Racism: Like breathing air

Racism is like trying to see air. That’s what is so frightening about this illness of heart and mind. It exists, just like air, and we breathe it but we can’t see it. Sometimes we can hear it like a rattling against the windows or we can see its effects as it disturbs leaves or rips apart homes, but we can’t apprehend racism directly. We experience it and if you are on the “white” side of it, it is harder to acknowledge the inequity of it because it doesn’t reduce your comfort. The tornado or hurricane, as it were, has touched down in someone else’s neighborhood.

I have experienced sexism and understand the obstacles to understanding on both sides of a polarizing issue. I have experienced racism once and my heart goes out to anyone who has been subject to the following description:

As Black Irish, I have been told I look Puerto Rican. When I was in San Antonio, it was if I did not exist. Caucasians looked past me because I wasn’t blond and blue-eyed. Latinos looked past me because I had white skin. I had never felt anything so disturbing in my life. It shook me to my very center. My physical attributes, unchangeable genetic coding, were the basis of their judgment. My character, my heart, my mind, and my actions played no part in the opinion they formed of me. What frightened me more was how UNCONSCIOUS their behavior was.

Racism is too complex, with its centuries of inculcation, to dismantle in a few short decades. MLK and Rosa Parks, symbols for the struggles of many unsung activists, started the process but it’s not over. This recovery idea has applicable wisdom: It takes half the time of the duration of a relationship to truly get over the breakup, sort of like the half-life of plutonium or uranium to give you a more scientific parallel. So we have a ways to go in fixing this and it’s one plodding step at a time, one day at a time, and you have to stay on top of the issue.

Bottom line: Racism exists and as long as it does, NO ONE is free.

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