I went back to school when Henry was six months old. That first evening, my chubby-cheeked infant pulled themselves up to my computer and stared, mesmerized by the bright light. Though statistics wasn’t either of our strong suits, their interest was adorable and motivating. Ever since, such assistance with my schoolwork has been commonplace, so it didn’t surprise me three years later when they snuggled up next to me in bed to help with Sociology of Minorities.
I was watching a video about Filipino Americans in the early twentieth century.
“My father was Filipino,” the woman on the screen said, “and my mother was white.”
She went on to explain how they had to go to another state to be married, as interracial marriage was unlawful in California at the time. However, I could barely hear her words over Henry, who suddenly began to cry inconsolably.
“What’s wrong? Are you ok?”
“I don’t know what color my mom is!”
Wiping a tear from their porcelain cheek, I thought about how much privilege my young child already has in order to be nearly four years old and have no concept of race.
I wondered at what age black children realize they are black. I wondered at what age they realize what that means.
When we moved from Tennessee to Florida this summer, we drove overnight. We stopped at one point to marvel at the stars over South Georgia. Even in Tennessee, I had never seen the stars so clearly.
In the dark of night, I did not see the cotton fields.
Driving back north for a visit some months later, I saw those unmistakable little white tufts of cotton blossoming on both sides of the road. I wondered whose bones we were driving over. I tried to find the words to explain to Henry the injury of the land we were traveling, but how does one explain the atrocities of humankind? When spoken aloud and dissected, they honestly seem too absurd and cruel to be true.
But they do exist, they are true, and it is pure privilege to wonder how to explain them to my child when other children are born with the reality that generational trauma in their DNA.
“I am three, I am three…” Henry sang as we drove. A month into preschool and they were already very interested in numbers and colors, though with their toddler lisp it sounded more like, “I am free, I am free…”
Audre Lorde said, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”
Not everyone is free.
So, none of us can be.
Perhaps my child, tenderhearted at three years old, so concerned with the plight of caterpillars and superheroes, truly does not see color, has no idea that their mom is white and what that means. Perhaps, in our most natural, childlike state, none of us do. However, the reality that white supremacy built stole the privilege of that innocence from us all.
White folx have hundreds of years of damage to undo and even with profound and concentrated effort, how do we scrub that trauma from our black siblings’ DNA?
None of us are free.
Our black siblings are still enslaved by a so-called “civilized” society built upon their stolen blood, by mass incarceration, by police brutality, by a society that manufactured race to justify its own sick desire to oppress.
White people will not be free from our obligation to liberate our fellow travelers from these chains until the deed is done so thoroughly that our hands are as clean of their blood as their DNA is from trauma.
I told my child, “Your mom is white, honey. And so are you.”
I told them each person is important.
I told them that not all police officers are good guys.
I told them that there are no bad people, there are just people who do bad things sometimes.
I told them that the stars over South Georgia are breathtaking, but we must never close our eyes to what is growing in the earth beneath our feet.
I told them none of us are free while anyone is unfree, even when their shackles are very different than our own.
Ok, but what can anyone actually do about racism, white supremacy culture, and the general culture of inequity in America?
First and foremost – VOTE!
I’ve been reading Robin DiAngelo’s “White Fragility” and you should too.
This conversation about anti-racism is also a great starting place.
But more than anything – don’t take my word for it. The world does not need another white person talking about racism – we all need to center the voices of those impacted and actually listen. Listen to the people of color in your life (but don’t expect them to be responsible for educating you, because they are not.) If there are no people of color in your life, start by asking yourself why.