Our Different Realities
On this Martin Luther King Day, I acknowledge a truth. The years of us white folks embedding racism in American society has warped our perception. We whites see different realities from Black folk, every day, day-by-day. If I’m inside the white community, I experience life in America differently than those who aren’t.
How Different Realities Came to Be
For centuries, white folks worked overtime to create these two different realities. We did it with laws and customs. Covenants and billboards. Jokes. Tone policing and real policing. Violence. And movies and TV and myths and whatever else we had at our disposal. We counted on never having to see the different Black reality because we were in charge—we only had to see our reality.
In contrast, to survive in the dominant world, Black folk had to see both realities. They had to understand their reality and the white reality and to see both. (The “double-consciousness” of W.E.B. Du Bois). So we have a situation with two different expectations of what is real in America. And, for the most part, white folks only see their own.
The Prognosis for Different Realities
Sometimes in small, fleeting moments, I catch a glimpse through the scrim. I can see how the way I see defines what I see. But it’s really hard because science tells us our brain aren’t cameras. They’re predictors. Our brains see as reality what they expect to see. That expectation is based on past learnings. So to see a reality other than the one our lived lives lead us to expect involves an active battle against our brains. And our brains usually win.
In other words, we dug the hole, we fell in.
Here’s the fear: now that we liberal white folks want to understand Black folk’s reality, we might not be able to.
Which is why whenever I’m in conversation with Black folks about their experience of racism, my job is to sit. Absorb the truth. Thank them for being gracious enough to share. And do my part to change the wrong.
If that feels like ceding too much, we have only ourselves to blame.