I wrote this several weeks after the South Carolina church shooting.
I am a white woman from the South. I love my Southern roots – the land, the food, the history. I have lived a comfortable and, especially being from a place where white skin means privilege, easy life. I have never had to worry that a cop would think I had committed a crime simply because I was walking down the wrong street. I have never had the experience of being followed in a store simply because the assumption was that I had no money since I was black. I have never had racial slurs hurled at me because I stole someone’s parking spot.
I have worked with groups for equality and peace. I worked for Save Darfur as a volunteer. I attended conferences about how peace could be achieved. I studied extensively about the socioeconomic impacts of HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan countries and I volunteered to try and reduce the stigma around the disease. All of my work was local, but I felt like I was making a small dent. In 2008, I worked to register voters in low income areas and I worked for the Obama campaign in my hometown of Richmond, VA. I did all of this, truly caring about the issues, behind the safety of my race. I didn’t use it to my advantage – but an advantage it was whether I wanted it or not.
I am proud of who I am – a wife and mother who is raising her daughters to be empathetic and care about content of character as the only criteria for how they judge someone.
For the first time in my life, I am experiencing feeling that I am being judged unfairly for my skin. I worry that people see me as a stars and bars loving, hate-filled racist. I worry that I am not being judged for who I am, but what people see. I worry that people are looking at me through fear, understandably I might add. While I have known people and talked to people who live this every day, I have never had to live it. It is uncomfortable, disconcerting, and scary. I feel overlooked. I feel lost. And, I might add that my feeling is minuscule compared to what black men and women have experienced every day for the entirety of this country’s existence. I feel uncomfortable, but I don’t worry that a cop will shoot me. I don’t worry that someone will walk into a house of worship and massacre me. I don’t worry that the church down the street from my parents will burn overnight. I know that my feelings, while they are there, are nothing when placed against what the African-American community has and is currently going through. I do not intend to lessen that. But for the first time, I am getting a minor lesson in the experience of what it feels like.
Maybe, just maybe, when the fires have been put out and the dust of the flag has been swept up, this is the good that will come out of this terrible time. Maybe, 10, 20, 30 years from now I can be proud not only of my roots, but my heritage – one of overcoming hatred and letting tolerance and acceptance take its place. Maybe there will be more empathy running through the country and that will be the basis that the healing will start on. Maybe, we can all come together after this and say, “I know what I felt was NOTHING in comparison to your day-to-day, but I now can somewhat understand. It isn’t fair, it isn’t comfortable, and it shouldn’t be how things work.” I know that’s a pipe dream. I know that it’s kumbya and hippie and peacelovedove. But maybe that’s a good thing. I want my kids to grow up in a world where they are judged by who they are, and so is everyone else. Maybe, just maybe, after all the hatred and horror has died down, we will be a bit closer to Dr. King’s dream.
It’s not likely, but one can hope.