A year ago, if you would have asked me if I was racist, I would have told you no. I probably would have been insulted; I would have involuntarily responded to your question with a face of shock and a quick, defensive no.
Internally, I would have been bubbling with pride. I'd look down at my white skin and think of how I would never, ever have considered myself racist. I'd think about how "I love black people" but then be struck with a tiny bit of shame as I scanned the people in my life and found that they almost all looked just like me. A year ago, I would have never considered myself racist. Now, however, I am regretfully sure that I was.
For most of my life, I chose to take Black America as the media portrays them, which is wildly biased and terribly wrong. I grew up in a white city. I went to an almost completely white high school. The most exposure I had to People of Color (POC) was when I saw their mugshots on the news. For so long, I chose to believe the riots and the protests to be overdramatic; I didn't see the need for them, which is part of the problem. I chose ignorance because it was comfortable and easy. I was unknowingly choosing to be selfish and ignorant, because, as White person, that's a right that our culture has given me.
I did not make the conscious choice to be racist, but I didn't really make the choice not to be, either. And I'm not saying that to clear my name or to make sure you don't judge me. I'm saying that because, as a white woman from an all-white city who currently goes to a mostly-white school, it was easy for me to tell myself that I wasn't racist. I had never hated someone because of their skin color, and somehow, I had convinced myself that that was enough.
Now, I know that it isn't.
Last fall, awareness hit me like a bus. I'm not exactly sure what it was that made me wake up, but nonetheless I am thankful.
Maybe it was my friend telling me that the first time she was judged by the color of her skin, she was five years old. Maybe it was her plethora of stories about how she's been treated as a woman of color. Maybe it was hearing about another black teenager getting shot. Maybe it was one of the videos of a black man getting shot. Maybe it was the Dakota Access Pipeline. Maybe it was the election. But once it started, once I began paying attention, I found information everywhere.
When I realized that there was something wrong with the way I was thinking, I made a point to learn. I read articles by POC and chose to be informed on what was going on with both sides. I admitted that my perspective was wrong. I asked my black friends questions about their experiences. I started reading books and blogs and watching documentaries. I followed POC on social media. I had conversations with my white friends about what we were taught growing up. We talked about how our cultures trained us to see POC. We mourned, we confessed, and we made a point to change our way of thinking.
I quickly found that there was a whole conversation going on that I was unaware of. It is so easy to be unaware of it. Black America has not been silent, but a majority of White America, myself included, has chosen to ignore what's happening.
Friends, we cannot continue to ignore what's happening.
A dramatic shift came in my life when I decided to pay attention. When I began to seek out the opinions of POC, to hear their stories, to allow my heart to feel the burden that they do not have the option not to carry, everything changed. Once I began to listen to what POC had to say, I could no longer act like there isn't a problem.
Today, I am not here to tell you that you are racist. I am not here to tell you to buy a Black Lives Matter shirt or to change everything about your life. I am not here to tell you that you are wrong. All I am asking you to do is to please, listen to what our brothers and sisters of color have to say.
Please, listen, and do not shake off their opinions because what is happening to them does not affect you. Please, listen, and understand that racism still exists, even if you don't see it. Please, listen, and allow your heart to carry the burden that our culture has placed on them. Please, listen, and allow your heart to break. Please, listen, and do not insert your own opinions or ideas into POC's truth. Please, listen, and allow the color of their skin to give them more authority than yours does. Please, listen, and pay attention to the way that you think of or act around POC. Please, listen, and allow POC to be your teachers. I promise, they know what they are talking about.
I am still learning. I have read a handful of books, changed the demographics of the people I follow on social media, and had hard conversations with friends. But my work is not done. As a woman, I know inequality well. But, as a white person, I have so much to learn, and so I will.