Recently, I saw two movies that made me very aware of my skin color -- -- Hidden Figures and I Am Not Your Negro. As an aging woman who cherishes easy access to bathrooms, the sight of the brilliant mathematician in Hidden Figures running in heels across the NASA campus to get to the colored-only bathroom literally made me squirm in my seat. I don't think I ever quite got the fact that skin color could stand in the way of the most basic of bodily functions.
The next week I was watching I Am Not Your Negro. The audience in the theater was quite mixed. It was an audience that would not have existed 50 short years ago. Somehow, I had forgotten the incredible separateness of this country and the hate-filled walls that segregation created. I had forgotten that Martin Luther King Jr. , Malcolm X and Medgar Evers all were murdered before they even turned 40. I had forgotten the bravery of young African-Americans going to school with white children and adults yelling obscenities and spitting on them. I had forgotten the bodies hanging from trees and the viciousness and violence.
I walked out of the theater with my head down and tears in my eyes. All I felt was shame, the shame of being a white person in America. The shame of living in a country where the viciousness and violence against people of color is a daily occurrence.
I was trying to explain this feeling to some people and they said: "You can't be blamed for the people before you. You have nothing to be ashamed of. You don't act that way." I think that sentiment does not get me off the hook.
Shame is a powerful emotion. I want to take this shame and make sure it keeps me sensitized to those around me. I want this shame to drive my actions so that I fight against what I still believe is a very racist country. I want this shame to remind me of the promise of liberty for ALL in America, and how fragile and broken that promise is unless I and others of all colors hold it close to our heart. I want this shame to keep me uncomfortable in my very privileged white skin because I need to remember how the only thing that separates me from instant discrimination is less pigment in my skin.
I want this shame to help me be brave.