An Open Letter From An Admitted Racist
Gretchen Palmer writes in the Huffington Post:
If you would have told me three years ago, before Michael Brown, before Eric Garner, before the Black Lives Matter movement that I am a racist, I would have fought you tooth and nail. Absolutely not, no way ― how dare you accuse me of such an awful thing?
I’m liberal. I’m progressive, I lived in the melting pot of LA for damn near a decade. I have black friends, I would think. Best friends, for God’s sake! I was raised “color-blind” and taught everyone is equal in value regardless of skin color, sexual orientation, etc, etc.
I was a liar.
To be more accurate, I was an unconscious liar.
I really DID believe that I wasn’t a racist ― but the truth is, I hadn’t really examined the topic very much and I certainly had never been called to the mat on it.
All that changed two years ago.
The social media firestorm following the death of Michael Brown and the ensuing riots in Ferguson caught my attention. I saw my black friends posting extremely emotionally raw and pained content. I clicked and followed and read, link after link and post after post. I found myself in a world I didn’t know ― at all.
I spoke with one of my best friends in person and seeing the deep, deep pain she had never shared with me all these years hit me hard. It was shocking to hear her be honest with me in a way she had never been before, in a way that she was with her fellow black friends and family.
I reached out to another dear friend of almost 20 years and he spent four hours talking to me, sharing a reality I had never ever seen or understood. How could I not know so much?
One thing led to another and finally I joined a Facebook group for white people to learn more from Black Americans and their unique experience.
I could not possibly share each and every lesson I have learned over the last two years. It’s like I was given access to a different life. A life that seemed so similar to mine but in another parallel and intersecting universe.
I was a stranger in this world. A foreigner even. And I saw and heard shocking things I had never seen or heard before. I realized very quickly that I knew very little about the Black American culture; although, I really had been confident that I did. This was terribly unsettling. It’s an uncomfortable feeling to learn you know so little about something you thought you knew well. I’m not sure I have ever experienced an internal disconnect so dramatically in my life.
The dissonance inside me became almost intolerable. I wanted to walk away. I didn’t want to keep going. I didn’t like how I felt and I wanted it to stop.
And then I read a heartfelt post from a woman in the group who said: If you are not able to deal with the uncomfortable reality of the full and honest expression of Black voices, you are not strong enough to help us and we don’t want you here.
Was I too weak to participate in someone else’s world? Am I too weak to feel uncomfortable with someone else’s truth? My identity is so tied to being a strong woman, my ego really couldn’t swallow this idea of not being strong enough.
So, I stepped . . .