It’s been quite a week.
First, an internal, secret inquiry found that there is no racism within the Armed Forces of Malta following the murder of Lassane Cisse by two of its soldiers because they asked the soldiers if they were racist and they said no.
The following day in America, yet another black American man was senselessly murdered by sheer brutal force by a member of the police, whose duty it is to prevent such tragedies.
And then a few days after that, a well-known Youtuber issued a video saying she had ‘returned’ her adopted Chinese son after three years because of his learning difficulties.
You might be wondering why I’ve put all these things together.
Well, I’m the adoptive (proud) mamma of one kick-ass, gentle, inquisitive, caring, energetic, creative, bright black boy. A little human being who was rejected by four families ahead of us in the adoption list because of the colour of his skin (which by the way, was white when he was born – but the possibility of it darkening was there).
I’ve always wanted to adopt. I’m one of those (few and odd) women who’s always wanted to be a mum but really wasn’t bothered with going through the pregnancy experience – as in, it was all well and good if it happened but it wasn’t essential to me. It also, somehow, didn’t make sense to me to create life, given this crazy, crazy world we’re living in. I’d much rather care for a life that’s already here. This was actually a deal-breaker for me so it’s a good thing my then-boyfriend now-husband was on board with the adoption idea!
We got the call-back pretty quickly following the adoption course; we actually got two call-backs (but that’s a different story), and both times, it was for little black babies, and both times, there were others ahead of us on the list, officially.
I couldn’t then and can’t now wrap my head around this. How could a couple hoping to adopt, to boot, in a country where it is notoriously difficult to do so, reject a baby based on skin colour?
But then again – I’ve worked in the field of immigration and I’ve come up against pure hatred, directed at me, as a white woman daring to stick up for black men, and directed at my Eritrean colleague, a man of the gentlest of souls. I still remember the glares I’d be subjected to as we walked down Republic Street in Valletta as we headed to a meeting. And I say ‘I’ because he used to walk looking down at the ground. I can understand why.
I’ve experienced white privilege in Italy as I queued up for my permesso di soggiorno (residence permit) alongside other nationalities before Malta had joined the European Union. I was, I kid you not, invited to skip the queue by policemen on duty who couldn’t understand what a white woman, with a German surname!, was doing in THAT crowd. I politely declined. Today – well, I regret having been polite about it.
So I can also understand (intellectually) the hesitancy of adoptive, white parents to take on a child of colour in this cruel world.
My son is blessed to have a school that embraces him in his totality, with friends in abundance. But I do admit, as a new mummy at the school, I wondered whether he would be ostracised (not blatantly) because of his skin colour. My relief that this is not only not the case, but far from the truth is endless. And I am forever grateful to his friends and his friends’ families who see him for who he is, inside.
But I know that my son will grow up one day. He will be out and about on his own, maybe wearing a hoodie, maybe with headphones over his ears. And I know that, depending on where we’re at as a nation, it could be only a matter of luck if he makes it home in one piece unless we do something about this NOW, LOUDLY, before it’s too late for another little black boy or another black man who was once a little black boy.
We might not be America, Europe is not built on slavery, we don’t (as yet) seem to have institutionalised racism within the police force.
But make no mistake, if you’re white, you are born privileged. If you’re white, you need to listen, to learn, and to understand how deep this privilege runs. So deep, we aren’t even aware of it, we don’t even see it. Every time you smile uncomfortably at that racist joke or off-hand comment, you are engaging that privilege and you are doing so to the detriment of those who don’t have it.
If you’re white, you need to remember, we are all accountable, every moment of every day.
If you’re struggling with how to tackle issues of racism and white privilege there are tons of resources available to help you. Here’s an article from Katie Couric with some great ones to get you started: https://medium.com/wake-up-call/a-detailed-list-of-anti-racism-resources-a34b259a3eea