The Unlearning

My first time becoming aware of my race in a serious way was when my family and I went to the Sears store in Compton. It was close to home, but “over the bridge.” Kind of like being “on the other side of the tracks” in a similar metaphor.

Going was a welcome outing whenever we needed something at our favorite department store. As white people, we were in the minority among the shoppers, but I don’t remember that as much as I remember a conversation on one of our shopping trips.

It wasn’t a conversation I was privy to, but I knew it was important. One day, a friend of a friend of my mom’s stopped us. She was a white woman working at Sears at the jewelry or makeup counter, I think. She talked softly to my mom and that was our last time shopping at this Sears store. I don’t remember when my mom told me, but later she did say that she was told it wasn’t safe to shop there any more.

Most of us can imagine how that encounter shaped me and my beliefs about being afraid of Black people. The older generation passed it right along to me. By God’s grace and with lots of unlearning and re-education in antiracism work by Black women like Rachel, Layla, Danielle, Naomi and others. I am beginning to change, to speak up, and fight for change in how Black people are treated and how to dismantle white supremacy.

It’s not white people that are unsafe in America. It’s Black people who are more likely to die of Covid-19, be poisoned by the environment in their own homes and communities, die in childbirth, have less access to education and medical care, and so much more. Black people are harassed, threatened and killed by police. Vigilantes kill Black joggers. Fearmongers threaten Black bird watchers with death by police. Black women and men are killed in their homes by on- and off-duty police.

The fact that I have come to notice and admit that my white daughters and their white husbands are safe to jog, get pulled over for traffic violations, bird watch, and go to Sears, and the fact that many of our Black brothers and sisters are not–has been a painful, necessary, and important evolution in my life. May God use this evolution in many people to help make the changes needed for our country to get a fresh start. 

Today’s Isolation Journal prompt was created by Defne Egbo. “Reflect on the first time you became aware of race—either yours or someone else’s. What meaning did you make of it then? How has that meaning evolved?”

Today is Sunday, Day 103 in Bahrain, day 68 of The Isolation Journals with Suleika Jaouad.

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