Instead of sharing about the book writing process, I want to share why I am writing this book at all. A book which is an autopsy of my own racism. Where I learned it. How I stayed blind to it. And where I might go from here.
This dissection is painful and messy and not the book I imagined I would write when I rearranged my life to make time for words.
You may ask as I have asked myself, “Why am I, a white woman, writing a book about racism when there are plenty of black writers and educators who have already written extensively on this topic?”
The reason I am writing a book about racism is humbling to admit. Because for me, it took the words of a white woman talking about race for me to begin to wake up. It should not have taken words from someone who looks like me, but it did.
She was my escort across the bridge of blindness which most whites are birthed into. Even my marriage to a black man and being the mother of black daughters didn’t cut through the thick scales covering my eyes.
Once across the bridge I found Ijeoma Oluo, Layla Saad, Ta-Nahesi Coates, and Ibram X. Kendi. They didn’t have the luxury of waiting for me to arrive, but even so I apologized for taking so long.
Their clear, thorough, and articulate words are backed up by lived experiences as black men and women. Their words matter so much more than my own.
At times I feel shame, regret, and rage. I question my intelligence and basic goodness as a person. Is it possible, I wonder, if Ahmaud, Breonna and George would not be the most recent hashtags in a horrific list if it hadn’t taken me fifty years to get here?
Can my words be a bridge for other white people whose first cracks in dying to whiteness come from another white person? Those who are beginning to hear their own whispers. Those who feel sick of the disease our people created in a petri-dish of greed. Those who suspect love is not enough and our active participation is required.
My hope is by the time my book is complete, it will not be needed because enough white people will have listened to our black brothers and sisters and dedicated themselves to the work we should have been doing all along.
WHAT I LEARNED THIS WEEK ABOUT WRITING:
Not everyone is going to like what I write about.
I know a writer who is writing about the mechanics of the foot. She believes feet are an example of miraculous engineering for they carry our weight and provide a stable base for us to stand, walk, run, and dance. Most of us, she feels, walk in ways which place unnecessary strain on the thirty-three tiny bones, twenty-six joints and over a hundred muscles, ligaments, and tendons which make up our feet.
While I respect her passion, I do not understand why she is spending thousands of hours of her life writing about feet.
Likewise, some do not understand why I am writing a book about racism when there are much more “pleasant” topics I could write about. Some find discussing racism distasteful, unnecessary, and even harmful. I have been called racist, arrogant, disrespectful, and uninformed. I have been told I am contributing to a victim mentality which they believe cripples black communities.
I am on the journey of seeking and telling my truth. Jesus said knowing the truth sets us free. James Baldwin said a journey is called a journey, “because you cannot know what you will discover on the journey, what you will do with what you find, or what you find will do to you.”
One thing I have found so far, is not everyone likes my journey. And I, in turn, have not liked everything I have found.
EXCERPT FROM BOOK IN PROGRESS:
The poem, “Racist Coat,” explores the idea of how I was able to spot racism in others, but not myself. And how ultimately, I have found freedom in acknowledging my racism and power in choosing what to do next.
The coat hung heavy on the hook. Thick, stank and scratchy.
I caught whiffs of sweat, death, and deceit when walking by.
When I saw others wearing their coats, I felt a mix pity and scorn.
The coat remained on the hook quietly screaming.
It is amazing what one can be taught to ignore.
One day I touched the coat.
Partially by accident, mostly out of curiosity.
I recoiled at how much a part of me it felt.
I took it from its hook and placed one arm inside.
I let the rest dangle off my shoulder.
I walked around with the coat half on, half off for days
Uncomfortable. Wondering if anyone would notice.
Finally, I slipped the other arm into the coat.
Securing the buttons slowly, one at a time,
I found humility, sadness, freedom, and the knowledge
It was mine to wear all along.
3 thoughts on “Bridge”
Hi Teresa – edit question: In paragraph 5, you wrote “…did cut through.” and I wonder if you meant “did not cut through.” (speaking about the blindness so thick).
You write so eloquently. I too thought I’d been raised so not racist – but apparently not so much as I’d thought — learning of my unconscious bias over intervening years. In younger years, hearing people say they were afraid of what a policeman might do, I might have said, “Why would you be afraid of the police??? They are here to protect us all,” which I’m sure shut down many a conversation. When Adam was still in high school, a black couple mentioned that their nephew was going to be living with them and attending the same high school Adam was attending at the time. They said they were worried because he didn’t seem to think he might be subject to racism at the high-school.
Laura Westbrook Wild Weeder email@example.com 206-605-2005
oops – accidentally hit send before finishing thought. I don’t remember what I said, but I’m sure I was in disbelief, and they did try to explain that it was different for black teens, and especially for black rebellious teens. But what they said I pondered long, and wondered what I’d been missing. I started paying attention, and wondering about what else hadn’t I learned about in school when I learned of things like redlining, and heard about people having to live near polluting industries, and lynchings, and realizing blacks and women hadn’t got the vote all that long ago… I finished White Fragility this past month. The black authors you mention I’ve read bits of some on Medium over the last several years. It is a painful journey, and yet one that I feel I also must make. Thank you for sharing your stories.
Laura Westbrook Wild Weeder firstname.lastname@example.org 206-605-2005
Thanks for taking time to read my words. I really appreciate it. Each of us has a story based on what we were taught and our lived experiences. Thanks for sharing a part of yours with me. I’ll take a look at that sentence and make sure it makes sense.