Apparently I live in a racist town. I guess I’m naive, because I didn’t know that. In fact, I have made my home in Brookline, on account of its wildly liberal leanings, and its diversity. Last night, I found out, in a special selectman’s meeting, that this town might be just as racist as any town. And it made me feel sort of nauseous (and stupid). How could I have not know this?
I am white. Some might say I am a “privelaged white woman.” I might be that, but I am not a racist. I don’t care about the color of someone’s skin. I care about what’s underneath it, what someone is made of. It has come to my attention that maybe I am not just white, but also blind. Because what I heard last night left me with my mouth hanging down to my knees in surprise. Not in my town, I thought.
The reason the meeting was held was because of two police officers who have been racially discriminated against by the police force. They are well-loved men, who have given much to our community. During the last selectmen’s meeting, their plight was presented, and the public wanted to speak about the matter, but because that was not planned, the selectmen got up and walked out, shutting the door on concerned citizens.
Last night’s meeting was for them to be heard. For two hours, one after another, they were. Stories of discrimination flowed like that crazy water main break over the T near the Brookline Hills stop. One after another, men and women of color shared their stories, concerns, and fears. One heart-breaking, shocking discrimation tale after another. The clear message: “If you don’t think Brookline is racist, you don’t know what’s going on.”
I am guilty as charged. I see from last night’s meeting, I don’t know what’s going on. Or what has been going on, for a long time here. I know that l treated my son’s best friend for several years in grade school, a METCO student, who spent much of his time here, like he was my son. I know my daughter’s boyfriend has a black dad and a white mom, and we love him like he’s part of the fam.
Here’s what else I know. I know that I will never know or be able to understand what it’s like for a person of color, because I was born covered in white. I can never have that exact experience. I know that my immigrant Italian grandparents were discriminated against when they arrived in CT back in the day, and that my Jewish immigrant grandparents were also discriminated against along the way. I know that at certain times growing up with the last name of Friedman in a town where everybody else’s names were non-ethnic, and NOT JEWISH, was, at times, a little weird. But will I ever know what it’s like for a black man to know that he can spark fear in a passerby just because of how he looks, or to have racial slurs slung at me on a regular basis, or to know that my kids might not be safe because they were born with skin that is not lily white. Nope. I can’t say that. I can tell you that I can imagine what that might be like, and I am a pretty good at that sort of thing, but I can’t ever experience that first hand.
This means, I need to listen when people of color tell me there is racism and discrimination in my town. Because they know in a way I can never know.
I have been watching the news with rapt attention as black men and black children have been killed across the country in racially motivated situations. I have watched, pompously, on my cozy couch, thinking how lucky I am not to live in a town where that could happen.
Until last night, when I realized I live in a town where the next Michael Brown incident could occur tomorrow.
To my Brookline friends and neighbors, there is racism going on right here in (the muddy) river city. If it’s in predominantly Democratic, over-the-top liberal Brookline, you can only imagine what its like in other less diverse communities. My eyes have been opened. I can’t close them again. Please open yours too. We’re better than this. Or at least, I used to think we were.