What I know about racism.

Photo used under Creative Commons Copyright License from user Elvert Barnes. https://flic.kr/p/osSz7X

I am 5 years old. I am swimming in a public pool in Lewiston, Idaho. I know my cousins are black but I don’t yet know that I am white. Another young girl watches us playing, her eyes saying something her mouth will soon reiterate. “Are you black or are you white?” she asks, her voice teetering on disgust. My own eyes glance down at my skin that has instantly been caramelized by the summer sun. “I think I’m brown” I reply, more matter of fact than actual discovery. 

I am 14 years old. I am leaving my high school in Rathdrum, Idaho. I spot another leaflet on my windshield. I don’t need to look at it to know my neighbors, the Aryan Nations, have decorated my car with hate and intolerance. I crumble it up with way too much ease. 

I am 19 years old. We are traveling to British Columbia to celebrate New Year’s Eve. One of my friends from high school thinks he is funny when he states that he has never hung out with a nigger before. I think the reality of the statement is sadder than the sentiments. 

I am 22 years old. I’m leaving a bar in Spokane, Washington. A fight has broken out in the street. My boyfriend at the time tries to break it up. When the police come, it is him they immediately swarm. They refuse to listen to our pleas of innocence. He is forced onto the ground, handcuffed and arrested. The ones fighting go free. 

I am 28 years old. I’m working in Meridian, Idaho. A man walks in and says loudly that he has never seen so many colored people in one place. I look around and I see two people with skin darker than mine. 

I am 32 years old. I am watching from Boise, Idaho as a city in Missouri explodes and the shrapnel reaches every corner of our nation. I feel utterly devastated. I sit down to journal about racism and I realize every example embedded in my memory focuses on the racism of others, and none of them focus on the racism that lives within me. 

I knew my cousins were black before I knew I was white. 

I knew other people were racist before I knew that I was. That I am. That we all are. 

What I know about racism is that we are all a part of it, whether we want to be or not. We were born into it. We were raised next to it. We wake up each morning afflicted by it and bury our heads at night still burdened by it. 

What I know about racism is that we always look outward first, and rarely look inward. We look to Missouri as if it is greatly different than where we live. We look to police officers as if they are inherently different than we are. We look anywhere we can, and cast blame in any direction imaginable, to avoid looking within. 

What I know about racism is that we can’t fix others, and can only make amends with ourselves. To do that we have to start being honest about our own racism.  We have to recognize it. We have to name it. Only then can we do anything about it. 

This isn’t a problem of others. It is a problem that lies rooted in each of us. Ferguson might be the latest stage, but we all are the actors. None of us are free from the responsibility or the guilt. We are in this together, sharing the burden of shame. 

But we have to admit it exists before we make any progress. 

That is what I know about racism. 

4 comments

  • Great post!!! Love how you broke it down!!

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  • This is very poignant, and I believe you’ve hit the truth of it. We’re all racist, whether we really believe it or not, because we were all raised with some sort of racism no matter how small. But if we are self aware, we can try to rise above it and challenge others to do the same. Thanks for such a thought-provoking post.

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    • Thank you so much for reading. When I was studying patriarchy during my gender studies degree I remember my professor saying “we all play a role in it” and that is so true of any system. It wouldn’t function if we didn’t, but we don’t know any other way.

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  • I’m African American and recently moved to Idaho. Two almost identical experiences I had was where I am checking out at a register in a store and a White gentleman walks to the counter and attempts to start his transaction when I have not finished. It was as if my existence did not count for anything to them. I also had someone asked me why I was in there city. Most of the people in Idaho that I encounter are pleasant, but the incidents inform me that there are deep racist elements in the state.

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