Listening to the Unheard

3rEFikyI don’t think this comes as a galloping shock to anyone: I’m a middle-class white woman.

This complete accident of my birth affords me all manner of privilege. People generally assume I’m not a threat. I can choose not to work full-time, and I’m credited with being a good mother, not dismissed as a lazy “taker.” More often than not, when someone jumps to a conclusion about me, it works in my favor.

I make no claim to fully understand the reality of minority mothers, but I get that it’s different than mine. There has been so much lately in the news and in public conversation about racism in our culture. I have a lot of words, so my natural inclination is to jump in on that conversation. But I’m not sure where my appropriate place is.

My friend Paul wrote a really lovely piece about the difficulty he feels as a white man trying to get a better understanding of race in America.

Actually, it seems that as I’ve aged, I continue to have more questions. And race relations certainly fall into my category of MWMSA – Married White Male Seeking Answers.

When these difficult questions arise, where do I turn? When the events of Ferguson unfolded, I looked for some calming, sensible guidance. Some words of comfort, some challenges, some moments of united prayer. Hoping I would get this from my Church, I received deafening silence.

When he posted it on Facebook, some people decided that was their opportunity to spew some of the most hateful things I’ve read in quite some time. Sadly, none of it was shocking. Most of it was fairly predictable, which is its own sadness. I kept thinking, can’t you just shut up for ten minutes and listen? Just listen to what the man has to say and stop yelling.

I feel like right now is the time for me to listen. To just listen. (And I feel like that’s what Paul is trying to to do too.) Not listen while forming a response. Not listen to figure out if another person’s position agrees with my world view. Not listen for a nugget I can use in a sound bite. Not listen to hear anything that I can use as proof of what an enlightened person I am. Not listen to justify my or anyone else’s actions or motives.

Just drop my barriers for the one and only purpose of listening to someone else’s life experience. To put myself in someone else’s shoes, in so far as that is possible. To simply hear the joys, fears and trials of other people who are living a different American experience than me and my family.

It’s my job to hear Brit Bennett when she struggles with the subtle racism of “good white people”:

Before the flight took off, she turned to me and said, “I’m sorry if I cut you earlier. I didn’t see you standing there.”
The problem is that you can never know someone else’s intentions. And sometimes I feel like I live in a world where I’m forced to parse through the intentions of people who have no interest in knowing mine.
I spent a four hour flight trying not to wonder about the white woman’s intentions. But why would she think about mine? She didn’t even see me.

I must take to heart the insults caused by the white saviour complex:

I guess this is where some people are getting confused because we see that her intent is good, and that makes us want to believe that the action that follows will also be good. She’s at a crossroad here – two roads diverged, etc. Had she taken the road less travelled, Ms. Tuohy might have said to her friend, “Wow, you’re being really racist right now! I’m not comfortable with how this conversation is going.” Instead, she decided to confront the teenagers…

I must better understand the concept of racism without racists:

Some whites confine racism to intentional displays of racial hostility. It’s the Ku Klux Klan, racial slurs in public, something “bad” that people do.
But for many racial minorities, that type of racism doesn’t matter as much anymore, some scholars say. […] it doesn’t wear a hood, but it causes unsuspecting people to see the world through a racially biased lens.

I’m trying very hard to be helpful in this conversation about race, not make things worse. I’d like to not make it about me, but in some ways, that’s inevitable. I mean, it’s my blog, so I can’t really get around that entirely when I write about it.

I don’t have all the answers, but I think a good step for me and lots of white people would be to shut up, stop trying to justify ourselves, and just listen.


2 thoughts on “Listening to the Unheard

  1. I enjoyed reading this post. What I would say to your friend Paul is pray. Ask God to give you an African-American friend with whom you can discuss anything and everything openly without fear. That friendship will afford opportunities to receive answers to your questions and maybe even do things together that will change your environment for the better. There is an old saying that goes “Brighten the Corner Where You Are”. Every act of kindness helps. An empty bucket can be filled with water one drop at a time. If God gives you one friend with whom you can work to make a positive difference you will be well on your way to filling an empty bucket with love.

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