On Getting It Wrong

I can’t seem to write anymore. Each day, I wake up thinking that today will be the day I document what is going on in the world. And, each day, I wake up to a new world that chokes the words from my heart. I am speechless and my writing is rusty. But, the Black Lives Matter movement has impacted me so profoundly that I’m willing to risk sounding ignorant in order to unburden some of this grief.

I know white privilege is real. So, I can’t pretend to understand the pain of Black Americans who have suffered unspeakable acts of racism. I also know that my voice is a privilege and I should use it to speak what is true. If I am a Christian and Christ is the way, the truth, and the light, then I must try to follow His way, share the truth, and spread the light.

The truth is… I have experienced prejudice in my life. I understand the hot, burning shame of being different when you want so desperately to fit in. I grew up (and still practice) an unpopular religion in the heart of the Bible belt. I was told many, many times by my “friends” that I would burn in hell, that I needed to be saved, that I wasn’t a Christian, that my dad had multiple wives, that other kids couldn’t play with me or have me over because of my religion. But, religion is something you can conceal so long as you don’t have to wear something that outwardly identifies you, like a hijab or yarmulke. So, I considered myself lucky and learned how to hide for as long as possible. I learned to minimize my beliefs so I didn’t make others uncomfortable. (“It’s not that I can’t drink sweet tea, it’s just that I don’t like it.” Try saying that in the South.) I learned to laugh in harmony with the crowd when others were targeted — never too loudly, never too quietly — so that no one would notice that I, too, was different. I learned how to blend in. It was never right, never something I was proud of, but I did it to avoid the shame of being different. But, even with this little bit of empathy, I cannot and will never know what it’s like to be a person of color in America and know that no matter what you do, no matter how you try, no matter what you accomplish you will always be reduced to a skin color and nothing more. I hate that. I really do. IT IS NOT FAIR.

I also hate that I have also been prejudiced. I hate that I have passed crowds of young, Black men and felt afraid. I hate that I have heard cars roar down my street blaring the deep bass of rap music and made an assumption about what the driver looks like or how he behaves. (When I also roll the windows down and blare my music on a pretty day.) I hate that I sometimes have to check my thoughts, check my beliefs, check my spirit when a news story pops up about a local crime. I hate that I have done something generous for a person of color and privately, smugly thought “look at me being so kind and clearly not racist,” as if I get a special scouting badge for treating a human like another human. (When I have also been in need of and a recipient of mercy and grace.) It is shameful to me because I never want to make someone feel how I felt at times growing up – judged, misunderstood, condemned, stereotyped, awkward, exposed, terribly, terribly bad. It is shameful to me because racism is the antithesis of what I believe about people and how they should be treated.

Does it make it better that I’m less prejudiced than my parents, who are less prejudiced than their parents, who were probably less prejudiced than their parents and so on? Probably not, no. Probably not because it must, it can’t feel any different to the victims. At least, the shame always felt the same to me whether the person said “you’re going to hell” or the person said “I only want you to be saved because I love you so much.” Both statements meant the same thing. I was wrong. I needed fixing.

I also hate all the things I’ve seen on social media denying that racism exists. It has enraged me — sent me on a blocking, unfollowing, unfriending spree. I have lost respect for people I’ve known my whole life. If you’ve grown up in America — particularly if you’ve grown up in the South — you have SEEN racism. And, if you haven’t, then you are working extra hard to not see it. And, my question is — why? Why not admit it? Why not try to unearth the ugly, rotten parts of ourselves and extract them once and for all? Why do some people feel no responsibility at all and I can’t sleep for all the times I get it wrong – all the times I KNOW I got it wrong?

I’m still getting it wrong. God help me, I got it wrong today. I was walking my dog this morning. If I’m honest, I always walk my dog in a state of fear. There are many days I talk myself out of walking because I’m certain that I’ll be robbed, kidnapped, raped, hit by a car, attacked by another dog, lose control of the leash in traffic, trip and fall into traffic, have a heart attack in the street, etc…. This is not logical. This is what medicated anxiety looks like. But, today, I walked my dog anyhow.

Towards the end of our walk, I saw a home up ahead with two, young Black men in the front yard holding the leash of a pit bull. They hadn’t seen me yet and I thought seriously about turning on another street and taking the long way home. I thought it was possible, maybe even likely, that the pit bull could attack us. I envisioned what I would do if the pit bull came after us. I thought how I might scream, how I might want to murder their dog if it risked the life of my dog, how it might make me unable to walk ever again. I thought how I might be injured, how my dog might be injured. I thought all those things in a split second and thought it would be wise to turn down another road.

And, then I thought how those young men might feel if they looked up to see me — a white woman with a spaniel — turning around to avoid them. And, thought that they might think I was racist, that it might hurt them, that it might confirm what they already think of white women (the “Karens” of the world), that it might, in some small way, move the needle of race relations — at least in my corner of the world, my neighborhood – a little further in the wrong direction. I promise you, I did not know what to do.

In the absence of knowing, I stuck to my original decision and kept walking. I passed those men and their dog and waved and tried to smile. It was fake. I was scared. They could probably tell I was scared. Their dog barked ferociously and strained at the leash. But, they remained in control and we kept walking. The rest of the way home, I felt guilty and foolish and not at all sure if I’d done the right thing or if it mattered at all. Not everyone lives their lives in their heads and questions, analyzes, dissects every decision. Maybe it wasn’t a big deal. Maybe it was just a big deal to me.

Maybe writing isn’t a big deal either. I don’t have anything profound to say. I don’t have any solutions. If anything, I’m only just confessing that I’m often wrong, that I’m not sure what to do, that I’m so sorry, that I earnestly, wholeheartedly want to get it right. I want America to get it right. And, I pray God will help us.

Oh, and one more thing… I hope you know that Black lives matter to me.

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