I went to the Tennessee Williams Festival and listened to four panels, each panel consisted of four speakers – three white speakers and one black speaker. The topics ranged from Storyville, Baby Dolls, Creole Women, The Great Migration to Free People of Color. There were approximately during the entire day about five black people in the audience.
At first I sat next to a woman who told me she was from Wisconsin and had fallen in love with New Orleans and couldn’t believe all the things that were going on in this city, not to mention the fair weather. She said it was the first time she had been away from her kids, her grandkids, and friends and family and she hadn’t given any of them a thought – as a matter of fact, she told me, her husband was in another session as he fancied himself a writer and she didn’t miss him either. She was having a ball. She drew in real close and asked in a very serious manner, “Where are the black people?”
Excuse me, I asked her, what do you mean? She said, “There are no black people here.” And by here she meant at the TWF and I looked around and said, honestly I don’t know. I spoke with a friend of mine later and asked her why it is that for four panels that were covering topics primarily related to people of color, there was hardly a one in the audience to listen. She is African American and has been to the Fest and she said, “I don’t know any of my black friends who have ever gone.”
That remains a mystery considering this literary event is one of the finest in the nation and it draws primarily from the spirit of Tennessee Williams and New Orleans (read: to know New Orleans, you must know history, and to know history, you must know African American history). The same week, I went to a puppet show on Magazine Street that the Waldorf School’s Early Childhood teachers were putting on. I met an African American woman with a small child and we began to speak about the school and about what our needs are for our children. She shared with me that her husband had been adopted into a white family and both of them agree diversity is more important for their child than anything else when it comes to a school.
The she also told me that her husband was a grown up, an adult, before he had been “stopped while being black” in Mississippi and the occurrence had shocked him. He felt betrayed. It had never happened to him in his life and afterwards, he went through the five stages of grief that Elizabeth Kubler-Ross outlined – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. He had to accept that he is black like the rest.
There was an article in the New York Times about Walking While Black in New York just today – isn’t that surprising? Unfortunately, not only is it not surprising but it’s more common than you would believe. So the next time a white parent tells me that there is no reason to speak to their white child about racism because they are a color blind family, I’m going to whip out my list of reasons why they should. Number 1 reason why a white parent should speak to their white child about racism? To end it.