When I was about 8 years old I remember learning about the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Specifically, I remember learning that Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed on April 4, 1968; April 4 is also my birthday. It stuck with me. I went home that day, opened my text book, and reread everything from class that day. And I cried. I couldn't believe that someone could be shot dead simply because of what they looked like. It is my first memory of recognizing racism, but at such a young age I was still so far from understanding.
As a pre-teen I managed to convince my parents to let me have a television in my room. At some point I came across reruns of "Roots," a miniseries from the 1970s (I think) that depicts slave life. I remember watching in disbelief, horror, sadness, anger, fear, confusion...to name a few. I would watch it whenever it was on, trying to understand how slavery happened, why it happened, why it continued, just trying to find answers. I couldn't understand.
As a teenager I dated one of the few black guys in my school. He was a basketball player, I was a cheerleader. It made sense to us. I was met with questions like, "are you still dating that black kid?" and, "why don't you date a white guy?" from those I loved and looked up to on an almost daily basis. Most of the time I replied with a simple, "yes." But it was frustrating. Finally I'd had enough and I pushed back wanting to know why it was such a big deal. The response has stuck with me for many many years. "Black people are trying to take over the world and make everyone look like them," I was told. I was shocked, and hurt deeply by this influential person in my life. But still, I didn't understand.
As an adult I've had friends of every color, gender, age, and sexuality. I love that my friends are all unique. I love that we can support each other as humans no matter what. I love that we appreciate each other for who we are as people. But having friends of color is not enough to understand.
Five years ago I lived in Baltimore City during the riots as a result of Freddie Gray's death while in police custody. It was the first time the Black Lives Matter movement came onto my radar. At first I was a little surprised. Of course Black Lives Matter....all lives matter, I thought. We are all human. We are all equal.
I didn't get it yet.
I've spent the last five years taking the blinders off. I've started paying attention, reading, listening, learning, and looking beyond myself. It took time for me to understand what the BLM movement really means. All lives do matter, that's a given, and no one ever said they didn't. But black lives have been targeted, marginalized, and kept suppressed in ways I was never taught. I WAS WRONG five years ago when I didn't get it. I WAS WRONG my entire adult life in thinking I was not racist simply because I didn't "see color." I WAS WRONG every time I heard a racist comment and didn't say something. I WAS WRONG every time I turned a blind eye. I WAS WRONG when I didn't try harder to understand.
Over the last two weeks I have cried nearly every single day processing what is happening in our world and just beginning to understand. I don't know that I ever will, but I know I can try.
It's okay to admit you are wrong. It's okay to admit you failed. It's okay, as long as you learn and grow and do better. I am committed to being more than just "not racist." It is not enough, it has never been enough. I am so deeply remorseful that I didn't see it before; that I didn't start trying harder sooner. Today, I am actively anti-racist. I still believe all lives matter, but I also understand that Black Lives Matter needs my help to get the rest of the world to view non-white people as truly equal. I understand that major change and reform is necessary to make it happen. It isn't going to be easy. It's going to be uncomfortable. It's going to hurt. But I'm not going to give up. Ever.