I won’t tell you how long it took me to write the post; I write fast, and this was even faster than usual. I’ll only say that it came out of my anger and frustration at the situation in Ferguson, at the ugliness I saw on my Facebook feed, at the denial that all of us white people share some guilt in systemic racism. So I pounded out “A Mother’s White Privilege,” which boils down to this: my white kids get passes. Your black kids don’t.
“The last line is too much,” my husband said.
“I don’t care,” I said.
At the time, I wrote a small mommy/babywearing blog with approximately 500 followers. I’d dipped my toes into race issues before, but most of my traffic came from baby carrier reviews. I had some politically-minded friends who followed my blog because, well, they felt obligated, and I think that’s how my post began to go viral.
Before that, my top post count had hit 500 in one day. The next day, I hit 1,000. Then 10,000. I got an email that my site was down, and spent a frantic Sunday morning buying more bandwidth the day my traffic hit 100,000. It was a blogger’s dream. It helped that Ferguson was a hot news story, and people felt a sense of impotent rage over the shooting of yet another unarmed black man. And here was a white mother acknowledging, publicly, that she didn’t have the same worries that plagued black mothers. It hit a chord.
I began getting messages that made me cry: women thanking me for acknowledging their reality, and their very real fears that their sons, too, would be shot by the police because the world saw their babies as threats. I got a few of the other emails as well, the kind I won’t give airtime to repeating. They weren’t all Klansman, either. But overwhelmingly, women wrote to thank me over, and over, and over.
First, my now-amazing editor at xoJane contacted me and asked to re-run the piece. Once I picked myself up off the floor, I agreed. Next, the lovely Shannon at mamapedia messaged me asking the same thing. I agreed again, and my piece went out to all of their subscribers. The same day, angels came down, trumpets sang, and the Huffington Post asked to run my piece in their parents section.
Okay, not really. But I really was thinking, at that point, that I needed a dedicated email address. It’s kind of undignified to get Facebook’d by HuffPo.
And then CNN messaged.
Until then, all my correspondence had come through my Facebook account. The network tracked me down that way. I woke up early one morning to a request to appear on a panel with the amazing LZ Granderson – at 11 am EST. It was about 8 o’clock; I have three small kids; I’m a stay-at-home mom.
I had to make some frantic phone calls: first to my husband (“Do it!” he said), then to CNN (“We’ll get you into the local public television studio”, they said), then to a babysitter (“I can take all three”, she said). I had to find clothes, do makeup, pack diaper bags, find earrings – because what the hell does one wear on CNN? But I made it to the studio on time.
The details are pretty boring. I got free bottled water and sat in a chair with a mic clipped to me. I talked about racial harmony and got very, very earnest about the need for white people to realize the deep racial fissures in American society.
A few days later, I got another email from Michele Norris from NPR, who wanted me on All Things Considered. I did that interview at home, over the phone, while pacing the carpet pattern in my living room. I talked about a lot of the same things I did on CNN. I also participated in a twitter party afterwards, which I’d never done, because twitter sort of freaks me out. Luckily, my BFF watched the kids while I did that – and the picture of that is the header of my blog.
In the end, I got a lot more attention for my social justice posts. That’s important to me: writing about race and class means a lot more to me than writing about babywearing. It upped my Facebook fan numbers, though not as drastically as I would have expected.
Most rewardingly, “A Mother’s White Privilege” is now being used in classrooms, which, as a former English teacher, means more to me than I can ever articulate. A Danish press bought rights to use it in their high school textbook; I’ve corresponded with numerous college professors who use the piece to talk about rhetoric and race.
An ex-boyfriend used the piece in his rhetoric class, and at the end of the semester, his all-black class from North Philadelphia brought up the piece again.
“She gets it,” one man said.
The rest of the students nodded. When he told me the story, I cried. Writing is about connection. And somehow, the words I banged out on my computer in the Deep South circled back through wires and bytes and pixels and found a home in a classroom far removed from me – geographically, economically, racially.
But my words meant something to them. And in that, I am deeply humbled.