This morning it occurred to me that the trouble was that I was trying to write from Menokin’s perspective instead of my own. With that clarity, I decided that instead, I will share my personal journey through the process of understanding white privilege and how it led me to the truths of the weekend’s conversations.
Let me confess that until very recently, I had never really given the concept of white privilege a second thought. How very white privileged of me! So it will not come as a surprise that it had also never occurred to me, until Michelle Obama gave vocal credit, that enslaved people had built the White House.
Of course they did. The landed gentry of the 18th-century certainly weren’t out in the woods felling trees and turning them into construction timbers and beautifully carved panelling. They weren’t burning their hands baking bricks, or sweating over a hot fire forging nails and hinges.
Their unpaid, enslaved laborers did that work. At the White House, and in Colonial Williamsburg, and at all the grand plantation homes that are so revered as part of our national history. Including Menokin.
The evidence is everywhere. These people were makers. They made houses and bricks. They made nails and hinges. They wove fabric and spun wool. They grew crops and cooked meals for their owners while their own families often went hungry.
I am a maker. I paint and draw. I knit and needle felt. I take pictures. I cook. And I love to share my accomplishments with my friends and family. I enjoy the appreciation of the work I have created with my own hands.
So when I started to really think about the Makers of Menokin and how their voices were silenced, their children sold, their lives and work unappreciated, their history UNTOLD — I got mad.
And the more I think about it, the more I understand today’s anger. We ALL want to be proud of our accomplishments. We all want to share a very personal part of ourselves and be told how beautiful our creations are. We all want to be valued.
When I lead visitors through Menokin now, I share my white-privileged revelation with them. Many of them are guilty of the same. And together we approach the story with an amended view, by thinking and talking about the enslaved people whose hands shaped and carved and constructed an infrastructure that allowed our “little experiment in democracy” a fighting chance at success.
The Menokin Sleepover Conference provided a safe place to have a difficult conversation during a tumultuous time. Frank Vagnone and Joe McGill help lead a diverse but eager group through the landmines.
I am proud of our foundation and its good work. And I will forever be grateful for the opportunity to work in a place and with people who are committed to shining a light into the darkness.