By Cary Betz-Williams
I went to the two and a half day ERACCE training, unsure of what to expect. I was a bit apprehensive, felt shy because I was going to be among strangers and kept reminding myself to think before I spoke since sometimes the most amazingly daft things come out when I don’t. But there was history to talk about and I knew some of the answers there. The people I sat with were soon people I could talk to. I felt myself relax. Apprehension faded. Anger and dismay began taking its place.
The hardest story I heard was about a man who was in a Target store. He was walking the aisles when his cart was struck by another shopper’s. This person, who was white, cursed him and called him the n-word, berating him as clumsy and stupid. He then walked away, leaving the black man standing there. No one intervened, though there were other white people around. No one asked if he was alright. No one offered to get a manager. They had gathered to watch and then they dispersed. The man left the Target shaken.
After this, we gathered in small groups to process what we had heard. As we did so, I was angry but also comforted. This had happened in Ohio. It hadn’t happened here. Not in my good safe Kalamazoo. I mentioned my thoughts, that I was glad that we didn’t have to worry about being shoved or pushed or otherwise made a target here. After I said this, one of the women of color I had been sitting with looked at me and said “I do. It’s happened to me.”
Funny what begins to break that protective shield of whiteness we all have around us. Those words were like a rock hitting my glass house. I had known intellectually that despite the myth that the Civil Rights movement had made everyone equal, there was something grievously wrong in my country. But to hear it from the young woman with whom I had just been trading stories about raising boys with—it stunned me. What I could take for granted—the reasonable expectation of safety in a well lit and busy public space—-she could not. She couldn’t and a whole lot of other people couldn’t and can’t and won’t be able to until some fundamental shift begins in our society. Like shards of glass, my preconceived notions fell around me.
I think I am a better person without them.
Now I am a member of the Board for the church. I hope to take the knowledge that I have and will continue to gain to help move People’s Church forward on its anti-racism journey.