Believe it or not, as a blond haired, blue-eyed gal, I was the senior editor of Chicken Soup for the African American Soul and African American Woman’s Soul. While, yes, two of the coauthors and all of the readers selecting the final stories were African American, the veil of the Internet allowed me to receive unedited, personal stories from thousands of African Americans as the first line in the selection process. I laughed, I cried, I held my breath, I sighed with relief, and I empathetically, or perhaps even empathically, felt their pain and their joy. Most importantly, I learned some things. While I have been called an “honorary sister,” I am in no way qualified to speak on the behalf of the African American community. However, I am, perhaps, qualified to open up some discussion and share some things that I think most white people don’t think about.
While we have come a long way, racism in American is still clearly a reality.
Our President has been proof of both. That he is the President is proof that we have come along way; the disrespectful way he has been treated is proof that racism is still alive. While recent events like shootings and police discrimination are the obvious and blaring evidence of racism, one can easily attempt to dismiss it as the actions of the “few” or the “deranged.” When in truth, small, yet unconscionable acts of hurt, racism, and bullying take place in a myriad ways from the work place to institutes of higher learning. Even more so, mean messages are sent in small gestures, and subtle expressions. Even in well- intended, yet unconscious, comments. My college classmate and friend, an African American woman, would point out to me the acts of prejudice she would endure as we walked across the campus. These behaviors were often so subtle no one but the intended would see them—a hand made into the shape of a gun with trigger pulling as she walked by was the one that stands out as most shocking to me. I would never have known that this behavior was happening if she hadn’t shown me.
Black people have to overcome not only racism from the white culture but also racism within their own community.
This was something I didn’t know. I always thought racism was an “us” and “them” thing, but it is not. Within the African American community there is also judgment and prejudice about the darkness of skin color with the “paper bag test” which notes whether one is lighter (good) or darker (bad) than a paper bag. This light skinned and dark skinned separation is an unfortunate and painful reality that needs to be acknowledged. Sometimes success is perceived as an abandonment of the culture. “Moving on up” is not always looked kindly upon.
We, as a society, are not just trying to create a new mindset from centuries ago. We are trying to erase the brainwashing and ignorance of our own childhoods.
As the President recently pointed out in his historic podcast, “It is hard to completely erase what happened 200 to 300 years prior.” However, sanctioned racism was recent American history, not ancient. For anyone over 50, the prevalent thinking of our childhoods is what we need to overcome.
Segregation ended in 1954. The Civil Rights Act was in 1964. Martin Luther King was shot in 1968. That was in my lifetime. That was not all that long ago. This is recent history, not the ancient past.
The “good” white people don’t know what to say to bridge the gap.
We have no idea how to let black people know that we are black-friendly. Even that statement may not be Politically Correct. I heard story after story about how offensive it is for a white person to say to a black person, “I have a black friend!” as if that makes us unprejudiced. For the longest time, as the editor of the African American Chicken Soup books, I wanted to let every black person I saw know that I was an insider—but even that made me sound like an outsider. I didn’t know how to bridge the gap. Even in my attempt to point out that I was a “good white,” I was pointing out that they were black, which kind of defeated my purpose. I call upon the black community to educate us. How do those of us who are comrades, let you know without sounding so stupid?
Here are a couple of invitations for healing. What are yours?
Jesus, Buddha and all of the other masters taught loving acceptance. It is time for us to ask WWJD or WWBD (What would Jesus do? What would Buddha do?) and turn our spirituality into a practice of kindness and compassion rather than one of judgment and violent thinking or actions.
Be kind to everyone, of any color or nationality or religion or sexuality. “Different” does not equal “bad.”
Think before you speak. Put yourself in other people’s shoes. Listen not only to how your words sound to the ears, but also how they land on the heart.
Honestly examine your own prejudices and then overcome them rather than pretending they don’t exist. Acceptance, love and compassion are a choice that we must make for healing.