Listening with New Ears

“This is usually where the desire to dismiss claims of racial oppression come from—it just doesn’t make sense to you so it cannot be right.”

                                                Ijeoma Oluo in So you want to talk about race

I can be justly accused of remaining silent for far too long when words condemning racism should have been spoken. I can, and must, find the courage to speak up whenever and wherever racism enters my world.

However, I am coming to learn the most subtle and deceptive forms of racism erupt, not from the world around me, but from the world within.

In the past weeks, people across the globe have struggled to face the senseless, persistent, and horrific murders of BIPOC (black, indigenous and people of color) in this country—and find ways to end the atrocities. I have watched and listened, trying to take in the stories of pain, anger, sorrow, and resentment that have filled my news and newsfeed. I listen, and think, as Oluo says, “it just doesn’t make sense…so it cannot be right.”

Of course it doesn’t make sense. How could I possibly even begin to understand the raw emotions coming from a person whose life I have not lived? How could I possibly feel what it is like to wake every morning in a skin that is not white? How could I possibly know the sheer frustration and despair of facing a world replete with obstacles that prevent me from being successful, and inflict constant, lingering fear in me and those I love.

It does not make sense to me, but I cannot dismiss that it does make sense to someone who has lived that life. The only way for me to acknowledge the pain, anger, sorrow, and resentment is listen with new ears. I must listen, as best I can, to stories that are in stark contradiction to my own lived experience. I must acknowledge the validity and authenticity of all stories. It is exceedingly difficult because my day-to-day privilege holds at bay the horrors faced by BIPOC. It is the difficulty of the work that makes it that much more necessary.

As I have endeavored these past weeks to listen with new ears, words and stories come at me with new meaning and urgency…and new worlds open before me. Perhaps, more importantly, I find new worlds opening within me.

2 thoughts on “Listening with New Ears”

  1. Racism is not inherited through our genealogy. It is something that is taught. Learning about the world within you also includes teaching yourself about those values that need changing and those that need reinforcing in order to position yourself as an advocate for racial equality.

    My father taught me a valuable lesson when I was 10 years old in 1965. He took me on a business trip with him that led from New York City to Richmond, Virginia. We were stopping in to visit customers just prior to the Easter holiday. Our family candy business had closed about 2 weeks before the holiday as in those days, if your merchandise was not already in the customer’s warehouse or on their shelves, it wouldn’t be received and sold in a timely manner. At the candy factory my father employed people from a diverse background of racial and national origins. He taught me (and my sister) to treat all people as equals and that skin color our spoken language did not make one person better or worse than the next. While having lunch in a department store in Richmond, Virginia, my father asked me to look around and tell him what I noticed that was different. Being the innocent ‘babe’ that I was, I could not come up with the answer that he was looking for. Upon exiting the restaurant after lunch, my father told me to turn around and look at the sign on the revolving door. In bold letters it read, “NO BLACKS ALLOWED”.

    That was the first time in my life that I was made aware, that in some parts of this country, people treated others differently. It was truly a teaching and learning moment. For the remainder of that trip, my father answered my questions and I learned how to become a better person.

    What I wanted to emphasize is that this deep rooted prejudice in some people even today, is something that was taught by others and now we need to figure out a way to ‘unteach’ it! You, Roger, are an educated and open minded person. I know that you are able and willing to learn about the world within you. The real challenge will be how to advocate for, facilitate and help others to learn about the worlds within them! 55 years have past since my life lesson and racial prejudice and injustice still remains deeply rooted across the globe.

  2. Roger, your post reminded me of these words:

    “Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto”, or “I am human, and I think nothing human is alien to me.” — Terence

    We live in a time and a place not that different than Terence’s world. We are white, male, and by comparison to many others, well-to-do. My concern has never been when I am going to eat my next meal, or whether I can pay the rent/mortgage to maintain shelter, etc. I am certain that many who have the same needs and dreams as I, living not that far from my home, are greatly troubled by those concerns as I write this.

    I am still troubled by something that I saw today. While making a turn onto Roosevelt Road, out of the corner of my eye I glimpsed by the side of the road a middle-aged male, holding a sign, stating that he was without work and desperate for help. (my own words) Two small children were playing immediately behind him. I should have turned around to see what I could have done to help.

    Racism is a particularly egregious form of exploitation. Those with power and privilege, find it convenient to thoughtlessly exploit those with less power, education, and social connections, utilizing the institutions and customs of society. Race is a handy rationalization. Racist/exploitative practices continue because they are customary, and they enrich individuals and organizations with power.

    With you, I need to do what I can. — Jerry

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