I had a realization while reading a Facebook post by Benjamin Watson, for those of you that are as in the dark about football as I am, he is a football player for the New Orleans Saints. It was a very thoughtful post and he has gained my respect not by how he plays the game of football, but for his words, how he expressed what lives in his heart. There was one particular passage that caught my attention in particular:
I’M ANGRY because the stories of injustice that have been passed down for generations seem to be continuing before our very eyes.
It occurred to me that my children will grow up with a family narrative very different than the African American or even Guatemalan American experience.
I have heard (white) people remark “Why don’t they (African Americans) just get over it, slavery ended over 100 years ago. But what they aren’t taking into account are that the injustices continued, and still continue today.
Our family narratives help to shape our opinions, decisions and how we view the world. The stories that are told and retold are the triumphs and injustices that families tell generation after generation.
My narrative is simple, and comes from a very White-European family: Here are just a few that I have carried with me, that continue to be told within my family.
My Irish Grandma entered a park in Boston around 1915 and found a sign that read “No Irish Allowed”. I also know that my relatives from Oklahoma experienced a lot of “Oakie” name calling when they came to California in the 1940’s and 1950’s. I know the hardships of the breadlines of the 1930’s, and I know every detail of the injustices and rudeness that my Dad endured as a Vietnam Veteran upon returning home. This is my narrative. These are my family stories.
My husband’s narrative includes WWII wartime Paris, and the story of a favorite Puerto Rican Uncle, not able to vote in US elections, but being drafted into the Vietnam War.
I guarantee every African American living in the United States has a very different narrative. Tales of family members being forced to the back of the bus, or use a different door, or being denied access all together, or the terror of waking to a cross burning on their front lawn, or the worst yet…lynched. So when a Mother is denied her murdered sons day in court, when she does not get the opportunity for a jury of her peers to hear testimony and participate in the US judicial system, remember it is from this family narrative and history that the African American community responds.
My children will not grow up with this narrative, so their response to racism and injustices will be through a white family’s narrative. I am not sure what this will mean or how this will shape their experiences. We can explain the struggles of the Indigenous Guatemalans and African Americans, but I don’t think there is anything more convincing than a family narrative. On one hand they will not grow up with the struggle of injustice in their heart, but on the other hand, will they need this to survive in the world, to face racism and injustices that are sure to come? As their Mom, I wish I could keep them in this protected bubble for ever, but I know that in doing this, it doesn’t set them up for the future, so I try to feel, empathize, and pass on some of these injustices.