There’s this knot that aches in my chest.
It goes away when I see my dog play at the dog park or listen to a piece of music, but it doesn’t take long to come back.
There is so much about my life now that I love! I love my relationship. I love our dog Rosie who thinks life is all about play. I love living in Montana.
It’s true, lots of my life is good! Very good. So where does the deep ache come from?
Maybe it’s hard to be happy when I see so many people suffering. There is so much that goes on inside as I watch the news, read about the shootings of black men, and of white policemen, listening as people around me talk about racism, sexism, homophobia, politics, being white, being black, being young, being old, just being human. I often stay silent. But I am not quiet inside.
Maybe it is about how all lives should matter, not just white ones, and how some people have to work harder to get that point across.
The thing is, I am part of all this. I am racist, sexist, homophobic. I probably don’t know the half of it. The events of my life color how I put my world together, and I make judgments in a heartbeat. Sometimes I’m conscious of it, sometimes not. I believe it is how we humans are wired. It is the best of us and the worst of us.
And so, I can certainly educate myself about cultural diversity and learn about the history of systemic white privilege. It’s important to know. But unless I pay attention also to the very personal and emotional filter of my life, it’s not going to make much difference.
And so, when I hear that little girl screaming inside, I must pay attention.
She asked me to tell her story, to write my book, and I keep getting stuck.
Stuck living in this moment or that next one, and the book goes background.
Until a day like today, when she feels so angry because she hears that she was privileged.
My little girl doesn’t get it.
I tell my little girl there’s truth to that – that white privilege is real, and that my life really could have been worse.
She does not agree.
It’s not that simple.
She remembers how it felt when she was raped at four (and again over and over). She remembers how it felt when she spoke up about his horrible acts and was called imaginative.
She remembers that overly liked camp director who preached goodness and for years chose to do whatever he damn well pleased after dark.
She knew. She tried to tell. No one listened.
She screams, “It’s not fair!”
He wanted her silenced.
She got angry and punched a hole in the wall.
The doctor said she had an anger problem and gave her drugs.
Life moved on.
There was school and the dyslexic issue. But being laughed at for misspellings and not being able to read – that was nothing. You know – sticks and stones and rape and broken bones – that at least had passed – words would really never hurt her.
Except they did.
Then there was fifth grade, where she was at a predominately black school.
Charlotte bullied her regularly.
She spoke up. No one did anything.
So she ran for Student Counsel President on the platform to stop bullying.
She got one vote – hers, which got broadcasted over the public speakers in homeroom.
She wanted to cry and ran to the bathroom.
Charlotte was in the bathroom.
Needless to say tears were not going to help.
But what are a few more bruises and bumps when you are privileged – or will be some day?
She moved on and found a path playing tennis, hockey and basketball. She had loved little league but you know – girls couldn’t play baseball once they hit age 9 – even if they were much better than the boys.
But she was fortunate to be athletic. Baseball may be out, but there were other games to play and ways to run, run, and run from feeling the ache beneath her white skin.
Ugly and athletic. That worked once she hit high school and was the only white girl in an inner city black school. Sure there are some down sides. Like being the poster white kid during the two weeks the TV Series Roots was on and getting beaten up each day for that great honor of being white and privileged.
She was a survivor, and really I think amazingly creative and resilient.
Of course, when being white might have finally been a benefit heading to college at University of Virginia, by this time she was, I’ll just say, different.
She tried to fit in and she did some things really well.
But still there was a lot about life that just kept hammering away at that creative spirit.
After a number of years of fighting cancer in her 20s, she did find a home, a place that welcomed her and made it okay for her to be different. She started learning to be self-responsible and relational.
Not that being self-responsible and relational were easy. Taking responsibility for her life was hard, lonely, hellish at times. But she found her way and finally found a way to integrate – not get rid of – her past.
She found her loving. She didn’t think that it much mattered that it was with a woman. And it really didn’t, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t one more thing that made her different.
So back to me and today and my ache in my chest. Yes, on the outside I stand looking white, gray haired, and privileged. I get it. I am that white woman, who made it out of my past.
And I am privileged to still be walking this earth. But let me just say walking on this earth has not been easy. I haven’t often felt privileged and now that I do have a little taste of privilege, I guess I am not willing to make it wrong. I don’t have any desire to say my life matters more or less than anyone else.
My best friends in high school were black and when I needed people to stand by me when hate was running wild in a crowd – it was my high school basketball team that did. They circled me and the riot police circled them and we walked out of a crazy auditorium of people who wanted me dead. My all black team did not hesitate. We stood together, and I would stand with any one of them again.
I will stand with anyone for a while who thinks they stand alone. Sometimes that is enough to help someone find their own voice. People need to find their voice and legs again – to know they matter.
So back to my little girl, because, the heart of this story is for her – because she really didn’t think she was privileged.
And now it’s me that has to make sure she knows she matters.
When I do that I know that other people matter too. I don’t have an answer to all this pain, but I do believe that it starts by remembering that we are all much more than the color of our skin, our sex or sexuality. We each come with our stories.
The stories won’t go away, but we can take responsibility for what we do with our stories – and I think when we do that we can and will be much more curious, interested and loving when we listen to the story of another!