I just finished reading a really powerful book by David Yoon called Frankly In Love. And while it had more instances of the “f” word than I’d prefer to see in a YA novel (which is, to say, there should be none), it was a really well-written, really powerful novel about racism and community and family and love. And I want to put a lot of stress on the powerful message it sends about racism.
You see, racism, like an accent, is a learned behavior. I know this, because I grew up in a small town that had racism figured out. This town was the best at it. They were so good at it, you wouldn’t even believe that they knew certain historical events had occurred, like, you know, the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Oh, don’t get me wrong, everyone attended the same schools, and city leaders and businessmen obeyed the Civil Rights Act to the letter of the law. It wasn’t that kind of segregation. This town had a different kind. A mutual kind. There was an “understanding” between the races. One race stayed out of the way of the other race and vice versa. They generally didn’t shop at the same stores, eat at the same restaurants, attend the same churches, or go to very many of the same social events. And neither side was fighting for it to be different. No one, and I mean NO ONE, was pushing the barriers of the segregation this town had built. It just was.
It’s different there now, of course. People finally started waking up to the stupidity of it all, and there is more integration there. I think. I hope. I choose to believe. But, sometimes, I still find it hard to believe that for more than 20 years after the Civil Rights Act, we were still so segregated in so many parts of our lives, despite the integration of our schools.
But, you see, it was a learned behavior. One generation taught it to the next, who taught it to the next, who taught it to the next, and so on. It was wrong. It was unfair. It was utterly stupid. But for all of the generations prior to mine, and maybe after mine, it was handed down as an understood way of life.
I haven’t said much about the recent protests that have broken out around the nation. To be honest, I didn’t feel I had the right. Not because I don’t have an understanding of what racism is and what it isn’t, but because I’ve never experienced it in the way some of the most beloved people in my life have. David Yoon explains it really well in his novel:
I call myself Korean-American, always leading first with Korean or Asian, then the silent hyphen, then ending with American. Never just American.
White people can describe themselves with just American. Only when pressed do they go into their ethnic heritage. Doesn’t seem fair that I have to forever explain my origin story with that silent hyphen, whereas white people don’t.
I’ve never had to check “Other” when identifying myself by my race. I’ve never had to search the doll section or an avatar customizer for a skin color or hairstyle that was “close enough” to my own. I’ve never been called a racial slur in my life. A racist? Yeah. I’ve been called that. It hurts, but I understand how easy it can be to paint everyone with the same brush without context. But no one has ever called me an offensive racial name. I’ve always been “American”, “Caucasian”, “White” (and once, by a group of unsuspecting girls at school, “Poor little rich girl” Ha! If only they knew).
So, I didn’t think I had the right to speak up about racial inequality, because I’ve never experienced it.
But then, I read this book, and I realized that everyone has the right to speak up about it. Because if you’ve never experienced it, you need to be a voice that speaks out against it.
I can admit in the face of the state of our nation, that I was once racist. I’m not proud of that aspect of my personal history, but, there it is, the truth. I once lived in fear of my brothers and sisters from the other side of town. I said things I wish I could take back. I was a little bit racist for a very long time.
And then I met a beautiful, wonderful Hispanic woman who became my hero.
And then, I met a beautiful, wonderful Black woman who became one of my best friends.
And then, I met a beautiful, wonderful African woman who became my sister.
And so on.
And so on.
And so on.
I can’t fix the collective past. I don’t know what the future holds. I only know one thing:
Love is large and incredibly patient. Love is gentle and consistently kind to all. It refuses to be jealous when blessing comes to someone else. Love does not brag about one’s achievements nor inflate its own importance. Love does not traffic in shame and disrespect, nor selfishly seek its own honor. Love is not easily irritated or quick to take offense. Love joyfully celebrates honesty and finds no delight in what is wrong. Love is a safe place of shelter, for it never stops believing the best for others. Love never takes failure as defeat, for it never gives up. Love never stops loving.
1 Corinthians 13:4-8a (The Passion Translation)
If Love can’t fix the problems of the world, then nothing can. So, I ask you, my sisters and brothers:
Love One Another. Today. Tomorrow. Always.