Today I have to speak about what has been weighing heavily on my heart. Normally I write about healing from divorce, navigating new relationships and the reflections of dating in your forties, which can be exhausting, but often times humorous. Today I want to talk about another kind of healing. A healing that needs to take place in our country and the divide that is tearing it apart.
I am a white woman brought up in privilege by my Irish immigrant parents. I lived in a small white town and never had to think about my race or anyone else’s for that matter until I started dating a black co-worker in high school. That is when and only when I had felt the sting of hate and prejudice in my lily-white town when the passively racist kids in my school turned their backs on me and the actively racists students wrote, “Teresa is a n*****lover” on the bathroom walls and spat in my face. This is when it became very apparent to me that I had been complacent in my comfortable little white life and began to open my eyes to social injustice.
A few years later in my first year in college, I was dating a black man that wasn’t allowed to pull into my driveway. The arguments ensued in my house as my parent’s fears and prejudice clashed with my need to fight the injustice to love whom I wanted to love. It was all very “Romeo and Juliet” to me back then and I had much to learn about my own bias and prejudice. It wasn’t until I had learned that I was pregnant that I had to face the new reality of my life and the choice I had to make.
I remember that day so clearly and it still brings up tremendous emotion for me. We had decided to keep the baby and get married. I was only 19-years old at the time. The day came when I could no longer hide the life growing inside me. I had to tell my parents and I knew this was one of their worst nightmares. I was shaking the entire morning. I had packed my bags knowing I was going to lose my family forever when I told them the news. My throat was dry and there were tears welling up in my eyes as I entered the kitchen were my parents sat.
The words were stuck in my throat and the room was spinning. I finally told them the truth that I’d been hiding for over two months. My mother instantly burst into tears–whaling as if I had just died right in front of her. My father was looking at me with confusion, anger, and despair all in one crippling look. I told them that I knew they could never accept this and that I would be moving out. They begged me to consider giving the baby up for adoption and told me this would ruin my life. They said this didn’t mean I had to marry him. (Which was ironic coming from my Irish-Catholic parents). I told them my mind was made up and went to go collect my bags. As I walked to my car, with tears streaming down my face, worried that I may never see my home and my family again—my father called to me, “Stop. We love you. Don’t go.”
We cried and we hugged each other tight and the journey to healing began. My parents quickly learned to love my husband and our beautiful baby girl but it was a long journey to understanding. I illustrate this story because I believe that we can help others heal from the lies that have been seeping into the cracks of our society in order to divide us. It took me years of educating myself and my family on systemic and institutional racism. It took me years to recognize my own bias and ignorance when I used language like; “He’s so articulate” when referring to an intelligent black man. It took me years to find the courage to confront white fragility, trying to gently (and not so gently) explain white privilege to my family, friends, and co-workers. It took me years to recognize the micro-aggressions that happen to my black friends and family on a daily basis and felt such shame witnessing the violent aggression toward young black males that happen on the streets of every city and town in our country.
Those that know me well know that I don’t shy away from uncomfortable conversations regarding race. I am not just compassionate and empathic, I am an anti-racist. I believe it is all of our responsibility to uncover the ugliness that has plagued our country for generation after generation. Educate yourself about the impact that slavery, Jim Crow laws, the civil rights movement, mass incarceration of black men, and police brutality before you are quick to judge the riots that are happening right now throughout the country.
Racism is the real virus that is destroying our country. No one condones violence and looting but it is the direct result and expression of injustice. The built up anger and frustration of those that are suffering the most during the pandemic and prior to the pandemic. It is directly correlated to the continual fear of being seen as a threat and historically targeted by police. Black men are feeling this even more during this pandemic wearing masks that they are being asked to wear. The black community suffered greater loss during the pandemic than your average white American by having higher rates of death, losing their jobs at a higher rate, not having access to proper healthcare, insurance and daily nutrition.
Suffering from decades of feeling unheard and undervalued. A societal structure that makes economic growth far more difficult for people of color. Red-lining for example; the systematic denial of various services by federal government agencies, local government as well as the privately-owned companies, to most notably black neighborhoods or communities, either by directly raising interest rates or through blatant discrimination and withholding of bank loans.
Riots are essentially the only form of protest that gets the attention of lawmakers and legislators to do something to reform a broken system and address systemic racial practices. Rioting is historically the democratic expression of fighting for our right to protest injustice. Even more disturbing is the unarguable fact that white supremacy groups are the ones smashing out storefront windows and starting fires to further incite police violence and paint the African-American community as unlawful. I am outraged at what I’m seeing on the news and yet thankful that live footage is bringing these radical hate groups out of the darkness and the truth to light.
When the president defends white men showing up on the steps of the state capital armed with assault rifles and says they are “good people” exercising their constitutional rights as well as the white supremacist group that caused a riot in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017. He is not only supporting racism and white supremacist groups he emboldens them.
When Colin Kaepernick exercising his constitutional right in a peaceful protest by taking a knee during the national anthem is referred to by the president as a “son of a bitch” whose subsequence firing from the NFL silenced the movement, it sends a message to the black community that peaceful protests don’t force change.
I wish those people that were enraged at the football players taking a knee had the same outrage when black men are killed by police. The divide grows when people only see what they want to see. When they can’t put themselves in the shoes of a black mother fearing the life of her son every time he walks out the door. That is heartbreaking to me. I may not fully know the pain of that reality but I shed tears with you and I stand with you in protest.
At this point, talk is cheap. If you truly care and truly want change, you must take action. I have spent my entire adult life immersed in the work to fight against racism but I must do more. We all must do more. White people are morally obligated to not only support our fellow black citizens but also to lead the movement. It is up to us to create change because our brothers and sisters are tired of fighting alone.
Their voices continue to go unheard. During the civil rights movement, the black community needed whites to become their allies in the fight and they need us just as much now. We can no longer allow the divide in our country to grow and fester. We must join together and heal the ugly wounds that whites have inflicted on Black Americans for hundreds of years. We must listen to the profound words of Killer Mike, “We must organize, strategize, and mobilize.” Vote. Protest. Call your local legislators and demand reform in our police departments and judicial system. Support the H.R.40 Bill in Congress. Demand level funding in Education throughout the country. Educate yourselves and others about systemic racism. Listen to black voices. Love. Support. Act.
Our country has been torn apart by corrupt leadership that instills fear and division. We are not united but we the people can change that narrative. It is the only way to heal and unite our country. To truly become the United States of America. God Bless.