First a confession: I am intimidated by my last post. While the idea of writing a racial autobiography seems both necessary and worthwhile, I have felt too scared to start. This is in part, because I always envision new projects in very grandiose, earth moving terms. I then become paralyzed by the shear scale, complexity and scope of the matter and within seconds of inception, a project is rendered impossible. This is, of course,a symptom of alcoholic thinking and perfectionism. Character defects are a real bitch.
Second, writing a racial autobiography would require talking to people, specifically talking to my family and talking about my family. Without starting this investigation, I already know that the branches of my family tree and the spirals of our interconnected DNA bind me to a history of inherited white privilege and an ugly, unspoken legacy of addiction and alcoholism. I can’t separate one from the other—the privilege on the outside and the turmoil on the inside. Our familial connections—when view through this lens—are not pretty and hard, if not impossible, to talk about. Of course, the purpose of writing a biography of racial privilege is not to bring forth the incredible resiliency, compassion and selflessness of the people that made me, but to see ourselves from a more distant place, a place of understanding how “we,” the white folks of my family, relate to the non-white “other,” that is out there in the world and to better understand how these threads of privilege, and the subtext of addiction, womanifest (I just made that up, turned manifest into womanifest. Ha.)
Third, I don’t actually think I can do this. Just starting this task makes me realize how little I know about my own family tree. Where were my grandparents born? What’s my paternal grandmother’s maiden name? I start free trail subscription to ancestry.com and go back 2 generations and am already lost. I am clicking around old year books and census data retrieved by a pricey search engine and wondering if I am getting any closer or further away from the questions I wanted answered.
I know I don’t really have the time and energy to map it all out. I’d like to look at the whole legacy of my own inherited privilege—learn exactly who was bought and sold and my how my distant relatives benefitted from the transactions of powerful among white males, who inherited what from whom and which black body was labeled a commodity to sold, inherited, traded. Whose labor was stolen? Which black and brown bodies were rendered invisible? Which tribe did they take from?
So, the truth is I won’t ever know the specific answers to these questions, because, well, fuck, I ain’t a historian and I have a job, small rented homestead and like to get 6-8 hours of sleep every night. I also realize there is a privilege in ever being able to ask these types of questions about my history and know that the answers are out there somewhere, that all of this is knowable even if it is beyond my reach. Being born with white skin means my records are traceable, that “my people” were the record keepers with the power to denote who was born when, who got what, the power to determine what was recorded and who was erased. Once I start searching, my familial roads will be longer and easier to trace. These roads won’t stop at a dead end where someone became a commodity, a dead end. This is what it means to walk around in a white body, to have the bold of colonizers running through our veins, to watch 13th on Netflix and stare blankly into space knowing that what “my people” did to the “others” and wondering what it means now.
Knowing all this, what comes next for Crashley?
At a minimum, I can commit to knowing more than about my family history (herstory, itstory, theystory, goofy pronouns) than I do now. While I probably won’t be able to draw up the specific language from my great, great, great, great, great grandfathers will where he bequeaths native American’s land and African labor to my great, great, great grandfather, I know that if I go far back enough this “stuff”, the historical records and sites where racial privilege is created and inherited, is out there—somewhere. I think the “general knowing” its there will always have to be enough. (Let’s face it, the number of grandparents we have increases exponentially, so all of us white folks, at least in some very distant ways are connected to this legacy. This is the historical context in which we live today. It’s the air we breathe.) Yet, for me, knowing even a little bit more about the specifics of how I came to be on this Earth will be valuable.
Lastly, I probably wouldn’t have written this post today if it wasn’t for a woman I’ll call Mermaid. So, I’ll end my post with an ode to Mermaid.
My women’s AA group is diverse in many respects—age, spiritual orientation, sexual preference, number of years in sobriety—but we are mostly white women. At most, maybe 2 or 3 back women will be the circle with us at a Friday night meeting.
Mermaid is one of these black women. She sat down right next to be last Friday at 5:53 pm—just a few minutes before the meeting began. Mermaid is a contradiction, filled with beautiful tension that hangs all over her body. She is put together—with eyelash extension and long, manicured fake nails—and disheveled at the same time walking tenderly on high heals, drawing on a notepad, hoping to listen and remain unseen. She has dark skin, a rail thin body and a disarming, thick English accent— a voice that sounds so peculiar coming from a Black woman in America. She embodies a quality I love about recovering alcoholics, our courageous ability to walk around the world in this broken-put-together way.
Mermaid asked me for the title of my blog a few weeks ago and actually started reading my posts! When Mermaid plopped down next to me she said, “people tell me they are colorblind, and I am just like, ‘yeah, well what do you do at a stop sign?’ So, the things you are saying need to be said and if I say them, people will just tell me I am complaining or playing the race card.”
So, what Mermaid reminded me of was the importance of us white folks continuing to speak up about our own privilege—especially when it’s hard to see. As allies, we need to continue talking openly about these things, especially with each other.
I can here you thinking: “Wait a minute? Is that Gizmo?” No. It’s not. It’s the newest addition to the Crashley Sugar homstead–PUMPKIN, an 8 week old red-tri Australian Shepherd. My congratulations you have almost been sober for 1 year and you landed a new job present to myself (and Sugar). Gizmo is an amazing big brother and puppies are definitely easier the second time around.