Last week a friend connected me to a YouTube video, featuring Ise Lyfe, that provides the impetus for the message I am attempting to sort through for the blog tonight (I suggest watching the video before further reading). I offer it to you in an attempt to raise awareness, surface the topic and promote discussion, or questioning about racism. I struggle with the concept of Black History Month, just as I do with Women's History Month, and it is not because I do not believe in equality. Rather, it is the puzzling fact that we have to put aside days to recognize people who continue to carry the weight of oppressive systems on their back. I have no clue what it means to be an ethnic minority, and I am not looking to experience it. When teaching on the Navajo reservation one of my students asked if I was racist. Of course my first response was to get tongue-tied and embarrassed. How do you answer such a big question? As I hedged on my response tears came to my eyes. I knew that I could not think my way out of this question, nor could I feign misunderstanding, or worse yet over identify with the young man who asked. So, I simply shared that my desire was to say, "No, I am not racist." Yet, I knew that was not so and gave a more honest response and discussed how racism functions from the lens of white privilege. I wanted to apologize and knew this was not appropriate. The room was silent and he graciously thanked me for being honest. I wanted to disappear.
The question about racism is alive still alive. When I watch Lyfe's video I get a similar eerie feeling to the one I experienced in the classroom that day. There is a part in the clip when Lyfe talks about his relationship with his white grandma and how he defended her, only to be crushed by one statement she made about his sisters becoming too dark in the sun. When you watch the video notice how you respond to what she says to him. My instant response is to defend his grandmother from Lyfe's pain. I want to scream out that she does not mean to be racist. What she is doing is attempting to protect her granddaughters from a world of discrimination and many other justifications for her behavior. The defense of his grandmother is what I understand most clearly from my own lived experience. And, it pushes me into a place of questioning about how I see the world. I defend her based on my life. I want to fix it and make it right so she looks good. I am not defending on behalf of Lyfe, the person who daily receives the brunt of being categorically marginalized based on skin color. So, my guess is that today rather than qualify my answer about being a racist I need to simply respond, "Yes, I am." I do not feel the shame of this any longer. This is not self-hatred; rather it is a moment of understanding and compassion. Maybe this is too much for the blog, yet it is real and it is in my heart as I pray this Lenten season.