“The focus on individuals as racists is a dangerous distraction from the real systemic problem of racism”

This whole post including the title is basically swiped from Feministe. Except the lolcats which I is inkluded for gigguls. Ahem.

In this “gotcha!” post, Holly lists sixteen (er, nineteen since I swiped another three from the comments section) behaviours that white people use to deny racism or white privilege and avoid responding to the challenge of recognising and being unable to escape from our white supremacist patriarchy.

In a fit of Liberal White Guilt I’ve starred the ones that I personally do or have done to some degree – or feel and then have to physically restrain myself from doing – although I like to think that my reactions and actions are less whiny and obvious, more subtle – read, more insidious, more deniable. Yes, as you will see, I am and have been very much a white person in denial. Hum. I am resolving to check this list whenever I feel upset, attacked, threatened, put in the wrong or otherwise defensive when challenged about racism or privilege.

(HT: NOLA Radfem.)

The Bootstrap Myth
“Racism is a thing of the past… this is a free country, and anyone who works hard can make it in America.”

The Backtrack *
“Hey, wait a second, that’s not what I meant… I mean… you took my words out of context, don’t make it try to sound like I’m racist!”

The Remove the Right To Be Angry *
“You’re too sensitive… if you weren’t so aggressive, vocal, hostile, angry, or upset, people would listen to you and you wouldn’t get in trouble!”

The Utopian Eye-Gouger *
“I’m colorblind, personally… why can’t we all just ignore race, it’s not like it’s even real… it’s not like I tangibly benefit from being white every day or anything! Can’t we all just get along?”

Turning the Tables
“You’re being just as racist against white people, you realize. You’re being racist against me right now, you reverse-racist hypocrites!”

The Good White Person * (not like those obvious racists!)
“Whoa, that guy over there is SUCH a racist, unlike me… I know exactly the right things to say and I’m never racist. By which I mean overtly offensive about it. Hold on, I think I’m going to go spit on that guy. I hate him.”

The Unblemished Family History *
“Hey, my family never owned slaves, so it’s not like I, as an individual, get any benefit from racism!”

The Bending Over Backwards * (makes you look flexible, but accomplishes little else)
“You people of color are so right. I agree with everything you say. Because you’re right, of course… not just because I’m guilty and white and wrong!”

The Personal Justification
“But a black person, Mexican, mean old Asian lady, or Native American once cut in front of me in line, said something stupid, mugged me, or took my hubcaps! So as far as I’m concerned, they proved all of my prejudices!”

The Loophole of Escape *
“I can’t possibly be a bigot or a racist… I’m part of the oppressed due to the fact that I’m a woman!” (or gay, poor, young, trans, etc.)

The Culture Appropriator *
“Damn, bro! You know I’m down with the homies, I ain’t no wack racist cracker, shiznit.”

The Lean On You When I’m Not Strong *
“Teach me, help me. I’m just a white person, so I need your wisdom as a person of color to show me how not to be racist. Wait, is what I said earlier racist? How about this shirt I’m wearing? Can you come with me to this party, so they know I’m not a racist?”

The Pause for Applause *
“Unlike all those other white people out there, I’m an anti-racist.” (…) “I do anti-racist work and I try to educate other people about anti-racism.” (…) “Wait, did you hear me?”

The Smoke and Mirrors *
“I totally agree. Racism is one system of oppression among many interlocking ones, that specifically awards more privilege and power to all white people, whether they like it or not, and serves to keep the existing power structure in place. Oh… what? You want me to volunteer in a community organization, contribute money, do security for your protest march? Uh… yeah maybe next time, I’ve got to wash my hair tonight. And walk my dog, see the latest episode of Lost, manage my stock portfolio…”

The Penitent Paralysis * (will not truly absolve you)
“Oh my god… that is so awful. I’m so sorry. Sorry. I can’t imagine what it must be like… I’m sorry. That’s so awful. I feel so bad for you. Sorry.”

Whipping Out Your Best Friends * (or children, adds Maia, ruefully)
“Hey, I’m not a racist, OK? Some of my best friends are black. See?”
Best Friend: “Yeah, I’ve known him since we were kids, and he’s never said anything racist to me!”

…and one bonus one for all your folks of color out there.

It Doesn’t Matter What Comes Out of My Mouth, Just Look at My Skin
“What? I can’t possibly be racist. I AM a person of color. How can I be racist against myself, huh? No, I haven’t heard of internalized racism, and I still think affirmative action is reverse racism!”

The Tiger Lily
“I can’t be racist. My mom says I’m 1/16th Cherokee. So I’m a minority, too, and I’m exempt. What? You say I’m blond and blue-eyed, grew up in the suburbs, have no connection to Native culture, and know of no actual Cherokee relatives? Well, one of my Grandmas was adopted. She might have been Cherokee. Or half-Cherokee. Nobody knows, right? Anyway, I’m exempt.”

The Lost in Translation *
“I went to Japan/China/Mexico/Uganda/Malawi/Bangladesh/the neighborhood a couple miles away with the good barbecue joints one time on a tourist jaunt/mission trip/cruise/lunch break, and I was the only white person there. So I get what it’s like to be a minority, you know? I can’t be racist. And man, is it ever scary to be surrounded by black(/etc.) people.”

Throwing Up Your Hands *
“What do you mean I’m part of a racist system no matter how I try to distance myself from it or prove that I think differently?! That’s ridiculous… I guess I might as well give up and join the Aryan Nation!”

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Mothering as credibility: a cross-post

I initially posted this a few weeks ago on my personal blog. Struggling to reconcile my nice white lady identity with my messy insides, I ended up posting there instead of here. Based on my new commitment to personal honesty, I give you: some mess. 

I would like to distance myself from women who use their children to demonstrate their own credibility as whatever it is that they want to be.

I would like to. Can I though?

Let’s warm up with the simple stuff. I have ostentatiously fed, changed and interacted in public with my daughter in ways that were self-consciously coloured by who was watching. Hey, look at me, I use cloth nappies! Look, a breastfeeding mummy! Oh, see, now this is how you get your child to behave beautifully in supermarkets, look, see how I do it! Watch me performing perfect motherhood, watch and learn! Give me cookies!

My child: the ultimate parenting accessory, a unique demonstration tool.

Oh, yes, those curls, well her daddy is black, you know. His family are from Jamaica. Yes, that does make me rather special and unique, fancy giving birth to a coloured child, how brave, how progressive, how very revolutionary. Where’s my cookie?

Have I done that? Of course I have. Maybe not often, maybe not in so many words: I have a more subtle approach. I also don’t actually use words like “coloured” – those are just the words I see in the eyes of white women and men when they learn that my child is not white. I do it because it makes me feel superior – more radical, more interesting, more colourful. I get the sudden urge to prove that I am one of the good guys. Right.

Maybe I get points for even recognising (a) that I do this and (b) that it is really, really not cool. Maybe there is mitigation in the fact that I have been actively refusing, on a conscious level at least, to take radical feminist credit for my non-white child, for refusing to make her into my fluffy blogosphere credibility poodle. Right.

Is there any point to this castigation? Will it be cleansing? I hope so. At least, it will be getting some of these maggots and worms out in the open, ready for processing.

I keep trying to write something measured, something that takes the personal out of the political, not entirely, but enough for me to feel that I am not using my little girl, that what I spew is safe for publication. It doesn’t work, it isn’t flowing, it gets tangled in this bottleneck of thought that makes me ache with love and regret.

Long before I was married, before I was pregnant, my ex told me during our (first) big breakup that he didn’t want to be in a long term relationship with a white woman, that it would be too complicated, and some other stuff that came completely out of the blue because it was the first time he had ever started or entered into a conversation about race in my presence, let alone with me. At the time it seemed purely an excuse to cover up the “real reason” for his rejection, even more so later when I discovered that he was at the time in what we might call an overlapping relationship – with a woman who I can only assume was not white. And although I still think there was a lot of that, the fact that it was the only possible explanation I had for this sudden sharing of his non-white perspective shows you how far up my own colourblind arse I had reached.

I used him as a trophy, too. He was my wonderful black boyfriend/husband. Not too black though, just black enough to be the forbidden exotic. He was just dark enough that being with him felt like breaking a taboo, like a rebellion against my racist upbringing. I’m not about to start feeling sorry for him, but I can at least start to sort through my own junk and come clean. Was his exciting but always unmentioned darkness the reason why I saw only his charms and never, not until too late, his faults? Why I saw what I wanted to be there and not what was actually there? He was charming, urbane, witty, bright, fun, reckless, knowledgeable, well-read, captivating. All those things. He was also selfish, self-centred. There was a wall around him, impenetrable. He was unmoving, unchanging, there was no sign of growth, exchange, development. He gave without taking, took without giving. He broke me. I broke myself, hurling my soul and my body up against that wall. Maybe I would have seen it coming if I wasn’t so pleased with myself about my wonderful black boyfriend.

No good guys here. Just mess.

But a few feet away from me, there is a good person, a clean person. She is sleeping, she knows none of this.

And if I don’t watch out she will see it. She will see her mummy playing the White Mother of Colour card, she will see me looking expectantly, watching for the cookie, just for being her mother. So I need to sweep this childish need for validation and praise away fast. And I need to be ready to acknowledge the maggoty brain-worms and to let her know where they came from. To let her know that I am not playing games with her.

I don’t regret her. Obviously.

But I am becoming increasingly aware of how unmindfully she was created. We weren’t trying to have children – no way – she just came along, and although the whole idea was initially unwelcome we embraced it, we chose not to – I chose not to – abort* the pregnancy. We weren’t trying to have exotic little mixed race children either to coo over, or to brandish as revolutionary symbols, or to raise with intentionality and political consciousness. I had no race consciousness (I was colourblind in the worst sense. After all, if I could love a black man, I couldn’t be racist, right?) and my ex’s awareness of the racism he personally experienced never translated into a political position, an analysis or critique of race or white supremacy. It was just there. Somehow unposken. And in such circumstances, how could I mindfully choose to procreate with a black man, with that black man? I didn’t, and couldn’t have, even aside from the fact that my pregnancy and our parenthood was itself wholly unplanned.

[*This whole post but this paragraph in particular, that word in particular – it is hard to write because I can imagine her reading this blog one day – hi sweetheart – and seeing all this which I have kept down and hidden, kept away from her, until today. Writing about aborting her feels bad, even if all I’m saying was that this was a viable option that was not chosen. (I say viable option – it was never a real option with me, not this time – it was others who wanted that, not me. Not me, not this time.) Honey, even those in favour, they never talked about aborting you. We didn’t even know you.]

So.

That I conceived her unmindfully is bad enough.
That I birthed her unmindfully is bad enough.
That I have spent the last three years with her unmindfully is bad enough.

This is the day that it stops.

This is the day that I let the noise in, let it crowd around and try to strangle me if that is what it comes to do. This is the day that I start opening all those cans and looking for the source of my stinking issues, so I can pull them out and look at them and own them and strip them down and come out of it all as some kind of mother.

I want to be clean.
More than just feeling clean – I want to shake out the mess and be clean.
I don’t know if I can ever be clean.

This is the day that it starts.

Prioritising our selves

[This is a joint post by Secondwaver and Maia.]

We have been talking.

We’ve been finding it pretty hard, trying to fight white male supremacy within the ranks of feminism. We’re not surprised it’s hard, but DAMN! it is hard, for us both.

We started this blog as a way to confront white privilege, our own white privilege, and yet we’ve been finding it very easy to focus instead on other people’s white privilege, on other people’s racism. We have been feeling more comfortable as liberals, as nice white women (thanks, Amy, and thanks, Dark Daughta), so-called feminists whose first instinct is to say that racial injustice and institutional racism are problems over there, somewhere else, somewhere far away from us. We’ve been glossing over the fact that it is also a problem over here, right inside us, even as we claim to be doing radical feminist ant-iracist work. Both are important, yet we’ve very much been struggling with how to find and become conscious of our own location within all this.

We’re drawing inspiration from feminist bloggers we respect, radical feminists with a solid race analysis such as Justice Walks, Feminist Reprise, Dark Daughta, and Fire Witch Rising, who take no prisoners, who speak right out.

Why is this so hard?

Is it a matter of not honouring our feelings and emotions, as Dark Daughta observes?

Wimmin’s primary “work” even in feminist circles is still to stifle, to remain silent, to deny emotion and to live with the effects of this gruelling contructed role […]

My experience is one of observing how distanced the majority of wimmin are still from our own emotions, not just from our rage, but also from a host of whole other feelings that have the potential to ground us, to make us clear, to crystalize not just our analysis, but to revolutionize our interior as well as our exterior lives…holistically, organically making full revolution manifest.

The understanding that emotion is an uncontrollable beast a woman can’t let loose, that she should be disturbed to experience, that she should try to put back in a box, is a hallmark of our domination under a patriarchal system of dominance that counts on us not feeling anything too extreme about the oppression in our own lives and in the lives of the people around us. That we won’t wake up to a realization of our place in the Matrix and start resisting on all possible personal and political fronts, in every fucking aspect of our lives.

Maia has been digging inside herself, to find some reasons for her personal struggle to honor, to even recognise and express her emotions. Maia, you’ve named what so many of us have inside. Fear.

Does it come down to a fear of dying? Are we afraid that if we become conscious, we’ll die? Is that absurd? But no, it’s not absurd at all, because it’s what we were taught, effectively: and whether the death in question is physical or metaphorical it is still real. And now, even decades later, it’s so hard to throw off.

From reading the bloggers mentioned above, we learn that once we do it, we find out we didn’t die, and we continue–if we only will.

What does it take to break through the fear?

It takes women together, knowing that we all were inculcated with the same expectations of niceness, i. e. prioritising others, not our selves. It’s hard for us all–and most especially when we are new at it.

Making our selves a priority means we must stop bowing and scraping to power. Prioritising our selves means giving legitimacy to our own perceptions. It means breaking new ground by allowing our selves the right to feel, to recognise the feelings for what they are, to speak up. It means not having to “be nice.” Realising that self-respect and “being nice” cannot always co-exist.

Making our selves a priority also means that we must stop locating the problem as somewhere else. It means exploring our own indoctrination, our own journey from where we were to where we are. It means letting those newly acknowledged feelings come up and out, not just as something we recognise but as something we analyse. It means loving our selves enough that we don’t have to “be nice,” even when we talk about who we are, and how we came to be that way. Realising that self-love and self-approval are not the same thing.

So this is where we’ve got to, our renewed commitment to prioritising our selves.

We want to engage openly and honestly, to work on abandoning the “nice white lady” so-called safety net, which instead offers only a furtherance of our privilege on the backs of, on the necks and heads of, women of colour.

We would love any interested feminists to join us.

Skating over surfaces

First, a little awareness.

There are two little-girl fears that drive me. In truth, you cannot understand the first thing about me as a human being without knowing these two fears. I don’t pretend that they are unique – far from it – but they are mine and I own them. They have much to do with the things that are not pretty in my internal landscape.

One is the fear of a little girl trying to please her perfectionist male parent, the underground fear of a little girl so used to performing perfection in the pursuit of love that she barely notices how afraid she feels every single day, afraid of being found out, afraid of falling down, afraid of being caught out in a mistake.

Another is a fear of conflict (as in war, not as in disagreement) – conflict to me is difficult, destructive, painful. If people must scream at one another, if people must hate one another, hurt one another, why must they draw me in? This is the pain and fear of a little girl hearing people scream through closed doors, out of control; of feeling responsible for the screaming and the loss of control; of knowing that it cannot be stopped and that it will be followed by days of silence and then – mysteriously, confusingly, mercifully – it will Not Have Happened.

Tears now for that little girl. She is still bleeding and confused, somewhere. In me.

Where does all that fear let itself out?

It keeps me tentative about what I do not understand, hesitant to step into the unknown, deeply wary of anything I cannot control, of anything that I fear may leave me in freefall. I stick to performances I can “do”, limit myself to roles and facades that I understand or feel at least capable of understanding – so I feel I can present myself and understand myself as competent. So I skirt around the edges, cherrypicking what I think I know about or can find out about or understand about – shying away from what is too difficult, too messy, too uncontrolled. I don’t forge ahead with things in the hope that they will come clear – I wait until they are already starting to come clear, I wait until my ability to understand has already at least begun to show itself. I skate over surfaces, celebrating that I can (sometimes anyway) see the surfaces, but avoiding the work of breaking through them, moving over and under and around them, to find out why they are there and what they are hiding.

It keeps me in a place of wanting and not wanting attention, popularity. I don’t want popularity. I assume that popular people experience it as validating, at least if they are popular through seeking and choice. For me, I see popularity as terrifying, as a whole lot of pressure / expectation that would require me to keep up performance at a level I could not bear – not here, not where for once in my life I am trying to be me. Not just that, but doesn’t popularity bring a whole lot of conflict risk?… hell yeah. Where are the blog wars slogged out? Between the popular blogs: the little fish like me are not worth flaming and this is the way I like it. Maybe some get a kick out of being at the centre of controversy, of other people’s blogosphere violence, but not me. For me it would be emotionally draining, soul-destroying, it would have me running for the hills.

It would be nice to be respected, perhaps it would be nice to be widely respected except that “widely” can never be wide enough to avoid conflict risk while at the same time being narrow enough to avoid bland universality of the kind that is Not A Compliment. But popularity is something else, isn’t it?

So when I get comments, links, hat-tips, traffic and all that on my personal blog – or when I don’t, which happens far more often – it is with mixed feelings. One feeling is “why do I bother if nobody will come and validate me by expressing their approval?” Another is “this is lonely, isn’t there anyone who wants to talk?” But when the people do come I feel – invaded. Exposed and vulnerable. When they come with unexamined privilege, reeking of entitlement, pouring themselves over my personal words, I fear that the doors between me and the screaming might open at any moment. I watch for the conflict, worried about what these people are bringing to my party.

Which all leads up to the following questions: why has this blog become a soft’n’cosy liberal white feminist place? Why am I performing nice white lady? Why am I avoiding the questions that implicate myself, the questions that implicate you?

Is it because I think that is what the other nice white ladies will like / respect / learn from / applaud / validate? Is it because this is easier and I am lazy? Is it because the superficial is something that seems much more within my sphere of (potential) competence, much less fraught with danger, than the complexity and depth of mess that I should have been bringing to this party? Is it because – setting out on a project that was always intended to be not a personal space (where the whole point is for me to be myself, where it’s supposed to be all about me) but a shared one – I fear the pain and exposure that real personal honesty might bring?

At various levels, all of those things.

I have been holding out and holding back here on white noise.
I apologise – not just to anyone who gives a damn, but to me, and to that little girl whose confusion I should be clearing, not perpetuating.

It’s not that I won’t be skating over surfaces, ever. Talking about what is basic and superficial is a way into what is deeper, more profound. Those of us still waking up need to do both. Talking about what is uncomplicated, writing the easy posts, is not radical but nevertheless I will still be doing it when I need to. I will still be grounding myself and taking rests by retreating back into what I already know I can do, to give myself the comfort and strength I need to walk out into what I fear I can’t.

However.
I can promise that I will try hard to stop the holding-out and the holding-back.
Starting now.

Secondwaver and I are working on a joint post, a renewed commitment. Watch for that because once it’s done I think you are going to see the start of some real work.

This must be right because it feels like truth.

The look of the future?

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Currently there is much outrage at the above racist video. I post it so that you can see it if you wish (blurred to protect the identity of those involved). However, I will warn you right now that it is about white Afrikaaner students feeding urine-soaked food to older black workers. So you probably won’t want to see it, right?

Four white students persuaded a group of low-paid black workers (one man and three women, who all worked at the university as cleaners) to join in what they apparently told them was a mock-up of the TV show “Fear Factor”, a competition where the prize was a bottle of whisky. These people knew and were fond of the students – perhaps they were cleaners who serviced the students’ rooms – and one of them has said she looked on them “like sons”. So it probably all seemed like a great hoot when their young friends suggested a fun afternoon in friendly competition. Umph. So, using this pretext, the white boys persuaded these people who trusted them to eat food which looked pretty disgusting even before one of the students urinated on it. (NB there is some doubt about whether it was actual urine or whether he was just pouring water on it and pretending to urinate – frankly I’m not sure that in the general scheme of things it makes much difference but, for what it’s worth, from looking at the video the “competitors” do seem to gag pretty quickly.)

The video was made as a protest against integration of their college dorm. Currently, the dorms are largely still segregated, even so many years after the official end of apartheid. The university is, belatedly, trying to do something about this. The white boys don’t like it. The end of this video, in which white boys made black women eat piss, says (in Afrikaans) “That, basically, is what we think of integration.”

(See also here, here, here, and here.)

That this is disgusting, that this merits the outrage expressed – no doubt.

(Although it is worth noting that plenty of things happen every day which don’t get such outrage. Poor black people starve or die of *easily* preventable diseases, they go missing or are assaulted, even killed, every day in South Africa. Who even finds out about those cases, let alone reports them internationally? Remember that, as well.)

But what worries me is that (notwithstanding the hot denials of Afrikaans organisation “Freedom Front Plus”, who exist to further the interests of white Afrikaners in Africa by opposing such things as affirmative action, the reclamation by black people of their right to name their own land, and generally anything that seeks to redress the balance by reducing Afrikaner privileges) this is not a one-off freak atrocity that nobody could have predicted. It is absolutely the sort of thing that happens when privilege is taken away from people. It is absolutely the sort of thing that happens when “entitlement” is denied to spoiled white people who do not even understand what they have as a privilege. And it is absolutely the sort of thing that will happen again and again as we struggle against white supremacist patriarchy, as we force people to give up the fruits of their forefather’s thefts. Not just in South Africa. All over the world.

People, the fight is going to get worse. When we “win” by taking back what white men have appropriated to themselves, what they have appropriated for so long that they no longer even remember the theft, they will get angry. They will get mean. They will piss on our food, on our bodies, on our children. It’s only when we are being pissed on that we will know we are making inroads, that they are running scared, that they know they have lost the long fight and are left only with the petty reprisals.

When we fight white supremacist patriarchy, this is what we have to look forward to.

On claiming sisterhood

White women, especially middle-class white women, are raised to expect isolation from other women, a closed life within a nuclear family. We are raised to compete with other women, especially other middle-class white women who are supposed to be our nearest rivals in the all-important quest for good husbands.

When we discover feminism, we discover that this is harmful, to ourselves and to other women. We realise that we need instead to build sisterhood – to reject the cattiness, competition and isolation we were told was the natural state of things. We may make this a personal project, a self-improvement goal to which we give urgent priority. Sisterhood, it feels so good, to stop tearing each other apart.

Sometimes what we end up with is almost a reflexive negative reaction to words or actions that strike us as unsisterly. We develop an instinct against the tactic of doing another woman down for any reason at any time – we insist on focussing our attention instead on the real source of harm, on patriarchy and the menz…

But do we go too far?

I suspect that we privileged feminists are not just opening ourselves up to sisterhood. We declare* sisterhood. We claim sisterhood, even where it does not (yet?) exist. Worse, when we claim sisterhood with the women who are more oppressed than we are, we can end up insisting that they extend sisterhood to us, and we can end up expecting that this should happen on our own terms. On our terms.

(*On a related point, declaring alliance, see here.)

The trouble is that our terms, our white (often middle-class) terms may preclude honest engagement in favour of a perception that restraint must be exercised over “unsisterly” conduct. Our constructed sisterhood may silence women by denying them the space to speak their truth, their pain, to call out their challenges to our own fundamental ways of being, even to our ways of sistering.

The trouble is that our terms do not provide for power differentials – they tend to posit that in sisterhood there are no power differentials, we are all equal here, just women together… and because our terms do not leave room for the effect of power differentials that do not in fact go away just because we say they have, our terms favour those who are in fact more powerful. Us.

What does that mean in practical terms?

It means that when we come across a (white, privileged) woman who is saying something that we do not agree with, something that is racist or that supports white supremacy, we do not speak up. We are reluctant to be unsisterly. We turn a blind eye. We either move quietly away or we stay but ignore the person’s faults, focussing instead on her positive contribution to (white, privileged) feminism. Thus we tacitly perpetuate her mistaken and probably unintentional support for white supremacy.

It means that when we come across a (nonwhite, less privileged) woman who is saying something that challenges us in direct, confrontational ways – with power, anger and certainty – we experience that as an attack, as unsisterly, as Not Feminist. Instead of listening, trying to understand, engaging – we move quietly away. We do not ride out to meet the challenge that has been offered us; instead we put up defensive walls and mutter behind them about how we women are not the real enemy.

Honestly, which is more sisterly?
Striving to be heard or striving to play nice?
Striving to listen or striving to hide?

We need to be careful about claiming sisterhood with women who do not consent.

And we need to acknowledge that offering our selves as sisters means more than just dumb love. It means engagement, it means respect, and it means speaking up when something is going wrong.

White mother, light daughter

Who am I?

I am a woman, a mother, a white mother, a single mother, and plenty more besides. What I rarely add is that I am not the mother of a white daughter, but of a light one.

I have had two important reasons for this silence.

One is that my daughter’s identity is not a part of who I am – that I am her mother is a part of my identity; but who she is is not. Out of respect for her privacy, her right to find her own identity, to define herself for herself – for these reasons I have preferred not to impose my own vision upon her, not to develop my ideas about her identity before she is able to develop her own.

The second is that (in terms of discussions of my own white privilege and my own collaboration with white supremacy) I know that this is a distraction. The fact that I married a black man, the fact that I birthed a child who was (however briefly) fathered by a black man, make not a jot of difference. I am not going to play the “I have loved a black man” card, or the “I have birthed a mixed-race child” card because those cards do not mean anything. Those experiences have not made very much if any difference to my white privilege, or to the way I see the world, the way I have been taught to see the world: trading on those cards would be downright fraudulent. So they are not relevant and I have preferred not to muddy the water with what is not relevant.

Well, maybe sometimes things shift a little.

I am finding that “white mother of a light child” is creeping into my identity. I am finding that mothering a non-white child is a topic that I am now ready to explore. I wasn’t until quite recently, and I am still on shaky ground here, but this is important so please bear with me while I grope around for meaning.

Because what I have been remembering of late, and it is no co-incidence that this has been happening in parallel with my emerging at last from a kind of post-marital numbness – what I have been remembering over the last few months is that my daughter is not white.

Don’t laugh.

She has such fair colouring that it is easy to forget: her skin is very light, her eyes are grey, and her hair is made of soft brown curls that shine bright bronze in the sun. Most people who don’t know otherwise don’t even realise that she isn’t white – although that too may shift a little as she grows out of her baby face. In a world where white/light privilege means so much, it has been easy to want to forget – especially when remembering her parentage brought such painful associations, all those memories of hurt. And the task of teaching her, alone, about a part of her heritage that I know almost nothing about (a fact which is not to my credit, I know) has felt so big… There are so many reasons to pretend, to forget, to act as though it makes no difference, to kid yourself that it doesn’t matter.

But my daughter is not white.

And if I don’t help her to find her own identity, then somebody else will. And that, actually, is what I have really been re-membering, coming to understand not just intellectually but in my soul.

I am learning, slowly – perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I am starting to learn – that this can be done. A birthday card from her (paternal) Grandma means I can show my daughter a picture I have of Grandma, and show her Jamaica on the globe, show some more family pictures from her Daddy’s people, few that we have. An interest in Mary Seacole – also a Jamaican nurse, like Grandma – follows and we have been talking about that.

It is easy to try and say too much, too fast. She doesn’t understand much about time. In her Mary Seacole book, there are slaves who make sugar. At nursery, she uses sugar to make a cake. Is that the same sugar? Did people get hurt for that sugar? A long time ago, people were hurt really badly for the sake of sugar. That doesn’t happen any more. Things are better than they used to be. She doesn’t get it, it’s too much, all she can think of is the sugar in those biscuits she made me today.

By little steps, faltering, revising, learning, practising –
little steps will take us a long way.
Because my daughter is not white:
my little, light, beloved daughter
is. not. white.