Intersections

We’ve become unaccustomed to dialing down the intake of information in anything but rapid fire succession and bite-sized chunks. In an attempt to slow down and reflect about what I am taking in, I dissected this piece about racism with a group of friends this week. The goal was to reflect before reacting. To listen with no intention of immediately responding.

We spent a day on each subsection (there are breaks in the text) and considered slowly. For instance, reading these two paragraphs multiple times allowed me to really hear what the author was saying:

“This emotional disconnect is the conclusion of living a life oblivious to the fact that their skin colour is the norm and all others deviate from it.

“At best, white people have been taught not to mention that people of colour are “different” in case it offends us. They truly believe that the experiences of their life as a result of their skin colour can and should be universal. I just can’t engage with the bewilderment and the defensiveness as they try to grapple with the fact that not everyone experiences the world in the way that they do.”

I wish I could say her observation is wrong, a deviation from reality. It would be comfortable to take that position. It would allow me to press on without examining systemic racism and how I inadvertently contribute to the problem — though I have never considered myself superior to any other human — and that there are no barriers to equality for any other person. The problem is, it wouldn’t be true. She is right, of course, and that truth is uncomfortable to wrestle with.

In considering the author and really listening to her perspective, I recalled an experience that is tangentially related to structural racism. It came on the heels of spending an evening with Cathy Stokes and sitting in her warmth, humor, and wisdom — acquired over a life of living as a black woman in a country rift by divisive labels.

Her comments led to a later discussion with friends about whether our children have baby dolls or toys to reflect a variety of skin color. (I was happy to recall that we do, without deliberate effort, in my home.) What came to mind was a recent experience, when my dear friend Christina undertook a project to gather material donations for a recently arrived refugee family from the DRC (the Congo).

This friend was kind enough to bring me along to deliver goods to this vivacious family. My own daughters and I had searched our town over for a baby doll that would look like the family’s 5-year-old daughter — she would be receiving her first-ever doll. It was a sad discovery to find that it was a difficult errand in my largely racially homogenous community. Eventually, I succeeded and had the joy of presenting this black doll to her. What happened next is something I don’t think I’ll ever forget.

The mother of the family, a woman who had raised at least eight children, carefully dressed and undressed the doll — all the way down to the socks and shoes — over and over, swaddling it in a blanket and gingerly caring for it before starting the process anew.

I observed this but didn’t reflect on it until I was driving home, alone, in a quiet car. “That might be the first toy doll SHE has ever held, too,” I thought.

And then I wept.

This one brief evening highlights the privilege I have lived my whole life.

I don’t feel ashamed of the color of my skin. I didn’t choose it any more than anyone else chose theirs.

But I do feel a heightened sense of the privilege it has afforded me. And I do yearn to learn more about how to work for a world and a society where we fully live out the creed that “all men (and women) are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

And I do want to leave a world more healed for my children than the one I inherited. This will require real work and real effort. It will require some discomfort and it will require a lot of patience. But I am ready. I am learning. Will you join me?