did you see them looking at us?
"What a beautiful thing."
That was the immediate response this interviewee had to the prompt "imagine a U.S. without racism." She was a White woman who grew up in a small town and now lives in an urban area in the Midwest. She described herself as naïve. There was one Black family in her childhood home town, and she was best friends with them. Her boyfriend is biracial, and when they would be out to dinner, he would often say, "did you see those people looking at us?" She said she never noticed.
She continued to tell me about family members who work in law enforcement, uncomfortable conversations about police, and that she doesn't like confrontation. She talked about deaths her family experienced during COVID, and the flurry of check-ins that happen immediately after someone dies or when a crisis occurs. But after some time passes, people stop checking in. That frustrated her. Two months, three months, a year down the road, folks no longer follow up, but the grief or loss hasn't disappeared. It's still there. "Kind of like racism," she said, "it's still there."
Then she had an eye-opening moment.
She reflected back on her boyfriend saying, "did you see those people looking at us?" and how she would dismiss it.
And, in that moment, she realized she needed to follow up.
She needed to check in.
She needed to see.