Being a white female from a middle class demographic that grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood, it’s always been easy to turn a blind eye to modern day systemic racism – if I’m being honest, it wasn’t so much as turning a blind eye, but more so being ignorant to how deeply rooted racism is in everyday American life.
It’s also been easier to awkwardly laugh off more obvious racist slights.
Because it didn’t affect me.
But on May 25, 2020 George Floyd’s tragic murder shook the world to its core.
It shook me to the core.
I started listening, and truly hearing what the black people of America have been screaming their entire lives, for generations upon generations. The Civil Rights Act signed in 1954 may have taken down segregation, but it didn’t eliminate white privilege and the American system that caters to white people. Black people in America are still very much ‘separate but equal‘.
The first week of June, I made it my mission to get educated and understand – because to take down the system it’s necessary to understand the system. The podcast by NPR’s Code Switch: Can We Talk About Whiteness and Netflix Documentary: 13th kicked off my flight to understanding. Like many others, I began getting aggressive on social media, sharing resources after resource, partially to ensure funny memes wouldn’t continue to take back the newsfeed, but also so my friends, family, and followers can get educated and understand. I needed these people, my people, to understand.
What I didn’t expect from all of the posting, was an angry phone call from a family member that lacked any kind of understanding. Not one blip of it – just unbridled, condescending ignorance screamed into my ear for 45 minutes.
And that, quite frankly, broke my heart.
In addition to shattering any hope I had for their understanding, the call inspired me to talk to my nana. I knew speaking with her would lift my defeatist mentality after that emotionally taxing argument. While talking with her, I began to take note of our conversation – what she was saying was important and moving – I felt other people who may not feel inclined to listen to me, may listen to her.
My 71 year old, very white and very woke nana needs to be heard by more people. So, readers, meet my nana – Rosalinda ‘Rosie’ Piatkiewicz.
Growing up, she would often pick my sister and I up from school, watching us until our mom got off work. And like most sisters, we’d be able to tolerate each other for a total of….3 seconds before incessant bickering would ensue. I’m not sure how your family handles fighting siblings, but my nana’s go to was “There are children around the world who have to worry about not having food to eat or a bomb getting dropped on their house! There are children in war zones – WAR ZONES!” and she would continue to rant at us endlessly about the tragedies of the world.
Effectively shutting us up and ending the argument over who got the last Cheet-o.
And now, ladies and gentleman, below – a conversation between a granddaughter and her grandmother.
A Call with Nana
E: What do you think of what’s going on right now? The protests, the looting, the riots. There’s a lot of people across the board who lump these three together, but more often than not, they’re not the same groups of people doing everything. There’s footage of protesters stopping looters.
N: To quote a friend, “Hmm sort of reminds me of Jesus turning over the tables in the temple.” In situations like these, there’s always going to be looters, people who take advantage of a situation.
What’s most troubling with this whole situation is Trumps declaration, “Bring in the troops!” THE TROOPS?! The cities need more men that can contain, sure, but you’re talking military – which is there to protect our country against foreign enemies, not against our own citizens doing what is constitutionally allowed: raise your voice, protest in the things we see as wrong. It’s our country, not Trump’s country – we’re doing exactly what we’re supposed to be doing and what we have the right to do! Not to mention, how would you feel as military getting called into “tame” your own city, being put in a position to oppose your own family and friends. The military is meant to protect from foreign enemies – not to be used against your own people. That is called a Civil War.
E: What are your thoughts on the police force? There is a call for defunding, reform, change. All of which I honestly am still trying to wrap my head around on what should be done, what must be done.
N: Cops are trained militarily – how to shoot, how to restrain. They are not trained enough on how to deescalate, negotiate, step back, and keep hold of a temper. Police training has been cut down over the years, there used to be an extensive academy consisting of 16 week long training, and currently its lowered to only 6-10 weeks of training to become a policeman.
There is also no official licensing to become a cop, it’s training and certification exam, which leads to situations where if a cop gets fired for unnecessary force or other instances, he can go to another part of the country and get hired on elsewhere, remaining a cop. He has the training, he doesn’t disclose the bad info, cities in need of a cop tend to not dig as deep into an individual, and since there’s no license to be stripped to declare the individual unqualified – he’s still able to be a cop. This isn’t monitored.
Look at nurses for example – All nurses, from RNs to CNAs, have to be licensed so that they can be tracked because there are good people and bad people in every occupation.
E: It’s clear that the term white privilege is misunderstood by many, I can’t even seem to accurately explain to the confused, because if they are reading the same documents that explicitly lay it all out and still don’t get it – I don’t know what else I can even say. Often it seems “white privilege” and “being privileged” are synonymous, when they aren’t at all.
N: White privilege isn’t “life would be better if I came from a better background because life would’ve been easier” it’s not economic. It’s the fact that the day you’re born and you’re that white baby in the nursery, you’re going to be treated better than the black baby. Your life is going to be easier than theirs.
When I think white privilege, I always reflect on a night where I was working with another nurse who happened to be black. Her son was sick with a fever so she combined her breaks to run home and check on him. She only lived a few blocks from the hospital, so no one had any issues at all with her running home. This nurse took over an hour, and everyone began getting worried about the kid thinking something went wrong. She finally makes it back and lets us know that it took so long because she got stopped by a police officer, she didn’t run a stop sign, wasn’t speeding. The police officer pulled her over and said, “What were you doing in the neighborhood driving around.“ She informed him about her sick son, and he let her go after a while. But we knew what happened, she got stopped for driving black.
There’s another striking thought that comes to mind, I’ve never gone to work and been told that a patient doesn’t want me taking care of them because of the color of my skin. When this situation comes up, and believe me it does, the more empathetic way I’ve seen it handled is by saying to the nurse, “He’s not going to be your patient tonight because he’s a racist and I don’t want to put you through that.”
E: Why do you think so many people are bothered by the BLM movement? When Black Lives Matter is mentioned, it’s not uncommon for people to shout in response “All Lives Matter!” But what’s weird is that no one said all lives didn’t matter. There is still a massive civil rights injustice happening in the country, there is still racial inequalities happening.
N: I can only think they feel against the movement because they know in their hearts that it’s true, that they don’t look at black people as people – they look at them as black.
Growing up in Kane, Pennsylvania, I never saw more than one black family. It wasn’t until I married and we moved to Virginia that I began to see. Virginia is where I saw “whites only” signs everywhere. There was one night when your papa and I went for a walk down by the river, and there was a KKK meeting featuring a cross burning and I was shocked, upset. It was earth shattering.
A clear reason for the split on Black Lives Matter, is that Trump is making it a point to try to divide the country – he’s not even trying to hide this (aka setting the military against the very people they’re meant to protect and serve.)
I am patriotic, I love my country – and it is because of this that I want America to be the best it can be, and to be that it needs to change.
Look at our young country and what we’ve done in just a few hundred years: annihilated Native Americans and took their land – we could’ve instead respected their culture, made friends, coexisted with them, but no – we wanted their land and resources. We just completely shit on them. Then we went to another part of the world and captured people only to breed them like animals and make them do our work.
We have a lot to atone for, but knowing that this is your country’s history – how could you not want to atone for this?
E: How do you handle it when friends and family deny white privilege and racism? How do you handle the continued support of Trump?
N: There are times where I purposely watch Fox news to get a different perspective, see what makes them think this way. But when I think about it too much I just want to cry because it hurts me so badly that they feel the way they do.
At the end of the day, I can’t emphasize enough that my point of view is not a Republican vs. Democrat thing. Trump is dividing our country. There are good Republicans speaking out against him that I respect – because while my philosophy is different than a Republican’s, I see it’s possible that we can still get together and change things. The problem is the man. He is not for us, he is for himself.
A leader unites.
Because of the division created in the country, it’s hard to have conducive dialogues with certain people because they echo the Trump Mentality of “its my way or the highway.” Just look, the most powerful man is surrounded by other powerful and highly educated people that are trying to educate him on how to be presidential and make good decisions – yet he remains firm in his egocentric stances.
A way to maintain relationships is to ask, “You may not agree on this, but what DO we agree on?”
While the world is pushing for uncomfortable conversations, no one is saying to stop having comfortable ones.
And by keep balance, I don’t mean if you have 3 comfy convos, to then have 3 aggressive ones. No, keep YOUR balance – keep your mental and emotional health in check.
Unplug from social media if you need to, ignore phone calls if you need to, hit that “Do Not Disturb” like it’s nobody’s business.
Take. Your. Pauses.
On Netflix watch 13th, When They See Us, and Teach Us All – but also watch The Big Flower Fight, Sweet Magnolias, Community, and The Wrong Missy.
Keep. Your. Balance.
Don’t let the haters get you down, continue getting educated and fighting for what’s right.