When you think about roller coasters, what do you feel? Does the thought fill you with excitement and anticipation? Or maybe with queasiness and dread? Do you look forward to the next time you get to ride one? Or maybe avoid any chance where the possibility exists?
Most of us have been on roller coasters at least once, and have our own experience of them. They may be attached to memories for us, that are either happy or fearful. Two people riding the same roller coaster may well get off the ride having experienced vastly different things.
The roller coaster didn’t change. The roller coaster itself was exactly the same for both people. It operated on a set of rules, which defined how fast or slow it went, how long or short was the ride, how far the tracks were laid, how many loops there were along the way.
Yet, if you were the person that experienced a great time, and found it to be exhilarating and fun, do you doubt that the other person experienced fear or nausea? No. You know their experience to be true for them, just as your experience was true for you. Some people just don’t enjoy the same things you do. Or maybe you were the fearful one, and can’t imagine what the other person found so wonderful about the experience, but do you doubt their experience was different? No, of course not.
The roller coaster didn’t change. It was exactly the same for both of you. What was different? Your PERCEPTION of the experience. A reality can exist and be agreed upon by both of you to BE reality, and yet you experience it in two different ways.
What, then, is so difficult in understanding the vastly different experiences people have of living in this land? When a superstar athlete kneels during the national anthem, and you are enraged that he would be so “unpatriotic,” isn’t it quite possible that his experience of the reality in this country is very different than yours? YOUR perception of it is different. You can’t understand how he can react in such a way because you haven’t experienced the same as him in this country. The country is the same for both of you. It is the reality; it hasn’t changed. Yet, your experiences of it are not the same.
What is so difficult in understanding that, for people of color in this country, their experience with police is vastly different than yours? The police are the same; they are the reality. Yet, what people of color experience in their interactions with police is different than what YOU experience in your interactions with them. Both are no less true.
Just like the roller coaster, this country runs on a set of rules. Those rules are built in a way that favors Europeans in a hundred different ways. It is geared toward making YOUR experience better, easier. You cannot perceive this privilege because it’s the only perception you’ve ever known. You haven’t experienced living here as a person of color. You can’t possibly know how VERY different their experience is of the reality of this country’s systemic racism.
You have only your own perception, your own experiences, on which to draw. But isn’t it possible, just like your perception of that roller coaster, that others have an entirely different perception? We must look outside our own experiences, our own perception, to truly understand the reality that maintains white supremacy.