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Friday, March 24, 2023

Opinion: 4 years’ worth of reflection

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I was a senior in college when I learned about the Indianapolis Recorder. It was a class project; I had to pick a local newspaper and write about what the content and advertising looked like in the early 1900s.

In hindsight, it’s probably best that I discovered the Recorder then and not earlier. I’m afraid if a white kid from Decatur, Indiana, heard anything about this African American newspaper, it would have been about how this “divisive” media was “anti-white” and practiced “reverse racism” — blah blah blah.

With that in mind, I started thinking about what my time here has meant. Because now, after not quite 4 1/2 years, it’s time to go.

I’m not putting these in any particular order, but I’ll start with this: I’m thankful for the frank, sometimes uncomfortable conversations about race in this newsroom. At this point, I’ve still lived well more than half of my life without really knowing a Black person.

Black people have been so far removed from me and other white people, separated by many miles and an income bracket or two. In this case, though, out of sight does not mean out of mind. Older white people will tell younger white people exactly how it is: that you shouldn’t say the N-word but it’s OK to make fun of Black people who say aks instead of ask.

I’m sure I came to the Recorder with more baggage than I knew about, but being in a place where white and Black people can talk openly and ask questions in good faith — with plenty of jokes, too — has been a blessing. And before the white people reading this mention their Black friend or coworker, think about who holds true social power in those settings.

This leads me to my next reflection: White people severely underestimate Black people, especially Black kids.

White people can’t believe a third grader or teenager or even young adult could possibly have the resolve it takes to not stand for the Pledge of Allegiance or raise a fist in protest. White people will applaud kids like the ones I wrote about in 2019 who help run a community garden in Lawrence, but they won’t recognize the luxury that exists in not having to explain to their own kids what a food desert is.

So many white people see racism as the burnt crust on pizza, a blemish you could just scrape off. They don’t see racism as something that was mixed with the flower and baked into the whole pie.

I’ll move on to what is probably my most difficult reflection: I don’t know what role white people should play in telling Black stories. I don’t know if that should even exist. I do it; others do it. Part of me agrees with the theologian James Cone: “Whites cannot know us; they do not even know themselves.” Another part of me thinks a talented journalist can handle just about any story, with the caveat that you run the risk of missing nuance and context.

This is going to sound like I’m joking, but this is serious, so hear me out: Racism is inconvenient for this work. I’ll demonstrate. I was at the scene where police shot and killed Dreasjon Reed in 2020, and a Black woman tried to slap the notebook out of my hand and told me I was only there to call everyone a monkey. That was probably a trauma response, but it also spoke to something else.

No, I did not call everyone a monkey. But white America’s sin is my sin, and Black America’s pain is her pain. So there we were, the result of four centuries that included everything from the slave trade to housing segregation, and I didn’t know her. I barely know myself.

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