April 17, 2014

Enlightenment to endarkenment: grab the mic

by Catherine Anderson

I am always on the verge of choosing which kind of person to be. I blink, and I choose again. I choose several times a day, every day. I wake up and I have to start choosing all over again.  I am talking about how I engage with understanding race. Or all the things that I miss. I talk about it because my children live with it. I talk about it, because I want all children to understand what they understand about it.

My kids are black and mixed. I am not. I am as white as the page on which I type. I am the kind of person who used to take that for granted 100% of the time, but who only takes that for granted 95% of the time now. I’ll never know how enlightened, or how about a new term for racial awareness as a white person- endarkened- I have become. This is because I will never know the starting point. I will never know what it means to begin at fully aware, to begin as a person of color.

I have never experienced racism, and if you are white, no matter how much you might like to think you have, you haven’t either.  I am writing this here, not to pat myself on the back, far from it. That will just get me a big pink mark and who needs that? I am writing this here, in the hopes of inviting more people into the fold, the conversation, the life long process.

I am writing this here to give more moms who are dealing with racism on behalf of their children of color an open invitation to say I’m a beginner. I often misstep. I often feel afraid to say the wrong thing. Give yourselves permission to do all the above again and again, until you find yourselves so familiar with your discomfort that you are determined to do something about it.

Last night I was out dancing with the boys. We were surrounded by friends at a pub where Sam’s Godmother, his Tia,  was singing with her band.  The place was filled with people, white people. We were surrounded by friends, and my boys had a zillion caregivers. At one point Sam stood on the stool in front of the mic and sang a song with her.  It is song she wrote while taking him for a walk when he was six months old. He has heard it have a million times. It was the first time that he was willing to be in front of a crowd and belt it out. Well, it was closer to a whisper, but he had the crowd hanging on every note.  What allowed him to accept the offer last night, and not the fifty or so times before? He was ready.

I found myself in a long overdue conversation with the author Annie O’Brien a friend of Tia’s who I have connected with over the years only marginally. Suddenly there we were on the same page talking race, adoptive parenting, children’s literature, whitewashing and more. Our adrenaline was pumping, we were animated, alive. When she said; “I start from all the places where I have got it wrong,” in reference to talking about race I felt a burst of light, no let’s work with the metaphor a bit more, a surge of dark go through me. How can I write about that- I thought,  about how it is OK to get it wrong, as long as you have the intention to get it right by bringing it up.

Practice the hard conversations. Find the resources you need (here is a great starting point) and seek out like minded people to share rage, confusion, awareness and next steps with. Speak up when you know that joke was off color, share a meal in the cafeteria with a colleague you have not spent time with before and get to know them. Share the floor at a meeting, check out a book by an author of color you have never read. Climb up on the stool and grab the mic, even if you are only able to whisper and announce that you are becoming endarkened too.

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  • http://www.kristinabrooke.org Kristina Daniele

    “I start from all the places where I have got it wrong”

    Your articles really move me. Your willingness to admit where and when you go wrong is definitely something that we can all learn from. After all, no one gets it right all the time. Sometimes, I find myself hesitant to speak up- like when that woman referred to me as the Nanny while out with my then 4 month old and my husband- for fear of being viewed negatively. The truth is that we have to all be open to speak and correct and even rethink our own perceptions. Thanks for the invitation!

  • http://coloringbetween.blogspot.com Annie O’Brien

    Hi, Cat,
    Your reflections on this take me further along with my own thinking on how to make examining whiteness irresistible for other white people. (Nothing like having someone mirror back something you said to get you to actually hear what you said.)

    It’s a tricky tightrope walk to raise this issue in the white community without either sounding self-righteous and raising defenses (which just isn’t effective), or framing it softly and protecting people’s feelings (which isn’t effective either – or useful).

    To me the best thing about messing around in this stuff – white privilege, white racism, white supremacy, how white people are socialized – and exploring how it’s messed with me, is that every piece of a pattern that I become aware of frees me up a little. Conscious of my patterned response, I am sometimes empowered to not activate it, like a tape recording I can choose not to turn on. Every time I do that, I get a piece of myself back.

    In response to the children’s book world being aflame with topics around race these days, I’m committing to an ongoing, in-depth exploration of examining whiteness on my blog, “Coloring Between the Lines,” over the next few months, starting “from all the places where I have got it wrong.”

    Thanks for introducing me to this fabulous blog, Cat. I’m inspired and strengthened by the personal quality of the posts and comments I’ve read, and the honesty – how vulnerable and undefended and human people are willing to be. I’ll try to keep it that real over on my blog.


  • http://teanhoneybread.blogspot.com t. allen-mercado

    Oh, the honesty, the vulnerability, the adventures of tackling this many faceted topic of race. I too feel the stranglehold of doubt, “Am I right or just self-righteous, maybe it wasn’t meant that way, do I sound like an angry black woman, am I not angry enough”, and on and on and on. I seldom feel any lingering emotions behind the times I’ve gotten it right, but have I stories to tell about those times-that although they may have felt right, were oh so very wrong. *Awaits turn to approach the mic*
    .-= t. allen-mercado´s last blog ..Happy Valentine’s Day =-.

  • http://2kop.blogspot.com Susan @ 2KoP

    I hope this isn’t posting twice. I received an error message.

    This is a great rework of the piece you first wrote as inspired by the 2KoP writing contest. I actually like this version better. It’s clearer and has better flow. Great writing and, as always, very thought provoking. I’ll be sure to add a link on my next post. Best,


  • http://www.thencameisaiah.com Tiara

    I’ve said… and I will say it again, I love the way you write. I think your journey to self-awareness is what will make you a phenomenal parent to your young black children. I think the danger comes when we are disillusioned into thinking their is no difference in us but the true beauty is in that difference. “It’s okay to get it wrong, as long as you have the intention to get it right.” Sigh. That made me just exhale all the breath in my lungs. I love that.

  • sara

    More to say than I can dRedge up at this hour,drifting to sleep but wondering if you knew that the mother of the autHer james mcbride passed away in the last few weeks. She was the subject of thE biography “the color of. Water” the nytimes obit reminded me of my passion for trying harder to understand the human condition and our commoN threads more than focusing on what’s wrong with the worLd.

  • Pingback: Pout Pout Pout in on Out « Mama C and the Boys

  • http://mamacandtheboys.com Catherine/ Mama C

    Thanks to all for the feedback/support of this piece and the work that went into it, and the message it is trying to speak.
    @Kristina-you are generous in your praise as always. M-O-H creates the space for me anyway to take those risks.
    @Annie-GREAT to have you on board, and to have you so involved in the discussion for so many years already. I am sure there are amazing voices here who would have so much to offer to your new blog/work.
    @ Tameka–we are always happy to hear you at the MIC!
    @ Susan, thank again for witnessing the piece from start to finish.
    @ Tiara–you feel free to say that as often as you like!! :) Your exhale line held me in the palm of your words too! Thank YOU.
    @ Sara I did not know she had passed, but like you was very inspired by that book. Yes to focusing on the human condition! YES.
    .-= Catherine/ Mama C´s last blog ..Pout Pout Pout it on Out =-.

  • http://www.comfortingplace.blogspot.com Barbara

    This totally just made me smile.

    “seek out like minded people to share rage, confusion, awareness and next steps with”. That is where the greatest experiences and learning emerge from. I am happy that you found such a place here!
    .-= Barbara´s last blog ..Attachment Issues =-.

  • tia

    dear sister-amiga,
    thanks for coming to our gig and bringing the precious Anderson boys! i went to some of the links stemming from your post above….good stuff. especially the ‘here is a good place to start’ one. inform thyself, yeah! lots going through my head right now; too much to write much about even if coherence were forthcoming. eg: racisim intersecting with classism – this is an area of interest for me as i have plenty of experience with the latter, as a lower middle class child and now a low-income adult, and know that contemplation of those experiences can help me understand better the former as it operates within me. also: racisim as it manifests in the musical realm. volunteering at WMPG (Portland Maine’s college/community radio station) has opened a whole huge world up to me as far as that, mostly via simple exposure to other music aside from the commercial white-dominated stuff of my whole life up until a few years ago, and learning about the history of recorded music in this country. thanks as always for provoking thought. love tia