Sunday, November 17, 2013

Who Paints the Picture?

Drew G.I. Hart, whose blog I follow, posted an important essay that tells the story of Renisha McBride, a 19 year old African American woman who was shot in the face while seeking help from a white man after being involved in an auto accident. I encourage you to read Drew's blog here:

The shooter, Theodore Wafer, said that he believed his life was in danger, and that he fired his gun accidentally (I'm not quite sure what one argument has to do with the other). There were no signs of forced entry -- Renisha (who along with being disoriented from the accident was under the influence of alcohol and marijuana) had only knocked on Wafer's door.

Drew's point is that the shooter saw a black woman and believed he knew her essence -- this was a dangerous person. This was a person who needed to be stopped.

A young African American named Ryan woman expressed a similar sentiment to me. She said:

I feel like as soon as an African American person walks into a room they’re categorized, their whole entire life is just spilled out in front of them because everyone already knows their entire, you know, their struggles and everything. But for a white person it’s not like that. I mean, I feel like people give them a chance to, you know, tell about themselves and, you know, paint their own picture. I feel like for African American people it’s painted. 

Although no one was shooting at Ryan, the feeling she describes reflects Drew's argument. As a white person I can't know what it would feel like to have people of the dominant culture paint my picture the way that Ryan so poignantly described. I do know what it feels like to be the one painting the picture, the one making assumptions about people because of their race, ethnicity, gender, religion, or sexual orientation. Of course, I would never shoot first and ask questions later. Most of us would not respond violently the way that Wafer did. But in much more subtle ways I struggle with allowing people to paint their own pictures, as Ryan deserves to do.