When I was a little girl, I got into an argument about who knows what with a boy at recess. Let’s call him “Jon.”
I don’t remember many details from that hot afternoon, but I do remember I was absolutely the instigator and totally in the wrong. When the teacher intervened, I turned on the tears and blamed it on Jon. He got in trouble and I did not.
Few childhood memories stick out to me, but the reason this one’s so indelible is because I remember the split-second calculation of my blonde, well-behaved, usually kind elementary school self. In that moment, I remember thinking,”the teacher will believe me and not Jon, because I’m white and he’s black.” No one had overtly taught me that, but I knew.
I never told anyone this story until I was a grown woman. Thinking about it made me feel disgusting and ashamed — and rightly so. Because it WAS disgusting and shameful. It felt that way then and it feels the same now. Like so many, I was raised better than that.
We are living through some heartbreaking and tumultuous times. I have seen things I can’t ever get out of my head. Watching George Floyd cry out for his mother under the cruel boot of Officer Chauvin in Minneapolis only days after seeing video of a father and son shoot Armaud Arbery as he took a jog in Georgia will stay with me forever. And those scenes should because it’s important to bear witness to the suffering of fellow Americans and stand with them in acknowledgement of the systemic racism that permeates every aspect of our national culture.
We can no longer continue to ignore this poison that runs through all of us, asserting that ‘we don’t see color’ or ‘our children don’t see color.’ They do and we all do because we have eyes and are human.
We can’t continue to clutch our pearls, saying we don’t understand what is happening. I think most of us know exactly what is going on. And if we don’t, then it is our job as human beings to educate ourselves and take a hard look at the world and institutions around us. There are plenty of resources available, and it’s not up to our black friends to explain their humanity to us.
As a child, I pushed down what I knew was wrong because the desire to have my own way and be in control meant more to me than justice or the truth. I think about Jon often and wonder if my treatment of him was his first experience like that, while knowing full well it assuredly wasn’t his last.
One way to rebuke the voice in my 9 year-old head that told me I could get away with blaming Jon is to acknowledge, publicly and openly, the ingrained injustices our society has constructed over the centuries. For some, that acknowledgment is a wake-up call, a reminder of a truth that white Americans have an incentive to ignore, but a truth that Jon and his family have the burden of dealing with every day.
Holly Rosser Miller has lived and worked in Muskogee for 20 years.