Mama wasn’t that racist of you?
As I stand in front of my 10 year old, my face hot and my insides in knots from what just happened, the only answer I can give him is: "Yes"
“Yes it was.”
The other kids stare from him to me, open mouthed at hearing their 10 year old friend and brother, who, like them, is black, use the R-word to his white mum.
What just happened?
I am home alone with six kids, six years and up to 12. It’s a Friday evening. We ordered Pizzas. It is getting dark. When the doorbell rings, I buzz the gate open from upstairs and they all rush outside, who can be the first to get to the food.
Then I hear: Mamaaaaaa
I hear Berta-the-dog barking frantically.
“Shit”, I mumble to myself, “I told you a thousand times not to let the dog out, when people are at the gate!”
I rush to the window to call out to them to wait before they get the food so I can get the dog back in.
Before I get there, I hear an adult voice shouting something. Angry.
Fear jumps in my belly as it does easily these days, ever since the attack on the mountains two years back. I immediately reason it away, as I have learned to do. My only (conscious) worry, that the kids will let Berta out the gate and she’ll scare the delivery guy (she has never bitten anybody in all her 7 years but her appearance and bark are scary, especially to a lot of black people who have been harassed, hurt and killed by white people’s dogs before).
When I get to the window I see all 6 children at the open pedestrian gate with a stranger (not the delivery guy) who happens to be black, and Berta rushing and barking at him from behind them.
He shouts something up to me, as he points at himself and then at me.” I assume he is begging.
At that moment the delivery guy arrives on his bike, causing Berta to renew her efforts to try and squeeze through the wall of kids.
I shout over the pandemonium that I am busy and can’t help him right now and would he please go away.
The kids are about to run out .
Berta is about to escape.
The guy is not moving.
I run outside, my voice overloud as I ask him again to step away from my children, as I see the next few seconds unfolding in in front of my eyes (kids letting dog out, dog rushing at stranger, stranger traumatised by white people’s dogs, lashing out , maybe even hurting the dog or worse one of the children, and I should know better than to let my dog out when there are people at the gate).
He still doesn’t move.
The delivery guy stays a few meters away from the chaos, on his bike, watching. I can’t see his face he is still wearing his helmet.
The kids are trying to get past the other guy.
He won’t let them. Maybe not on purpose. Maybe he is just trying to keep them between himself and the crazy dog. My six year old is so close to him he could grab her by the arm.
I am proper scared now, my heart beating in my throat.
I get hold of Berta’s collar and shout at him once more to step away from my kids and the gate and let the delivery guy get through.
I shout at the kids to go into the house. To take Berta with them. Weirdly they do and she does.
He says he wants money to go to someones funeral somewhere.
I say I don’t have cash in the house.
I see he doesn’t believe me.
He looks down the road and shouts something I don’t understand.
Maybe at the delivery guy.
Maybe at someone else hiding somewhere.
My thoughts are running away with my fears.
I call out to the delivery guy to hand over the packet.
I shout at the stranger to leave.
He shoots me a look full of hate or disgust or maybe those are only my own feelings he is reflecting back to me. I don’t want to be that woman. He turns his back and walks away.
The delivery guy finally gets off his bike and hands me the plastic packet full of boxes, our nice dinner delivered to our nice suburbian house. He doesn’t even bother to say anything to me.
I walk inside with the pizzas, shaky and hot in the face.
“Mami, wasn’t that racist of you?” Kal asks as I hand over the food.
“Yes”, I say.
“yes it was.”
“ I was worried about you being out there with a stranger and as he’s black and I am white that was racist. I have been brought up to be scared of black men. My first instinct was to protect you from a stranger (and if he had been white, I probably wouldn’t have been so scared), so I shouted at him. That wasn’t very nice.“
The other kids look at me with a mix of pity and scientific interest and then turn to the much more important matter of who gets how many slices of pizza.
Later when the others are gone or sleeping, Kal comes to my bed and asks me again:
“Mama, why have you been racist to that guy?”
”I don’t think as a white person I can ever not be racist, do you know what I mean?”
“Yeah”, he says. “If it had been *names a black friend* shouting at the guy, that would not have been racist.”
“You’re right.” I say
“She might have shouted at him too, because he came too close to you kids or she might have been able to speak to him quietly, but whatever she would have done, it would not have been racist.”
“So what could you have done instead?” my child asks me.
“ I don’t actually know.” It occurs to me as I am speaking to him.
“My fear when I see a black man whom I don’t know, doesn’t allow me to make a difference between what is racist and what is my natural instinct to protect my children from danger. So even if my fear is based on the racism I learned growing up, I can’t afford not to listen to it, because what if it is a stranger who would harm you? I can’t take that risk.”
“No you can’t”, there is a new heaviness in his voice and he comes closer to lie in my arm.
“So you see”, I try again “ as a white woman it is my responsibility to recognise this fear and all my other racist thoughts and feelings that have been put into me from when I was too small to ask questions. By being friends with black men like *name* and *name* for example, I hope that my fears will become smaller and my instincts more my own again. But for now that’s where I am. ”
“Also me pretending that I am not scared and giving a stranger a fake smile and let him come into the gate while I am alone and responsible for 6 children, so I don’t look racist, would be a lot worse, I think…”
“So are you saying that all white people are racist?” He sums it up to the point as usual.
“Yes, I think so. There will always be situations when I know that what I am doing or how I am about to react is racist. It doesn’t make me a bad person. It makes me a person who is damaged by racism. Just as you are hurt by your friends racism that their parents teach them, probably without knowing it. It doesn’t help if we are pretending it doesn’t exist in us white people. It doesn’t help if people say to you, they didn’t mean it, right?”
“I just wish they would learn not to say dumb stuff anymore.”
Today, a few weeks later, am still ashamed and deeply uncomfortable about how I reacted.
I still don’t have a solution.
Only the bare godawful facts:
I am a white woman who is often scared of black men.
In America black men get killed because of white women’s fears.
I don’t want to be that woman.
I don’t know how not to be that woman.