Through working in social services for 3 years, I learned A LOT about our culture and the cultures that are foreign to me. Namely poverty and racism. I have never been poor, probably never will be. I am white, I haven't experienced racism like others have. I was able (I feel) to put away a lot of my assumptions and expectations and see all of my clients as people who have amazing qualities. You see- it is hard to appreciate someone who is really different, unless we stop expecting them to be what we think they should be, and starting to accept their uniqueness.
My neighbor's accounts of his experiences in the last two weeks startled me- even though I know racism still exists. I just don't feel it like he does- I'm white. Simple things like riding a bus, going to the doctor, and visiting a big box electronics retailer in Roseville, MN were made uncomfortable, and impossible to accomplish what he needed to just because of his skin and their assumptions.
Before my eyes were opened, trust me, this has been a journey and is still happening, I had some assumptions about people. I was scared to even say the word white or black (or any race) person. Scared to even talk about it with people that I wasn't really close to. I felt that there were still great inequities in our culture, but what they were- I didn't know. I'm sure that I am privileged and have not known my impact on others. I hope that it has been minimal. I knew that the time of "I don't see color" or "we are color blind" was really weird. I was white, you were not, so what, am I supposed to ignore it? Side note: please don't ignore color, race and origin is a large part of who we are, to ignore it is to make someone more like you, thus ignoring part of their true self. Negating it and making it not important.
My experiences bring me to today, where I feel a responsibility to our culture and the people who experience inequities. I have the power to bring this up in the white culture, and I will.
what can even be done?Most people unaffected by racism don't know that it still exists. Of course! When you don't see it, feel it or aren't close to someone who does, why would you think it exists.
I have come to understand what I feel my responsibility is when it comes to racism. Here are some things that I do:
-Think about me and my actions and thoughts and try to remain supportive and loving of all people.
-Let others like me know that racism isn't going away unless everyone becomes aware of how deep seeded it is in our culture, especially those who AREN'T affected. Also, if you are white and have never been subjected to racism that it does exist. If you have experienced it, please act to educate against it.
-Never forget those around you. Life isn't about what you (or they) always want to talk about, hear and engage in- if someone around you is being racist, don't accept it.
-Something that I do on many occasions is to look at people- all of them, and compliment them in my head. Or think, I bet they have some quality that is really cool. It helps me look at people as individuals, also it makes me shed expectations. If I have an experience with them, I get to know them organically, without judgement.
-Look at these websites:
White Men as Full Diversity Partners
The Working Group
My neighbor ended the conversation about racism this weekend by saying "I don't let this gorilla (racism) out of the closet anymore. I locked him away a looooong time ago. If I let him out, anger will consume me and eat me alive. I wouldn't be able to live my life. I choose to see the good."
After all he has been through- Amazing.