Showing Up White – My ‘Before’ the YWCA Racial Justice Summit

I’ve been avoiding this for the past couple of days. I want to write a ‘before’ piece. And for that to happen, I have to actually write it ‘before’ and I can’t write it ‘during’ or ‘after’. The before is now, with a couple of hours to spare. I’m attending the YWCA Racial Justice Summit. It starts at 1pm. I’m super excited for this event and I am totally procrastinating writing about it.

I’m scared. Let’s just put it out there. And perhaps I have unrealistic expectations. Perhaps this whole event won’t rock my world as much as I hope it will. Then I’ll either be relieved or I’ll be disappointed. Probably both. I want it to rock my world though. I’m so upset with the way our world is right now. I’m mad. I’m angry. I’m sick of it. I don’t like how society is as a whole when it comes to equal rights, to living in a peaceful, loving world. There are people out there that are hurting other people. It needs to stop. There are so many ugly things that still happen simply because of the color of someone’s skin. What is even more hurtful is when people do hurtful things there isn’t a supportive community of justice that stands up. Well, there is, but the reality is that there is another community that isn’t supportive, that is full of racist people, and we are at war with each other. I’m a lover, not a fighter so this is particularly difficult for me.

I am not really sure what to expect from this event but I know that I have a lot of questions:

A couple of weeks ago my son called me a racist. It was after I told him to grab me my white socks and not the black ones. I laughed…a nervous laugh. Of course I wasn’t thinking his comment was relevant at all. But I started to wonder about the actual definition of a racist. Sometimes I have thoughts or reactions that I don’t like and that I’m not proud of. Could these thoughts that I’ve had be considered racist. More on this later. So I googled the word ‘racist’.

racist, noun:
1. a person who believes that a particular race is superior to another.

racist, adjective:
1. having or showing the belief that a particular race is superior to another.

Seems a bit simplified and more could be debated here but overall I had a sigh of relief. I’m not racist. I don’t believe anyone is better than anyone else based on their race. Or their gender, the color of their skin, the language they speak, the money they have in the bank, and the list goes on. No question about it, I’m not racist. Here is the deal. Those times that I feel bad about what goes through my head…perhaps I’m prejudiced. Example, I was walking down the street and I noticed a man, a black man, was walking towards me. I wondered if I should be nervous. Or maybe I got nervous and wondered if I should cross the street. I might have just crossed the street and had all those thoughts later. I don’t remember exactly. I just know something like that has happened before.

I was talking to my friend about this in one of my many attempts to ‘figure it all out.’ My friend asked me if I’ve ever done that or thought those things about a white man walking towards me. Of course I have. If I am creeped out, I’m creeped out and it doesn’t matter what color their skin is. That conversation made me feel better, but maybe I was just looking for a free pass. Looking to feel better.

I believe that as humans we have more in common with each other than we have differences. We all love and we love to be loved. We feel pain and heartache. We feel joy and laughter. I believe that love the answer.
Love is all we need.
Sounds pretty idealistic. Can you see me dancing around in a field of flowers with fairy dust everywhere? Yep. That is what I’m going for here. Acceptance too. Accept ourselves and accept others. Love ourselves more so we can love others. Accept the things we cannot change – we can’t change people. Quit trying!
Aren’t we trying to change people to not be racist? Is that possible? Are we ‘supposed’ to be doing this? These are some of my questions.

As a white woman I have many moments when I feel like there isn’t much I can do about the racial inequity that we still see played out on a regular basis in our society. It isn’t that the problem seems too big. It’s because I’m white.

As a woman I feel like I can make a difference for the woman’s movement.
As a person that cares about our Earth and the future for our children, I feel I can make a difference for the environment.
In fact, most everything that I find myself passionate about I feel empowered by and I feel like I can make a difference.

But what can I do about racism? I don’t know what it is like to have dark skin. How can my experience help? How can my time on this earth, in this lifetime, as a white woman help create positive change?

Sure there are some things that I can do. I can make sure I’m living with an open mind, with a loving heart and that I’m educating myself. I can raise my children with these values. I can surround myself with like minded people. I can stand up when I find myself around people who are being racist. But it doesn’t feel like it is enough.

Sometimes I wish I had dark skin. I feel like I could fight for justice better if I was born with brown skin. I married a beautifully dark skinned Mexican. I just assumed I’d have brown babies but no such luck for me. Being the mother of brown babies might have given me the feeling that I could speak on racism with better perspective. Was that what I was looking for? Or is it that I just love brown skin? (My son says that is racist too by the way). To my surprise, my first baby came out white. Really white. People said he’d get darker, he’d tan well. Please, the boy is white! The problem with that is I have been known to make negative comments about the White Male. Now I am the mother of a White Male. Prejudice. Stereotyping.

How hurtful is it to be prejudiced and to stereotype (and what is the difference)? More questions in my pocket for the Summit. Bad Chinese drivers. Ignorant Rednecks. Snobby East Coast Jewish girls. We make jokes about Mexicans being late. Is that hurtful to society? Or is it okay because my husband is Mexican? Another free pass?

We talked about this at the dinner table last night and all of a sudden we are listing positive stereotypes too: Mexicans are great dancers, Asians and Jews are smart, Blacks are amazing athletes. We agree that is still feels bad to stereotype and we don’t know how to explain it and the conversation fades away.

Really the fear is that I am part of the problem. This is when it feels too big for me. If I meet a Jewish girl from the East Coast I love her like I love the homeless person I met the other day. I am disciplined about treating all people I meet with love first. Be open. See the good. We are all God’s children. This is who I am at the core.

I feel like I am good person doing good work in the world. Yet I am worried that I’m going to find out I’m part of the problem. I’ll be devastated.

How can I be part of the solution? This is what I really want to know. This is why I’m going to the Racial Justice Summit and participating in the workshops. How do I talk about racism as a white person? And is that even helpful?

I am sick of complaining about it. I want to be part of the solution. I’m scared to show up but I’m going to show up anyway. I’m scared that people will find out that I’m living in white privilege and that I’m ignorant.

I asked a lot of questions here. If you feel fired up to answer any of them I am really curious as to what you think. If you feel brave enough to share your experience I would love to open up the dialog because that is my favorite way of learning.

3 thoughts on “Showing Up White – My ‘Before’ the YWCA Racial Justice Summit”

  1. Kathryn Singh says:

    You are the best, thank you for sharing! Love you! I definitely do not think you are part of the problem. Although I worry about labeling yourself so much. I do think that being open and honest and asking the hard questions with the ultimate goal of working to have things be better is part of a great solution. xo

  2. sara@thealvaradogroup.com says:

    You are right, I do label myself a lot. I think it is an attempt to really understand and know myself. It has been helpful though at times when I’ve realized that I was a certain way (perhaps because I’d ‘labeled’ myself as such) and I was ready to change it. I’m going to ponder on that one more. I appreciate you for bringing it up.

  3. Pingback: My Year Dancing with Racism
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