ESSAY

It Begins with Honest Dialogue

Race talks are hard but necessary

Image by Betty Martin from Pixabay

Today I checked my billions of unread emails and spied a post from our very own Jae Hermann that got my attention: Fuck it. I feel sad and mad as hell.

She initially apologized for the bold title, but honestly it’s what got my attention. Reading her newsletter reduced me to tears. More than tears — I was a weepy mess. My heart is agonizing over the racial inequality, the systemic racism, the racial unrest and generations of pain we are witnessing with the #Blacklivesmatter and #Ican’tbreathe movements that are FINALLY getting the attention they deserve.

White people — we, as a whole, have had our heads in the sand for too effing long. PLEASE listen to POC when they are telling you what is going on — they LIVE this. THEY see it every single day and just because you do not feel there is a problem does not make that the reality.

Here are a few excerpts from Jae’s moving newsletter post:

I’ve not lent my voice to discussions or racial inequality protests in writing or in-person. I usually keep my feelings and opinions to myself, until now. I’m shaking with emotion between sobs as I type this. I feel overwhelmingly sad and frustrated, and I’m pissed.

First, I had to write this post in response to a message I received on Instagram, suggesting that by not speaking out, I’m complicit in perpetuating racism.

Lastly, my dear White friends, stop trying to lend your voice to discussions about racism and prejudice. Unless you’re asking how you can help or offering ways for your brethren to help, stop suggesting that you, in any way, shape or form know what it feels like to suffer racial injustice. Just. Stop.

I don’t care if you’re a White person married to a Black or Brown person. I don’t care if you live or lived in a predominantly Black or Brown neighborhood. I care even less if you befriend POC and consider yourself an ally and proponent of #BlackLivesMatter.

You will never, ever understand what it feels like to be a Black or Brown person living in America, ever.

I don’t feel safe. I never feel safe. It is ingrained in me to question my surroundings and be hyper-aware of the danger of being a woman AND being a Black woman living in a White world.

If you are not following Jae’s newsletter, please do and read the full post.

I wanted to respond — sometimes fear keeps us from responding. Fear over saying the wrong thing. Over offending. Or the helplessness in the face of such a systemic and huge problem. But respond, I did, at length. Here is the entirety of that response:

Jae, I wish I had the right words to say. I can never know how this all makes you feel, or what your every day experiences are like — but I can say that I care. I wish I knew what I could do to help heal this country. I am trying to use my words. Some days I am pretty sure it’s all I have to give. But words matter. Every single person has influence in their circle to use to COMBAT this disgusting inequality.

The other day I called my teenage daughter into the kitchen to talk to her. I tried not to be emotional. I asked her if she understood her white privilege. She tried to explain but it was difficult. I told her I can explain it to her with one question.

I asked her, “If you were to run a stop sign or speed a little and get pulled over by a police officer — are you afraid the officer is going to kill you?” Of course she said no and seemed shocked. THAT I told her, is your white privilege and you must never use it to hurt people, but to empathize and to do what you can to speak out against racism when you see it.

My parents tried to teach me not to be racist. But I am only now clearly understanding the undercurrent of racism in things that were normal to us. These messages to our young folks must stop. It’s in the little things:

When a white neighborhood has more black people moving in and people comment that the neighborhood is “going downhill” — you are spreading racism. Things like this! It MUST STOP.

And here’s the part we white people get wrong often. We think we know, we are trying — but we never ask and we don’t listen. So I want you to know I am here and I am listening. I am also crying with you. I may not be able to fully understand your pain but I can certainly feel it and empathize.

I hope you will continue to share your voice on this. You should not have to be silent.

Now, if I may use a word I never type online — I am fucking angry at the lack of leadership in this country — the complete LACK of even TRYING to address systemic racism and the fear and pain. Yesterday I watched as PEACEFUL protestors were gassed out of the way so Trump could walk over to a church he does not even attend so he could hold up a BIBLE for a photo opportunity. I watched the whole thing in horror. How out of touch can you be with the needs of hurting Americans? Real leadership would have been to listen, to kneel with, to TALK TO PEOPLE WHO ARE HURTING. And then to take what he’s learned to tackle fixing racist policies and setting a new paradigm. UGH.

Anyways, I digress — thank you for sharing your pain. Just here to let you know I care.

Love, Christina

This was Jae’s kind response: THIS. Share this, word for word. Thank you.

I am sharing this story because I think people need to read it. We see so much of the negative in the news coverage that we forget we are real people who need to talk, to listen, to share, to connect, to respect, to learn.

We are just two people who did that today — and I hope there are more of us opening up — right now in this country where we all need to work together to fight racial injustices.

Thank you for reading.

More from this author:

Christina M. Ward is a poet and nature writer from North Carolina. Her poetry has been published in the Cameo literary magazine, the Arrowhead literary magazine, Vita Brevis Poetry Magazine, Scarlet Leaf Review, The Frightened Traveler, and in Wolff Poetry Literary Magazine. Christina was the recipient of the Creative Writing Prose Award at Catawba College for a short piece entitled “Clarity.” She lives in rural North Carolina with her family. Her first poetry collection organic is available on Amazon.

𝘐 𝘵𝘶𝘳𝘯𝘦𝘥 𝘮𝘺 𝘸𝘳𝘪𝘵𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘱𝘢𝘴𝘴𝘪𝘰𝘯 𝘪𝘯𝘵𝘰 𝘢 𝘧𝘶𝘭𝘭-𝘵𝘪𝘮𝘦 𝘤𝘢𝘳𝘦𝘦𝘳. 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘳𝘰𝘢𝘥 𝘭𝘦𝘴𝘴 𝘵𝘳𝘢𝘷𝘦𝘭𝘦𝘥 𝘪𝘴 𝘮𝘺 𝘫𝘢𝘮.

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