It’s time to have a conversation about race. And it might be uncomfortable, but it’s time to stand up and start the discussion.
I can’t sit back for one more minute and hear some of the things that are being said by my white friends and neighbors and perfect strangers about black people in America today.
I know you mostly come to Petit Elefant for fluffy, fun recipes and beauty DIY’s and tutorials but today we’re having a serious, badly needed discussion about race. If you don’t like it, feel free to skip it and wait for tomorrow’s post. But I do hope you’ll stick around and read to the bottom, because figuring out how to stanch the bleeding is going to take all of us.
Let’s start by stating the obvious: I’m white. A super lily-white Mormon girl from the actual middle of Utah. I grew up in a super wealthy neighborhood in Orem, Utah whose population is primarily educated white Mormons. My school classes in elementary school were filled with all white kids, and mostly white teachers and administrators, (except for my Spanish-Immersion teachers, most of whom were from Mexico). I attended a super elite private school from middle school through graduation populated mostly by rich white kids. The kind of school with annual tuition higher than most colleges in America.
I know white and I super know privilege. What I don’t know as much, is racism. Which is why I think I’ve been hesitant to speak up about it before now. So I’m going to talk about what I do know: being a minority in a majority world, in both chronic illness and money.
Stay with me here, I promise it will come together in the end.
I’m one of 8 kids. That in and of itself is a minority situation. Even in the 1980’s in Utah, being from a family of 8 kids wasn’t the coolest. My parents are both college graduates, my dad with a master’s degree in psychology. But instead of making the big bucks like I would’ve liked as a kid, my dad worked for the State of Utah’s Rehabilitation Program counseling the most disabled, mentally ill, under-served population in the state. Spoiler alert: government pay is pretty crappy. Throw 8 kids on top of that, all of which have major chronic illnesses, and there was zero cash to go around. My mom is a retired librarian and teacher, and let me ruin the ending to that cliffhanger for you: teachers and librarians make diddly-squat.
None of this is a big deal in and of itself, right? Right. But here’s where I’m getting to my point. My natural state of being has always been “other”. Even a white Mormon girl growing up surrounded by other white Mormons. I grew up poor, surrounded by serious wealth. Other 1.0. My family were liberal Democrats in Reagan Republican territory. Other 2.0.
Then, I got sick at the age of 14, and was eventually diagnosed with both Lupus + Fibromyalgia along with a host of other autoimmune suck-tastic-ness that made me very different from my peers: Other 3.0.
None of my “otherness” is significant in and of itself. The point I’m trying to make here is that in some ways, I understand what it is to be “other”. To have people make comments and judgements about me and my life they know nothing about. That is where it gets significant.
I’ve had more than one doctor who doesn’t understand what it is to live inside my body tell me I need to “buck up”, “change my attitude” and “seek counseling” when seeking medical treatment for actual diseases. I’ve had friends tell me I needed to have more faith, to pray harder, to try ineffectual home remedies, to just stop being sick. But it doesn’t work that way, guys.
My most effective doctors, the ones who get my time and my money, are those who’ve either personally experienced my hell, or have lived with a wife, daughter, son, brother, or parent with a debilitating disease and have some experienced empathy for me. The medical practitioners who’ve never taken a sick day and don’t even attempt to understand what it’s like to feel obliterated by pain and exhaustion all day, every single day of their lives, will never be the ones who move the research and treatment of these diseases forward. Because they don’t understand and don’t bother trying.
So no, I don’t get to sit back and say what it is to be a black person in America. I don’t get to tell black people they need to shut up, buck up, try harder, get educated, stop complaining and get themselves out of this hellhole. And neither do you.
Here are some things I don’t experience or understand because I’m white:
- what it is to be followed all through a department store while I’m shopping
- what it is to be harassed by police or other “leaders” of the community because I look “suspect”.
- to be, like my friend Karen, followed by a cop as I take my daily run through a neighborhood different than my own, because I’m black.
- to be gunned down because it’s after dark and I was wearing a hoodie, and that somehow looks threatening to the neighborhood watch.
- to be a 15-year-old girl at a neighborhood pool party with my friends and end up manhandled, pinned face down on the grass because I happened to be a black teen.
- to be stopped for a broken tail light and end up dead.
- to be a 12-year-old kid at the park playing with a toy Airsoft gun, shot and killed by an unstable police officer.
- and what I’ve definitely never experienced is to have my sacred place of worship desecrated by the murders of nine members of my congregation by a white supremacist.
I don’t understand any of that. People give me the benefit of the doubt wherever I go. I’m an educated, upper middle class, white, Mormon, 30-something-year-old mother of two white kids with a “white” husband. No one questions me anywhere I go. Period.
But here’s where it gets critical. I need to listen. To stop being defensive about being white. Because this isn’t about me. I need to hear the stories my black friends and fellow Americans, and global friends, tell me. I need to try and understand the reality that exists outside my suburban oasis. Not just because it will affect my 3 adorable black nephews and niece as they grow up, but because it affects other humans on this planet, and it’s my job and yours, to figure out how to minimize the hurt of our fellow brothers and sisters on this earth. And believe me, it’s in our power. In fact, nothing will change until you and I take action. But, I’ll tell you one thing I do know: standing around talking about the problems in black culture in America doesn’t do a damn thing towards healing the enormous rifts we’re creating.
So, please. Please. Can we stop pointing fingers? Can we please listen? Can we try to be empathetic to something we don’t understand? Can we raise our voices together and say, ‘NO‘? No, we won’t tolerate any of this. No, we won’t stop having the uncomfortable conversations. It’s time to talk. It’s long overdue.
If you want to listen to what black Americans have to say about their experiences, here are some great articles from across the internet, 3 from some of my brilliant black girlfriends, and 3 more from other heartbroken white people like myself.
From some of my black girlfriends on the internet:
- About Charleston, Forgiveness and Black Pain
- Let’s Get to the Work of Anti Racism
- Dear white people: it’s OK to talk about Ferguson. Isn’t it on your mind?
From some white folks on the internet:
- When Whites Just Don’t Get It
- Things for White People to do to Fight Racism in America
- Open Letter To My Fellow Whiteys (warning: some NSFW language)
(p.s. the cute kids in these photos are a smattering of my nieces and nephews and my own two babies)