I grew up in a small middle class town. Everyone was white. My school district was comprised of two different villages with maybe 80-100 kids per grade. Of those students there were only ocassionally a non-white student. There were not any African American families in town. I grew up really only seeing people of color on TV.
Growing up hearing racist remarks or jokes were “normal”. It wasn’t anything I at a young age could even feel was wrong. There was nothing to contrast it. As I got older that changed some. I could feel that injustice. I can remember listening to adults talking as if all people of color were criminals and lesser human beings. There were times I was outraged and other times that I can recall falling into the racist mindset. There is no justification for it, just pure ignorance. I am not proud of this. I’ve laughed at racist jokes. I have made passing remarks or sat in conversations where I should’ve spoken up. It makes me cringe to think about all the times I’ve allowed myself to sit silently as others have gone on. I’ve never considered myself racist, but by definition my behavior in my past would say otherwise, for that I’m saddened. I do not want to be that person.
My first time witnessing racism in person was at age 21. I was on a trip to visit my sister in New Orleans. We were down on Bourbon Street doing what one does there, drinking and dancing. I was a smoker back then and had stepped outside the bar to cool off and have a cigarette. It was hot and humid that evening. The streets were crowded with inebriated people. As I stood there smoking my cigarette I noticed a short red headed bouncer at the bar next door was screaming at a man standing up against the building. When I looked closer I noticed the black man was on crutches and one leg had been amputated. He had a cup and a sign. He was homeless. The man was yelling “ I told you to move your ass out of here you f**ing n**ger!” When the man didn’t move he began kneeing him in the genitals repeatedly. The man dropped to the ground crying begging him to stop. I looked around as virtually no one even so much as blinked at what was happening. I was enraged and unsure of what to do as a women alone outside of a bar. The bouncer then threw his crutches into the middle of the street as the man cried. “Go get fetch n**ger!” I ran and grabbed the crutches and brought them to the homeless man who was still trying to catch his breath. As I was asking him if I could help him up, the bouncer started screaming at me for helping him. I can remember how close he was to my face, and how the fact that I was helping him was just increasing his rage. I remember yelling at him to leave the man alone. This got him even more angry. As the homeless man tried to walk away the bouncer was screaming louder at me. I was now yelling back askingif he felt like a tough guy beating up a homeless man with nothing. A man missing a leg. He was calling me a “n**ger lover” and threatening to punch me in the face. By this time he’d shoved me into the street and my sister had come out to find a circle of people around us. She ran out to my defense and he swung, punching her in the face. It was all happening so fast. As two white women stood in a circle of people being attacked by a white man, do you know who jumped into to help? A black man got between us and that bouncer. His friend took us safely out of harms way as that generous black man took punches. The Cops showed up and arrested the two black men who helped my sister and I. The bouncer told the cops that the black man who jumped in punched him for no reason. They let the bouncer go and he disappeared in the crowd instead of going back to the bar. I was outraged yelling at the cops they got it wrong. “Ma’am just let it go, the homeless are a problem here, businesses don’t take kindly to them.” I couldn’t get over what I had witnessed. I went to another cop telling them we wanted to press charges for assault. That the bouncer had punched my sister. That got his attention because we were white women. When I defended the men who helped us that was on deaf ears. When they heard that my sister was punched they started to listen. We got in the back of the cop car and drove down Bourbon street looking for that bouncer. Finally we spotted him. He was arrested. As they cuffed him he was screaming “n*ger lover and spitting towards us”. That evening is forever seared in my brain.
I’m telling you that story because it’s the first time I realized that a person of color could be arrested for doing what a white man would’ve been hailed a hero for. The news headline would read “Men step in to save women on Bourbon” Except they were black with dread locks and baggy jeans, so when the cops rolled up they assumed they were the ones breaking the law. That was when my rose colored glasses broke. The day it didn’t feel like an exaggerated problem or thing I had just read about. It was real and my privledge as a white women felt real.
I rarely watch the news anymore, it is all too heavy. The world feels heavy. Everyone has an opinion and the world is mad as hell about so many things. The never ending headlines of police brutality and senseless murders of black men is daunting.
It’s easy for me as a white women to say “violence is never the answer” or “ I’d never act like that, look at these reactions of people burning stuff down”. I’d like to think I would never react that way, but if I’m being honest I’m not sure how long I’d be able to peacefully speak my truth. I haven’t walked a mile let alone a single step in a person of colors shoes. How can I assume what my reaction would be? What I do know is I’m a mother, and there isn’t a thing in this world that could contain my rage if this violence and racism was targeting my family, my children. My heart aches at the thought of me having to train my son to be extra careful if pulled over. To watch what he wears or if it’s ok to wear his hood up. So many simple things that I as a white mother of a white son never think twice about. We need to do better, be better. Do I condone Violence? No, but I will not pretend to know the rage and anger people of color have. I will not judge their reaction, I don’t get to sit in my privledge and say I’d never react that way. It’s time for us all to want more. When will it stop? When will we as a country stand together as human beings and no longer accept this mentality of racism? I can want change and say Black Lives matter and also think most cops are good people. It isn’t me saying anything other than I value their life. That I will stand in support of their lives. It’s not a dig at any other race, it’s a nessesary message of me as a white women acknowledging the value of their life.
“Be the change you wish to see in the world” -Ghandi. It starts with yourself. What can you do to change the world? They say plant a seed and watch it grow. Raise the next generation up to stand together, not be divided. Speak up instead of staying silent. Let your voice be heard. Together we are powerful and can be the change this world needs. Lets rise up together against racism.
Men and women of color I see you. I hear you. I will educate myself further and continue to learn how to be helpful and ignite change. I will raise my children to not be complacent nor be blind to the privledge they were born into. I too will not ignore my privledge, instead I will do my best to use it to promote change. I see you.