I called a dear friend the other day who recently relocated to Iowa to return to school. She lives alone and I wondered how she was faring sheltering in place in a new town.
“I’m doing great,” she told me. “I’m working my way through a pile of books I never had time to read, watching movies, and getting a little work done.” She went on to tell me about the recent conversations she’d been having with her younger sister about why they had both ended up being extremely “self-sufficient.” She attributed it in part to being “military kids” with moves that entailed getting quickly acclimated to new neighborhoods and schools.
“But you know,” she went on to say, “I think a lot of it is having the experience of frequently being ‘the only raisin in the bunch’ at school. I’d come home and tell my parents about some kid that day who called me the ‘N word’ and they’d tell me to get back out there and show them what I was made of. And they made sure I knew that what I was going through was nothing compared to the segregation they’d experienced growing up in the South.”
Once again, I found myself coming face to face with white privilege. I thought about my beautiful African-American grandson who was called ‘the N Word’ on his first day of middle school. Like my friend, he has already experienced so much that I’ve never had to deal with. In all my years of school, I was never looked upon as “the other,” someone bullied because my skin was darker. And while my parents told stories about being poor, they had no tales about being denied basic rights, opportunities, and respect by virtue of their racial identity.
If the corona virus has shown us anything about how we live, it’s the extent to which systemic racism continues to be alive and well. Inequality is baked into our system, and it’s getting worse. It is not okay for people of color to die at much higher rates than whites—and it is not okay that the playing field of economic and educational opportunity is so uneven.
It’s up to all of us to change things, and my prayer about this global pandemic is that it serves as a much needed wake up call. It has never been more important to work together for a society in which justice and compassion reign rather than hatred and division.