“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that” is a quote by the late, great Martin Luther King Jr.
His words resonate with me. I am a white woman. Do you think these words mind the color of my skin? Of course they do not. They are words backed with serious meaning and the underlying theme is love. That love rises above all. In these times of absolute desperation and a call to bring awareness to inequality we need to take a serious look at ourselves as a whole and commit to bringing forth any judgments in our own lives that continue to create racial separation.
That takes serious vulnerability. It is very easy to pretend that we are not contributing to the sickening ongoing threat to our society, but are we doing everything in our power to bridge this gap?
I have been reflecting on this for several weeks now. I am trying very hard to educate myself, read and listen. Most importantly listen. The battle that has raged on for hundreds of years has been overlooked, swept under the rug and defeated in endless court cases. This has got to stop.
A few years ago I moved to the island of St. Thomas, USVI. The population there is 75 percent African American. For the first time in my adult life I was in the minority. The main source of transportation on the island is an open air taxi system with bench seating called a safari. On this one particular occasion there was one white couple behind me and the rest of the near full safari were African American. About midway through the ride we picked up a local man who was verbally acting out. He began shouting profanities at us that “the white man has taken over his island and ‘we’ are no longer welcome.” He became very loud, very threatening and the entire taxi ride grew very uncomfortable. It was one of the first times I truly questioned my role in a society. Did he have the right to yell at us because we were white? Were we in the wrong to be spending time in St. Thomas where we may not be welcome? Could this man cause harm to us? I felt very uneasy and concerned.
A few days later I was proceeding to get more and more settled into my home on island. I had borrowed a friend’s car and was returning from K-mart with a full load of household items to move into my new apartment. I saw on the side of the road a fruit stand and decided this would be my last stop. After purchasing some local fruit and veggies I realized I had in fact locked the keys in my car! And to my observation, I was in what appeared to be a not-so-great part of town. Next to the fruit stand was a bar with many inebriated people pouring both in and out of the run-down, dilapidated spot. I instantly felt out of place and, quite honestly, a bit nervous. I was the only white person around and clearly not in my comfort zone.
Within a few moments, however, to my utter surprise, a woman appeared with a halter top, a very short skirt, huge bosoms and a coat hanger. She introduced herself to me as “Ice cream” and shouted to the men to “quit staring at this white girl, she just locked herself out of her car.” And within moments, my new friend had shimmied the car lock open. With amazement and gratitude I hugged her and she then lead me into the bar to meet these locals who were cheering us on. I, of course, bought the group a round in relief for saving this helpless out-of-towner.
What do these stories have to do with the inexplicable injustice that is occurring in our country today? Well, they are a good look at what it feels like to be out of place, even for a moment, and how my personal judgment on the situation caused me to feel fear. Now imagine that you not only feel out of place, but threatened, discriminated against and, most importantly, unsafe in the eyes of authority often times in your life. It is quite difficult to imagine. But the truth of the matter is that is how many African American’s in the U.S. feel. And it is wrong.
I recently had an extensive conversation with an African American friend of mine who grew up in the 1960s and ’70s and has seen quite a lot of protests in his day. Vernon stated: “I see these times as growing pains. There is a greater discussion here, which is to decipher racism vs. tribalism — groups getting along and those that are not. We all have character defects within us, and we need to be aware of these and then ask ourselves, ‘how do we manage this in society?’
The accessibility of social media is leading the world to change simply by awareness. It brings about compassion and right now that is what we need more of.”
It is our civic duty as members of society to see that change happens. The main way we can do that is to educate ourselves, ask questions, get involved and, most importantly, vote. Let’s hope we get there.