How White Discomfort could be Channeled
It will be difficult to write this without revealing myself as a privileged, self-hating white, so I’ll just state it up front. Any safety and comfort I have today is because I am white — I have made so many bad decisions in my past. I know for a fact that the way I managed to overcome them is because people said “Oh look, here is a lovely white girl, let’s give her a second chance”. I know for a fact that decisions I have made would have landed a black girl in jail. This is all way back in the past, I am an upstanding citizen now, but the vulnerable years are the deciding years, and I got through by the white skin of my teeth.
I was brought up thinking I was not racist. But it was that privilege kind of racism that was in me. My Father marched with MLK. My mother had “black friends”. It was the 70’s. Whites patted themselves on the back then, thinking they had fixed the problem. My mother, possibly the whitest woman alive, a woman who looked like Grace Kelly in her youth and had a penchant for all furniture Colonial, believed us to be evolved. She was the Choral Teacher at our High School, and I, a rare 2nd Alto who could also sing Tenor in the years boys didn’t sign up, was signed up by default.
In Boston at the time there was a program called METCO, that partnered inner city youth with families in our town,a small suburb, and drove them to and from Boston to our school. The kids were primarily black. While it sounds to me like busing, I have been told it was a different program. A childhood friend recently commented that without the METCO program we would have had zero contact with the African American Community until we left our town. And this is true.
We had a lot of kids from the METCO program in Chorus. My mother was teaching Jazz Choir at this time, a thing she had no background in. The school said “if you want to keep your job, you’ll learn how to teach a Jazz Choir” Boston Conservatory Degree be damned. She took lessons at the ripe old age of 48 to find her “Swing”. It’s still yet to be found.
She had selected “God Bless the Child” one year, and after auditions, the solo was given to this girl from METCO, I’ll call her Cheyenne. Cheyenne was, is, black. She had a good voice, it was light, it was airy. She could hold pitch. But my mother wanted “BLACK”. My mother had an idea of what Cheyennes voice should be, because Cheyenne was black. For 6 months, we all listened to this piece being practiced. And cringed. We watched my mother, the whitest woman since Betty Crocker, telling this kid, who woke up at 4am every morning so she could be be bused to white America for a good education, to sing more “BLACK”. Not in so many words, but we all knew it. Well, sort of knew it. We weren’t taught about this kind of racism, so giving it a name was hard. But we could feel it.
So that’s me. That’s how white I am.
Which brings me to my point. The past week I have seen a lot of well meaning white people doing and saying a lot of things. There is a lot of Facebook sharing, a lot of grandstanding. Yesterday I finally figured out why there are pictures of people wearing safety pins everywhere. And when I see this, I am heartened.
But I gather from my reading that the black community is less than impressed. And I do get this. We are bumblers trying to make up for something which we truly cannot make up for. And I can see why slapping away any gesture, any idea from well meaning white people feels great. But my question is, how does this make anything better?
And so I propose this: tell us what you need. You have a heap of white folks waiting to hear what we should do. We are quivering with guilt and coming up with whatever our white minds can to make things better. I know, I know we can’t. But could we just try it? This cannot be a white led movement. We need to be a part of it. But we shouldn’t be leading it. Tell us the safety pin won’t work and instead we should wear a pizza pin. Whatever. The pizza pin is probably a super white idea. See?
We need you to lead us into the light, because the bunch of us who are really upset by the fact a majority bunch of us just voted Fascist, we are helpless without you. Black America can use this manpower to their advantage, just point us in the right direction.