Many years ago, around week 25 of my second pregnancy, I switched doctors. My new obstetrician was a man and in our first meeting, we talked for over an hour. Dr. H. told me that his primary job was to follow my guidance, to give me the birthing experience I wanted. He promised he wouldn’t rhapsodize about the wonders of childbirth when I felt like a fiery boulder was forcing its way through my loins. He’d be ready to address my pain at any point, but he wouldn’t presume I wanted a knight in shining armor to ride in on a white coat and zap me with narcotics. He’d step in if he assessed risk, but I’d be in charge of my own choices. He understood that as a man, there would be parts of childbirth he would never fully comprehend, and he’d always respect that my experience belonged to me.
But this post isn’t about childbirth; it’s about racism.
I’ve been trying to find a way to write about racial bigotry. Our culture is caught in a seemingly endless cycle, and I honestly don’t know how to make a difference. But I do know that silence isn’t the answer, so I’m stepping forward. I’m modeling my approach after Dr. H.
I’m starting by raising awareness — my own awareness. As a 58-year-old Caucasian woman, I’m approaching racism the same way Dr. H. approached my childbirth, knowing that my perspective is both valid and limited. Fair-skinned, green-eyed, 5’4”, gray hair — every thread weaves into my identity, shaping my relationship to the world, influencing how others perceive me.
For the past five years, I’ve lived in The South. I watched the furor when the Confederate Flag came down, no longer displayed in front of government buildings. I’ve stopped people from using the “n-word” for African-Americans, from telling “jokes” about white police officers beating confessions out of Black suspects. I saw how these words and “jokes” and Confederate flags were so much a part of their fabric that when I objected, some needed me to explain what had upset me. Even then, many were puzzled how “just a joke,” “just a word,” “just a flag” could bother me. My point: these folks were as taken aback by my mindset as I was by theirs.
We each have a point of view, partly conscious and partly unconscious, that influences our words, actions and belief systems. Following Dr. H.’s example, I need to be aware of my own assumptions. So I write this post as a student, not a teacher. And since mistakes are a part of learning, I’m writing about one of mine.
When I first heard the term “Black Lives Matter,” I was immediately drawn to the phrase. These three vibrant words pulsed with power, capturing a world of hurt and hope. I posted on social media about an example of racism, with the hashtag: #BlackLivesMatter. But then I made my mistake. I wanted to convey that Black lives matter because all lives matter equally, and that many treat Black lives as mattering less. So I wrote #BlackLivesMatter, and added #AllLivesMatter.
As I followed the Black Lives Matter Movement, I saw many people – none of them Black — post #BlackLivesMatter and add #AllLivesMatter. It became clear that this undermined the importance of Black lives. When I realized my mistake, I thought carefully. I needed to understand what happened, why it happened, how it happened. Then I thought of Dr. H. In our initial meeting, he made no assumptions. But this time, I did. Dr. H. asked questions. But this time, I didn’t. I made an assumption about using a new phrase, and I skipped a step: I didn’t ask.
I apologize for my mistake.
Amy Kaufman Burk is a novelist, blogger and mother of three grown children. Amy wrote her first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, in reaction to seeing gay students bullied in high school, as a voice against stereotypes. Her second novel, Tightwire, follows a rookie psych intern through her first year of training, working with her first patient. Amy blogs on a variety of subjects including parenting, LGBTQ+, gender equality and a Rolling Stones concert. She also collaborates with educators who include her books in their curriculum. To learn more about Amy, visit her website.