I’m Confronted with Racism so often, I Doubt my Perception of Reality.
Like everyone in quarantine, I’m doing my best to maintain a semblance of normalcy. By the end of the day, I’d prefer some ab-normalcy.
I watch a movie. For probably the 400th time, Despicable Me rolls across our television screen. Like a child, I’ve memorized the action: Gru reads his girls a bedtime story. He comes home early from the moon so he’ll make it to their dance recital. (Granted, he should have rescheduled the moon trip.) He rescues his little ones from doom by performing athletic feats that scare the poop out of him. As Gru learns his parenting lessons, and the girls relax into the safety of his villainous mad scientist hangout, I feel cuddled up and cared for.
While anticipating this loveliness, which happens at the end of the story, I notice a previously innocuous scene, which happens at the beginning: Gru steals a shrink ray from evil scientists in an Eastern country. Cue the evil shrink ray scientists. They are racist caricatures of east Asians, straight out of 1930s xenophobia. Round black glasses, buck teeth.
My jaw drops open. I want to unsee the evil shrink ray inventors, but their cameo performance burns an after-image. My mouth stays agape until well after Gru flies home with his prize.
It sickens me that I missed the detail during the previous 399 viewings. And that the rest of the world missed it, too. Or didn’t care.
My favorite movie slaps me in the face.
I realize my husband is white. Sure, after fifteen years, I probably could have noticed this sooner.
Today, we’re holding hands as we take a walk through our white neighborhood. Ben detours off the street into Neighbor Tim’s driveway. I drop his hand. He strolls within inches of Neighbor Tim’s kitchen window. I freeze. Ohmigod. What if Neighbor Tim is looking out the window right now? Ben strides up the driveway toward the backyard. My heart races. You can’t just walk up into somebody’s private property. Ben says, “Let’s check out Tim’s new greenhouse that he — .” I don’t catch the rest of it. I flee.
The entire neighborhood watch team is probably punching in nine-one-one right now, and the police are going to kill me when they get here.
My husband strolls through our life inside his white-man skin, which is impervious to race-centric air currents.
Later, I set dinner on the table. “Honey, I just realized you’re white.”
“Can you hand me the salt?” he asks.
I pass the salt. “The book that’s going around. The one that says all white people are racist. Do you think you’re racist?”
He shrugs his shoulders. “Oh yeah.”
I snort laugh and stab my peas. “But how?”
“I know I’m racist, but I don’t have clarity about the details yet.”
Hearing this, I feel less crazy, like I’m not alone.
I tune in to my Zoom yoga class.
Before quarantine, yoga studio had been my self-care home. The owner had hired a black teacher and a brown teacher. They were my first non-white teachers in thirty years of practice. During every class before quarantine, my buttons popped with pride about the studio. My studio gets it. They get me. I barely made it through classes dry-eyed. My black teacher and my brown teacher led us students through our poses, and we students followed their instructions, as though this scenario was ordinary.
But ever since these teachers came on board, the sizes of their classes steadily declined.
Today, I tune in to my Zoom yoga. I’ve been told the white teacher still has half a dozen students in her class. There’s only one person in the black teacher’s classes, and only one in the brown teacher’s class— little black me. I realize it’s been this way for weeks. The students at my studio do not attend the classes taught by the black and brown teachers. I have private lessons. Separate, but equal.
I feel erased.
I must be crazy. I’ve become the lunatic who sees racism everywhere.
I search for a lunacy cure. I meditate. If I sink into the craziness and come out the other side, I might not get to peace, but maybe I’ll get to clarity. My mind races. My skin vibrates. I’m going to fly apart. There is no other side .
I need to ground myself. Stand in mountain pose. My toes spread across the ground. Roots grow from my feet down through the floor, through the foundation of the house, down to core of the earth. My head rises into the clouds. The winds up here buffet Mount Dawn into a pile of gravel. My mind is still racing, so I may as well give it some useful information to work with.
I find a podcast — a therapist who specializes in trauma, inclusion, and social justice. Her voice is soothing. She’s local. She can help me. She provides her contact info; she can be reached through a mindfulness group website. I land on the “About” page, which greets me with a full-spread photo of people meditating on a lawn. They’re serene. They’re peaceful. They’re all white.
I see racism everywhere.
Why don’t you?