I grew up white in a black world, and my childhood was rife with turmoil.
I was an outcast, taunted and beat up. I was vilified because I dared to love the black boy upstairs. By the time I was 11, white people called me “nigger lover” and black people ostracized me.
I belonged nowhere.
We were together for years – until that one day in junior high school, white boys chased us down deserted train tracks. My screams for help echoed sharply off the metal rails, as they beat on his arms with a crow bar. Until one broke.
We were never together again.
We have kept track of each other our whole lives. The scar tissue around our hearts preserves a wary distance between us.
Still, I dream of being reunited with him someday.
The great love of my life before I got married was a dark brown man I spent many years with.
He was undeniably gorgeous. Far better looking than I was or will ever be. One evening, on an overcrowded D train, a young black woman screamed at me for daring to be with this beautiful man, ugly fucking white bitch that I was.
Trapped in that subway car, I had no escape. He tried to subdue her, but she only screamed louder, said uglier things. I folded into myself, rendered mute by her attack. I was ashamed of my skin color. Again.
I stared down, hot tears dripping into my lap.
We broke up soon after that.
My childhood in a black NYC housing project has left me with a paradoxical mix of emotions and loyalties.
Although I grew up fearful of being persecuted because of my white skin, I also developed a fierce allegiance towards African-Americans, an allegiance that informs how I live my life today.
I loathe racism.
When I drive into Newark for my community service project, and people remark, “I wouldn’t even park my car there,” I SEETHE. They are not saying that based on statistical data on street crime in Newark, which may even indicate that car jackings happen frequently there.
They just mean, “Newark is full of black people.”
I was sexually assaulted twice in my life. Once at a college frat party, and once in a seedy New York shooting gallery. My personal mythology tells me that heroes and villains come in ALL colors; that an Ivy League white boy is just as likely to rape me as a black drug dealer, and you will NEVER convince me otherwise.
My painful memories are valid. But I have not spent my entire adulthood fearful that I will die for the color of my skin.
I have had several skirmishes with police over the years, more than I care to think about. Yet, I never had to worry THAT I MIGHT NOT MAKE IT HOME ALIVE.
Recent events have left me completely paralyzed in my ability to write anything.
This is not writer’s block. I have lost my belief in the power of the written word.
I’m plagued by the thought that not just my work, but all creative expression, is in vain when the world suffers such tragedy.
What do my stories even matter, in the face of these larger, horrific events?
I am an inner city project girl at heart. I have the fear, rage, defiance and survival instincts of a project girl, and always will.
And yet, I am undeniably WHITE. To even suggest that I understand what it means to live life in black skin is offensive. I was able to shed my project girl past.
And I am alive, largely due to the color of my skin, whereas most of the people I grew up with are dead today.
For weeks I have walked around uneasily, with a cold knot of fear in my stomach.
Everyone is ranting on, and no one is listening. People are quoting statistics as if it matters whether one, or one million, dead bodies lie on slabs.
The Civil War was caused by racism. And I know it’s going to happen again. Right here, on American soil, we will be a nation divided, and make no mistake about it –
There will be blood.
I’M SO ANGRY listening to self-aggrandizing politicians drone on about change.
I AM TIRED OF THEIR WORDS.
I want to don army fatigues, dash into the fray like a warrior, and physically put my body in between black men and bullets; between policeman and bullets.
But I am a coward, just as I was 35 years ago, when I stopped loving the black boy upstairs.
The music of my childhood was 70’s R&B. I have loved and lived with dark skinned men. My first true love was black. My first best friend was black. The first house parties I attended were all black.
Black culture feels like home to me.
I’m going to get CRUCIFIED for saying that, because of my white privilege. How DARE I appreciate the positive aspects of a culture without suffering from oppression? If I talk about my love for rap music, dark-skinned men, soul food, cornrow braids – I’m appropriating a culture.
The world has become so divisive on the issue of race, I’m afraid of expressing my love of black culture. I feel shame, again, because of my white skin.
I am not entitled to love Black America because I am not willing to die for her.
Yet try as I might to deconstruct this, to make it more politically palatable, I cannot. I cannot stop loving black culture anymore than I can stop loving my son. It’s embedded in me on a cellular level.
No matter how angry it makes you, you can’t take that from me.
And so now I am finally AWAKE. And I will fight.
My weapons will be to speak out against anyone who says something racist and ignorant. I will forbid adults to spew their racist rhetoric in front of my child, ever.
I will speak out on social media, instead of hiding in desperate avoidance.
And I am moving my family out of this white washed, homogenous suburban neighborhood. I will raise my child in a culturally diverse neighborhood, because he deserves better than this.
I wrote this despite my overarching belief that right now, creative expression is useless.
I wrote this because until I did, I could write nothing else.
I wrote this because although I am afraid, I must do SOMETHING. And this is all I have.
I wrote this because I KNOW that fear is built into the racist society in which we live, and used to control ALL of us.
I wrote this because although I may not be racist, I enable racism EVERY DAY by participating in a racist society.
I wrote this because maybe, MAYBE, someone else who has been asleep will awaken now, like I finally have.
I wrote this because despite all my fear, inaction and shame,
there is a speck of hope
for the possibility of change.
Click below if you’d like to hear my spoken word piece, “White Girl.”
Talk to me.
We all need desperately to start talking, and I’m REALLY listening.