“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.
34 Replies to “A blindness in eyes that can see”
Looking forward to reading it , Tamara, because I know the descriptions you shared about people’s thoughts on racism is true. I want my eyes opened! Thanks for doing the research!
Thank, Ann. I look forward to hearing your thoughts when you read it.
Another excellent blog. I was surprised by this statement, “I hadn’t fully appreciated how racism works until I studied it.” I always assumed that the ones who needed to study racism were white people. A good insight.
I’m looking forward to reading your parable next month.
Thanks, Joanie. We’ve all been a part of the same system. The realities of how entrenched racism is have been hidden, not bad behavior, but true structural racism.
Tamara you have a gentle way of reminding me how much I don’t know and nudging me to dig deeper. I am grateful and welcome your parable!!!
Carol, thank you so much for that lovely comment. I try to share my truth in a way that I hope many can embrace it. Please share my blog with others as you see fit. I look forward to hearing your thoughts next month on my parable.
Carol, thank you for your comment. I appreciate it. I look forward to your thoughts on the parable next month.
I can’t wait to read your parable, Tamara, and share it. Thank so much!
Thank you Tamara. I consider the realization of your own blindness as an adult black woman. If you have been blinded to the reality of the water we swim in, how much more have I been blinded to this reality as an adult white woman?
I look forward to reading your parable.
Thank you for sharing your life and insights with us. For such a time as this. May we have ears to hear and eyes to see the truth that is being revealed to all of us.
Thanks, Holly. I look forward to seeing your thoughts on the parable. I hope you will share it and urge folks to follow my blog.
While I’ve recently had to get stronger reading glasses… in my time knowing Tamara, one aspect of my ‘vision’—perhaps the most important—has improved. Tamara teaches me even though you might think you have a good bead or sightline on a topic, you’re never too old to learn to ‘see’ it in clearer and more meaningful ways.
Your writing is so beautiful. I’m really looking forward to the coming project!
Thanks, Dede. I look forward to reading your thoughts on the parable. I hope you’ll share the blog with others.
Parables are an excellent way to gently nudge people to really see situations that they have experienced in a new light. I am glad that you are using this method to lead people to a better understanding and hopefully to a change in their perceptions and actions.
Tamara, I cannot tell you how perfectly you have expressed the journey I have also taken, and where I too have ended up. I have the honor of facilitating a discussion with Dr. Lawrence T. Brown on his book The Black Butterfly this week with the Baltimore Women’s Giving Circle. As I now am back home in Baltimore it is so blatantly made clear by Dr. Lawrence how this is a problem of generations of “the harmful politics of race and space in America”. This is about white supremacy intentionally imbedded in our laws, policies and practices and perpetuated daily through the nonaction or harmful ation by those in power to create equitable solutions and social justice. I continued to be challenges by my own agency to help right these wrongs and support Black communities. I look forward to your parable and will share it widely. Thank you for your heart and voice.
Thanks, Maggie. It is a conscious process of learning and unlearning and then acting on your new knowledge.
it hit home again for me when I read a newspaper article on the segregation and isolation of swimming pools and instructions for AA youth and communities of color and the gross misconceptions of AA swimming skills. another not so subtle form of discrimination and JIm Crow acts in communities across Country. we are not in a post racism era in the US ; the uphill battle continues on many fronts and we collectively cant relax or relent. “can we see it Now ” could’nt be more timely and needed.
Thanks, Jay. I look forward to your reaction to the parable and hope you share the blog this blog with others.
I will . JAY
I’m looking forward to my earliest opportunity to read it.
I hope we can figure out how to send it to Prince William, who assured us that the Royal Family in the UK is not racist. What Meghan and Harry clearly explained to Oprah is that the institution is racist. When I hear people say, “God bless America,” I think to myself, “Yes, and God bless all the other countries, too.” We need to do all we can to eliminate white privilege in American AND in all the other countries, too.
Bill, if anyone can figure out how to get the parable to Prince William, you’d certainly be on that list! He does present as someone who may be blind to racism.
Thanks Harrison. I look forward to hearing your reaction and ideas about how to get the messages out.
I’m eager to read, Tamara. Your insights always bring a new perspective to my vision, and I’m grateful.
Thank you, Tamara. You mention that the parable may be more for our family members and friends than for us. I’ve been thinking about where I am in my journey (far from complete, but I’m come a ways thanks to learning from people like you), and I am thinking of the role of being a bridge between leaders and those who may not be as far along on their journey. I hope to play that role in sharing your parable.
And, may I close by echoing your closing:
I am eager to read and ponder this.
Thank you for all you do. You are inspiration.
I’m thinking of others who will receive it from me and trust they will ponder it and allow themselves to “see” it.
And then take action.
The beat goes on.
When I told my next door neighbor, a Black minister, that our neighborhood was the most integrated I’d lived in, he smiled & said, “When you bought your house, how long did it take you to be approved for a loan?” When told him a week or so, he told me it took he & his wife several weeks – and numerous questions about their finances. Your parable offers the examples which, like Richard, I hadn’t seen from both sides.
Hi, Freddie, Thanks for reading. Yes, what your neighbor shared is the reality too often … still. I’m trying to think of other uses for my parable. It might be an ideal starting point for a church group conversation or for a club. I want to use it to provoke new thinking. I’d appreciate your help. Take care.