Although I haven’t met you, after reading about your t-shirt stunt, there are a few things about you I know:
- You have racist parents
- You live comfortable lives full of privilege
- You are young and stupid
- This doesn’t have to define you
That doesn’t mean they run around with the KKK or that they spit on people of color, but I know they casually use racist language. They speak in ways that have taught you that some people aren’t at your level; there are some people–based on arbitrary characteristics–that are less than you. The color of brown skin is the indicator that you’ve got one up on them. Because you’re white; they’re not. Your parents–whether outright and intentional or not–have taught you that. If they had been purposeful with lessons to the contrary, you could not have engaged in such egregious and deplorable behavior because it would have gone against what you believe to be true and stand for.
Bigotry and hate are not thought processes we’re born with. As babies and toddlers, we don’t hate anyone. We don’t characterize or judge people based on inconsequential details like skin color. We don’t inherently have prejudicial or bigoted thoughts. But we’re taught to.
As kids, when we hear terms like ni**er, thug, colored, or any of the myriad derogatory terms used to subjugate those with brown or black skin, the lesson learned is that behavior is reasonable. When the adults in our lives say black with condescending tones, with disgust and condemnation, we learn that to be black is to be less than. Paired with language that lumps those words in with negative experiences and opinions, we’re learning which people are to be associated with negativity. With being seen as bad on a whole. With being less than we are. Because they’re black.
At least that’s the message being sent. That’s what’s being taught.
Our parents teach us that. Your parents taught you that.
It’s time to learn something new. And it’s time for awareness so today’s adults aren’t teaching the same lessons they learned. It’s time for your education to be better than that.
As a bunch of pretty, white girls, you’ve had an easy life.
That’s not to say you haven’t had struggles and difficulty or that everything has been easy. But it’s been easier for you than it would have been if your skin were brown.
You haven’t had people question your motives and work ethic based on your appearance. You haven’t had to fight laws written specifically to negate your equality because of the color of your skin–or the widespread beliefs still held today where those were the “good old days.”
Because you’re white, you’re given the benefit of the doubt all day, every day. You’ve spent your lives living in that privelege without giving it a second thought because it’s simply been your reality. And, like so many white people, you’ve assumed that’s the same experience for everyone.
The good news: you’re young and stupid.
Most adults were young and stupid at some point too. As part of the experience, we make mistakes and learn what and how to do better. (To be clear, what you did was not a “mistake,” it was an error of judgment. It wasn’t an oversight or slip of the tongue. It was intentional and planned–thought out. You meant to do it. But the hope is that you will see the problem with your choice. You’ll see that it was a horrible error and recognize that you were terribly wrong–and you’ll learn from it and want to do better.)
We need a lot of life experience to teach us the lessons we need to learn. That’s the disadvantage of being young: we haven’t had much experience to learn from.
As we have those experiences (as you’re having right now), we need to be open to evaluating ourselves–our beliefs, morals, work ethic, goals, purpose–so we can make changes and do better. We have to look at where we are, what we’re doing, where we’re headed, and determine if that’s truly where we wish to go. We need to recognize we’re a constantly changing work in progress; the only way we’re not is if we choose not to be progressing.
Some adults, while no longer young, remain stupid. Wisdom and intelligence don’t just come with growing older. We have to work for those. We have to make the effort to grow and expand. Unfortunately, some people don’t want to do the work and remain stupid. Don’t let that be you.
While your t-shirt stunt was a catastrophic failure on many levels, it doesn’t have to define you.
You don’t have to forever be known as the girls who think racism is a laughing matter. You don’t have to be ignorant, racist girls who grow into ignorant, racist women.
We have ALL done things in our lives that haven’t showcased our best self. We’ve all said and done things we regret. That’s the human experience.
The important thing is that we learn from those mistakes and not repeat them. That we take the opportunity to learn and grow and act on that new knowledge to do something good. That we recognize in our shortcomings and failures, we have have the chance to become wiser.
Stop–and then start.
Stop blindly listening to those around you and absorbing their thoughts and opinions as your own. Start thinking for yourself and evaluating your beliefs.
Stop thinking your privileged experience is the same for everyone in this world and start recognizing that just because it’s your life’s experience, doesn’t mean that’s the case for everyone else. Just because you have plenty on your table doesn’t mean there aren’t kids your age who are hungry and without food. Just because you think it’s funny to pose for a picture with friends making a joke about a derogatory term that doesn’t mean much to you, doesn’t mean you’re not causing a lot of pain and damage to others. Start opening your eyes to the world around you. Start looking beyond yourself, your school, your city and out into this great big world full of all kinds of people.
Stop being ignorant and stupid. You are still young, but you’re about to do some quick growing up. You’ve been thrust onto the world’s stage and you have to do something. You can’t just stand in the spotlight. You have to leave the stage and move forward. Every step will be part of your growing up–or not. You choose: will you grow wiser through this?
Start paying attention to how your words and actions affect those around you.
Start thinking before acting.
Start using your potential to do good things in the world rather than spread hate.