A far too personal introduction: I am a white French Canadian mother of seven farmer and musician. Maybe that gives you an image in your head of someone different from you – maybe someone who would not necessarily care about what was happening a world away in Ferguson Missouri. But I do care – very much. And I hope my personal information will be relevant only to you at the beginning of this article – and by the end it will no longer matter.
My daughter brought a really interesting blog to my attention – she had been talking about it for a while – written by a beautiful black woman who promoted cultural peace. She had strong well expressed opinions and my daughter admired her.
AFter Ferguson, it began to change and I saw my daughter’s passions begins to rise. SHe said herself,
“Mom there’s a fire inside of me that I have never felt before”.
I admit to enjoying this. I like seeing my kids care about something deeply. But she was clearly pissed.
The woman’s blog had apparently turned from being appealing and powerful, to angry and hateful dismissing comments from white readers, calling them “privileged” and discounting their support. My daughter’s fiery temper rose out of her feet and exploded from her mouth in a diatribe of expletives.
“You’re doing the same thing”, I tried telling her quietly.
But she was angry – angry at being pigeonholed in the box of “all whites”. Incensed at not having her help and support for the black people protesting in Ferguson accepted and acknowledged I suppose. Then again Maybe she was feeling a little of what black’s in America have felt their whole life?Stereotypes, invisible and unimportant. Out of control.
Which brought me to my question…
what do we tell our children when they come to realization of unfairness and inequality? What power do they have?
When I was a young girl, my family had a condo in Daytona Beach. I remember it well – a row of fancy white buildings dotting the beach about a mile off of the Daytona main. Across the street was a shopping center with a Publix and beside that an exclusive golf course; all very private – all very white. I didn’t understand what that was – I was young and untouched by the invisible lines that separated us. Back home my best friend was a Jamaican boy whose father was a renowned biology professor who won the Order of Canada. My “type” of racism was reversed. I thought ALL black people drove Volvo’s and were academics. Of course this was untrue for everyone – white or black – but that was also the age that I assumed everyone’s birthday was on the same day as mine. I suppose it’s just the way the young mind processes and groups things trying to understand the world as we are growing up.
Only a few blocks away from the condo was a suburb of Daytona, a mainly black neighbourhood. I remember going food shopping with my mother at the Publix the white patron’s annoyance when we were behind a black customer in line because they would take longer with counting their food stamps. Eventually when I got a bit older, I would get in to a great deal of trouble for stealing all of my mother’s food stamps and going into that neighbourhood to put them into mail boxes anonymously – I was grounded and I didn’t apologize.
My experiences in Florida and in other Southern states throughout the 1970’s-1990’s showed me clearly that although segregation may have been abolished by law – its roots remained strong and unyielding somehow. That maybe the right to vote was extended, and the Jim Crow laws were repealed, but white America found other ways of subverting the black population. Employment and educational inequity, healthcare inequity – keeping the masses at bay. There was a quiet agreement amongst (especially) southern whites to keep the black population powerless and poor. And the bar that black populations set for themselves was comparatively lower than that which was afforded to the “privileged” white population. Somehow, the roles that people had assumed under segregation were behaviourally ingrained and were being maintained by mutual agreement of both sides. These rules of behaviour are born of a hundreds of years of mistaken identity, brainwashing and blatant human error. We have been inundated through every powerful means available – radio, TV, literature and art, previous generational beliefs – that we all have certain roles certain expectations to fulfill as either white or black people. And in reality we just go about the business of doing what is necessary to become what we believe is expected of us with no conscious recognition that this is what we are doing. We are like robots – walking with blank blinking eyes not ever considering where our actions thoughts and choices are coming from. Until incidents like Ferguson and Chicago wake us up from our dream-like state.
In discussions I have with people about cultural differences, I often hear quick defensive statements like –
“I had a black best friend”, they would say. Or “I had a black girlfriend”
We are ALL racist, I would insist. That doesn’t mean we can’t become better. Realizing that is the first step to a more conscious moving forward. My point is that we all have limiting thoughts about beliefs about other cultures. Until you have really lived and been immersed in the way a culture functions and flows, you cannot possibly have the first idea about the motivations behind people’s choices and actions.
When I was travelled through China the first year it opened its doors to tourists, many of the people, especially children there had never seen a Caucasian person except in a book or the rare TV if any they got to see. My father was especially attractive to the children. They would surround him in droves waiting for him to sing a song or tell a story. A fat white man = Buddha. Someone who was not starving and was “full” and happy. Our perceptions of each other have everything to do with how we have been shown the world.
I have been very lucky to have been able to travel a great portion of the world in my life, and even to live in places like Guinea, West Africa. I was young, white and clearly a minority when I arrived in Guinea. It was a jarring experience, which for someone else may have been unsettling but for me, the moment my feet hit African soil I felt at home, welcome and happy. I was often found skipping school to go hang out in the “pig village”, the neighboring village that had the responsibility of keeping a gentle giant pig. Beside them was the drum village where I learned the most basic and important things. In Guinea I was a minority very often. However, as opposed to the black experience in America, of being treated as lower and lesser, in Africa I was treated with gentleness and kindness. As a person of “non-colour”, and maybe because I was young and enthusiastic, I was treated with extraordinary open hearted kindness and welcoming. They enjoyed my differentness I think. The different way I dressed or spoke or expressed myself with my hands. Even the things I would laugh at or ask questions about.
But in North America – we aren’t “enjoying” each other’s differences. We berate and condemn – we are afraid of differences. Studying political science I became enthralled by leaders like Martin Luther King and Gandhi. It was starkly apparent that there was a great deal more power and lasting impact in a peaceful change rather than volatile war which only seemed to give us temporary spurts of peace always awaiting the next battle (case in point – the Middle East).The good news for all of us, is that all that it takes to get past this kind of poisonous unconscious living – is to become aware that this is what we are doing. ASs long as we continue to publicize our opinions and thoughts in terms of “black – white” / “them- Us” we are fulfilling the role of believing that we are separate – that we are different. We are continuing the destructive illusion.
situations like Ferguson are a great opportunity to evolve.
1-Figure out that we are humans are not separate and 2- then go on the figure out that we are connected to everything that is alive and 3- start treating the planet like we understand our connection.
Ferguson is critically important – our tipping point. It is vital because it is creating a necessity in shifting us closer to and understanding that is the ONLY solution to saving our world is to go deeply within our own selves and to stop looking for solutions on the outside. It is our THINKING that has gotten us here – it is only by understand what we are thinking and why we think it, that we can get out. This can only be achieved at an individual level. So, if you ask what it is YOU can do to help in Ferguson, this is your answer:
KNOW YOURSELF DEEPLY
This is what i would tell my daughter
– that she should never lose her passion
– always use your powers for good
– thought is powerful – but it’s not who you are. Find out WHO you are. Don’t be addicted to your thoughts about anything
Maya Angelou – the great poet Laureate and philosopher who spoke on behalf of all people said clearly –
“Do the best you can until you know better – then when you know better DO BETTER”.
Now that we all know better we can do better.