Last Easter we were buying baskets with dolls for the two little girls who came into our lives on Easter Monday. While Mike Brown was lying in the street on a hot August Saturday, I was braiding Iah’s hair one last time before they were taken from us and placed in a more “culturally appropriate” home. Our time together was too brief, but plenty long to become fully disillusioned with the system and painfully familiar with the destructiveness of nice white ladies.
Sure, the challenges with the children were significant.
While we were elated to be welcoming two young ones into our home, they were traumatized by the move. Their social worker went to their school on Monday morning, announced that she was moving them, unenrolled them, and dropped them off at our home an hour later with (quite literally) only the clothes on their backs. Though the move had planned for more than a week, the girls had not been informed. They had not been given a chance to bring anything (not even their Easter baskets!) from their family’s home. As long as I live, I will never forget the look of terror in their eyes as they walked through the front door the first time.
They had stories that leaked out over our time together, stories that would make your heart stop, stories that gave explanation if not excuse for any number of challenging behaviors, stories of children of children for whom life had been simply too hopeless and too hard. Our world was at best a mystery, at worst a threat, and never was it easy.
Our relief when the girls were taken, however, had little to do with the children. What was stunningly unmanageable in our lives were the hired professionals who were the children’s legal guardians, the “case manager” and “counselor” and their boss. In retrospect, the “tension in the team” (bosses report to court) was likely a result of two privileged white women expecting too much from a system designed to do as little as possible. We wanted services, the system wanted us to be quiet. And so it went, for a long painful summer.
As I scan the horizon in the rearview mirror, with the perspective of #Ferguson, I am aware that the entire scene was macabre and racist as hell. Every one of the social workers were young white women, well intentioned but totally insensitive to the needs of the children entrusted to their care.
As the trio of white women were preparing to remove the girls, the first round of tear gas was being thrown at protestors in Ferguson. Not on the front lines yet, I was cooking dinner as I listened to the white women cluck in our living room about “them” in Ferguson. My body still shakes as I remember that blatant burst of unexamined racist rhetoric that filled the air in my home. My dear one told them to leave, and they did. But with their racism laid bare, the tragedy of the failed placement became clear.
Today we are empty nesting and using our time to be on the streets in Ferguson and beyond. Instead of buying Easter baskets this year we joined a group of (mostly) Black queer and trans folks to reach out to the #BlackChurch. As I watched beautiful children dancing into church on a sunny Easter morning, I missed the girls and deeply. But as I paused for a bit of nostalgia, the bitter lessons from the nice white ladies came flooding back. I tried to type them, but the micro (and not so) aggressions are probably best left to obscurity.
What is worthy to note is the love that I felt in the gathered circle this morning, empowering and at the same time challenging. As I stood in the circle, basking in the love made manifest, I was also keenly aware of my whiteness. It’s complicated, being a white woman in the movement. The relationship between Black women and white women is especially messy owning to the systems of white supremacy that white women rarely challenge.
And why would we? Until we’re parenting children of color. And we begin to see how charity is just another word for oppression.
Worse, we see white women unmasked for the role that is ours where brown skinned children are segregated from birth and groomed not for the halls of power but rather for the #newjimcrow. White women rarely see this; we raise our white sons to carry the guns, we teach the classrooms that fuel the pipeline, we work endlessly to make it all look and (please God) sound nice.
Let me be clear, I am not ashamed of the melanin (or lack thereof) in my skin or the straightness of my hair. In fact it is not shame that I feel at all these days. What I am aware of is a heightened sense of disgust, disdain, and even anger. This isn’t personal, this isn’t about good or bad people. What galls me about whiteness isn’t personal, it’s the systems that are specifically (if covertly) designed to advantage one group (whiteness) and discredit another. Where I experience disdain is in conversations designed to ignore or (worse) deny what is so blatant in our midst. I am not crying or fragile, I am angry and finding my power.
The sun begins it’s descent and I consider the routines that shifted since I last smelled the lilies. I offer a quiet prayer for two precious children as I give thanks for the incredible women that have come into my life this year… Black women and white, queer, trans, lesbian and straight… an audacious and vivacious cloud of witnesses. I can’t help but think that this too is #Resurrection.