I just read a great post by Sean at Camden Free Press, I Found My Heart in Africa.
He had a great visit to the African continent and had a transformative experience. Even amidst the brutality and suffering of the country he visited, he found beauty, soul, and hope. I'm betting he brings that new resilience back to Camden.
I have a friend that is as tough as nails and recently went through a bit of a personal challenge. She is black and was challenged by a white person in a way that was both humiliating and dangerous. She figured out a way to come out the other side while being generous and leaving her challenger some dignity.
It strikes me that no matter how much I can empathize with these two people, there is no means by which I can walk in their shoes. Sometimes people talk about women's struggles for equality as a parallel experience for racial inequality. But it is not the same if you are a white woman. Race trumps gender. I may have some inkling, but it is no substitute for racial oppression.
I raise this issue not to suggest that my friends have it worse than I do. To the contrary, I think they each have experienced a liberation in their own way that I will never know. Sitting blithly in my white skin, I will never experience that liberation. I can only project what that transformative feeling of freedom from internalized oppression must feel like. I'm probably not even expressing this very well. Reading this, it sounds condescending that you have to be oppressed to be able to feel good. That is not what I am trying to say. I am expressing that racial oppression and liberation are not something I can adequately understand. And because of that, I am ill equipped to give any person of color advice or comment on this issue. I think I have always understood that, but I probably have crossed the line many times in my attempt to be a do-gooder and empathetic. No matter how much I want to be those things, I can't. I can only be supportive. I can't be the doer.
But I can speak to white people. And that is origianally why I started this blog. I used to live in a place that had a lot of white people in the city and a substantial population of color. Now I live in a city that has a population almost exclusively people of color. I think this has had more of an impact on me than I realized. I think because I have not had anywhere to retreat, I created a little bubble of self-righteousness and intellectualism. The great white educator with some new thinking for the downtrodden Camden. I think I am probably overstating all this for effect, but it strikes me that I have been in retreat because I have never lived in an all minority city. I started my career in an all minority workplace. I had the same reaction then as I have had here. But I am much more aware and equipped to be effective now than I was then.
So maybe now I can make peace with my landing here in Camden, which has been a strange and fitfull journey for me. Maybe this is my liberation.