When I started this column I chose the topic of food because I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t like food. We may not agree on the best way to cook a roast or our favorite pizza toppings, but in general food is a non-controversial topic. There’s a lot of bad stuff in the world and I wanted to write something fun and lighthearted.
This week, however, I can’t bring myself to talk about food. My heart is heavy. My heart has been heavy for some time now. As a white person living in a small rural community, it’s very easy for me to tune out the violence that is being perpetrated against black people and other minority groups all across our country. It’s much easier and more comfortable to not discuss these things, but sometimes we have to do things that are hard.
I think it’s time we all as individuals make a commitment to talk about the hard stuff, to talk about why black people are being gunned down on the street and now even in their churches.
In college I learned the term white privilege. Now, at first I really didn’t understand that phrase. Should I feel guilty because I was born white? Well, no, obviously I had no choice in that. What as a white person I, and we, need to understand, however, is that black people in this country have a very different life experience. African Americans in our nation not only have the history of slavery in their past, but the continued systemic racism in the not-so-distant past with Jim Crow laws.
Last week my friend Jaime mentioned the Mahalia Jackson song “When I Wake Up In Glory.” She said, “The older I get, the more I understand why the ancestors sung so much about leaving this place. Why stay where you’re not welcomed?”
Can you imagine not feeling welcomed where you live? I’m not sure as a white person that we can truly understand that because there’s not a history of actual laws that prevented us from being in certain places because of the color of our skin.
I listened to the song Jaime mentioned as I wrote this and all I could do was put my face in my hands and cry. To think that not only personal friends of mine, but an entire race of people don’t feel welcomed here, it is heartbreaking.
Jim Crow laws are a thing of the past now, but black people are still not seen as equals and are treated differently in many places. No, not all black people are being shot down. Yes, there are many who have black, Asian, Hispanic friends that they love equally. But what as white people we do need to realize is that there are blacks and other minority groups in our country who are not being treated fairly — and they are even paying with their lives in some cases.
I don’t have the answers to fix police corruption or to fix individuals who go out and shoot people just because they don’t like them. I don’t have those answers. I wish I did. What I do know, is that we have to come to a place where we are not treating others differently and with less respect because of their skin color — not to mention their religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc.
Living in a small rural county with a small minority population, I hear people all the time refer to “The blacks” or “The Mexicans” as if having a different skin tone or being from another country makes you some sort of entity to be feared or disregarded.
I’m reminded of the old county song “Skip a Rope.” The song talks about the funny things overheard from children. Included in amongst cheating on your taxes and ignoring the rules of a game just playing to win, is a line about hating your neighbor for the shade of their skin. The song blatantly calls out parents as the ones to blame and in the end says “it’s not very funny what the children say.”
Until we learn to respect, love and honor our differences, rather than put others down who are different and until we teach our children that same lesson, we will continue to live in a most heartbreaking world.
My heart goes out to the family and friends of Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Cynthia Hurd, Tywanza Sanders, Myra Thompson, Ethel Lance, the Rev. Daniel L. Simmons, Susie Jackson and DePayne Doctor, who lost their lives last week while worshiping in their church Emanuel AME in Charleston, South Carolina.
Kitsey E. Burns is a reporter for The Yadkin Ripple, here she shares her musings on food, life and love. She can be reached at 336-679-2341 or on Twitter @RippleReporterK.