Cathy Eads, of Atlanta, Ga., describes her awakening to the racial inequities that remain endemic in U.S. society. If you would like to submit a post to Clearing the Fog, please contact us here.
I was blind, but now I see.
As Black History Month 2021 comes to a close, I’m also marking nearly a year of much more time, and need, for mulling over the human condition. So, I’ve been reflecting on the evolution of my awareness of racism. I grew up a cis white female in central Kentucky. I went to a very small elementary school with zero Black students and a high school of 800 kids with around 15-20 Black students. I had much more experience with the Huxtable family, Sanford and Son, and the Jeffersons than I did with real Black people. It would be generous to describe my view of the Black experience and racial inequity as narrow.
When 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot and killed, the scales fell from my eyes. At the time, my second son, a white boy, and his close friend and neighbor, a Black boy, were 12. It struck me suddenly that my son’s friend, my kind neighbors’ child, could have easily been killed in cold blood for walking around at night in a hoodie, just like Trayvon. This fact made me sick to my stomach, and it readjusted my understanding of racism. I hadn’t fully realized until then how a person’s Blackness still made him or her a target, and how a person’s whiteness gave him or her protection.
That day I started to understand the concept of white privilege. I realized I had never felt the need to have a talk with my sons about how to act around police in order to save their lives during a traffic stop, or anywhere else. I never had to tell them to keep their hands out of their pockets when in a store, and to make sure they got a receipt, and a bag, at the checkout. I never feared that when they went out at night with friends, they might be shot and never come home. I felt guilty and embarrassed by my depth of ignorance around racial issues.
In the last few years, I’ve learned more about the history of policing, cash bail, and mass incarceration. I’ve read the statistics on Black women’s health and rates of Black maternal death. I’ve watched the reports of how the coronavirus has stolen a disproportionate number of Black lives. I’ve heard the stories of racially motivated voter suppression laws, the higher rates of toxic pollution present near neighborhoods populated mostly by people of color, the racial bias in education and testing, and systemic racism that permeates nearly every institution throughout the United States and weaves its threads throughout our culture.
I used to claim, “I’m not racist.” Now I know this: it’s impossible to escape the effects of racist ideas in a society that was built on racism and has laws that support racist policies still today. I believe it’s time we all consider getting on board with the Avenue Q song and just admit it—“Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist,” because we have grown up in a deeply racist society.
Ibram X. Kendi explains that the only way out of this quagmire is to become antiracist. It’s not enough to try to be “not racist.” If people want to bring about changes that promote equity, we have to actively work to become antiracist individuals. From that place, we can work to bring about antiracist policies. His book How To Be An Antiracist has helped me see even more of my blind spots and learn how to overcome them, along with ways our communities, organizations, and laws can become antiracist. He shares stories of his lived experience along with the history of race as a social construct created to achieve a sense of supremacy and privilege for some people, and to strip it from others.
Regardless of our physical characteristics and beliefs, I am certain that until all of us feel safe, cared for, respected, and valued, none of us truly are. Working at becoming antiracist is one step I can take toward promoting a more secure existence. I still have much to learn.