Story Of a Racist
grew up white in a white town
not a rich town
just a regular working-class white-ass town.
I had the one signature black friend
she was on the basketball team
and I was extra nice to her
but she never seemed grateful--
and I thought, weird.
There were a couple Mexicans too
I had a hard time with their names
never could pronounce them
never really tried.
I was proud of myself for being nice
you know, extra nice because
they weren't like the rest of us
but they didn't need my niceness
they didn't need my whiteness
they didn't really need me at all.
Then I grew up and I started traveling
like really traveling
not in North America
not in Europe
I wanted to go to the places
white people don't go for vacation.
I traveled to backwater India
and the tables turned;
I was the minority there
and people pointed and laughed
or stared openly, shocked
like maybe I'd just hopped off an alien ship.
I moved to Africa, lived in a Muslim country
and did not receive a single bomb threat
or have judgment passed down on my head
for the clothing I wore or the beliefs I held.
The children would run up and touch me
and pinch my arms
or my buttocks and it wasn't like I was human at all
just a giant toy to be played with:
but to them I was the other
not a not-human, just a not-them
the first American some had ever seen
a stranger in a strange skin.
Back then I traversed the world
as if I owned it
boldly inexperienced and knowing nothing
of their culture, language, religion
while they spoke English and showed me
enormous kindness despite all barriers
despite my ignorance
for I didn't trouble to understand them
and worse, I didn't understand me
or my place in the world
I didn't know who or what I was
or how insane was our shared history.
And I began finally to realize that I couldn't act
like I was everything, like the madness was all in the past
and didn't matter.
Because I am not and it wasn't and it does.
And I tasted shame.
They knew what I didn't:
that to be brown or black or otherwise tinted
in a world that favors pink or pearl-colored skin
and blonde hair and blue eyes if you have them
is to live on a knife-edge that is sometimes sharp and
sometimes dull but is never not a knife.
And there are more times in history than not
where that edge begins to press
into your skin, begins to draw blood, begins
to draw the blood of history and bring it
to your doorstep, no, into your home
and into your life as if history
is not history at all but the present,
the shared present moment of not just your race
but the entire human race
from its ancient beginnings up until this very second.
And so yes, here I am and I have other friends now
some of them black and some brown and similarly tinted,
and many of them I love so deeply it hurts
and at times I think it hurts us both, me and the other
when I struggle to place myself in their skin and realize:
this is impossible.
To try is an insult not to be borne,
to say "I get it" is a lie
because I don't get it
I never have and if I ever do it will be because
I've been hunted down, beaten and jailed
and maybe killed for being the color that I am.
But I am older now and have seen more of the world
and also my heart has broken into more pieces
than I ever thought possible and I see now
that it will continue to break
and to break
and to break
until it is mashed into dust
but it will continue loving
and growing larger, though it is bound
by fate and not choice
with imperfect white skin
and eyes blinded from birth
that only now are beginning to see.
I was born white
raised up in a white town:
an angry-yet-fragile working-class
and more often than not I forget
what the word "lucky" means.
But not today
and when I do forget
I hope that you are listening.
If you are reading this and you could
be so kind, please help me.
Put your face next to mine
look into my eyes and talk to me:
let us tell each other once again
the shared story of who we are.