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.