That’s a line from a song sung by Celtic Woman. When I’m writing I usually listen to soothing music to keep my mind from jumping everywhere else other than the words I’m trying to get on the page. I’m pretty sure the song is about a penniless musician trying to get a glass of ale by playing her fiddle and she wants to convince everyone that the sun isn’t coming up, they should fill her glass, and she’ll keep playing. This line jumped out at me but I interpret it in a bit of a different way.
I haven’t posted in a while because I don’t know what to say. My heart is heavy with the events of the past couple of weeks and I’m not quite sure I can make the words come out of mouth in the right way. I grew up in a racist home. My mom was afraid of people of color. Not just Blacks; anyone of any color other than white. Once, when I was little, we were shopping at the mall and there was a group of Mariachis getting ready to play. I remember being fascinated by their hats and guitars and started to walk toward them. She jerked my arm, pulled me to her side and said, “Aren’t you afraid of those dark men?” She didn’t let go of me until we got to the car. As young as I was I didn’t understand what she was afraid of. I still don’t. My dad had a long list of names for anyone who didn’t have white skin, particularly black people. Unfortunately, I can still recite them all, and even more unfortunately, so can my children. He never curbed his enthusiasm for letting fly his thoughts on integration and other cultures, especially in traffic in the car. I never challenged him, never asked him what caused the vehemence and anger, and never asked him to stop, either. I explained it away to my girls using the trite statements everyone uses when they don’t know how else to explain racism: he’s from a different time, a different generation, a different way of life. It felt cowardly even as I was saying the words.
When I was fifteen and a sophomore in high school, bussing started in Louisville. The Catholic schools were bursting at the seams from white parents afraid to send their children to the black public schools downtown. There was a riot on Broadway with parents blocking the busses full of children. The KKK came to town and burned crosses on Friday nights and football games were cancelled. The “N” word was used in abundance. I don’t remember any coverage of African American parents afraid to let their children get on busses for the long ride into the county. I don’t know, maybe there was and my Catholic school whiteness didn’t pay attention. I’m ashamed that I never asked anyone to explain why there was so much fear and hate. I accepted that was the way it was, and as a teenager, thought I could do nothing.
All of my adult life I never believed that white privilege was a real thing. I always said that I had never experienced privilege at any point in my life. I had worked my way through high school and college and rode the city bus to get where I wanted to go until I had saved enough cash to buy my first car. I left home at eighteen to live on my own and never asked for help from my parents. I really believed that until Alton Sterling was killed in Louisiana then Philando Castile was killed in Minnesota. Now I understand. Finally, I understand that I don’t worry about my children when they go out with friends. I’ve never been refused service or followed through stores or questioned if I make a return. I’m not frightened by police or keep my hands visible and on the steering when I get pulled over. Finally, I understand that it’s not privilege of money. It’s privilege of the color of my skin. Because of my whiteness I don’t have to be fearful.
Does this make me the worst kind of racist? The kind who says “But…I have Black friends!” and “Bur…I sent my children to integrated schools!”
My daughter, Molly, dates Dimitri. Dimitri is a young black man. Now, I worry. I worry what will happen if he’s pulled over at a traffic stop. Will he be pulled from his car? Will he be shot because he reaches for his driver’s license? He has two older brothers and they have children. How does his mother feel when they walk out the door? I hope someday we’ll meet and she and I can sit down and talk about what’s happening in the world. Maybe somehow if parents everywhere can talk about this we can figure out how to make it stop. If we make it an issue for our own families, and not somewhere else with someone else’s family we can make a difference.