Thursday, July 23, 2009

Silent, Never Again

My husband, who makes very few demands on me ever, wants to see his parents. And we are going half way across Canada in a truck with 6 kids to do that.

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.


Debi said...

and what would you do differently may still exist there...

Unknown said...

Debi - first off, I gave them power by letting the comments continue over a period of days. This time, it would be addressed immediately -- the pool staff (when informed after my rather public rant) were very supportive, knew the kids involved, knew their parents and were upset that it had occurred. I would make sure that officials knew ... also, Greg is about 50 pounds heavier and a whole lot stronger than those teenagers were back then ... I think someone would have to be pretty stupid to be that public about it today, which of course means he would be more of a target privately. We will talk about this reality on the drive ... and we will discuss ways to deal with it if something happens again. I am FAR More confident than I was back then ... used to it, sadly.

Anonymous said...

I just came back from a 10 day drive to Sask.I have tons of great place to stay if you need. I brought my children to the small town I used to visit every summer of my childhood. It was an incredible journey for me to drive there with my two while my hubby was at home working. Saskatchewan is full of wonderfully welcoming, warm and incredibly friendly people. I hope those silly immature boys don't ruin the experience for you all this year. They are the minority. Of course I could also be incredibly naive. Good for you for having an action plan, you are an inspiring mom and woman for all that you do.


Anonymous said...

I raise my power to the people fist to you, Jen. What you did on day 3 is exactly what they needed to hear. People listen when you are direct with them and what they're saying to you and your family.

My mother used to say that freedom of speech means you also receive the consequences of your use of free speech when you use it to demean others. Good for you! --Adrienne

One Busy Momma said...

I'm so sorry that your kids and you had to deal with that... but... you are right... those kids are ignorant...I hope they learned a valuable lesson... hopefully the family was listening also....