Since I’m endeavoring to close chapters and embrace growth and opportunity, I feel compelled to come completely clean.
I have racist bones in my body.
I believe, and particularly over the past several years, I’ve contended with most of them and perhaps it’s now down to the ossicles, which are the three tiny bones that connect the ear drum to the inner ear structures and, appropriately enough, amplify and transmit all of the harmful epithets ever spoken aloud.
But in fact, I still have racist bones in my body.
How can that be?
I was born poor and white in segregated poor white Lawrenceville, which is in segregated, now spectacularly gentrified, Pittsburgh, and I was inundated with clear messages that (whispered) the blacks (pause to make sure the message was understood) were bad. When…the blacks…moved nearby, the property values plummeted. When…the blacks…occupied a neighborhood, or a street, or even a corner of the damn street just trying to light a cigarette in this cursed Pittsburgh crosswind, you didn’t go there because…hell, I don’t remember anything specific except for…the blacks…were there.
But, thank universe, I also had anti-racist influences.
Josie, Richard, Angie, and one preternaturally enlightened, no-bullshit-taking-or-giving middle-school friend, John.
It was enough. Just enough.
However, I’ve uttered in a road rage moment, in my head, not as many years back as I’d prefer admitting, “Fing*** ni**ers!” (I’m choosing not to write that which I wish to make perfectly clear.)
Not many years before THAT, I would have checked that the windows were up, the light was green, the intersection clear, and I would have spoken the phrase out loud.
As the years passed and the hate left my lips and crawled into my heart and mind, the grief and guilt compounded and eventually became crippling. In a way, it still is. But what happened…happened. And it’s been essential for me to contend with it. In fact, through my adult life I’ve worked to extract all of that anger and superiority birthright.
I read Black feminist literature, engaged with Black academics. I consumed the art of various historically, intersectionally oppressed people. I made a point to ALWAYS hang with diverse crowds, work in the VERY neighborhoods I was told to avoid as a child. I intentionally took the focus away from my fragility, self-hate, reflexive deflections, and placed it on serving and finding the shared humanity in communities of color and with otherwise oppressed and marginalized people.
And here I sit today.
STILL…with some of that N-word in my heart. Other words connected to other communities as well.
It’s nearly impossible to remove all of that psychic and emotional cancer.
So, I must take my maintenance meds: continue to challenge myself, read, observe, communicate, serve, and radically love everyone I can find with as wide open a mind and heart as I can manage.
I wish that we all, as humans, will come to recognize, acknowledge, process, and then firmly, gently, mindfully extract all of the epithets that allow us to feel superior.
Superiority is an illusion…an evil, pervasive and relentless illusion.
I pray that I can release all of the dehumanizing constructs…the racism, misogyny, homo/transphobia, anti-religion, intellectual and class distinctions…that have, at some point in my life recently enough that I can remember, crossed my mind or even slipped across my lips in a spontaneous moment of anger.
My sincere desire is that we all find the true core of human suffering and work, just as relentlessly as the evil illusionary emotions that cause it, to alleviate suffering for all beings.