Racism or Ignorance?

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I was at dinner last night with a couple friends when the politics conversation happened. You know the one. The one in which all controversial subjects come up and there is someone that is living on a different planet than you. We’ve all been there. Abortion, guns, welfare, society’s morals, racial issues you name it. This friend I care for has views that couldn’t be further from mine so I was confusing myself about why I was enjoying myself. I took a listening approach and really searched my mind to find common ground. I think I did. The main subject from last night that has been on my mind is the racial issues. She had brought up a situation with H & M that I hadn’t heard of. Apparently they dressed a black kid in a monkey shirt and she didn’t understand why that would upset anybody. It was an oversight with no harm done, she said. We talked more about other issues relating to race like affirmative action, whether or not black people are still oppressed today, etc. This was really the only subject that I pushed back on. I tried to throw some stats out there, but I quickly saw it was fruitless and gave up. Well, I slept on it. I started jotting down my thoughts and began wondering, can a community that is predominantly white understand or acknowledge a black person’s experience with racism? I think many people around here believe that racism is dead and gone. I’m not racist therefore anyone who feels discriminated against is whining or is lazy or what have you. That logic seems totally wrong to me. It was weighing on my mind while I was waiting for my son to be done with his speech appointment when a FedEx guy came in to the office. I looked up and he was black. In that moment I just decided I would ask him about racism in Utah. So, as you can imagine when I asked him if I could talk to him he seemed annoyed. I mean, he works for FedEx. He’s really busy. I told him I didn’t know how to start. Then I asked, ‘Are people in Utah racist?’ I think he was shocked that I asked, but oddly his demeanor turned really positive. I told him a bit about the conversation I had last night and asked him what his thoughts were. I’ve gotta say it was one of the most interesting conversations I’ve had in awhile. He told me yes the H & M thing was offensive. He told me racist was a strong word, but he said he experiences a lot of ignorance from people. He said even his friends will say things that are bad. He tells them I’m not offended because I get what your trying to say, but you shouldn’t say that to people. He talked about living in Georgia and how he could be himself there. He described that in Utah he has to walk a fine line between being black and acting the way people expect around here. I asked him what someone like me, a white girl, could do in conversations like the one I had to help people understand more. He said he didn’t know because he feels like either people are uncomfortable with the subject or the just don’t care to know more about it. We didn’t get to talk long. I ended the conversation by asking him if this was somehow offensive to him that I asked. He said he actually appreciated me being interested about it. We said goodbye and that was it. I left the conversation really energized to learn more on the topic. So something really nice happened to me and it all started with hearing someone out that I don’t agree with. There’s gotta be a lesson there, right?

For more information:

We Were 8 Years in Power by Ta-Nahisi Coates

Pod Save America April 3rd episode

The Daily March 23rd episode (podcast)

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