I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid I wouldn’t look into my bedroom or bathroom mirror at night if the lights were off.
There always seemed to be some murky ghost lurking in those dark reflections. Waaay too scary for me to examine closely. So I always looked at the floor or the opposite wall as I was walking by. Anywhere but into the heart of those dark mirrors. It was safer not to look.
A few weeks after the last presidential election, a good friend confronted me over coffee with the fact that the majority of white women had voted for Donald Trump. She said, “I now know that the majority of Whites wish I wasn’t living in this country.” My friend is a naturalized citizen. Her skin is several shades darker than my own.
I sputtered, because although I’d read a lot about the election, I hadn’t focused on the racial divide. Instead, I’d examined the cultural and educational chasm revealed by the vote. After I got home I did look up the statistics and salved my conscious with the fact that the majority of college educated white women, my safe little niche subgroup, did vote against Trump.
I didn’t consider myself that naive about white privilege. I’d written on this blog how my own ancestors stayed silent as food was stolen from the mouths of African American children.
During the election season I had already witnessed a white woman yelling at the sandwich ladies at my local Subway, accusing them of taking away jobs from Americans. (The sandwich ladies were American.) The woman did not use nice words, and only left when the workers picked up their phones to dial 911.
These events were all on my mind when I got a notice from Nextdoor, a neighborhood social media network. Notices about car prowls, garage sales, and lost cats all show up in my inbox, along with the advertisements for services, which I find slightly annoying. I was about to delete an add by a woman looking for work cleaning houses when I caught that she advertised herself as ‘White’.
Why put your skin color in an ad, unless you want to be hired based on your skin color?
I thought about my friend, who was basically asking me why I hadn’t done more to confront racism. So…
I told the “White” cleaning lady, in a post, that I was upset that she was trying to get more business by saying she was White. I said that I hire based on work experience and references. Almost as an afterthought I reminded her that God is not going to judge us on skin color. We will be judged on our actions.
I was pretty upset to see racism seeping into my neighborhood social media.
I had no idea.
In the posts that followed I was called too politically correct. I was called mean and unchristian. I was asked to move to Canada.
My offer to meet any poster for coffee and discuss our differences was ignored. Those few who supported my opinion were viciously attacked.
Some of those posting hurtful comments I knew personally. Our children had gone to school together. One neighbor told me that African Americans are racist because they all voted for Obama. Another wrote:
“In fact, a significant number (and quite possibly the majority) of white people not only “get it” but appreciate and enjoy [white privilege] and are willing to defend it silently but ferociously.”
This comment, above all the others, was like a kick in the gut.
All of my life I just assumed that all Americans were fighting the same battle. That we were all trying to move towards a place where people would be judged by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin.
I was naive. Ignorant. My friend was correct in her assumption that white women had not done enough to fight racism. I discovered that am the poster child for that argument.
I also discovered that it was frightening to stand up against racists. One small post from me, and the shadows from dark mirrors slithered into my world, took on faces I knew, and said terrible things.
Truth be told, I’d like to avoid the entire situation. Walk by the mirror, and look at the floor or wall instead.
But then I think of my friend, and all those with a skin color different from my own. They walk by these mirrors daily, and aren’t allowed to look away. They hear the comments, don’t get the job or the apartment, and watch their children treated as outcasts in their own country. People of color meet the racists that many Americans are afraid to confront. And when they tell us stories of monsters oozing out of the mirrors, we don’t believe them.