Acknowledging Racism: One Woman's Story
"Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God." 1 John 4:7
"I have a dream today!
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; "and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together."
And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands." Martin Luther King, I Have A Dream, Aug. 28, 1963, Lincoln Memorial, Washington D.C.
There have been many things pressing on my heart due to recent events, but it was a post that a military friend shared that made me examine my own choices and decisions in life. I have been compelled to share my story but I am going to post the point of my story first so that the reasons for my post are not skipped. If you don’t like my story, that is okay. It is my story as I lived it. If it troubles you, I would only ask you to examine why.
The reasons for sharing are to ask for everyone’s help to affect a change in today’s world. How can we do that?
I ask you to take a first step by acknowledging that racism does exist in our world.
I ask you to begin to love your neighbors as yourself.
I ask you to understand that change can happen if we all do this together.
So let us begin the journey. For those of you willing to hear my story please read on.
Mine is not the typical story about racism that you may read or hear about but I think it demonstrates the fact that racism does exist. I am Puerto Rican; a minority who’s very citizenship has been called into question at times. I was a military brat who grew up in a culture of inclusivity, which was my experience, so I have always had friends of color. As a kid growing up, both in the states and overseas within that culture of inclusivity, I was shielded from the racism that exists in our world. I was color blind in the best sense of that term, I selected friends based on mutual interests, their kindness towards me, and how they treated others.
My experiences as a teenager overseas, on a base in Puerto Rico, were much different than the teenage experiences I had when I finished high school stateside. I quickly learned the prejudices displayed against people of color. I still had friends of color but their stories were more difficult than those I had previously encountered. Being a light skinned Puerto Rican meant that I could “pass” and I now understand that I rode the coat tails of white privilege. Especially after my marriage where I gained the last name of Kriner; and, at that time no longer spent hours at the beach perfecting my tan as I had as a teen and young adult. Being considered a white woman for all intents and purposes. I only revealed my ethnicity if I felt you were someone I could trust. I now feel I have to examine why I have made this decision in how I handle my relationships.
The reality is that I knew that being a person of a different ethnicity would make people judge me before getting to know me as a person. That the mere difference in ethnicity could mean that I was not seen or heard, that I would be judged on that one characteristic alone. So I developed this way of blending in. Furthermore, if a black gentleman would take an interest in me I was quick to not encourage that interest because I knew it would be a difficult relationship for the community to accept. That if that relationship were to evolve to include children that their lives would be defined by difficulty, which is never a mother’s dream. Because of those fears, even if I was attracted, I would not allow myself to go down that path. We could be friends, but not romantic. My thinking was that I applaud those who had the courage to go down that road in the name of love but it was not a road I wished to travel because I knew it would be fraught with additional difficulties piled upon those we normally go through. Who invites more difficulty? “Not I,” was my answer.
During this self-examination I looked up the Webster dictionary definition of racism: "a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities, and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race." Did I ever feel I was being racist? Absolutely not. I felt I was making decisions for myself and how I wanted to be able to live my life freely without added worry. While I feel I do not judge people by the color of their skin, in introspection I must admit that my ways of thinking and decision making were definitely driven by the culture of racism.
Have I ever felt that I was superior to another race? Again, I would answer absolutely not. If anything it was my knowledge that my ethnicity would be deemed as less superior that drove my decisions. I now must acknowledge it is racism that has defined how I lived. That is a hard realization. Unlike me, our brothers and sisters of color don’t have the ability of escaping the prejudice that surrounds them simply because of the color of their skin. My hope is that my story helps shine a light on that fact.
Again, this is my story as I lived it so you can’t disagree with it, just as you should not discount the story that others have lived. I’m certain my story would be very different if I was a Puerto Rican of deeper skin pigmentation. I have family that runs the spectrum of the skin tone rainbow. That is because Puerto Ricans are a blend of the native Taino people of the Caribbean islands, the Spaniards who came to the islands and the black slaves they brought with them. My very DNA makeup is a blend of ethnicities. I want nothing less than to be accepted as I am, just as most everyone else does. With that said, it should not be difficult to understand that the desire to embrace a mantra of ALL lives matter doesn’t hold weight until it includes our brothers and sisters of color whose lives matter as well. Not more, equally. We must agree to that.
So I have shared a piece of my heart and story today. The reason I have done this is to acknowledge to myself that I have made decisions in my life to combat the racism that I know exists in the world. However, and just as importantly, I hope that my story helps to make other people, who may not have the same experiences, understand and acknowledge that the problem of racism does exist in our world. It is real and exists in places you may not even realize, but it can be made better.
Please understand that this acknowledgement is not to make white people feel guilty about their skin color any more than other persons of color should bear that burden. It is to ask for everyone’s help to affect a change in today’s world. We were all raised up in this culture of racism so it runs deep. However, you don’t need to take up the anvil of hate in order to detract from the actions of the past and present. That is not what is being asked. Many of us have endured things in our childhood that we have made a conscious decision to overcome as adults. Why must this be any different? So let us begin today with some soul searching. Believe me this is difficult but needs to be done.
Acknowledgement that racism exists is the first step. Today, we all need to make a conscious decision to stand up and fight for a change in this world. Stand up together as one human race and discard all the labels. We can make a change if we do this all together. Change does not happen overnight and our brothers and sisters of color have grown weary of fighting this battle alone. Let us all begin to love thy neighbor as ourselves. What a beautiful world it could be if we would begin the walk in that direction together. Let us embrace the good that can be had in simply beginning the journey. Take a step today in love and peace.
Here is a picture of Anita and me, Sandy. My friend, Anita Talavera Kriner, asked that I share her story. I am glad that she has allowed me to be a part of her journey. In all our years of friendship, I've never known this side of her story. I am glad that people are talking about the issue of racism, so that we can begin to choose a better path, one that includes peace, love, acceptance, and inclusivity.
"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you,
so you must love one another." John 13:34