I am white. My family and I, which includes my white husband and our five white children recently moved to Baltimore, Maryland. Months before groups of black young people would ransack, steal, and burn one portion of this city, but right in the midst of the increasing protests and movements that #blacklivesmatter we unloaded our lives into a not so little blue house on the edges of town.
Our neighborhood is a mix of people – some white, some black. It is what we wanted – with a backyard that all the kids (including the neighbors) want to play in. No fence. Open doors. I want to teach my children how to live an open-door life. I don’t want the boy next door to simply be, “That brown boy.” Or my child to be, “That white kid.”
I want to know their names and their hurts and the truth of their lives. More than that I want to be known in return.
It is been hard watching white people I know putting a BandAid on the issues of race.
The Robert P. “Bob” McCulloch Prosecuting Attorney for St. Louis County, Missouri – the county in which the city of Ferguson resides – stood behind a podium at a news conference the evening of November 24, 2014, detailing the investigation and Grand Jury’s decision to not indict the police officer responsible for killing Michael Brown.
An unarmed black man would not receive justice for his death.
His family, friends, and community would be left to mourn – their loss, his murder.
Once again the black community was not being heard.
I watched that breaking news play out across my television screen with deep sorrow and silence.
There was not anything that I could say that was going to make this better.
So I prayed, “Jesus, be near.”
I went to bed early that night – exhausted in my overdue pregnant body.
I lay their grieving for voices that are not heard and people that have been taught by how they are treated that the color of their skin means they do not matter.
As the night grew darker, as the city of Ferguson grew restless and violent- I went into labor.
As we sped across the highway to make it to the hospital on time (an hour away)… I prayed. I prayed over the people who are living unheard and unseen and undervalued.
As I bore down into the labor pains – I thought of Ferguson’s uproar of frustration, sorrow, and grief.
As I cried out in labor my body exposed and vulnerable – I thought of Michael’s mother crying out in anguish as her son’s dead body lay prostrate in the middle of the street uncovered for hours.
As my body doubled over in the agony of contractions and a body in transition… I thought vividly of the rioting and voices crying out for someone to hear them in their pain.
As cars were demolished and buildings were burned – I brought forth new life into our family.
I wept as I met my new daughter.
I wept tears of sorrow and tears of joy.
Two black men who make their way around the area in a box truck stopped at our home last week on a 90 degree afternoon to gather our old refrigerators.
As they worked one of the men cut his arm.
I quickly – and nonchalantly offered him a BandAid.
Which he declined.
But then I had an epiphany – Do they even make dark-skinned BandAids?
I had never thought about it. I have never seen a dark-colored BandAid.
My whole life I have been wearing Band-Aids that look like me: light-colored pink, even transparent.
Johnson and Johnson has been making Band-Aids since the 1920’s. They even have various character themed bandages (thank you Disney)…. but no shades of light to dark brown?
I have taken it for granted that I can walk into a Walmart or CVS any day of the week and easily choose a package of Band-Aids for myself and my children.
If you purchase a First Aid Kit – pink colored bandages are standard issue.
We go through a lot of bandages in this house. We are well-stocked.
And this is where and when and HOW white-privilege smacks me in my face.
God – forgive me for being so blind and naive.
It might seem like a simple, no big deal issue – but where the hell are the dark flesh-colored BandAids?
Seriously. What century is this?
I am humbled and brought low…
- I thought on some level that just because we have black friends and
- just because I love reading black authors and
- just because I have read tons of articles and stories on gentrification & black history
- just because we have moved into a heavily black community –
- just because we moved to the hood…
that I wasn’t blind.
That I knew how it was and is and what racism looked like and felt like.
Oh Jesus how wrong I have been.
I know – it is just a bandaid – but that little piece of adhesive bandage has me thrown because it represents so much more. It represents an inequality in immediate and thorough access – no matter your skin color.
- access to healthcare
- access to a quality education
- access to food
- access to hair care products
- access to affordable housing
- access to good legal services
- access to fair treatment by law officials and other government entities
I wrote these words from The Front Porch the Sunday after the riots, the weekend of the Baltimore curfew, the weekend all of our lives were inconvenienced because a man had been murdered (once again) in police custody:
“We tell them that it will be OK – that this isn’t the way, but no other way sees them, and no other way hears them.
We tell them it isn’t about race – it has nothing to do with their skin.
But their men and boys lay flailed on cement – bound in chains or stinking of death.
We tell them if they get a job or an education or use birth control or find a better place to live.
But mama worked two jobs.
And the local school was torn down and rebuild for kids in a lottery – for kids that do not even live in the neighborhood.
And AIDS is infecting 1 in 52.
And they demolished abandoned homes on our block, but now they are selling them for $200,000 – where will we get the money to afford a house like that?
They tell us to feed our children better – but no soda or steak or fun.
So we sit back in our white towers with our white Band-Aids – thinking we know and can see and understand exactly how people of color should/could be doing it better.
We insist this isn’t about race… pointing to black on black crime.
When we really haven’t listened to their stories and truth and sorrow to begin with.
Love asks the right questions – and then insists on listening to the answers.
Questions I am asking right now:
- Who are the biggest employers of kids in the hood?
- Who trains them for jobs? What kind of jobs? What is the pay?
- What kind of opportunities actually exist?
- Who has been willing to pray with them, meet with them, listen to them?
- Who are the leaders in our community that I want to get to know – who I can learn from?
- By investing back into black communities instead of mining the resources (property) and bleeding them dry – who is the real blight?
- What would it look like to invest in families – men, women and children – in long-neglected neighborhoods? Who is doing this well?
- Police brutality – are we listening? Do we understand what it is to be pulled over and frisked and questioned simply because of the color of your skin?