowing them to be fully who they are.
I love you. I truly do. And that’s why I’m not going to pretend I don’t hear you when you say offensive things anymore. You are kinder than your fear allows you to be–and I know you want to live in a kinder world, want to create that kinder, safer world for your grandchildren and all their friends.
I love you. And I want you to love me and not the me you think I am. The me that I truly am, the me who is longing for reconciliation, for honest conversation, for a baseline understanding–within as well as across the racial divide.