My first reaction when hearing any anecdotal evidence of inequality and prejudice, whether it’s based on race, gender, or anything else, is to be incredulous. Not, “But I would never do such a thing,” or “Not all white people.” Pure and simple shock.
If it’s particularly egregious, I completely lose the ability to form words. What were they thinking? How on earth could they think that was okay? What do you mean you adopted children of color and refer to them as brownies? How does that even occur to you?
Yes, that happened.
Other times, I am simply stunned that such acts still occur. Maybe I wonder if the person telling the story misinterpreted what happened because surely, no one actually still holds those attitudes. Right?
And this is how I learned to listen. Because every person of color I know has these stories. They can’t all be making them up.
Two people in particular have been key for me in this process. One is a woman I have met maybe twice. She is something of a Big Name is certain circles and we are friends on social media more because of her status than anything else.
She posts a lot about her experience and does not mince words. In the past, I have thought of her as militant. I’m no longer sure that’s fair – I think she’s a human seeking to be treated as such.
For a long time, many of her anecdotes sounded like overreactions to me. I had the same reaction many do – are you sure that was really about race? Maybe that other person didn’t mean it the way you took it.
But I couldn’t say anything. I’m not going to start that fight with someone I barely know, on their page, or invalidate their experiences that way. Fine, I decided. If she wants to rant, let her. I don’t have to agree with all of it.
As if it were up to me to interpret her experiences. Me. A white woman who has no clue what it’s like to be black and poor. Because that makes perfect sense.
So I listened instead. And I noted the patterns. I came to see things from her perspective and trust that what she said was real. This should not have been as long a process as it was. And yet.
I met the second person who has been instrumental to me through my best friend. Ze is a queer, gender nonconforming person of color who I happen to be in awe of. Ze has related plenty of similar experiences to the person above, only from a place of academia.
Without fail, and whatever the topic, ze shows me another perspective every time we’re together. It is endlessly illuminating and thought provoking.
And now ze is moving across the country. We were able to get together this past weekend for some laughs and hanging out time, and, as usual, I came away seeing things in a different way than I did before.
Sure, there’s social media. I will continue to follow them on the sites we share and even have a renewed purpose for being on them more often.
But ze won’t be two hours away anymore.
And I hate goodbyes. I suck at them.
One person suggested that it is not goodbye so much as a see you later. But it feels like goodbye. Watching the people who gathered over the weekend, I know it felt like goodbye to them too.
But I will continue to listen. To seek out those voices that do not sound like mine. And to try to pass on what I have learned. It’s the least I can do.