I went to predominantly white schools growing up and knew that if something came up about race in my classes, or something about race was discussed with regard to current events, eyes would dart in my direction to see my reaction. I knew that if someone said something that made me feel alienated or shunned because of my race, there was little point in speaking up. Because I could have told you the response I’d have received:
“Well, I’m sure they didn’t mean it like that.”
“Maybe you misunderstood.”
In other words, “Their racist action or words are your problem, not theirs, and not even mine.” People I called friends from my college years similarly echoed the same sentiments and, if they were the ones to wrong me or ostracize me, maybe said, “I’m sorry you feel that way,” if they even mustered up the gumption to respond to my rebuke at all.
Anyone who has borne the pain of someone else’s callousness would tell you that “I’m sorry you feel that way” is not an apology. I think I have conditioned myself to have a stone-cold response, a poker face, to traumas against my race and against the black community in general. My heart has been hardened in this way, and I pray today that my heart will soften. I pray that I will feel so that I can hurt, and mourn, and respond.
I pray today that my heart will soften. I pray that I will feel so that I can hurt, and mourn, and respond.
For the past few days, I’ve been watching. I’ve been thinking before I speak. I’ve watched people warn of the danger of riots but ignore the injustice that causes them. I’ve watched those who don’t share my skin tone join protests in solidarity with those who do. I’ve watched people from my home town denounce injustice and, likewise, others ignore it and denounce only the resulting cries of protest.
I get both sides. I get it, because I’ve been watching. Woe to me if I denounce the righteous anger of my brothers and sisters and call it an overreaction. Woe to me if I ignore the physical harm done to persons in some protests that have included violence. Woe to me if I trust the media to report accurately on protests and especially on people of color (because they never have).
Woe to me if I denounce the righteous anger of my brothers and sisters and call it an overreaction. Woe to me if I ignore the physical harm done to persons in some protests that have included violence.
If I soften my heart now, in the back of my mind is the thought that after reposts and retweets, my white friends will return to their normal lives — ignoring racial injustice, excusing it, or even being a perpetrator. And I will go back to my hardened heart as I hear again, “Maybe you misunderstood” and, “I’m sure they didn’t mean it like that” and, “I’m sorry you feel that way.”
So right now, I continue to watch. I watch and I pray.
A black Catholic woman