Color-blindness and complacency

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Like the rest of America I was surprised by the Zimmerman verdict last Saturday. I was not shocked however. To me the verdict had to turn out this way because our justice system is a game of semantics, even when a young man has died. I don’t have a lot of faith in our justice system all the time, but that is a commentary for another post.

I am not going to debate the race card, but I will tell you I went through a myriad of different emotions regarding race since Saturday night.

I am a white American. My heritage includes Italian and Irish ancestry. There may be others, but quite frankly I don’t care. I am an American first and foremost.

You conjured up a picture of what I look like just by the my ancestry, didn’t you? Maybe you even snuck a look at my picture just to verify the “facts” I presented. It happens. We can’t help it.

In America, we work in stereotypes, good, bad, or indifferent.

I can’t help that I am white anymore than a black person can help their skin color.

I can, however, help how I treat others. That brings me to my point.

I have wronged people of color. Not in the Paula Deen sense, but in my complacency.

I am color-blind and assume others are too. I teach my children that skin color doesn’t matter.

We live in the deep South which is rich in civil rights history and I educate them on the atrocities of our American heritage. They are justifiably horrified.  They know it is never right to treat any human being in that fashion EVER.

Clearly not everyone is color-blind. Color, and the subsequent racism because of color, affects people of color EVERYDAY. I have been ignorant of that fact.

Let me say, for the record…I am sorry. I am truly and deeply sorry for not acknowledging that.

Once upon a time in a land far away from where the white girl (now woman) currently lives there was a meeting of 2 young girls. One was white and one was black.

“Hi! My name’s Melissa!” said the black girl with her pony tails and bright smile.

“Hi! I’m Jennifer!” replied the white girl.

The beginnings of a beautiful friendship ensued. Unbeknownst to the white girl, though, the black girl had struggles. Her family struggled with the friendship. Her school friends struggled, too.

They persevered in their friendship though.

Years later, the white girl named her first born after her best friend. The black girl was the white girl’s maid of honor.

As they became adults the struggles started to take their toll on the black girl. She lashed out at the ignorance of the white girl who adored her. She was convinced that the white girl was prejudice in some fashion. What she didn’t understand was that the white girl didn’t know how to be anything but white. She could sympathize and be there for the black girl, but there was no way to bridge the gap.

The final straw to their friendship was the first election cycle of Barack Obama. There was no way the white girl could be anything but a racist if she didn’t vote for Mr. Obama. There was no way the black girl could see this was not a race issue for the white girl.

The black girl called and railed against something the white girl posted on Facebook. The friendship ended. It had been limping along for years at this point and this was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

The white girl was “unfriended.” She was devastated. This had been their 3rd argument as adults about race. This seemed so final. The white girl wanted to understand, but it is hard to truly “get it” without being that person.

It has been years since the white girl has heard from the black girl and the pain is still raw. She is crying as she types this because she misses her friend so much.

I am not a racist and never have been. I have just been blinded to color. As I wrote in a comment on a friend’s blog: “It is easy to be color blind when you are the color of the favorite Barbie doll.” Shame on me.

Comments

  1. Lisa L. Flowers says:

    A wonderful post, Jennifer. Your transparency is admirable. I hope you find your way back to one another.

  2. Even though you were deep, true friends with this girl, then woman, it can be hard for a white person to understand how deeply we are PRIVILEGED, how much race inserts itself into every facet of life for someone who has darker skin. When your kids are white, you don’t have to have The Talk with them about what to do when you are stopped by police and harassed.

    There’s a deep hurt and anger over having to be on guard for no other reason than the color of your skin. When I shop, regardless of how ratty I am dressed that day, I generally don’t get followed by the clerks. Black men with nice cars are continually stopped for Driving While Black – for speeding, when they were not speeding, for broken taillights that work just fine. All the tiny little pinprick insults and larger injuries add up over time, leave hurt, resentment, mistrust.

    This is an ideal time for white people who don’t want there to be such a huge divide to read and really try to listen to and empathize with black people about their experience, without trying to excuse or discount it. Read, listen, and try to imagine how it would feel if an armed vigilante confronted and killed YOUR child, and the police phoned in their investigation, basically patted him on the back and let him go.

    • Jennifer W says:

      You are sooooo right Beverly, I don’t understand even though I thought I did. I was naive to so much of what my friend endured.

      I can’t even imagine losing a child in that fashion (or any for that reason). Thank you for sharing your feelings with me.

  3. You really hit the nail on the head here. If we a ll take the time to just acknowledge that we have this ridiculously large elephant in the room all the time, we can move on rather than ignoring it and functioning as if it weren’t really there. This was such a brave piece and I really hope your friend reads it. My heart aches for the loss of your friendship…but my heart swells with pride and love for you for being brave enough to discuss your feelings so honestly and openly.

    • Jennifer W says:

      My heart still aches too. Having an open and honest conversation is difficult for all races because EVERYONE feels wronged in some fashion…yes, even white people (okay those of us who care that is). We feel wronged that we are trying to do the right thing, be color-blind, but we are still accused of being racists or bigots if we aren’t supportive of someone of color when it fact color isn’t the issue. Angry because we weren’t the ones who owned or advocated for slavery, but we are asked to atone for a sin we didn’t commit or agree about. I am not hopeful our country will ever get there given the anger all around.

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