I’ve wanted so much to reach out every day this past week to tell all of my friends of color that, sure all lives matter…but for me…YOU matter. You are my friends and I hope you know that I hate how this all feels for you.
I know that despite my cultural openness I am still guilty of assuming and pre-judgement. I am openly admitting that so that, hopefully, you will forgive me. I am another victim of the books, movies, music and even cartoon portrayals of black men and women everywhere. In my heart I don’t see you that way but my mind is forever recording garbage. It is the shaping of misconception; like movies that make you not trust old bridges.
In every movie, that involves an old bridge, something bad happens when you cross it. Maybe if they filmed happier scenes on the bridge, more often, I wouldn’t be so sure something bad was going to happen when someone went across it. Nothing bad has ever happened to me on a bridge before and other than seeing some beautiful ones in pictures I’ve never actually seen anyone plummet through one. I have nothing to base my bridge anxiety on, except those movies; but I’m still unnerved by them. I think media influence can do that to you; make you feel emotions that you might not otherwise feel.
People of color, who know me, come to know quickly that I don’t judge others by their skin color but how do I express that to those who do not know me? I am always kind to everyone, I meet them with a handshake, a hug when appropriate, and look them in the eyes. I laugh with them in elevators and ask how their vacations are going when we’re out of the state. But truthfully, sometimes I am still afraid; afraid of offending you! So, I say nothing because I’m afraid to say the wrong thing.
I do see your color, I acknowledge it because it’s beautiful and it’s an important part of your life and culture, but I treat you with respect like every person I meet. Still, I trip on myself not refer to your skin color because I’m not sure if I should use the term African American or Black American or just black. I don’t tell you how beautiful your weave is or how jealous I am that you can wear the brilliant colors you’re wearing because I wonder if that feels like I am “trying too hard” even though I sincerely mean it. I want to say something in the summer time about my fear of blinding you with my neon white legs and how I wish I was that beautiful golden brown you are, but I stay silent because I am worried that you will think I’m being fake about it. I look in envy every time I see a large black woman wearing tight clothing because she is so much more secure in her body than I am in mine, but I wouldn’t say that out loud for fear that she might think that I was actually being condescending and not flattering.
Yes, I am aware of the differences in our skin colors but not in the way you think. More like in the way someone admires all the shades of blue in the sky at sunset. Yes, I’m sometimes afraid of you when we meet but not for the reason you believe. It’s usually because I’m wondering if I can smile at you and you will honestly believe I’m not “one of those” white people (insert whatever unkind thing you’ve heard about us). Yes, my eyes follow your children. But because I love children and find your children fun to watch or beautiful as teens growing into adulthood. You are not all the same. We are not all the same. We are not all thinking the same things.
Please don’t be frustrated with me for not knowing what to say. So much has happened in our family’s pasts to make it hard to know for sure how you will respond to me. I am not my ancestor but just like a new husband I am paying for your ex-husband’s sins until you get to know me better.
So why haven’t I said anything before this? Because I don’t know what to say. And I desperately want to say something. Each time I read Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words, “In the end we remember…the silence of our friends,” I feel the responsibility of saying something I don’t have the right words to say.
What can I say to the people I love and care about (and to others I don’t even know as well) that coming from my white mouth, would not feel like phoniness to your black ears? How can I make you feel my heart when I say, “You matter to me!”, and that I die a little inside as I empathize with the injustices that you feel?
A couple of days ago I talked with a couple on the phone for almost an hour about helping them adopt a baby. I didn’t know until the end of the call that they were an African American couple. Yesterday we met with a single, black woman about adopting. We spent over an hour visiting because we had so much fun and so much in common. For some of us life goes on the same in both worlds. We meet, we laugh, we visit, we are touched by one another. The world does not define us or our relationships. This cloud exists only to darken what could have been an even more enjoyable relationship. And yet we each feel the impact as if the world is shaken in two.
And we, straddling the divide, look at that bridge and dare to cross it.
© 2016 Dee Shihady, The Quiet Christian
(photos by internet research, not by author)