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Bits & Pieces: Proximity doesn’t cut it

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We’ve all been in a situation where someone made a racist joke or comment. 

Remember how some people cheered on the joker by laughing? While others stood there awkwardly staring at their drink, and when someone did speak up they got told, “Oh, you have no sense of humor. It’s just a joke.” 

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Let’s face it, moments like these are painfully thorny. So much that I know all too well how easy it is to freeze into inaction. I later hate myself for not having the quick words or the cojones to speak up. Calling someone out on their racism is about as fun as getting a colonoscopy. It’s necessary with a high chance of discomfort. But, like most social issues that need mending, it will be the honest, hard conversations that will help us move forward into a space of healing. And if you don’t think our country needs healing right now, I think you may live under a rock. 

Seeing that race is a gargantuan topic, and for the sake of staying within the 800 or so words I’m allowed in this space, I’m going to focus on the notion of proximity. What exactly do I mean by that? Here are a few examples that may clear up any confusion. 

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 “I’m not racist. All the guys who work for me are Mexican”

“My housekeeper is from El Salvador. I can’t be racist.” 

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“My wife/husband/ex-boyfriend/neighbor/co-worker/friend is an immigrant.” 

 “I have a black friend. There’s no way I could be racist.”

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Just so we are all on the same page, the proximity to people of color does not automatically let anyone off the hook to stop educating themselves on racial matters. Nope, not these days when there are innumerable books, plenty of podcasts, and heaps of documentaries, just to name a few things that can help us really understand why so many people have been protesting all over our country. 

Frankly, with how much information we have at our fingertips nowadays there is no excuse anymore to not do the real honest (and hard) work. There is always room in our lives to at least attempt to become a better human being, and denying that there is even a problem sure is not helpful. 

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So, my dear friends and family (yes; even you, dear husband!) please do not ever think to use the relationship you have with me or any other person of color as a “good enough” substitute for the personal work that needs to be done to educate yourself. 

Ask yourself if we were not in the equation — say all your minority friends picked up and moved to Timbuktu tomorrow — would you still be figuring out how to further educate yourself about racial justice? I sincerely hope so, because it really should not be our responsibility to educate our white friends and family about race.

And please try not to go into some sort of paralysis when somebody mentions race. It would be so much better to keep the conversation going while putting our uneasiness, frustrations, or guilt aside. Freezing into inaction because we think we don’t know how to make it better gets us nowhere. 

It’s true that we may not know exactly how to speak up, or are afraid we’re going to get it all wrong. Remember, at some point, when it comes to racial matters we all get it wrong. But, that’s why it’s our duty to constantly inform ourselves on the topic. Not necessarily because one has people of color in mind, but because at your core you (hopefully) want to become a greater version of yourself. And my wish is that this aspiration to be better individuals somehow enables us to collectively move forward into a society with more equality- a country that honors and values people from all walks of life.

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