It happened again today. That moment when I see something that has been true for years but I never saw before. Today it came in the form of a trailer for Kathryn Bigelow’s next film Detroit. It has happened before watching dash cam footage online, or expert panels at school, or the eyes of my non-white friends telling a story. One moment I am going about my day and the next I see it. I see race.
A black friend of mine told me once that race is always there. But I’m a white woman raised in the 80’s who was spoon fed cornflakes of the American Dream. I cried when I read To Kill a Mockingbird, but that was a story about an awful past. Racism existed only on Phil Donahue and Jerry Springer episodes. And that is how it stayed for twenty years. I lived in New York City and rode the subways pressed up against people of all ethnicities, and while I saw color, I was blind to race. I was too content humming to The Shins on my ipod to notice how society might make any given day harder on my traveling companions because their skin was a different shade than mine.
And then Michael Brown was shot in Ferguson, MI and a month later I started social work school in the town of Rodney King and OJ Simpson. That was the first time I thought about the rebellious white kids in high school being shot instead of escorted home to Mom for a grounding. That was the first time that I realized the difference was race.
Since then I have tried to surround myself with people, opportunities, words and ideas to show me race. I wanted to see it because I realized that by not seeing it I was another fooled white person sitting at Tom Robinson’s sentencing.
But still today, watching pieces of a film about the 1967 civil unrest in Detroit, I was watching a history I had never been taught. I did not know it because the citizens impacted were not white. And being a white American never makes us see. We have to go looking. The film Emmy and I are making is about this looking.