“Eyes are sometimes like our judgments… blind.” –William Shakespeare
My learning began following the 2012 murder of Trayvon Martin and the exoneration of his murderer, George Zimmerman. For years since, I’ve tried to understand racism in America: listening to podcasts, reading books, taking classes, attending lectures, and immersing myself in the strange and horrific reality of racism in our country. My desire for knowledge deepened as the list of Black men, women, and children killed by police officers grew. Deaths, where, in the same circumstances, white people would likely have survived.
I’m an adult Black woman, born, raised, and educated in Virginia; now living in Washington, DC, still geographically below the Mason-Dixon line (not that that matters anymore or ever did). I’ve knowingly experienced prejudice and discrimination. Yet, I hadn’t fully appreciated how racism works until I studied it. No longer just experiencing it but delving deeply into what causes it and why it continues.
My eyes opened as I started reviewing data on the contrast in the quality of life between people of color and white people: high school and college graduation rates, life expectancy, measures of financial security, job attainment and retention, and, of course, the number and severity of encounters with America’s criminal justice system. That research opened my eyes and made me think and question. Why did Black and brown people predominate in statistics that reflect poor quality of life? Why was that so for decade after decade after decade?
That’s when the pieces of the puzzle fell into place for me. We—people of color —can’t win, at least not in significant numbers with the current system, the current reality. Of course, there will be success stories in politics, business, the civic sector, science, sports, and culture — everywhere. Some rise to the top, the exceptions that fight for everything they get. The expression: “We [Black people] have to work twice as hard to get half as much” continues to be demonstrated to me. I knew that as a child. My parents had prepared me, and I saw it as a teen and as a young adult. Sadly, I also realized its truth over many decades later and some personal success.
Before then, I didn’t perceive it—racism, structural racism—as a massively interconnected system that crossed all aspects of our country’s reality to advantage white people over people of color repeatedly, constantly, always. I didn’t understand how embedded policies, practices, and just everyday behaviors were in America’s cultural, structural, and historical reality. I didn’t really know it’s in the air we breathe and the water we drink. I was blind. We can’t get away from it. We can’t change it unless we do so mindfully, intentionally, with eyes wide open.’
Now, I know many people believe we are post-racial. For them, Barack Obama’s attainment of the presidency clarified we live in a post-racial society, never having to think about racial inequity again. We can simply just treat people as people. The post-racial folks think if we are kind, sensitive, and caring to each other, we will achieve Dr. King’s dream, at least that’s what some—too many—think. Others minimize or deny that racism exists, at least, for them, not since the passage of civil rights legislation in the 1960s. The voting rights act and affirmative action laws had produced a level legal playing field in their minds. With the election of a Black president on top of a foundation of legalized equality, some fervently deny that racism exists in our country. They believe everyone has an equal chance to succeed, and if you don’t, it’s your fault. You didn’t try hard enough.
That’s why I wrote Can You See It Now? My parable on racism’s invisibility and the inherent patriotism in fighting for racial justice will come out next month.
It is significantly divergent from my monthly Daughters of the Dream blog. Instead of a short essay that only takes 4-5 minutes to read (like what you’re reading now), I’ve written a parable. In about an hour’s reading, you will follow a white man whose eyes are being opened, gently but powerfully, to the reality of racism in America. I hope you’ll read, comment, and indicate if you liked the story (this helps improve visibility so others can discover it). But it’s not really intended for you, my regular blog followers. It’s for that family member, colleague, neighbor, or friend who may still be blind to racism. Can You See It Now? is intended to open eyes, then minds, and then hearts. It’s intended to increase the number willing to start a racial equity learning journey. Most importantly, it is intended to increase the number of allies and fighters in the quest for racial justice.