I read two things within the past week that had passages about eerily similar experiences experienced by girl children of color. Here they are:
From a post written by Kelly Wickham-Hurst as part of the #31DaysIBPOC (Indigenous, Black and People of Color) Blog Challenge, a month-long movement to feature the voices of Indigenous and teachers of color as writers and scholars.
We walked together the couple of blocks, through the park, and got in line at the ice cream shop. We weren’t there very long when a white woman approached us. A more accurate word would be accosted. She accosted us. The way she walked up to us I assumed daddy knew her. He did not. Almost immediately, she was yelling.
I didn’t grow up in a family of yellers. Naturally, she scared me. I didn’t identify, until years later, that this is what started my panic attacks. Her face was red and she was pointing at him and then at me. Since I was on his shoulders it seemed like her finger was directly in my face.
“Where did you steal that baby from?” she screamed.
From Anuradha Bhagwati’s book, “Becoming“:
I was about three when Dad was driving us one day along winding suburban roads. Being economists, Mom and Dad could tell you where everything in the world came from, like cars and refrigerators and crayons. If you were sensible, you drove only Japanese or German cars, because they were better made. This was why we had a Toyota.
I was in the back, strapped behind a seat belt, reading. Mom was in the passenger seat. Dad had stopped driving. Maybe it was a red light. Maybe he was lost. A car sped up from behind us and screeched to a stop alongside us. A man was making big movements with his arms. Dad rolled down his window. The man’s face looked like boiling water. He was yelling at Dad. I didn’t understand what his words meant, but they scared me. I was too young to know much, but I knew that this man felt like he was better than Dad. And this meant we were different.
I looked away from the man’s face, which was red and white at the same time, because he reminded me of monsters in my picture books. Dad didn’t say anything. Something uncomfortable was moving in my belly, like a stomachache when I was sick.
The man suddenly drove away. Dad and Mom were still quiet, then they began whispering in Gujarati. I felt something new rising up inside me. I felt shame. I wanted to be as powerful as the light-skinned monster man, and I did not want to be like Dad.
Humanity in Practice
How does a prompt like “practice” factor into these two little girls’ stories? I would be naive to suggest that these red-faced human beings spewing hatred and ignorance could transform into kind, humane people by taking a class, reading a book, meditating or in some other way trying to better themselves.
I also, in thinking about this prompt and these two people — Kelly who I know through social media and advocacy and Anuradha who I only know through her book — kept going back to what such encounters at such young ages did to and about the actual things they chose to practice.
Did they take up ballet and discover the joy of dance? Or did they instead adapt some deep-down conviction that they were somehow undeserving of the freedom that comes with creativity? Did these types of interactions carve away some essential building block of confidence and change the course of their lives forever?
I also wondered what those of us who have white privilege (and we all do if we are white) can do in 2019 to change things. If you’re reading this, it’s probably a pretty safe bet that you aren’t one of the red-faced people. However, the moments in our lives and the choices with which we are presented every moment give us an opportunity to build up rather than tear down.
***end of five minutes***
I have been grappling for the last few days about personal feedback I received regarding a message I was responsible for approving. After reflecting for several days, I finally (and belatedly) got to the point where I accepted that I had been inaccurate at a minimum and possibly utterly wrong. Here was the inner monologue that took place before I got there:
But I meant well.
But I didn’t intend to offend.
But it was just a few words.
But I’m reading “White Fragility” for goodness sakes. I’M TRYING TO GET IT.
Red-faced tirades aren’t the only way damage is done. Quietly abandoning what we know to be true hurts others also.
Welcome to this week’s Five Minute Friday. Our instructions, via creator Kate Motaung: “Write for five minutes on the word of the week. This is meant to be a free write, which means: no editing, no over-thinking, no worrying about perfect grammar or punctuation.” (But I can’t resist spell checking, as you can imagine.) Also I blew the five-minute limit this week by a bunch. Feel free to go on a red-faced tirade against me about THAT. 🙂
Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many.