I am sitting here writing this story because I am privileged. I have the privilege to have been born into a family who had parents with good jobs, and their parents had good jobs. I have the privilege of being able to vote as a women, not because I earned it, but because I was born in a time period in which it is acceptable for women to vote. I have the privilege of putting my thoughts on paper and publishing them without fear of being jailed or executed by my government because I was lucky enough to be born in a country that allows this, again I did not earn it, it was chance. I have the privilege of telling this story you are about to read because I happened to be born in the south, and was born white.
I am now 40 years old, live in New Jersey and I own a yoga studio where I teach. My core values include integrity, community, love, and equality. I am a leader. I believe that every person on this earth has a purpose and their life has value. And though, it was not always this way.
I was born and raised in a small southern Virginia town just outside of the Appalachian area. It was the home of Nascar, moonshine, Friday night football, biscuits and gravy and sweet tea. There were some truths that I was taught as a child, you dress up and go to church on Sunday, you say yes ma’am and no ma’am, children are seen and not heard, you hunt on Thanksgiving morning, you respect your elders, you do not have sex before you get married AND you should be careful on the black side of town.
I was raised a racist, among other things. It was never questioned, never talked about, an understood truth. It was not until high school that I met many African Americans, but at that point I already knew everything, they were poor and on welfare, they were into drugs, they will cheat you, and they do not take care of themselves or their families. Of course there were exceptions and I remember fondly several black people that worked for my family business or did business with us, and what stands out was always “they are good colored folk,” mostly reminding us that they were the exceptions to the truth, but not many. And while the words were powerful, the actions were even more powerful.
My family owned car businesses and pawn shops and if there was ever a break-in the first mention was that it must have been a black guy. Our family was horrified to find out one day that one of my cousins was dating a black boy. I was even told to keep my horses away from black people, you see horses do not like them and they might get spooked. I just know I was constantly reminded of whether or not it was a black or white church, black or white school, black or white part of town – distinguishing black or white was as common as distinguishing night and day.
And yes, we talked a lot about heritage, I mean all the time. It is important in the south. By definition heritage means “something that is handed down from the past, as a tradition.” So yes, the confederate flag is part of the heritage. It was handed down as a reminder that even though we lost, we will always be the south no matter what those Yankee northerners think. They took away our land, slave ownership and our way of life, they will not take our flag! They will not tell us what to do, if you don’t like it then don’t come down here. And our statues, they were “our people”, they got us and fought for us. I can only speak from my experience, but every single “heritage” symbol I learned about was rooted in racism. And by the way, gay people are going to hell, Baptiste and Christian churches are the only good religions, we need guns to protect ourselves and you better not kill any babies.
And then I moved and went to college, then grad school, then an actual city and finally I moved to Philly. What I can say is that with each move my “known truths” were more and more challenged. I saw, heard and tried new things constantly. I listened. I opened up and broke down the wall of what I know so that I could really see what I did not know. My heart and vision changed. And I am extremely lucky and privileged to have met everyone that I have met who has shaped the new way in which I think, see, talk and act. I am overwhelming grateful to have the privilege to choose.
My heart hurts for what has been happening this past week, even more so as it is so close to home. Charlottesville is less than 3 hours from where I grew up. I have been struggling with “what to do” and the answer is more rooted in “what not to do”, which is avoid and ignore. For years I have avoided talking to certain people and family members about certain things because I think “they will not get it” or “they were just raised that way”, and guess what, so was I. I did not get it for a long time, I was raised that way. And it was not until I made a choice to educate myself, listen to other people, and seek out other experiences and my own truth that I was no longer someone who does not get it. My beliefs and values have changed because others spoke out and shared what they learned so that I could learn and grow from it.
This is what I have learned, I was wrong. And I preach all the time that right or wrong is just an opinion and yet I strongly believe that when your opinions take away the humanity of another person our collective wrong must be seen as truth. It is a truth I want to create, live in and believe in. That removing statues and flags does nothing to inhibit my way of living and all the privileges that I have. That taking pride in making someone else uncomfortable or even worse, leaving them in mental and physical pain is not ok.
I do not write this to try to prove anything to anyone. I am writing so that if you are curious, if you have never questioned the values and beliefs that someone else “gave” you, maybe you will be inspired to listen and look. To lead yourself to a new place. To stop passing down traditions that do not serve you or greater humanity. What are you missing out on? Where can your humanity see the humanity in others? Where can you let love move you as opposed to anger. Is it possible that you can alleviate all your pain and suffering by opening up and receiving versus fighting?
I am thankful for my family, for my hometown and for everyone who has shaped my life. I would not be who I am today without every single experience that I have had. My hope now is that I can take my privilege and use it to make a difference for those who do not have it.