I’d like to start this week’s post with a story from my father (it is Father’s Day Weekend):
There was this famous Opera singer, who during an interview was once asked who she thought was the most beautiful singer. She replied new born babies. They have perfect pitch. Sadly, throughout their early lives they are constantly told “Shh…” and soon, they lose that voice. Only a small few continue to use their voice and keep that pitch.
Keep on listening
I’ve taken the past couple of weeks to listen. Listen to my friends and colleagues that can remember the exact moment they were first judged solely on the basis of their skin color and had to put in double or triple the amount of effort than white people. But I’ve also been fortunate enough to hear some stories about us moving in a positive direction when it comes to equality. It’s important to keep our ears open for people who are finding their voice. Who are finally overcoming all of those people who said “Shhh” and are now sharing their stories. I have made it a personal goal to learn from as many stories as possible and some of these stories I’ve been listening to are coming from my good friend Kate.
Kate opened up about things she’s faced throughout her life in this article. What I loved about her writing was that she also helped us see a light at the end of this misguided tunnel we’ve been going through as a human race. She tells a story about children who are best friends and go home to their parents saying they’re going to be twins for their school’s Twin Day. The one boy’s mother, who is white, finally meets his best friend only to find he is black. Rather than mention the fact that they couldn’t possibly be twins, the parents were happy to encourage the behavior of looking beyond someone’s skin color. This is a powerful reminder that “Children are not born racist; they are taught it.” as Kate so eloquently writes about. I’ve been reflecting on the things I’ve been taught or not taught and how much I need to relearn or learn about.
Rewiring my brain
I’ve started with listening to the podcast series “Seeing White” to help me understand how racism started in the United States and was perpetuated for hundreds of years. At one point in the series, there’s mention how U.S. history books in the 1950s left so much out about Black Americans. But we don’t even need to go back that far. When I was in grade school learning about U.S. history in the 1990s, I was very much taught the “Disney” version of how my country treated people of color. I had not realized the fact that hundreds of thousands (versus hundreds) of human beings were being bred like cattle and treated like garbage (versus an altered image of slaves living with the families on plantations). What I had once thought to be a small blip in our history was actually something much larger and grim.
As frustrating as this was to feel like I haven’t been provided the whole truth, I knew getting mad about it now would be wasted energy. Instead I’m continuing to listen to this fact based podcast series as well as enrolling in the virtual workshop “Introduction to Being an Antiracist” with Kim Crayton. I’ve felt lost and ignorant but rather than dwelling helplessly, which won’t do anyone any benefit, I’ve found a safe place to continue my learning. My friend at work Kara recommended it. I must say, it helps to have a partner. So for anyone reading this who may feel like they can’t find the words or the right thing to say and are afraid to say something, find a friend to learn with. We need to learn to speak up too. Being racist is not only being an overt bigot; it’s also anyone who puts up with a racist system and doesn’t speak up against it.
Change of perspective
I have noticed that even though I want to change and am self-aware I hold this “invisible knapsack” of white privilege, it’s hard for me to catch my blind spots. But there is room for progress. With every story, we pick up a new data point. Arming ourselves with this knowledge not only provides us with science backed data points but also new perspectives on what we might have ignored in the past but now see as racist and know must end. I’ve started to see my own blind spots more clearly and I’m noticing companies are following suit. For example, Pinnacle Foods announced it will exit some of its Aunt Jemima products and the company for which I work is removing the terms “white and black” email lists to replace with “allow and block” email lists. These small changes overtime will break down the racist systems our country has put in place. And if we all work together, companies and families included (think of the parents of those “twin” boys), we can pave the way for long term structural change that tears down the idea that anyone should be judged by the color of their skin. There is no superior race, only uneducated people.
My other ask is that we all come together to keep learning and share these learnings with everyone we know. I must admit I have a largely white network but if we can help educate each other, we might just find ourselves in a more diverse circle. When you start thinking more openly, you want to keep your network open to all types of people, regardless of where they’re from, what they do, or how they think. In fact, you begin to realize having diversity of thought and voice is a powerful thing.
- Don’t stop with one story or opportunity to listen. Make it a goal everyday to find a way to learn about past injustices or ways to get involved to improve the inequitable systems that exist today.
- Find forums and platforms to learn from that are fact based. Unfortunately, much of the material we may have been taught as children left out key data points. We need to close our knowledge gaps.
- As hard as it is to learn that this country has built inequitable systems, there are ways to improve it. Every change adds up but we must work together.
- As you start to become part of the change, it becomes easier to spot where change needs to be made next. It also naturally encourages you to open your circle and surround yourself with diversity.