I’ve not blogged about Ferguson (or any of the many other situations in the news that reveal the way our culture still has so many racial divides). Partly, it’s because I have no idea what to say. Also, I’m a white woman in Idaho. What in the world do I know about racial tensions? Nothing. That’s what I know.
Each day I read more and more in the news and I recognize my role in this is partly to stand in witness, to acknowledge I have much to learn from people who live with fear about how they will be treated because of the color of their skin.
I also was beginning to feel that my silence about this was becoming consent for the status quo.
Neil Patrick Harris’ character, Dr Horrible, in a rant about the mess the world is in, talks about “Destroying the status quo because the status is not quo.”
So, take this for what it is–a white woman with a comfortable life acknowledging her discomfort and sadness in the midst of the brokenness of our world, where the status is not quo.
My son Alden came home from kindergarten one day and said, “mom, why do the kids at school call me ‘white boy’?”
At the time, we were living in the Navajo Nation. My husband was working for Indian Health Service in Shiprock, New Mexico. Alden was the only non-Navajo in his kindergarten class and one of 2 non-Navajos in the entire school. We enrolled him in that school because he could learn Navajo language and culture. And watching your six year old speak Navajo is a humbling experience.
I asked him, “how did they sound when they called you that? Were they angry or were they just saying it?”
“They weren’t angry. They just call me ‘white boy’ on the playground.”
“Well, honey, you are. You are a white boy. Have you ever noticed that your skin is not as dark as theirs is? Your hair is lighter? It just means that their grandparents and parents are Navajo and your grandparents are Welsh, Dutch, Scottish, and Norwegian. We all come from different places and so that means we have different skin colors, different languages, and different experiences.”
“Okay. That makes sense.”
And then he went out into the backyard where he liked to dig for dinosaur bones.
Living in the Navajo Nation reminded me every day that race is a social construct. And it is a powerful one.
I may have been the “minority” in the post office or in the grocery store, where other white faces were rare sights. But I was always, always, also the “majority”. My skin color walked before me, reminding people that I had political power, I had money, and I could leave any time I wanted. My skin color gave me privilege, even when I was the ‘minority’.
My time in Shiprock has been on my mind as I watch our country’s racial tensions come back up to the surface. I’m grateful for my time there. And, I confess, I’m even more grateful I no longer live there.
I wish I had answers for today’s problems that were as simple as the answer I was able to give my son when he was in kindergarten. I do not have those answers. In my privilege, though, I pray I participate in healing the wounds inflicted in our streets, and continue to listen to the voices crying for justice. We must do better.