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Sunday, June 28, 2009

On Racism

I was asked how I as a Black person can work so hard to bring healing and happiness to people of races that have a rough history with my race (aka, White people). I was actually kind of shocked, but saw the earnestness of the questioner, so tried to come up with a meaningful response. At the time I didn't do so well, truly thrown off by the perspective of the question, given my world view. I think I said something like, "Well everyone is an individual, not a member of a group. You can't relate to people as if they were groups."

On further reflection however, this is what I really have to say:

I have been blessed to have been born into a family that did not believe in hating those who hurt them. Nor did they assume that this stance of forgiveness would be spontaneous within us kids -- so they taught us -- correcting and explaining as necessary to guide us to a place where there was peace in our hearts, even as we confronted painful incidents of racism and discrimination.

Neither were we taught to turn a blind eye to injustice. My step-father and grandmother in particular were very vocal about their thoughts and feelings about racism, and about other forms of discrimination against other groups. As many things as my family may have done wrong as I was growing up, this is one area in which they clearly got it right.

I will not say that I am color-blind. I notice race, but I do not see through the filter of race. I do not conceive of myself as a Black person, but rather as a person, one for whom sometimes it is quite significant that I am Black. I see others the same way.

To be color-blind would mean to deny the very real impact that racial heritage has on how much of the world treats a person, and thereby shapes that person's life experience in very powerful ways. I sometimes have reason to note a person's racial heritage because it becomes relevant to something that is happening or that they are saying, but in general it doesn't rise into my awareness any more than other details about their appearance.

I do categorize people a bit, not being completely able to perceive everyone as an individual of unlimited potential in each moment, but it is more in terms of the decisions they have made about who they are. Categories I would use to generally think of my friends would include: Super-loving, Environmentally Proactive, Community oriented, Musician, Dancer, Nature-dweller, etc.

When I run into them that impression tends to influence my unconscious assumptions about them. These are of course all positive characteristics, but still it is a type of prejudice. I have been socialized to be prejudicial in my thinking just as much as the next person has. It's just that for me race was never included as a major category, and certainly not a negative one, and really the idea of having negative prejudices in general was not a part of my upbringing.

Many parents assume that because they themselves are not racist their children naturally won't be, but nothing could be further from the truth. The society teaches racism, and to ignore that is to let it run free reign within the hearts and minds of the next generation. My family knew this because as victims of racism who had not let it harden their hearts, they saw the development of racism within the young around them of various races, and empathized with those children as victims in their own way. They understood how it happens, and knew it could happen in their own children too, even if coming from the opposite racial perspective. And they therefore worked very hard to see that that did not happen to us.

And so now I can unequivocally say that I do not feel ill-will for someone simply because they may feel ill-will towards me. What I truly wish for is their growth, learning and healing. I know that if they can develop a sufficient degree of self-love they will find there is no room in their hearts for hating anyone. They will discover that their light shines equally upon all who draw near, and that this is the fundamental truth about who they are. I know this about them, but they don't yet, and that's okay. I will hold that truth for them until they are ready to do so for themselves.

And I will go on writing books and articles meant to inspire everyone, creating communities meant to emotionally support everyone, teaching meditation to even murderers so that they may find peace, and generally being utterly irresponsible in my loving. I will not build walls to separate the supposedly deserving from the supposedly undeserving. I do this for my own good, and am glad it blesses you as well.

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