“Empathy may be the single most important quality that must be nurtured to give peace a fighting chance.” – Arundhati Ray
As part of an effort to educate myself about black culture and racism, I’ve been reading websites and magazines written for black audiences. I think all transracial adoptive parents have a responsibility to learn about their children’s culture and the struggles they will face both as minorities and as adoptees.
A few weeks ago, I was scanning the Atlanta Black Star website, a news site with a mainly black audience, when I saw an article about a white guy from Georgia named Gerod Roth who posted a selfie standing next to a beautiful black child on his Facebook page. The Facebook post was soon riddled with racist remarks from both Roth and his friends and it ended up being passed all over the internet.
The Black community in Atlanta and around the country was outraged (rightfully so), and the people behind Black Twitter dug up the guy’s personal information and he and at least one of the commenters ended up being fired from their jobs (also rightfully so).
Like other people who read it, I was upset by the photo and comments on the guys’ Facebook page. Then I scrolled down to the comments section of the Atlanta Black Star article and read what black people were saying about it–and that made me feel even worse. Things like, “White people don’t like us. Period.” Or, “White people will say this stuff about us but then smile to our faces. My buddy used to call it the fake white girl smile.” Or, simply, “This is why we will never be safe.”
In people’s minds, the rude comments of this overprivileged jerk and his ignorant friends were just another terrible thing in a long line of terrible things that white people have done to people of color. This wasn’t just about one white guy and a handful of idiots–to some of the people on that site, it seemed likethis guy spoke for all white people.
That made me so incredibly sad, because my smile is not fake and it breaks my heart that people might think that. (Not that I would blame them. How can black people trust us when things like this continue to happen?) Suddenly, it seemed impossible to me that we would ever be able to move past racism when there are people like Gerod Roth out there spewing hatred into the world. Feeling helpless, I looked at Miles and his beautiful black skin. How am I going to explain all of this to him? How is he going to feel about my white skin when he learns about racism? What can I do?
“Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eye for an instant?” – Henry David Thoreau
I never comment on news articles, but I left a comment on the Atlanta Black Star article that day, saying how awful the story made me feel, how sorry I was that this happened, and how sorry I was for all of the terrible racist things that black people have to face each and every day.
What happened next amazed me. I started receiving friend requests from people in the black community who read my comment. Lots of them (400+ people) started leaving replies on that comment and sending me messages that said things like “Thank you for recognizing this,” and “You made my day,” and “This means so much,” and “This is sweet. It’s too bad the majority don’t feel this way.”
It was nothing. I simply acknowledged what I was feeling; that this was terrible, that not all white people are like that, and that I felt badly about it, too. But it apparently meant the world to a community that never (or very rarely) hears these kinds of things from white people. For some, it seemed like the only time in their entire lives that they had ever heard a white person express empathy to them in regards to racism. If you read the comments on that article, you’ll see what I mean.
Black people are used to white people denying that racism exists–not acknowledging that it does (even though we wished it didn’t). One commenter said, “White people can see vampires, ghosts, aliens, UFOs, werewolves, and zombies, but can’t see racism, oppression, or white privilege.”
From what I’ve seen and heard and learned about racism over the past two years, that is not far from the truth. Because white people have never experienced racism and don’t have to deal with it on a daily basis, it’s easy for us to think that it no longer exists. It makes us uncomfortable to talk about, and people often even take offense to it because they don’t think they, themselves, are racist. But imagine how frustrating that must be for the people who face the real-world consequences of our systemically racist society?
I think the reason we can’t seem to figure out a way to move past racism in this country is because too many of us refuse to even agree that it’s a problem.
“Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.” – Albert Einstein
I made new friends by leaving that comment, all because instead of remaining silent and wishing that racism didn’t exist, I expressed the feelings that I’ve been carrying around inside. It didn’t solve anything, but imagine what would happen if we all said “Yes, racism is real and it’s not fair and we want to help do something about it.” Imagine the change that we could create.
What if we all made it a point to learn about racism and then to reach out and express empathy for the struggles our black neighbors have faced for generations? Why don’t more of us do that? What are we scared of? I know there are so many white people that feel the same why I do. If you’re reading this, surely you are one of them. If you believe that racism is real and care about ending it, find a way to express that.
We’ve got nothing to gain but friends and nothing to change but everything.