White in a Culture of Racism
“Liberty and Justice for All” – It’s one of the highest ideals in our Country. Today is Juneteenth and I, a white woman in America, am reflecting on how much I don’t know. The history I learned is incomplete. The life I've lived is privileged. I’ve averted my eyes too many times rather than experiencing the suffering of an entire race of people whom I espoused to love and welcome into my life.
“There’s a lot of racism in this country disguised as patriotism”
- Colin Kaepernick
I’ve been asking myself why. Why did it take so long for me to begin seeing? Why have I failed to change whatever exists within me that can tolerate this? Why? Yes – privilege, of course. But after I acknowledge that, I come to a deeper, moral question about my own humanity, what I have believed about myself and what I didn’t even know about myself – until now.
I don’t like this excavating process. It’s uncomfortable and difficult. It feels like I'm tripping over my own proverbial feet, attempting to traverse thoughts and feelings filed away in the darkest catacombs of my mind. Each time I make a discovery, I feel sorrow, remorse and frustration.
How could I not SEE before now?!
I am the daughter of a proud military family. My heritage claims patriotism as an identity marker. The beliefs we hold to be “self-evident” are ingrained in every cell of my body… “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
I am realizing that what we hold to be self-evident can blind us to the the actual truth.
As the days pass and I immerse myself in articles, videos, movies and other writings that help me flesh out my own biases, I am overwhelmed with disappointment – in myself, in the systemic injustices that have continued for centuries, in the world I have painted with a broad stroke of red, white and blue.
I am changing – mostly willingly - and sometimes reluctantly. Its natural to avoid discomfort, so I am committing to a daily structure of growth. I am reading something new each day. I am watching the recommended movies. I am listening to friends and leaders in the BLM movement. I am figuring out how to apologize when I am called out or when I realize I have made a mistake.
I am also figuring out that apologizing for the color of my own skin is not the answer. Being white is not the problem. Our culture of white supremacy is the problem.
I’m not talking about the radical groups. I am talking about me, and you - and the behaviors, beliefs, values, and symbols that we accept, generally without thinking about them, that have been passed from one generation to the next. We live in a culture of racism founded in norms and standards to advantage white people and oppress People of Color.
It’s time for that to change.
For over two years now, I have struggled with this journey. I expect myself to know how to do this better and I am so upset when I fail, when another thoughtless thing falls out of my mouth or a new and painful “ah-ha” moment occurs. Many times I have wanted to walk away from this very personal process because it messes with my story that I am a good human being who loves people of all races, creeds, etc. etc. After all this time,I am finally beginning to understand that while this is absolutely about me changing, it’s also about something so much bigger. I can’t change this just by changing myself. We, who are white, must change our culture.
We must be willing to dig deep into the fabric of the life we enjoy and see its impact. We must be willing to walk in discomfort so others can be more comfortable. We must lean in when we want to walk away and go back to our peaceful ignorance.
I have few answers, friends - just more and more questions. I feel so unprepared when it comes to making this crucial cultural shift – but there was a time when I could not add 2 and 2. Today, I can manage a fairly sizable professional budget – and teach others how to do the same. I know that if we want the words "Liberty and Justice for All" to be words we can speak with pride, we have to do the work that lies before us - and we must do it now.
If not me, who - and if not now, when?
I place my confidence and faith in the Divine Presence that guides us to the answers and actions that will heal us all.