Fear on a Face of Ignorance

I have a backlog of posts waiting to be published. Many of them talk about race, and maybe that’s why I haven’t been able to share them. I’ve fallen under fear–the fear of losing social capital, the fear of saying the wrong thing, the fear of looking ignorant, the fear of admitting my own faults, the fear of alienating the people I can learn from.

So where did I go wrong?

When the year began I vowed to finish these posts and share them. I recognized February as Black History Month and thought I could say something, add my voices to the many calling for change and equity. Then February was erased from my calendar, and for as much as I wanted to, there was no time nor energy to do it.

Now it feels rather arbitrary to have thought I should post all my thoughts on race in February because it’s Black History Month. That’s like saying we can only talk about women’s issues in March, sexual assault in April, mental health in May, or LGBT in June. It’s foolish to think these issues should be delegated to a fraction of the year when they’re relevant year-round, when people’s lives are shaped because of race, sex and gender identity, violence, health, and sexual orientation every day of the year.

It’s a privilege of the majority to believe these issues are merely periodic. It’s our own oppression that enables us to be so ignorant and blind. But it only makes us fools.

The truth is, when it comes many matters of race and ethnicity, I am ignorant. I’ve been mislead and misinformed. I’m biased, prejudiced, even–yes–racist. I don’t always realize it–that’s the point, I’ve grown up in a society whose norms are inherently racist, whose institutions breed systematic inequality every day.

It’s not that I want to be this way, it’s not that I’m even consciously aware of it, but I’ve been shaped by my surroundings and blinded by the normalcy of it.

It’s not a matter of opinion. It’s a statement of fact.

On the one hand, I’m innocent–it was not my doing that created these systems and it’s not my fault for being brought up in a world that teaches these ideas without even realizing it. But on the other hand, if I don’t act to change the world, if I don’t take responsibility now to reshape my surroundings, then I perpetuate these injustices and I’m guilty because of it.

I’ve been trying  a long time to become more aware of race issues in the US and to do my part to make a positive impact. I value education, social justice, diversity and inclusion. Knowing I’m not setting the example I want to be pains me; knowing I’m hurting others by my own lack of awareness is simply excruciating. The worst part is it’s easy to look away, to close my eyes, to choose ignorance–and I do. Far more than I’m proud to admit.

I’m not willing to be blind anymore. Every day, millions of people struggle because they can’t look away–just like I can’t look away from being Jewish or gay or from a low-income background. These things define me, shape my experiences, and challenge me every day in ways that aren’t always easy to deal with, explain, or change. I try to help inform others and make them allies of the issues I champion, but I haven’t done enough to do the same for them.

As this year moves forward, I’m going to work harder and work better to talk about these issues, but more importantly to listen about them. It’s a long process, and I already have a number of book titles lined up to help me through it, but that isn’t the end. It can’t be the end. And I hope, as I start this journey and continue upon it, you’ll join me. I hope you’ll share your stories with me, pass me articles I should read or videos I should watch, invite me to your blogs so I can listen and learn more directly from you. This is a long fight, and it won’t end just because I’m one person choosing to join the battle. It’ll only end when we work together, when we talk together, even when we cry together.

But I believe it can end. I believe someday it will.

Written April 4, 2015

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4 thoughts on “Fear on a Face of Ignorance

  1. Very powerful piece. I admire you for writing it and even more for publishing it. By admitting to what you see as faults you’re actually redeeming yourself as you’re prepared to try to change. I’d say you’re probably already there. The true racist/homophobe would never admit or believe that there’s anything wrong with them and refuse to even comprehend another point of view. I suspect that, if anything, you’re being a little hard on yourself. You’re obviously very intelligent and appreciate the effects your environment has had on your belief structure. The same intelligence gives you the choice and ability to change that. I wrote recently about how I purposefully expose myself to negative influences to educate myself. I don’t normally post links to my own blog but think you may be interested? If so you can find it here – https://spykeyone.wordpress.com/2015/07/24/why-i-read-right-wing-blogs/

    Again, well-done on a great piece of writing.

    • Thank you so much for your kind remarks and your encouragement; I truly appreciate it. Blogging shouldn’t be solitary, but a way to build community. I will definitely read your post; I’ve already bookmarked it, and the title alone intrigues me. Thank you again!

      • My pleasure Darren. It’s a very tricky subject matter. I’m half South African and spent a large part of my life feeling and apologising for being racist simply by inference – huge mistake, even ended up in being accused as being racist even when trying too hard not to be! My father even lost potential customers just because of his accent and he’s anything but racist! You can’t escape perception and I hate the PC culture where you live in fear of saying anything at all. I can’t stand Nigerians – not because they’re black but because as a rule you can’t trust them any more than you can throw them – it’s a cultural thing. I’ve got Nigerian friends and even they hate Nigerians! I’ve had black girlfriends who won’t go out with black males because they think they suck with their ‘dog’ attitude and infidelity. Again culture not color. We have huge black on black violence/gang problems in London – again, culture not color but all black people get tarred with the same brush. Pfffttt. You can’t win but you can try. Some people could do more to help themselves though and that does need to be said. Like I said before – don’t be too hard on yourself. People don’t always make it easy to be liked and they should take that into consideration. Respect has to be earned not demanded. Everyone hated the germans (mostly white?) after WW2 so racism isn’t always about color. My background is German-Jewish AND South African. Think you’ve got problems? ;)

      • I have both German and Jewish background as well (still sleepy from traveling, I first typed Jerman, paused, and then said, “That doesn’t look right”), so I can understand how it could potentially be a cause for confusion.

        I have a critical personality, especially toward myself, and I’m happy to report that I do largely (but not completely) feel better in regards to myself than when I first wrote this post. I think, after having read more, that going through a period of “white shame” is natural for people in the US who start to take off the blindfold that white supremacy has unwillingly pulled over our eyes. Developing a white identity is challenging, and at times painful, and a long task, but in order to face the systemic injustices of racism, we must all become racialized beings: if we cannot see race, hear it, and speak with it, all these deeply rooted biases will remain.

        Perhaps I’m being overly pessimistic, or perhaps the pain in realizing injustice is an important part of motivating us to pursue the full realization of justice.

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