I stand amidst a gathering of head-stones in the shade of a church. Through the rubber of my flip-flops I can feel the uneven texture of cobblestones.
I imagine dust under my bare feet and heat encasing my body like a coffin.
I try to imagine the weight of iron cuffs pressing into the skin of my wrists and ankles; the rattling of chains, crying of babies, steel voices with serrated edges slicing through the constant hum of despair. Close by white people would be chatting dressed up in their Sunday best, normalising their casual cruelty, like they are enjoying a piece of meat around the dinner table. Smells of fear and unwashed skin would mingle with the scrubbed self-righteousness of church goers.
Cold eyes that look through or appraise brown bodies.
I try to imagine what it would feel like to inhabit one of those bodies.
The horror stays on the surface like an oil-spill on water. Underneath shreds of feeling insubstantial like paper rise and then sink to the bottom encased in shame and guilt.
I am hyper aware of my white skin.
I try again in the windowless rooms inside the building, names of the enslaved laid out like unclaimed bodies; the walls are covered in facts to keep the voices trapped inside from cracking them apart.
I imagine those walls covered in blood with one never ending scream ricocheting around the airless chambers like stray bullets .
I distract myself with bold black words on white Perspex, neatly cut and displayed under strategically placed spotlights like amputated limbs on an operating table. With their academic authority they deflect and dismiss the raw emotions of an unadorned torture chamber as phantom pains.
For a moment I imagine myself trapped in darkness.
It feels voyeuristic. Like I am intruding on somebody else’s pain pretending to understand.
I don’t belong here.
I wish I could leave.
Back to a time and place where my ignorance spelled innocence and my white spaces only held good intentions and safety.Where my children were silent wishes I made under a canopy of shooting stars when I still believed that my love was enough and you could be anything you want.
Are all white people racist, they ask me today not for the first time. Then look at me curiously and a little gleeful as I say what they already know. Yes we are, mostly not by choice and often without knowing it; when I explain to them my particular brand of racism, handed down to me from generations of well-intentioned entitlement. My privilege was never a question, it never even had a name, and it simply existed like the air I breathe.
I wish I didn’t have to tell them.
I wish they never had to know.
But here I am, stuck between my whiteness and their blackness in an ever expanding no-mans-land
called motherhood, where my love spans the horizon like a sun exposing all my dark corners, or like the stars by which I navigate our nights under the light of a forgiving moon.
In this land where I know less every day questions are only ever answered by more questions.