In a quiet, lush part of the land, there lived a one-roomed house. There were no windows, but there was a door. In the middle of the door, shining with invitation, was a polished letterbox.
The house was on the right side of the street (always the left), among similar dwellings and those not the same. Its roof boasted a thatch harvested from the land in which it grew; strong and thick in most places. Chocolate box style. It was a very safe house.
Its white walls housed a family who existed within; part of its fabric.
As with most square things, they were a family of four: Exile, the baby of the family; Eff, the firefighter and protector of the whole house and Exec, the ever efficient manager and go-between, holding them all together. Oh, and Truth. Truth wasn’t responsible for anything, really. It just was.
‘Yes,’ Truth says, ‘I Am.’
Not all things make sense.
One morning, Exile cried out in dismay. ‘I can hear shouting! Outside! I don’t like it! It scares me!’
Exec thought she should go and see. Eff began to bristle. It wasn’t just fires she fought. She rolled up her sleeves quickly to deal with anything that made the baby scared. Act fast was her motto.
Exec went to the door and gingerly peered through the letterbox. ‘They’re angry,’ she reported. ‘Someone has said something nasty and untrue and mean, and they are furious.’
‘Too right,’ said Eff, checking on Exile and feeling troubled at the fear she saw there. ‘We can’t be having that!’
‘The guilty one is sort of saying sorry. But it looks like they aren’t listening. They’re still fuming!’
The anger was like a storm, loud and black. Thunder roared, and the rain lashed down.
Truth pricked up its ears.
‘Tell them to stop!’ shouted Exile, hands over her ears. ‘Tell them to stop it! I hate it! It scares me! She’s sorry – be nice now!’ She ran to the letterbox and yelled out, ‘Stop it! You’re mean! Be nice! I hate the fighting.’
Across the street, a letterbox snapped open. It belonged to a house whose thatch struggled in the downpour. A voice called out across the street, ‘Who are you to say that? Who made you the judge of our anger?’
‘You’re hurting people!’ the child raged back. And banged the letterbox shut. ‘It’s loud! Tell it to calm down!’ she ordered the others. She would not be soothed.
‘I’m going to do them!’ intervened Eff. ‘I don’t like Baby upset.’ She paced and breathed and fumed and banged. Exec fretted. She loved peace and order and could see this was counterproductive.
The turmoil meant that nobody could think.
So, Exec opened the letterbox to call across the road. ‘See sense’, she tried to soothe. ‘Play nice. Everyone makes mistakes’ The rain stopped briefly to listen, only to continue with unabated abandon.
Letterboxes flew open across the street, spilling light into the dark. ‘How dare you tell us to calm down! You can not understand.’
‘How dare we?!’ wailed Exile. ‘How dare we? How dare they! I’m a good girl!’ Pouting, she flumped, indignantly, into a comfy chair.
‘It’s alright, Baby,’ soothed Eff. ‘It’s not you – you are a very good girl.’
‘Wah!’ wailed Exile. She stomped her feet and banged her fist.
‘There, there.’ soothed Eff. ‘They’re horrible, and I’ll fix it – don’t you worry about that.’ She knew her words were empty but did not know what else to say.
Exec wrung her hands and looked at Truth, perplexed. Truth knew, said nothing and waited.
CLATTER CLACK! Something plopped onto the mat. A package! A package with something for the house. A book of brown leather, ragged and scarred; salty wet – possibly from the rain. It was from across the road. It read:
Look deeper. Your privileged roof protects you from the rain and thunder. Ours doesn’t. The rain will grow the grain so that we can all build roofs. The thunder will clear the air. The discomfort you feel is not for this. You can’t sit in your dry home and bleat about the misery of the rain. Can’t you see? You are protected from this.
‘You’re safe, Exile,’ Exec said. ‘Your fear is not this fear.’
The baby listened and sobbed. She indeed feared the anger. And began to see the discomfort she felt had no right to belong to this. Perhaps something else. She quieted, hung her head and sucked her thumb.
Truth sat with the family until the storm did its job and the sun rose in the East.
I’ve written this fable as a way of processing my reaction to POC’s frustration and anger – that I don’t, can’t, fully understand. Using the internal family system (IFS) model can help us pick our way through discomfort, anger and fear. Reflection using art and symbolic thought is necessary when making sense of unconscious drives and psychodynamic processes. They’re hidden and buried, so it follows that they can’t be understood through rational means.
The IFS model is similar to other systems used to help describe what goes on inside us: Freud’s Id, Ego and Superego; Transactional Analysis’ Parent, Adult and Child and the Karpman drama triangle of Victim, Persecutor and Rescuer are similar examples. Leaning into any tripod point will lead to justification and false collective safety. You need to be aware when they take over your thought. I also add a fourth: Truth. For me, this is God; for you, it may be Brahman, Brahma, Christ, Allah, Life, Om, Reality, Love,The Universe, even The Force (for you Star Wars fans) – it’s that bit we can’t name, yet sense is there.
I wrote this fable to explore my kneejerk reactions after being signposted to ‘White Tears, Brown Scars: How White Feminism Betrays Women of Colour’ (Ruby Hamad).
And God, it made me think.
It made me realise how empty my being sorry was. It made me see where I had been inadvertently talking from my privileged viewpoint. This hurt me deeply as I am a champion of the underprivileged. Raised on the social in a council flat complete with Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) I just about have enough fingers to count on, I pride myself on being one of the people. It knocked me to realise I am one of the privileged. I can’t even say the word without curling my lip.
And I’m sorry. And grateful, to see this. It’s early days, but I feel the beginning of a spark whose flames can only be fanned by Truth.
If you can resonate with this and are as confused as I was (am), you might find the IFS model helpful.
When and where are your child and protectors striving to keep harmful and unnecessary inner peace? Lean into the discomfort for all our sakes.
Atonement requires more than saying sorry. In the faith of my childhood, confession is part of the process. I want to confess something even though my inner child is saying no. It’s afraid of being seen as bad, and my protector is fearful of a backlash. My executive is saying there is no need, let sleeping dogs lie. But Truth nods. So here’s an illustration:
When the children were little, we took them to Disneyland, Paris. It was its 25th anniversary and a real treat. Princess and the Frog had just come out, and I loved it. My daughter loved it. I love championing the underdog, and I loved how Tiana worked hard to make her own life. A lot like me. I noticed there was no Tiana in the Disney lineup. This made me feel like a good girl for being so aware. How woke! My inner child wanted me to make sure other people knew that. So, I asked a member of staff where Tiana was. Not just any member of staff, mind you; I sought out one of colour.
One of colour. Almost with a wink of solidarity. Let that sink in.
And God, People of Colour, I’m sorry.