I live in the South.
I attend Catholic Church and am surrounded by Conservative Christians.
We are supposed to love our neighbor. But here in the South, we too often don't love our neighbor.
I take responsibility for some of that. After all, I say stupid stuff all the time that doesn't exactly ring with love.
Once, I asked my friend, pictured below, to bring watermelon to my Fourth of July party.
In all fairness, she doesn't cook and I love watermelon. I figured fruit was an easy thing for a non-cook to bring. Plus, what's Fourth of July without watermelon?
So when she asked if I wanted her to bring fried chicken with that, I was honestly confused.
Then embarrassed and ashamed of myself.
Luckily, she loves me and my obvious embarrassment proved that I didn't mean anything racist by it, so she mostly forgave me.
(I still have to sit through that story every now and then at a party, just so she can torture me. But joke's on her! I blogged about it, so now everyone has already heard it!)
White people (like me, all vampirey-pale in that picture) say things all the time without really thinking about the implications of it.
In the South, it's not uncommon to hear "I'm not racist, but..." or "one of my best friends is black, so I'm not racist, but...."
I even said that in the picture on this blog post, but to be fair, I did that to make people think. I do believe my relationships with people from a rainbow of racial and ethnic backgrounds make me a better person, but those relationships do not excuse my words or my behaviors.
The "n" word is still used often enough among people I interact with that I had to tell someone, YESTERDAY, not to say it in front of my kids.
Sometimes, friends and family are the ones saying racist stuff. It's a combination of blatant racism (which I am very good at objecting to) and subtle racism.
The subtle stuff is the hard part.
Maybe they are like me in The Watermelon Incident and race truly wasn't a factor in what they said.
(It SHOULD HAVE BEEN. Don't doubt for a second that I was wrong. I was. I should have been thoughtful and sensitive to the race factor. I was not. I was wrong for that if it caused even a second of distress for another human being - distress that I could have prevented.)
But maybe, even when race isn't actively present in their minds, it a good lesson to teach my white friends and family that loving your neighbor means, sometimes, being more thoughtful.
And when race is the underlying factor in subtle racism?
Well, if someone doesn't speak up, people will feel very comfortable getting away with subtle racism.
The other day, I didn't speak up about subtle racism involving kids in school and school-stationed law enforcement officers. (I am brave and outspoken, but I was busy fighting other battles.)
A friend of mine asked me to change that. She pointed out that my white face gave me an influence that her darker face did not. She would sound like "an angry black woman." (Her words, not mine.)
I would sound like an authority on children in schools and the school-to-prison pipeline. I am an authority on the subject, as a certified teacher and an attorney who worked with the juvenile justice system for over a decade.
(The school-to-prison pipeline is the statistical reality, at least in Louisiana, that children who are in schools where a police officer is present are far more likely to touch the justice system, and children who touch the justice system are more likely to spend time in prison. Minority children are far more likely than white children to attend a school with a corrections officer on duty.)
But it's not my authority on the subject, but my white privilege puts me in a position to help eradicate all racism, not just blatant racism. "White privilege" means that, as a white person, I have not directly experienced the pervasive level of racism that my friends of color have had to tolerate. I am given undue credibility and my opinions are often given deference BECAUSE I am white.
That's not fair. That's not just. But it is the truth.
My friend - the one in The Watermelon Incident - said this to me, and I want to share with you:
"There are invisible pains and struggles and daily digs that black people deal with that they can't articulate or it's not safe to articulate to their white friends."
If I can help someone, isn't it my obligation, as part of the human family, to help combat racism? If I can be the friend that it is safe to articulate the struggles to, don't I have an obligation to be a kind, listening, respectful ear?
I took my friend's advice to heart and spoke up. And I am speaking up now.
It's time to love our neighbors. I'll be leading the charge, speaking out against all forms of racism, if only because someone might listen a little harder because I am white. I'll use my white privilege for good.
My plan is to combat exactly the sort of subtle racism that makes me a better candidate to fight it.
If you enjoy what you read at Giftie Etcetera, please share on social media. Click here to join the Giftie Etcetera Facebook group.