Once upon a time, I could afford not to care. Once upon a time, I had the luxury of being comfortable in my whiteness while casting an occasional pitying eye towards the issue of racism every now and again when a particularly devastating story hit the news. Once upon a time, I could afford not to care too much.
Then three beautiful, amazing black children became family. Almost instantly, the words my sister had repeated to me over and over about the social oppression of blacks became louder. They became real. I couldn’t love these kids and not listen.
I still resisted. I wanted to be comfortable and empathizing with an entire race living under the heavy load of systemic racism was a formidable task. I had things to do, children of my own, a job to focus on, didn’t I? What could one person possibly do anyways?
Like most white people in America, I did everything I could to stay blinded by the white light around me. To convince myself that everything was fine, racism is so much better even if it’s not perfect yet, and that by the time these kids are adults, they will have more opportunity than any black person ever has.
It’s easier to be ignorant. Comfortable. It’s easy to pretend that the thousands upon thousands of black people being attacked and unfairly incarcerated isn’t happening because, after all, they’re usually living in poverty. Poverty is the real evil here. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
But when you love someone who is black, every one of those thoughts is no longer enough. When you love someone who is black, justification doesn’t suffice. When black people become family, you’re forced out of selfishness.
Children can change everything, even if they’re not yours. Because they are innocent and naturally good, we want to take away any potential obstacles that will change that. We want them to have every chance.
And the obstacles for a black child becoming an adult are vast and, more importantly, socially changeable.
I can’t sit still about it anymore. I can’t watch it happen. I can’t let people say and do things that justify this broken system. I can’t watch people sign bullshit petitions against BlackLivesMatter, I can’t sit quietly as people make arguments about how racism is over and blacks are responsible for their own oppression, I can’t take pride in being white so much that I believe the equality of others requires my own oppression.
I can’t be that arrogant prick anymore.
You can be better than me. I was compelled to change, blasted forward by selfishness, unwilling to step into the darkness of reality until my heart required me to. You don’t have to love a black person to see what’s happening right before your very eyes. You don’t have to have black nieces and nephews; you can be better than me – many have and many more will.
And I’ll tell you why you will: because I lost a lot when I loved a black person. I lost the luxury of comfort, ignorance, and naïveté. I lost my perfect world, I lost my ideal country, I lost respect for my own race.
And that’s okay. In fact, it’s great. Because it was never about me in the first place. It’s a lie to believe it ever was. No. It’s not me that matters, it’s the community and the part I play on it. And when the community breaks and any member of the community becomes less valuable, I become less valuable. When another human being is oppressed, i cease to matter.
So it’s okay that I lost all those things, it’s okay that I don’t matter right now. Because as long as racism in the United States persists, I never mattered in the first place. And neither did you. And neither does anyone who contributes to the broken system we are part of.
It took three little people to show me what the world really looks like. But you can recognize it now: you can face the fact that you don’t matter – none of us matter – until these kids, their peers, their parents, and every one of our neighbor’s matters with us.