My most formative experience of this summer so far has definitely been the time that someone asked me if I was Racist. The conversation was fairly short, but the lessons were not.
The question came from one of my co-workers, he had approached me and asked me if I was willing to talk to him. So of course, I said yes. I knew this was going to be more of a difficult conversation, but it didn’t mean that I was prepared to be challenged this way. I have to admit that when he first asked me, I did get defensive, my walls went up and I jumped to some abstract theory to try to explain why my actions and words may be coming off as offensive but my intention was so far from that. Big surprise, I ended up making a bigger fool of myself and after that failed, we actually began to converse like two people. At this point, I asked him what I did/said that would make him feel that way. He didn’t really have a specific thing I said or did that made him feel that way but mostly it was my attitude.
I admit, I have not had the best time controlling my frustrations this summer, and he expressed that my frustrated attitude can come off as dismissive to someone who didn’t know me and didn’t know my thoughts. So I shared my thoughts and feelings with him and that what he interpreted as a dismissive attitude was actually one that was frustrated, so then I explained my frustrations and got vulnerable.
I believe it was at this point in the conversation where we really began to break through to each other. While this conversation was happening I was upset and uncomfortable, and I began to ask myself why I was so uncomfortable and finally it dawned on me. This was a situation where I was being challenged on the basis of my race and because of my white skin this is an experience that I don’t have to deal with, but to him, and other people of color, this is an everyday experience and I developed a new level of empathy that I did not have prior to this conversation. I have had some time to process this experienced and it is one that I am glad that I got the experience to have and I believe that if I am truly committed to the work that I am committed to, it will only be the first of many similar experiences.
This experience also gave me a taste of the work that is really necessary to dismantle the Racism that does exist if we are ever going to move forward in our society. We have a responsibility we have to not only “not be racist” but to really show up in these tough times and have a real human connection, because in my experience that goes way further than any theory ever could.