A few years ago I said to you, “You’re really pretty.”
You said, “Thank you.”
And I felt weird because there was an awkward silence after that. We hadn’t left each other’s presence yet.
So I added, “…. For a dark skin girl.” Your smile died and you walked off, trying not to correct me and get in a debate about it.
Back then, I didn’t know the impact of my words and I’m sorry. That is one of my biggest regrets. Because it didn’t matter that you were dark-skinned. I just thought that’s what I was supposed to say. I had no idea about the implications of my words and the constant strife you face for your skin colour. I went on to get my food in the cafeteria, wondering why your smile faded but even that thought faded moments later.
It shouldn’t have to be your job to correct me on institutionalised racism and I totally respect you for not calling me out. I 100% get how scary that can be because you have no idea what a stranger might retaliate with.
I want to tell you that I’ve learned from my mistake and I actively correct other white people now on their subtle racism. In some cases, it’s just that we don’t know any better. We don’t understand the gravity of referring to someone as “my black friend” instead of “my friend”. But in other cases, it is because we are racist. And it is in my duty, authority, and power to teach people right from wrong.
I think about you from time to time and I wish more than anything that I could apologise to you, in person, to your face. You shouldn’t have had to suffer from my ignorance. You didn’t and never will deserve that. I know it happens too often, though, and “it’s just a fact of life”. I think we agree that it shouldn’t be like that. And I want you to know I am working to change that.