I Meant No Harm
White racism is alive and well and living undercover in America and, sometimes, no so much undercover that we cannot detect it. It damages our citizens, inhibits their growth in so many ways that is is painful for me to consider. Yet, I know it's there and I see the people who have suffered through it and it tears at my heart when I see someone I KNOW has suffered at its hands.
How do you dare tell someone, who you see as one of God's children no matter their color, that they are not good enough to benefit from all this country has to offer? How dare you set yourself up to be superior to them when that is patently untrue? How dare you call yourself a religious person when you practice this bigotry and hatred toward your fellow citizen this way? How dare you rest easy at night knowing that someone out there is suffering from the slings and arrows your actions have aimed straight at the most vulnerable part of their self-esteem and their very soul? How dare you put your head on a soft pillow when they must try to chase rats and roaches off their sleeping children as you rest? How dare you revere a slumlord/bigot in your midst
or in our White House?
The marks may not be on their backs as they were apparent on the backs of slaves, but the marks are there just the same; these are invisible scars. How many wounds have each of us delivered without thinking or without doing something to remedy an ugly situation? How many of us have stood quietly in the face of discrimination? We suffer from not an illness but an ugliness that damages us--no doubt about it. It corrodes our humanity and, if we don't have that, what do we have?
A friend told me of a trip she made to New Orleans. She was eating in an upscale restaurant at a business luncheon when a woman server dropped a spoon on the table. The server quickly turned and said, "I meant no harm." Why would she have to say that? She was in the Deep South and she lived in the bedroom community across the river. She knew her place and she was serving a white woman and she was terrified that she might offend the woman and lose her job. My friend never forgot it.
I went on an innocent shopping trip in a local superette in the Northeast recently and, as I looked at the vegetables, I saw an elderly, deeply wrinkled African-American woman standing next to a younger woman. The younger woman was inspecting limes as the older woman stood stoically by. I looked surreptitiously, at the older woman because I didn't want to make her uncomfortable. To my mind, she bore the emotional scars of a lifetime of being the object of bigots and racism. I didn't need to ask; I saw it. My mood changed as I consider that.
Returning to my shopping, I turned suddenly and bumped into the younger woman who was bending over to get a plastic bag for vegetables. She looked up and apologized and I told her, "No, I'm sorry, I should have looked before I turned."
Without giving it a thought, she smiled, tore off a bag and handed it to me before she took one for herself. I said, "Thank you, very much." She smiled and said nothing, took her bag and went back to where the elderly woman waited.
The brief interaction left me with a renewed sense of racism and I hoped she didn't see me in that light. I don't believe she did, but I thought about her mother's life (I believe the older woman was her mother) and I felt a pain. Sure, I didn't experience what she may have, but I felt a pain for her pain just the same.
Racism has risen its ugly head again like an intestinal maggot that we have failed to root out with rationalism. There is nothing that can reach this core group that wants nothing but superiority at the expense of others and covers their aspirations with the new argo of nationalism, as though that makes it right. There is no rightness in depriving others of their rights and there never will be.
Remember the words of Hillel: If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am not for others, what am I? And if not now, when?
All of us must ask, When?