STORY OF RACISM: At one time I owned a stationery boutique for a couple of years. The kind of boutique often visited by bridezilla shopping for wedding invitations and accessories. Jack would spend afternoons with me in the shop after preschool and sometimes all 3 of the kids would hang out in the office while I worked. One afternoon, a white woman who was shopping looked at the 3 kids on the floor with juice boxes and a mess of toys, and shaking her head in disapproval, loudly whispered to me, “Did their daddy leave you with all these kids? It’s so common in their community. So many single mothers.” I was so furious I couldn’t speak coherently enough to tell her off. I muttered something about him being at work and changed the subject.
EXPOSING MY WHITE PRIVILEGE: I wasn’t mentally prepared for such willful ignorance and mean-spiritedness in my posh little boutique that didn’t look on its surface like it would allow for any such ugliness. Sometimes I wonder if I should have reacted defensively by telling her where my husband — of more than a decade at that point — actually was (a business trip in Europe) or how highly educated he is (Ivy League) or how many languages he speaks (5). Though I imagine she would have probably congratulated me on such a fine catch. But, my husband’s merits (or lack thereof) are not any of her business. Nor was the status of my relationship with my children’s father either, of course. I also sometimes wonder if I should have spouted off about the systemic and institutionalized racism and inequities contributing to single parenthood in minority and marginalized communities. Or how society much more readily accepts white single motherhood as a choice, but when it comes to black single mothers, they are looked at as victims of black men’s failures. But I didn’t say those things. I chose to keep her business by not telling her off; I chose not to correct her racism; I chose to go on about my day, fully confident that her racism had nothing to do with me and my family. Little did I know that 15 years later I’d still remember that day with deep-seated sadness and regret. Choosing to remain silent is evidence of my white privilege. I could have spoken up. I could have spoken to someone who looked like me. I could have exercised my privilege instead of resting on it.
Originally posted June 2020 on https://medium.com/@invisibleleftovers