Despite the fact that I work in the anti-racism field, I actually do little in the way of direct work with individuals or groups outside of the occasional talk and my writing in this space. I am not an anti-racism trainer or a facilitator. I am a non-profit administrator who is passionate and knowledgeable about racism and anti-racism work, and the key to maintaining my own peace of mind is knowing how to stay in my own lane. Which is why this past weekend has turned into a personal clusterfuck of sorts as I unpack my knapsack and I am reminded that as a general rule, we don’t ask victims of crimes to solve their own crime. Yet we are far too comfortable as a society with asking oppressed people to solve injustices that affect them yet they did not create.
This past weekend I participated in two local events, one in Portsmouth, NH, where I had the honor of speaking about my own personal journey as a Black woman in Northern New England. In many ways, it was a full-circle event for me as the Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail was one of the first groups I reached out to when I was researching my move to the area. Learning of their presence gave me hope that I was not walking into a complete racial void. The second event was in my town, an open discussion on race that several of us had been discussing for months in light of Michael Brown’s death and the resulting incidents.
Both events were good; I think those in attendance received food for thought, increased awareness and in some instances a moment of needed connection. But increasingly the more I speak in public, the more that I find myself drained mentally, emotionally and sometimes even physically. The more that my own awareness increases, it becomes even clearer to me that Horace Seldon, the 90+ year old founder of Community Change Inc. was a visionary in 1968 when he started the organization with the goal that white people need to deal with racism and dismantling the systems that they benefit from. Yet despite our work for over 40 years now, too many white people still seem to require the personal flagellation of Black and non-white people in order to grasp the lived impact of racism and in order to “get it.” This is tiring; this is not healthy.
Over the years, I have described my own observations of whiteness—especially in white spaces—as a silo, much to the annoyance of some. Yet a silo is exactly how whiteness as a whole operates. It is is able to self isolate itself from the larger world because it owns and dominates every system that is required to live and yet doesn’t require interacting with others unless it chooses to.
In places like Northern New England, where the physical presence of non-white people is scarce, one can live their entire life never seeing people of color outside of the occasional tourist or what is projected via the media. One never questions why there are no people of color holding positions of power. One can live their entire existence never being concerned with the brutality that is ravaging communities within their own country because those people are “other” and there are no others in their personal world. Personally, as someone who understands the interconnected nature of all living creatures, this isolation perplexes me and scares me. It scares me that people can’t see beyond their own walls to see the shared humanity. It scares me that people have only come to care because they read this space or get to know me as a person—thus, what matters to me then matters to them.
It scares me that wounded people carrying the still-unhealed scars of oppression must give so much of themselves in order to be seen as human. Yet those who bear the rewards of oppression have the freedom of choice—to choose to care or not to care; to choose to go that extra mile while the bloody and wounded never get a choice. In my professional work, we are always intentional about making sure that people of color are never asked to carry the heavy part of the load because we recognize that the scales of justice are far from fair.
Yet outside of intentional anti-racism circles, rarely does this play out and I wish it weren’t like that…this weekend, I glimpsed into that silo of whiteness and man, it was hard. Yet I found myself wishing that I could have those choices. Alas, it is not to be. Until then, I hope these heavy-duty gauze pads keep absorbing so that I can keep carrying on. Hoping that one day perhaps for my great-grand-kiddos, the scales of justice will be balanced and they will not bear these scars from a world they didn’t create and that they will allowed to be whole, free and human. That the silo of whiteness will be no more and that there will be a silo of humanity where all will reside.