“[T]he Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world,—a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness,—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”
If this post makes you feel ashamed, well it should.
Sure, I was aware of the differences between myself and my friends of color, starting at a young age and taught by our history lessons and reinforced in recent years by the ache in my soul when I realized no more than a handful of black students attended the schools my children attended in my #whiteprivileged suburb.
I realized it when I near stopped the car and smacked a child who was not my own in the lacrosse carpool, because he said, “Black people don’t belong in our town.”
I realized it when we took our kids out of that school system (for multiple reasons) and chose to drive them 45 minutes one way to an inner city school, 1) because it is stellar and was the best place for them, and 2) because I felt like I owed it to my sons to know what it’s like to study and play and grow up alongside other kids of color. Kids just like them.
But even then, well-intentioned as I was, I did not realize the depth of my #whiteprivilege.
You can love black people and co-workers and friends.
You can swear you are not prejudiced.
But until you realize the depth and insidious-ness of your own #whiteprivilege—until we all do—we will never, ever change.
The way the veil Du Bois speaks of began to lift for me—and I have an infinite way to go yet—was when I was trying to write a novel with a black protagonist. Acknowledging my utter inability to write from that viewpoint, I turned to a good friend for insight.
“What’s it like to be black? I mean, really like?” I started.
Then I hesitated.
“Is it even okay to refer to you as black? Should I say ‘African-American?’ ‘Person of color?’”
I felt heat spreading across my neck.
I know NOTHING.
She was kind and forgiving as she began to explain
what it’s like to be black.
It’s being taught before you can talk that you will be suspected and disrespected, that people will pull their purses closer in stores, and lock their car doors when you walk by. And that’s just for starters.
It’s breathing a sigh of relief when you have daughters, because…
…because of George Floyd.
Did you watch the video of his murder?
Watch it, damn it.
Watch it ALL.
Because what happened to him is what every black person in America envisions and fears and dreams about happening to them every single day.
When, white friends, was the last time you worried about *something like that* happening to you? Your SON? Your BROTHER? Your FATHER?
When, white friends?
The answer is NEVER. Not if you’re honest with yourself.
And therein lies white privilege.
Until we white people get it, until we befriend (not out of curiosity, but really befriend) and then have those difficult conversations with our black friends about what it’s really like, until we live and work and play and worship and shop and walk alongside and take the chance that we’re calling them by the improper term and stumble over our awkward whiteness to reach out toward each other in love and cultural humility we will never change.
I’m not going to offer scripture verses or write a nice prayer, because I’m as angry as Jesus and the money changers, and I don’t recall that he paused to recite from the Torah in that moment.
What I will offer are a couple of recommendations, the only ones that feel even slightly appropriate at the moment.
When I was younger, I had a terrifying, recurrent dream. I can’t recall the circumstances, only that we were standing in a line at a school waiting for MREs, our only source of food. It was the sort of dream where your conscious is telling you in the midst that “it’s only a dream,” but you are so scared that you fight your way awake in the middle of the night.
This morning I drove by a local elementary school, and I was struck by how much it looks like the one in that old dream.
I know, it’s ridiculous, right?
We’re going to make it through this, right?
Some moments of my day, usually when I’m building or painting something, I don’t think about the virus. I don’t think about my patients at the hospital who were sick and anxious enough without COVID-19 to worry about. I don’t think about how so many of us are months, or weeks, or even days, of needing help to pay bills and get food.
But many moments–too many moments–I do think about it.
I wonder if my grandparents and great-grandparents felt like they were free-falling when the Great Depression hit. Because that’s how I feel–like I’m free falling. Like I’m in a dream and I know I’m in a dream, only this time, I can’t make myself wake up. I can’t make it go away.
I want to be able to get my nails done again. I want to get back to the treasured Saturday morning breakfasts out with my husband. I want to hug my patient who just received devastating news. I want to hug my friends again. I want to know that we aren’t headed toward bread lines and MREs and another Great Depression and things won’t get so bad that we’ll have to sell our house or go bankrupt or lose everything but the shirts on our backs.
I had anxiety and PTSD before all this, and I just wish it would all go away.
Now, I’m fully aware that a lot of the things I listed above are #firstworldproblems. By and large my family and I are doing okay. But everything is relative for everyone. A crisis to one person might appear as a blessing to another. We can’t judge the things that make each of us unravel.
We can only acknowledge that we are, each of us, unraveling about something in the midst of this madness.
So what can we do?
There are the obvious: acknowledge that your hurt and worry are real, and more importantly, valid. Seek mental help–most doctors are taking virtual visits, if not seeing serious cases in person. Do things–even one thing–to take care of your soul, whether putting up a bird house, reading a long-neglected book, trying a hobby you’ve been putting off, taking a bubble bath by candlelight.
One thing is for sure: We are not all in this together.
Some are suffering significantly more than others. Many–too many–are dying.
But we are all in this with God.
He has not changed.
He has not left us.
He has seen us through wars and famines and plagues. He has never promised us escape from these challenges, but He has promised us victory over them–either here on earth or in Heaven.
“…fear not, for I am with you;
The other day, I had the privilege of being at my cousins’ dairy farm when they opened the north pasture to grazing for the first time this season.
The gate opened, and the pretty jersey cows with their big, brown, puppy dog eyes just stood there, blinking, ankle deep in muck.
“Go on now,” the farmer hollered, encouraging them.
Still, they stood there and stared.
It’s as if they’d forgotten all the springs before and the freedom and sweet, honey taste of the emerald green pasture.
“Go out before them, walk all the way back over the bend of the hill,” my farmer cousin said to me.
The cows blinked some more, postures guarded, as they watched me walk farther and farther out into the pasture, my legs shin deep in the lush, green grass.
But then slowly, one by one, they walked toward the pasture.
They picked up their pace, little by little, until one, and then another, started to run–skip, really–their impossibly enormous frames light with glee when they finally realized what the farmer was offering them.
Honey sweet nourishment.
It was a Malachi 4:2 sort of day:
But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture.”
The sort of day the Lord has in store for each of us, when this winter, this virus, this season lifts.
Be safe, dear friends.
Know you are loved and beloved.
Know that you are not alone.
Lead Me Homeis a novel inspired by my cousins’ dairy farm. It’s a story of two families and a town faced with immeasurable loss, and how they find hope in the midst of it. You might like to give it a try, if you’re looking for the same: