06.28 Showing Up White

I put my almost 7 yo in a summer camp at an African Cultural Center.  She is one of 2 white kids of about 50.

I don’t like the idea of her feeling like an only, but I made this decision anyway.  

I wanted her to witness the journey of young black people reclaiming their identity as Africans. 

To some extent, I wanted her to notice that as a white person, she is in the global minority.  This is a hard one since she experiences this from an inherent place of power and privilege, knowing I will pick her up every day.

I wanted her to have relationships with people that don’t look like her and have a different experience and perspective than her private school friends.  

I wanted her to get a picture of the wisdom and heart that come from Africa because I believe it contains many of the answers we seek to solve our global problems.

I wanted her to see black folks as leaders and learn how to follow.

I wanted these things because I love her and her future requires her to understand the world beyond whiteness.  The only place that this whiteness comes into question is around non-whiteness.

I have been asking her what it is like to be in this place.  I have been trying to counsel her about the experience.  She kind of shrugs and says its good.  She loves Mr. Woods.  I have met Mr. Woods, and I get it.  She doesn’t say much, but she has a few girl friends that she enjoys and she proudly sings me songs about Africa.  When she does this, my heart warms and I feel like I made the right choice.

I ask her what it is like to be the only white girl in the group.  She gets quiet and distant and tries to squirm away and avoid me.  She does not want to talk about it.  This is not great.  I continue to probe and she says it isn’t great.  She doesn’t really like it though she can’t say why.  I am not sure what to do with this and I don’t even know why I asked.

I tell her that being an only has its challenges, but in other ways she is not an only.  She is surrounded by a bunch of people that are from New Orleans, like her, that live in our neighborhood, and that are her age.  We take a minute to notice the kindness of the people at Kumba and I ask her if she feels safe.  She says “of course”.  I loosen up. 

I dropped her off at camp on Monday and I was informed that the group was going to the Whitney Plantation.  The Whitney Plantation is a museum dedicated to the experience of African American Slaves pre Civil War.  I have heard about it, wanted to go, but I had never been.

OH MY GOD!! SHE CANT GO LEARN ABOUT THE HORRORS OF SLAVERY AND BE THE ONLY WHITE PERSON!!!!!!! 

I cried for an entire day that it was time for her to learn about slavery.  I thought about not letting her go.  She is after all very small  still and maybe it isn’t time yet.

I wept that there was a need for a slavery museum.  It is so unbelievable and so real.

I decided that it would be wrong for our family to invite our child to learn about the African experience and opt out of the slavery part.  Black children do not get to opt out of the slavery part.  I don’t think white children should either.  This is our shared history.

So I went with her.

I was stiff and I smiled a lot.  I don’t think I looked relaxed or inviting.  I could not tell if it was appropriate for me to be taking up space on this bus or in this community.  I felt stupid to have assumed that my family was at all invited to be there.  Some people tried to take care of me.  I felt worse about that.  I didn’t want to need to be taken care of.  A couple smiles actually helped a lot.  That is really embarrassing.

The bus ride was great, the kids were fun.

We got to the museum and my daughter saw all of the statues of young slave children and she asked me who they were.  I explained that they were slave children.  She commented that they were all black.  I said “yep,  white people have never been enslaved in this country, this was only done to people from Africa.”

To be honest I can’t tell how much of that place she could take in.  I took in quite a bit.  About 5 times people asked me if I was ok.  I must have looked awful.  I said I was fine and smiled and nodded but I wish I would have fallen to my knees and wept.  I wish we all would have.  Because that is the appropriate response to learning about what my people were capable of doing to their people and what their people endured.  I wish we could have held each other and cried.  But that was never going to happen.

I noticed how annoyed and clingy CC was.  Now, I don’t want to over credit this to her whiteness, she was also very hot, tired and hungry and her mom was there so that she could express all of these things.  I witnessed several things about her interactions with the group.  They are personal to her, so I won’t say them.  I saw a picture of the work I have to do in my parenting.

My favorite part of the tour was at the end when our tour guide talked about the resilience of the African people.  She reminded the kids that slavery was not the beginning of the African story.  In other words, she reminded the children that they were not slaves, nor were African people slaves before this horrific period in time. 

My daughter and I talked a little on the bus on the way home about what she had seen and heard. She said it was scary and she didn’t like it.  We talked about what happened to white people to make them do this.  We talked about how dangerous and powerful fear can be if we don’t discharge it. We talked about how it was our work as white people to keep looking at the hurtful things our people have done while remembering that we are good.  We  must at all times work on cultivating forgiveness and love.  We have to learn how to be kind to ourselves so that we can be kind in the world.  She could take that in.  I don’t know if she believes me that everyone including her deserves kindness.  From my experience, most of us white people struggle with this.  This is especially true when we take notice of racism and of course slavery.

I still don’t know if inviting my family into this community is the “right” thing to do.  I don’t know if it is another way of asserting my white privilege to put my daughter in a space that was intended for others.  I don’t know if I should withdraw from this experiment.

My working hypothesis is that we white folks have to do whatever we can to keep moving towards having solid relationships with non-white people (and of course with each other too).  We need the perspective of others to help us understand the impact of racism on the world (outside of intellectualism).  We white people cannot eliminate racism without participating in its destruction through the creation of relationships.  We need relationships that we would will fight for and defend with all of out hearts (and at a cost to our privilege if necessary).  We can’t leave this work for people targeted by racism to do.  We have to do it for us.  We have to do it to preserve our hearts and our integrity.  

I think this means that we stumble around and look a little stupid, and make mistakes and show up when we aren’t invited and when we can’t tell if it is a good idea.  It might mean that we keep doing it and stop waiting until it looks comfortable or inviting.  

I don’t think there is any reason that racism should survive the fierce loving nature of the human spirit.  I like to believe that racism is not our whole story, it is just a thing that happened and it is almost over.