The following is a timeline charting my awareness, as a white Midwesterner, with racism. It is honest. I recognize my privilege in that racism is a thing I’ve had to uncover and not endure. I recognize that there are elements and aspects of racism that I will never understand, and do not intend to speak over or for the oppressed. I invite you to call me out on the mistakes I make in this post.
Here, I am giving a white person’s perspective of racism that will help me evaluate myself.
1997– On November 17, I am born to a white, middle-class Midwestern family.
2006– Several years ago, I remember being snuggled close to my white mom in our white house that is in a white neighborhood reading a children’s novel about slavery. In the novel, the protagonist, a girl around my age, worked in the cotton fields every day. Often, she was hungry and verbally abused. Sometimes, she was beaten. The book seemed so in the past to me that the pages I turned with my white little hands appeared to have a fictional haze hung over them. Slavery and racism, to me, were a concept of the distant past. America had since won herself over these evils.
“Are people still racist today?” I asked my mom.
2006 through 2011– I don’t think I can pinpoint the moment when I realized for myself that racism was an evil still alive and well. Perhaps it came when I visited my grandfather in Georgia and he used antiquated and offensive terms to talk about Black people. Or maybe it came when I heard my history teacher ask one of my Black friends what he thought about slavery. But I blindly brushed (privileged!) off these racist occurrences as viewpoints only held by “old people,” figuring that once the oldest generations had left that America would be racism-free.
2008– Barrack Obama was elected president. I remember being very excited. I was witnessing history! And Obama is left-handed, like me! I do not remember if I believed that America was “cured” of racism. I do remember thinking that the election of a Black president was a landmark of progress for America.
2012– Four years ago today, February 26, Trayvon Martin was shot and killed. I remember this moment because, as a white person, this is when a second revelation hit me. Racism isn’t just held in the minds of the elderly. Unfortunately, I see that it’s kept alive in younger generations, in schools, in the law enforcement, in the business world, in our government, and areas that, as a white person, I am unaware.
2016, July– Considering myself a Good Democrat, I held myself to be free of prejudice. And maybe I am free of conscious prejudice. But after conversations with my (very educated and liberal) manager during breaks at my summer lifeguarding job, I came to understand that everyone holds a bias in some way or another– including me. My hesitance is further exemplified in Jay Smooth’s TED talk when he highlights that sometimes people are afraid of admitting their racial bias in fear being labeled racist. If we can change the way we think about race communications, perhaps white people will not avoid the”touchy race topics” and actually learn how to improve race relations in America.
2016, November– Enrolled in a public college, my eyes are opened to social issues that I never considered in high school. I continually question the very beliefs and characteristics I held close to my heart back in my formative, early teenage years. I am so grateful to be able to learn to see the world from different perspectives. When Donald Trump’s campaign brought him to my college, I was amazed to see the the floods of folks who supported a man I thought hateful and ridiculous. I stood in awe of the aura at the peaceful protest that occurred, standing and just absorbing for a half hour. Then, I ran up to my dorm and grabbed my roommate. Together, we stood against hate.
Later that month, when Trump was elected president, the feeling I felt was comparable to heart break. I called my mom and we barely formed sentences, too shocked to speak. I desperately wondered what kind of person had voted for Trump. Coming from a liberal college, it was hard for me to believe that our nation contained enough people who would support a racist, xenophobic, transphobic, sexist man.
The 2016 election delivered an emotional blow to me. I cannot even fathom the fear and feelings of members of the marginalized folks of America.
Singularly, I believe the election of Donald Trump is glaring evidence that racism pulses through American rivers and roads, ebbing its way into towns and cities.
2017– Today, like many other millennials, I feel the importance of activism. While I find my identity, I’ve started small. Recently, I’ve recommended that both my parents read Dear White America by Tim Wise. Over spring break, I’ll have my entire family watch Tim Wise’s documentary, White Like Me. Change, like my activism, has to start small.