Remember that story, told ‘round the campfire, of the girl alone in her house who answered the phone to a voice saying ominous things about death and destruction? There was the usual mounting suspense as this person called back several times, until the girl finally rings the operator and discovers, “the call is coming from inside the house”.
I think of this story more often than I’d like to admit. That line takes the wind out of me, a simple utterance that portends immense horror and sets a new story into motion. What happens next is never illuminated, the last line being the punchline to unspeakable fear and shock. There is a moment of stillness and then, time to act.
When my children were still babies and my husband was traveling all the time, I would lie in bed at night mapping my exit strategies from the 2nd floor of the house if I ever awoke to the sounds of someone climbing the stairs. The 3 year old would survive a drop from the balcony better than the 6 month old. Should I jump first and run to the neighbors? What if I jumped with both of them in my arms? Or gathered them into the bathroom and locked the door, calling 911? There is something so sinister about it, so foreboding and foretelling: the danger is inside the house. And all of our locks and alarm systems can’t protect something from coming in if it’s already arrived.
And I thought of this line the other day, with new meaning, when I was noticing again the comments about white women needing to own their shit. Needing to step up and recognize their complicity in the elections of white supremacists. “White women, talk to your sisters. This is your fault.” My fault? How is it my fault if someone is elected in another part of the country where I know no one? How can I be held accountable for something I had no part in? And it popped into my head: the call needs to come from inside the house.
For a narrative to shift dramatically, for the story to jump the rails and elevate to the next level of understanding, the call needs to come from inside the house. This is where the tension is, where the terror lies. And it’s where our national conversation of racism must exist. White women need to be calling each other from inside the home of our whiteness. The urgency from the outside can be held at bay, can be locked outside and ignored. We’re still safe here, inside this guarded home. The operator relaying this information is not saying to the young girl, you are a bad person for having this evil in your home; she is conveying important information for the girl’s survival.
When you are harboring a fugitive of ugliness, these remnants of a dying system with its long, arthritic fingers slowly curling around the door as it peers out from the upstairs hallway, it’s time to act. Take a deep breath and recognize that the home of your whiteness is not a safe place to hide. Hiding here, in ways we see and especially those we don’t, are dangerous for everyone and the planet. And all of us who are realizing this fact must keep making those phone calls to each other. Only then will we escape the danger and find shelter.
These topics continue to be a journey for me and they’re being informed by my desire to be a better philanthropist. In acknowledging that philanthropy is built on a construct of patriarchy and colonialism, I need to look deeply at myself and my role in perpetuating the stereotypes of ‘giver and receiver’. Philanthropy is one of many systems that need to be rebuilt from ‘inside the house’.
If you also find yourself on this philanthropic journey, I highly recommend Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World by Anand Giridharadas, as well as Waking Up White by Debby Irving and So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo. The potential of shifting the narrative is so great, and it’s thrilling (and terrifying!) to be moving past the warning from the operator to the action of doing something about it. If you’re interested in joining me in this inquiry, sign up to receive my latest posts straight to your inbox!