Written on Friday, January 20. For My Friends. (That means you)

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One of my dearest, oldest friends sent me a text today: "how has this day been for you?"

The answer is easy and not easy. It is not very much different than any of these dark days. I am resolved to resist better, interrupt more directly, and surface all of the things that make it difficult in small and big ways to be anything other than a CIS gender, able bodied, white person in this country. I'm scared. A little. I was scared before, though, so I guess that is not new to today. I also went to Costco, visited my youngest sons' school, took Truly and her best friend out for their nearly shared birthday, and made dinner for my family. Easy.

****

I spent tonight listening Eula Biss speak about Whiteness. She begins (the unedited version of) the interview by responding to a question about her multi-racial, extended family. She pauses and pushes back because she resists characterizing her family as being unusual or unique as somehow authorizing her to speak about race. It is as if being White in this country might mean you've been de-racialized. "You are nothing" and so unable to speak deeply and consciously about hard things. Plus, her family is not that unusual. So many of our families are made up of families that criss-cross cultures, generations and races. I am in this uncomfortable position often and it resonated deeply: My children are the reason that I listen and learn and write about race. They are. They are not. My relationship to adoption and it's complications are the reason that I listen and learn and write about adoption. It is. It is not. This responsibility falls on me because I'm a citizen of this place… because I'm White. Because, as she says, I carry a debt that I have not paid.

I am seeing a trend in lots of published writing: Whiteness as Expert on Race Relations Because Whiteness Adopted a Black Son or Because Whiteness Has Black Husband or  Because Whiteness Chooses Diversity. Whiteness is Doing The Work Because They Have Skin in the Game. We are looking for voices we relate to who can translate this work, and we've authorized them to speak because they come with these shaky credentials. I have a surprise for you, friends. We all have skin in this game. We all have shaky credentials. Some of us have none at all. We all need to dig in. Your proximity to Blackness will certainly strengthen your work, but lack of it does not negate your responsibility to do it.

We care about getting this right and sometimes we don't go in because we know we are not doing a very good job. It is embarrassing. It is not for the risk averse. Worse, we stop learning and critiquing because some of us think we have it sorted out. With the resolve of the last few years, I have lost a few friends (I'm sure) and I've probably lost potential friendships. The latter might be more difficult for me to reconcile because I value my reputation. Folly, to be sure. Better though– I have regained friendships that I thought were gone and developed deep and abiding connections with people that I had only admired from afar. This work, however bumbling or inadequate, is the gift.

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White Debt in the NYT By Eula Biss (Wherein she speaks about Little House on The Prairie, Home Ownership, Baldwin and then delivers a gentle Face Ripping Worthy of the Ages)

…I asked myself what the condition of white life might be. I wrote ‘‘complacence’’ on a blank page. Hearing the term ‘‘white supremacist’’ in the wake of that shooting had given me another occasion to wonder whether white supremacists are any more dangerous than regular white people, who tend to enjoy supremacy without believing in it. After staring at ‘‘complacence’’ for quite a long time, I looked it up and discovered that it didn’t mean exactly what I thought it meant. ‘‘A feeling of smug or uncritical satisfaction with oneself or one’s achievements’’ might be an apt description of the dominant white attitude, but that’s more active than what I had in mind. I thought ‘‘complacence’’ meant sitting there in your house, neither smug nor satisfied, just lost in the illusion of ownership. This is an illusion that depends on forgetting the redlining, block busting, racial covenants, contract buying, loan discrimination, housing projects, mass incarceration, predatory lending and deed thefts that have prevented so many black Americans from building wealth the way so many white Americans have, through homeownership. I erased ‘‘complacence’’ and wrote ‘‘complicity.’’ I erased it. ‘‘Debt,’’ I wrote. Then, ‘‘forgotten debt."

On Being Interivew with Eula Biss This is… I mean. If you haven't started, this is a good a place as any. Especially if you are scared of what Anti-Racism work looks like in parenting.

Why I'm Skipping the Womens March on Washington By Jamilah Lamieux –Marching feels compelling to so many of us. I get that. I also get why it does not. (Please throw some of your yarn money at the ACLU):

Of course, much of the post-election news cycle was dominated by White folks wringing their hands: How could this happen?Why did it happen? There was lots of weeping and wailing from women who could get the answers to those questions by simply asking their relatives, friends and partners who put Trump in power. 

And finally… This episode from StoryCorps about the price that most of us will never be required to pay. I have listened to it twice and each time I am struck by the same questions: What is the very least that I can do? Am I doing the very least? What does it mean to risk more?

 

2 Comments

  1. That episode from Storycorp made me cry and I wish everyone would listen to it. I will listen to it again and ask myself those questions to. I’m sure I want to do better I”m just not sure what that would look like.

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