I was six years old the first time I witnessed racism. My little friends down the block were African American, and we loved playing together. Then one afternoon one of them was running down the street and another friend – a white boy – threw a dart into her back. She screamed and pulled her shoulders back in reaction to the dart now sticking out of her back. She continued to run home, crying.
I just stood there, horrified, not having any idea of what to do, or even why it had happened.
I remember it like it was yesterday. The shock of that moment went deep into my psyche. That someone would do something so hurtful and hateful to someone else shocked me to my core.
My mom was often giving our clothes and even food at times to that family. Even though she had so little herself, she was always willing to share what she had. I never thought anything about it, but looking back now, I realized that she must have known far more about the challenges they were facing living on a block of white families in the early 60s.
When Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968, my father, a firefighter in DC, took my brother and me downtown to see the after effects of the rioting. My dad, unlike my mom, had deep-seated racist beliefs. Much of his racism came because his grandmother was black, and he had experienced a tremendous amount of prejudism toward himself and his family in Indiana where he was born and raised. He always wanted to be identified as white.
Seeing the carnage in DC, I realized he wanted us to judge it as he did. Instead, I found it understandable. Having witnessed the hate toward my friend years before, I had a tiny awareness of what black people experienced daily and I had compassion for their anger.
God, I would love to tell you I don’t have any and have never had any racism in my heart, but unfortunately, that’s not true. It’s been there in little bits and pieces, and in places I’m not even aware of. Yes, I’m married to a person of color. Yes, I believe we are all equal, and we all have the same abilities to create wonder and love and abundance and joy and so much delight in our lives. I also believe life is harder for people of color in so many ways.
I am also aware that I come from a life of white privilege.
White privilege was something I didn’t even think about until 2016, when someone said to me on my Facebook page, “thank you for using your white privilege in this way.” Huh? Thank you to her (and I have no recollection of who that was), because I began to look at all the ways in which I have privilege, in the ways white people have privilege and don’t even realize it.
- I can go into a store and not be followed around like I’m about to steal something.
- My name doesn’t raise eyebrows and automatic prejudice (well, maybe my last name, but not my first name).
- I don’t have to worry about being stopped by the police when I drive, and for that matter…
- I don’t worry about a police officer kneeling on my neck squeezing the very life out of me while others stand around and watch, or shooting me for doing nothing, or, or, or…
- I have the blessing of not experiencing daily prejudice and hate toward me simply because of the color of my skin.
The brutal murder of George Floyd sickened me, as it did so many millions all over the world. And it made me want to do better. To be better. As a human being. As a white person. As a business owner. To speak up instead of staying silent. To stand with my black and brown brothers and sisters in solidarity with them to create a better world where we are all seen as equals.
I agonized over what to say – or even whether to say anything. But I knew I could not stay silent. What I can do is this:
For whatever my part has been in contributing to racism, “I’m sorry.”
I’m sorry for the times I’ve consciously and unconsciously been racist.
I’m sorry for contributing to the pain of others because of my own fear and lack of consciousness.
I’m sorry for not being more aware.
I’m sorry for doing things that hurt or for not doing things that could have helped.
And if I hurt you specifically by my lack of awareness, I’m truly, truly sorry. Please forgive me.
I can start there. I can start with I’m sorry. And so can other white people.
As the Ho’Oponopono prayer goes,
I’m sorry. Please forgive me.
Thank you. I love you.
May it be even a little solace on the pain that racism causes each and every day.