She is Brown, She is Beautiful, She is Invisible
I am a privileged, cisgender woman. The world sees me as white. I often pass as heterosexual without trying. My body works in the ways most people expect bodies to work. For these, and many other reasons, I benefit from a vast, unspoken ranking system of privilege and oppression. As a lesbian, I have had those moments when straight people recognize that I’m queer. You can see their faces change. There is an awkwardness, a sudden coldness. Coming out gave me a perspective I had lacked into what it feels like to be ostracized.
I am fortunate to be the mother of five children, four are white. My youngest child is 2 1/2 years old, with gorgeous, milk chocolate skin. One of my kids is transgender, the other four, (as far as we know,) are cisgender. One is pansexual, one used to identify as bisexual, now as heterosexual, one is lesbian, one is a mystery, and one has always identified as heterosexual.
Accordingly, all five have unique personalities and temperaments. My son, age 14, is an extrovert, he’s that guy who ‘has never met a stranger.’ So, when he was a baby, he was starting conversations with the folks in the grocery store, at the gas station, walking down the street. He has always wanted to connect with every person he comes across.
A dozen years after my extremely friendly son was born, my tiny baby daughter is just as outgoing. With every person she passes in a public place, she’s waving, shouting ‘Hi! Hello!’ and she’s trying to start a conversation with people. The difference is, when my white son did this, he got an overwhelmingly positive response. When my beautiful brown daughter seeks the same kind of connection, often, she’s invisible. A great deal of the time, white people don’t hear her, don’t see her at all. It is as if she doesn’t exist. Everywhere she goes, she enthusiastically says hello to people who do not respond. Other black people, however, smile and talk to her and interact. I see this over and over, every day. It breaks my heart that she’s wordlessly being taught that she is less valuable as a human being. It makes me angry, too, because I love my daughter just as much as I love my son.
The awareness I am just barely coming to is what African-American people all over this country have known for hundreds of years, that they are considered to be less worthy, less dignified, less lovable, and less respected, due to racism. My daughter has no choice but to learn this ugly truth.
White people who look like me created this system we call race. Even if we consciously fight it, the evils of white supremacy are pervasive and self-perpetuating. The vast machinery of whiteness, wealth, privilege and capitalism combine into one monstrously large, sticky network that conspires to keep people of color ‘in their place.’
As one of the fellows in the spring 2018 cohort of the Anne Braden Anti-Racism training, we were asked to find our self-interest for doing anti-racist work as white people. I studied my family ancestry as German, English, German Jew, Russian Jew, Chickasaw and Cherokee, and discovered a great deal about my heritage that is highly motivating in fighting racism, but the thing I keep coming back to, over and over, is my burning desire to make this world a safer place for my family. Eradicating racism is the key to destroying countless other interconnected evils.
That’s why I am grateful that Unitarian Universalism has been examining the issue recently. Has it been comfortable? For many white UUs, the answer would be absolutely, it has not. It is painful to see where we have fallen short of our ideals. And yet, it’s the beginning to a long conversation our faith needs to have, and that our entire nation needs to have.
In Toni Morrison’s book, The Origin of Others, she says, “Why should we want to know the stranger when it is easier to estrange one another?” This is the work that lies before us now. It takes great courage to admit the powerful aggression of whiteness and white privilege, and how we may have been complicit.
Let us be bold, in working for a better world. Let’s love each other enough to stay in the fight for justice, together.
Amen, and blessed be.