A few days ago, I was in a situation in which I needed to apologize for a misunderstanding between me and another woman, whom I had never met before. It was a one-time occurrence, as I would probably never see her again. I am white. She is black. I apologized because the misunderstanding was my fault. She was perfectly polite and seemed to hold no ill-will against me. We parted ways with a few pleasantries and went about our business.
A few years ago, I wouldn’t have thought any more about the situation. This day, however, I couldn’t help but wonder how the woman felt about me. I wondered if she thought I was an over-privileged white woman. I wondered if she secretly disliked me because I am white. I wondered if I should have done more for her in an effort to prove that there was no racial bias on my part, which of course would have been overcompensating.
As a child, I never thought about things like race or ethnicity. I don’t think children do. As an adult, race is on my mind more than I think it should be. Race has become glaring to me and I will admit it makes me uncomfortable. Not in a way that some people think is good…that “uncomfortable” that causes awareness and makes good change. Instead, the continued talk in the media about our differences based on race has robbed me of an innocence that I think was good. That child-like innocence; when two young children meet they don’t see race or culture. They see another child. Racism and prejudice is a learned mindset.
Although I haven’t always been submersed in a multi-race and multi-cultural environment, I was innocent in my thoughts about people of other races and ethnicities. That has changed. I still believe that a person should be judged by their actions, but I now see that there are so many people, of all demographics, who focus on a person’s appearance instead of their worth. Unfortunately, because of the influence of the media, I am now hyperaware of race and the new stereotypes that have been put forth.
The rioters and the protestors, and organizations like Black Lives Matter and the Neo-Nazis paint a picture of whites against blacks and blacks against whites. Their influence has made me wonder if I live in a country full of racists. Yet, I know that these groups represent such a small percentage of the country. In all my life, and in all the places I have lived, I have met only one person who was openly racist. Unfortunately, I find myself wondering if every non-white person I meet is prejudice against me. Perhaps that is what people of color have always wondered.
My purpose in writing this is to ask if reality is really what the media has portrayed. Are people really as angry as the news, celebrities, and advocacy groups lead us to believe? When I watch the news, I get the impression that the country is a hotbed of hatred and anger, and that black people have nothing but revenge on their minds and that white people are actively persecuting other races. However, when I am out in my community, which encompasses people of many different backgrounds, I don’t see the same emotion. I see people smiling at one another. I see people being helpful and kind. I see people working together in positive ways.
So, I am confused, and I mean that genuinely. I didn’t live through the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. I know there are nuances that I just don’t understand because I have not shared the same experiences. I have never been discriminated against based on my skin color. I can’t imagine the pain, frustration, and anger that would cause. I do know, though, that we are blessed to live in a country where we can learn from our differences and we can work together to make life better for everyone.
I will probably never know what the woman to whom I apologized really thought of me. But, I refuse to think that everyone with whom I come in contact is a representative of what the media is portraying. I will treat everyone with respect. By doing anything else, I would be feeding into the idea that we are all harboring prejudice against one another, and I simply cannot believe that is true.
We are all made the same. It is our differences that make us unique and beautiful.