Racism is personal
It's ugly. It's hard to look at. Shame surrounds it.
It isn't just black and white either. I live in Texas. I hear it in the judgments made about "wetbacks."
The societal issues are complex. But the responsibility is simple. To achieve equality requires a personal commitment. Not just "being nice" to someone, but to truly believe that there is parity and to speak out when there is not. What we think in our hearts matters.
Racism gets blended with issues of poverty. I remember one time going to a Latino grocery store on a Saturday morning and an SMU lecture in the evening and noticing that poverty had a look and wealth had a look. That look wasn't just about the cost of the clothes. It included skin color.
And the fear is real. As a white woman driving a Smart car, I'm intimidated like crazy to be in a poor neighborhood after dark.
The thing is, there are people who live in that neighborhood. People just like me on the inside. They don't get to drive away. And there are systems designed to keep them there. Title loans, low income jobs, poor education, lack of child care...
John and I started our our lives poor. Young with two kids. Between the two of us we made $15 an hour when we moved to the town we live in now. (Prior to that we lived on as low as $1000/month.) But we had college educations. We had parents who gave us $3,000 so we could buy our first home--which gave us enough equity to move into the home we have now. Writing this, I remembered that we also got turned down for the home loan in the beginning, but I went to talk to the loan officer and got them to approve us.We never saw ourselves as poor. "Things were tight" but we didn't assign a value to ourselves based on our income. Nor did anyone else.
When we moved from our starter home to the place we live now, Bethany changed middle schools. The racial and economic demographics were different. I remember asking her if she noticed a difference in the schools. She said, "I think it is about expectation."
When I asked her to explain she said, "At the other school people talked to us like we might not graduate high school, but at this school they talk to us like we will all go to college."
Her thirteen-year-old observation was insightful.
Our experience shapes our expectations. And sometimes I wonder if it isn't about money, or resources or even hate, but if it is simply about expectation and how that affects what we see.
If I see someone and am afraid of them, it is because I expect them to do something bad. If I see someone and expect to be abused by them, then I project how that person feels about me based on experiences with others. It impacts the way we interact. This is where fighting racism requires a personal cost. We have to be willing to take the risk of expecting the best of people.
There is another personal cost. Changing expectation requires a change in how we view people as "other." The moment there is an us vs. them, we start to assign value. "Them" is never as valuable as "us." And the moment we put someone on a scale where "they" have less value than "us," we are guilty.
Of course there are very real "bad guys"in this world--those who assign value to themselves and others so low that they don't care about what they do or how they get things. But believing that everyone has exactly the same chance is naive. There are smart people who don't get to go to college. Potential executives who are never mentored. There are people who wouldn't have the courage to go talk to a loan officer because they expect that they would be turned down.
We each have a personal responsibility, and we live that out through love. We can't love people we are afraid of or are angry at. We can only love those we truly believe are like us. And if love is a transformative power, then it can change things. We can change things.
I do know this. We can't just throw up our hands in helplessness and say it is too big of a problem to solve. Ferguson doesn't have a problem. Staten Island doesn't have a problem. We have a problem.
One that is personal.