I always thought I was fairly open minded growing up. I would have proudly said that I was not racist. That sort of stuff only happens in the South. I thought I was a good person with regards to racial relations. Luckily, I have had this challenged in my life, but many people still have this mindset: racism is not something they are capable of, it is something everyone else does.
The first time I can say I distinctly remember realizing that I was operating from a place of internalized racism came when I was about 20 years old. My wife’s family lives in what some in the city may call “the not nice part of town”. In other words, its the part of town where the African American community has been segregated into. I was driving down to visit, and realized that I suddenly rolled up my windows, and locked my doors.
And in that moment it hit me- I would not do this if it was a group of white kids walking past me, or if I was in a predominately white part of town. And in that moment I realized that I needed to begin to analyze my own mind, and start to deconstruct this framework that had been embedded in me as your average white American.
It has not been the easiest thing, and it is so important to remember that I always have room to grow. That is why being able to attend the Selma at 50 conference was so wonderful. I kept my mouth shut, and listened to other people’s experiences. My life as a white American is not the norm for the whole world. That was hard to step away from. But I have learned so much and connected with many wonderful people once I was able to step back and realize that there is no norm, and that I needed to listen and learn from other people’s lived experiences.
As I have transitioned as a trans woman, I have watched male privilege disappear, as well as cisgender privilege. I can attest that both of those were very real things. While I have experienced what it is like to be seen as an object, or seen as a “freak”, I also realize that Trans Women of Color are far more likely to be killed for living their truth than I am. I have no clue what it is like to have to worry that police will constantly harass me. I have no clue what it is like to be profiled as a thief when I walk in to a retail store.
Instead, as a white person committed to racial equality, I need to check my privilege, and share the voices of those who have had these experiences. It is not my voice that needs to be heard, but rather the voices of those who have lived these experiences. I cannot say “I am Freddie Grey” or “I can’t breath”- because those are not injustices that I face, but I can say “Black lives matter” and call out racism and privilege that I see in the white community and in my faith, and instead use my voice and faith to empower change and not embrace the status quo.
I hope this all made some good sense- battling a headache today.