Race. Every connotation and emotion brought to the surface by this one word are all the reasons I hesitated to write this post.
I hope things have calmed a little by the time I click publish, though I’m painfully aware our nation [and others] will still be raw and wracked with grief over recent events for years to come. Moreso if history continues on this repeat cycle. If the news is any indication, terror is the new reality.
The first two weeks of July 2016 were filled with violent drama. Shootings, peaceful protests interrupted by snipers, argumentative hashtags, media skepticism of individuals legally open-carrying and unlawful jailings of non-violent activists. The tension humming through my Twitter feed, I haven’t even touched that — in fact, let’s not because we’re all too sensitive.
Blogs and articles emerged in discussion of white fragility and privilege. I’ll repeat what I shared in my response to the violence: this wasn’t about the rest of us But it’s important we talk about the white side of things, if only briefly. I’ve never read an honest, informative, preferably first-hand account of how we white kids were raised in relation to race and culture — the above linked article on white fragility references it statistically, in my opinion. Whites are affected by these events, too — they don’t have to be about us to damage and threaten our way of life, or sincerely grieve and upset us.
Nelli says we need honesty — people willing to share the history they’ve witnessed. I agree, which means it’s probably time I speak up, as difficult as that may prove…
I’m 31 and I can testify that white parents don’t communicate racial struggles to their children. There was zero convo about this. – Me, via Twitter
I received scores of mixed messages in regards to race during my formative years. I was not exposed to other cultures and discussions of race […and politics and relationships and- and- and…] were laced with mounting tension… In retrospect, I’ve asked myself many times how I might impart an understanding of the Civil Rights movement and today’s events to my future children. I’m sorry to say my answers are pathetic, but they’ve granted insight into what many parents must have been feeling in the 80’s through the early 2000’s. It was too soon for them — they struggled to switch gears on a dime after years of being taught there was only one superior shade of sand way. This absolutely does not excuse anyone from lacking courage to stand with the oppressed.
Parents: the best you can do is be honest — answer every question, write down those you don’t know for a library visit. My librarians respond to questions via email, if you’re uncomfortable asking in person. Encourage open discussions in your homes and at your dinner tables. Give yourself [and your kids] a bit of grace when you realize you didn’t get it right.
In her book, Letter to My Daughter, the late, great Maya Angelou shares the story of her first visit to Wake Forest University. Following her talk, students gathered around her for an informal discussion in which she answered questions from the students. A young white man of about nineteen years explained that a black gentleman of the same age was offended when he called him “boy”. He asked Ms. Angelou why. Her response was a very simple: “He’s sitting right there. Why don’t you ask him.” I remind you of this story for 3 reasons rolled into 1 grand, all-encompassing statement.
- Whites need to communicate with those of color. We need to be asking y’all questions and learning how things are for you.
- People of color need to communicate with whites. Y’all need to ask where we came from, what we were taught about race, culture and history and what we ourselves choose to believe.
- Grand statement — WE NEED TO BE COMMUNICATING WITH ONE ANOTHER…
…and that’s exactly what I’m going to attempt to do here.
People of Color: I can only speak for myself. I hope others follow suit. Know that I’m not here to ask that you teach myself or anyone else every ingrained detail about your culture in under 15 minutes. But, I do love to read so if you’re my friend and I ever approach you with, “Could you recommend a good book on your culture and it’s history” I would truly appreciate some grace — if not, I’ll go hide in my home until I can offer you the grace of forgiveness [true story].
My personal history in regards to race is sadly brief; please note that I consider personal histories (seemingly insignificant moments in an individual’s life) to be of great importance. These are the infinitesimal foundations of grander catastrophes — or deep, meaningful relationships with our surroundings.
I rarely played with children of color as I hardly ever met or saw them. I was mightily curious, and enjoyed spending time with them when I had opportunity. My parents endeavored to explain that these children had a different culture. The unspoken message I received was an outpouring of confused gobbledygook which highlighted random stereotypes.
I was taught black history as I tip-toed carefully around the shattered eggshells of a past my parents never rarely spoke of outside of my history lesson [homeschooled Kindergarten – 9th grades].
I was assured a gentleman of my choosing would be loved despite his color and at the same time discouraged from actively seeking / dating people of color. The suggested concerns were that my children may well be picked on and doubts as to how the two families of separate cultures might get along with one another — because we’re never just human families, guys. We must label ourselves with crayon wrappers, lest we be rendered identityless. As an adult, I met and married Drew. We half-eloped, causing some hurt on both sides. It’s been nearly 8 years now; our parents have never met. I spent my teens believing my family would grow with my marriage… that’s not quite what happened.
“Iffen you’uns is a’gunna move on up in hyeren, larn tuh speek Anglish!!” <<– and other nonsensensical bullshit. Last I checked, I don’t speak Iroquoian or Muskogean, though I was born and raised in the tribal lands of the Cherokee and Creek Native Americans.
I was denied a black baby doll from the American Girl series when I was about 9 or 10. The reason given was that other children would poke fun at me. Meanwhile, there was a girl my age who was poor, dirty, didn’t attend school and couldn’t read. When she came to VBS, I became her best pal for the week – something I announced before anyone could discourage me with “other kids will be mean to y’all if you’re friends” – and I held my own versus a grandmother who insisted upon forcing my new best friend to read from our booklets aloud. I think I could’ve handled a little teasing at my expense.
Back in 2015, Drew and I were homeless. A former coworker arranged for us to meet a friend of his from Mexico. This friend allowed us to rent a room in his home, shared with his partner, also from Mexico. We moved in and shared some interesting experiences despite language barriers and other stark differences. I learned basic Spanish in high school while Drew studied French in military academy; his teacher was a Romanian who spoke about 6 languages and English was not her best. Often, we express our love in a wild mix of French, Italian and Spanish. I’ll never forget the awe in our friend’s voice when we showed him our crazy lingo. His hand shot out to Drew’s arm as he said, “Do you understand?! Do you hear what it is she says to you?” I repeated myself. “Te amo con todo mi corazon y mi alma…” He continued speaking to Drew in tones hushed with emotion, “She says to you, ‘I love you, with ALL my heart and my soul!” I watched their exchange, remembering that mere days before, someone had cautioned me, “Be careful living with Mexicans. They – well, not all of them – but most of them like to drink a lot and they can get rowdy when they get drunk…” My response had been, “Don’t we all?” There had been an answering huff and, “I hope you don’t.” I didn’t know what more to say… I don’t speak Bigot-Latin.
Reading back over some of this, I’m ashamed of the kindly gentleman who praised my ‘bold’ choice to step out of the house wearing a t-shirt with a Bible-verse on it. He took pride in my bravery as I stood for what I believed in without thought or care of who noticed or what they said. No sir. That’s not bravery. That was me ignorantly exercising my privileges because there was zero mention of my choice of melanin that day. Perhaps he meant the fact that I stood up for people of other colors — but no, I hadn’t really done that either. O
I often wonder what my family witnessed in the 50s and 60s. I wonder if “bad things” happened to “good white people” who tried exercising their privileges to stand in the gap for friends and neighbors. I know I am discouraged from saying anything remotely ‘heated’ about any event or displeasing activities of others in regards to racism or prejudices. Anything that might “get [me] hurt [emotionally or physically]” I’m warned against. Well, it’s my turn to warn y’all.
- My fragilities are the horrors I’ve dreampt. Let me be clear — the fears inspiring such excuses as “…because my kids, my spouse, my job, my perfect reputation…” are my fragility. And the nightmares? They aren’t your fault unless you make them reality by refusing to take a risk and stand with the hated.
- My tears are for my people –our people. The American people, no matter their color(s).
- My personal strength [emotional or physical] is not to be underestimated in any capacity -pleasant smile-.
- I will stand up for anyone I feel is being oppressed, hated, or otherwise harmed.
I have described the insecurities I was taught and shared real-life circumstances disproving their legitimacy. To anyone choosing to feel hurt by this post — please know I’m deeply sorry for any offense, but understand this post is necessary.
This is my race-related-history so far. I’m speaking out more. The things I’m saying right now aren’t ‘angry’ nor do they come from a place of hatred towards anyone. But understand that I am angry. I’m upset and I’m sad. I’m human. You’re human. And because of that, we’re a part of each other. Colorful culture is beautiful. White culture is… alabaster. We, the inanimate marble statue would deem ourselves above a painting, when in truth the Artist created both…
You’re not “those people”. You’re my people.