It’s on Me

9 Jun
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Graphic by Justin Teodoro

I’m white. I’m affluent. I’m privileged.

I’m also biased. I see color. And it turns out I have many racist bones in my body.

How can this be? I’m educated. I’m a liberal Democrat. I voted for Obama—twice. I’ve been married to a man of color for over 33 years. Of my four children, two identify as LGBTQ. I fundamentally believe in equality for all.

Yet I have made, and still make, assumptions about people based on race. And this means I’m racist.

I wasn’t born a racist. Society made me this way. I’ve been formally educated with unconscious bias since I was a child, when I first learned to read from books that had only white, blond kids like me in them. Remember Fun with Dick and Jane? For years I watched TV shows and movies where people of color were stereotyped or portrayed negatively. My father was an educated man, yet he openly told racist jokes at the dinner table. In high school, my friends and I made fun of gay people because we thought it was funny. We mocked people with accents. I believed the police were always there to help me—and they were—because I fit a certain demographic.

It took the murder of another Black man at the hands of the police to create the essential shift that is currently taking place in our collective consciousness. It’s not the people of color with the problem—it’s me. It’s ultimately on me to make the necessary change.

No longer will I avoid dealing with the reality of systematic racism. I will be conscious of my biased thoughts. I will think before I speak. I will stand up for those who are marginalized. I will not be afraid of alienating others because I speak out against racism.

I will learn to feel comfortable outside of my comfort zone.

I’m just so sorry it’s taken me this long to really get it. But then again, it’s not about me anymore. It’s about our Black brothers and sisters.

Black Lives Matter. Let’s keep the change alive.

11 Responses to “It’s on Me”

  1. Liz June 9, 2020 at 10:23 am #

    So well said, Jessica. Thank you!
    I truly love your heart and your honesty and your way with words.

    One of the best gifts I ever received, although it took me “a minute” to recognize it as such, was being loudly and publicly called a racist by a black friend about 6 years ago. She was responding to my pathetic colorblind comment, “I don’t think of you as my black friend, I think of you as my friend. I don’t see color.” Over time I had absorbed the blatantly wrong message that colorblindness was a goal, so I was mortified and stunned to be called racist for saying such a thing. My friend rightly pointed out that by saying/thinking in that way it denied her lived reality of being a black person in the USA. The incident plunged me into a journey of discovery both within and without.

    At the time this happened I was already outraged by the videotaped footage and murders of Eric Garner and Michael Brown and others. I had been attending vigils and rallies demanding justice. I realized that due to modern technology I was just learning what black people have always known, because it was happening to their fathers, brothers, friends. I was beginning to understand their anger and despair to the extent a white person can.

    After being called a racist, I started seeking out “black voices” in my reading and viewing. I joined our local branch of Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) which has a very strong leader, btw. Highly recommended! I started saying and supporting Black Lives Matter. I make regular donations to equal justice and anti-racism organizations. As of this week I’m donating to Campaign Zero which is doing good work in police reform. Yesterday my letter supporting the adoption of a resolution condemning police brutality and declaring racism a public health emergency to our City Council was read into the public record. I am committed to doing my best to be anti-racist for the rest of my days and I know that I will die never knowing what it’s like to live in a black body in the country. Never. It’s not enough to not be a racist. We must be actively anti-racist. I’m thrilled to be doing this work with you, Jessica!

    • Allegro non tanto June 10, 2020 at 7:26 am #

      I’m thrilled, too! It sounds like you had your epiphany already. We must keep this going!

      • Liz June 10, 2020 at 9:05 pm #

        Absolutely, Jessica! There are so very many resources if we just look for them. One thing I love about SURJ is that it’s an organization by and for white people to educate one another… because it’s not fair for us to expect black people to take time and energy to do that for us, especially on top of all of the injustice and stressors they already deal with. SURJ also promotes us supporting black people in ways that they ask us to (vs. jumping in and trying to be fixers ie. savior complex.) ❤

  2. Bonnie Forman Gerstenfeld June 9, 2020 at 10:27 am #

    you are a gifted writer

  3. Michele Abbott June 10, 2020 at 7:15 am #

    Agreed. I’ve been reading a lot about this and my own White Fragility. I think the term racist has such negative connotations and has been assigned to people we lump in the bucket of white supremacists, or the KKK and or (Trump!) and therefore can easily say – That’s not me – but the term actually applies to all of us who have benefitted and take for grated all the advantages afforded to us simply because we are white. White privileged doesn’t mean you are actively seeking to hurt or lynch or belittle people of color or LGBTQ or anyone who is “other” however, if you are silent, or unaware of the imbalance in treatment, you are perpetuating the system – even if unconsciously. That’s racist too. For example, most white people can drive to the store, get pulled over and their first thought is probably.. do I have a taillight our? Was I speeding? Hello Officer. Instead of fearing that darkened taillight could be your last drive anywhere. It is uncomfortable to look at your own participation in racism, but it’s a system that we have all been playing along with for way too long.

    Yes Jessie – I’m with you and the movement to change the way we look at ourselves and others in this very transformative moment.

    Women’s rights, Gay Rights, Civil Tights, MeToo have all had a Quantum shift moment – let it be now for Racism & Equality.

    • Allegro non tanto June 10, 2020 at 7:25 am #

      The real sadness I have is that some people I know and love don’t yet grasp this concept. It really is a shift in consciousness, and I do see it finally happening. You and I have the responsibility to see that the change continues! Love you, girl!

  4. Britton Minor June 13, 2020 at 8:45 pm #

    Transparency. Honesty. Introspection. Eyes wide open. Always growing (a constantly evolving humanism)— like the flowers you plant that often yield the unexpected. Your humanity, your vulnerability, inspires me. Thank you, Jessica.

    • Allegro non tanto June 13, 2020 at 8:46 pm #

      Love you, Britton! Such a hard time for humanity right now.

      • Britton Minor June 13, 2020 at 8:50 pm #

        Yes, and yet—this must continue if we are to see lasting changes. I feel both hopeful and deeply saddened (by who we are as a nation, as people). I spent so many years in the racist dark, or should i say, in the racist white!

      • Allegro non tanto June 13, 2020 at 8:50 pm #

        I hear you!

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