I am not racist. I’ve never been racist. Not even a little bit.
But I have been astoundingly ignorant.
Growing up in the South, I probably seemed, at least to those close to me, almost progressive. I had black friends, went with them to their black churches; I sat at their tables and they sat at mine. I was blind to any racism that may have been going on around us because I personally wasn’t racist, nor did I have to face it — I’m a white female.
We made fun of the backwards rednecks who still had a problem with my white girlfriends going to prom with their black boyfriends. We laughed when people cautioned us about going to the projects to hang out with friends because obviously no one is going to bother the little white girls driving a beat up Nissan. I even laughed when forks dropped as I walked out of a restaurant with my brown skinned, male friend and my white mother because the worst they would do to me was stare.
There was no danger for me.
I got to drive home to my safe, white neighborhood and know that if I got pulled over the police officer would most likely follow me to make sure I got there ok. He wouldn’t pull me from my car because I was in the wrong neighborhood. He would ENSURE MY SAFETY because I was in the wrong neighborhood.
What I failed to see was the danger of those friends coming into my neighborhood. The fear they must have faced having me in their car. How I risked NOTHING to go visit them, while they risked their very lives coming to visit me. I had no idea. No. Clue.
I’m embarrassed. Ashamed. I wish I’d known. But when we know better, we do better. So I am doing better.
I think a lot of good is coming from the protests that stemmed from the latest police killing of an unarmed black man. My hope is that we will see systemic change. At the very least, I am changed. My family is changed.
We are relearning history. My husband and I were both educated in Southern schools. I even started college as a history major, yet my knowledge of the history of African Americans is pathetic.
I had no idea what happened in Selma. I’d heard, and I am ashamed to say, actually believed the horrible stories about Martin Luther King Jr. I’m guilty of saying “all lives matter.” I believed the Civil War was just about States’ rights. I thought Robert E. Lee was a hero. I’d never heard of Annie Lee Cooper.
You guys. I didn’t know. But I am learning.
I will no longer call the police if I hear fireworks in my neighborhood. I now know that while the police mean “safety” to me, they very well may mean “danger” to my neighbors. I will pay attention when I see a car pulled over. I will stop and be an ally to the driver who may very well need a little white woman standing guard against the racist fear they face every day.
I will teach my boys that it is not enough that we are not racists. We must stand up against injustice. We must look out for people of color at every turn and speak up on their behalf. We owe them so much more than that, but we will do what we can. We will learn to be allies.