Question #16: What can I do?
(This post is part of a series for July 2013 entitled “Question Month.” Read the intro to the series here.)
My Facebook post earlier today:
“Question No. 16: What can I personally do in my community to reduce racism?”
So far, the two big ways I can think of to combat racism are (1) officially via public policy and (2) grassrootsedly in numerous ways.
Policy is both clear-cut and outside my current scope except as a voter and recreational protester (haha) so my interest at the moment lies in the informal approach. What can we small folks do to repair our connection?
I am a hard-core introvert. Yesterday I vowed to stop looking down so often while talking to people behind service desks, especially when our skin tones differ, in case my shyness is reading as racism.
I am working harder in general to make my internal impression vivid on my face. Grinning at adorable children frolicking in the shoe aisle while I try to find something to fit around my son’s impressive foot-chub. Looking people in the eye as I pass. Regardless of race, but especially if we are different. My own private internal affirmative action.
Did I mention I am an introvert? This is hard for me, but I sense its importance.
As a child, from the moment I learned about prejudice I began obsessively tracking my own responses. Was I afraid of this person or that situation because of our differences? As a young adult I was squeamish about my own privilege. The first time a black friend visited my house (I did live in a town dubbed White Folks Bay after all) I wished it were not so… How shall we call it? Very Suburban White. As a college student I was filled with glee to be paired with a roommate of a different race (instead of having a double room to myself, mind, after my previous roommate left to study abroad) because I felt sure if there was any sneaky racism lurking within me I would soon root it out.
There wasn’t, really, by that point, and it wasn’t until I began gearing up for child-rearing that I resumed my obsession with playing a role in eradicating racism.
The plan was to move to Northern California from Boston. As two self-employed people, we were moving without a safety net, so we were going to wait to be sure we could make a living here before procreating, but the near future was planned for babies.
I wanted to spare my children the experience of a homogenous childhood.
I consulted graphs of racial distribution and Wikipedia articles on every town in the region to determine which had adequate diversity. We settled on Berkeley or Oakland. Where we would be lucky to afford a one-bedroom apartment.
Then the opportunity arose to rent my dad’s girlfriend’s house. In a predominantly white area of a less diverse city.
A house, though, instead of a tiny apartment.
To say we leapt at the chance would be putting it mildly.
And then we settled in, had a baby, realized how amazing it was to live in the same town as my father and an hour’s drive from my sister, met some amazing friends, bought a house a few blocks from the one we were renting, had another baby, and became, in short, quite willingly anchored.
My worry for my children, that they might grow up as I did, in a sea of pale faces, diminished as I began frequenting local playgrounds. Whatever the statistics, we were not entirely lacking in diversity, especially if we made the small effort to choose playgrounds, libraries, classes, and schools with an array of skin pigmentation.
But still my inner racial activist simmered, eager for the front lines but afraid to burst out.
Afraid of what, exactly?
Not afraid of other white people, that’s for sure. Couldn’t care less what they thought — I knew my true friends were with me, anyway, and anyone else could go segregate themselves into a cave somewhere.
Afraid that my attempts would look foolish to friends of different backgrounds. Afraid my lack of general cultural knowledge, possibly stemming from no cable TV as a kid (a fact I am now mostly proud of) combined with an inability to learn the names of celebrities might mean I was also terribly at sea when tackling the fundamental issue of equality.
It sounds preposterous when written out.
And when I rummaged around in my hesitations I realized that and said the hell with it. Better foolish than afraid to act.
Back to me and my community.
I think what I can do best is change people’s minds. I can be both quietly and loudly persuasive and am not lacking in persistence. I write decently and make bad jokes, often puns, which I do with frequency whether nervous or basking in the comfort of my favorite people.
A friend and I began planning a project of sorts earlier this year, half serious, half tongue in cheek, to bring the clueless white masses into step. We both have small children and, furthermore, live on opposite coasts, so it has been slow to take shape, but the core idea is in place. I was, as I said, feeling rather unqualified, in my whiteness, to place myself in a position of authority on racial issues, but my self-conscious inhibition pales in comparison to the death of a child and his murderer roaming free.
I am compelled to write, and write again, and keep at it until things begin to crack, to shift, to move toward equality.
You may have noticed that about me this week.
Care to join me? Read, write, and share on your Facebook wall and Twitter thingy all of the wonderful articles on race that are being written as a result of this atrocity. Seriously, my meanderings on the subject need not be part of it so long as you are heightening the overall buzz into the roar it should be. The time for action, well, truthfully it was eons ago, but the second-best time is now.