When was the last time you did something for the very fist time, is scrolled on a magnet on my fridge, to remind me to seek the new. To search for fresh experiences. It might be as simple as trying Sushi or a new recipe. It might be as easy as trying a new hairstyle, as daring as a hot air balloon ride, or as edgy as a first tattoo. I crave “firsts” almost as much as I crave chocolate. “Firsts” enlighten, inspire and keep life interesting.
Last week I experienced a startling kind of first. I drove down Richmond’s famous Monument Avenue. The Black Lives Matter movement have been protesting on this beautiful tree lined street for weeks, with the Robert E. Lee monument at the center of their demonstrations. I was not prepared for what I saw. The statues were covered with layers of angry colors and words of animosity. Not one inch of the base of the Lee statue was spared. So busy, there were many phrases, letters and words I didn’t understand. But I could feel the message.
It was like viewing a piece of art in a museum. Hauntingly moving. I had to stop the car and get out to take the time to absorb its meaning. It spoke to me. Very loudly. For the very first time, I saw my white privilege and it hurt me deeply.
I never felt particularly privileged growing up. I was raised in a small town with good schools and a supportive community. Schools were integrated when I was in 3rd grade, without any issues that I recall. I went to Stonewall Jackson Elementary, then onto Thomas Jefferson (we called it TJ) and finally, Robert E. Lee High School (we called it Lee). I moved to Richmond 8 years after college. I shared an apartment on Monument Avenue, just a block west of the Stonewall Jackson statue. Wow! I never noticed all these Confederate ghosts escorting me through life. In sight, but out of mind. They never made any noise for me, until now.
The ride down Monument Avenue woke me to the injustice of my privilege. Yes, I’ve worked hard for my accomplishments, but the doors were not hard to open and few were ever closed. I’ve never considered myself racist, but my lack of awareness has contributed to the intolerance experienced by others.
There is enough anger in the world right now for us all to share. I hope we can take the power from these negative emotions, make it positive and use it to fuel some firsts. I pray that we can stop the polarity and meet in the gray area to start healing. We must move forward. Together.