Saturday, November 28, 2009

a mutual silencing

i'm amazed. i had an amazing conversation with my husband [a black man], a peer [a white man], and a friend from another program [a white woman]. what was amazing about it is that we were talking about our experiences in america as black people, as white people, and in situations of racism. the subject was brought up because our friend brought up a time she was accused of being racist by one of her peers [a black woman]. the issue came out when she commented to a young black woman about how well this young woman could articulate her thoughts at her age. our friend's peer, who already suspected her of racism because she was from the south, interpreted her comment as presumptuous and racist. in this case the racism &/or prejudice was not being directed against a black person from someone white, but was directed towards a white woman from a black woman. too often we think racism exudes from the majority against the minorities. but racism is a door that swings both ways.

because of america's history, the fact that much was built upon the backs of black slaves, and the continued inequality for black people after the slaves were freed, there is a spirit of anger in many black people over the events that transpired and a spirit of guilt in so many white people for what their ancestors have done. this history is an uncomfortable history. we seldom talk about its affects on each of us because it is unpleasant. we would all like for these things not to have happened, but they have.

both groups of people have suffered wrong from the lasting memory of past events and prejudices we've learned from our parents, who learned them from their parents, ect., up to the time when slavery was still in place. the mistake most white people make when addressing racial issues is to assume that black people do not have a vastly different experience than they have. even given the same basic education and same basic opportunities, there is much we go through simply because we are black, because of our culture, and because of what we remind other people of. yes, most black and white people would like to put race issues behind us: we are all humans, but while our experience as black people is still filtered through the lens prejudice from so many sources, it cannot be put behind us. the mistake most black people make [is an act of silencing] is to assume that white people do not have or should not have anything to say about our condition or struggle just because they have not gone through the same things we have. white people having a different experience does not mean they do not see, or have insights on black people's experiences. without meaning to, both groups of people have silenced each other. we are all defensive in the attempt not to be thought of as a biggot, lesser than, overpriveleged, prejudiced, excessively angry, etc., and in this attempt not to be lumped in with things from the past we all shove our experiences and opinions under the rug.

1 comment:

  1. I think that your insights into people's ability to empathize with others are really important to remember... I really believe this is part of what has allowed us, as a species, to survive...