Every few weeks I meet with a group of people to discuss our experiences and feelings about race and racism. This is something I took away from our last discussion.
This is an attempt to get down something we discussed during this past Sunday's discussion. I've put it in the first person but only so that I could be speaking for myself and not others. I'd be interested in comments, suggestions, edits, etc:
Black, white, oppressed, privileged. Our discussions have helped me see that these words are labels which have the power to short-circuit my understanding and connection to other people. If I see a person with dark skin and think “black” or a person with light skin and think “white” I'm traveling away from them. The words come with assumptions about who this person is. They help me categorize, order and prepare myself for interaction but that process has meant that I see less of people around me. As I interact with people based on these assumptions I keep them fixed in a place in relation to me and I'm fixed in place too. Arrested development. This is what racism has been for me: constant, nearly involuntary, application of assumptions to people who appear to be other than me. The “me” I've perceived myself to be. After all, if even, unconsciously I'm obviously identifying the norm as white. By seeing and thinking: “He's black.”, “She's black.”, I'm seeing myself as 'white', I'm being white rather than simply another person. As an individual I can avoid the use of these words, wanting to avoid the assumptions they come with.
But I live in a country where those words have a lot of meaning. Being a black person or a white person has immeasurable impact on how people live and treat each other. Outside the range of love and compassion those words mean a lot. And it's easy to feel that my experience is nothing in the face of very large scale pervasive racist practices. But change begun in one person has an effect which is relayed and magnified by interactions. Change starts with individuals. If I can see past white & black that will show up in the course of each day. Each of us can be a catalyst. We have the ability as individuals to change the way we think and effect others through our interactions.