It’s a painful thing to admit, but for some reason I want to, anyway. The other day, I noticed in my mental chatter a racist thought. It was an ugly and tired trope. It’s not something I would ever say. I don’t believe it—consciously. But it popped up in my mental landscape as obvious as a swollen zit. And just like a zit, I couldn’t look away. I wanted to pop it and watch it ooze.
Here’s another painful thing to admit: I grew up in a segregated city. Not Birmingham or Chicago. Just a medium-ish city in the heartland. As a grandchild of the many white people who left the city for the suburbs, I grew up believing racism was for the south, for the Civil Rights movement, for the distant, distant past. At the same time, we rarely ventured to the north side of town where the “bad” neighborhoods were. And no one explained to me—or perhaps I never asked—why some people wanted to make English the city’s official language.
I’m not an expert. But I am trying to attend more closely to my white privilege. In this work, as in so many things, thoughts matter. Thoughts create reality, thoughts make policies. Thoughts put fingers on triggers and dial numbers to call the police. Our unconscious biases create not only our own internal worlds—they create the external world for other people to live in. For these and other reasons, they deserve our rapt attention.
A contemplative friend once told me that over the years her prayers have narrowed down to one:
God, help me. And please—grant me awareness.