A personal look into recent conversations on race.
It should be noted, you cannot have an effective discussion on any -ism with those that refuse its existence. It takes some intelligence and empathy.
So Long, Steve
I work with some bastards. Most of the time, I seek refuge in my office to protect myself from sexist, racist barbs that are intended to be more humorous than hurtful. Of course, more often than not, the opposite is true. The other ladies of the office, and one other guy, can often be found making sour faces and disagreeing. That guy is Steve.
Steve is a 40ish, white guy. He is 6’4″ with a booming voice. His origin is some sort strange mélange of Jersey and New Orleans. He is married with two young children. His conversations typically consists of sports, work-related anecdotes, and doting on his wife or children.
Steve recently turned in his notice. When he and I were the only two in the office, I took an opportunity to tell him his presence would be missed and that I had respected his character. He took it as a chance to have a frank discussion on some of the awful things that have been going on in the world in regards to race and sexism. He asked some very thoughtful questions on whether or not my gender affected whether or not people paid earnest attention to me. He inquired on if I had face any particular racial biases. I enumerated a few. I stood and watched him sit flabbergasted. And say things like, “No way!” “There is no way someone asked you if your child belonged to you! Even if they assumed they didn’t, why would they ask?!?” Steve’s mind could not conceive of sexism and racism that I can come to expect and accept as commonplace in our society. I told him arguments that I had with people just denying to me that I had even had these experiences. He simply sat there shaking his head.
In the end, he said his primary wish was that he was not raising his own children this way. That he accepts what is inherent in the world because he cannot change that. But he sincerely hopes that what he has exposed his children to and how he is raising them, will short-circuit this nightmare for, at least, two future Americans.
And from those words, I have never respected Steve more.
Letha: Then and Now
Nikki: I don’t even think I noticed racism this much, myself, six months… maybe a year ago.
Me: Yes, you did. Racism is always something that we have had to tell deal with.
Nikki: Yes, of course, but I mean to this extent. It has gotten really sad and hateful.
Me: (some diatribe on social medial allowing us to see into the madness of everyone’s minds and emboldening people in person to say slightly more aggressive things than normal because at least they are not as bad as the people online)
Nikki: (an agreement of sorts) Still, I thought we had moved more forward than this. I would not have guessed America was still this racist.
Me: We did know. We always knew. Mama told us.
Nikki: Yeah, (giggling) but we all thought Mama was crazy.
Me: Yes, I guess that is true. But anyone who can see the future looks crazy to those who can only see the present.
It is important to note that my mother was not mystical in any way. She was simply intelligent enough to know that history repeats itself.
The Whitest White Guy Ever is The Other Black Guy
Both of these things have been said by or to my husband during the course of our marriage. He is neither.
I returned home, from a day out with my uncle, to find my husband milling about the kitchen. He has recently recaptured his love for home-brewing, with the added bonus of sharing the adventure with our son. He was happily busying himself cleaning up an earlier mess. I smiled pleased with his reclamation of little joys as he has been a bit down lately, a subject that came up earlier with my uncle. He greeted me, “Hey, baby, how was your time with Marq?”
“Great, as always,” I remarked, as it was hours later, and it was just supposed to be lunch, “we talked about you. About how coming to grips with your “whiteness” is affecting you.”
“Yeah…” he continues to clean, but has an odd, mildly pained look upon his face, that makes me wish I had left the subject alone. “It has been making me a little melancholy lately. I think one of the reasons white people never really truly have conversations on race relations because to do so would just make them so damn sad. It is hard to face how we behave like horrible, frightened children throughout history. How we have to kill everything we don’t understand. How we have to take like there is not enough for everyone. I wonder what it is about us that makes us like that.” He pauses for a moment. “How we all must be like that.”
He looks a little confused, but my eyes find his and we smile. I tell him that he is not like that. That my entire family says he is not like that. He says that he must be. But he that is something that he is coming to grips with and will have to learn to understand, and not allow to make him too sad. He continues to piddle around the kitchen. I catch up to him, kiss him, and help him.
My husband is not like that, but it is important to understand that he believes that too many in his race are, and that truly saddens him.