This week, I went to a public forum about the Black Lives Matter movement. At the end of the hour and a half that had been scheduled for the panel, most attendees were sad to leave, myself included. We felt as if the conversation had just begun; there was so much more to say, so many questions that had yet to be asked.
Although I am now filled with more questions and am more passionate about this movement than I was before, there was one specific idea that stuck out to me throughout the evening:
Saying we are "colorblind" or don't pay attention to race is part of the problem. As white people, we need to be aware of race. Ignoring race means we are willingly turning a blind eye to our white privilege.
One of the speakers on the panel was a middle-aged, white, male principal at a local high school. He is also married to an African American woman. He told us a story about an experience he had with the rest of the principals in our district. A guest speaker asked them to write down the percentage of an average day they spend thinking about race and then asked them to line up from 0-100 in a line, according to the percentage they wrote down. He was shocked to find that he was the only white person at the end of the line, as he had written down 100%. He described a stark contrast between the white principals at the lower end of the line and every principal of color at the higher end of the line.
If our colored brothers and sisters are thinking about their own race 100% of every day, why are we ignoring it 100% of the day? Being able to not think about race is in itself a privilege. In general, I don’t think about how my day is affected because I am white; that is because it is only affected by race in positive ways.
As a woman, this is something I wish I understood more. I constantly think about my gender and how that plays into the way people treat me or the way I am comfortable spending my time, and it frustrates me that my male friends will never quite understand what that is like. What I am coming to understand is that this is similar to how black people are treated in this country. Not only do they have to think about where they can go, or how they need to speak, they have to think about what perfect strangers will assume about them simply because of the color of their skin.
This isn't fair. It isn't just. It isn't love.
I will never fully be able to understand what my black friends go through in this country. I will never experience it first-hand. That doesn’t mean I can’t try. I think it actually means that I need to try that much harder.
I need to go out of my way to hear the stories of my black friends.
I need to have more black friends.
I need to listen.
I need to get out of my comfort zone.
This problem will never go away on its own. It will never be solved in one public meeting in Kansas. It will only be solved when we, as white people, start to acknowledge that this is our problem, too.
Skin is beautiful. Culture is beautiful. Diversity is beautiful. The point of Black Lives Matter is not to integrate two cultures to become one. The point is to stop the hurt. Our black brothers and sisters are hurting because of us, and when we don’t stand up for them, we are adding to the problem.
We must recognize that we are privileged. We must see that we have benefits because of our genetics. We must put a stop to this, even when that means giving up our own comfort.
When you don’t know how else to act, lean into love. As Rich Mullins once wrote, “Let mercy lead; let love be the strength in your legs, and with every footprint that you leave, there will be a drop of grace.”