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On Joi’s recommendation I started reading White Fragility. As a white kid who grew up in the south at various times getting my ass kicked by racists, who now lives in a country where over 99% of the population doesn’t look like me and has been refused access and services because of my race, I have a hard time personally relating to any of the popular narratives around race in the US but I think it’s important to understand what they are and how other people experience them.
I’m reminded of a moment a few years ago when I was visiting Detroit. My friend Shaka helped arrange a tour of some urban farms for me and some of our friends from MIT. The tour was led by Malik Yakini, a community leader who spent a lot of time helping people in many of the blighted neighborhoods. He started the tour by saying “As part of my introduction let me just say that I’m a recovering misogynist” which caused the women in our group to exchange some looks. He continued “I grew up in a time and place and environment that colored my view of things, and as I got older I realized the problems with those and I work every day to correct that.” Everyone relaxed and smiled. But he wasn’t done, and followed that quickly with “I say that, because it’s just like how all of you are recovering white supremacists, and you have to work on that every day too.” This jarred everyone as you might imagine. This guy didn’t know anything about me or my background, who was he to make a call like that? I’ve literally punched nazis! I got in trouble in high school for wearing a “Fuck Racism” shirt!! I wanted to argue with him, but wisely I kept my mouth shut. I recognized pretty quickly that the fact that his words bothered me so much meant there was something to them that I wasn’t prepared for at the time. I thought about it a lot then, and I think about it a lot now. As I consider the reverse culture shock I’m sure to have when I move back to the US it’s something I’ll continue to think about. I don’t have a nicely packaged resolution to that thought yet, I don’t know that anyone ever really can. But we can work on it.