By Nichole Guillory (WellAcademic Guest Blogger) - Mothering in Color
*This post was inspired by Roxane Gay’s New York Times Op-Ed “No One is Coming to Save Us From Trump’s Racism” (1/12/18).
I was in a good place at the start of 2018. During my holiday break, I practiced regular self-care—a couple of dinner and movie dates with myself, a massage, a pedicure, some reading, and binge Netflix-ing. Then I took advice from Roxanne Donovan (WellAcademic’s co-founder) to develop a Top Ten list for what I was grateful for in 2017. That list helped me to realize that I took some risks on behalf of my work, I prioritized time with my family, I made gratitude an almost daily practice throughout the year, and I developed a regular writing routine again. Faculty received good news at my university about some leadership changes, and my mother’s doctor gave us good news about her surgery’s success. I was in a real space of calm.
Anyone who knows me will laugh at my description here. Me? Calm. Cut me some slack. It was the closest I could get to calm. I was so dedicated to developing more space for calm in my life that I took Roxanne’s advice (again!) and tried a Mindfulness app, a real stretch for me. I didn’t even delete it from my phone when I received notifications to “Draw attention to your feet” and “Focus on your breath.” I was happy and hopeful about 2018.
That lasted almost 11 full days. Anger slithered its way back on Thursday, January 11, 2018, when the president of the United States allegedly(!) objected to a bi-partisan immigration proposal that allowed protections for immigrants to continue entering the U.S. from “shithole countries” (or shithouse, depending on reports), his description for El Salvador, Haiti, and African nations. He suggested instead that we needed more immigrants from Norway. He allegedly(!) said this in a room full of elected lawmakers.
I am not shocked by the president’s continued racism or the support he’s enjoyed in Congress to enact racist policies. What disturbed my calm and triggered my anger this time were the responses. (Non)Responses by people in the room, responses by prominent immigrants from these countries, responses by the media, and responses by people on social media, including some I know personally. The responses are familiar: excuses and lies by politicians to justify the racist comments, immigrants from these countries defending how much they contribute to the U.S., and apologies to people of color by so-called well-meaning progressives for another instance of Trump’s racism. The response, however, that triggered my anger the most was silence.
Which brings me to the hard lesson I had to teach my son: complicity. How do you teach a ten-year-old when to be silent and when to speak up? As I have shared in previous posts, I usually wait on Nicholas to ask questions as a point of entry into these difficult lessons.
Not this time.
I don’t know if I made the right decision, but I figured that if I’m trying to help my child to understand complicity, the last thing I need to do is wait or be silent. Nicholas knew right away that what the president said was wrong and hurtful—the language was a clear signal. But he did not realize that there were many other people in that meeting who were also guilty and that there have been many guilty others since then who have made excuses, lied, or chosen silence as their response to racism.
Connecting this event to bullying and bystanders and asking Nicholas what he would want others to do if they witnessed him being bullied resonated with him.
Incidents where he has to be brave and speak up in defense of what is right even when he is scared and when the outcome will most likely not be positive will follow him the rest of his life. Teaching my Black child not to be complicit when he is witness to racist, sexist, xenophobic, and homophobic acts, especially by people in power, is one of my most important and terrifying responsibilities as a Black mother. I live in that contradictory space of hope and fear. While I hope that my child will be brave enough to challenge White supremacy, I also fear for his safety when he does.
Before I end, I feel compelled to talk directly to those White progressives who share my sadness and anger at the times in which we are living. I hope that if you are reading this, you’ll be prompted to stand up against racism because frankly I’ve lost patience with so much inaction. Of course, I’m angry with the president and other White supremacists whose racism is easy to detect. But I’ve also had enough of the insidious acts that work to shore up racist structures, especially as they work against women of color.
Unfortunately, I know far too many so-called progressives who say they are social justice educators and allies but sit back in silence while Black women and other women of color are alone on the front lines 1) calling out racism in overt and implicit forms; 2) trying to change oppressive structures for the benefit of progressives as well; 3) voting consistently against pedophiles, rapists, and racists running for public office; and 4) working more for less money. We see you waiting in the cut while we speak first. We see you standing up when it benefits you individually, but we don’t always see you standing up for our collective interests.
So I say to you would-be allies: I am/we are tired of putting on the Olivia Pope gladiator cape every time a problem needs fixing or someone in power needs to be told a hard truth. Stop waiting on us to do the work of justice. When is the last time you did something other than apologize to people of color for yet another instance of Trump’s racism? When is the last time you asked us how we are really doing, what you might do to come in alongside and fight with us, or just sit with us in the pain of this mothering moment where every day there’s another terrifying thing?
We all have a responsibility to each other. I hope you will choose to do something next time so that we are not carrying all of this extra weight by ourselves.
Nichole Guillory, PhD, is Professor of Curriculum and Instruction at Kennesaw State University. She publishes on the experiences of women of color in the academy. She is mom to Nicholas, the love of her life. We couldn't be happier that she has agreed to pen a new series for WellAcademic, Mothering in Color.