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A Not So Funny Story

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I thought racism was dead, but clearly, I was wrong.

Image from Jezebel.com

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There’s really not much left to say about Roseanne at this point. It would be about as futile as pointing out the many, many problems of Donald Trump who basically supported her racist tweeting with his usual tantrum that life is unfair.

Sometimes I wonder why the world isn’t a much kinder place considering that we all have been in some kind of genuine pain. Pain is the unifying human experience, right?

But no, society frequently makes light of pain and we generally allow it. That’s why you hear statements like, “Oh, they’re just playing the race card.”

“Race baiting at its best.”

Liberals just want to use race to keep us divided.”

Such comments push the attention off of the realities of those who are disenfranchised or abused. It’s like saying, “Your traumas and experience aren’t real–you’ve just made it up.”

We’ve all been dealt different cards in life and as a white person, I can’t speak to the race card because I carry white privilege. And no one likes to hear that they carry privilege when they also carry pain. Deep inside,we like to think that our pain somehow cancels out any privileges we might have.

I’m embarrassed to admit that for most of my life, I thought I was somehow exempt from white privilege because of my poverty card and at least fifty other cards I never asked for. But the main incident that made me feel exempt from my privilege was this:

When I was in grade school, I took a standardized test to get accepted into a certain magnet middle school for the gifted and talented. I scored in the 99th percentile, but my rejection letter said there were no spots left for a white student.

Being only eleven, I was upset. I cried for at least a week and wondered why I’d even been allowed to take the stupid exam at all. And I was mad because I knew we were living in poverty and that my life wasn’t like most of my classmates. It wasn’t that I didn’t think black students shouldn’t be given greater opportunities–we lived in largely black neighborhoods growing up and relied upon public transportation, so we interacted more with people of color than many of my peers. But there was so much I couldn’t comprehend.

At that age, I didn’t understand how race went anywhere beyond socioeconomic inequities and well, history. I actually thought racism was largely dead.

It took the death of a former classmate, Philando Castille, to help me better see my privilege. I guess that finally made it hit home.

When Phil’s death made the news, I had only been back in the Twin Cities for a few days. I was a new mom, a single mom, and living in my own new version of poverty as I got back on my feet.

And the news shocked me.

It was hard to wrap my mind around the fact that someone I used to know had just been killed by the police. With a baby right there in the car.

I thought Minnesota was far more progressive than that.

And it happened not far from the Falcon Heights neighborhood I’d lived in just a few years earlier. We’re not talking some backwards town.

It was all such a horrible light bulb moment.

Here I’d spent my whole life believing that racism was largely a thing of the past. But I was only able to believe that because I’m white. Which means I don’t have to see it, because it doesn’t affect my daily existence.

Back when I was eleven, it was a disappointment and an inconvenience that being white kept me from getting into a specific school. But that’s all it was.

It’s not like my skin color has ever been a matter of life or death.

I’ve grown up seeing Scandinavian people often in the media–so I never questioned what my skin said or didn’t say about me. Being white affords me the luxury to say it’s just skin color. No one is profiling me over it.

So I’ll never understand what it’s like to get by in the world as someone who isn’t white.

And that doesn’t mean I don’t have my own share of painful, shitty cards in life. I talk a lot about growing up in poverty and abuse, dealing with mental illness and autism, and living with chronic disease like lipedema, PCOS, and endometriosis.

But acknowledging the places where I have privilege doesn’t take anything away from the places where I suffer. All of us are a hodgepodge of cards we’ve been dealt, along with what we’ve done with them.

Racism and privilege aren’t cards we can afford to ignore.

It took the death of a former classmate for me to actually get behind the Black Lives Matters movement. All because I thought this shit should be obvious. But then I realized it’s not obvious because white people get to be oblivious. That’s all part of the privilege.

So whatever cards you’ve been dealt, if you’re white, do the world a favor and stop denying the privilege of that whiteness. Consider all of the bum cards you carry that you didn’t ask for, and how crappy it is when people who know nothing about it try to tell you that your experience isn’t real.

That’s what otherwise well-meaning, even progressive white people have been doing all along to people of color.

Now that I’m a little less oblivious, I see it everyday. People like Shaun King and Sam McKenzie Jr. are writing about racism in very clear and easy-to-understand ways for white people to follow, yet a horrifying amount of us are still trying to clapback with #AllLivesMatter, #NotAllWhitePeople, and worse.

Talk about missing the point.

When you discover that you’ve been a part of this systemic injustice without even realizing it, you can’t get anywhere by sticking your head back in the sand or trying to prove you’re “really not racist.”

Why is it so hard to say I’m sorry?

I was wrong.

How can I help make amends?

And then, you know, actually listen to the reply from the people who’ve suffered. Even if we don’t like what we hear.

If we don’t get it together, I’m afraid of what the world has in store for all of our kids.

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