Finding my way in the #BlackLivesMatter movement

The below is taken from my June 2020 newsletter. I send out a newsletter once a month to subscribers in which I talk about what I’m up to with my writing and discuss topics I feel are important. If you’d like to be included in my newsletter, go to rebeccastonehill.com and pop your email address in on the right hand side.

TODAY, A STORY.

One summer’s day in 1959 in the US’s segregated South, a nine year old black boy visits his local library. He has a passion for airplanes and wants nothing more than to be a pilot. He also wants to be able to check out a library book under his own name, but he knows this isn’t allowed. Only white people can check books out. He can’t find any children’s books with kids who look like him, so he heads to the shelves about machines, chooses a few then walks to the checkout desk.

A kindly older lady offers to check the books out for him as she knows it’s not possible for him, but the young boy shakes his head. He lays his books on the counter and waits for the librarian to acknowledge him, but she doesn’t even look at him. So he jumps up on to the countertop and asks again politely. Mouths drop floor-wards, people gasp and stare and the boy’s mother is called in. Even the police arrive, trying to reason with him. But with all the fury of his nine year old righteous indignation, he states that the rule is unfair. Why can white folk check books out but he can’t?  I have a nine year old son myself and I feel this child’s indignation in every bone of my body. This event took place 61 years ago but, of course, the same event (and let’s call it what it is: racism) has played out millions of times in different versions and intensities the globe over before and since then.

The head librarian, a middle-aged white woman, stares at the young boy long and hard, this voracious reader whom she has seen countless times in the library. And she knows exactly what she must do. She vanishes into a back office before re-appearing moments later with a library card with the boy’s name on it. And she checks the books out for him.

This nine year old child was Ronald McNair who grew up to become an astronaut and perished on the ill-fated mission of the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1986. As we have watched the repercussions of the murder of George Floyd play out all over the world this past fortnight, pain from past events resurfacing and that hunger, that need for change, I have thought about this story again and again. How many millions of others have been held back, who have not lived the lives they deserve or have dreamt of just because they were not born into a white body?

And I realised that it’s not enough anymore for me to simply not be racist. I need to be anti-racist, and not only anti-racist, but actively and pro-actively anti-racist. I need to be that librarian who stood up and said, This is wrong. I’ve been reflecting on my white privilege more in the past few weeks than I ever have done in my life: it’s a slap in the face and a long overdue wake up call. I’m still figuring how best to stand in more outspoken solidarity with people who were not born with this Caucasian privilege that, in the words of Margo Jefferson in her memoir, Negroland, ‘…lounges and saunters, drapes itself casually about…’

I’m not there yet, but the journey has begun in earnest. Books are my go-to, and I will certainly be buying more books by authors of colour and doing the same for my children. But that, of course, is not enough.  As I seek to understand what I can do personally, I am also asking myself some uncomfortable questions about my own biases and how these have helped – unwittingly – to perpetuate injustice.

I’d love to hear from you and know what’s been going on for you while all these events around race have been taking place?


Ronald McNair with his son

From the blog:

A peek into my work in progress, The River Days of Rosie Crow.

What I’m reading:

The Long Petal of the Sea is written by Isabel Allende, the Chilean author whose first novel, The House of the Spirits, inspired me to write my first book, The Poet’s Wife. This story is also set in the Spanish War, charting the journey of Republican war refugees to Chile only to find themselves, years later, embroiled in a military coup. 

Music I’m listening to:

Black Rage by Lauren Hill

This #BlackLivesMatter version of Lauren Hill’s music video is not the most comfortable of viewing, but there’s never been a more important time to feel that discomfort.

Quote I’m pondering:

May I prove myself worthy of the work ahead. May you hold me accountable. May we create space for an ever widening circle of redemptive white embarrassment and guilt and capacity to transform. For the point of speaking together differently is to live together differently.’

Krista Tippett, American Journalist and Author and one of the best damn podcasters out there (On Being)

Rebecca Stonehill
2 replies
  1. sustainablemum
    sustainablemum says:

    Thank you for sharing this story.

    I am so grateful to you for bringing Krista Tippett’s podcast to my attention. I love it, along with Tara Brach which you also recommended to me. I have been listening to Code Switch to broaden my knowledge and understanding of what is behind the black lives matter movement.

    On a completely different note I wondered if you have heard of the Slightly Foxed podcast, I feel it might appeal to you.

    Reply
    • Rebecca Stonehill
      Rebecca Stonehill says:

      Ah that’s great. I’m so pleased you’ve enjoyed Tara & Krista, aren’t they brilliant? And thanks for mentioning Code Switch & Slightly Foxed, I’m not familiar with either of those. I’m always looking for great podcasts while I’m tackling mountains of washing up!! 😉

      Reply

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