I will never know what it’s like to be black. I used to think I understood what it is to be human, though. I thought that all of us who were born into the human race were all the same and that we could relate to one another on a certain level if we really tried. I have come to realize that we are not all the same.
I have always lived in the comfort of a northern state that felt far removed from the conflict of my country’s Civil War in the mid-19th century. When I was young, I understood that there were no plantations in Minnesota requiring slave labor, therefore it was easy for Minnesota’s citizens to support the abolishment of slavery in our country. But, I also wanted to believe that the Union cause in the northern part of the United States was one born of human decency; that it was understood that it was simply “right” to not own another human being or discriminate against them simply because of the skin their human form was packaged in. When I was young, as a white person, I felt embarrassed that white people were capable of inflicting such harm on black people. But, I naïvely thought that most people in the U.S. had learned from the Civil War and were collectively continuing to evolve in their humanity during the one hundred years before I was born.
I recently visited a Civil War museum in Lexington, Missouri. I saw copies of ads for black slaves posted on the museum walls. These were fellow human beings who were being bought and sold in the same way that a sofa or used bicycle would be today. I started to think about how horrible it was that the creation of such ads was once common practice in my country. But, as I stood there looking at them I realized that, 150 years after the Civil War, there are many people around me who are capable of buying and selling people they believe to be of inferior races.
I believe that this presidential campaign season, where filters and decency have for some reason been removed, has allowed the worst in people to reveal itself. The same kind of people who, throughout history, were capable of reducing people of certain races to the status of property apparently still exist today. The collective human race in the United States has taken a huge step backwards as so many now appear comfortable with advertising their racist views via social media. It has brought to light for me – while living in my comfortable white northern bubble – the alarming number of racists that live in this “land of freedom.” I’m surrounded by them, even in Minnesota, even in my family. I don’t know what to do with my new understanding of some of the people that surround me, because it contradicts my understanding of what it means to be human.
When I was a child I tried to understand why people were valued according to their skin color. I couldn’t understand it or the people who effortlessly thought that way. Recently, I’ve found myself imagining that racists actually descend from Neanderthals instead of early Homo sapiens and that their DNA explains their less than humane behavior. But since I’ve been discovering that I’m related to some racist people it’s possible that if they’re Neanderthal, then I am too, and this shoots a hole in my theory about racists. I don’t know why some humans are racist or what they are made of, but I do know that I don’t want to be associated with them. I want to sell all of the racists I know on craigslist. I’m embarrassed to be part of the human race. I don’t want to understand it. I don’t want to be able to relate on the horrifying level that racism exists on. I wish I could join a different race.
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© 2016 by Julie Ryan. All rights reserved
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