I posted this on Facebook on November 25th, 2014, two years ago. It showed up as a memory on Facebook today and I share it because all of the statements are still so raw and true. I added the response of one friend of mine, an indigenous American because her addition is also important.
“I had three really important conversations around Ferguson at Candler School of Theology today:
1. A white first year female from North Dakota admitted that she did not understand the whole issue because where she is from, blacks are so integrated into Western culture that there is no racial divide and she is anxious about having conversations about Ferguson because she does not want to offend. I told her that her voice is important because everyone needs to know that not all white people think alike and not all white silence is a lack of care. We had an open and honest conversation and it was a beautiful moment.
2. I had a conversation with a second year white male from North Georgia who did not know the verdict had been handed down because he did not have a TV and has deleted everyone from his Facebook timeline who “stirs up racial stuff.” I love this guy because I have known him to intentionally develop his understanding of himself as a white American Southern male in the world. He truly asks great questions and is not a racist person. I have observed him work through some tough stuff. He understands the background that he comes from and knows that he sees the world through the lens of privilege and when I told him that he was denying me the fullness of his friendship by not acknowledging my pain, he got it. I told him it was white privilege to shut out information about this type of issue. I know him to be a man of great character and I challenged him. I said, “If I were raped or beaten by a man, you would not tune me out. You would ask me, ‘Ms. Iyabo, how can I support and love you right now? I feel powerless. What can I do to make it better?'” He said, “Yes, I would support you like that but I do not know how to support you in this issue of racial pain. It is too much for me.” And I told him that his saying that was enough, that I just want him to see me in this moment in time, in this agony of questioning the message I am receiving. He asked what message was I receiving and I told him, “This world I live in, to which I belong, is saying my life does not matter. “ He got quiet. I know he got it.
3. An African American friend said she finally understood why Raven Symone said she is American and not African-American. My friend said that as long as we see each other as African American, White American or Native American then we are qualifying our American-ness. She said, “When we are all Americans, then there will be no artificial divide. We will be able to accept each other.” She said, “The narrative of how we identify as Americans needs to change.”
Recognizing privilege does not mean apologizing for being white. It simply means saying, “I do not see things the way you see them. Can we have a conversation?” My white friends, show empathy. Be curious. Ask questions. Ask the stupid questions. Ask the fearful questions. It is OK.
We just feel invisible. We just want to be heard. We just want to know that our lives matter to the rest of the people. We just want to be treated equally.
I say “We” and I qualify that “we” for your understanding. I am not African American but everyone thinks I am. Some think I am Hispanic. I consider myself to be a Yoruba woman. You see, where I am from, we self-identify and we define culturally, not racially. In America, you other-identify. Other people identify you. The Native Americans were living here just as happily and Europeans came along and said they were a “them” and labeled them as “other” as “Native Americans.” They did not have a chance to call themselves Native Americans. Americans are quick to distinguish between mainstream white America and “other,” and do so, pointing a finger to really stress how “other” others are.
This “othering” separates and divides. It kills the soul. It alienates. It causes people to shut down. It makes others feel like “outsiders.”
I feel like an “outsider,” therefore, I am part of the “we.”
Please see us; all of us.
From my friend, Christy Oxendine: Just a PS I don’t agree with the girl from SD. When you live in a society that has 90% or more whites it will be hard to have any cultural identity other than that of the dominant culture. Of course, there are a large number of Native Americans who had to fight for a university not to use the Fighting Sioux mascot. The people were more attached to a man with his fists up than the people they were offending. I lived in a city of 40,000 in MN so I can say my perspective of the upper mid west is way different than a white American that grew up there. That is just my two cents I wanted to add to that first conversation 🙂
Photo credit: Jakob Owens