Bobbi Ann Johnson Holmes

Racism and me and you and our Facebook friends…

Social media is an interesting environment, and I suspect the generation that grew up with it will never truly appreciate how it gives them a glimpse into the world and the people we know—unlike anything before its invention.

There are many people whose paths I cross on social media. Some I knew from years ago, when I was a child or college student or young mother. Some are my real-life friends, online friends, or not really friends at all—Facebook or real life. It might be a person I knew from long ago who happens to belong to a group I do—and it has been enlightening.

During this time of turmoil there are many on social media pushing against the notion of systemic racism. Many of these people often share memes of adorable multiracial children in happy times—just to prove they are not racist.

There is a popular notion going around that many of the white people who refuse to acknowledge we have a problem do so because it never personally happened to them. We often focus on their limited life experience in this regard, and while we don’t necessarily give them a pass, we keep trying to educate them.

I have been giving this a great deal of thought after looking through my social media feeds, and I cry bullshit. Many have experienced racism—they simply never experienced it from the receiving end.

Let me explain…

One of these people I see professing the non-existence of racism, I remember her father. I remember as a child visiting her house as her father freely used the n-word and talked none too kindly about blacks. I remember being shocked, because we did not talk that way in my home. I was a small child. I said nothing, but I remembered.

Recently I crossed paths on social media with someone who I knew from years ago. This person’s feed is filled with anti-protest memes, along with photos of adorable black and white children, you know, to prove this person is not racist. However, I remember once, years ago, witnessing this person pointing to a black man on the corner and calling him a vile racist name—in my opinion worse than the N word. This black person was a stranger, just a man waiting to cross the street.

I see people I know—who claim there is no racism—twisting themselves into knots to find something derogatory to say about George Floyd or find something hinky about the video that captured the atrocity, in order to justify what was done to him.

I am a white woman who has lived most of her life in communities which were predominately white. One would assume I would have no experience with racism—and either I would be one of those people who assume it is not really happening because I never experienced it, or I would be a bleeding heart, swayed by those ugly things the media shows me, how horrible people are outside of my bubble.

But the fact is, it has always been there.

I remember being in grade school and my parents went on vacation, and my Grandma Hilda came to stay with us. While we were there, the grandson of Grandpa Pete (Hilda’s second husband) came to visit. He was in the army, and he brought along an army buddy—who happened to be black.

The grandson and friend had dinner with us, and while I rarely saw people of color, I just remember both he and Grandpa’s grandson, who I suppose was my step cousin, were very nice and we had a good time.

But after the visit a few weeks later, I remember overhearing a conversation between my parents. Apparently one of my grandmother’s sisters had thrown a fit about the “audacity” of bringing a black man to my parent’s home while they were out of town. My parents thought the aunt’s attitude ridiculous and narrow. They had absolutely no problem with my step cousin bringing his friend.

I remember once traveling on the school bus ride from Parker, Arizona to Parker Dam, California when I was a freshman. There was a black girl on the bus being verbally tormented by several white girls. I later told a boy I was dating how I should have said something. He told me to keep my mouth shut, those white girls would beat the crap out of me. I have always felt shame for remaining quiet.

I remember once in high school at Lake Havasu City, which had no black students at that time, a classmate told me that he could never like a black person. I thought that absurd, so I told him I was part black. I pointed out my dark brown eyes as proof.

He looked so sad, and said he wished I hadn’t told him. When he found out later that I was lying, he was relieved, because he thought we could be friends again. He had no idea that was no longer possible.

My point being in this long drawn out post—people see racism. Even people like me who have lived primarily in white communities. Unfortunately, many simply ascribe to the motto our first lady decided to once wear on the back of her jacket: I really don’t care, do u?

I hate labels…

Liberal, conservative, racist, Democrat, Republican, socialist, capitalist, feminist, anti-fascist, communist, patriot, and the list goes on.

Terms are often misused, misunderstood, and incorrectly applied.

This morning I had a brief chat with a friend who if we were to identify ourselves by labels, one would assume we would not agree on anything. But we do. And I suspect, many Americans agree with their fellow Americans more than they realize. 

But sometimes we cling so tightly to our personal views we refuse to take a step back and try to understand what the person on the opposing side is feeling—what they are really saying—and why they find some of your expressed views so appalling. Perhaps we are just looking at issues through different lenses, seeing things that the other person does not see.

So, what do I believe?

I believe in hard work.

I believe there is nothing wrong with making money, providing you are not exploiting or taking unfair advantages.

I believe in the social, political, and economic equality of all people regardless of race, gender, or sexual preference. 

This does not mean I believe we should put all our money into a pot and then divided it among us equally, but that our gender, race or sexual preference should not inhibit those opportunities.

I believe in the golden rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

I believe each person has the right to follow his or her faith PROVIDING they do not infringe on another person’s personal rights.

I believe in the separation of church and government.

I believe a woman has the right to control her own body, and her choices are between her, her God, and her doctor.

I believe in science.

I believe the world is round.

I believe we have a responsibility to take care of our planet for future generations.

I believe the president of the United States is an elected official who swears an oath to serve the people and follow the Constitution. He is not supposed to be a dictator.

I believe as a citizen of this country I have the right to say when I feel the president is wrong or behaving poorly, and that does not make me Anti-American. 

I believe the job of the president is to serve all people of this country once elected, not just the those who elected him. Those who did not vote for him should not be treated as his enemies, but as Americans who are entitled as any American to their rights under our constitution.

I believe in free speech but understand the words we say have consequences. Others may have to let me say what I want, but they do not have to respect me or like me after I say it.

I believe peaceful protest is our right under our constitution.

While I do not condone violent protests or looting, I also understand that I may not understand how a group might feel so frustrated—so disenfranchised—that they resort to violence. I believe that if we were more empathetic, we could avoid coming to a point of violent conflict.

I believe that as a society we should work together, for a common good. I do not believe building roads, schools, and providing health care is socialism.

I do not believe in calling people ugly names. 

I do not believe in mocking and cruel treatment of our fellow humans.

I find hypocrisy and cruelty unacceptable.

I believe we should take care of the most vulnerable in our society.

I believe dogs are generally better than people. 

(Image: in the spirit of social distancing, I decided to choose something where they are wearing masks to help protect others. I also believe we need to get through this pandemic. Stay safe people.)

Pray for empathy…

Many of us can sit at our computers and make posts about how senseless it is for rioters to burn down their own communities. We can play internet researcher and pull up memes comparing peaceful protests to violent protests. We can act superior and more civilized, shaming those who are protesting violently, and wag a finger at them, pointing out that they are in essence the root of the problem.

Yet until we have empathy and can in some way grasp the depth of their despair, their frustration, this cycle of violence—violence perpetrated by all colors—will continue.

Frankly, I don’t see any end to this until the white community—which I am a part of—can take a moment to step out of our skin and try to understand what people of color of are trying to tell us WITHOUT us making some excuse. We need to listen. We never really listen.

You are being disingenuous if you can honestly say that a murder of an impoverished young black girl doesn’t seem as tragic to our society as when a pretty little girl with blond curls and big blue eyes is murdered. 

It is one reason they came up with “Black Lives Matter.” Yet, instead of trying to listen to what they were telling us—trying to get our attention without burning down buildings—we grew incensed and accused them of saying “only black lives matter.”  We refused to listen to what they were trying to tell us. We intentionally twisted their words. We hijacked their phrase and turned it into “Blue Lives Matter.”

And while violence against police is a serious issue, it was NOT what that discussion was about. We hijacked their discussion. We refused to listen to their problem and only wanted to talk about us. 

And when a football player decided to call attention to the problem by a peaceful protest of kneeling during the National Anthem, we did not listen. Again, we got incensed and accused him of disrespecting the military, in spite of the fact we were repeatedly told that that was not what it was about. Even vets came forward and said they had fought for his right to peacefully protest.

But again, we wouldn’t listen. And those incensed made sure the protestor was punished for his audacity.

And what happens when we refuse to listen to a segment of a society? When we change the subject, make excuses, or point out something they did wrong during another time. 

The frustration builds and then something happens, like a public killing of a man by police officers and idiot people go on social media and mock the tragedy, make light of it, or turn the discussion to bad things the blacks have done over the years, instead of focusing on the tragedy at the moment and the societal problem that enabled it to happen.

What happens is people start throwing things. And I imagine there are other factors too, people behind the scene with their own agendas who provoke those already frustrated citizens for their own motives.

Until we embrace some empathy and step out of our own skin and take a moment to truly try and understand what they are telling us without us making this about us or coming up with excuses, this will never end…and if it does, it will not end well.