I want to tell you more, readers who are identify as white. I wrote on Black Girl in Maine’s blog about the awkwardness some of us get when we’re with Black people and I want to write a bit more.
The process of recognizing my own racism has been a long, long process. I want to tell you that when I got to the point, just a few years ago, where I really — and I mean really — recognized just how deep my own biases ran, it was painful and confusing. It played a part in what I can only describe as an identity crisis. Who am I, if I can be this ignorant? Looking back at my life, why did I only know a few people of color beyond the level of polite chit-chat? Why did most of my friends and family, progressives every one, also have only white friends? What did I really, really, really think about Black people?
Examining my racist, biased, terrified truth was a serious mindfuck (pardon me, but words fail when I try to explain this).
I had to float away from myself. I had to wonder who I was, because on a lot of levels, I really didn’t know for a while. I had to see that I thought about Black people as being “one way,” even though on a logical level I knew that was nonsense. I had to see that all people of color were “other” to me, no matter how much I wanted that to be not true. They were they and we (white people) were we.
I didn’t know about their hair, their makeup, their clothes, their language, they they they. As if there was one way. And, at the same time, as if learning about people’s differences was somehow not allowed. (Please keep in mind that I have known on so many levels that valuing differences is a beautiful way to move through the world!)
It was so confusing! It’s still confusing!
Lately I’ve been thinking about representation in tv shows. I was of the belief until just the last year or so that Black people couldn’t play “white roles.” Like, it would be too unbelievable to have a Black actor play a famous white person.
Why? Why did I think that was impossible? There are so many areas where I’m able to suspend my disbelief — how children of gritty British detectives always seem content to play with coloring books while their parent hashes out the details of where the murderer will strike next, for example — why couldn’t I accept an actor’s Black appearance and focus on the character they are playing?
I now believe I could. I’d like to see a lot more Black people playing “white” (as in historical fiction, say a Jane Eyre or something where we’re sure the main characters were white) roles.
I digress. But that’s part of what makes it so confusing. There are so many strands to unravel when it comes to my biases, my part in institutional racism.
What I want to tell you is that it has gotten better. After I crashed into the “holy shit. I *must* be racist in even deeper ways than I realized when I first started realizing it.” When I realized that I didn’t know how to just be normal around people of color; when I realized that I thought of people of color as different (and that meant less valued, less everything), as other; and when I realized that I felt deep, searing pain not seeing the full humanity in my brothers and sisters (oh, do I dare use that phrase? it’s what I mean, it’s how I feel, so I will risk it), I began to be able to let it go.
Using what I’ve learned over the last 7-8 years about Thich Nhat Hanh and Zen Buddhism, expanding my spiritual life in my 12 step recovery program and in my Quaker meeting, and, most recently, tying together my spiritual life and growth with the need for transformation in our racist systems (in great part through the work of Rev. angel Kyodo williams), I’ve experienced inner change. It’s hard to articulate because it’s a living experience. But the “other” feeling about people of color has almost disappeared. I’m not suggesting I don’t slip into it regularly. I do. But I catch myself pretty quickly. I have an authentic sense that we are all one. We don’t exist without each other. I have been released from a great deal of pain and confusion related to my own racism and biases and history.
So, it’s been my experience that really, really facing my own crap has been really, really difficult. But it’s also been my experience that it is getting better than I ever thought it could. It requires daily efforts on my part, but it’s really, really worth it.