I can admit. I am afraid of the “angry black woman”. I see her and I feel myself shrink back. I said, “I didn’t know” in reference to her struggle, and I saw her posture shift. I heard her mentally ask me, “How? How could you not know?”.
And to that, I have nothing to say. I should have known. I should have seen. But now that I do see, and see in small part the depth and length of the oppression… and I have no idea how to start apologizing for that. How do we make it right?
I was raised in a small town in Alberta where I did not see very many people of color. I didn’t see anything wrong with that at the time, nor was I prejudiced against them - it was just that not many of them lived where I did. We were a predominantly Ukrainian community, so it wasn’t like I didn’t see or know of other cultures, but the colors were mostly caucasian.
When I moved to university, there was more diversity but I wasn’t aware of their struggles at this point. I think I mostly just thought they lived in other places. And since I live in a cold climate where we can have snow in every month except July I just assumed that if you had a richer colour of skin, you would choose to live where it was warmer - rather than us cold pale people.
My cousin was adopted from Ethiopia, but she was over 10 years younger than me, and stunningly beautiful I might add! I have always been jealous of her beautiful skin tone, curly dark hair and curves. I have felt plain beside her for most of my life. The prejudices and abuses that she faced her whole life were mostly whispered about, not spoken about at family dinners.
Or maybe I wasn’t fully listening. I am now.
And now, I feel the anger of the black woman. I am aware of my privilege and wish it didn’t exist. I would like to help, but I don’t know how. I would like to be involved, but I feel because of my skin colour that I am on the wrong side. I would love to use my privilege for good, but I feel like my help isn’t wanted and that its not my fight.
So I am left fearing the angry black woman. Feeling shame, feeling remorse and helplessness. I feel I am a helpless and weak white woman, when I would rather be involved, better informed, making an impact, doing what I can to make the gap smaller.
How do I do that in a way that is healing to a wound I can never heal?
How do I do that in a way that is respectful to the independent angry black women whom I am coming to deeply admire and respect?
How do I support or stand with those women whose courage and voice makes me want to get involved?
How do I do all of that?
I’m starting by learning. Listening. Quietly observing. Catching up on the conversation. Wondering all the while, are the rules for engaging here? I feel myself shrinking back from the table of discussion as my skin tone is a constant reminder to them of who and what they are fighting… It's taking all of my courage to step forward to listen, without making myself small in the presence of their anger. To hear it, to honour it… even as I acknowledge that I don't know how.
As I know better, I will do better.
May we all do better.