Too late

I at last read Teaching to Transgress for the first time. In it, bell hooks writes that she read Adrienne Rich’s poem, “The Burning of Paper Instead of Children,” in her first year of college. I read it now, grad school long past, as the world seems to be burning.

I am late, too late.

For the first time, I read Angela Davis’s Women, Race, Class. I do not know why I have not read it before. It illuminates everything.

I am raising a little girl, a little brown girl who will grow into a woman of color. Born into relative privilege, to educated parents, and yet she will undoubtedly know pain that I have never felt, know bias I do not encounter. Perhaps I am being too pessimistic, and she won’t. We are in Brooklyn, after all, and multicultural backgrounds are more or less the norm. Or perhaps I am too optimistic and it will be worse for her than I imagine. When she is grown, what will I tell her I fought for, and fought against?

Whiteness, White feminism: these are terms I hear often, and I have grasped what they implied. But only lately do I finally—finally—understand that White feminism is not something emerging now, divorced from history; it is not an innocent obliviousness. That rather it is a force that has caused untold damage against women of color, and Black women especially, since the earliest days of feminist activism in this country. That early suffragists were not only fighting for women’s rights, but actively pushing Black women out of their ranks and Black rights out of their agenda. Nobody taught me this in school, or in college, or in grad school. And I did not seek it out.

Only lately have I realized that I have long been among those who think that we can move “beyond race,” and only lately have I realized how utterly blind and damaging such a standpoint is. I fell into the illusion that my education was neutral, that whiteness was neutral.

I am deeply ashamed that this has not been a lifelong awareness for me, that only now am I waking up.