I can tell you the exact moment I knew I was racist. Four years ago my son and I went to a black family’s house for a play date. The kids got along great. Both a bit shy but shared a few giggles over a fish puzzle.
After a glass of wine and half a bag of chips my friend got a text.
Oh good. My husband’s class got out early. You’ll be able to meet him.
Her husband was getting on a bus from downtown. He was taking evening classes earning his MBA.
I got nervous. What if my sheltered four year old says something inappropriate when he sees a large black man come through the door? Will he be scared? Will he act weird? Should I take him aside and use this as a teachable moment?
Don’t worry honey. Billy’s daddy is just like your daddy. He works in an office and reads Billy books at bedtime. I bet he likes superheroes too.
It hadn’t crossed my mind earlier to even mention they were all black. Why did it matter now?
Because I was scared.
Because I was racist.
I didn’t whisper any social stories to Tom in the bathroom. He didn’t cling to me or ask Billy’s dad why he looked like chocolate.
He played with the fish puzzle.
We stayed a while longer. The grown ups talked in the kitchen. Traffic was bad. We all wanted new counter tops. There was a new movie out with so and so.
Later that night I congratulated myself for showing my son more diversity* in four years than I had experienced in forty. Thank God I wasn’t one of “those” white people. Luckily a wave of shame crested and smashed through that smug moment of self reflection. I was racist. I needed to be better.
I’ve kept that moment to myself and dove into the work. It wasn’t hard to find ways to better myself. I live in a city. I work in education. Equity is a focus whether you like it or not. Whether you understand it or not. I didn’t need to seek out opportunity, I just needed to be a better participant.
I’ll spare you my journey. I won’t try to out woke you. Just know that I sucked, and now I suck less.
There is no anti-racist certificate. There is no finish line. Racism is a boom-a rang. These last two weeks were an uncomfortable and critical reminder.
I drive through the intersection of 38th and Chicago every day. I have never had a positive experience with the Minneapolis Police and was not sad to see my neighborhood precinct burn down. My office and one of my district’s schools was across the street and was one of the first buildings to go along with the Target and AutoZone.
I was proud of my reaction and the reaction of my leadership. This moment was not about stuff. This moment was about centuries of violence and oppression. This was a reaction to the continued violence and oppression that happens everywhere, everyday, all the time. Burn it down. We will rebuild and it will be better.
There was an excitement. A feeling that real change could happen and more and more white people will be willing to live in the discomfort of dismantling systemic racism. What better place than Minneapolis, the home of the nice liberal white lady. Now we can put action behind our signs. Put money where our mouths are.
The city continued to burn on Friday night. This was no longer a concentrated effort on a symbolic corner. My jaw dropped along with the reporters as more and more windows were smashed and institutions toppled. The destruction was literally getting too close to home.
I’m embarrassed by the way my body reacted. How quickly fear was a sling shot back into an Amy Cooper state of mind. I bought the narrative of outside bad actors hook line and sinker. I clung to the impassioned words of Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms minus the context of a black mother but with the fragility of a white woman.
My FaceBook posts begged people to obey the curfew. I was glued to every neighborhood watch board. I stopped sharing black voices and flooded my timeline with Boogaloo exposes.
The language of the oppressed had gotten too loud.
I support Mayor Frey, but I might not tomorrow. The smoke has cleared and I have the luxury to once again reflect and learn. I got a tiny taste of what the stakes are for my black neighbors, and I did not rise to the occasion.
I’m grateful the fires were put out. But I’m more grateful they were started.
I’m still racist. And I still need to do better.
*Four years ago I thought “Diversity” was a cool word. It’s not. I learned from listening to black people that diversity props up the idea that white is the standard to which everything else diverges from.
Because changing how we think is hard but picking the words we use is easy…here’s another one for you:
*A month ago I learned “Achievement Gap” is not a cool term. I listened to black people and learned that puts the owness on black kids to achieve; they are deficient and resources must be spent to close the gap. The disparities in educational outcomes stems from an “Opportunity Gap.” That puts the owness on the adults to fix.