The ongoing protests seem to have struck a chord. Perhaps we have arrived at the tipping point in America where systemic racism will finally be brought to light. But that also means that progressive White people also need to reflect on the lies of “not having a racist bone in my body.” I count myself among them, despite priding myself on a supposed open heart. I recognize the need for facing my implicit biases, too.
Recently I watched my first interview hosted by Damon Young, a brilliant Black author from Pittsburgh’s North Side, hosted by City of Asylum Bookstore. It won’t be my last. A colleague introduced the video chat to a group of us; another colleague mentioned Damon was a friend. He was interviewing Bassey Ikpi. During her interview, she talked about the fear she felt when she entered a part of town with a lot of White people. She also talked about her distrust when seeing White people in HER neighborhood, like why are you here? That’s the same sentiment I’ve heard from White people in “nice” neighborhoods my whole life. It makes me wonder if we will always try to separate ourselves.
Earlier that same day, a notary came to my house for me to sign paperwork for a refinance on my mortgage (thank you, tanking economy, for some good news with falling interest rates). Anyway, a few text exchanges with the woman who was coming made me think she was someone slightly snotty, wanting things a certain kind of way.
When she rolled up, I was immediately relieved for two reasons 1) she drove a Lexus SUV with a high enough wheelbase to traverse my driveway without scraping and 2) when she got out of the car, I saw she was Black. Now why would that fact alone put me at ease? Black people can’t be snobs?
The more I reflect on this – and our conversation while I cramped my hand signing my name countless times – I’ve come to realize that the Black people I’ve known well inherently understand my financial struggles because they also come from a position of less-than.
I recall a story of a friend showing up to work a bit late and a bit sweaty one day saying they had to walk to work that morning because “they took” the car, not understanding that it had been repossessed until that was spelled out for me.
“It’s all right, we all just tryn’ to get on by.”
Yet, this woman, the notary, was doing very well for herself as an entrepreneur. Still, in hindsight, I wonder how it felt driving out to my place, likely seeing tons of TRUMP signs in yards. Did she worry about her safety? Did I when I was going to strange places to broker mortgage refinances? No. Perhaps I was naive. Or perhaps that was White privilege. Even when I went into Black neighborhoods or rough White rural areas, touting my bag of paperwork to save a family money, I bounced in without a concern about my safety.
The one thing I have learned through all these recent discussions is that I have a LOT more to learn. I know far less than I ever imagined… and having an open heart isn’t enough.