So much has happened in so little time. We are all adjusting to a new reality of quarantines, stay-at-home challenges, and social distancing. Kids are not in school, public places are empty, and some businesses face at least short-term closure. I have run into more people on the trail than usual. It is an odd interaction. Somewhat suspicious really, or maybe healthy homophobia? Even when mom and I ran into some very close friends taking the dogs for a walk, we didn’t hug each other. I did hug one of my girls I coached when I saw her while I was running through the neighborhoods. It was so instinctual; I didn’t consider until I continued on that maybe I shouldn’t have. Crazy right, but it’s a real thing. I am not trying to be the reckless rebel who disregards all the precautions and dismisses the severity of this virus. I want it to subside and be contained like everybody else, so we can be with each other freely again, return to work and school. For now, though, staying put at home, probably not hugging people outside of family, and social distancing are the recommendations.
I was quite unsettled this morning. I got up a little later than usual because I took some Benadryl yesterday afternoon. Enough said. That stuff is potent. I didn’t just take it to sleep better; it is such an artificial better honestly. It keeps you asleep for sure, but I woke up groggy rather than refreshed. Anyway, I did have an allergic reaction. I thought maybe I was over not being able to eat tuna. Mom had bought a different brand, and it was low in mercury, so I thought I would give it a go. No joy. Right away my mouth started to swell, and my lower lip was itchy. Super bummed- Benadryl it was.
I decided to go on a run. Not only was my body feeling the potency of the medicine, but I also went to bed a little too full for my liking. I felt like I needed to reset things physically, put my body right again, and usually, running is the remedy. I think part of me knew this before starting, but mom spoke it; she said to me as I was walking out the door, “make sure you aren’t punishing your body just because you’re frustrated with something.” How are moms always right. No way was I admitting it.
I responded a genuinely civil “I know” and left.
It turns out my spirit was in need to be put right again. My mind needed a reset. There was something or many things poking and prodding deep within me, aching to be voiced. I do not know for sure, but it seems these are the times I hear God most clearly, or at least have a greater level of attentiveness to His voice. The growing pains and shedding always land me at His feet, whether I take the given route or my stubborn, long way around. Either way, there is a degree of adjustment and pain going from blindness to seeing. Occasionally, a legit smack in the face.
The degree given me this morning was from slavery and segregation to social distancing. Straight up. The odd, somewhat suspicious or homophobic feeling I had seeing our friends on the trail and just going by people is unfamiliar to me, but it is not altogether unfamiliar. Social distancing in precaution with not spreading the corona virus is the context for this unspoken “don’t get too close, you could be carrying the disease” sentiment. Imagine, my fellow white folks, the context for this sentiment being the very color of your skin. We cannot.
The truth is our black brothers and sisters are very familiar with being on the receiving end of this suspicion, accusation even. Accusation that there is something bad, unwanted about them. Something that is contagious and could be caught if coming too close. Six feet is the recommendation now, but before, it was separate toilets, separate drinking fountains, separate movies theatres, separate eating spaces, separate schools, separate everything. The signs were unmistakable, and in your face, then. Now, the signs are more subtle. Only bad people are racist, so us good people have to hide our biases. Or pretend them nonexistent. I’m good, I have close friends who are black. I’m good, my cousin is married to a black guy. I’m not racist, I am mentored by a black man whom I love.
Robin D’Angelo, in a video called “Destructing White Privilege,” poses the following questions to all us good, non-racist white people. What is a good neighborhood? A bad neighborhood? What is a good school? Bad school? Her response reveals the truth in all of our white hearts and minds.
“Value, in the mind of a white person, is measured by the absence of people of color.”
Value, in my mind, is measured by the absence of people of color. Value, in my mom’s mind, is valued by the absence of people of color. Value, in my brother’s mind, is measured by the absence of people of color. Value, in the white American mind, is measured by the absence of people of color. If it was not, Robin D’Angelo considers, “we would be given the perspectives and experiences of people of color by our government, parents, teachers, etc.” And we are not. She reasons it is a very real possibility that as a white person, we could go to our graves without anyone in our lives modeling the opposite or even speaking the reality of this truth to us.
The signs now are in the “good” and “bad” neighborhoods and schools. The signs manifest due to my “internalized superiority and investment in the racial order,” a pillar of white privilege [Robin D’Angelo]. The signs are in my very white subdivision and the mostly black subdivision next door. Redlining. Police brutality. The inherent racism now is me nicknaming a black friend of mine, seemingly affectionate in my intentions but subconsciously adjusting his name because it is too black. Keeping him six feet.
I don’t know what it is like to feel accused, unwanted, viral, because of my skin color. I do know I have been the accuser. Maybe not always in action but undoubtably in my heart and thoughts. I have perpetuated the social distancing sentiment not due to any real contagious virus, rather due to the virus of bias, due to my “personality being formed in white supremacy.” As D’Angelo concludes, the proper response to this truth is “not to be racked in guilt by it but be responsible for changing it.”
I am responsible for deconstructing the social distancing sentiment towards people of color inside of me. Responsible for unlearning value being measured by the absence of people of color. Responsible for voicing the inherent privilege the white color of my skin gives me and using it to ask for the perspectives and experiences of people of color. Six feet can be for viruses, not for human beings.