Today I think 10 days was too long of a challenge. I’m starting to wear out a little bit, feeling like I rode the tilt-a-whirl after greasy state fair foods. When I started this, I never thought we’d still be bombarded with the images and the commentary and the chaos. Honestly, I figured we’d all go back to “normal” like we usually do. Like we did after Treyvon Martin. After Botham Jean. And that my 10 days would go by quickly with little notice.
I’m starting backwards today.
MY WHITE PRIVILEGE
I did think this uproar would end before my 10-day challenge ended. I wanted it to. I still want it to. And then I hear someone (a white person) say to me, “Just remember: we’ve come a long way since the Civil War! We’ve come a long way since the Civil Rights Movement! Things are so much better now!”
And I hold it together in that moment, at least enough to explain — gently — why that isn’t enough for people living under the thumb of systemic oppression and the threat of death. But afterwards, I excuse myself to go cry on my patio, away from my kids so they don’t have to know that I am tired, that I am disillusioned, that I am disheartened. I don’t want them to know I am at my wit’s end thinking that we are still surrounded by people, well-meaning, kind people who simply cannot get their heads around these issues, people we cannot help but love, people who think my kids should be happy with the progress that’s been made.
Happy with less than. Happy living in fear. Happy being “othered.”
That is white privilege. But it’s not mine.
Ok, maybe not you personally, being that you’re taking such time and care in reading and “absorbing” these stories, as one friend described. I hope the fact that you are doing that means that you are not satisfied with the “progress” or with the fact that it really is different now than it was 50 years ago. I hope you will be unsatisfied enough not to accept a bandaid to stop a hemorrhage.
So, lest you think that was just one unthinking person who said that to me, it wasn’t. In the last week, I have literally been told a version of that by no fewer than a half a dozen people. And we’re still in full on shelter-in-place, so it’s not like I’m actually SEEING people. This is mostly people texting, messaging me on social media, some in response to my posts and some just in general, regarding the current state of our country. Defending that “progress” because our kids go to school with kids from all ethnic backgrounds. Because a black man was president. Because we dedicate a whole month to black history now and we have a whole day for MLK and would never have done that back then.
Sidebar: if you need me to tell you why we need a month for black history, OR to explain to you how “we” don’t actually do anything real or impactful during that “dedicated” month, please just Google it. I can’t explain it one more %&*#$ time.
Sidebar, part 2: SPELL OUT HIS FLIPPING NAME. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. He earned that respect. He deserves the dignity of our saying his full name, not reducing him to a stinking acronym.
As I said, I’m tired.
Which is also white privilege, I might add. That I would dare to feel tired after 8 days of writing about this when I get to live in white skin and “go back to normal” after this challenge, even if my normal does include incidences of racism and bias. The fact is, it will never affect me the same way it affects my kids or my husband, and so if I choose, I can be blind to it, I can ignore it, I can take a break from it.
That is white privilege.
MY STORY OF RACISM
I’m going to try to keep this brief but I’m struggling…. I realize that as the challenge has gone on, I’ve gotten long-winded. (And really, it’s your own fault for encouraging me. 😉 )
Also, I tell this story secondhand. I wasn’t there, which makes me uncomfortable so if my mom or any of my aunts are reading, they’re welcome to correct the finer details.
When Jacques and I were young and had just had Rebekah (1995), we lived in Mexico (long story, for another day). I’m the only child and my extended family had not met him yet. We were preparing to move to the States, and so our return had been announced, the “news” of Jacques’ race was shared with everyone, and I hadn’t heard any reactions. This was in the dark days without the Internet or smartphones, obviously.
I want to say up front that they received us lovingly and Jacques and I have never been anything but welcome and loved. We are beyond blessed and recognize that isn’t the case for all biracial couples.
Before we moved back though, apparently, there was a family dinner at which one of my uncles casually used the N-word. Not in reference to Jacques, if that matters at all (which it doesn’t; I just wanted to clarify that it wasn’t a direct aggression and had nothing to do with us specifically). My mom got silent and turned red in the face. My aunts — God bless them, they’re scary when they’re mad — jumped into action and took my uncle to task. As I understand it, it was heated (we’re Italian…), and ended with the “sides” not speaking for quite some time after that day.
No one who knows my uncle will be surprised to know that while he wasn’t going to back down in the moment, neither was he going to continue to use that word, if for no other reason than the fact that he loves me and he’s got a big heart behind his rough exterior. I don’t see him all that frequently but to my knowledge, he still doesn’t. Jacques, for his part, never held it against my uncle and embraced him. Although we don’t live near them, he actually became one of Jacques’ favorite people in my family and over the years he and my aunt have visited us twice from across the country.
I wish that were the only instance of the N-word in our lives. And I wish that each of the other instances had ended in such reconciliation, growth, and love. Two examples stick out to me, though, and they show that it hasn’t gotten any better since then.
– On the soccer field at 5 or 6 years old (so around 2006), Jack, who didn’t even know what the word meant but certainly knew it was not good, was called the N-word by a player from the other team, and when he reacted, he got a penalty and yelled at by the ref. Nothing was said to the other boy, by the ref or by the coaches or by any of Jack’s teammates. Not one word.
– At a white friend’s home in 7th grade (so 2012), Isabelle and another black friend recall that both the girl and her parents used the N-word in conversation. I didn’t even know about that until years later and it hurts my heart to no end knowing that Isabelle didn’t come straight home and tell me, so I could fix it. Which of course I couldn’t. I still can’t.
I’ve fizzled out, friends. Forgive my abrupt ending, my lack of a solid conclusion. It’s just that I can’t even go on about why the N-word is so hurtful, why it isn’t the same when black people use that word and why their use of the word is not justification for white people to use it too. I can’t go on about why even if you “don’t mean it,” or you were just singing along with a rap song, you are wrong and need to stop. I don’t have it in me. I am too tired.
EDITED TO ADD: Ahmaud Arbery was shot, murdered in cold blood. Before he died, he had been hit by a moving vehicle and called the N-word. Words carry weight.
Originally posted June 2020 on https://medium.com/@invisibleleftovers