Exchanging Shoes

Earlier this week, i was listening to a song, White Privilege, that i ended up replaying over and over. There has been a tangled knot of thoughts in my head regarding the Black Lives Matter movement, and this song does a good job of explaining most of them. With each replay, i kept an intent ear, hoping to hear the answers. But they weren’t there – Except to say that asking the questions is the first step.

I knew that already. For any uncomfortable topic, that is always the first step.

In my head, i know that i will never know the answers. None of us is ever truly able to understand the challenges of another. The whole “Walking a mile in their shoes” concept is a good start – But even if i walk in your shoes, that doesn’t make me you.

There is so much i want to understand, and so much that doesn’t make sense to me. Even the terminology – Black Lives. What is black? We can’t even say it’s African descent, because that rules out Maori and other people who appear similar, but are distinctly different. Just as East and West and South African people are different from each other.

But maybe that is the whole point. The people-lumping is based on appearance.

I don’t appear black. (Even tho, one time ages and ages ago, i was approached in a bar by a man who resembled Colonel Sanders and who told me i was the most beautiful black woman he’d ever seen. He must have been crazy drunk, because i don’t appear anything but western European, but i said thank you anyway… Beauty is beauty, and who doesn’t like being called beautiful?) Anyway, my point is, not appearing black, how can i possibly ever know what it’s like to be treated as black?

I know what it is like to be profiled. But being profiled as a white woman, or a New Englander, or a female veteran, or poor, or non-Christian, or any of the other things that i have been in my life is not the same as being profiled as black. Any negative connotation associated with the above means that i have been the victim of people assuming my “place” or taking liberties with my sexuality, etc… but i have never been vilified for it. I have been disregarded, ignored, assumed to be less-than… But never criminalized for what i appear to be. It’s a big distinction.

And so, i wonder, what is my place in the fight for racial equality?

I have no doubt that i am obligated by my convictions to speak out, act out, when i see someone being treated unfairly. That is a given. But when pre-emptively setting a stage, as in a protest, or even just a gathering of friends who fall under the black lives banner, where is my place? Is saying “Black lives matter” arrogant presumption on my part, since i am not a black life? How do i become an advocate for the cause without unjust cultural appropriation? Because even with my best intention, i do benefit from some of what they are fighting.

With all the great strides we have made for equality in the history of our country, there are still areas that need improvement. Even if all the laws have been changed to make everyone equal, people’s minds and mentalities can’t be changed with the flourish of a pen. I have been blessed to know very few in my life who hold such bias that they are incapable of treating others fairly, but i know such people do exist. Just as i know that most of us, myself included, are well-intentioned and hold no ill will, but still do things that are wrong and hurtful just by being unaware of the impact of our actions. (We have all been victims of that – A seemingly harmless statement of another, not intended to be hurtful, but borne of ignorance, that pierces us to our core.) How do we stop it? How do we make things better?

There are some situations in life where, to be more help than hinderance, you need direction. Just as i am asking my family in Texas affected by the hurricane, “What can i do to help?”, i am now asking my black-lived friends the same question. In the same way that i don’t want to be the one who sends mountains of useless clothing to Houston that will only end up in a landfill, i don’t want to be someone who tries to help my black friends and ends up only bringing empty words. And i can’t imagine i am the only one.

As naive as it sounds, i pray each night that humanity learns to be nice to each other. It’s a simple thought, but one that would solve so much. No, it won’t eliminate the issue of ignorant misunderstandings. I, personally, will still say and do things that are unintentionally hurtful. To be honest, i will still say and do things that are downright stupid. I am human to a fault. But maybe, just maybe, if we can all get to a point where we no longer have to question motives, we can learn to address the ignorance – each others’ and our own – with love and compassion. And to that end, if you know me, or know someone like me, and you live the black experience… Please, tell us how to effectively help. Give us guidance. We really do want to be part of the solution, but sometimes we just don’t know how. We might not even be sure of what questions to ask. Invite us for coffee, or a beer, or whatever; and lets start the dialog. I share my experience and you share yours with me. Lets talk about what we can do to help each other.

Yes, black lives matter. Blue lives matter. All lives matter. Lets see if we can get to a point where all lives matter equally.

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