I wrote the following over the summer. Shortly after the horrific events surrounding the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, a friend posted on social media about the conversations she would be forced to have with her sons telling them of a reality they should never have to face. She talked about the fear she has when her own husband goes for a run in a predominately white neighborhood and the hesitation they felt about knocking on a neighbor’s door late at night, for fear of how it may be received. I know this couple, and it weighed so heavy on my heart knowing that they have these thoughts and fears living in our community.
Thoughts and fears that I will never personally know or feel. It hit me hard.
I couldn’t sleep last night. Thoughts racing through my mind as more and more things are clicking – making sense for the first time. These words kept playing on loop, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, oh Lord, my strength and my redeemer.” I heard this phrase repeated aloud by the congregation at the close of every church service as a child.
Then, I heard the very ones who were present and plugged in every Sunday make comments like, “no daughter of mine is dating a N—–” and “it used to be such a nice area until the blacks took it over” and “if they just wouldn’t act so black.” What happened to that whole words of your mouth and meditations of your heart thing?
These same people wouldn’t dare miss a Friday night in Rebel Stadium, often wearing and waving the Rebel (confederate) flag, cheering on their beloved high school football team. The same boys that their daughters better never bring home. Take State, boys, but don’t you dare look at our precious white daughters. “Words of my mouth and meditations of my heart.”
We were taught to sing Jesus Loves the Little Children, and I knew all the words. The sentiment of “red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight” was quickly dimmed by the sound of the lock button if a car driven by a black person stopped nearby or the sight of a tightly gripped purse if a black person walked too closely at the mall. The non-verbal cues were loud and planted unwanted seeds in my heart. “Words of my mouth and meditations of my heart.”
To think desegregation solved all the racial issues is wishful and ignorant thinking, simply ignoring reality. Racism is here. You don’t even have to look outside the four corners of your own community most likely. Some say it’s a heart issue, and there’s a lot of truth to that, but it’s also very much a learned behavior – ingrained by and deeply embedded within society and racially prejudiced people.
Undoing and unlearning is extremely uncomfortable and unsettling. It requires commitment and humility to look within yourself, acknowledge the ugly parts and accept that you are ignorant to a whole world of issues that do not affect you personally.
I have literally felt sickened that I am just now responding to the call. I have been ignorant for so long, and it has been humbling to learn the level of injustice and inequality and how deeply rooted it goes, even right in front of my face. I know I have just scratched the surface with what all I need to learn, but I am committed to putting in the time and honest, open-minded work to make sure racial prejudice and ignorance does not live on through me. My kids will know what racism is, that it is wrong, and that it will not be accepted within our family on any level. “Words of my mouth and meditations of my heart.”
Since writing those words months ago, I put in quite a bit of work.
I listened to Lisa Sharon Harper talk about the history of racism and slavery, specifically white women’s role. I watched Hannah Brown, a popular Bachelor/Bachelorette star and social media presence, navigate her own racial unlearning and reteaching.
Through their openness and willingness to share uncomfortable truths, I also learned.
I read Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People, an in-depth book about implicit bias and the brain’s automatic mental associations that result in so many stereotypes unconsciously formed. It was eye-opening to say the least. I watched the Netflix documentary, 13th. The screen of names coupled with the footage near the end was powerful. I re-watched A Time to Kill, and it was like seeing it, really seeing it, for the first time.
Have you heard of The Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921? I researched it – wow! The Greenwood neighborhood in Tulsa, Oklahoma was the most prominent black community in the United States at the time. Did you know this systemic attack was one of the worst terrorist attacks in the history of our country? I had no clue – don’t even recall hearing about it in all my years of public school.
I learned the significance of Loving v. Virginia, where the Supreme Court overturned the state laws banning interracial marriage in 1967. That was only 54 years ago. We are not that far removed from a time where a person could not marry outside their own race, regardless of love. How sad is that? What is even more disheartening is there are still people alive today that were raised and taught to believe that interracial marriage is wrong.
I read about Thurgood Marshall, Ruby Bridges, Juneteenth, Frederick Douglass, Shirley Chisholm, and others. Again, I don’t recall learning about any of these people or events. Why not?
I intently listened to Emmanuel Acho’s series Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man. In one episode, I heard “Fear comes from wanting to be comfortable in conversations, in what we are learning, in embracing our own history, in embracing the reality of the country we live in. We cannot parent in a wise way if we’re just gonna try to be comfortable all the time.” I replayed that several times and let it sink in. Heard!
Glennon Doyle profoundly wrote in Untamed:
“Privilege is being born on third base. Ignorant privilege is thinking you’re there because you hit a triple. Malicious privilege is complaining that those starving outside the ballpark aren’t waiting patiently enough.”
I want the cycle of ignorance and implicit, unwanted and unintentional bias to stop with me. Feeling more equipped than ever before, I am ready to have the uncomfortable conversations with my children, because we repeat what we do not repair. To ignore the issues of racism and pretend it is not happening is part of the problem. I want to be part of the solution, and I hope the work done within the four walls of my home will extend into my community.