I’ve been really busy lately . I think a lot of us are getting back to a more active flow of life. I’ve had the privilege to traveled a few times and had visits with loved ones and have been working on some projects I’ve had in my heart and mind for years and years (coming soon).
I’m really good at thinking up ideas and also AS good at procrastinating and talking myself out of doing said ideas- hence my absence from blogging. You see, once again I’ve started something and am now fearful to continue and finish it. THAT… being the discussion on racism I started.
Checking your privilege is frickin’ hard. It makes you see so much that you don’t want to see. Visions and memories from the past and from the present, and the hardest… really thinking about how to be in the future. But first you must look. Take your hands from over your eyes…look at it … and then… have the courage to act.
I have no illusions that there are soooo many people who will read this. There may not be anyone who ever reads this, but still… to actually put out into the universe my words and thoughts, memories and shame… is a big scary deal for me.
But here’s the thing… THAT right there…me feeling that, thinking that, and writing that… THAT is privilege . WHITE PRIVILEGE.
I have the option to safely think about it, write about it, and , act on it…or …not. Because of what I look like, and the world and people I’ve come from and still live in, If I speak up or share my opinion, my history or my shame… it’s not going to be a big deal. My life or livelihood is not dependent on what I say about racism. But for every single person of color who has ever lived in our country, IT HAS. THEY have ALWAYS had to watch what they said, did, write, or even think, because any one of those things may lead to “Them” doing something that got “THEMSELVES” in trouble. That is how they have had to live… to survive. And That kinda trauma is imbedded in their DNA , relationships, communities, their world. Because not only has it been passed on and on though generations, but because IT IS STILL THEIR REALITY. Whether people of privilege want to see it or believe it ……or chose not to see it or believe it … It is still the truth.
let me go ahead and check my privilege and share the worst thing I’ve ever done. I’m going to have the courage to continue with what i started… Because my heart is no longer giving me an option not to , and because It’s wrong that I would even have an option.
When I was 7 my Mother left my Father. She took us to California. That part is so extremely complicated so I will leave it there. The point is I went from the deep, old fashioned way of living in North Carolina in the early 70’s , to California……. in the 70’s, where I was really not exposed to different races or even social classes for the rest of my childhood. Because people of color out there were “just like us”.
When I was 11 we moved into my mother’s first house she was able to own and I changed schools for the …I don’t even know HOW many time. I was the new girl again.
Thank God for Sharmell.
Sharmell was one of the few kids of color that was bussed in to our school… you know so that it was “fair” and all? … and she and I were fast friends. She took me under her wing, kind of like her little buddy, and I felt instantly accepted and therefore of course no longer needed the approval of any other kids. Who would need more? She was awesome! Fun. Silly. Brave. I was so lucky. We were friends for only one year until I changed schools again and never saw her again. But I will always remember her.
One afternoon, before my Mother got home from work, my Father called. My parents were engaged in a horrible divorce and custody battle , and because he lived on the East Coast , I saw and spoke with him rarely. I was happy to hear from him as he started to asked all the usual Dad questions…
“How are you? How is school going? Do you have any new friends?”
“Good. Fine. YESSSS!!!!! hernameisSHARMELLandsheissomuchfunandweplayteatherballand4squareandsheissofunny!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
“WHAT is her name?!
“she’s not colored is she? …”
“well….yeah….but she’s my best friend…and she’s so cool!!!!”
“NO CHILD OF MINE WILL BE FRIENDS WITH A COLORED KID!!!!!”
The first argument I ever had with my Dad ensued. I was furious in the way only a best friend can be when standing up for her best friend. I screamed and yelled and asked questions to which I got answers that I couldn’t believe and did NOT want to hear from my loving father. AND…Let’s be very clear here… My Father WAS a loving , Kind, intelligent and wonderful man. BUT he was a Southern Man raised in the Old South, and that is what he knew to be right. Racism is a learned thought. I do not blame him for his beliefs at that time and I am also very proud of the fact that he grew and learned his way out of that way of thinking.
Here comes the worst part.
Around that same time… maybe a month or so after , Sharmell and I still the very best of friends …… I was walking home from school…..
Remember the Bussing in system I mentioned? Well, almost every single day that I walked home from school, a certain bus passed by me carrying a bunch of kids , and one certain girl of color that I did not know, but who would ALWAYS be hanging out of the window yelling some mean, bullying thing at me. I remember always worrying about the walk home and some days I would hang back at the school and let the busses go before I walked home.
This day was no special day, I was in no particular mood or space, I can not blame my actions on anything , I was just walking home and had forgotten to be prepared for the bus and the girl. She caught me off guard when the bus was suddenly right upon me as she yelled her usual something terrible. I do not remember what she yelled, I only remember my instant response that came through me before I even knew I was saying it.
I called her the N-word.
And I will NEVER forget the look on her face.
Nor the feeling of instant shame, enormous regret and feeling of betrayal. Betrayal of who 11 year old Janie was, my beliefs, my heart, and mostly, my betrayal of my best friend . Sharmell.
It’s is the worst thing I’ve ever done. I’ve done lots of things I wish I hadn’t and made many , many mistakes in my life, but nothing has ever been worse than that to me. I fractured a bit of my soul that day. It was me, I own it. It came through me, and my ancestors and my heritage without me really even knowing what it meant…. but I instantly learned that day, what it did , what it does and the legacy of Its power.
It would take another decade before I was on my own and had moved back to the South for me to be re-exposed to that legacy of hate and power. That moment as a little , middle class, white girl of privilege walking home from school and what I did, never left me. It did however, open my mind and heart to the real world of Racism, and changed me forever.
There is Racism in all of us. ALL OF US.
None of us can deny it. We can chose to not see it…. cover our eyes… take a different route so we don’t see the other side of the tracks… put our kids in schools where the kids are all alike … even say hello and be kind and polite to the “other Race”, but Racism is in America’s DNA. It is what built this country. Literally. It is what raised us all. It is what continues to step in front of our covered up eyes, waving and screaming to be seen and heard and acknowledged.
That is our past and our present . That is America’s truth.
The future…. depends on if we all have the courage to see it , hear it, speak with it, and work to heal and change it. To Own it.
To Sharmell, wherever you are out there…. Thank you for being my best friend when I needed it the most. Forgive me for the betrayal you never knew I committed.
To that mean girl of color on the bus,
I am forever sorry.