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Snapshot of a Family

April 13th, 2012 by Brendan Wolfe · 2 Comments

A white, unmarried college professor adopted a black daughter. Her essay is about her subsequent, more personal experience navigating racism in America:

But I can always redirect attention to the fact that I’m white, or to the fact that my daughter’s mother is. A clerk once told my daughter to leave a store because she was loitering. I was nearby, looking at towels. “Is there a problem?” I countered. “I’m her mother.” Even when I was living in the country where people lived less diversely, I had clear advantages, a stable job, advanced training in rhetoric I find useful every time I object. But I think of people who can’t immediately say to the officer or clerk: hey, I’m white here. And how quaint I sound, a white woman who understands racism at last, selfishly, for her daughter’s sake. Yet I don’t understand. I understand only that I used to be clueless: the sense of ease in day-to-day interactions I once took for granted. I’m also not living with ancestral history as trauma: enslavement, violence, segregation. I’m touchy because I’m protecting my daughter. I don’t have an ocean of grief hundreds of years old.

IMAGE: Snapshot of a family, ca. 1975

Tags: Misc.

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Henry Wiencek // Apr 15, 2012 at 9:10 pm

    A very powerful story. At the conclusion of a long and cordial interview some years ago I remarked to a black teacher that I thought racism was waning, and her cordiality vanished. She said “that’s because you have never felt it directed to YOU.”

  • 2 Brendan Wolfe // Apr 16, 2012 at 3:33 pm

    Good point, Henry. I tend to think racism is best thought of not as who you are (“I am not a racist!”) but what you do. And it’s best identified by those who are on the receiving end of those actions. Or so I was told once, too.

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