Last month I attended the Gantt Symposium, which hosted Iyanla Vanzant to discuss community healing and unity one year after the police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott and protests thereafter.
From where I sat, I found that I was one of only a handful of white people there – which was an insightful position to experience, as most often, the opposite is true.
Ms. Vanzant asked if we would say yes to the hard truths that needed to be told. She said that there were people in the room who have some things they should be talking or writing about. I took that as my cue.
To the black community,
I have a shameful admission I must make.
One night, many moons ago, when I still flocked to bars and clubs with fellow singles, I discovered a despicable part of myself. Sitting in the back seat of a car packed with my white friends, our driver laid on the horn to express his disdain for the car in front of us.
“Don’t!” I shouted. “He’s black!”
My words and fear surprised me. I didn’t think these types of things. It was a visceral reaction. And while I would argue the modern white argument that I wasn’t racist, the fact was, I had racism in my cells.
My unwillingness to examine or recognize my deep, visceral race reactions made me part of the problem.
That night my friend, Pat, demonstrated to me what it means to be part of the solution.
“Don’t you ever say something like that in front of me again,” he said, with a healthy volume. In my shame and personal shock, I began to reprimand myself, repeatedly offering shallow apologies.
“You don’t need to apologize. You just need to never say something like that again,” Pat told me.
He was right. He was right in calling me out, making things uncomfortable, and not permitting the cellular racism that came to the surface to permeate and infect the space around us.
To the black community – forgive me. Forgive me for taking so long to “get it.” Forgive me for believing that being appalled by the use of the “n” word or shaking my head at a Confederate flag or having a few black friends gave me exemption from racism.
Forgive me for locking my car doors when I saw a black man nearby. Forgive me for assuming suspicion when I saw you walking in my white neighborhood. Forgive me for these reactions for which I have no personal basis, for I know these are the very things that have unjustly killed so many in your community.
Forgive me for not uncovering your true value in the workplace, and instead, just grasping for one or two of you in an attempt to portray “diversity.”
Forgive me for every time someone used the ‘n’ word in my home and I didn’t have the courage to shut it down and make things uncomfortable.
I know I am just one, but I want you to know that I hear you, I see you, and I see myself and my contribution to the problem clearly. My hope is that these admissions help you to feel heard and seen, and that maybe, just maybe, some in my white community might also see themselves. It is clear to me that it is not the people chanting with Confederate flags that are continuing your oppression, for they are the few. It is the people who foolishly believe they hold no part in the problem, or the solution.