In high school, my older sister played this game with us. She would take off out of the driveway very slowly with the passenger car door open and we’d have to jump in before she drove off. She said, “You have to learn this to be prepared for when the White people come.” Had she only experienced violent White people that she lived her life in fear of them “coming”? No, White people have been our caretakers and loved ones, always. I remember very fondly my hometown in South Dakota and the White people who made it up. They were wonderful people to me and my family. When my dad let me play my newly learned piano for church services the elderly ladies were complimentary and boosted my esteem, even though my talent was miniscule. The leaders in 4-H, gymnastic, Sunday school, Girl Scouts molded me and made sure I learned and had opportunities to excel. I remember the thoughtfulness of the woman who taught me to decorate a cake. And, the gentle guidance of the man who taught me how to use a miter saw. The complimentary applause of the crowd as I completed my first public gymnastic routine. I was a member of the community and treated as such.
Yet, my sister’s jokes were not mere jokes. We really were scared of White people “coming”. While we experienced individual White people who were kind, gentle, caring and meaningful in my life, we also learned the whole of White people was scary and abusive. Our town is less than an hour from Wounded Knee (the 1890 Massacre and the 1973 Federal Injustice). Less than a year after moving there a Native American man was beaten and left for dead behind a bar three blocks from our house. My mom invited her Native American friends to our church and they said they couldn’t attend because White men used to stand at the doors on Sunday and tell them they needed to move on. Everything around me taught me that White people were scary. Not just historically with slavery and the Indian Wars, but because of things witnessed recently. In none of these instances was the violence punished. It was barely even noticed. If conversation about this violence ever happened it was described as history, as just how it was back then. Or, the perpetrator was identified as an individual, separate from his people. The event is his alone, not a reflection of the group.
I learned in grade school, in history class, to fight back my tears. I learned my tears were overreaction and that no one would comfort me. My tears were dismissed because I wasn’t supposed to see the described violence as from the group. I was only supposed to think of the group when I thought of the mentors and caretakers, not when there was violence.
My grade school years were thrown into my face again this weekend. The “coming” that we were afraid of in high school occurred. My tears came as Philando Castile’s death went unpunished. The violence was given credibility. The tears and the protests of the country were described as overreaction. For those who notice the violence, they stumble over themselves pointing out that it wasn’t the group that was violent, it was the individual. The tears go uncomforted.