Racism is my problem, too.

My biggest learning from living in St. Louis during the Ferguson unrest and protests was that most white people behaved as if it really had nothing to do with them. Sure, lots of whites felt fear, the heat of being in the national spotlight, and the inconvenience of the disruptive nature of massive protests, but for the most part my peers behaved as if the content of the protests weren’t about them. In fact, many people didn’t and don’t understand why people were protesting in the first place. I wasn’t really surprised by either the indifference or the very unshakeable racism I encountered, but I was surprised by the lack of connection and community. Ferguson may as well have been 100 miles away instead of 10. There are lots of complex reasons for this attitude, and many reasons to change it 

(My most recent favorite article on the topic says: “Some people argue that when whites and affluent people segregate themselves, it can erode empathy, and it can inhibit the pursuit of region-wide remedies. It can inhibit a sense of shared destiny within a metropolitan area.”)

But aside from the impacts of physical segregation, what I kept thinking about is how early I was taught that things for or about black folks were not about me. I never owned a doll that wasn’t white. I never had anything but required reading for school that was about black people or characters – the equivalent of a broccoli movie. Seriously, the most diverse non-fantasy character that I chose to read about was Claudia (a Californian Asian-American girl) in The Babysitters Club. Most of the products I bought/buy don’t have pictures of people of color on them. I’ve spent most of my life filtering the world according to what is “for me” and “not for me” based on skin color. Desirable toys, characters, authority, power were all always white. They were also well educated, spoke with proper grammar (skinny language according to Nayyirah Waheed), and generally lived according to pretty traditional values. So I’ve had to work hard to dismantle the fact that those things are not a recipe for intelligence, wisdom, or worth.

It wasn’t until high school that I really began to feel the discomfort that comes along with playing a complicit role in racism. But I do remember experiencing my first complicated feelings on race. The below picture is my kindergarten class. I’m the little white girl huddled up in the middle next to the only black girl in the class. I remember getting this class picture back and feeling really upset that I was sitting so close to her, and only her. Not because I didn’t like her. But because I was fearful that the extent of our friendship would be misinterpreted and that I, too, would be marginalized. Even at age 5 I recognized the costs that come with aligning too closely with people of color. 

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