Thursday, July 23, 2009
Today we leave on a ten day adventure that involves 24 hours of driving EACH WAY to end up in a tiny little town in Saskatchewan.
Its beautiful there with rolling grass hills, golden fields of wheat that stretch farther than I can see. His parents are wonderful, warm hearted and giving people who love me and love my family. His family runs an art house, a music cafe and a hosts a large music festival happening this weekend. All good reasons to go.
And yet I pause and lie awake sleepless. We have not been back since a family reunion 4 summers ago. And 4 summers ago at the town's local pool we had "incidents". Racist, stupid, mouthy kids calling my then little boys awful and horrible names. And I failed them.
My inlaws home and property is a sanctuary, literally. It's a converted rectory that has become an amazing showcase of art and music, we know there is safety and peace on their property. We will leave their home at times and venture into town.
This town is as white, and as small, as you can imagine. Without a doubt, my sons will be the only two black people for miles around the entire time we are there. To a certain extent they are used to it, but its taken me 4 years to get the courage to go back and I am not sure they even remember what it was like last time we were there.
Day one, local pool. It was the first time we had ever faced blatant racism, and I am ashamed to tell you I let it happen. The fear of embarrassing my inlaws, the total stress of not knowing what to do, the lack of confidence as to what was the right approach and total and complete shock. Racist names called at my children and I simply moved my kids away. Got between them and the perpetrators. In the face of it I was silent.
Day two, I fought with my husband. DO SOMETHING. Do SOMETHING! And he didn't. For fear of embarrassing his parents, the total stress of not knowing what to do and the lack of confidence as to what was the right approach. We failed our sons. We fought hard that night and I was angry. Angry at myself for not speaking up, angry at him for not protecting us, angry at the world that there were kids like this saying things like that. We were silent.
Day three. Again we fought. DO SOMETHING. Do ANYTHING. Fear, politeness, horror and shock froze me. Briefly this time. I could not live with myself and my lack of action the previous two days. Sleepless nights, seething rage. And I did something. Those 3 teenage white boys from small town Saskatchewan will probably never forget the day the crazy white lady in the bikini verbally destroyed them. I am not sure that it was the RIGHT approach, but it was SOMETHING and at that point, something was better than nothing.
I told them they disgusted me. That their ignorance would end them up dead or in jail at some point. I told them their words were stupid and wrong and that no GOOD person thought the way they did or talked the way they talked. "LOOK AT YOU" I half screamed, "LOOK AT YOUR STRINGY HAIR, YOUR STUPID TOWN, YOU THINK YOU HAVE ANYTHING TO MAKE FUN OF THOSE BEAUTIFUL CHILDREN FOR"
They nodded silently a look of awe, shame, horror and fear on their face. One child, the obvious ring leader argued back before I threw out the ultimate threat in a small town. Their new Principal? MY BROTHER IN LAW. I have no idea how they faced their first day of school in September, but I hope they were at least quiet.
As I said, probably not the best approach, but I was new at this.
I have never been silent since nor will I ever be silent again but that town holds for me a feeling of shame. Shame of my silence. I need to face the place that holds me in its grasp.
I tell you this story so that you can learn from my mistakes. Be the change you want to be. Don't be silent when you hear a racist joke. Respond to the senders of those so not funny joke emails or ugly racism hidden under the guise of patriotism.
As I tell my sons, if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. Speak up. Don't end up living with the guilt of a choice you made many years ago that still keeps you up at night today.
Monday, July 20, 2009
My Sons. I am blessed.
Saturday, July 18, 2009
Friday, July 17, 2009
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Thursday, July 9, 2009
You don't think there are any privileges to being part of the majority? Read this old but golden list from Peggy McIntosh and check to see what applies to you.
Now go back and re-read number fourteen and think of my sons while you do it.
14. I can arrange to protect my children most of the time from people who might
not like them.
On July 3rd while my family and I were relaxing in the relative racial utopia that is the Harambee Summer Festival, Jay Phillips was attacked in a parking lot of a McDonald's on Vancouver Island. Stop. Go watch it here. He is someone's son. He is someone's father.
On that same day, in response to the presence of 60 families from my precious, amazing and much loved camp a coward under the cover of darkness wrote horrible, awful, disgusting and without question racist messages across the picnic tables of the beach where we spent each day.
"Run N----- Run"
"Ashamed to be Human With You"
Discovered (and destroyed) the next morning by parents before our children saw for themselves, we seethed.
And you, I am sure are shocked. Shocked at the attack on Jay and shocked at the attack on our precious children.
I am still at a loss for words as to how to express this and so I give you Kelly Diels' words. A blogger I recently discovered, she says it far better than I could. Please, go read the whole article. Here are some excerpts I find most important.
Continue Being Outraged. Please.
... I feel great tenderness for white people who are shocked by this
attack. They've got good hearts. They truly, madly, deeply believe
in equality - and the very fact of their whiteness insulates them from the
everyday knowledge that racism exists. That's why this assault is such
a shock. When you're white, you don't notice racism, because you feel
racially neutral and you think that this racially neutral experience is the norm.
It is not.
Some dearly loved people in my life are
uncomfortable with the fact that I identify my children as black. They're
biracial, after all. Calling them black erases their white mother, their
white family members, and the acceptability and the privilege that comes from
not being black. As one of my friends told me recently "It's okay to be
black as long as you don't act black" (he's black). That's usually the case -
except every once in a while, the very fact of your blackness, your otherness,
your not-whiteness, will make you a target of physical violence. And
nearly every single day, your blackness will be noted but it may be ignored so
long as your behaviour and demeanour doesn't coincide with stereotypes and
assumptions about black people. In other words, in the words of my friend, so
long as you act white.
This is why I identify my children as black. I'm
choosing to identify with reality. I am preparing to be an ally for my
black children as they make their way in this still very, very white world, our
true north strong and free, our grand multicultural mosaic. I don't want
to be shocked when they come home from school, work, baseball, dancing, life and
report the outrageous, covert or coded slings, arrows and slurs that have
been hurled their way. I want to prepare them. I want to be
prepared. I want to prepare the world. And yet I know that there is
no way to truly prepare. I'm scared. The attack on Jay Phillips
means that I am right to be scared. We all should be....
And I hope that all the good-hearted, mosaic-referencing, tolerant Canadian
white folk are willing to push beyond their own shock and outrage at this and
examine the ways that racism is present in our daily lives - to acknowledge
and challenge it.
Because when you're blind to the small stuff it takes the
big stuff to shock you. And in your well-meaning ignorance lies tacit
assent to all the small stuff and thus your permission for the big stuff.
These three young men did not just wake up racist one day: it took 19-25 years of their small acts of racism being tolerated by other oblivious white people for them to feel entitled to physically attack a black man.
Thank the gods and goddesses or the deity of your choice that Jay
Phillips is big and strong and physically powerful and no stranger to the
gym and could physically defend himself although he should not ever have had
to. Imagine if he had been a frail, elderly man. Or a less
physically-strong woman. Or my two beautiful little girls.
And now, white people, think back to every single time another white person said something 'off' that you didn't challenge or educate with humour or love or just SOMETHING. Or a resume came across your desk with an 'ethnic' name and you didn't call that person back. Or when you chose to rent your basement suite to a white family instead of a South Asian one because you thought the house would smell like curry. Or when you sigh over traffic in Richmond when you really mean Asian drivers. Start seeing those things; and see the connection, the continuum, the path from those things to three racist men in a McDonald's parking lot threatening to lynch a black man. Start seeing that if being black, or Chinese, or South Asian can be a disadvantage, that by the same token, being white translates into advantage.
Someone I know once said to me that he didn't want to live in X neighbourhood, because then his (white) daughter would go to X school; and the reason he worried about this was because he didn't want her to be a minority.There is truth in that unexaminedly racist statement. He didn't want his daughter to be a minority, because to be an ethnic minority is to be disadvantaged. He didn't want her to have to rescind her white privilege, her advantage.
Being privileged because you are white does not mean you are evil; it does not mean you are racist; it is just the fact of the matter and it means that you can choose whether or not you see racism. And if you choose to see it, and really, really want to confront and eradicate racism, start by examining - and acknowledging - the fact
that there is an advantage to being white.
Start seeing the privilege.
Start articulating it.
Stop being shocked.
Continue being outraged.
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
It is easy to understand people who don’t love with all their hearts, because
the more you love the more you open yourself up to pain.
I hold my babies. I rock them. I cuddle them. I snuggle and kiss. I carry them in a sling. We dance together and laugh. We stare into each others' eyes. I teach them how to trust me; How to love me. I want them to know the world is a safe and wonderful place where someone who thinks you are the most amazing creature on earth will catch you when you fall, wipe your tears away and make sure you are safe and loved and warm and safe every single day of your life. I want them to feel how very, very deeply they are loved and valued and what an incredible blessing they are.
They need to attach to me, their primary caregiver, in order to become emotionally healthy children and then women and mothers themselves. And in that process, I also attach to them. They are my girls, and I love them. And now, over the last two months it has become apparent they also love me.
My actions promise them I will be here forever. My actions promise them their world is a safe place where everyone important to them will treat them well. My actions promise them I am here for them. My actions show them we are a family.
My actions lie. My heart breaks. Already.
How many children can one mother lose before she doesn't feel anymore? How many mothers can a child lose before the damage cannot be undone?
God forbid anyone imply that my love for the girls is any less because they are "foster kids". I am incapable of such distinction. Originally they were coming for 'the summer', now we realize that it will be longer, but God only knows how long. They could go home tomorrow and it wouldn't affect how much I love them. I want to protect my heart but the battle is long ago lost. They will be forever the daughters of my heart. It is what they need. They are NOT "just foster kids" they are MY babies and I will love them as they deserve, as I love my sons, all four.
Someone needs to be here to pick up the pieces of my heart when they go.
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Jen at 30
I felt strong and confident and definitely that the world was a good place and my life was a good one. I liked myself and liked my life. All in all, things were good. Great in fact. Being 30 was cool.
The next four years pretty much have kicked my butt to the curb and back. And because of that, at 35 and a half, I like me more. I am wiser, gentler and less judgemental. I have learned things about myself I do not like, and things I do. I have had my strengths and weaknesses laid bare. I have grieved harder than I thought possible, and loved harder than I knew I could. I have made some truly horrible decisions, and some really good ones.
At 35 I value my family more and my marriage more. I appreciate the people I love, even those that have left my life, more deeply because I know what it feels like now to lose someone you think you can't live without. If I had known in advance what these last 5 years would hold for me, I am not sure I would have made the choice to live them, yet at the same time, I realize that they have given me a precious gift.
And today, half way to 40, I realize how much less I know about my life is than I did 5 years ago. 5 years ago my husband had a job that was secure - he quit it and took the job he lost two months ago. 5 years ago I assumed we would live here for a long time - today I have no idea if we will be here in two months. 5 years ago I thought racism was something I could protect my children from - today I know that most of what they deal with comes from their same age peers of which I have no idea. 5 years ago I thought my marriage was invincible and my heart would never break - today I realize how fragile both are and hold them close.
Life is hard. I wish I could guarantee my kids that the next 5 years will be better. That racism will end, that fear and death and disease won't touch our lives, that the "sisters" they love will stay this time. I know none of that. By my 40th birthday my sons will be all be teenagers, my oldest on the brink of manhood and I will begin the journey of releasing my legacy to the world.
Am I looking forward to the next 5 years? To be honest, I am scared. The wisdom that comes with age just might be over rated. I toss around the idea that maybe being blissfully ignorant might be a whole lot easier than the knowledge and growth that comes from pain and living life, and yet I know that's not true. I like who I am today. I will like who I am at 40.
Jen at 35
I hope you come with me along the journey.
Sunday, July 5, 2009
The babies were amazing and I am so thrilled at the massive strides they made on attachment this week, and yet I have many a post filtering through my head on fostering, adoption and attachment as a result.
Camp, as usual, filled every expectation and many more. It could be held anywhere, and we could have the worst weather imaginable, and cost my last penny and I would still go every year because THOSE PEOPLE, they are my FAMILY and I love them and what they mean in my life.
I am home. With internet. And will write, but first I need to go collapse on the couch and take a pill. Holy Cow, I hurt!