My white family — my husband, our three daughters (ages 4, 4 and 7) and me — live in Minneapolis, not far from where George Floyd was murdered. In the days after it happened, my husband and I watched the news in horror, unable to understand why another atrocious act of pure racism could happen to yet another innocent black man — at the hands of the police, once again.
Not unlike the rest of America, George Floyd’s death hit us hard. Not only did this awful thing happen in our city, by our police, but watching a man plead for his life, call for his mother and gasp for air while several onlookers begged the former cop (I’m making a conscious choice not to use his name — he’s not worthy of it) to remove his knee from Floyd’s neck was unbearable.
While I wish that this atrocity hadn’t happened at all — and that we lived in a country where racial injustices and prejudices weren’t an everyday reality — I’m glad it was caught on camera (imagine all the racist incidents we DON’T get to see). Like many other Americans, I’ve known racism runs rampant in our country; yet it’s been easy for me — a white woman — to remain blissfully unaware of the complete unfairness, brutality and discrimination people of color face on a daily basis.
Growing up, my parents rightfully taught me that all humans are created equal, and everyone deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. But that’s as far as it went. We never discussed the roots of racial injustice; how societal segregation plays a role in preventing people of color from attending the more highly funded schools in “better” and more coveted neighborhoods; how systemic racism traps people of color in a completely unfair and disadvantaged system that’s nearly impossible to break free of. I don’t blame them — they didn’t have the knowledge or tools to take these conversations further.
I also never began to understand the concept of white privilege until my early thirties when, during my training in marriage and family therapy, I took a class on diversity and privilege. My professor, a black man, was the first person to open my eyes to all the benefits and privileges I, by default, get just because of the color of my skin. He made me see that, unlike him, I don’t have to worry about a store owner thinking that I’m stealing from him; I don’t have to fear getting arrested — or even worse, getting killed! — when a cop pulls me over for speeding; and when I’m walking down the street, I’ve never experienced people crossing the street because the color of my skin makes them uncomfortable or nervous.
I also hadn’t realized that all this time, even though I pride myself on treating everyone with fairness, kindness and respect, I’d been “colorblind” — rather than seeing color, I just wanted to see everyone as human; and rather than trying to truly understand the discrimination people of color endure, I went through life enjoying the fruits of my white privilege and assuming that everyone around me (regardless of skin color) had the same opportunities and experiences. I didn’t realize that despite what I’d always thought about myself, I was actually PART OF THE PROBLEM.
You see, being “colorblind,” though well-intentioned, is actually just being complicit.
“Colorblindness creates a society that denies [people of color’s] negative racial experiences, rejects their cultural heritage, and invalidates their unique perspectives.”Psychology Today
Being colorblind is the not-so distant cousin of racism.
I now understand that regardless of how uncomfortable it may be, it’s imperative that we SEE, appreciate, and work hard to understand and validate everyone’s heritage, culture, set of circumstances and experiences.
Was I non-racist? Sure. But in no way, shape or form was I acting anti-racist.
Our white children need to know that systemic racism is well and very much alive, and people of color are still treated incredibly unfairly. They need to know that there are people who believe that America should only consist of white people, and who seek to hurt people of color and those who help stand up for and protect them.
Our visit to George Floyd’s memorial was incredibly moving. People from all walks of life were there, paying their respects to him and his life. My girls couldn’t get over the amount of flowers, beautiful and poignant murals, signs and notes.
As we stood there staring at this beautiful ever-growing memorial to George Floyd, the tears poured from my eyes. It was incredibly powerful and moving to witness the place where this horrible incident occurred and to see all the people — soooo many people — who had, just like us, come there to pay their respects, to help and donate, to paint stunning murals, to uplift the crowd in song and dance and, most importantly, to be ALLIES… to finally stand UP and say, “I understand that I don’t understand… but I’m no longer going to be passive!” It doesn’t stop there, of course, but there’s power in showing up in numbers!
White people: we have to show up.
We have to raise humans whose eyes are open, and who are aware not only of others’ disadvantages, but also of their own privileges. To try to begin to understand the pain of 400 years of torture, persecution and oppression of an entire race of people. And rather than just accepting that reality as “what is,” I want to make a concerted effort to contribute in raising the next generation of change. This has to stop with us and we have to start (like, really start) now.