Thursday, January 2, 2020

Not Color-Blind

Today our dog Charlie barked to go out, and when I opened the slider, he took off across our narrow back yard. I looked up and saw in the yard behind us a young man in a hoodie, likely mid-20's, hand money to another in his late teens, wearing baggy clothes and hoodie. They were in plain view of the windows where Andrew and I were hanging out, but they stood awkwardly behind the garage of the other house, where there were no windows or doors. The second young man, son of a caregiver of my elderly neighbor, counted the money, pocketed it, and turned to go back into the house.

My immediate thought was they were up to no good. Was it a drug deal? I felt concern that I'd have to tell his mother and that would be an uncomfortable conversation. Of course, I had no proof that it was a drug deal, just concern that they were standing in a weird place in the yard beyond prying eyes-- except for my own, of course.

Then, both young men looked up and saw me. Our eyes met, and something shifted. I felt something that went beyond the previous awkwardness and discomfort. Fear? Yes, it felt like fear. In less than a second, I'd switched from maternal concern for the second young man to fear.

I am sharing this with you as I explore my own feelings and reactions. It is not flattering to me, but it's real. You see, both young men were Latino.

Had I witnessed a drug deal? Was the older guy in some Central American gang? I was safe inside my house, but the fear sprang up from thinking I'd put my family in the middle of something dangerous when they looked at me.

What flashed through my mind stemmed from what I see on tv and read online and assumptions and prejudices I didn't even know I had.



This is why when someone says, "I don't see color" or "I don't see race" I don't believe it. We all see color. We all see race, whether we admit it or not. What we see may sends different messages to each of us, based what we read and hear and experience, but we see it for sure.

My other neighbor across the street has sons the same age as the young man/boy next door (Wow,  how much more likely am I to say "boy" when it comes to the neighbor I know better and "man" when it comes to the one I don't???) If I saw my neighbor Luke receive money off to the side of his house in a similar fashion, I'd probably text his mom about it, not worried I'd somehow get caught up in some MS-13 situation. Never once thinking I'd possibly be in personal danger.

This entire scene transpired in a matter of seconds. And it brought into shocking relief my own bias. It helped me better understand how dangerous it is for brown and black sons in our country to be out doing normal things because of visceral, knee-jerk reactions from people like me. Knee-jerk reactions from law enforcement.

Normal things like hanging out with their friends. Eating in restaurants. Applying for jobs. Driving.

And yes, selling the family trampoline.

I watched the first young man head to his car, get a ladder and tools, and start to disassemble the trampoline he'd just purchased for his family.

I got to spend the next two hours looking out my back windows, thinking about race and my own assumptions. And thinking about how when people of color tell me what what it is like to face racism, it is my job to listen and believe. Not to try to make excuses. Not to deny or diminish their experiences because I want to paint a picture of the world I want to live in, not the world as it is. Not to claim to not see color, but to admit that we live in a world that DOES see color. To admit that I make mistakes, and that those mistakes are painful to those I hurt, even if they never even find out about it.

The trampoline is gone now, but I will not forget today.


mary said...

Thanks for sharing your experience! One moment that made me realize I wasn't doing enough to teach my kids about racial bias happened when my daughter was 4. Paging through a picture book with kids of different skin tones, my daughter told me how she preferred the pictures of the white kids to kids of color. We're a biracial and multicultural household and still the biases creep in! That was a teachable moment for me. I realized how much more talking about race and racism our family needed to do.

Melissa said...

Thank you for this. I am white and live in a very white community and I certainly don't have answers, but I know that I have to do better for my kids, and for everyone's kids.

Laura said...

Thank you for this post. I'm not sure if you felt nervous posting on a topic like this, but I'm so glad you did. Topics like racism need to be discussed and you did so in a thought provoking and relatable way. Thank you.

Carol-Anne said...

I'm proud of you for your bravery in admitting this to yourself, even, Anna...nevermind in "public".

As the mother of a black man, I see this all the time. But that doesn't mean I don't have my own set of prejudices that I have to address.

God bless you.

Unknown said...

Excellent post. I couldn’t agree more. I need to be constantly vigilant to root out my own prejudices to try to do better.

Anonymous said...

I have never in my life felt compelled to comment on a blog, even though I’ve read many wonderful things. I feel this so much! I ask myself all the time if I confront my own privilege enough (I live in Idaho so the answer is - probably not!) and more importantly am I teaching my children to acknowledge their own? What is more, if they do acknowledge it will that dull the tools they have to combat the societal leftovers of generations past? I am thankful for your words and the knowledge they bring. Knowledge that I’m not the only mom who stares through a window and instead finds a mirror. Thanks again!

Ginny said...

This is powerful! Thank you so much for writing about this and sharing. My family's Latino last name alone sets us up for bias and racism, and like you said, whether people believe they are biased or racist themselves. Only by really confronting our biases can we hope that people eventually will not be pre-judged.

PinkieB said...

Thank you for this. I live in Southern California, and even though I'd like to think I "don't see color", I do. You've given me a lot to think about as well.

Anonymous said...

My first thought when hearing your story was not that the young men were of "color"; my thought was that they were white. Since drug-dealing and drug use know no "color" boundaries, but drug use and the danger around this issue is a problem everywhere across this country, and because meth and other drugs causes people to do violent and "insane" things while under the influence, I would have thought the same thing --FEAR -- ****no matter the color***. It was the "appearance of the situation" in my mind while reading that caused me to feel fear for you, not the color... because I couldn't see that and I defaulted to "white," possibly because you are white and I am white. I don't know. You say that you would have felt less fear if the white kid across the street was doing the same thing. Could that be because you know him or his family better than the son of the caretaker of the man next door? It's what we don't know that tends to make us uncomfortable. That's a survival instinct that God put in us. Once we do know someone, some place, or get clear on a situation, then we tend to drop our guard and/or feel more comfortable. In your situation, I would not automatically take on that you are biased against non-white people, per this situation. If you know in your heart that you are, then that's one thing, but the situation itself induced a fear response in ME for you and your family, and I had no idea of the color.

Anonymous said...

I would have had the exact same feelings, maybe more so since I worked for a drug enforcement agency for years.

Chi said...

Thank you for posting and being aware of your own innate biases.

Anonymous said...

Wow! So powerful! I am the queen of judging right away and I have been wrong about people SO many times! Thank you for your story!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this very well written and thoughtful account. Like another person commented, what intensified your reaction was that they were young men you didn't know. If it were a Latino son of a family you know well, you probably would have reacted the same way you described the way you would have with your white friend. Unfortunately, many of our friendships and neighborhoods don't cross racial lines, and we don't get to have as many of those comfortable connections with families of different racial backgrounds and of different socioeconomic backgrounds.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to post twice in one day, but I wrote a blog post on this issue too if you get a second to glance at it: