Racism, our Midwestern ways, and change

December 4, 2014

Things may come out wrong, but standing around all quiet is not always a good plan, no matter what your Scandinavian roots are trying to scream-whisper to you, ever so passive-aggressively.

Most Americans don’t even really understand what racism means. So we deny it, justify it, ignore it. We stand around saying we’re not racist because we have black friends. Or a friend. Or had a black friend once, in the service. I hear a lot of that around here.

Rural Minnesota is a beautiful and heart-breaking place. It is etched into my very soul, and in my bones. The people here are more often progressive and intelligent than is assumed. But I see and hear a lot of Ignorance here, when it comes to race…and people don’t like for me to call them ignorant, of course. There’s pride, you know. We’re not stupid.

No, no you are not. That is exactly why I’m so troubled by the unwillingness I see. The hesitance that is so clearly rampant here, when it comes to learning more, about racism–how it so cunning, how it takes over the truth with such a startling denial.

People are dying. Something is terribly wrong. There is NO justification for these killings. There is no understanding why the people who kill receive no consequences.

To believe that a white man would be choked to death in the exact same situation that Eric Garner was in is ludicrous, my friends. And Eric Garner was a man, a father of six, selling tax-free smokes. He is dead.

(For the sake of arguments I can predict coming up in response to my words here: Sure…it’s possible. Very slightly possible, for a white man to be treated this same way….but let’s just admit it–the possibility of that is MUCH less than that of the black man in this same story.)

“Well, black dudes have given themselves a reputation to be feared…so…shit’s gonna happen…”

These are the kinds of things I hear, up in the Midwest mostly conservative country I live in, where I love these people so much and I understand that we just don’t know what we don’t know. But maybe that’s exactly why I should say more, do more…because,

Really? Black men have created their (inaccurate) reputation all by themselves, huh? And so it is okay, to choke a man to death? Just like that. Like he’s nothing but an (unarmed) object to be feared. A monster. A Sasquach of some mysterious kind. Not human. Not like you and me.

This is not confusing. It is wrong.

We are smarter than this, right? I see you, here with me. You are kind-hearted and hard-working and faithful and so freaking funny.

But it was time I asked. Because there are people who cannot speak up. Do you see it? They cannot say, Officer, no…don’t! without fearing for their very lives, and this is CLEARLY a valid fear.

I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. That’s what he said. This happened. Puff out your chest and watch the horrifying video. Yes, this shits gonna happen…and it’s wrong.

Dare you see that you have become a person who justifies murder, based in ignorance…can you stand to look at it? Can you stand even to forgive yourself and make a decision to talk differently, think differently, act differently, joke differently. Maybe it’s time to change. We could all stand some change. It’s much less scary than it seems. It’s not like it’s going to kill you.

Can we stop and deny the race lies we have believed and then lived?

We cannot connect, learn, and heal if we don’t start to SEE. That takes this: SET DOWN WHAT YOU THINK YOU KNOW, and BECOME WILLING TO KNOW MORE.

I don’t know it all either, not even close. I have hesitated to say anything, because I have the same fear we all do–that it will come out wrong, or I’ll say something totally ignorant and hurt someone further. But fear is never a reason to not live what is constantly on my heart. 

We need to be smarter than this. We are smarter than this. I see it in each and every one of you, this brilliant ability to open up, to be freed of lies. To grow and change, to learn. You do it every day. I’ve seen it my entire life.

But racism? It’s been too easy to stay in comfort zones, behind screens, under cozy blankets. It all feels so far away.

I hear you talking it over around tables, after you’ve listened to conservative talk radio. I hear you repeating lines you’ve been hearing your whole lives. You are bringing it home, and it doesn’t fit through the door. It’s not the right size and shape and so you discard it with all the rest. Filed under Things That Don’t Apply To Me. Things you’ve taken the time to express opinions about so flippantly, never slowing to think it through.

And I hear the quiet man at the end of the table, who attempts to open the door, to ask the right questions, doubt the system…and the way he is shut down. I see the way he is shut down.

I’m thanking him today, and those of you like him….those willing to learn. I’m learning with you.

A good place to start, while asking, What if I had to live this way?  #Alivewhileblack on Twitter




MrsTDJ December 4, 2014 at 11:23 am

Well written. Thank you Heather!

Diana Trautwein December 5, 2014 at 1:55 am

Thank you, Heather. Truth told in love – the best.
Diana Trautwein recently posted..An Advent Journey: When God Became Small — Day Eight

Jennifer December 5, 2014 at 8:58 am

With every post you write, you move me. Your way of “just writing” is something we all need to do. We all need to let go of our inhibitions and tell the truth.
Facing the world with truthful words is rare and I want to thank you for using your voice to shed the truthful light on a very serious problem.
Jennifer recently posted..Moments of Insanity – Facing the Reality of an Abusive Marriage

Amy December 5, 2014 at 11:26 am

Thank you for saying this. I needed some refueling this morning to keep speaking up. I realized that this is what our minority friends and neighbors and fellow citizens experience every single day. The fear of speaking up. The pain of speaking up. The rejection of speaking up. I have the privilege of being able to back away from the debate. Others don’t.
Amy recently posted..Noah’s Ark

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