White Silence, Sacrifice & Doing the Right Thing

I do not remember the year I began saying on social media, in many different ways,  Black Lives Matter. But I do remember what happened when I did. Friends were lost, of course. But it was the loss of family that disappointed me most. 

I spent every summer and thanksgiving with my Italian family in Chicago. We ate. Laughed. Ate again. Shared stories. We especially loved ghost stories. As an only child, those gatherings filled me up with a sense of togetherness and connection that defined family for me.

There were also times I knew racism existed in my family. There were comments about the violence in black neighborhoods as they lived safely in white neighborhoods. There were some inappropriate “jokes” and the n-word used freely to describe a certain nut. There was the narrative about how “blacks took over our neighborhood”- the south side of Chicago. There was, “Is he black?” every time I met a new guy.

When I got pregnant at 19 with a black man I was afraid to tell my Chicago family. Surprisingly, they were more supportive than I feared. I thought, maybe my daughter and I would be accepted. 

Fast forward to the time I started speaking out against police brutality and white privilege. The family list decreased. Heated discussions took place on timelines. More family fell off the list. But those were just the distant cousins. Then the sickness spread to the first cousins. Ignorant memes were shared and one was specifically called out by my husband, my daughter and myself. When that happened, not only was I unfriended and blocked, but so was my daughter and my husband. I called on the entire family to speak up. To stand for my family. To be the family they so proudly admire.

One called and talked over me about how my daughter is also white and how she was not raised to be racist. Another called and didn’t mention it at all. The rest: silent. Today, even after a few more white people have chosen to be awakened by the lie of white supremacy and the reality of white terrorism, they remain SILENT.

The motto of our family, as told by my father, is to do your duty/to do the right thing.

I asked of my family to do their duty, to do the right thing, to live by our motto, to actually stand for famiglia. Instead they choose to be dutiful to the lie of white supremacy. They choose to be complicit. They choose not to sacrifice comfort and being right. They choose to shy away from conflict. They choose silence. Because of this they have willingly sacrificed members of their own family— the ones that obviously weren’t fully accepted. And, of course they would adamantly disagree.

I too have willingly sacrificed these people, and the day I chose to do so was the day I knew exactly where I stood and what I was willing to sacrifice to do so. It was my duty. It was, and continues to be, the right thing to do, and I do it proudly.

A white woman on Twitter asked how she can be an ally without risk. The black woman she asked responded: Good luck. As Allie (above) said, if you aren’t willing to lose friends AND as I’ve experienced— family, then you are not ready for what this journey of dismantling the lie of white supremacy will require of you.

My ask then of we white people is this: do your duty, do the right thing and get yourself ready. And do it knowing there is no amount of sacrifice, not enough apologies, no amount of money or anything that is of value to you that can make up for centuries of white terror and white silence. Our awakening beyond this false construct of whiteness is way past due.

Re Post: White Spaces~ A Mother’s Reckoning

Original post from August, 2019

The parade in our town today clarified what I have done as a white woman with bi-racial children…

To all the times I brought my children to white spaces, moved to white neighborhoods, enrolled them in white schools- I am sorry and deeply ashamed of my ignorance.

I feel it now, more than ever- these words: “white supremacy is not a shark; it is the water. “ Guante

I get a small taste of the terror and discomfort, the trauma of being a brown body in this water. I am angry, which is a privilege of white skin, at the levels of energy it takes to accommodate and appease this white nonsense- to play nice in white work places- and can only imagine their exhaustion.

I feel this whiteness in a way I never have and I’m horrified. As though I’ve fully awakened from a spell that made me live as if this water was made for everyone. It’s not.

This awakening was and is a process that I want ALL white people to be responsible for. To believe in white superiority, to attach to whiteness is one of the biggest lies ever believed. It will crush those who don’t realize this. And so be it because the water is changing.

To my children, I wish I had understood sooner. It was thoughtlessly out of touch of me to be blind to this part of you. I fell in love with a black man. I wanted a family. I believe in the divine within us and most of your upbringing I ignored your experience as also a human being in brown skin, barely swimming in this water, but mostly isolated and struggling not to drown in it.

No apology can erase the impact of this. And I’m not here to give false hopes and promises in a nation still deeply young and divided, struggling to know itself. But I do see you and hold the space for all of you and all of your experiences more than I ever have, and it is my deepest desire that this water nourishes, supports and allows for splashing, deep dives and takes you to wherever you want to go.

~Mom

The Soul Reporter

The Denial of White Privilege

The first time I read the essay by Peggy McIntosh on white privilege in college I shook my head in agreement. Then, we discussed the essay in class. There were a few of my fellow white classmates agitated, if not enraged, by the notion that somehow they were privileged. One classmate told her story of the poverty she grew up in and had to fight for everything she had. Since reading this essay, the idea of white privilege has surfaced again. It’s even being used in some of the current political commentary. I notice the same agitation and downright denial from some white people that they are privileged.

Let’s be clear that in accepting or even just considering white privilege does not negate in any way what ever struggles any of us have faced. But let’s also be clear by not even considering the idea we are not listening to another person’s struggles and that’s a problem. Here are just a few of the areas in which Peggy McIntosh noticed where she is privileged just for being white:

  • *I can, if I wish, arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.
  • If I should move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing, in an area which I can afford and in which I want to live.
  • I can go shopping alone most of the time, fairly well assured that I will not be followed or harassed by store detectives.
  • I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.
  • I did not have to educate our children to be aware of systematic racism for their own daily protection.*

There are 45 more of these conditions.

In order to accept or consider privilege means we must sacrifice beliefs and ideas we have about ourselves, society and the world. This idea of privilege, for those agitated by it, pushes against something they think is too precious to give up. What that is I cannot say for certain, but I do have a theory. Is it possible that for some people who reject the idea of their privilege— and let me just say that to defend you are not privileged is in fact a symptom of privilege—is it possible those people do not have room for anyone else to matter because they don’t feel they matter? It is possible some people feel so burdened and know how hard they’ve worked without any acknowledgment that they cannot stand to give space to someone else needing acknowledgment of their struggles?

Could they be saying in the face of privilege—why can’t they work hard? I have worked hard. I struggle and have worries why does theirs mean more than mine? Could they be crying and screaming deep down in their soul—I cannot give you space for your oppression because of the oppression I feel.

Deep down, and for some of us not so deep down, we all feel oppressed. We all feel as though we are struggling with no one to acknowledge our pain. Many of us don’t deal with our pain or feel our feelings. When we have all of this going on inside we may feel threatened if anyone dares suggest we are privileged in any way. However, the idea of white privilege at least as it is presented in the original essay has nothing to do with any of this. It has to do with as white people we don’t think about the color or our skin because as Chris Rock says, “If it’s white, it’s alright.” We weren’t brought here on slave ships. Our white ancestors chose to come here to make their lives better. As white people we have a sense of belonging and place that is given to us just because we are white. For me, that’s the point. For me, it takes nothing from the core of my being to accept I have privilege for being white and for me I’m willing to give it up. I would actually rather not have it because it kinda makes me sick. I am able to give space for another person’s experience even though I will never fully understand that experience. I knew when I had two children by a black man that there would be a part of their existence as black girls and women that I could never understand. That has been a difficult experience for me, but it is a truth I cannot deny and therefore accept and try to be as open as possible with what their experience is as black women.

My desire whenever I speak to someone who is resistant to white privilege is not that they accept it fully, but that they just consider it. When we consider anything we are being open to more than our own ideas we cling to because often those ideas we cling to the most are the very ideas that hold us back from our growth. My other desire is for people to make space and open to their own pain—to acknowledge the struggles they have faced and feel whatever feelings come from it, which is most often grief. Many of us need to grieve for the many losses and traumas that have happened to us. When we do not we not only abandon ourselves, but everyone around us. This is a time to come together, not to abandon each other.

Namaste,

The Soul Reporter

 

*The conditions listed come from the essay, White Privilege and Male Privilege by Peggy McIntosh listed in the Catherine Core Reader published by Saint Catherine University in 2014.