I know I’m late to the party, but I wanted to take the time and do something difficult for me. I wanted to sit down, shut up, and listen. I’ve tried to spend the last few weeks humbling my heart, listening with empathy, and with as little ego as possible.
As a white-protestant-straight-American-woman I can point to less than a handful of times where it was clear I did not matter. These incidents stand out to me, because they are not normal for me. They occur at a micro-level. They are the shocking one-offs in my life. I am not pretending to know what it’s like to be bathed in inequity day after day on a macro-level. This is simply my attempt at understanding and validating.
I think most women have learned to leverage male coworkers to be their voice. I’ve done this. I’ve even used the guy that worked for me to get leadership to buy into what front-line staff needed. I sent him because I knew from experience he would be listened to and “his idea” would be valuable because of his gender. I had literally gone in and asked for something, been told flatly “no”, only to have him go in present the same idea and get a resounding “you’re brilliant, why didn’t anyone else think of that”. It wasn’t because he was more eloquent than me. He’s not. I mean, he’s good but he’s not that good. He was more credible because he has a penis. Plain and simple. Penises matter. No one questions that. It doesn’t need to be said.
I’ve felt sidelined other times as well. I’ve had moments where I felt like a prop in my husband’s story. When speaking about my experience with Garry’s cancer, I’ve actually been reprimanded and instructed to “stop telling Garry’s story”, because it’s “not your story to tell”. If I were a man and my wife had breast cancer, I can’t picture anyone thinking it would be acceptable to tell me to stop talking about it. To my detriment, I cowed to that notion for nearly three years before a friend of mine said “You’ve never told me Garry’s story. You’ve told me your story and that story matters. You matter.” I will never forget the feeling of revelation that washed over me at that moment. She was right. I had a story and that story mattered. It was a stand alone story that mattered and it was mine. I felt vindicated, and relieved, and absolved, and then I felt really really pissed off. I was pissed. I was pissed that I’d allowed myself to be muzzled. I was pissed that I’d bought the lie that my experience was less.
Again, that was one anomaly in my life. It was not normal. By and large I have always mattered. I have never had to question that. On a macro-level I have never truly been the lesser.
I am a child of the religious right. I am the great grandchild of white-sheet wearing, cross burning, Kansas-Klansman. I descended from people who did not live in slave states, and to my knowledge none of my ancestors owned slaves. BUT my grandparents called Brazil nuts “n-toes”, the bad part of town was “n-ville”, and (I cringe as I type this) they called slingshots “n-shooters”. That is my inheritance and that is my legacy. My people were not on the receiving end of that discrimination. They were the distributors.
At the age of thirty I fell in love with a man who happens to have two black brothers. They were really little when I met Garry, and I don’t think they remember life without me, but I remember life without them. Loving those boys has changed me. Loving those boys has made me so much better than I fear I would have been without them. I’ve been asking myself “who would I be, if it weren’t for them?” Would I be willing to say “Black lives matter”? I think I know the answer, and I don’t like it.
To my small credit I have always had a professional interest in racial disparities. As I grew in healthcare I developed an appreciation for the distrust African Americans have for our medical system. When you, your father, and your grandfather (yes all three, because it went on for 65 fucking years) could have been in the Tuskegee syphilis trials, it would be irresponsible to not be wary. When, as a Black woman, you are three times more likely to die in childbirth, it would be irresponsible to not be wary.
“Cute to criminal” is a phrase that is used to describe the life cycle of a Black male. I didn’t understand it until the police were called on my ten year old brother in law while he played at his grandparents house. He was a black kid, in a hoodie, playing outside, in a white neighborhood. He was ten. A neighbor called the police because they assumed he was trying to steal something. Two cop cars showed up. Two. No one will ever call the police on my lily white ten year old. No one looks at my white ten year old and assumes bad intent. Cute to criminal. It won’t happen to my kid. I don’t have to worry about it with my kid, but I lose sleep over it with my brother in laws.
White privilege is real. Conservative news outlets are happy to parade a handful of Black men and women who will tell you it’s not real. They claim it’s an invention of the democrats to keep African Americans subservient or some similar dizzy line of reasoning. I suggest you don’t listen to the African American who is being paid to tell you what you want to hear. They are happy to absolve your sins, and I hope they are laughing all the way to the bank. We deserve it.
I understand the anger. I understand tearing down the statues, the flags, the symbols of oppression. What I don’t understand is the same people who celebrated when Saddam Hussein’s statue came down, are now fighting for confederate symbols. As a Christian I’d be pretty upset by statues of Judas in churches. We all get it, he’s a valuable part of Christian history, but we don’t need statues of him to prove it.
I think the thing that troubles me most is the people I know who wont say “Black lives matter”, also identify as Christian and pro-life. They have no problem saying unborn or pre-born matter. They are fighting for those without a voice. They are fighting for the innocent. I can’t help but ask myself why they stop fighting for them once they are born. The same people who dogmatically cling to the 7 day creation story in Genesis, seem to struggle with the clear and certain words of Christ, “if you do it unto the least of these you do it unto me.” Surely the people we have treated as the lesser for countless generations fit the definition of the least of these. Say the words. Black. Lives. Matter.
They matter. They need to hear that they matter. They deserve to hear that they matter. If you want to understand the Black experience, and I hope you do, talk to Black people. Get to know them. Love them. Love their kids. Google Rosewood, and Black Wall Street and the Syphilis trials. When you do that, when you create a relationship and educate yourself on that person’s American heritage it gets really easy to say BLACK LIVES MATTER. It’s not a solution, it is in no way a remedy, but it’s an acknowledgement and an important step in the right direction.