I wrote this some months ago, and finally decided to put it up. Then a close relative died. It has a few more layers of meaning for me now.
A relative of mine died in February. We were sent a very nice letter of condolence from the aged care home in which he had lived. In our culture, we don’t say ‘I’m sorry for your loss’ when someone has died. It’s hard, when someone says that, with feeling, with care, and I don’t know how to say, I wish you weren’t. At the bottom of this letter, it says the usual thing, but, immediately before, ‘we extend the traditional greetings’. I am not sure if this was a marking out of the proper thing to say as being proper, or simply an additional sentiment. I think it is the former.
I don’t know how to deal with that. I don’t know why we have to translate ourselves back to ourselves.
We’ve gotten so absorbed in whiteness, because we’ve had to. There is white at our weddings, and there are black and ‘sorry for your loss’ at our funerals. There are bright pink dresses for our girls, and blue outfits for our boys, and they are rewarded for being born with a surname given them by their father, which, back and back, was given him by some white men who didn’t like the ways we marked out our families. This is normative now, and we have to keep translating to retain our own culture. We have to relearn it and remind ourselves of it in ways we don’t have to keep relearning white cultural norms, because whiteness is pushed on to us even to these major and sacred parts of our lives.
It’s bad enough to have to explain ourselves to white people at every turn, pull out our fascinating foreign culture. But having to keep explaining ourselves to ourselves, because there is the risk that the whole thing soon might not be real, if we let it, if we keep being made to participate in one culture at the expense of our source and heart…
We are moved to a distance from ourselves with every death and birth and wedding.