Wednesday, November 26, 2014

on black lives mattering







None of these words I’m about to write are the best words. If I wait until I can write those, I’m going to be waiting too long. There are better things to say, and people saying those better things better than I’m going to be saying anything today. But there’s no time to waste. There’s too much wrong. It’s time to move. 

I have two white sons, ages 8 and 5, that I love with everything I've got. Like a normal mother, I worry about my children, and some days that worry ramps up to straight fear. My kids have both been hospitalized for severe asthma—my littlest was nearly admitted to the ICU a couple of months ago—and watching them struggle for breath makes my heart do things I don’t like it to do. Those are my worst days as a parent, the days when my children are in jeopardy. 

I don’t have those days very often. Most days the standard-issue mother worry shows up as a sort of light vigilance. I know where they are, I have an ear out for them, I have a readiness to leap when necessary, but I can go about my business. 

When my kids are sick, too, they’re up against a neutral force; they’re up against their own malfunctioning bodies.  And there are benevolent forces in place to protect my kids. They have doctors, they have hospitals, they have medicine. When they’re struggling, kind faces greet them every step of the way, and we as worried parents are also met with kindness.

There are other things in the world I worry about, of course. There are threats to my children that threaten all children, and all humans: gun violence, climate change, etc. But those things are not targeting my children especially. 

The level of fear I have on my worst day as a parent of white children, that’s the daily dose for the parent of a black child. If you have a black son, you know he’s going to be considered a threat just by being alive. If you have a black daughter, you know she’s going to face the double dangers of racism and sexism. 

Like so many other people in the country/the world, I’ve been glued to the television and the internet since word came down that Darren Wilson wouldn’t be indicted for his killing of Michael Brown. I’ve been on Twitter listening to the anguish and outrage of the brilliant black women and men I follow there, I’ve been reading all the articles posted by my friends of all races. 

You know how you wake up some mornings with a pit in your stomach because you have something on your to-do list that’s overwhelming? You have some task that feels a little or a lot past your comfort zone, a little or a lot beyond your capabilities. And you can’t pass it off to someone else, you can’t delegate it. It has your name on it. You can’t sleep through it, either, or hit the snooze alarm. It’s on deck right now. 

I have that pit in my stomach, writ large. I’ve had it there for a while, and I’ve been putting off getting up and facing it properly. But what’s dragging me the hell out of my bed now, what I can’t wipe away and I won’t wipe away is the image of all the mothers, the mothers who have to tell their black children the truth, the truth that they’re not safe in this world, not how it is now. And worst of all, of course, but it can’t go without saying, is the image of the mothers who lost their babies to this kind of brutality. That’s the abyss. 

I read Keesha’s post this afternoon, addressing white moms like me. 

 This is what I need, dear friend. I need to know that you are not merely worried about this most tragic of worst case scenarios befalling my son; I need to know that you are out there changing the ethos that puts it in place. That you see this as something that unites us as mothers, friends and human beings. 

 I don’t know Keesha, but I hear her, and I care about her, and every woman out there like her. She’s in pain, she’s in The Pain, and she needs more than talk, more than our tears and our head-shaking and handwringing. I don’t want to paraphrase her words. I want you to read them yourself. (Go, read, click the link.) But she needs us to read up, and to speak up, and to take action. 

So it’s up now. It’s on us. If you’re white like I am, then no matter what your other challenges are, you are the lucky, inadvertent recipient of white privilege. If you bristle at the term “privilege”, then I want you to read Karla McLaren’s piece, How to Be a Privilege Traitor, which helps suck the shame out of the word and leaves it like it is, a plain fact, and furthermore, something to work with. We have to use our privilege to dismantle this fucked-up, unjust system, and we have to dismantle the racism that lives in us. Don’t get excited and think you don’t have any lurking in you, either. I know I have some lurking in me, and it’s not because I’m a shitty person. It’s because I’m a product of a racist society, and so are you. So we better get our eyes working properly and find that racism in us and admit it and root it out. 

I haven’t been speaking up on this like I should. For one, I’ve been afraid of conflict. I don’t dig it. I’m not a natural at it. But I’m going to have to get natural at it, and get good at taking deep breaths and summoning patience and getting in there and mixing it up. The other thing that stopped me from speaking up was the false idea that I needed to have something really good to say, something original, something newly helpful. But who is that for? That’s for me, that’s for my own ego. Who needs to play the freshest instrument in the orchestra? We need to help that sound get loud, and that’s all. I can beat a plain drum plainly, if that’s all I have. So if you’re holding back from speaking out on the subject of race and racism because you think you don't have something great to say, good news! We can say simple things with feeling, and we can amplify the voices of the people who’ve been on the front lines since forever. And then we can read and learn and listen and get out there and up our game. 


I don’t know how to do this, I don’t have a great game plan, and I don’t have great words. But other people have done a lot of thinking about this, and advice is out there. Like so, from Janee Woods:

Becoming a White Ally to Black People in the Aftermath of the Michael Brown Murder 

 Time to fly that plane, even if we’re not that confident in our flying abilities. We’re out of time. Somebody else is going to get killed. 


More later. In the meanwhile, #BlackLivesMatter. It needs saying until it sinks in. 

P.S. If you're white and you have criticism about how black people are responding to the latest news, I say this: keep your eyes on your own work. That's not your business. You have more than enough of your own work to keep you busy. And if you're having trouble comprehending black rage, The Case for Reparations, by Ta-Nehisi Coates, is required reading. (Oh, screw it, it's required reading for everyone.) If you're not feeling it after that, I don't know what to say except you're going to be a lot of work for the rest of us

5 comments:

Alexandra said...

Thank you. Because I think of myself, I am someone who I believe can exist in both worlds, and yet the things that have been said to me, they leave my mouth agape. "Is your family legal?""Was it hard to get papers?" "Did your husband marry you so you could get citizenship?" I'm not kidding. So, thank you for this.

Tina Rowley said...

Oh, Alexandra. Goddamn. Yes. I hear that and I hate that on your behalf.

jenniferbullis said...

Tina, thank you for this. I love ALL your posts, but this one especially deserves taking the effort to log in and respond.

I especially appreciate where you write this: "The other thing that stopped me from speaking up was the false idea that I needed to have something really good to say, something original, something newly helpful. But who is that for? That’s for me, that’s for my own ego. Who needs to play the freshest instrument in the orchestra? We need to help that sound get loud, and that’s all. I can beat a plain drum plainly, if that’s all I have. So if you’re holding back from speaking out on the subject of race and racism because you think you don't have something great to say, good news! We can say simple things with feeling, and we can amplify the voices of the people who’ve been on the front lines since forever." Not knowing what to say has been my difficulty, too--but you're absolutely write: just say what I think and call out the racism I see.

elle said...

Thank you for writing this. All of it is powerful and resonating, but I especially like your instrument analogy because no, we shouldn't be afraid to whale on our proverbial drums in the name of racism - or anything that needs drumming about, you know. Because I think most of us are tired of this same song.

And yes, yes a million times to "So we better get our eyes working properly and find that racism in us and admit it and root it out." It's there. It just is. Let's acknowledge it, and get it out there, and take away its power and move on instead of being afraid of it.

(I always read your blog, this is the first time I've commented, please keep writing forever, okay?okay.)

Tina Rowley said...

Jennifer: I so appreciate that. Thank you. Here's willing us the persistence and courage to keep going.

Elle: I'm delighted that you've commented, and love knowing that you read on the regular. And amen, let's keep digging that shit up and throwing it out as hard as we can.