Sunday, November 3, 2019

Hearing Voices

My husband and I were out for dinner the other evening and I noticed a new business had opened near the restaurant. The window was filled with photographic displays of Black women—beautiful, confident, radiant. I noticed that something inside me felt unsettled. As we went into the restaurant it stayed with me.

I realized I was hearing a voice.

“Oh, that’s too bad. I always liked that shopping center. But now it’s going to go downhill. It’s too bad when that happens.”

What was that voice?

It was my mother. My liberal, Unitarian mother, a lifelong Democrat, making observations here and there throughout my childhood.

I felt sick. And angry. And ashamed.

Why was this voice inside me? How had I not known it was there? It told me that any signs of Black-owned business, or those catering to people of color, was a sign of decay, of danger. That the presence of such businesses marked the beginning of the end for a commercial area.

Let me make it completely clear that in my conscious mind I do NOT believe this. But this moment underscored for me how, even though we may think of ourselves as well-meaning allies we still carry these voices inside us in one way or another. They are often completely unknown to us and we would swear they are not there but then, at the oddest times, they break through.

This is implicit bias. This is the long, long arm of systemic racism and the curse of white supremacy. We believe that because we have a few black friends and do not belong to the KKK that we are untouched and unaffected. But then we see a display in a store window. Or young people at a village center. Or test scores at a school. And something inside us feels uncomfortable.

It may not even rise to the level of conscious thought but it influences our attitudes and decisions. That is why it is so damaging. It is the poison we pass on by not addressing it. It is what is meant when you see a sentence that begins, “I’m not a racist, but” and continues on with the words, “those people.”

I wish this were not the truth of where we are in our country, and in our county. But it cannot be wished away. It must be worked away. And I’m calling myself out today because I want my readers to know that I don’t hold myself above that work. I keep struggling.

I want to be better.

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