I like to go barefoot whenever I can. Outdoors I wear footwear when I need to, but once I’m home, the shoes come off. I’ve preferred being barefoot for as long as I can remember. And as I’m walking around the house I tend to notice things on the floor, like crumbs from toast in the kitchen, or bits of kitty litter that our cat likes to distribute around his box. I find myself sweeping and vacuuming often, because I get annoyed by the feeling of walking on things that shouldn’t be there.
It got me thinking: if I wore shoes or even slippers around the house, would it bother me as much? Would I feel the need to clean as often? So I posted this on Twitter:
It was a kind of throwaway tweet, but the idea stuck with me. People tend to work to improve the things that affect them the most, especially if it is a pain point. But if that same thing that bothers someone enough for them to get motivated to fix doesn’t bother you, you probably would wonder what the big deal is. It doesn’t bother me; why are those other people so worked up about it?
White people are walking around this country as if they are wearing hiking boots. People of color, though, are barefoot and they feel every bit of the systemic racism that reminds them constantly that they are the “other”. When you’re white those things don’t register in your consciousness, because those thick soles of your hiking boots insulate you from it.
Those boots are a metaphor for white privilege. When black people voice their issues, it’s easy to dismiss them as imagined or overblown, because if they really were that bad, you’d notice it too, right? It takes something like the video of George Floyd being murdered by that cop to finally get through to white people just how bad things are for black people in this country.
It’s good that people, white and black, are getting angry and calling out for reform and improvement. But that’s not enough: we white people need to keep listening. We can’t take off our metaphorical boots, but we can learn that since our experience is not the same as others, the voices from others need to be heard and valued if we are ever going to improve the world for all people.