FULL DISCLOSURE: I am a middle-aged, White woman who lives in a predominantly White area. I am privileged in ways that I probably don’t even comprehend. As a mom, I have never had to have “the talk” with my son about what to do if he is pulled over by the police, other than be respectful and follow instructions. That will be enough to get him home safely.
I have heard comments from people in my community expressing worries about “them” moving into their neighborhoods, knowing full well what they mean. I’m ashamed to say I didn’t speak up as many times as I should have.
But then it became personal. My reality changed when my oldest daughter began dating her boyfriend. He is Black and, because of that, my eyes were suddenly opened to a whole new world—and my own blindness when it came to the issue of race. I began to notice the way people looked at him when we were out somewhere. I saw the expressions when I introduced him as my daughter’s boyfriend.
The responses elicited a wide range of emotions within me. I was mad, sad, and disappointed to witness people’s reactions to this wonderful young man. The only logical conclusion I could come to was that it was because of the color of his skin. Now, maybe, I’m just being overly paranoid, but what I do know is that it is not the same reaction we received with my daughter’s previous boyfriends, who happened to share her ethnic background.
In fact, as I write this, I wonder and worry what the reaction to this column will be.
A Look Inward
But amid this new personal revelation, I also found myself questioning if I had ever had a similar reaction at some point in my life. Was I part of the problem? Have I ever bought into any of the stereotypes? After all, I hadn’t really met many people of color or various ethnicities until college. I tried to take a hard look in the mirror and accept my own sins when it came to racial issues. And I begged for forgiveness for when I was part of the problem.
Even within our own Catholic Church, people of color seem to be kept to the margins. There are currently just five living African American bishops, and only two of them head dioceses.
It is one thing to worry about a grown man, but I am now preparing to face that reality for my granddaughter. I’m even more aware and concerned about what she might face. If she is assertive, will it be interpreted as being aggressive? Will she get the same stares and expressions that her father did? I pray that she won’t, but I have a suspicion that at some point she will.
And while I will be fiercely defensive of my perfect granddaughter (sorry, this grandma couldn’t help herself), I also am aware that I still have much to learn myself. We all do. To do that, we have to take a hard look at ourselves and stop making assumptions about people we have isolated ourselves from. We need to start opening our hearts to our fellow children of God—including my granddaughter.