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Enlightenment is a destructive process. It has nothing to do with becoming better or being happier. Enlightenment is the crumbling away of untruth. It’s seeing through the facade of pretense. It’s the complete eradication of everything we imagined to be true. – Adyashanti
By Eric Clark, contributing writer
When I began school, I was a product of the environment that I was raised in; the “Christian, Right-wing conservative, ‘I don’t see color; racism isn’t a thing,’ go out and get a job get off of welfare, anti-immigration” crowd. My father was the most steadfast of them. Any stereotypical conservative republican narrative would normally apply; including my views on Gay marriage. Ironically, I am gay and was in a relationship with a Black man. Race rarely came up in conversation during the five years we were together.
I was a freshman in college the first time Obama ran for President. I voted for McCain, even though something inside told me I didn’t agree with a lot of his rhetoric. I was in the infant stages of developing my critical thinking skills. To be honest with myself, and to those who happen to read this; every opinion I ever had, was something derived from my dad and his beliefs.
Things slowly started to shift and move slowly, but surely. The first notable event was during a VERITAS (Speech and Debate) class in college. The group that I was in was given the task to argue why Gay marriage should be legalized. At the time, as a Gay man, I was okay with “Civil Unions.” Why was it a big deal? One of my classmates stood up and exclaimed, “I don’t think it’s right because gay men can’t love each other.” Without realizing I was speaking, I responded “Oh!? So who are you to say, that the love I feel for my boyfriend is a fallacious dream, unattainable by those like me?” That moment was the first shimmering light of my own cognitive belief that was separate from my father.
By late 2012, I started dating this guy who moved back to Tulsa, from Chicago. Early on, he asked me how I felt about the Black Lives Matter movement. My response was the usual “run-of-the-mill” spill most Oklahomans give:
“Racism wasn’t involved, Zimmerman was defending himself, we don’t know all the facts, and you’ll never know what it’s like to be a cop working in the field,” my unwoke ass said.
A lot of individuals who defend BLM have had conversations with these types of people before. For the first time, I was being challenged about something I believed. It was uncomfortable. He started telling me things about the subject matter I had never heard of before:
- The prison-industrial complex,
- systemic racism,
- police brutality,
- white privilege, etc.
I was so uncomfortable talking about race because it was never something I imagined was a problem. I stormed out of his apartment and decided I was never going to talk to him again. He chased me, calmed me down, and explained that he just wanted to have a conversation. That night, something changed in me, and I wanted to know more.
That night as my beau slept, I called upon the mighty power of Google and started researching the topics he educated me on. What stuck out to me was the Prison-Industrial complex. Now look, I am not trying to argue a point here at all. Before meeting him, neither had I been approached about race relations and issues before, so I need more familiarity. My discoveries were staggering. At first glance, the data suggested that black people just committed more crime. They represent 75+ % of the prison population. I mean it makes perfect sense right? Then I looked at the population of the United States and studied the most recent Census. In shock, I just stared at the computer screen.
I never realized how little of the population black people accounted for. Knowing something was amiss, I checked multiple sources and outlets. Every single one said the same thing regarding the population. Two questions lingered: 1.) Why do black people commit more crime? 2.) Why is there almost an 8:1 ratio of black people to white people in prison? It was getting late, so I didn’t get the answers I was seeking. These thoughts took occupancy in my mind for a week. Next time I spoke with him, I asked him the questions that came up during my research. I needed a place to start. At this point, I was still convinced racism was nowhere near as bad as he had made it seem. My curiosity and desire to understand led me to continue my research.
Our conversation advanced, and I became aware that race is a factor in a lot of issues America faces today. I started to understand. My heart was willing to accept that the normality I’ve grown accustomed to as a white person, is not the same reality POC experience. When I see some white people discuss race, they never have an open mind or heart about the subject.
White America has been drinking the same sweet tea for almost 200 years; sure America offers POC sweet tea, but white people get pure sugar in theirs, while POC are stuck with “Sweet’ n ’Low” or some other cheap imitation of sweet America.
If you are a genuine seeker of truth, you must be willing to accept that the reality you see may be obscured by the lens you choose to use. Recognize that your vision to you might seem clear, but if you go to the optometrist, he may diagnose you with astigmatism and prescribe some bifocals. You have to wear them in-order-to get 20/20 vision.