The events of this weekend in Charlottesville left my limbs feeling numb and my heart heavy.
As I looked at the angry faces of the white men and women carrying tiki torches, I thought, ‘Some of those men and women look just like the people who would live in my town.’ They weren’t just some country boy from South Carolina, they were wearing Arkansas Engineering shirts, khaki pants and polo shirts.
My heart was not heavy because these men and women looked like people who might live in my hometown. I’m just telling you what my first thought was.
My limbs went numb because my heart aches for every minority: Native American, Muslim, African American, Jew, Hispanic, LBGTQ, disabled and female in this country. Not just because of what happened in Charlottesville. I feel this way nearly every single day. And what happened in Charlottesville was just maybe everyone’s worst nightmare.
I feel like it was my worst nightmare.
Now, I know that what you wear on the outside has no indication of what is inside your heart. I know that it’s not just the country boys in South Carolina or those who have a confederate flag on the back of their pickup truck who are racist, sexist or homophobic.
In fact, whether we want to talk about this or not, these issues are not just something that exists out there. It’s not something that is only found in the Appalachian Mountains or with the men who lit the tiki torches this weekend. Bigotry is not just a national issue; it is also a very local issue.
As I looked through my newsfeeds this weekend, I thought what can I do? What can we do?
I want to take all of the people, hold their faces, and give them kisses on the forehead. Does that mean racism doesn’t exist in my heart? And because I know many people in my community who would do the same thing, does that mean racism doesn’t exist in my hometown?
You know, quite a few things have happened over the last few years that say racism does still exist in Mahomet. I was told a few weeks ago that an African American woman did not feel comfortable visiting Mahomet because it used to be known as a Sundown Town.
I did not even know what a Sundown Town was, but that information was not hard to find. A Sundown Town is a town, whether formally or informally, known to keep out African Americans, Jews or other minority groups. Some of the towns (and I am not saying Mahomet was one of them) posted signs that read, “Nig***, Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On You In ___.”
Whether it was ever declared or not, it is widely known that Mahomet is a predominantly white community. 2010 census data shows that 95.9% of the population in the Village limits (which then was roughly 8,000 people) is white, .6% is black, .2% is American Indian or Alaska Native, 1.8% are Asians and 2% are Hispanic.
Does the racial makeup of the community make a community racist?
I don’t know the answer to that question, but I do know that when we live in secluded environments, we miss out on getting to know other viewpoints, other stories, and other hearts. There is a disconnect of there and here. There is a disconnect of them and me. There is a disconnect of us and them.
Just because my skin is white, it does not mean that I lack the capacity to empathize with an African American, a Native American or a Hispanic person. Maybe I have not lived in their shoes, but when I shut my mouth, open my heart and listen, I can begin to understand their struggles and joys.
This happened on my trip out to the Black Hills and Badlands this summer. I learned about how the American settlers and American government systematically came into what is now known as the United States and annihilated a people. I also saw how we still oppress these people. They aren’t just a story in a history book: many of those stories are untrue.
It is not until you are with someone that you can understand what they value. The Lakota people value praying, respect, compassion, honesty, generosity, humility, and wisdom. They weren’t just a people who wanted to skin the settlers’ heads.
But that’s what I learned in school. That was my take away.
While I was on my trip, I watched Americans, mostly white people, come in and out of the visitor centers asking about the best sites to see and buying handmade jewelry without learning more about the people who were giving the tips and making the product.
When we only see me, we miss out on us. The collective us. And that is why what happened in Charlottesville is so telling.
I was in Chicago with my family this weekend. We were on our last summer hurrah at Six Flags. But my heart was here at home.
I was thinking about the phone calls I’ve received over the past year: the African American child who felt uncomfortable when the word “nig***” was used to describe her people. The girl who was tagged on Twitter when a student asked if her mother was a terrorist. The talk of Nazis and Hitler among our youth.
You see, it’s not just out there, friends. It’s here, too.
So we can be outraged at what is happening on a national level; we can call on our President to man-up and do what he absolutely should do; but we should also be taking a look at our community, our neighbors, our homes, our hearts and ask “Is there anything we can work on here?”
The first step, I think, is to admit that we have a problem. The second step is to sit and examine, the problem. Chew it, sift through it, let it make you uncomfortable. And the third step is to do something about it.
Okay, I know it’s not that easy. But we can begin to have an open and honest discussion; not one that is based on collective thinking, but safe discourse.
We can bring people into our community and schools to share their experiences. Actually, we do have people who look different than us that already live here; let’s hear them. We can find ways and make intentional efforts to diversify our community. We can show kindness to people, no matter what the color of their skin, religion or sexuality. We can hold people (even children) accountable when they make derogatory comments. And we can stop turning a blind eye to problems and work towards truly making our community a better place to live.
Yes, all of this is uncomfortable. My limbs went numb and my heart aches because I am uncomfortable. There is truth and there is conviction and there is reality and there is a feeling of helplessness.
But in that moment, in that uncomfortable, I believe that if we come together in the light of love, something good will come from that.
For me, the first step is writing this piece. I can’t say that I don’t know what else to do because I do. I join hands and hearts with my friends to begin to implement solutions right here in our hometown. I’m hoping that you, too; will join me? Even if it is just inside your home.
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