In light of the two recent disturbing injustices, first with Michael Brown’s case and then with Eric Garner’s, I have been thinking about my own terrible blunder in a Pipe Dream column just over one year ago. As more innocent black lives have been taken, and as I continue to recognize and discuss with peers my own white privilege, I realize even more the ignorance of my words.
Last November, when I made the mistake of attempting to write about blackface, I did not fully comprehend why it was so wrong. Even my apology thereafter lacked true understanding. As a white person, I have no say in the way people of color feel about such an issue; and I see clearly now, that America is nowhere near being a post-racial society.
In April, months after the article was published, the Pipe Dream staff, myself included, attended a Cultural Competency Workshop at Binghamton. I am thankful that I was able to attend the workshop, because without it, I never would have realized the ignorance with which I viewed racial issues. Growing up in Southern Westchester, an upper class and predominantly white community in New York, I was taught that the color of your skin doesn’t matter. That’s all; that was the end of the discussion on race. Looking back on it now, I realize that that way of teaching only leads to children becoming culturally and racially blind, like me. It is true, the color of one’s skin does not matter, but for young children, leaving the topic with that and not at all embellishing further, makes it difficult to distinguish between wrongfully ignoring race and racism, and correctly acknowledging its existence.
Before the competency workshop, that is exactly where I was. I feel confident that I can now more appropriately discuss race, racism and white privilege, but I also understand that those topics are a continuous discussion and no one, including myself, is ever done learning about them.
I’m still sorry for my ignorant words last November. When injustices such as these occur in our country, I can’t help but think about what I said, and those I hurt. What happened yesterday in Staten Island, and two weeks ago in Ferguson, I know that as a white person, I need to speak up, recognize the cruelty, racism and injustice in our country, and encourage others to speak up as well. I want to be part of the movement of change without last year’s words weighing me down. I now know better. I wish what happened last year did not, but I am grateful for everything I have learned because of it.