This post was originally published to Facebook and shared by others. I felt it was worth publishing in this forum as well.
I have been refraining from taking part in the Trayvon/Zimmerman dialogue on the Internet because anything I would say would be redundant. But per usual, the Calhoun/Ecker household has been a mini-symposium on race. It’s one of the benefits of being in an interracial relationship. I can have actual conversations with an actual black person about actual black stuff. And then we can makeout afterward.
One thing I’ve learned since being in this relationship is that, no matter how liberal or progressive we are, we as non-black people can intellectualize racism all we want, but we will never really understand it the way black people do. Sure, we can understand the concepts of systemic oppression and institutional discrimination and how wrong it is that black people get passed over for jobs because of their names or how annoying it is that every convenience store owner gets a little jumpy every time a young black man walks to the back of his shop, but we don’t feel that. There’s a lot of messages out there that say “You are not good; you are less than; you are worthless” that are invisible to us. Trayvon’s murder was a fucking billboard bathed in floodlights. We see it, but we don’t feel it.
This negative messaging happens all the time in little ways everyday. And it adds up. It’s so pervasive that some black people begin to believe it, while others try to combat it but in ways that are counterproductive (e.g., aspirations of material wealth; power over women, etc.). This shit is complex. How do you solve a problem when the majority of the population can’t empathize, not because they are hateful but because they will never live in a world that is always watching them with scrutinizing eyes? I think step one is saying “I don’t know,” to admit our inability to feel racism the same way it’s felt by black America. And step two is having some very real non-judgmental conversations between people of different classes and races. Not lecture hall podium-style discussions. Actual talks. Just talk to people. Listen to their stories. And don’t try to walk away expecting to understand the intricacies of racism. Try to walk away understanding how it is to be that person and let that change your beliefs and behavior.