Okay. Get Out was scary. But mostly, this project has not been at all the fearsome undertaking some part of me was afraid of.
What a thing to say. I have been afraid of dedicating myself to learning about Black lives in the United States and the lives of people of color in the world.
The worst moment for my ego so far happened last night. I went out to I Am Not Your Negro (separate post on that) with my mom and a friend. Afterward, over pizza, I asked my friend who Medgar Evers was. She expressed surprise that I didn’t already know, because his death was pretty important in American history, and instantly I felt myself clench up with shame.
I should know this.
Everyone knows this.
I am uninformed and that means I am bad, and I don’t care, and I haven’t tried hard enough.
That, right there, is what I’ve been trying to avoid. I felt ignorant. I felt indicted, as though my unawareness of Medgar Evers meant I had failed a test of humanity. All good people know who Medgar Evers was, is what I thought. I didn’t think my history teachers failed me. I didn’t think my white supremacist nation failed me. I didn’t think my white supremacist nation, which killed Medgar Evers, is still killing Black people and lying about it day after day after day, and of course the children who don’t see the killing believe their teachers.
Ignorance is no excuse for staying stuck. I didn’t know who Medgar Evers was, so I need to learn. It doesn’t mean I’m bad, though. It means I have huge gaps in my understanding, and isn’t that exactly what I’m trying to address with this project? So why should I be so hurt and defensive to discover an example?
It is hard for me to admit I don’t understand things. I want desperately to be good at everything NOW. I don’t want to be in Race Relations 101. I’m smart, right? I should know better.
I have a choice here. When people try to tell me something is wrong, I can continue to protect my ego by solemnly agreeing and then turning away as fast as I can. I can continue to make outraged noises and then scroll past the stories when brown-skinned people are stabbed for being in relationships with paler people, or shot for wearing head coverings, or beaten for daring to exist in this racist country. This approach is less painful for me– I avoid deep engagement with the hard stuff– but it is wrong to the bone. It is the response of privilege. It will keep me complicit in white supremacist violence forever.
I can also turn toward the stories of people of color. I can listen better. I can start where I am, not where I wish I were, and learn just a little bit today.
And the truth is, it’s not that scary. The hardest moment so far has been a moment I got embarrassed in front of a friend. Over pizza. And she told me who Medgar Evers was, and then we talked for a few more hours, and I looked him up later. Mostly I’ve spent the last couple months reading better books than I’ve read in years. I’ve rediscovered a love of literature I lost in grad school. I’m seeking out art and inhaling it.
It doesn’t hurt. It feels delicious.
I’m not being quizzed. I’m not being pointed out on the sidewalk. I haven’t become known as a fake-woke whitesplainer who doesn’t really care. (As far as I know. Of course, if a few more people find this blog, that could change.)
If I do get criticisms over time, I hope I’ll have the good grace to open up to them, to leave my ego walls down and to listen. That is, after all, part of every worthwhile learning process I’ve ever gone through.
But in the meantime: it’s just art. It’s just books. It’s just beauty, and the gritty glory of stories. It feels good to do this. And it is actually changing, bit by bit, how I see the world.