My White Silence

my white silence

They say love changes you…. That is the understatement of the century. It doesn’t change only you, it changes your perspective, the glasses with which you view reality. Love? Love changes the world.

I never really was one to think deeply about race as a child. My parents are those well-known ‘raging liberals’ that stay up to date on the lingo and accept the gays, the straights, the blacks, the Asians… any difference from our family (white British immigrants) was accepted and welcomed with open arms. I grew up in a white neighborhood but my best friend was Korean, we traveled frequently into downtown Philadelphia. I wasn’t a stranger to racial differences, I just wasn’t brought up to see them. I was colorblind by virtue of my privilege to be silent about this important aspect of living in the United States.

I attended a diverse boarding school, and then a diverse college, and still I wasn’t pushed into the uncomfortable conversations about race. I never pushed beyond the boundaries of our black history month discussions, or ventured beyond my belief in equality for all people. I even traveled to complete a study abroad program in Ghana, the blackest country I’ve ever visited, and yet I still lounged around draped in a robe of luxury and privilege of being silent about race. Race existed, but I didn’t talk about it. Not truly.

Then I fell in love.

It started on a cold winter afternoon when I complimented someone’s sweater. When I opened my mouth to speak it became dry, my heart started to pound. I wanted to date that someone. I knew after that first compliment finally slipped and slid out of my mouth. After all of these years alone, enjoying school, I wanted to date someone. I wanted to date someone who was black.

Race existed, but I didn’t talk about it. Not truly.

When I first got involved I didn’t think anything of it. Like everything else in my life, I thought this would come easily. Just another adventure, like traveling abroad. My family already accepted all types of people. I was accepting. My sister was dating a woman, so how hard could it be to date a black man. What could possibly go wrong? Before I knew all of the things that were about to go wrong, my heart was already involved….

And by then it was too late.

My boyfriend lives in a difficult neighborhood. Somewhere you see a great deal of violence on a regular basis. He lives in section 8 housing. His father left long ago, and his mother committed suicide. He has racked up a large amount of debt trying to pay for college. As an orphan he was raised with two autistic children and a very sick aunt, he has no adult caretaker in the home. He can’t afford to be healthy. He can’t afford much at all. He is in college, but suffers from a lack of motivation, and anger issues. He may not even graduate.

He is more than these things. He is also sweet, a gentle kisser, a kindhearted person. He has the capability of great love, not to mention great sweaters. He has a jubilant laugh, an infectious smile. He brings light into my heart. He is passionate, he gets easily fired up about those he cares for. When prompted, he works hard. He likes to watch movies and eat greasy junk food. We have so many similarities.

My boyfriend. My black boyfriend. My black boyfriend.

I say this because I was not raised to say it. Because the word black was not put on my tongue as a child, but it should have been. If I want to call myself a compassionate and active person, it should have been. I was not raised to say it. I was not raised to scream it. But after our year and a half of dating, I find that I must.

My boyfriend. My sweet boyfriend. The one who cries for me. The sensitive boyfriend who feels so deeply. The boyfriend I love, who lets me dance in his oversized sweater until the cows come home. Just a boy who stays up late playing video games and watching comedy television.

The same boyfriend who carries pain. The boy who is an alcoholic. The one who was arrested for weed possession. The one with angry outbursts. The one who is mad because he doesn’t have a job, money, or parents.

My boyfriend. My black boyfriend. My black boyfriend.

He has endured suffering. Suffering he endured, I know, now, I’m sure, now, because he is black. Because his ancestors are black. Suffering he will continue to endure, unless black voices are heard. Unless change is made. Until there are reparations, policies, action.

My boyfriend’s history did not have to be this way, but it was.  His future should be something different.

It turns out that no amount of accepting hearts or open minded individuals can overcome the challenges of the racial situation. Not if the person is silent.

My boyfriend and I broke up. There were too many things I couldn’t live with. It shouldn’t have had to be that way.

My boyfriend and I broke up. But I learned to love the word black. Not just dating black. Speaking black, lifting black. Black lives do matter. My boyfriend’s does. Everyone’s. I can’t be silent anymore. I have too much privilege to remain so.

There have been so many race heavy conversations that I have been exposed to in the past months, and this is just my perspective as someone (white, female) living in Ghana. I cannot run away from the fact that I am white, and I carry my life on this seemingly simple part of my exterior makeup that in fact means so much and greatly influences all of my experiences. I have it shouted in my face every day that I walk out of the door, and with all of these reminders of my privilege just by being born I still can’t seem to grasp what it can best be used for. Even when the history of my oppressive ancestors is right in front of my eyes, from the underdeveloped buildings to the underdeveloped minds in the beautiful country I am blessed enough to have the opportunity to live in I am still left wondering. Wondering if I will ever find the right series of actions to make myself feel like I am not walking blind.

Black lives do matter. My boyfriend’s does. Everyone’s.

All of this awareness and exposure and I still feel like I am behind, trying to catch up to what I am and what I can do to and how to be a better version of ‘me’. But when ‘me’ is someone who is not at all knowledgeable how to wear her racial identity both proudly and correctly… it’s not easy.

I have the privilege again of grooming young minds, but what am I grooming them for? As one of two white teachers at an African school with a sea of black students am I even able to prepare them for what they will face when they walk out the door? They are starting off disadvantaged while in fact I have so much privilege I don’t know what it can possibly all be used for, but I refuse to see it as a burden. I will take it as a blessing and do my best to share it where I can. I am looking and I am listening and I might not know an exact plan, but maybe that’s okay.

I have a lot of questions and I do a lot of thinking, internally and externally I am always convincing myself to never forget there is probably a way to be better, think deeper, take more responsibility, more action, engage. I am Clara and I am white, I am white in Ghana. I am white in America. I am white everywhere. It is on me to be the best white I can be, whatever that looks like.

These are just some thoughts I have regularly.