A letter from my husband.
On Saturday morning, the morning after I posted, ‘I am Black’, to my surprise, my husband handed me a hand-written letter.
I am sharing this letter with you (with my husband’s permission) because I believe this is part of what ‘doing the work’ is, ownership, openness and humility.
We have been married for 15 years, and he has a view into how I experience the world, as a black woman, and we have, many conversations about race.
He was also the lead barrister on the Tanya Day case, (the most recent aboriginal death in custody) so he has a view from ‘inside the system’ as well as inside our home.
My intuition is to share this with you, I decided not to spend time thinking about all the reasons not to share it, so here it is, my wish is that it gives you insight, learning, reflection and questions about how you experience the world.
My dear Kemi,
I am, always have been, and always will be, White.
People see me and immediately know that I can be trusted, believed, adored; that I am worthy of attention; that I am one of the club, the family; that they can be candid, can tell the old-school jokes; that I can keep secrets; that I am one who belongs to the real order automatically; that I sailed the seas, and conquered, and slaved, and earned my place, with them, at the top; that I deserve, genetically, or by God-given right, to belong with them in the middle, at the top, in the right suburbs, at the right schools, in Parliament, and the Courts, and the Clubs; that I am suitable, appropriate, necessary; that I belong anywhere; that I can do everything or anything, or not as I choose; that I am right, able, authoritative.
And all of that from one glance, one impression, just of how I look.
What a valuable gift! A magic charm which gives me so much, just when people see me for a moment, a glance.
How easy it is to believe that I am entitled to that gift, like Smaegol (Gollum) who, over long dark years with only his own conscience to guide him, came to believe that the Ring had been given to him as a birthday present, when in truth he murdered its rightful owner, his friend Daegol, and took it in blood.
I have heard since birth a soft and soothing lullaby — you are so right and good; you deserve everything that comes your way; the world is your oyster, and the pearls inside are yours. Can you imagine how nice it is to hear that song, to see what the world has to offer, and to know that I am entitled to it, that I deserve it, to see what people are prepared to give me, what society is prepared to afford me, just because of who I am?
And so, like Prince Siddhartha, I wandered the world and saw that all was right and good … until, one day, I saw behind the set, I heard through the lullaby, that great discordant cry of grief, which was at first so ugly and uncomfortable to my ears — the song of the cost of my gift.
Because the gift of Whiteness is not given, it is not deserved, and it is not free. Like Smaegol, I have learned, and taught myself to believe, that my place in the world was a gift, which I deserved.
But then I heard the song of truth, which sings that the princely power of Whiteness was not a gift, is not a gift, but something that was taken, and continues to be taken, in blood; that was and is taken without consent. That Whiteness is the spoil of an ongoing crime that comprises all other crimes, and dwarfs them in its magnitude; a crime that is worse because it is sanctioned by the Law, by Parliaments, and Courts, and Banks, and Stock Exchanges and Cathedrals, and Media; all these sing the lullaby with a deafening, blanketing volume.
But not loudly, or unceasingly, enough to prevent a pure note from penetrating through. I heard that other song at night in Tenant Creek, so far from Parliaments, Banks and Skyscrapers, as I lay in our caravan, looked up at the ancient stars, and listened to the keening cries of grief, of loss, of trauma, cries of rage at what was taken, in blood and rape, when my great, great grandparents were already building lives further east and south on the plunder and spoils.
I have never heard that song more truly, it has never seemed more urgent or true, then when you have sung it to me.
I cannot give back what has been given to me because of my Whiteness, because that has already been taken.
But I promise you this: I will do whatever I can to not be silent while the lullaby continues; I will do what I can to raise and amplify the voices singing the song of truth; and in my own awkward way (awkward because I have been raised on the lullaby, and it is the only song I really know), I will try to sing the wrong notes, to squawk or shout, to disharmonies, to try to create dissonance, anything but unison or silence, in the hope that I, and others, can tune into the lullaby, and realise it is a song, not the truth, and then, I hope, listen for those other songs which tell us, “This was taken, not given; this is wrong, not right.”
And I promise you also that within our marriage, and within our home, I will always listen to you if you tell me that I am singing the lullaby, and that I will believe you, because you can hear it for what it is, in a way I will never be able to do.
All my love,