Sidebar about Charlottesville: I Am Not Doing Enough
It’s been a long couple weeks. We’ve had a baby who’s dealing with the shock of surgery. At nights it feels like we have a newborn again who needs carrying and soothing and feedings every couple hours, except he’s twice the weight. He’s getting back to normal, but it’s quite clear that the surgery has thrown him off.
Between this and everything that’s been going on in the world, I have been on the edge of tears for two weeks. That emotional lump in my throat is a reminder to me that I am not doing nearly enough to make this world better for my boy and his generation. I've been a bit more forgiving of myself for the day-to-day parenting stuff, but I can't do that anymore for making the world a better place. Certainly I have a good excuse to tune out the world as we deal with bringing my five-month-old back to health and normalcy, but it’s one I think I’ve been using (to myself at least) for awhile.
In the background of my life of new parenthood, the country has been in turmoil. It’s been in turmoil for awhile. This didn’t start with "45"s election, but it has certainly illuminated what people of color have been seeing and experiencing all along: that white supremacy is here and quite well. The scariest thing about the events in Charlottesville were that the hate spewed by "45" has officially given overt white supremacists a platform. This came as a surprise to a lot of white people. What also probably comes as a surprise is that the willful ignorance those of us with privilege have just fuels the fire. Change needs outspoken white allies.
This is a fact I know and have known. It’s something I taught about back when I was teaching about social justice. What I also know, is that I am not doing and have not done enough.
Well before Finch was a twinkle in my eye and I was working in Baltimore at Johns Hopkins, I justified to myself that the work I did in my day job (teaching about social justice and getting students involved working in the community in a humble and respectful way) was plenty. But then in November 2015, I found myself sitting in a standing-room-only panel discussion about being white allies in the wake of Freddie Gray's death and the subsequent Baltimore uprisings being told by a panelist: “whatever you white people think you’re doing, it’s not enough. And not only is it not enough, your lack of action is ultimately feeding white supremacy. You are part of the problem.”
Oof. Hearing that hurt. It hurt most, though, because I knew she was absolutely right. She could’ve been speaking right to me. I had gone to the discussion to see if it could help with some of our conversations with our students and faculty or to find panelists for events we had. I came away with a completely different outcome. I came away reminded that I am part of the problem. My complacency and my armchair activism won’t do shit in overturning white supremacy. This dissonance is important to lean into. And I did for a bit. But then as all things do, life happened.
This was nearly two years ago. This was before "45" secured the republican candidacy. This was before the horror of the 2016 election. This was before Finch was even a thought in our mind. This was before our cross-country move. A lot has happened since and occasionally I speak up on FB (read: armchair activism), but even there I’m often silent.
It’s not the social media silence that I feel bad about, though. It’s the real-life silence. Back in the days and weeks following "45’s" election, I made vows to myself and to the fetus growing inside me that I’d get involved. I did a little. I joined Portland’s SURJ (Showing up for Racial Justice) chapter. But when Finch arrived, that/he became my world and I had to step back from SURJ and I sat mostly dumbfounded by the daily onslaught of the chipping away at our democracy by the current administration. Yet I still have done nothing. Okay, well I’ll give myself credit, not completely nothing. I also did have to figure out how to keep a newborn alive and learn how to parent. But there's a moment when that isn't the only thing that I had to think about.
It shouldn’t have taken me Charlottesville to get back to work. It shouldn’t take a march of polo-wearing, hate-spewing white supremacists for me to realize I’m not doing enough. But here we are. I should also accept that whatever I do, it will never be enough. I would have to work on this 24/7 for it even to be close to doing enough. But I can at least do something. Something that I have not done.
By this posting, I haven’t exactly determined what that something is. But one thing I do intend to do is to engage in self-education and work with other parents to decide what we can do to raise kids who are aware.
In the meantime, take this blog post as a starting point to hold myself accountable.
For those of you who are also struggling with this topic, there are a lot of readings out there, but here are a couple podcasts that have spoken to me in and have helped me process:
The Longest Shortest Time’s episode “How Not to (Accidentally) Raise a Racist”
It’s Been A Minute with Sam Sander’s episode on "Charlottesville and White People":
Now, let's end with a cute picture of Finch in his "Ask Me About My Feminist Agenda" shirt. This kid will be "woke" if it take everything out of me. As a mama of a white boy, it feels pretty imperative to make that so. Here then is my inspiration.