We live in a small town in the middle of rural America. It’s a white-majority town. Like, really white majority: more than 85 percent, according to government data. As is typical of most white people, my whiteness is invisible to me. It takes deliberate thought and consideration to see the way race affects how I live in and experience the world.
Over the last few years, I’ve written about race in these letters, so I’m not saying it’s a topic I’ve been afraid to address with you, with others, or with our community as a whole. Remember the time I wrote about you sobbing when I told you about Dr. King’s assassination before we marched on Martin Luther King Day? Or the shame-on-me letter about being blind to my own privilege? Or the standing-ovation letter about our little old church here in our small town getting riled up enough to stand and clap at the end of a sermon about the evils of racism and injustice?
But here we are, this year. In 2020 America, we can’t turn away from the way our whiteness insulates us from hardship. Privilege has been on my mind a lot, and I’ve been actively engaging you both in conversations about race and privilege, trying to show you, even as young as you are, the way that our normal, ordinary experiences are affected by race and privilege.
Today we went on a walk around town. Right now there’s a bit of construction all along Main Street on the side of town where we live–maybe a half mile from our house.
Accidentally, I had us cross the street right where the sidewalk is currently closed. It couldn’t be more obvious: there’s an orange construction sign that announces it. SIDEWALK CLOSED. But it’s not actually roped off, and part of it is gravel, so instead of having you walk along the side of the busy street, I told you to hop up on that gravel part and walk along it there, the “closed” part. As cars went by, I also stepped up onto the “closed” sidewalk. We weren’t causing any problems or disrupting any of the construction, but technically, we were breaking the rules.
And I knew we were breaking the rules, but I wasn’t worried about it.
Right as we were coming out of the construction zone, I looked up, and just then, a Sheriff’s car passed us. A Sheriff’s car.
I kind of waved and nodded my head as he passed, you girls skipped on ahead of me onto the finished sidewalk.
That’s the end of the story.
Except that it got me to thinking. What if I weren’t a middle aged white woman accompanied by two young, happy white girls?
What if I were black?
What if I were male?
What if you two were black children? Boys?
Would the story have been the same?
Girls, the truth is, in 2020 America, we can’t be sure.
Walking on a closed sidewalk is not a big deal. It wasn’t dangerous. We weren’t causing any problems.
But on many Main Streets in many parts of America, if we were black, the whole story could be different.
Which is why as a white momma raising two white girls, I promise you I won’t stop talking about race and privilege any time soon.