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  • Writer's picturechristaleigh

The Problem with White People

I passed a black man on my run today, and I kind of wanted to stop him and give him a hug and just be like, hey- we're not all terrified of black men, just wanted to let you know.

But he avoided eye contact with me, even when I waved and mumbled 'hey'. And I wondered for the rest of my run if that was because I was white, or because I was a woman, or because he was just in a zone and didn't see me at all. Intuitively, I'm sure it was a bit of all three- what motivation does a black man have to be courteous to a white woman in passing, when the chances that any interaction with her *might* spark a crazy media frenzy at best and his own death, at worst?

I come from a long line of police officers and my father was in the military. I believe that most people, most of the time, are acting in a manner congruent with their training inside of the stress of the situation at hand. When fear and ignorance become a part of the equation, a civil grenade explodes and all of a sudden we're forced to confront the fallout.

Oddly enough, if I'm tired of hearing about black people losing their lives senselessly, if I want the justice system to answer for the way it handles cases that make the headlines, if I want to understand #blacklivesmatter , you think I'm pinning a label to my hat that makes me a liberal snowflake. If I worry about the burden on police officers to control situations, if I question the "facts" of an event and credit any sympathy to an officer for how they reacted in a situation that I have never nor will ever be in, I am somehow courageously embracing the conservative racist label. As icing on the top of this polarized social cupcake... if I don't make the right comparisons, or the right contrasts, then I'm clearly ignorant and deplorable in my own right.

Just stop.

Just, please, stop.

Compassion is not a weakness. It's not a political agenda. It's not a stance, or an opinion even.

Compassion is understanding that white people used to think that black people were so different from them that they feared using the same water fountain or restroom. Compassion is understanding that THAT fear has not gone away, but instead made its way into much less obvious, much more volatile manifestations. In a world where division used to form the barrier that could keep fear between white and black people at bay, the Civil Rights movement tore down the wall but failed- failed grossly to teach us not to fear each other.

That fear is what's doing this to us.

Fear is a powerful agent of mind control, perhaps the most powerful. Some of the most effective tactics to glean information from prisoners of war are creating situations where a prisoner fears something unseen. When fear is real, if you believe you're in a helicopter hundreds of feet in the air and about to be pushed to your death by your captors, you will abandon hope. To abandon hope is to adopt the idea that there is absolutely no resolution to your current situation- even if the reality is that the helicopter is three feet off the ground and your life is in no real jeopardy at all. When a black kid gets shot reaching for his wallet, it is fear that killed him. When an officer approaches a vehicle, and the person inside draws a weapon, it is fear pulling the trigger. I do not believe that police officers put their uniforms on every day in the hopes that today is the day they get to kill another human being. But it's a lot easier to kill another human being when, in your mind, they're really not as much of a human as you are.

Fear changes us, changes our responses, and colors our perception.

The fear that your great-grandparents had that little black kids could somehow contaminate the white folk by going to their schools and using their bathrooms got passed down in the form of internal family disapproval... white people got used to sharing the world with black people, but taught their children that still, as a species.... anyone who's not white is really not the same. They are somehow less than, somehow still so unlike 'us' that even if we stood with Martin Luther King in Memphis, we still don't want our sons and daughters marrying them. And how sinister of the masses- we all know people who know and love interracial couples but would have a damn hard time swallowing it if their own kids brought someone unlike them home for dinner. Be honest- there's a lot of white people who fought for equality of the black community but only to a point.

Right or wrong, at the root is fear... fear so deeply buried in all of us that we have a hard time seeing- much less believing- the reality of how segregated we still are.

This segregation, though. It's a choice now. Fear is a choice. It's up to all of us to take the blindfold off, understand that our fears have far too long affected our perception of each other, and take action to change that.

The problem with white people is they keep saying they're not racist. Yes, yes, you are. You are fearful of people who do not look like you, fearful of people who do not fit into your world, fearful of people whose culture you do not understand. But you're scowling at me and I can just about hear you screaming at me that black people are racist against white people, too. You know what? Maybe they are. Maybe they have every right to be, maybe they have no right to be and were raised in just as much fear as you were. I don't know, because I'M NOT BLACK. I can only answer for the paradigms I was raised in, and I am thankful that my military upbringing taught me to respect differences instead of fear them. Pointing a finger at your sibling and accusing them of the same behavior you were guilty of probably never got you out trouble as a kid, and to adopt that attitude is to justify, accept and continue feeding the fear. Maybe we should all grow up.

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