18 Aug Thoughts on Racism . . .
The more I read about it, the more confused I become about what exactly happened in Charlottesville last weekend. I was blissfully unaware, away from the television and computer for four full days. I think I only looked at my phone once on Saturday, and I missed the news somehow. After coming home, I attempted to piece together what had happened from the different perspectives trying to drown each other out.
Whenever racially motivated violence takes place, my heart aches. Sometimes I don’t speak up because I feel unqualified. I’m white, after all. How could I possibly understand what it’s like to be a target of racism?
I couldn’t. There’s no way I could fully understand something I haven’t experienced. But that isn’t stopping me from trying to understand. It isn’t stopping me from writing a book from the perspective of a black slave girl. I figuratively spend a lot of time in 19th century America, and sometimes I come across things in my research that bring me to tears. Often, I feel afraid to voice my opinion because I’m not a minority. But the other day I read a Facebook post written by my friend Timothy Huh and it resonated with me.
“I chose, years ago, that I would refuse to see myself as Asian,” he said. He said a lot more than that, but those words made me wonder if it would be okay to stop seeing myself as white. If I could just see myself as a person, an American, someone descended from Slovak immigrants, whose ethnicity and culture influences me, of course, but doesn’t render my voice invalid. He further encouraged his friends to be courageous, to not be afraid of making mistakes.
As a person of white privilege in America today, I have been afraid of making a mistake. I’m afraid that if I criticize the actions of someone of a different color, I will be called racist. I’m afraid to ask questions about your culture, because you might misunderstand my intent. I’m afraid some black people might be offended by my books, when that’s the last thing I’d want.
But maybe, as a person, as an American, I can just ask questions. I can make mistakes and accidentally offend people and apologize for it. Perhaps we can even disagree in a respectful way, without resorting to violence. Maybe I can love and respect each person as an individual while still noticing and admiring the specific features of my friends of different colors. Is there room for that?
When left to ourselves, we naturally gravitate to people like us—in opinion, in religion, in culture, and maybe even in color. It takes a conscious choice to see things from another’s perspective. To accept and love those different from us. I want to be a person who makes that choice. I like to think I’m already that person in a lot of ways. The person who accepts you for who you are, whether or not you’re like me. But I also don’t think we need to be silent about our differences. I believe we can discuss them with love.
My grandmother once told me, “You’re too afraid of making a mistake. You’re going to make mistakes.”
So here I am, putting myself out there. Adding my voice to the plethora of voices already weighing in on racism. Wanting to understand. To be understood. And I’m probably making a lot of mistakes in the process. But I guess now I think that’s better than silently standing on the sidelines.