Ways of Seeing by Sas Carey: Still working to understand racism

I have been trying to understand and work on my racism issues for most of my life. But I still can’t quite get how painful it is for people of color, despite the fact that I adopted a biracial daughter in Vermont fifty years ago.
Today Jasmine called me distressed that a young black friend from Brooklyn, who has devoted many years to a summer camp where they both had worked, did not get hired for a leadership position there. Even more upsetting to my daughter was that the camp didn’t respond quickly to the candidate’s post on their Facebook page speaking of the entrenched, systemic nature of racism. The candidate had given examples of racist issues she had experienced and was offended that an (white) applicant who had no background with the camp got hired. Jasmine felt that no one had supported her friend’s message.
When my daughter, who was on the board of directors for many years, replies with her own deeply felt thoughts in support of the candidate’s message of entrenched racism, she was dismayed that no one acknowledged the issue or how the issue affects them.
While listening, I found myself with familiar feelings of despair and failure to understand how to respond to her or the situation. I realized that even after fifty years of being Jasmine’s mother, I really didn’t know how to write her a letter of support on this. I got butterflies in my gut thinking of admitting that. I felt nervous about saying the wrong thing. I thought, here I am watching movies, reading, and studying about racism, and I still don’t know how to do this.
Later she told me that people started responding, but even though they may have been trying to say the right thing, their words still hurt her. The first person wrote, “Well, it’s better than it was in the eighties.” She explained to me passionately that this comment is dismissive and doesn’t help anything. “Maybe we are not making any progress. Maybe we are going backward,” she said. This made me even more nervous. As a white person, can I understand this on a deep level? I am trying to get how pervasive it is and how painful it feels.
Then one of Jasmine’s friends wrote a Facebook message of support and included something about people of color hurting. My daughter exclaimed, “Everyone is hurting. Not just people of color. When all kinds of cultures interact, everyone benefits.” She added, “You know that. That’s why you go to Mongolia.”
What I learned from the book “Waking up White” by Debby Irving was that my own white privilege consists of not having to be vigilant in my mind and body at every moment. My brain does not have to save a space to be alert to how I might be treated at any moment just because of my skin.
I got my courage up to ask Jasmine what exactly would be helpful for me to write to follow up on the thread on Facebook. I felt like crying because I didn’t know. She had to explain it idea-by-idea and repeat it until I got it enough to own it myself. She asked me to write that I am her mother and adopted her because I want diversity in my life. That I honor the values of the camp and hope the camp will live them in a way that will make a rich experience with diverse people. Then she summarized: I want a diverse life. I adopted a biracial child to get diversity. With diversity, everyone is enriched. She had put words on my truth. I didn’t have to stretch my truth to say these.
I wrote this letter:
I am Jasmine Carey’s mother, having started my family’s three-generation connection to your camp in 1978. After 50 years, I am still learning from her. I believe that the richness of diversity benefits all of us, challenging as it is. The values of camp are very important in today’s world. I hope we can be leaders in figuring out how to accept and communicate with one another, including from one race to another. When people of color feel they are not treated equally, we all must listen and pay attention. Otherwise, we all lose. I hope my great grandchildren — when I have them — will have the opportunity to experience a richly diverse experience at camp.
When I posted this, I texted Jasmine and I said that I hope I didn’t say anything wrong. She wrote back that saying something wrong is better than being silent.
Sas Carey, R.N, M.Ed., directs Nomadicare.org, which supports and preserves traditional Mongolian nomadic culture through healthcare, documentaries, and stories. She has recently enjoyed sharing Mongolian culture in the Lincoln Community School and Beeman Academy.

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