Thursday, September 3, 2020

One Good Tern

One Good Tern / Oil on black canvas /  5x7 / $68 including shipping


THESE DAYS, I FIND MYSELF wondering about white privilege and how I exhibit it. About whether I am racist. Whether I, as a white person - and particularly a white person in the South - am blind to racism. 

While I don't think that I am racist, I do recognize that I have always felt more or less apart from people of color. I never heard the term "white privilege" until a couple months ago, though I am certainly a full-blown example of it.

I grew up well-off in a mostly white town, and went to majority-white schools. I've had a few black friends over the years, mostly school and work friendships that pretty much ended when life and jobs separated us - the same as most of my school and work friendships with white people. 

As an adult, I've lived in several black neighborhoods, and never thought twice about moving in. In one, I was memorably the butt of much laughter at my reaction to chitterlings (ick) shared with me by one of my black neighbors. Frankly, I had the same response to turnip greens shared with me by a white neighbor here. 

I admit to being fearful when I encounter groups of black male teenagers - but I am just as fearful when I encounter groups of white male teenagers. 

I've painted people of color, black and brown, and have sold paintings to people of all shades. One of my grandsons is half-black, and his son, my great-grandson, is, as well.

Here in majority-white Wachapreague, John, who is half of the public works department, is black, and calls me "Miss Carrie," or he did, until Peter died. Now, he calls me "Carrie." I don't know John's last name - but I don't know JD's last name, either. He is white, and is the other half of the department. He has always called me "Carrie."

Yesterday, I heard an African-American man in the post office talking about a change of address form, and I found that I wanted to barge into the conversation and introduce myself and welcome him - but I thought that might be disrespectful. And I couldn't tell from the part of the conversation I heard if he were coming to town or leaving.

I realized later that if he had been a white man, I'd never have considered butting in. And if he had been a woman of either race, I'd have jumped in with both feet.

Today, the men from Thornton Services came and installed my new heat pump/air conditioner, and I asked one of them (they were brown-skinned, probably native Spanish speakers from who knows where) whether I should give him the check (a larger check than most I've written in my lifetime) or whether I should drop it by the office.

He said I could do either, and went on to say that some homeowners didn't trust him and his co-workers with the big checks. He didn't say it with any heat, just related it as something that happened. I gave him the check. 

So I tangle myself up in this a little bit, but when I examine myself, I think I find that I am not a racist - but that I could be more aware. I believe I am a person who has grown up with the sort of race blindness that comes with white privilege.  I could be more active in the fight for racial equality. I will pay attention, and work to become more aware. I hope I am already on my way. 

A Last Thought


And then the day came,
when the risk
to remain tight
in a bud
was more painful
than the risk
it took to blossom.

- Anais Nin

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