Race in America: My Experience

Before you laugh: I realize you can’t get more Aryan than me, but even a blonde-haired, blue-eyed white female can have an “experience” with race relations in this country. And since it’s front and center in today’s cyber-debate, I want to talk about it too.

* * *

My freshman year in college, I got one of the best compliments I’ve ever received: a bi-racial hall mate expressed her pleasant surprise that I invited everyone to a party with me – even the black people. At the time, I thought it was such an odd thing to say. I understood that it was a compliment – she emphasized how I was friendly and inclusive of everyone – but the racial aspect left me momentarily mute. In hindsight, I can say that was my first break from being truly colorblind. Division by race simply never crossed my mind, and that’s not just my white-person defense mechanisms speaking up to soothe my subconscious…

But that marked the end of my innocence (or my ignorant bliss, perhaps.) Today, I admit I am full of racial stereotypes and have a fairly involved understanding of racial nuances. Ironically, none of this “education” was provided by angry, racist white people. It was provided by my many wonderful, diverse, and mostly non-white friends in college.

I was the token white girl. My friends were black, Asian, Hispanic, and everything in between. It was fun, dramatic, and eye-opening all at once. I heard about their experiences growing up in various parts of the country, and the world. I learned of the obstacles they faced, the struggles they deal with now, and the fears they have for the future. They told me of emigrating to this country, and feeling awkward and lonely in a place full of people who looked and spoke like me. I vividly remember a long, heart wrenching conversation with a bi-racial friend who struggled with suicidal ideation because she couldn’t identify with either side, and how she felt oppressed by the conflict she dealt with between the family members who hated each other.

I also learned more (seemingly) trivial details…

I had no idea that the two black sororities and fraternities on campus hated each other – one for being “too black”, and the other for not being “black enough.” Huh?

I learned what an Oreo and a Twinkie are (more than just simply delicious.)

I learned that Japanese and Koreans harbor resentment against each other, and the history that explains why.

And I learned that pretty much any conflict, of any nature, may turn racially charged if one of you happens to be black.

I will never forget when a black girl from my dance group in college sat across from me and the rest of my leadership panel, which consisted of pretty much every color of the rainbow that you can imagine – to include other blacks. I couldn’t tell you what trivial matter had initiated the argument, but somehow, she was threatening to take her complaints to the Dean of Student Affairs and charge us with racial discrimination. That day, after years of believing race doesn’t matter, I learned that regardless of the situation – it does.

George Zimmerman may be a racist, but the jury that acquitted him was not. They did their job by interpreting an (admittedly flawed) law with reason free from passion, which is what they were supposed to do. I think this whole case is an example of how the race problem overshadowed the legal situation at hand, inflamed an already sensitive issue, and is dragging us all back down in the dirt by further dividing us.

My experiences have taught me that racism is universal. It’s not just black and white. We all harbor judgement about each other, ranging from the amusing to the plain hateful. When my old friends write posts called “My Fear of White People” and “Am I Safe – A Nation Has Justified My Fear”, it only serves to further divide us and fill our hearts with doubt, guilt, shame, anger, and a million other negative emotions, while putting the blame on one group of people (have we learned nothing???)

It’s not empowering, and it’s not constructive. It’s marginalizing and destructive. Wallowing in fear and blame is not the answer. But I worry it’s not going away any time soon.

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