Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Covering our Buts

The inability to hear my own discriminatory language
comes automatically with white privilege.

I've been blessed
by my parents, teachers, friends, and aquaintances
who have taken the time to
call me on my own racist speech
across my lifetime.

I've internalized what they've told me,
and now I try to prescreen
what comes out of my mouth.

Too often there is still
a cognitive step
between the garbage I think
and what I actually say.

While I've lost most of my fear
of the potential of living with dementia
in my later years,
I'm aware that one of my lingering fears
of cognitive decline
comes in the fear
that I will lose that cognitive step,
that inner filter,
and say things that spring forth
from the racial tensions
and biases I've soaked in
my whole life
from the culture around me.

I'm struggling this week
with my responsibility
to address, not just the racism I say,
but the racism I hear
and don't address.

I've often failed to say anything
when people I love say things
that trouble me.
Because I love them,
because I know they are struggling
to be better than the culture around them,
because I know in certain regions
I call home
everyone talks like that.
And, let's face it,
because I don't want to stir up trouble,
or cause them to love me less.

But we need to start
holding one another accountable
to hear the things we say
that represent our inherited biases.

We need to continue to work
on our language,
and hope our hearts change as well.

So, a couple thoughts on
covering our buts.

If a sentence begins
with the phrase
"I don't want to sound racist, but..."
then the horse has already left the barn,
the chicken has already flown the coop.
Pretty much any sentence that begins with
"I don't want to sound racist, but....,"
well, that sentence already sounds racist.

And we wouldn't use that phrase if
somewhere in our hearts
we didn't think so, too.

So we need to listen for that phrase
and eliminate it.
And we need to think
about what we are saying after it,
and whether it needs to be said.
Why does it sound racist?
Maybe because it is?

The second place we can cover our buts:
Any sentence that includes
a positive description of someone
and the word "but."

She's black, but she's a good nurse.
He's gay, but he's a good neighbor.
 She's Mexican, but she's really smart.


We need to keep that "but"
and hear instead
the lesson that
people of all races, ethnicities, and persuasions
have gifts and challenges.

Noticing our language
gives us an opportunity
to hear the biases we've learned
whether we wanted to or not.

And so, I ask you,
even if we don't have the kind
of relationship where
we have a covenant
of mutual accountability,
even if we are barely
polite acquaintances,
tell me when my butt shows.
Tell me when I say things
that I don't even hear.
Tell me in love,
and help me battle
my own blindness and deafness
of privilege and bias.

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