In “I’m Sorry. I’m Listening.” I extended an invitation to publish a guest post on “what I wish white women knew about being a woman of color.” I am honored to publish the words of my friend, Sherlonya Turner.
We met as Resident Advisors (RAs) in one of the only all women dorms at the University of Michigan. She is smart and funny and brave to write this essay. She blogs at Head of State Cakes and you can follow her on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest.
I’m a divorced mother in her mid-thirties. Harry Truman’s story has helped me through hard times more than once. I can knit, sew and do all sorts of crafts. I love planning things. Though I’m out of shape right now, I’ve completed a marathon, 3 half marathons, and a 10 mile race. I enjoy learning hula-hoop tricks. I graduated from the University of Michigan. I earned my Masters degree at Wayne State University. I am an agnostic who finds herself holding her hands toward the sky, chin lifted in the same direction to express gratitude when I’m feeling particularly grateful.
And I am black.
Sometimes days go by when I don’t think about race at all. Sometimes weeks. On occasion, I might even go months.
I recently began a project that explores the history of black-white American race riots. Despite my love for American history and my love for projects, several of my friends were surprised to see me dig into a project like this one. Over time, I have developed the habit of not talking about race.
A few years ago, I was in a conversation with a white woman, a friend. Race came up, and during the conversation, I said something that offended (hurt?) her. I had no idea at the time. I found out when she emailed me to detail her objection to what I had said.
Her response left me feeling like it wasn’t worth it to attempt these conversations. Despite having already become selective about these exchanges, I felt that I had chose poorly in this case. I had let my guard down. I took a shellacking.
Then, I retreated.
I secretly wish that prejudiced people who wish to hold on to their point of view would just own it. It takes a lot of work to examine one’s point of view; everyone isn’t up for it. That’s the way it is. Sometimes, selfishly, I think about how many interactions would be simpler if these particular cards were out on the table.
I have a friend who was asked by a complete stranger at a restaurant why black people take so many napkins? She answered something like, “We’re told at our meetings to do that in order to stick it to the man.” While I wouldn’t have responded that way, I understood her impulse. Many of us endure humiliating question after humiliating question, often out of nowhere. For example, in college, I was once asked by someone who lived in my hall whether a hair in the sink was a pubic hair, or whether it was a black person’s hair.
There are days when the only other black person I interact with is my son. These are the moments when (I think that) I understand just how easy it must be for white people to primarily interact with only white people. I primarily interact with white people. I barely even notice it.
My son goes to a school where most of the children are white. When I pick him up, sometimes I just scan the crowd for a dark one. Upon catching myself doing that, I think about what it feels like for you in a context where you’re picking a child of color out of a crowd for one reason or another.
When house hunting, I drove around the neighborhoods where I was interested. In addition to observing the general condition of the houses, and whether I saw people outside enjoying the neighborhood, I wanted to make sure that I saw some black people. I had zero desire to feel like an interloper.
It’s somewhere between awkward and uncomfortable when someone mentions diversity in a group setting and then you immediately see a few people looking at you.
My boyfriend of five years is white. So was the one before that. And the one before that. I worry about how this impacts my son. I hope that my choices to be involved with white men doesn’t somehow make him feel that black men are a second choice, or that I have purposefully avoided them.
If you’ve been pregnant, remember that feeling when you were visibly pregnant and, at times, people seemed to treat you less like a person and more like a body? Remember how some people touched you without your consent? Remember how people asked you the same questions over and over again? Remember how sometimes people didn’t like your answers, and you could see it in their reactions? Remember feeling like you had to have a conversation about your pregnancy that you were bored with, or that you felt was invasive, or that you otherwise didn’t feel like having? Sometimes, walking around visibly black feels like that.
On the other hand, other times, those same things feel fine.
One day, my son came home from school upset because another child accused him of something on the playground that he said that he didn’t do. That is a part of life–child life, parent life. However, what followed scared me. When the child, let’s call him Gerald, told the person in charge the story where he accused my boy, as an aside, he said that the person who did it was either my son or another child–another child with brown skin. Despite the fact that Gerald essentially said, “One of the brown children did it.” My son had to endure repetitive questioning. Gerald, apparently, did not. I wonder if the other brown-skinned child was questioned. This was at a school that values diversity and an environment of mutual respect. This is a school that my son loves. He has been known to sleep with his yearbooks.
When I tell my son that he should always have a receipt in hand when he buys something at a store and that he should avoid putting his hands in his pockets, he doesn’t understand. When I tell him that there are some people out there who see people our color and think that we’re up to no good, so we need to take extra care not to give them reasons to be suspicious, he looks like he’s going to cry.
My boy is eleven. I watch as the world begins to see him differently.
It scares me.
I want you to know that this race thing is complicated for everyone who engages with it.
Also, for dialogue, trust is important. If I didn’t trust Kristin, I would never have written this essay.
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