Friday, July 19, 2013

A Seat at the Table

The past couple weeks have been rough.  After typing this I looked at the calendar and realized that is has been just six days since George Zimmerman was found not guilty in the murder of Trayvon Martin.  It feels a lot longer than that.  Maybe because at the core of this is something that goes back longer than any of us can possibly comprehend.  But it is comprehension and understanding that is needed right now.  And, sadly, I am realizing there are aspects to this I can never understand, or so I am told, because I am white. I don't disagree.

I have never, ever had to tell my sons anything about the police other than they should respect police officers and run to them if they ever needed help.  The only instructions I have ever given my boys about their behavior in public has been "remember, please and thank you and use your inside voice."  Hearing people talk about the discussions they have with their black sons is heart-breaking.  It's like they literally live in a different world than I do.  I can't listen to those accounts and shrug and go on my merry way. Two worlds separated by thick, smoky glass.  You think you know what is on the other side but you are not really sure.

I consider myself a pretty open minded person.  But I guess I am not the best judge of that - kind of like describing yourself as a good singer - really? Says who?  But I know I try.  I want to be get better and be better at living in this world.  I put a quote from Stevie Wonder's "As" here but I deleted it.  Was afraid it would look disingenuous.  That fear of being misunderstood is why I am here typing in the first place.

I want to talk. And I want to talk about race.  But the thought of talking about race terrifies me because, frankly, I don't know what the hell I am talking about, let's be honest.  I know more about being a world-class chef than I know about being black in America - and I hate to cook for God's sake.  Someone once described me as "exceedingly white."  OK. Not sure if that was a comment about my pigmentation or a judgment of my personality, or (God help me) an indictment of my attitude. I was not insulted as much as I was puzzled. That was about seven years ago and I think about it often.  I think I am trying to understand what it means - at least from the perspective of people who aren't white.  If I am going to be realy honest it was the first time I was aware that someone was seeing the color of my skin.  It knocked me off center.  Race matters, it shouldn't, but I guess it does.

As I have stated before, Barack Obama's election to the highest office in our nation turned the world upside down for a lot of people.  And instead of ushering in a new day in a sunny post-racial America, it pulled the curtain back and revealed hatred and bigotry that is simply mind-blowing.  I don't know what is more shocking - the severity or the extent of the hatred.  I cannot relate to hating someone that much based on anything, let alone the color of their skin.

This "conversation" about race that we so desperately need to have is a minefield.  It is littered with so many chances for the well-meaning white people at the table to say the wrong thing or say the right thing in the wrong way.  There are racist aspects of every white person. It is almost impossible to grow up in white America and not have parts of you that, when you honestly look closely enough, you realize are wrong. I guess the difference among white people is - do you want to have those racists views/perceptions or not.  If you do, go along your merry way and stay out of ours.  If you don't, then slide on up to the table and speak your mind.  Let's just promise each other that if we say something stupid we will know it comes from ignorance and not malice.

Trayvon Benjamin Martin did not get justice from this verdict, but maybe we can give him justice from our revolution.