Dismantle Fear and Ignorance to Eradicate Racism, Raise Consciousness, and Embrace Equality.
It’s time. In fact, it’s way past due. Equality. For all.
One of my favorite memories as a kid was taking drives with my dad through Detroit. We lived in the suburbs on the outskirts of the city, and Dad owned a pharmacy in downtown Detroit. He had lived most of his life in and around the city. While on our drives through, he would take me on a tour back in time, to Detroit’s heyday.
As we passed burnt out buildings and abandoned homes, and drove under graffiti-splattered highway overpasses, these images of reality would fade into bustling streets bursting with life force. I could hear children’s laughter and see smiling faces as these imaginary people in my mind’s eye went about their day. Loved. Happy. Safe.
“Right over there was Hudson’s department store,” Dad would point out in the distance. “It was the first time I had ever seen an escalator. I would ride it up and down again and again. I could play on those escalators every day, much to my mother’s dismay.” He smiled at the memory.
“Want to see something crazy?” he asked one day while on one of these excursions. Immediately, I said Yes. Sadness clouded his eyes, heightening my curiosity. Soon we came upon the great divide of Detroit city limits on Eight Mile Road. “See the difference?” he asked, turning his head from the wheel to witness my reaction. Overgrown grass, abandoned buildings plastered with graffiti, and sidewalks scattered with garbage gave way to perfectly manicured lawns.
Rising from them were well-kept homes, free of graffiti and garbage. My head kept turning back and forth as if watching a ping pong match. Destruction vs. Development. Two vastly different worlds side by side in the same reality. I couldn’t comprehend it.
“What happened to make Detroit this way?” I questioned.
“Well, honey, that depends on whom you ask. Many people will blame it on black people. But that’s not it at all.”
“What is it?”
“The problem is, people forgot that we are all the same.”
“Well, surely this can be fixed, can’t it? Do you think Detroit can be great again?”
“Yes, I do. Once people remember we are all the same.”
I naively thought it must just be the people in Michigan who forgot. When I moved to NYC at 18, I thought surely I had left racism behind. But being white, I had the privilege of not thinking about it much because it didn’t affect my personal experience.
One night after leaving work with my manager, who was also a friend, she asked me to hail her a cab. “Hey, I follow your orders at work, but once we leave the building, we’re equals.” I felt annoyed by her demanding behavior.
“Look,” she said, her eyes averted with embarrassment, “they won’t stop for me.”
I didn’t get it. I totally thought she was messing with me.
“And why won’t they stop for you?”
“Because I’m black.”
No way. That couldn’t be true. It was the late nineties. Surely, we had evolved to see beyond the color of someone’s skin. I told her as much.
She sighed. “Okay, stand back and watch.”
She stepped up to the curb and I stepped back by the building. One free cab passed her by, then another. When the third one passed, my jaw dropped and I had tears in my eyes.
“See?” she said. She looked embarrassed, and I felt like the biggest jerk in the world for not believing her. Upset that humanity still didn’t seem to remember.
We traded places. No sooner did I hold up my hand that a cab came to a screeching halt in front of me. I opened the door for her to climb in. He looked back at her and then forward, rolling his eyes.
“Thank you,” she said.
No, thank you, I thought as they drove off. You just opened my eyes. It might have broken my heart, but it made me see. The world wasn’t waking up. It was going back to sleep.
While working at another job in NYC, we would chat about our lives outside of work. It was the first time I was in love, and I talked about my boyfriend a lot. The nice things he did, the romantic gestures, how kind and generous he was. All the ladies I worked with swooned, and couldn’t wait to meet him at an upcoming work event.
The day of the event arrived, and I proudly brought my boyfriend along. He laughed and joked with many of my colleagues, and was having a good time. Then I went to introduce him to the woman who had swooned the most over my stories of us. She turned, and her face instantly dropped. “This is him?” she asked incredulously. She looked him up and down in disgust.
I don’t recall her exact words after that, but I will never forget the feeling of my face flushing with anger towards her and embarrassment for him. “I’m so sorry,” I stammered as we walked away. I felt the need to apologize on behalf of all white people. She knew all about him before, except the color of his skin, and it had completely colored her attitude. How quickly she forgot the wonderful qualities I had shared about him.
As most first loves, our relationship didn’t ultimately last, and later I began dating a white guy who was from England. A man who was, in a short time, going back to his home country.
When hearing of my latest partner, that very same woman let out a sigh of relief. “Oh, that’s good. It must be much easier for you.”
“Easier? How exactly is dating a man who lives in another country exactly easier for me?”
“Well, he’s not…” she trailed off and stared at me in silence. “He’s not black.”
“Oh!” I replied, trying to keep the heat that was rising from exploding out of me. “It’s easier for you to see!” And I turned on my heel, my fist clenched, before they could meet her face and make the problem worse.
Why the fuck were so many people forgetting? We are all the same. We are all human.
Is much of humanity suffering from Alzheimer’s? We seem to be continually forgetting this one truth that could save the lives of many and heal those currently suffering. Kindness. Compassion. Love.
Decades later, we still fail to remember.
While driving with Farouk, my Muslim husband, on our way to a spiritual retreat a few years ago, we notice a police car following us. When my husband changes lanes, their lights go on. We are pulled over. Two cops come to our car, one leaning into each of our windows. I’m in the passenger seat and asked to show my ID. I oblige.
Where are we going? We rented the car for the weekend and the plates are from Boston. When did we leave? It must have been early if we had made it there from Boston. We explain the rental, and that we came from Richmond, VA. My husband is asked to exit the vehicle, and it takes all my self-discipline not to freak out.
The policeman who stays at my window continues to amicably ask me questions as we wait. I silently say thanks for having white skin. I’m not sure what would have happened if I didn’t, and I was grateful I didn’t have to find out. I breathe deeply, and do my best to stay calm.
It seems like ages when Farouk finally gets back in the vehicle. I breathe a sigh of relief. The policeman who questioned him puts his head in my window. “Your husband told me you help people through grief. I admire that.” He pauses as he looks at me. “Do you mind if I ask what religion you are?”
My breath catches in my throat.
“I don’t follow a particular religion. Just love. I think we can all get along if we love, and aim to understand, one another.”
He stared at me for a moment. Then nodded. “You know, you’re right.”
As we drove away, I asked Farouk, “What happened? Why were we pulled over anyway?”
Apparently, he did not have his turn signal on long enough before changing lanes. When he went back to the police car, he immediately saw a Bible on the dashboard. He calmly explained to the officer how I had recently written a book to help people move through grief, and we were headed to a spiritual retreat to learn more about how to help more people.
He said the officer stopped, looked at him, and said, “You know, I like you. I’m not going to give you a ticket.”
I’m still unsure how to exactly interpret what happened. The cops seemed like good guys overall. Maybe their own fears got the best of them for a moment. Maybe they just momentarily forgot. Maybe this encounter reminded them of our shared humanity.
Do I believe the color of my skin helped us have an amicable ending? While I don’t know for certain, I certainly don’t doubt it.
I realize that each of these were very minor incidents over the course of decades. They left me so frustrated and angry, I cannot comprehend what people who endure them on a daily basis must feel like.
I have kept quiet because I don’t know what to say. I’m afraid I might offend people by saying the wrong thing. I don’t know how I can help. I don’t know how I can make things better. I don’t know how to get people to remember.
But I know this:
I cannot stay silent any longer.
My heart goes out to those who have lost their lives in this battle.
My heart goes out to the black community. So many lies told about you, and lives wasted for fear and ignorance. To those who have gone, and those who are left behind.
My heart goes out to the blue community. The good men and women who aim to keep our communities safe and risk their lives in doing so. To those who have fallen, and their families.
My heart goes out to humanity. I pray more of us remember soon, so generations can heal from this hate and destruction.
Remember, unity is stronger than division.
Remember, love is stronger than hate and the fear that fuels it.
Remember, we are all human, with hearts that beat, and bleed the same, no matter the color of our skin.
My dad is no longer here to witness the wake-up call this world so desperately needs. How many more guns need to go off before we all open our eyes?
Aimee DuFresne is a Joy Catalyst and soul-shifting creator, coach, traveler, and latte-lover. She offers online guided JOYrides for women ready to shed the sh*t and shine their soul fully and brightly. She gently guides women to declutter mind, body and soul and embrace their true power. Also the proud author of Keep Going: From Grief to Growth, Aimee and her husband packed up their Prius in 2014 and have been traveling the country speaking, housesitting and petsitting ever since, continuing to spread JOY wherever they go. You could contact her via her website.