On Tuesday evening there was a vigil on the parade grounds overlooking the harbor to mourn the death of George Floyd and come together as a community, quietly and peacefully. Jess and Meghan organized it. Jess, who is kind of shy, began by admitting that in college (13 years ago I think she said) when a professor trying to explain what we now know as white privilege asked the mostly liberal well-meaning Ivy Leaguers to pretend they were shopkeepers and had just been robbed, and then held up two pictures and asked them to quickly pick which one was the likely culprit- the white guy or the black guy– her first reflex was the black man. It must have been so hard to speak that truth. She cried. She is very brave. And don’t those of us on the white side of this divide have to acknowledge our own complicity in the way things are?
Then we stood or sat on the cold windy field for eight minutes and forty six seconds, praying or thinking about her words with attention and intention. It was a long time to be so still. A long time not to have a change of heart.
Jess said we have to keep learning and also un-learning.
People spoke– Two Native men, white women, a black woman, a white man. I could see one of the two police officers that was there, not in uniform, his head bowed as he listened to the pain and anger in some of the voices.
I am worried that I have said the wrong things in relaying this to you. But I think it’s important to try, for the sake of my brown grandchildren and my pink grandchildren. I want their world to be fairer before they are grandparents. That’s not too much to ask or expect.
I know two wise grandmothers that taught me a lot about the trauma that has been inflicted on Alaska Natives and Native Americans in particular. Let me rephrase that. Racism isn’t some academic issue –it is deeply personal– and so are their stories and that is what makes them stick in my soul.
I have learned much from Alaska State Writer Laureate Ernestine Hayes thanks to her memoirs Blonde Indian and The Tao of Raven. A novel that is a perfect companion to Ernestine’s story is Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich.(If you haven’t read it already– and if not, once you do, you will want to read all of her books.)