“Mom!” he screamed.
I ran to the bathroom to find my 5-year-old son standing in a bubble-filled bathtub.
“My penis is stinging,” he winced.
Thoughts popped up and burst in my mind:
Stinging penis? Well, I’m assuming that he doesn’t have a STD. What do I do? Should a penis sting? Do penises even sting? Is he just looking for attention (he is the baby after all, and is my attention-seeking child). This boy is trippin.
“It’s stinging – how, Baby?” I inquired.
I can’t remember what he said, but whatever his answer was, it left me equally perplexed.
“Let me call you father,”
My husband explained over the phone that soap can sometimes get inside and cause a stinging sensation. I didn’t get it, but I went with it and had my son rinse his penis in water as my husband instructed.
Really, I thought? Approximately 50% of the world have penises, most use soap, and I ain’t never heard of such? But guess what, while I have many friends and family members with penises, have had very close relations with a few penises – I don’t have one. My 5-year-old can speak much more intelligently and meaningfully about a penis — especially his penis — than I can. He is the expert and so I must listen to and respect his feelings about his penis.
Similarly, I really NEED White people to stop thinking that they can inform Black people on what should and should not offend us. You haven’t been Black for one day; therefore you are unqualified to speak about our feelings (regardless of whether you have a good Black friend or even a Black spouse). To suggest that you know what should and should not hurt us, is in itself offensive and patriarchal.
While an incident may be inoffensive to you; it would be most conducive to race relations to listen, to consider, and to respect the differences in people. What may please some, may not please others. What may offend some; may not offend others. Nothing has ever caused me a stinging sensation in the bathtub; but I couldn’t dismiss my son’s pain anymore than I would want him, my husband or any other male to be dismissive of menstrual cramps.
Jenna Bush’s recent comment in which she combined the titles of the two Black movies – “Hidden Figures” and “Fences”) into “Hidden Fences” was, indeed, offensive to many Black people. The intelligent response is to try to understand why.
We all make mistakes, and I certainly do not think that Ms. Bush intended to offend anyone; but that does not absolve her from fault or moot some Black people’s reactions. Ms. Bush’s mistake, was rooted in years of disassociation with and an absence of appreciation for Black people. Black people were a “them”, like an exhibit at the zoo: the tigers, lions and then the Blacks. Ms. Bush probably never saw Black people as varied, complex or individual; but rather as an amorphous group—unworthy of particular attention. This is not her fault per se; but a real result of her life and upbringing.
This “grouping” reflex is not unusal. My Korean girlfriend has been asked to translate Japanese, to recommend a good Chinese restaurant, and about her family’s feelings about the Vietnam war. Obviously, she isn’t being truly seen as an individual, but only a part of a group—the Asians. When you work from a place of power, privilege and superiority, you aren’t forced or compelled to pay attention to the “others”. Hence, the others are made to feel invisible. This isn’t a “White” thing necessarily; but a human thing (White people simply more often come from a place of power or privilege).
Imagine you work at an IT company. The company is 98% male, employing only you and two other females. Oftentimes when your boss (whose primary job is to know and to manage his employees), addresses you, he calls you by one of the other women’s names. You have been working exhaustive hours in order to highlight your strengths and hopefully get promoted. At the company’s quarterly meeting, you make an impressive presentation to the entire company. At the end, your boss comes over, shakes your hand and says, “Great Job, Margaret.” Your name is Tracy.
Black people have long felt invisible and were made to be almost invisible during slavery and Jim Crow (do your work but don’t be seen or heard). Ironically, that theme is addressed in the two movies, Ms. Bush confused: Hidden Figures and Fences. America would have never made it into space without the help of Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan, who were featured in the film, Hidden Figures; yet we never learned about them until now, while we’ve long since heard about John Glenn and Alan Shepard. They’ve been acknowledged in history books, National days, streets names, etc. Similarly, the characters in Fences struggle to make it in a world where a Black man has few chances to “make it.”
Both movies tell our story. They speak to our pain. It’s ours to feel and speak about. And it’s shameful that some would attempt to silence it as we’ve already been silenced far too long.