There is Only Us

by Naomi Raquel Enright

Hello friends,

There are some people whose writing makes me head to the superlatives section of my personal dictionary. Naomi Raquel Enright is one of those. I've long been impressed with her ability to lead me to think differently via a well-turned phrase.

It was one such online interaction that led to this excellent and evocative piece which provides much food for thought on identity, privilege and more for anyone in a multi-heritage family. This is a conversation we should be having. I'd love to hear your thoughts once you've read it...

“There is Only Us” by Naomi Raquel Enright

There are white people and there is everyone else. You are either white or you are not.

These are “facts” that most people accept. Most people do not pause to reflect on what this binary signifies and the repercussions it has. For most of my life I, too, did not question or challenge this binary. I did not question this binary - and the repercussions of it - until I became a mother.

The “racial” binary of this society is intentional and purposeful. It was created to justify and maintain our society’s unspoken caste system.

In 2010, I gave birth to a son - my only child - who was born with blond hair, blue/green eyes and light skin. No one would ever look at my son and think he might have a brown-skinned mother. He is now 13-years-old and people still assume I am his caretaker. People do not even entertain the possibility of our relationship being biological, let alone that we could be mother and son.

My son’s hair has darkened over the years, he tans easily, has thick, full lips (identical to my own), and almond-shaped eyes (identical to my eye shape), but his skin color indicates to others that he is white.

Where does my son fit into the notion that you are either white or you are not? Where does my family fit into this binary? The fact is that we do not fit into it - and we are not alone.

The “racial” binary of this society is intentional and purposeful. It was created to justify and maintain our society’s unspoken caste system. A caste system where whiteness equates protection, privilege and power, and where blackness and brownness equate marginalization, disenfranchisement and criminalization.

Antiracism relies on this binary, which until motherhood, I did not realize is counterintuitive and counterproductive to dismantling racist inequity. To rely on, and thus to perpetuate a “racial” binary, is the antithesis of what antiracism requires. Antiracism requires that we unearth the rotten seeds of white supremacy, anti-blackness and systemic racism, and that we refuse to replant them.

Maintaining a “racial” binary is replanting the rotten seeds of our system. To begin the work of antiracism from an “us and them” standpoint is anathema to functioning differently. We must function differently if we are to envision a society that does not attach value to skin color. The lies of whiteness and inherent racial difference were created to justify an oppressive and inhumane system. In order to dismantle that system, we cannot continue to give life to the lies at its foundation.

Ever since my son has been in the world, I have realized how entrenched our society is in the lies of whiteness and inherent racial difference. The very language we use upholds the lie that our skin color equates definer, separator and affinity. I cannot abide by this language because not only does it erase my family, but it teaches my son that the privilege, protection and power he experiences in the world is natural and unchangeable.

We must function differently if we are to envision a society that does not attach value to skin color.

How can we teach children to recognize and dismantle racist inequity while simultaneously teaching them that “race” is immutable and real? The answer is that we cannot and I have spent the last 13+ years of motherhood pondering how to teach my son to challenge racist inequity while simultaneously rejecting its ethos.

Now that my son is an adolescent, I am seeing the fruits of my labors. My son does not attach value to skin color, he does not see himself as separate from Black and brown-skinned people and he understands that racism is injurious to humanity as a whole. My son also understands that to challenge a system, we must name it. My son rarely, if ever, uses the language of race. He, when discussing identity, uses “culture” or “ethnicity” and when discussing racist inequity, he uses “white supremacy” or “anti-blackness.” His ability not to conflate who people are with how our system functions is exactly what all of us should be learning to do.

In order for systemic racism, white supremacy and anti-blackness - casteism - to thrive there had to be a justification and what better way to justify inequity than to claim it is innate and immutable? White people are not only inherently different from Black and brown-skinned people, but the privilege, protection and power they experience in the world is intrinsic. This is how our racist system came to be. And as long as we perpetuate the myth, the reality will not change.

His ability not to conflate who people are with how our system functions is exactly what all of us should be learning to do.

I have had a lifelong passion for examining, understanding and challenging racism, born out of my existence as a bilingual, multiethnic, multi citizenship individual. I belong to American and Ecuadorian societies, I have two native languages, and I have always understood that affinity is more than our covering. Even, so, however, I too accepted the lie that there are white people and there is everyone else. I accepted it until motherhood forced me to dig deeper.

As a mother, I felt almost desperate to ensure that my presumed to be white son would not identify solely as white based on his physical appearance. I felt anxiety knowing that he would be received very differently in the world than I am. And I felt determined to teach my son that he is more than this system would have him believe he is. We are all more than this system would have us believe we are.

Many people, including fellow antiracist educators, reject my work, wrongly assuming that I am advocating for colorblindness and kindness as measures to dismantle racist inequity. That could not be further from the truth. Neither colorblindness nor kindness will dismantle racism, but neither color-consciousness nor a binary ideology will dismantle it either. To me it is very clear that much of the methodology to dismantle racist inequity in truth only corroborates it.

I am the mother of one child, but I think what my family and I have been able to achieve with my son speaks volumes about what can be achieved with all children. My son has learned from both sides of his family that despite his presumption of whiteness, he is multiethnic and that how people see him does not necessarily correspond to who he is.

Neither colorblindness nor kindness will dismantle racism, but neither color-consciousness nor a binary ideology will dismantle it either.

Ultimately, this is the truth of all human beings, regardless of skin color. As children learn about how our racist system functions, they must be taught new ways to challenge it, all the while understanding that we are in this work together. Yes, my son is more privileged, protected and empowered in the world than I am, but he knows how wrong that is, and he is part of the movement to defy the racist status quo.

My son defies the racist status quo by identifying with the totality of his heritage. He defies the racist status quo by claiming his Spanish name - he has never acquiesced to the American spelling and pronunciation. My son defies the racist status quo by being bilingual - a native English and Spanish speaker. He defies the racist status quo by naming the system and by seeing himself in Black and brown-skinned people.

Recently, my family and I were on vacation at a resort in the Southwest, where I was able to see in action the values my son has learned at home about racism and identity. My presumed to be white son, of his own accord, observed that most of the patrons of the resort were white and that many of the employees of the resort were not. He spoke to me about it - in Spanish - saying that he was startled to see how little ethnic diversity there was amongst the guests and how much that bothered him.

When choosing who to hang out with at the resort, he was drawn to a Black peer, who, coincidentally, was also from Brooklyn. My son, perhaps because he is a New Yorker, perhaps because he is bilingual and multiethnic, was drawn to this kid in a way so many white (or presumed to be white) kids might not be. His world - social and academic - reflects that ethnic and linguistic diversity are the norm and that we do not know who anyone else is based on the exterior.

The lessons we are taught in this society about who is who remain largely unquestioned and unchallenged. It is in the questioning and challenging of these lessons that true social and systemic change can be achieved.

I now know that there are not only white people and everyone else. There is only us.

Author bio: Naomi Raquel Enright is a writer, educator and consultant based in Brooklyn, NY. She is also a National SEED (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity) Facilitator and a New York Appleseed board member.

Thanks for reading,

Sharon

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I am an anti-racism educator and activist, Co-Founder of Mission Equality, the author of “I’m Tired of Racism”, and co-host of The Introvert Sisters podcast.

© Sharon Hurley Hall, 2024. All Rights Reserved. This newsletter is published on beehiiv (affiliate link)

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