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I Am Not Alone

I had just finished dinner with my fiancé on Sunday, Aug. 10, when I saw the headline flash across his Internet home page, “Police: Black teen shot in Missouri was unarmed.” I found myself saying out loud, “What is wrong with the world? How many more black teenagers have to die before people get fed up and do something about it?” I felt disgusted. I felt enraged. Then in a moment, I felt helpless.

I hate to admit it, but this is often my reaction when confronted by issues of racial prejudice. I feel outrage followed immediately by fear and inaction. Racism is a deeply systemic, living, breathing organism with over 500 years of historical roots in this country. It is unendingly complicated, fraught with nuance and visceral pain – pain that I will never fully understand as a white woman. When I think about these factors, coupled with my own imperfect understanding of the biases I carry, my voice is suddenly swallowed. My rage is superseded with feelings of self-preservation, and I freeze. So I say nothing.

And I am not alone.

In reflecting on the anger and violence that has erupted around the death of Michael Brown, I am confronted by my own racism and that which I see systemically in my community. Take, for instance, my own problematic response to the Ferguson incident – “What is wrong with the world? How many more black teenagers have to die before people get fed up and do something?” – my instinct is to remove myself from the equation. I act as though I am not a player in “the world” where racialized violence and oppression occurs, and I am not one of those people who could do something about it. This idea that racism is happening somewhere else, to other people and that I have no power or responsibility in the issue is so second nature to me that it slips out of my mouth without my even realizing it. Of course, when I take a moment to reflect on this fact, I am horrified. I don’t like admitting that I struggle with this issue, but I do.

And I am not alone.

It’s time for us – me, you, our community – to stop behaving as if issues of race don’t affect us all; that racism isn’t alive and well right here in our own community, in the privacy of our own homes, after Sunday dinner.

So often the white community gets dismissive or defensive around issues of race. We want to stand up and yell, “I am not a racist!” We don’t ask questions of others, or ourselves, or engage in dialogue around race for fear of getting it wrong. We pass through life unaware of the spoils we reap from a system that has marginalized so many, or how our silence is contributing to the oppression of others. I know I am guilty of these things.

And I am not alone.

As the details unfold in Ferguson, I am challenging myself, and I challenge the Missoula community to dig deeper, and think critically about how the narrative of race and oppression is playing out in Missouri and in Missoula. I know that I have the capacity to speak and act when I witness racism – even if it’s scary, even if I get it wrong.

And I am not alone.


This Op-Ed was originally posted in the Missoulian newspaper on Aug. 28. http://missoulian.com/news/opinion/columnists/events-in-ferguson-offer-opportunity-for-white-community-to-challenge/article_eaf94772-2bdc-11e4-b457-001a4bcf887a.html