I want to start out by saying that I am unsure that my voice is needed in this arena. I have gone back and forth on whether to post anything at all, but here we are. I want to first say that these are my individual experiences and thoughts. I am an empath at my core, and in addition to that having a child that has extreme vulnerabilities and needs a constant advocate has opened my eyes very wide to our world.
I’m here to say that I have been a racist my entire life. Not because I want to be. Not because I have any hate inside of me for a race other than my own. I’ve learned over the past few years that racism is more than hate. It was taught to me by people who were “not racist”. I have spent my entire life identifying myself as someone who wasn’t a racist. Through my experience and teachings, racists were people who publicly and verbally hated another race. In the past few years, my eyes have been opened that this is not the truth. I have been educating myself on racism in our country and what part I personally play, while also seeing what actions I need to take to help change the racism inside me. I’m actively moving in the direction of anti-racism, but that doesn’t mean I will always get it right. Talking about race has always been loaded and I have fears of offending or saying the incorrect thing.
I’ve been having conversations about racism since I was able to speak. I was taught that I wasn’t a racist and that we don’t hate black people or use the N word; even though I heard it regularly from a handful of people I encountered. Whenever I heard it, it made me feel completely uncomfortable and I knew it was wrong. The few times I tried to correct or ask them not to say it, it didn’t go well. And from this I learned silence. I’ve stayed silent, which keeps me a racist. Today for the first time I am opening myself up to criticism no matter what side of this topic you sit on. I’m seeking more education while also trying to explain what I have learned. My goal is to start conversations, albeit it hard and uncomfortable ones, that help bring self-awareness to where the racism still exists inside of all of us.
When Wheeler was 5, we moved to Iuka and Brett started working at his grandmother’s funeral home. One day, Wheeler and I were pulling out of the funeral home parking lot and he looked over at me and said, “Mom, I sure wish I was black.” My immediate response was almost pride that I was raising such a non-racist son that he actually would prefer to be black over white. I asked Wheeler why he felt that way and his response was “because black people don’t die”. I looked at him and asked him why he thought they didn’t die and his response was “Dad doesn’t bury any black people”. It became obvious that raising my son to not be racist wasn’t working. He immediately picked up on the segregation that still existed that while I hadn’t created it; we fell right in line with the system that had been designed a very long time ago.
Anyone who has been to this site before now knows that Everett’s autism has changed my life. He has taught me the greatest lessons of my life. And one of those is about racism. He doesn’t have racism in him. He gets to leap frog the broken system. One more time, his inability to pick up on social cues is a huge strength. When Everett was in elementary school, I met with one of his classroom teachers for a parent teacher conference and she made a comment about Everett that I think about often. She said, “One of the biggest surprises to me about teaching Everett was that I never expected him to be such a great judge of character.” She went on to explain that he is drawn to warm, caring people. Every year, he would find 2 or 3 children that he attached himself to and leaned on them for help, guidance, and friendship, and many of these amazing kids that have helped Everett have been children of color. I will forever be grateful to all of Everett’s peers who have treated him with kindness, respect, and love.
For years, one of my biggest concerns about Everett’s adult life is the possibility of him encountering law enforcement who don’t have the proper training on how to handle a person with autism. But… while my fears are warranted and people with neuro-diversity are more likely to be a victim of excessive force, I cannot imagine how scared I would be if he were also a person of color. Everett’s whiteness makes him safer in that situation and that IS A PRIVILEGE that I refuse to deny exists. There was a specific excessive force situation from Madison, Alabama that involved a person of color who didn’t speak English and couldn’t communicate with law enforcement that brought my attention to this problem. For the past 5 years, I have been actively educating myself and following examples of excessive force. I look at the facts and statistics that are released regularly. I could talk all day on this specific subject, but the facts are that excessive force is 4 times more likely to happen to persons of color. I know that the large majority of law enforcement are accountable, have integrity, and do not abuse their power. But there aren’t systems in place to ensure that those who use excessive force are held accountable. There is very little reporting released or available about how law enforcement departments handle officers who have used excessive force. And in many instances, they are quietly reinstated to their position or just move to other law enforcement agencies. This has to change. In our history, social change and systems of injustice are brought down by protest. We are coming up on the 100-year anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment that gave women the right to vote. Let that sink in, we are less than 100 years into women being able to cast their votes. And the 1965 Voting Rights Act helped alleviate the restrictions that made it difficult for black people to actually vote, though the 14th amendment that was added in 1865 technically gave them the rights of citizenship. These changes didn’t happen from those in power willing to just do what was right. It happened from years of organized protests and education, and then movement from others besides the oppressed.
Approximately 10 years ago, I sat in front of a motivational speaker whose message was on the concept that not one person on the earth looks at things through the same lens. And while this isn’t earth shattering information, he spoke to the need of looking internally when we don’t understand someone else’s point of you. It isn’t someone else’s responsibility to prove their point of view to us when we don’t understand it. This really stuck with me. We should be willing to take what someone says about their point of view as their truth without question. Because… we ALL want the same liberty. But… we don’t always do this because it isn’t our own experience. I don’t have the answers on how to fix the systems that are broken in our society, and I can promise you I don’t want there to be violence, destruction, and more hate. I’m actively listening and looking to leaders of color who have a message of reform, hope, and love. I am looking to those who are teaching, loving, and telling their stories; but most importantly I am believing what they say about their experiences and lives to be the truth. I’m reading the books. I’m listening to the conversations and talks that have been out there for years. But more importantly I am having and will continue to have the conversations around our dinner table that bring awareness to the systematic racism that none of us have been immune to.
My ears are open. My heart is open. And I will forever believe that love will always win.