When I married an African American man 16 years ago, I had my concerns about the future, but really, race wasn’t one of them. I thought that beyond the challenges of culture between us personally, my husband’s race wouldn’t matter. Yes, racism still existed, but it’s not like it’s that bad or it would affect someone as smart, hardworking and impressive as my husband obviously was (er, is. Hi, honey!) I was so wrong. Over the years, my husband’s race has determined where we can live, our ability to get a mortgage or car loan, his work conditions and even if he comes home in a terrible mood after a run in with someone who felt no need to hide their disdain for my husband’s skin tone and facial features. (And yes, on a couple of very rare occasions, that “someone” was a police officer.) To name a few ways that my husband’s race has affected our lives.
Even harder than dealing with these practical problems, frankly, was the process I went through as a white American seeing black lives up close and personal, over the course of time. You see, I didn’t marry my husband as some left-wing, PC devotee. I had never taken an ethnic studies class. I was like a lot of white Americans; I thought racism was a small issue that didn’t matter much, except in rare cases.
Obviously I never was racist in the way that a rational person would define racist – I married a black man. But I had been raised white in a pointedly white suburb of Chicago. I didn’t even realize that white people had a role in our race problems. I thought, like a lot of white people do, that our race problems were the result of African Americans not being able to get their acts together. White people didn’t care about race, I believed. What they cared about was poor behavior, people having kids with multiple partners and crime and bad attitudes and disrespect and laziness. And obviously, those were all matters of character, which as the sainted black man Martin Luther King Jr said, is what we ought to judge each other by.
I was certain that there were problems with the narrative on race that I had been given. But I figured it had its truth. However, after 20+ years in intimate relationships with African Americans, I am here to report that whatever truth there is in the narrative I was given, it’s really besides the point. It’s like scolding a drowning man for not having life insurance. After your uncle stole his life jacket and threw him overboard.
Now, that’s a big claim to make. And I could spend the next several thousand words justifying it. But I’m not going to. It wouldn’t make any difference. Just another person telling you what to think. What I will do, however, is invite you to read some of the thoughts, facts and concepts that took me from the typical white American understanding of race to a place of turning my back on it. (Like, did you know that in 1969, only 22% of white Americans thought that African Americans would be disadvantaged when looking for employment? 44% thought being black would make it easier to find a job. In 1969. Which right there kind of calls our ability to accurately perceive reality when it comes to race into question, don’t you think?)
Because I do know that most white Americans are genuinely confused and frustrated when it comes to racial issues in this country, I am making a short collection of my writings on race available for free this weekend. These are essays I wrote during the 2008 presidential campaign to explain those things which had challenged my own thinking and deepened my understanding of race in America. Reading it won’t turn you into a radical, nor will it give you the answers to all that ails us. But I hope it challenges you to think more openly and deeply about the problem of race in America.
You can download the book for free from Amazon through Monday. If you don’t have a kindle, the book can be downloaded for pretty much any device including tablet, phone and computer.