Home > Friends, Parenting > What have you experienced?

What have you experienced?

“I have black friends!” I’ve heard cried countless times. It’s made me want to ask:

But have you talked to those friends about race? Have you talked to them about racism, and the times they’ve been singled out–by silence, by microaggression, by rudeness only identifiable as racism if you’d experienced the totality of it? 

Or have you assumed your friends have never experienced racism … because they would’ve offered up their experiences to you conversationally if they had?

White people are remarkably efficient at self-segregation. We have the luxury of choosing this, and then still pretending we have nevertheless heard and understood the experiences of those outwardly unlike us.

I don’t pretend to have answers or be “post-racial.” I am married to and have two sons with a Black man, and yet I still show moderate preference for Caucasian folks.

As I think about the future well being of my sons in this country, in this world, I think they will be safest in a future where White people don’t pretend to know but ask:

What have you experienced?

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Categories: Friends, Parenting Tags: , , ,
  1. June 24, 2015 at 9:34 pm

    Something I’ve seen, and had to challenge, in myself, is how hard I find it to accept the perspectives of black Americans. The black people I know well personally are all South African; I’m close to many of them, and we’ve communicated on a wide variety of topics. Our perspectives may often be different, but I find it quite easy to empathize.

    Since discovering the Blogiverse, however, I’ve been following, and sometimes developing a blog relationship with, a number of African American bloggers, and through them I’ve been introduced to other writers. It’s humbling to realize how often I read what they say and catch myself exclaiming, “Oh come on – how can you believe THAT?” – totally invalidating their point of view. As I become less protective of my own ideas about how the world is, I’m not necessarily adopting their world view – why should I, when it’s not relevant to my experience? But my eyes are opening, and what a kaleidoscope I see!

    • June 24, 2015 at 9:39 pm

      But my eyes are opening, and what a kaleidoscope I see!
      YES! I’m still often quick to go, “This and this and this and this and this are what all is wrong with what you’re saying,” before realizing my categorizing everything is a way I avoid actually hearing. I’m trying to sit with things longer and longer before weighing in, but I do still want to weigh in, as an auditory learner. The listening–and hearing–take me further than I could get simply absorbing unilaterally … provided I spend some time actually sitting with. 🙂

      I love how the blogosphere has opened my eyes (ears). The biggest way it’s done this has been with grief, but the insights straight into people’s hearts has made it harder for me to pretend I know things I can’t possibly.

  2. June 24, 2015 at 10:14 pm

    How about simply saying, “I have fantastic (or any other happy adjective) friends!” when one is excited about having such friends? I don’t understand why someone would insert the descriptor “black”, though. I mean, I wouldn’t go around saying I have “freckled” friends, or “agnostic” friends, or “vegan” friends. Were the people who said that trying to make a point, perhaps that they aren’t racist? I don’t hear that sort of thing said, but I’ve now learned that you have. It’s an interesting thing to proclaim, though, somewhat odd. Of course, this is just an opinion.

    • June 25, 2015 at 4:31 am

      It’s raised as a kind of defense: “Racism no longer exists, and I should know!” The times I’ve heard this, I’ve wished I were able to succinctly summarize the difference between explicit and implicit bias. In fact, I should probably work on that the better to seize–instead of fumble–these opportunities for conversation when they come. As at work, the better prepared I am for a discussion, the more effectively I can communicate key points instead of asides! (I did this preparation for my anti-Breed Specific Legislation in the past, actually, though I’ve long since forgotten my talking points.)

      • June 25, 2015 at 11:03 am

        First of all, that defense is inaccurate.

        Racism (and all sorts of other -isms) surrounds our society. When I read your words “explicit and implicit” it reminded me of the time racism was described by a colleague who’d moved from the South to the West Coast of the United States. She commented that she preferred (yes, preferred) the racism of the Deep South because it was overt rather than covert, as she soon discovered racism was indeed present on the so-called Left Coast. She stated that she could better deal with it in the South because it was right out in the open, not hidden and therefore plausibly deniable. I suppose she was right. Authenticity, even when it brings with it the unbelievable ugliness of an -ism, is preferred.

        Deborah, this post really rattled my cage and dampened my spirits, not because of what you’ve written, but rather what it’s brought to mind.

        Mostly, it just makes me wonder why, WHY? Why do we attempt to increase our own self-worth by devaluing another? Why do we look down on those who are different? Why are we so afraid to change for the betterment of all? Why do majorities still oppress minorities?

        Knowledge is power. Knowing what causes -isms and why they continue to be will help us to combat and hopefully (long shot, I know) conquer them.

        But our utter ignorance in understanding the causes (choices) of -isms, our pathological deniability of the presence of -isms, and our determination to dominate others keeps these -isms alive.

        Sometimes I just end up in the depths of despair when I think on our human evolution. I’m impatient at best.

        And now I think I’ll have a cup of hot tea. 🙂 And continue to be a human who practices humanism, as this -ism is good, I think.

  3. June 25, 2015 at 3:28 am

    I had this conversation with a staff member a few days ago. She was asking me why I thought racism was still so bad, what could be done to change things. The conversation made me very, very uncomfortable. She is black. I am white. I am her boss. I felt defensive. I felt very, very anxious about what I was saying, worried that it would be construed improperly or used against me in the future if what I was saying was not how she perceived things or was not the “right” answer. What I learned was that her perception of racism is very different than mine. I don’t know that I can ever fully understand or even relate on even a small level. Being a woman comes with its own drawbacks and challenges but skin color is a whole other ball of wax. Whatever I think I understand, I really don’t.

    • June 25, 2015 at 4:50 am

      Your “being a woman” comment is illustrative. I’ve read some great feminist pieces where folks have responded to powerful women saying variations of “sexism no longer exists.” The very, very shortest form of that is to say: “You haven’t been aware you’ve come up against it, and shouldn’t assume your experience is universal. There are a million ways to experience it, most of which aren’t people saying outright, ‘Women aren’t as capable.'” The Sony email hacks gave some good insight into this, with Charlize Theron using some of the leaked information to negotiate a raise putting her Huntsmen earnings on par with a male costar’s. The fact someone doesn’t ascribe certain actions to sexism doesn’t mean sexism no longer exists; it means many people know better than to overtly shout it from the mountaintops by now.

      I think it’s awesome that you engaged in the discussion despite your discomfort. I felt uncomfortable just reading that you had the conversation. It can be an an awkward, sometimes even painful conversation to have with friends and friendly acquaintances; adding workplace (and particularly managerial) dynamics to that adds whole new concerns. The fact you did engage is a powerful thing, part of “building racial stamina” versus perpetuating what one author describes as “white fragility,” a situation whereby–roughly put–white people continue to not develop any stamina for race-related conversations by continuing to completely avoid these unavoidable-to-others conversations. My stamina’s increased a heck of a lot there the last few years, but not to the point where I’d feel close to at ease discussing racism and/or race substantively at the office.

    • December 16, 2016 at 8:34 am

      I knew I’d written about building racial stamina somewhere, but thought it was a post.

      I am SO GLAD you had that conversation, and that you wrote about it here. Rereading this makes me feel like I’m on the right path with something I considered while stuck in an extra-long commute this morning.

      Would you mind if I included parts of what you said in a PA post, to provide context for what I wrote? The post won’t be about race, but these discussions are spot on for what I hoped to see/say about the journey of growing certain kinds of stamina.

      I’d also like to say I appreciate the heck outta you. Thanks for sharing your insights, and making the world feel less lonely place by far. ♡

      • December 16, 2016 at 10:57 am

        You are absolutely welcome to use anything you like! 🙂

  4. June 25, 2015 at 4:44 am

    Thanks for this conversation. Ultimately, being a so-called African American in American society comes with its own prejudices and situations that one can only understand from participating in those experiences. But if we all do what most of you have suggested here, stop, listen and attempt to understand the situation, then that would be a beginning. Personally, I’m only offended when so-called white people dismiss my thoughts about race in America. Kinda like if you tried to explain the challenges of being a woman in the workplace to a man, and that man then said, “Aw c’mon now. It’s not that bad, is it?” You would feel unheard. Or if that man then said, “But look at all the progress women have made.” As a woman you would feel as if what you’re saying is unimportant, I think. It’s a similar context.

    • June 25, 2015 at 4:59 am

      I was drawing the same analogy in another comment as you posted this one, it turns out! There were so many examples I could have offered, but Charlize Theron’s response to the Sony hacks was the one that came quickest to mind.

      I’m only offended when so-called white people dismiss my thoughts about race in America.
      I hear that. I’ve encountered comments like that across a range of subjects. Whenever someone says something like “it’s not that bad,” I recognize that they are quietly expecting me to persuade them. I already know from not-fraught conversations how terribly that goes.

      After law school, I’d tell people I wasn’t practicing law. I generally found two types of responses: “That’s crazy!” (tho’ sometimes it was more kindly stated) and “It’s never a bad thing to have more knowledge, huh?” After enough times having the conversation that flowed from the “That’s crazy!” response, I realized my response never, ever resulted in a different concluding response from the “that’s crazy!” speaker. They’d already made up their minds. Whatever questions they appended to “that’s crazy!” were loaded ones pointing back to how crazy my choice was. After having that conversation a dozen or so times, I stopped having it: “It’s not my job to reverse engineer your biases and then construct new understanding in their stead.” And this was over whether law school was beneficial, not over matters deeply impacting individual and widespread human rights!

      That kind of dismissiveness–that sense that someone else could know better about your experiences than you do–is not a great precursor to meaningful conversation. I’m trying to find ways to bridge that gap, but for now … the single best way I’ve found to come closer to understanding is not to tell, but to listen. (Whatever telling I do in case it helps others feel a little more comfortable with not knowing, and asking even if it’s uncomfortable.)

      • June 25, 2015 at 5:03 am

        OMGosh! Amen! Amen! and Amen! lol I nodded all the way through this. “It’s not my job to reverse engineer your biases and then construct new understanding in their stead.” And I’m about to post this quote to my fb page. So poignant! And I totally understand about the law degree and those comments.

  5. June 25, 2015 at 2:48 pm

    Racism exists – of course it does, and I’m not addressing that topic at all. But on the assertion that white people are more efficient at self-segregation, do you really think that’s true?

    It seems that most people do this, whether they do so based on race, culture, sex, age, education or socioeconomic level, etc. It seems to be human nature to feel most comfortable and to hang out with people who are most like you.

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