Thursday, July 7, 2016

I don't know what it's like to be black

I posted this on Facebook earlier today, but I want to put it on my blog as well, so I have a more permanent record of it. These thoughts have been in my heart for a long time, and I finally had the courage to let them spill over. I'm tired of thinking that as a privileged white person I shouldn't weigh in on these issues. Because I should. Because I care. And because what keeps happening is not right. My speaking might not help anything, but my silence undoubtedly won't.

A few months ago in book club, we read a book written by a Nigerian author (Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie). In the novel, a young woman from Nigeria moves to the United States. The conversation of the issues in the novel lead to mention of the Black Lives Matter movement in the US right now.

One of the women in book club, who is black, mentioned wondering why her white friends have been so quiet about the movement.

There was silence, and then I decided to speak.

I have decided to speak again now.

I am quiet about the movement, because I don't know what to say or what, as a white person, I am allowed to say.

I have no idea what it is like to be black. I don't know. I CAN'T know. But I DO care. But I'm afraid to speak, because I'm white.

But I'm going to. Maybe it will do nothing to stop the violence, but if it helps even one of my black or mixed friends feel more loved, then it will be worth it.

I don't know what it is like to be black in America.

I know what it is like to be a minority, but it is not the same. Even when I am the minority, I am still white.

I know what it is like to be a woman. I have felt fear walking home at night or walking into a store and realizing I am the only woman in the room. But even as a woman, I am still a white woman.

I know what it is like to be misunderstood or hated for my religion. I have had friends lovingly try to convince me to change religions. I have had people tell me they've been taught I was going to hell because I'm a Mormon. But even as a Mormon, I'm still a white Mormon.

I know what it is like to be an outsider, to walk around and have people come up and pet my hair because they've never seen hair like mine before, to hear people talking about me because my skin is so fair or my eyes so light and they don't know I speak their language. I know what it is like to never fit in and blend in with a crowd even though I desperately wish I could just not be noticed. I know what it is like to KNOW I am saying the right words but not be understood because it's assumed I wouldn't know how to say that or my accent is wrong. But even when I stick out, I'm still white.

I do not believe race is eternal. I don't think I was white before I was born, or American, or Mormon, or comfortably middle class. I think it was pure chance that I happened to be born in a Caucasian family. It wasn't that my soul was better or worse in some way. We were all spirits, and we were all the same. I could have been born into poverty or in a different country or into a different color body or into a body with disabilities or health issues.

So it would be impossible for me to treat you with less love because of your nationality or your skin color or your accent or your income level or your education level or your IQ or your gender or your sexual orientation or your religion or your illness. We were all spirits before, and we're going to be spirits after, and it will be equal. And when I see you, one thought I have is I could have been you—you could have been me.

So while we're here on this Earth, this tiny short time span in between eternity and eternity, can't we just stop killing each other? And hating each other? And making assumptions about each other?

I'm white. And black lives matter.

And while I'm on my soapbox and thinking of mass killings and bombings, I'm going to add that Muslim lives matter. And gay lives matter. A female lives matter.

And yes, ALL lives matter, but that is obvious and doesn't help stop the real violence that is occurring against blacks and Muslims and gays and women.

So the next time you start to make an assumption or speak without thinking, I hope you can remember: I could have been you, and you could have been me.

32 comments:

  1. I think you should keep speaking. You said it much better than I could. —Meg Larsen

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  2. Thank you so much for writing this. —Axelle

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  3. Very well said, Mimi. Thanks for speaking. —Vilma

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  4. In just this, you have said enough. Just to stand up and say it's not okay and you don't agree. —Támara

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  5. Very beautifully said. —Tonya

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  6. I envy your ability to express yourself so well. May I please share this? —Nicky

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    1. Sure, Nicky. :) It's from the heart, and it's been stewing there for a while.

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    2. Can I share this? —Deb Hensley

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    3. Me too. —Amy Whitney

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  7. Love this. —Maria

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  8. Very well said Mimi, love this! —Christy

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  9. Well said. Thank you —Tonisha

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  10. Wonderfully well written and thought out. Thanks! —Shannon E.

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  11. Que hermosa mujer eres Michelle, me alegra tanto haber conocido un poco a tu familia y conocerte un poco más a través de tu blog. Dios te bendiga siempre, envío un abrazo grande. —Lucy

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  12. Very beautifully said, Mimi!! —Crystal S.

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  13. Please keep repeating it until each of us understands.

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  14. Thank you. I was going to comment and time got away from me and then the heartbreaking news from my kids' beloved hometown... I don't believe violence is ever the answer but the desperation and pain that led to those events is real and must be acknowledged with something real... something more than defensiveness and divisiveness and platitudes. We do all have to look deep into our hearts and try, as you did here, Mimi, to imagine and reckon with the pain in the hearts of others. —Kristin

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    1. So sad for Dallas. Sad for the officers and their families. Sad for the protestors who wanted to peacefully make a point but were handed terror instead.

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  15. Thanks for sharing this. Teaching Americanah in my literature courses functions to open this kind of conversation. —Raj

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    1. I really enjoyed having you as a teacher.

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    2. thanks. i had one of those proud teacher moments when reading this. and one of those proud human moments.

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  16. Well said. So very well said! Thank you for your courage in posting your thoughts and feelings. It matters. YOU matter. Thank you!

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  17. Well said, Mimi. —Christine K.

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  18. Kelsy and I are blown away by your eloquence. Thank you so much for writing this. You said what I have been feeling. It would have taken me 10 tries to get even a little close to what you have there. You are truly gifted. And.....I miss you! —Amy W.

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    1. I miss you, too, dear friend. Thank you! And it did take multiple tries. :) I was really nervous about how to phrase my feelings.

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  19. Wow. You said that beautifully!!!! —Amber W.

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  20. Very well said. I have wondered what to say as well.

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  21. Keep speaking out, and never stop. :) Well said. In the language of the movement this is speaking truth to power.

    We have to say Black Lives Matter because in many circumstances they decidedly do not matter. So we say they do as an acknowledgment of that injustice, and a refutation of the status quo. We are the change that creates a new reality where they do matter just as much as we say they do.

    Same goes for any and all other lives that are under valued. LOVE!!!

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