I am as angry as you are about racism. I’ve been angry about it for so many years I have taken on the same righteous bitterness you have without having earned it. It started when I was in eighth grade and I was fighting with my mother about the fact I had a boyfriend who was black. She threw a TV at me. I ended up with my finger slammed in a car door. She’s grown a lot since then or so I thought. But last week we got into a fight. She was watching Megyn Kelly do a show on police brutality (such a go-to source for anti-racism work, but anyway). She turned to me and asked, “Why did Travon Martin’s mother let him play with a toy gun outside like that?” I exploded on her. I asked her why she didn’t ask me, “Why didn’t Travon’s mother make him play inside every day?” She started acting all offended, pleaded the whole “I’m not a racist, how dare you?” crap, and acted like the wronged party because oh, what did she do wrong? I am still so furious at her for that stupid, racist question that I thought she would have grown past by this point in her life after years and years of me talking to her about these issues.
I went on to teach human diversity in college where I ran into lots more racism and lots of other isms as a matter of the job. But my family remained a long-term project. My mother always seemed to be getting better.
I was visiting her, but I left early. I have been working on this old woman for thirty years and she has made slow progress. It makes me bitter and angry. I have other relatives that never were trying to reach because they are too racist to change. My mother has been working on them for years from her place of “less racism” and it hasn’t worked at all. If I can feel hopeless and frustrated about it, I can only imagine how it would feel to be a black person. There are some white people out there that are relentlessly frustrated by racism. Just like John Brown put down his life to end slavery. I would put down mine to end racism. I feel that strongly about it.
I was mentored by a strong black woman. She fought racism virtually alone in rural Northeast Iowa for most of her adult life. I think she died younger as a result of it. I have no right to complain about getting frustrated, even though I do. I so do. She kept up the fight for years. I can, too. Oh sweet Jesus was last week hard, though.