Tuesday, March 11, 2014

On Not Being Silent About Race

I was recently in Belize, taking a tour in a van with my family.  My young son was in the far back of the van looking out the windows and seemingly paying no attention to the tour guide's monologue from the front seat.
The man talked of the history of Belize and it's people.  He talked of the slave trade, the plantations and the legacy of slavery on the population of Belize today.

Our guide covered this topic and moved on to tell us about the education system, agriculture, and government in his country.  By the end of the tour, looking out at historic buildings, slums and farms, my son was fast asleep.

Later that evening, coming almost out of nowhere, he said, "If I lived a long time ago I would have been crucified.  I would have been whipped until my skin was bleeding.  I would have been sold to somebody away from my family.  Just because my skin is brown.  And you would have been crucified too, Mommy, because a white person wasn't allowed to have a brown son."

I gasped for breath.  I turned my face away so that he couldn't read my expression.  My thoughts were scrambled.  I wanted to face him and answer him in composure.  Sure of myself.  Reassuring to him.  I wanted to affirm him and comfort him and build his self esteem.  I wanted to filter the truth he was learning.   I wanted to change the past, and to control his future.

I am a white woman.  I am privileged.  I feel uncomfortable complaining or claiming that my family is victimized.  It seems unjust for me to claim that my family suffers injustice.  It does not seem that this should be my story to tell.  But here I am, grappling again with issues of race and of raising a bi-racial child in a white family.

I can't speak as an expert on being black in America.  I don't put forth any solutions to the problems of race in our culture.  But I am taking the word of a friend who told me that when white people are silent on the issue of race, it's as if they don't care.  White people must speak up.  Share their thoughts and feelings and outrage that friends, family members, and strangers are discriminated against because of their race.  Even if we get it wrong.  If if we don't fully understand.

As a white woman writing about my young child grappling with the issue of slavery, I may illuminate one tiny corner of darkness for a white reader.  I may raise one white reader's consciousness or demonstrate solidarity with one black reader.  It's better than being silent.