“[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.
I didn’t want to *go* to online church this morning.
But I went anyway.
As fate (aka The Holy Spirit) would have it, the worship leaders were singing Waymaker, which regardless of how I’ve been feeling has been my theme song of late. I feel like it represents my flimsy soul’s attempt to say that I believe that He will make a way through this monstrous mess and in doing so, somehow convince my heart.
That reminded me of one of the themes in my novel, Then Sings My Soul. The main character, Jakob, is a Jew in Eastern Europe in the early 1900’s, running with his brother from pogroms ravaging their family and their part of the world at the time. As his faith suffers and wavers over the years from the trauma of the atrocities they survived, his older brother frequently reminds him to always remember to say the Kaddish.
I thought I’d join others engaging in online story time (sorry, no pictures in this book!) and read excerpts from Mudhouse Sabbathfor you which explain the significance of the Kaddish.
I know, I know. I look like a lumberjack. But I felt called to make this video while in the middle of my workshop today and I wasn’t about to go put on lipstick (sorry, Jeane!).
Here is the Kaddish. Join me in saying it, or something like it, twice a day, every day, until this cruel virus passes?
Glorified and sanctified be God’s great name throughout the world which He has created according to His will.
May He establish His kingdom in your lifetime and during your days, and within the life of the entire House of Israel, speedily and soon; and say, Amen.
May His great name be blessed forever and to all eternity.
Blessed and praised, glorified and exalted, extolled and honored, adored and lauded be the name of the Holy One, blessed be He, beyond all the blessings and hymns, praises and consolations that are ever spoken in the world; and say, Amen.
May there be abundant peace from heaven, and life, for us and for all Israel; and say, Amen.
He who creates peace in His celestial heights, may He create peace for us and for all Israel; and say, Amen.
If you’re like me and not feeling the greatest, I hope you’ll join me in worshipping and praising anyway.