The events of Charlottesville brought me here.
But it didn’t start with that.
It didn’t start with every single microagression I’ve experienced.
It didn’t even start with the out and out hostility and racism my daughter and I experienced. She’s only one y’all.
I don’t know when it started. Maybe it was the fence that separated my predominantly black neighborhood from the predominantly white neighborhood.
Maybe it was that by middle school, when it was time to sit with people at lunch, “we” all coincidentally sat with each other.
Maybe it was college. No, it was too late by then. Diversity! Equality! Peace and love worldwide. Yet, by mid semester it had already happened. My white friends were undeniably isolated from my friends of color. They didn’t dislike each other…I just figured they didn’t have things in common.
The thing is, I don’t know when I began accepting racism in my life.
Kasey, the roommate, the nice person, the bigot
I’ll preface this with an obvious point. Kasey is actually a person. But she is not the only person I’ve encountered this way. Don’t think that you can’t be Kasey, too.
Kasey was not my first roommate. She and I met during student orientation and our class size was fairly small. She was quiet, kind, and curious. Kasey had a physical disability and occasionally needed help. Many classmates had no issue helping her if they could.
Kasey was, in a word, a young woman who appreciated compassion.
When I had a falling out with my first roommate, Kasey welcomed me (hers had dropped out or something). Things were actually pretty good–barring two girls sharing a space. She was quiet, went home a lot, and that was it.
As time went on, I began to learn more about her.
- She was a devout Catholic.
- She only attended Catholic schools.
- She had known only 1-2 black people closely her entire life.
- She did not travel much or see much of the country/world, through no fault of her own.
Kasey and I grew closer. I’m not overly afraid of expressing my opinion. But she was. We had a lot of talks. First, about her pro-life and my pro-choice stance.
Was she so unreasonable? I began asking myself. The girl doesn’t know any different. If she fully ascribes to a religious belief that abortion is murder, what can I really say for her to see another point of view? She didn’t need to agree, I thought. I just hoped she would be willing to listen to my point of view.
And so the seeds were planted. I just HAVE to respect her opinion. That’s being an adult.
As I grew closer, especially to my international/POC friends, I felt distance between Kasey and I. She engaged less and less.
And then it happened.
My close friend Grace was dealing with an ill grandmother, who had recently passed away. Her grandmother was her world…much like mine. Grace was Hindu and Indian-American, and it was only with time that I grew to understand how hard this death was to her.
“But Shanyce, if my grandma died I’d be torn up too!!! ”
Stop for a minute and digest what I just wrote. Do not make my friend’s grieving process about you.
Her grandmother was equally as significant as her mother and father. Wherever her mom and dad were, her grandmother was. What Grace knew of India, much of it was from her Grandmother. All of that was lost. Maybe you get it, maybe you don’t. But you should try to understand that without making it about you.
Grace, teary eyed, came to my room understandably upset that she could not be home to grieve. She found solace and comfort in my dorm room many times over the course of a few weeks.
Kasey was getting annoyed by it.
She said to me, after Grace had left the room, “well she went home for nearly two weeks! I don’t get how that’s not enough time. You bury them and you’re sad but a funeral is only a day. She has to get back to her school work eventually.”
Grace returned to my room. She was always welcome. Grace was discussing funeral plans and Kasey was uncharacteristically interested in the discussion. Like a battered spouse, I hoped this was her redeeming moment. The one where she expressed gratitude for my friend’s openness. That Mark was wrong about her!
“In Hinduism, we don’t bury our dead. We are to cremate them, and place the ashes in the River Ganges. My grandma, well we couldn’t afford to go to India so we placed her in the Nyack River with the hope she will find her way to the Ganges,” Grace said, fighting back tears.
Without hesitation, Kasey balked, “Ew, I couldn’t imagine BURNING MY FAMILY MEMBER!”
At that point Grace and I stared at Kasey. Grace was clearly about to cry.
“Well Grace, I think that’s a beautiful way to honor your Grandmother and send her home,” I said.
But let me tell you something. It’s been nearly nine years to that day. I am older, chubbier and hopefully wiser.
I made a mistake that day.
But Shanyce, you took your friend’s side and defended her culture! I would’ve done the same thing! You’ve probably just said to yourself.
No, I didn’t. I failed my friend that day and neither of us probably realized it.
Why are we here? At this point, where racists can parade the streets in the thousands, run over a woman, and we actually are trying to place blame on all sides?
Because of people like me. Because of people like Kasey.
I know what I did that day. I glanced over Kasey’s hurtful comments because it was convenient. Because I liked Kasey. Because Kasey didn’t “deserve” to be called out, made uncomfortable, accused, whatever you’d like to call it. Because perhaps by making a supportive stance toward Grace, I wasn’t enabling Kasey.What a lie I told myself. What had I said to Kasey that day for her to realize she hurt my friend? That she hurt people?
Enabling behavior, simply put, shields people from experiencing the full impact and consequences of their behavior. Enabling is different from helping and supporting in that it allows the enabled person to be irresponsible.
“Oh, come on, Shanyce…”
It actually gets worse. And I’m to blame.
Later it’s just Kasey and I. I meagerly try to “understand her side.” What did I mean by this? I guess, I really just wanted to hear Kasey reaffirm she really is totally nice, not a racist, not a bigot, and that her words came out wrong. Any excuse that anyone would make.
“Well, it’s a shame…Grace is nice. Really, super nice and my heart is at conflict with that,” Kasey said.
What? What are you trying to say, my nice, sweet roommate?
Until finally, slowly, Kasey said it. I could see her struggling with the words.
“In my religion, people like Grace won’t be going to Heaven.”
The walls of our small room suddenly explanded a million miles. Not only was I failing Grace earlier, I was failing her again.
I wish I could tell you that College Shanyce stood up right there, and had eloquent words challenging Kasey’s hateful statements. But I didn’t. I just sat there, hurt. I sat hurt, as I learned the Kasey was aloof with my friends because her religion dictated such.
And now here I am.
I want to think I am more radical against racism and intolerance than I was that day, that year, every year…but I’m not.
The only difference is that I KNOW the people I like and love are racist. And I allow it. I enable it. I excuse it.
I convince myself I don’t really want to remove someone from my life over “just a little racism.” I don’t really want to start a fight. I don’t really want to cause problems for my dear, white friends and family. This is all more important than stopping their harm. It’s just easier for me to chuckle, talk shit later, be passive aggressive on Facebook, or worst of all just say and do nothing.
All of this is more important than letting them know they’re hurting me.
I’m running out of room. I’m being smothered. I don’t know. Damn it, why is prejudice and hate an acceptable opinion? What the hell is wrong with me?
Why must I be the bigger person and let racists roam free in my life? Why?
Because they’re Kasey. Because they’ve invited me to dinner and we’ve shared laughs and loves, even. Because we can disagree on a lot. Because I love them. Because I’m afraid if I let them go, I can’t “fix” them.
How do I tell my daughter to reject hate, reject racism, but do so without causing drama or losing friends, upsetting family, or putting herself at risk?
How do we make the world better for our children? By asking racists nicely to go away? By ignoring them, over, and over, and over, while the POC affected by their hate are diminished to politics/media?
Let me be clear. When you are silent, you are not helping anyone. You are not an ally. You are not “waiting for the facts to come out,” you are not too busy, you are not “trying to understand both sides,” YOU ARE NOT HELPING ANYONE.
You are complicit. You are accepting of things the way they are. You are putting racism on a scale in which you have admitted it is not worth standing up against.
You’ve told stories, you’ve believed stories, that somehow free hate speech is more important than those who oppose it. Or they’re equal! Yeah, that sounds good.
You somehow believed that the media, dominated by white males is somehow causing a racial division you’ve just been ignorant of your entire life. You somehow believe a group that says Black Lives Matter means I’m not allowed to say my life matters.
If I just pretended everything was fine, you would feel better. If I just accepted your racism as opinion, we could still be friends. And maybe at this point we are. Maybe you’ve convinced me that I’m intolerant if I don’t accept your racism.
I feel like I’m being abused. If I leave you, racist friend or family, I’m not giving “us” a chance. I’m failing to see the good. I’m gonna a let “them” tear us apart! Over such a little thing. How dare I ask you to change. No, I must change. I must stop “getting offended” and causing drama and fueling the divide.
For Grace’s sake, for my own, and for my daughter, nothing is more important than standing up to prejudice and racism.
And so for that, I have to find the strength to stand up to you, and leave you.