Sometimes I’m afraid to discuss race. I don’t always know what to say. I don’t know racism the way others do. I’m white. I’m privileged. I’m flawed. I’ve probably said or done racist things. I don’t want to admit that. I don’t want to think I could have ever done something like that, because it makes me feel awful. But none of this is about me. It’s not about me being worried about saying the wrong thing. It’s not about me worrying I might offend others.
I no longer want to hear “All lives matter.” Yes, we all know that. A human life is precious. What is happening now isn’t about all lives, it’s about black lives and how for thousands of years, people of color have been treated as inferior. For years we have looked down on them as “less than” or unequal. This has to end and it must stop now.
I’ve been lucky enough to volunteer for a non-profit organization that supports the homeless in Detroit. Many of the people we work with are black. I’ve spent a lot of time with mothers who live in a shelter with their children, and men and women who have fought for our country and are now homeless. Something I have noticed during all of my interactions with these people has been how much we are alike, rather than how we are different. Those mothers love their children. They wipe their tears when they cry. They make sure their babies eat the vegetables and fruit before they have a slice of pizza. I have witnessed mothers cry because they want the best for their kids and they aren’t able to give them everything they want for them right at that time. I have watched so many of these mothers pull themselves up, working and going to school, so that they can get their own homes and give a better life to their children. I have witnessed strength and grace displayed by these mothers like I have never seen before. I’ve never had it. I’ve never had to do it, because many of the things my children and I have needed and wanted have been given to us. Our white privilege has assured us that we would have what we need. We haven’t had to fight for it.
I have seen a grown man, a Veteran of more than one war, shed tears as my son handed him a Christmas gift. His gratitude was enormous as he accepted the gift while telling my boy that “next year will be different.” And I have seen him that next year, no longer a homeless Veteran, but now a volunteer for the very same organization in which I volunteer, and giving back to the men who once fought with him in war.
But every day all of these people fight a war, and it’s a war they shouldn’t have to battle. This is their home. Our country is their country. Years ago, our ancestors brought their ancestors here in chains. We enslaved them and we took away their children. It took years for us to grant them the rights every human on earth deserves, and yet, still today, we keep taking those rights away. We judge them by what they wear or how they speak, their braids, their wigs, and the color of their skin- the very skin that OUR God (the very God so many of us claim to worship), gave them. Do you think that when God created all of us he meant for the people with the white skin to have more rights than the people with the dark skin? If you do, then you are THE problem.
We call the police on them when we feel “uncomfortable.” We avoid making eye contact, and we cross to the other side of the street when we are walking. We are happy to watch them display their many talents, whether it be athletic or the arts, but we still do not see them as equal, and when the time comes for us to speak up and fight for them, we don’t. We are too scared. We are afraid to talk about race. We don’t want to say or do the wrong thing. We don’t want to offend our white brothers and sisters. Ridiculous.
I’ve decided that I’m done being afraid, because I don’t have nearly the reasons to be frightened that my fellow humans who are people of color have. I’m going to talk about this. I’m going to discuss race, and if I do or say the wrong thing, I have a feeling that my black friends, who have always treated me with love and respect, will correct me and teach me. I only need to be willing to learn. I’m ready. You should be, too.