Sorry, Savillah: a letter from a privileged white girl to the black community

Subject: Sorry, Savillah: a letter from a privileged white girl to the black community
From: anonymous
Date: 7 Jul 2015

Sorry, Savillah.

Sorry that I don't even know if that's how you spell your name. The "h" may be an unnecessary flourish, born out of an incidental guilt that I don't even fully understand. I'm sure I have many apologies to make for innumerable mistakes in my life, and they will all come in time. But in light of recent events, the precipitators of which should have been addressed long ago, I have a monumental "I'm sorry."
Savillah, you were my mother's "maid" when she was young. You were not a live-in maid, you would have only spent the night if there was a cataclysmic event- birth, death, etc...You were tall, skinny, wore a simple "house-frock", eye-glasses, and- oh, yeah... you were black.
Well, wait- I know you were black, but the rest? That's my imagination. As far as I know. You see, you were spoken of often in our home, often enough that I formed a picture of you in my mind. And you were spoken of fondly, albeit with a sort of head shaking, tongue clucking caveat, as in: "That Savillah. Great housekeeper, couldn't boil water." Interesting! One stereotype perpetuated, one challenged. But it goes so much deeper than that. So much.
My mother is gone. I'm almost sure you are as well. I never thought to ask details while she was alive, and now I can't. I considered contacting my last surviving aunt on her side and my older cousins for fact-finding, and still may for my own future purpose. But for my current purpose, I decided that details weren't important, and that fact-finding might even muddy waters that must stay as pure as possible.
Pretending that us/them doesn't exist is unproductive. The sets and sub-sets would make a dizzying diagram: black/white, male/female, gay/straight, educated/uneducated, rich/poor- intersections of each vs. intersections of others. For myself and my family, I believe that it is how one processes and reacts to us/them that makes or breaks character. And ultimately, that the only us/them that is intrinsically valuable is quite simple: good/bad.
For the purpose of this apology, I am a white, middle class gal representing-as far as I know- myself. You, Savillah, for the same purpose, represent a large group of individuals that share race in common, because that's how it came to me.

I am sorry.

I am sorry that in the infancy of our country, people who considered themselves God-fearing people somehow thought it was morally sound to capture, miserably abuse, and enslave other human beings. Yes, I know that it has happened since the dawn of man and often within the same race, but I am talking about OUR relatively young nation and a horrific, widespread illness born of evil that has been anything but cured.
I am sorry that I have no idea if my family owned slaves- I believe my parents families became citizens too recently, but reason tells me it doesn't really matter. I am still sorrier than I could ever say or show.
I am sorry that even after being emancipated, black people have been segregated and mistreated and tortured and killed because of their race.
I am sorry that there are people in our current society who have actually uttered the words; "I don't believe racism really exists anymore." I have heard them, and I can only assume you have too. Hard to digest at best.
I am sorry that I still stumble over whether to say "Black" or "African-American", but common sense tells me that my hesitation comes from the fact that among your race there are varying opinions and philosophies, as you are not a lump sum any more than any other race is.
I'm sorry that I will never know the feeling of being suspect simply based on the color of my skin. At least not in the de-humanizing way that your race has endured and continues to endure. Who knows, someday I may, but as of now I have no true understanding of the depth of that corruption.
I am sorry that there are plenty of people who do not object loudly enough in the presence of racial slurs. I am truly sorry that I have been that person.
I am sorry that people exist who don't understand that "reverse-racism" is, pointedly, a racist and inaccurate term- but more importantly, as understood by the ignorant, not comparable. It is ugly, and it is destructive, but it can't rival the kind of institutionalized, pervasive, widely accepted bigotry that the black race has endured.
I am so sorry that some frighteningly shallow people say: "They can call each other the 'n-word' but we can't call them that?" This makes me laugh and get angry at the same time, if only for the fact that again- there is a wide variety of opinions within the black community, and many different levels of passion surrounding the debate depending on the individual, and I'm not sure at all where I stand on it, but wait.... It's none of my business! If certain factions of black culture wish to take a word aggressively foisted upon them, and which represents hate and evil, and demystify and mock and take away its ugly power, who am I to protest?
I'm very sorry, Savillah, that many of the same sort will also say something as ridiculous as "But you can call us 'honkey' and 'cracker'?"
Has any white person actually felt threatened by either of those words? Has any white person ever felt a deep-seated rage built over generations in defense of oneself and ones family/loved ones past and present and future because of the words "honkey" and "cracker"?


I am sorry, Savillah, that there are for some reason a great many people with whom I have been associated who hold etiquette very dear, yet didn't see a need to impart these things to people of your race, not to mention others who were and are in a position of service. I'm sorry that you probably called my grandmother by her surname and she most likely called you by your first name, even though you may have been her peer or her elder. I am sorry that it's likely no-one asked you if the children should call you by your surname even though you were most certainly their elder. After all, a position of service is a respectable job and people of service should be treated with the same respect as anyone else doing their job.
I'm sorry that some people don't know how inherently backward and sick the phrase "she was treated very well" is. On what planet is the alternative acceptable?
Yes, I know, our planet.
I'm sorry.

I hope it's alright with you that I tell my children that minorities who have achieved what is widely considered success in this society deserve a bit more credit, not because of capability but because in many cases they have had to overcome that much more. I'm sorry if it's not o.k., and would be happy to be corrected.
I hope it's alright that I have taught my children that oppression, of really anyone, is in direct opposition to a very basic Christian doctrine, "the last shall be first." Not because anyone is inferior to another, but because someone who is perceived as less fortunate is probably someone who can teach you plenty and also an opportunity to learn and convey compassion, rather than an opportunity to overpower or oppress.
I'm sorry if I forgot anything. The recent events that pushed this apology along are still unfolding and still being processed by a broken, grieving, searching nation.
I'm sorry this apology is so poorly worded and scattered and frenetic. Being articulate wasn't as important as being genuine at this point.
I'm sorry for any mistakes made out of ignorance or passion. I would, again, be happy to be corrected. Hopefully in the same spirit in which I say:

I'm sorry.