The city burns. The heart aches.
I tried to fall asleep last night but panic attacks took me over. Not out of fear of safety. My bio jokes that I live In “the safest part of Baltimore, the suburbs.” I didn’t sleep much, my eyes were closed, my body was still, but I was focused on my breath in sadness and tried to keep the attacks at bay.
It does not take much in a city like this to unearth racial tension. It is palpable. I cannot speak as a native Baltimorean. I cannot speak as a black person. I can tell you what I have been taught as a middle class, suburban, white girl growing up in the south.
My parents are good people, they are, and the story I am about to tell is a small piece of who they were, they have grown as people, please know that. They are products of their times and places, it does not excuse their behavior, but it was ignorance, in the best use of the word, they had no experience otherwise and the world they grew up in didn’t ask them to.
My parents grew up in the midwest where the first black people they saw were on TV. They moved to the south before I was born. My sister and I were raised in Bowling Green, Kentucky and Goodlettsville, Tennessee (suburb of Nashville) by 2 midwestern parents and 2 native Kentuckian step-parents.
There was an “us” and a “them”. I was surrounded by white people. In my neighborhood, in my social circles, all of it. “Nigger” was a regular curse word in our house, the ultimate insult hurled by my step-father. Racial jokes were told on a daily basis, to roars of laughter. I can still hear my step-mother’s “Buckwheat” impression.
One of the first friends I remember having was a mixed race girl with adopted white parents. She was okay because of that. My middle school my best friend was a black girl. One labor day weekend I was told I could invite a friend to the pool, I asked Belinda. I had to resend the offer. That’s when I found out the country club we belonged to was “exclusive”. In high school, one of my best friends was a black man. We were both told, separately by our parents that being friends was fine, but we were never allowed to date. He (and later is family) was the first and only black person I ever saw in my parent’s house.
However, it wasn’t so much the blatant racism, is was the subtle, culturally imbedded racism that had the real power. When spoken I could consciously disagree. I didn’t always verbalize it because these were my parents, but I sure as hell didn’t believe it. Well, later I didn’t believe it.
I was in the first grade when I noticed that I hesitated before drinking out of a water fountain after one of my black classmates. I froze after I realized it. I questioned myself, why would I do that? Was it a “long lost” picture of Jim Crow laws and “Colored” and “White” water fountains? Or was it just something bred in me.
From that moment on I challenged myself (yes, I know how that sounds) and when we would line up for the water fountain I would make sure to stand behind one of my black classmates, or use the restroom they just came out of. By 7 years old I was determined to unearth the racial injustice already bred into my life.
I am so ashamed I never speak of it. I am ashamed and I am afraid that by speaking I will do more harm than good. And this is my vow in Christ. Do no harm. But it’s impossible, isn’t it?
I will never be fully aware of my white privilege, it is impossible for me to fully understand. It is intwined in my social and economic status. It is enmeshed in every part of my life. The neighborhoods I live and work in are almost exclusively white. My children go to school in some of the best schools in the country where she is taught that a long time ago people owned other people, that there were laws separating them and that is all over now.
My sister is a school teacher in the Deep South, she’s taught in Kentucky, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia. When I am at her house I am uncomfortable with the way her friends talk about certain restaurants being “black” restaurants, and therefore wouldn’t recommend them. Being around black people is automatically unsafe. Yet, she fights in her schools as she watches they black students get treated as “other”. She stands up for them and their voice because it’s just wrong.
We must unearth our white privilege. We much dig deep inside ourselves and not pretend that we understand how the “black community” in Baltimore feel, not to mention the fact that the “black community” isn’t one little group of people organizing a pep rally. We’re talking about a city where black outnumber white by 2 to 1. A state where we have more black millionaires than any other. Yet oppression and racism is so intertwined it cannot be underestimated.
We must unearth injustice and then step out of the way for the people WITH the experience to speak. We must not look a looter and say “they” are all the same.
We must admit that we are part of a system, both racial and economic that has kept them poor and oppressed. We must admit that they have every right to be angry.
We must unearth our own fears and step aside giving room and a place for theirs.
Pray for Baltimore, pray for those oppressed, unearth your own fears.
This post is a part of the UNCO synchroblog. April’s them is “UnEarthed”. You can read the other posts in the series here.