Two weeks ago, I sat in my favorite chair at 6:00 am with a cup of coffee and troubled heart. I opened up my lap top and started writing. I didn’t know what I was going to say or how I was going to say it, but only that I needed to say it…for me. My heart was so heavy that I needed to look directly into it and see why. So that is exactly what I did. Less than an hour later I hit “publish” primarily because it was time to go to work. To be honest, I didn’t even know if the post was done yet and I certainly didn’t think many people would read it, but I just had to get it out. (Have you ever had something you had to share even though you “knew” nobody was really listening?) I spoke to an issue that breaks my heart, but aside from that I had nothing to offer it but authenticity. What happened next was incredible.
In less than two weeks over 1.5 million people have read my words, radio stations have called to talk to me about it, people have republished it and wrote articles about the article. That’s cool and all, but the thing that has absolutely floored me, and the reason I am back in my chair with a cup a coffee writing, is the responses. The conversations, comments, emails, posts and private messages that you have shared so genuinely with me. Whether we agree or not, you have shared something deeply personal with me and I want to honor that. You have given me a gift. When I first sat down to write I had a very limited perspective on the issue of racial inequality and in a lot of ways that is still true, but you have given me a bird’s eye view into the heart of America on this issue. Yes, the reactions ran the spectrum. There were those whose responses were just hateful. I am not going to waste your time with them. There were others that were comical, but held deeper meaning. And then there were most of you. You bared your heart and I will never be able to say thank you enough. I hope that I am able to do justice to your words.
Let’s start with the comical:
“Your wife and kids are not blond.”
Yes, I received this multiple times. For the record, they are sandy blond; lighter or darker depending on the season and the lighting. That being said, if you read an article about judging others based on some physical attribute and you get stuck on how blond my family is, I have to ask you: What are you avoiding? I don’t mean this as a dig at anyone, simply a question for consideration.
“You don’t know what the word racist actually means.”
“You’re title is just click-bait.”
Yes, I do know the official definition of the term racist. I also know what the full definition is. But without arguing those points let me just explain why I used that term. First, there is just about no more offensive thing you can call a white person than a racist. It creates such a feeling of discomfort that I am forced out of my comfort zone and I promise you, that is the only place change ever happened. Second, I have realized that because I had this picture of what racism was, and it doesn’t line up with who I am, I feel like I am in no way connected to it. If I’m not connected, there is nothing I can do about it. Re-examining what that word could mean helped me to connect with an issue that I was having trouble engaging with before. It helped make it personal. Finally, did I realize that some people would click on the article simply because of the title? Sure. While it was not the reason I used the term, why would I change it just because it might motivate people to read what I wrote?
“Finally someone who gets it.”
Now that we have covered that, let me tell you what the overwhelming majority of you said: “Thank you for being so honest.” “Finally someone who gets it.” “Thank you for articulating what I have been saying.” “I sit here reading this through tears…” While you might be tempted to think that these were responses from African American readers, they were not. White folks, by the hundreds, have been responding like this. My new friend Jackson Young put it this way:
“I need to realize that even though the slogan is “Black Lives Matter”, they don’t mean that other lives don’t. As I sit here in tears I realize they mean, racism exists, inequality exists, and that their lives matter, that they are a part of humanity just the same. It’s sad when you think about it…us white folks don’t have to have movements because we are not reminded daily to a level of ridiculousness the color of our skin.”
“So today moving forward I will no longer remind everyone all lives matter, I also will not profess people of color matter more, but I will say people of color matter too and they need to know that. We are the only ones that can show them that, so help me, next time you see someone of color remind them with a simple gesture ‘you matter too.’Let’s start there, once our brothers and sisters know we have their back, they will feel like they matter. It’s sad when any color of humanity has to say ‘hey don’t forget about me.'”
I have no words to add to that.
I have received just as many responses from African Americans. I believe these three best sum up the majority:
“I deeply regret that my father and grandparents are no longer alive to read this. Your words are beyond their hopes and dreams.”
“This is how we heal and move beyond our pain. It takes each of us looking at ourselves, being honest and deciding that we want to be better individuals.”
“As a black woman it was refreshing to the point of tears to read your words…I have always looked forward to the day when we all could openly dialog about race and its impact on our nation.”
Based on these responses and many others it seems pretty clear that most African Americans are not looking for an “excuse for missed opportunities” or to “blame white people for everything.” Men and women of color were moved to tears simply because some white guy from New Jersey acknowledged what they deal with every day. They are simply looking to be heard.
I think I can sum up this “bird’s eye view” in a couple of points (clearly brevity is not my strong suit). First, most white people think racism is disgusting. They don’t want to be associated with it in any way and any suggestion that they are is deeply offensive. They feel like they have been unfairly judged by society as “having it easy” and supporting racial inequality because it benefits them. Neither of which are true of the majority. They just want that reality acknowledged and then they are willing to talk.
Second, most African Americans don’t believe that they are owed any special privileges. They feel that they have been unfairly judged by society as wanting “special treatment,” which they find just as offensive as discrimination. Their primary frustration with “white America” (if they have one) is simply the refusal to admit that racial inequality exists. They just want that reality acknowledged and then they are willing to talk.
This is the point…
This is the point: if we can just get over ourselves long enough to acknowledge the other side’s reality, we could actually DO SOMETHING about this whole mess. Please hear me, we are ready to have the conversation. Find someone in your life who has a different experience than you, and ask them what it’s like for them. That’s the easy part. Then listen. Don’t argue, don’t justify, don’t defend, just listen. I think you will be surprised how willing they are to hear you after that.