We have been ignorant AF when it’s come to racism in our culture. We’ve been privileged, we’ve been tactless, and for many of us, we did the best we knew how to do.
I’ve been reflecting on my upbringing, upon why I didn’t know I needed to do better until now. Before the recent rise of the Black Lives Matter movement (which has, by the way, existed a lot longer than this, and I did not get involved enough, at all), I would never have thought of myself as racist. I was taught to love everyone. I was taught racism is hate.
Here’s where the problem is: I was also taught not to acknowledge the differences of other colors and cultures. I was taught to act like everyone is the same, that that’s what equality means.
My first boyfriend and I started dating in the sixth grade. He was a mixed kid with the most gorgeous eyes and pants that hung so low they didn't even kind of cover his boxers. I didn’t think anything of the color of his skin. He was cute, and that was that.
I did notice, though, that he was “different.” Not directly because of the color of his skin, but because he and most of his friends - the majority of whom were people of color - came to school on a different bus.
To be clear, the reason for this was not intentional segregation. My suburban neighborhood in Massachusetts created a program that brought underprivileged kids from Boston to school in Lexington everyday, a suburb about 40 minutes out of the city with one of the best education programs in the state.
As I began to process the drastic differences in our education experiences, I absorbed the following messages: people of color didn’t live near me; kids of color needed a special program to get them to school; people of color were poor. Even if my impressionable 11-year-old self didn’t see our differences in skin color as bad, she still developed truths and beliefs about what it means to be BIPOC.
No one explained it to me at the time, nor to any of the other students, to my knowledge. Martin Luther King Jr. did a big thing, we were told, and now there’s a day on which we celebrate every year and suddenly everything is fine I guess? No more racism? Nobody said that directly, but none of us questioned it. As children, we didn't think to do so.
I never thought to ask my boyfriend-of-three-weeks about it, because I wasn’t supposed to say anything. I didn’t want to ask him where the bus he rode went everyday, or what his home was like. My understanding was that he and his friends were brought to our school so they could be the same as us.
Hi do we see a problem here? I’m literally typing this out with a disgusting taste building in my mouth. Yes, my middle school provided an opportunity for the underprivileged, and I’m glad they took that part in shifting systemic racism. They also, though, took a part in continuing it.
We should have been told why there was a difference. We should have been told the history that led us here. We should have been told why the school program was necessary to create, that it’s good to take action. We should have been told the difference between asking about someone’s life and treating them like they’re “different.” We should have been told racism never stopped, and that there’s still so much work to do.
As children, we had no way of knowing that or understanding that at the time. Now, we do.
To my fellow queens from privileged upbringings, it is time for us to acknowledge we grew up this way. It is time for us to educate ourselves and question the beliefs we were raised on - even if they came from a place of love.
I'm not talking solely about our beliefs and experiences regarding privilege, but also regarding culture. Cultures are different. We shouldn’t have grown up wanting people of color to be the same as us privileged white folk. There’s a difference between advocating for all of us to become the same and advocating for all of us to have the same rights. Cultures are different! We should be honoring and celebrating that. We should feel able to ask about beautiful cultural elements that make us curious.
Education + Organizations:
I have so much work to do and a really, really long way to go. This has its biggest, most lasting impact when we all rise up together. Please share with anyone who would benefit from this message and these resources, and thank you for showing up.