I’ll never forget how it felt to come to terms with and recognize my own inherent racial bias.

It was three years ago. My husband and I had just adopted our amazing and brilliant son from Memphis, Tennessee.

Unlike us, and the vast majority of Mainers, our son is black.

Like most first-time parents, I was consumed with the normal anxieties and stresses that come with being responsible for raising a child and teaching him to be a well-adjusted, caring and engaged member of society.

Very quickly, however, it became clear how much parenthood and being the white mother of a black boy would actually teach me – about race, about difference and about my own subconscious bias that, growing up in an upper-middle-class, white, suburban world, I had never even been aware of.

Shortly after adopting my son, I was walking down the street when five black teenage boys approached.

Without even recognizing what I was doing, I began to cross to the other side of the street. Not obviously – very nonchalantly. But I crossed because somewhere deep in my subconscious, I was afraid.

I had probably been doing this most of my adult life but never realized it until I had my son.

In a few years, he will be one of those boys. How could I justify this action to him? I couldn’t. I was ashamed, embarrassed and, for the first time, all too aware of my own demons that I must confront.

I share this story not because it gives me a sense of pride – because it most certainly doesn’t.

I share it because every day, in ways large and small, whether we are at the store or at the playground, I’m reminded that my son’s world and mine are very different even though we are walking through it together.

Our world is different because we live in an imperfect society, and whether we want to admit it or not, that society and our culture have made us all biased.

That doesn’t mean that we are all bad people, although some are. Or that people want to be racists, although sometimes they might. Or that people aren’t trying to make things better, because many, many are.

For most of us, our bias is buried deep in a place where we can’t see it and don’t feel it. But it lives there and, on occasion, out of fear and anger, it comes out.

My question for everyone today is: Are we ready to start recognizing it and start talking about it?

Right now our country is being torn apart by a firestorm of anger, frustration and misunderstanding because of the deaths of black boys and men at the hands of the police. And we’re having a hard time hearing each other and seeing the realities of each other’s world.

But what is going on today can’t be ignored.

In November, USA Today did an analysis of arrest rates in the United States. The newspaper found a “staggering disparity” based on race, including in Maine towns and cities.

A black person is 3½ times more likely to be arrested in South Portland than a white person. In Bangor, Lewiston and Portland, a black person is about three times more likely to be arrested.

Though the USA Today article has its limits and the arrest numbers are easy to quantify, the reasons for arrest are more complicated overall.

But if we look at a subset, arrests for marijuana possession, we see the same type of racial gap.

We know that black people and white people use marijuana at similar rates. (If you just thought to yourself, “Really,” you’re beginning to get my point.) But in Maine, according to the ACLU, black people are more than twice as likely as white people to be arrested on marijuana possession charges. In York County, the number soars to five times as likely.

When you’re white, it’s easier to believe we live in a post-race meritocracy. But when you’re a young black man – or the mother who loves one – that’s not what you see every day.

The only way that we can advance as a people and a community is to stop running from our societal and personal biases or pretending they don’t exist. Instead, we need to start confronting them and talking honestly and openly about them, like I did today, so that someday, black boys like my son can live in the same world as white boys.

— Special to the Press Herald