There’s this scene in the Wizard of Oz where Dorothy realizes the Great and Powerful Oz is actually just a little man behind the curtain, scared and pulling levers and switches. This moment in that movie is, to me, a great metaphor for race consciousness.
By my own definition, race consciousness is when our biases and prejudices are reinforced through the media, through our culture and through institutions. And it can be a lot like the Wizard of Oz in our own lives, in that we might not recognize it for what it is until we have the courage to pull back the curtain and see the truth in full. But there are social norms and consequences for exposing the truth. For truth is often subjective.
I recently had an experience where my biases got me into trouble. I was at a luncheon for a work event and I didn’t know anyone there. I was seated next to a woman in her early 50s. She was Latina, professional and kind. I don’t know why I did this, but I brought up the election, and in my mind, I assumed that because she was Latina, she had voted for Hillary. Through the course of our conversation, however, it became clear that she had voted for Trump.
And there was a period of awkward silence.
Here, I had a choice. I could do nothing and pretend that was that or I could lift that curtain and see what’s inside both my judgments and her point of view. I chose the latter.
She shared with me about her and her family’s struggle for citizenship. Her aunt and parents were able to secure citizenship for themselves and her from El Salvador only after years of dealing with the immigration system. She was immensely proud to be a LEGAL citizen, and she felt it was important that anyone who comes to live and work in this country be legal, too.
I agree with her.
After the discomfort was quieted by her graciousness and generosity, I shared with her my struggle to obtain citizenship for my ex-husband and what it means that my son’s father is a legal citizen, too. Honestly, until I had had that conversation, I hadn’t really considered how important it was to me that my son’s father was a legal citizen.
What is exceptional about America is that we are fighting against thousands of years of tribal tendencies to create a true, diverse, inclusive democracy. White privilege and ‘Alt-right’ rhetoric isn’t part of the historical nature upon which our country was founded. It certainly has been pervasive and evident, but it is not predominating. Yes, we’ve got light years to go in order to achieve some sort of racial equality in the U.S., but we’ve come so far and that is what is so sad and frightening about his election—that our progress will be deterred.
I put a safety pin on my dress the other day to express my solidarity for everyone who’s been oppressed for whatever reason. Then a friend posted a rather inflammatory, yet insightful, essay on why that isn’t cool for white people to do. The conflict that arose internally summoned the need to ask broader questions of myself, “Who am? What do I believe?” When you take the time to allow your truest version of yourself to answer this question, you might be surprised with the answer.
Do I take the pin off in order to not offend? Or do I keep it on? Am I a product of white privilege? Or do I acknowledge that I have suffered from sexism, harassment, judgement and class exclusion due to my working-class, poor upbringing and status as a single mother? Which face is the face that I let “them” see? Do I stay behind my curtain and push my levers? Or do I show my true self, accept my vulnerability, and stand up for my beliefs and values? Or do I admit that beliefs and values are largely ego-based, and then just sit and observe?
There are a lot of celebrity news pundits and inspirational journalists who are suggesting the best next steps. Here are some of mine.
- Sit with yourself. For. A. Long. Time. Don’t blow this off. Really. Meditation isn’t about how you do it, but rather that you even take the time. Admit you can’t do it all that well and sit with yourself as you recognize just how f-ing hard it is to not do anything to distract yourself.
- Listen to others. Listen to your coworkers, your friends and family. Listen to the cashier at the local grocery store. Listen to your news (and I dare you to listen to their news).
- Ask questions. If you are faced with the uncomfortable moment of silence, pause, breathe and ask a question from your heart. Allow this to happen without feeling like you have to direct it.
- Finally, get active. Whether by volunteering with a local organization, writing letters to your representatives or donating something that would help another person.
Jill Sarick Santos-
Jill Sarick Santos is a daughter, granddaughter, mother, sister, lover & friend from the Pennsylvanian woods with an appreciation for intelligent, introverted, spiritual ecology. She lives with her son Ziggy and her dog Chulo in Ventura, CA. She fights hunger and food waste by day as Branch Manager for Food Forward and writes copious essays and blog posts on sustainability, spirituality, femininity and motherhood by night. You can find her blog online at: https://medium.com/@