If you’ve ever wondered if racial tensions exist in our nation, if you’ve ever wondered if it’s just a story the media peddles in order to stir up strife or bend you in submission to their politics, then I have news for you…
I felt it.
Saturday was my 16th wedding anniversary. Roger and I carefully planned the entire day. But we planned it before two black men were shot by police officers. We planned it before the Dallas protest that left ten people shot and five police officers dead. So, instead of dinner downtown after a day at the museum, we stopped at Target and bought white foam boards and a black chisel tip marker. We sat downtown Indianapolis inside our Volkswagen van and scribbled some quick words of support for Black Lives Matter. Then, with me in my maxi dress and him in his button down, we set off down the streets in the direction of the capitol building…
We marched up with hundreds of other people. Not everyone was black—there were many white people—people of all races, genders and sexual orientations…
But I could feel my white skin. It didn’t just burn because of the summer heat and high humidity. It burned with privilege that I could feel for one of the first times in my life. It’s not often that you feel your privilege. Sometimes you feel it when you’re sitting at a stop light at a busy intersection and a homeless person is right outside your car window with a sign asking for help. You feel it then. Sometimes you feel it when you’re traveling in other countries and you’re exposed to extreme poverty. I’ve only been across the border to Mexico, but I felt it then when I walked past the children snuggled under blankets selling chicklet gum for pennies. I have felt my privilege when I’ve held a dead baby in my arms and knew that mine were alive and healthy at home. I have felt privilege when Americans lost their homes to natural disasters and I was warm and safe in my bed in my home.
We don’t often think about our privilege, but we have it. We all do in some way, shape or form. Even if you are a minority, there is someone out there less fortunate than you and suffering through a storm that could take your breath away. Over them, you have privilege.
But it’s not the same thing as racial privilege.
How does that even happen?
How does one race end up with more than another?
I know we all struggle and I know we all have our horror stories, but if we were to be fair, it would not be hard to look back over our nation’s history and see that white people have always had the upper hand.
And we still do.
That’s the key, right there. I think that’s why we still have racism prevalent and rising once more in the States. We want to keep the upper hand. We don’t want everyone to be the same. We want to be above someone. We want to win this game…
But I don’t know what the game is.
Is it the American Dream?
Does someone have to lose in order for me to possess the American Dream?
I just don’t know…
So I stand in the crowd under the shadow of the capitol building. Police are stationed on the roofs of the surrounding buildings. Everyone has their signs up in the air but I can’t seem to lift mine up. I feel out of place. I feel like a spy. I don’t feel like I have any right to stand with these people in wake of their grief. I feel like I’m intruding.
To my left, a white man no bigger than me is red-faced and chanting as loud and as passionately as the black men around him. He has his arm around the waist of his white girlfriend. No one seems to look at him as if he doesn’t belong. He raises his fist in solidarity with everyone else. They’re all the same…
“And let me speak directly to our white allies,” the man on the steps says into the microphone. “Raise you hand if that’s you. Let everyone see that you’re here.”
I lift my hand into the air. There are praises and “amens” from the black folks all around. The man on the steps keeps speaking. He tells us that we are an incredibly important part of this movement BECAUSE we are white. We have the power to actually make things change…
Did you hear that?
My privilege is burning through my dress. My skin is hot and sweaty.
But I heard that.
My heart had all these weird palpitations and tears were in my eyes. Moments before, I felt like it wasn’t right that I was even there. But here was this big black man telling me that BECAUSE I was white, I could help them. I had more power than he did.
That made me mad.
But it also encouraged me to never be silent and never again wonder if I was simply an intruder.
I am needed.
I am an important part of change.
So when the chants started again, I joined in. Meekly, yes, but I joined in. I even finally managed to lift my sign into the air that read: We’re In This Together. Because we really are.
In the capital building yard, no one was colorblind. We can’t be colorblind to race. We just can’t. We have eyes and we see all the colors. We ought to start marveling over what a beautiful picture we make standing together: white, black, yellow, red and brown. We’re not the same on the outside, but we’re all human on the inside.
Black Lives Matter.
And black people know that all lives matter.
But right now, our nation needs a heavy dose of empathy. We need to let go of “the upper hand” and let go of our fear. We are killing each other. We are hurting each other. We are teaching our children how to fear those who are different than them and become racist themselves.
I eventually ended up in the streets as everyone poured off the yard and began to march. It was surreal. Honestly, I tried not to cry. Police were everywhere but they were just standing to the side and blocking traffic for us. Protestors shook the police officer’s hands and told them to stay safe, thanking them for watching out for us. It was beautiful.
It was beautiful.
Friends, be silent for a little bit. Before you say, “All lives matter,” listen. Just…listen. There are moments in history when we need to stop thinking about ourselves and our own welfare and focus on someone else for a change. In this dangerous moment that I am sure will end up in my children’s history books, we’re turning our eyes on African Americans all across this nation. We are letting them speak. We are allowing them to take charge of our airwaves. We are looking at them. We are standing with them. We are holding their hands…
Who will we stand with next?
I’ll be there.
Because, despite the soundbites that keep getting posted on my #blacklivesmatter tweets and FB posts, I AM A UNITER, NOT A DIVIDER. I AM TOLERANT AND FULL OF LOVE. I LIFT PEOPLE UP. I GRIEVE WITH THOSE THAT GRIEVE…
And I know that I have privilege and need to use it for good.
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