What Are You Gonna Stand For: Donuts or Freedom?

13 Oct

gourmet-donutsI knew it wasn’t cool to, in my texting conversation with my friend Marco, to right after I asked him if he saw Birth Of A Nation the night before, ask if he wanted to meet me in line outside the new gourmet donut shop in our neighborhood. From slave rebellion film to over-priced trendy sweets in one text bubble to the next?

Our neighborhood, Fox Point, in Providence, RI, was a historically diverse one for over a hundred years–one of the first and largest Cape Verdean communities in New England, with people from those islands coming here to live and work in the whaling and shipping industries off of India Point Park, and in nearby New Bedford, Massachusetts.  I learned much about that richness of history and heritage during the I WAS THERE oral history arts integration program a friend and I founded at our daughters’ former elementary school in Fox Point.  Gentrification has forced the majority of Cape Verdean and other ethnic communities out of Fox Point, and as a white person now living here, my presence is a result of that process.

I remember Marco, a Black Studies scholar and community activist, saying some months ago that he’d like to create a reverse gentrification process, whereby Fox Point would be filled once again with the people who used to live, work, and play here. I also remember and let this statement of Marco’s run through my mind constantly as I awaken ever deeper to the facts of how white people have what they have, and Black people have been kept from affluence-building, and all that that brings to one’s life in terms of wealth, education, and career opportunities: It all comes down to property…who owns the property.

The texts continued as I stood in the 1/2 a block-long donut line.

Marco: Who owns the donut shop?  Who owns the property? Do they have any Black people working there? And, I just saw Birth Of A Nation last night..How am I going to be willing to stand in line for a donut, and not be willing to stand in line with my people?

Me: I know…

And, as the following slipped out of my mouth, I couldn’t believe I said it..these words that when I hear them on other white people’s lips, I know they’re being lame..

Me:  It’s a new, small, family-owned business..I think just one woman owns it, and she barely has any employees..

Marco:  That’s what white people always say..”it’s a family-owned business…”

Me:  I know.  Christopher Johnson says he won’t go to places that don’t have any black people working there.  He won’t go to Seven Stars Bakery..

Marco then called me on the phone. while I still stood, inching ever so slowly along, with the cramped line of mostly white young families and college-aged kids patiently waiting for their pumpkin chai donuts.

Marco:  I’m re-reading Satter’s book, Family Properties..again, it’s all about who owns the property..and why is it it takes a white person to write a book about this for people to take note?

Family Properties is a book we read in a social justice book club we’re a part of.  In the book, which is part family history and part urban history, it tells how the “promised land” for thousands of Southern blacks, postwar Chicago, quickly became the most segregated city in the North, the site of the nation’s worst ghettos and the target of Martin Luther King Jr.’s first campaign beyond the South. Satter identifies the true causes of the city’s black slums and the ruin of urban neighborhoods throughout the country: not, as some have argued, black pathology, the culture of poverty, or white flight, but a widespread and institutionalized system of legal and financial exploitation.  (Amazon Book Description)

Me:  I know..and remember we were talking about how someone I, and I think you do too, know, Mark Santow,  was helping to facilitate a Community Safety Act (regarding policing policies) dialogue here on the East Side last week.  Well, he said, that after that event, the mayor jumped right on it, with a meeting about it the next day..I think it’s disgusting that here we are, fifty years later, and it still takes white people on the wealthier side of town for people to listen…

Marco:  Yeah..what would your boyfriend Shaun King think about this? (Marco has been teasing me that activist Shaun King is my boyfriend whenever I share one of his posts on-line) And, how’s the donut line? Are you going to bring me one?

Me: So, what, you won’t come down and get one, but it’s okay to eat donuts made from white hands?…and, the only King I care about is MLK..

Marco: ..well, what are we going to do about this? ..and, FYI, yes, I will eat the donuts, but I will not let my proud Black ass stand in line for them..

Me:  Okay, I’ll see if I can get you one..they have a six donut limit per person..and, I know..we have to break down the systems..

Marco:  How are we going to do this? Are white people going to be willing to do this?

Me:  White people need to do this. I feel like they’re too afraid to give up their privilege…what they have..and I can’t keep saying “they.”  I’m white, so I am part of the “they.”

Marco:  So, what are we going to do?  Black people are the most patient people..we’ve been so patient…

Me:  I don’t know…I don’t know how to do the big stuff…

Marco: I know you’re saying this in a cute…and loving tone..but white people are the ones that have to do something..it can’t be on Black people to educate white people, and do it, or tell them what needs to be done..

Me:  I know you’re right.. but I feel like I really don’t know..I don’t understand politics or bigger systems..I’ve always worked with people from marginalized communities, but I don’t understand the bigger structures and how to make big things change like the program directors and executive directors of these organizations understand..I always can only see things in a smaller, more personal way..When I’m working, it’s me and the person in front of me that I’m working with..that’s what I know how to do…

Marco:  Well, are you just going to do nothing?  What’s going to happen when your daughters grow up and in twenty years, we’re still dealing with the same issues, and they ask you, “well, what did you do about it, Mom..?  and you say, I don’t know..nothing…I ate donuts..”

Marco and my conversations aren’t always him being so directly challenging to me personally, but I could hear the urgency in his voice today…I wanted to say but it’s not like I haven’t done anything.  I wanted to tick off the checklist of things I’ve done…of how Blackness, Black history, culture, and the treatment of Black people in this country have held a central place in our household, but the words didn’t come. I didn’t want to sound like I was saying, “but wait, I have Black friends..”

Me:  I know..(and I wanted to insert some buts…but in the moment realized there’s no longer room for any).  I want to do more. I want to do more than just having dialogue about all of this.  I know I need to do more, and I have to figure out what that is.

Marco:  Okay, well I have to go for now…we’ll talk more later and figure out how to change the world..

Me:  Okay, thanks for this…I’ll try and bring you a donut..

Epilogue:  I’ve let Marco’s and my discussion simmer.  I deeply value our conversations, and all the conversations I am able to have with people about the whys of why Black people are kept from making the same gains as other racial and ethnic groups in this country, about the continued violence against innocent Black people, about the structures of white supremacy and institutionalized racism that didn’t get broken down after the end of slavery, after the end of Jim Crow laws, after the end of the civil rights movement, and how we need to address this now, before another fifty years of injustice passes by.

I came to the conclusion that I need to step further into action.  That I can’t solely rely on my conscious Black friends to guide me in this, or feel that our talks are enough.  I’ve always felt more comfortable depending on, and asking others to lead and show me the way in all areas of my life, to feel like I’m not capable of figuring things out on my own. Now, I know it’s on me.

Finally, I was able to use my white privilege, a tilt of the head, and a please, can I get just one more donut, to secure one for Marco, having to dole the remaining half-dozen maximum donut purchase to my daughter and the five girls that slept over our house the night before.  I didn’t get to eat one myself.

 

donuts...or..?

donuts…or..?

 

 

blm-protest-crowd

 

 

 

 

 

7 Responses to “What Are You Gonna Stand For: Donuts or Freedom?”

  1. Diana Fox October 13, 2016 at 9:16 pm #

    Interesting post, Wendy. In my humble opinion, I find it ironic that Marco is chiding you about what you’re doing about ownership while simultaneously willing to let women fetch him things: the history of women’s inequality is the most ancient inequality on the planet–women of all colors, classes, castes, religions and ethnicities have been subjugated far longer than the concept of race has existed. This is not to undermine or diminish the horrific impacts of white privilege, white supremacy, gentrification, or the importance of thinking about how we all fit into systemic inequalities differently-through various forms of oppression and privilege. I am hyper-sensitive to contradictions-since this is one of the themes I think about a lot, not only with respect to my own life, but as someone who studies the anthropology of activism, how contradictions emerge cross-culturally, in different spaces, why they do etc.. We are all intersectional beings, and this conversation sounds like Marco is not acknowledging the way his male privilege intervenes in the conversation. Ironic he doesn’t see it when it’s right in my face.

    In addition, change happens at many levels from the person-to-person to the global and we all have our strengths and abilities and desires to work at particular levels. You are a person-to-person and community level-worker from what I have known of you, and you have great strengths in that area, building connections and having conversations many people don’t have. That is worth a lot. By all means, we should each educate ourselves as much as we can about multiple levels of oppression and pathways for change; however, if your abilities lie at the face-to-face/local levels, and that’s where you work best, from your own very rich life experiences, then that is to be lauded. Your personality seems to me to be very well suited for the work you do; some people work better at systemic levels. I think anyone who has committed one’s life to be a change agent should recognize that all levels are critical, and all play a part in the process of change making. I have tried multiple forms of change; I’ve found my niche, I know what I’m good at and what I’m not; indeed this can change, for all of us, but it’s a big decision to decide to undertake the education and training to get to a place where we can be effective at another level, and doing so means we are not able to work at the one we’ve selected as intensely. It’s really a life change. Choosing to continue to work in one’s selected niche doesn’t mean one doesn’t acknowledge the areas where change is needed, but it’s unfair to say “what are you going to do about it?” at the systemic level, when you are doing things every day in a way that suits your personality, your skills and your interests. Also, you’re a single mom; is he a dad? Or a lone male? Ehem–male privilege again rears itself. If you choose to undertake another level, and Marco has challenged you to do that in a positive and supportive way, also offering child care when you are committing your time to another venture (we do in fact have to support each other across differences and build partnerships and coalitions to achieve mutually agreed on goals) then that’s great–but the assertion that because there’s a huge need in the world the burden necessarily falls on you to fill it is deeply problematic. The needs of the world are so many–undertake what you are able and where you feel you can make your impact. You already do. Damn, if it were me, he wouldn’t be eating donuts. Male privilege. SMH.

    • Wendy Jane October 13, 2016 at 10:00 pm #

      Hi Diana,

      Thanks so much for your reading and response here.

      I think for much of this I will have to perhaps let Marco answer to where he is coming from. One thing I thought of when I was writing this was the very fact that it is going to appear that Marco is chiding me, perhaps even look like he’s putting me down. We are seeing only one conversation here in this post. He and I have had many conversations where we are talking about race and racism, and it is us talking about and agreeing on issues, and thinking of ways together to address issues, sans finger pointing. There have also been many times when Marco has told me he appreciates all I do in support of anti-racism work. During the conversation referenced in this post, he said how seeing Birth Of A Nation made him not be able to focus on much else hence the urgency of that question: what are we/you going to do about this?

      And, I truly appreciate what you say about people doing the work that suits them. I agree with you. I know myself, that what I do for work is what I am good at, what I am able to do, and yes, there are those people who understand big picture stuff, and they can do their part where they are. As I thought about and continue to think about the conversation Marco and I had, and my passion, as you know, for the equality and freedom of people of color in this country, I know that I do want to do more, yet I now know it has to be the right fit for me. What can a shy activist do? But, seriously, since the weekend, I keep saying to myself, “get in where you fit in,” and well, I know I will find something that helps, and that I am capable of understanding and doing.

      Love you!

      • Sherry Gordon October 14, 2016 at 5:10 pm #

        Dear Wendy Jane,

        Hi, there, Wendy Jane, my so, so very For Always precious and special soul sisterfriend who you’re For Always so, so very much!!!!!! Wow, sister, I just absolutely love and enjoy this blog post article and interview here, Wendy Jane, which is brilliantly composed and done with such masterful composition in the written word with such very loving care by you with great sensitivity and awareness!!!!! Wow, Wendy Jane!!!!!! Yay for YOU, sister!!!!! Yay for this and other of your awesome blog post articles, other great writings, and all you do in such very fine and excellent fashion in such a very heartfelt, diligent, and conscientious manner as usual as always as my and our undaunted and steadfast right on white woman, sister, friend, and anti-racist ally!!!!! Yay!!!!!!

        Sister, I appreciate Marco’s zeal and his powerful black consciousness and awareness. Wow, he is very contemplative here and truly thinks very deeply in such a profound manner on issues of racism, oppression, and discrimination against black persons, Wendy Jane!!!!! Wow, sisterfriend, you asked such very astounding questions and your answers were very remarkable with you, Wendy Jane, speaking from your so, so very dear and preciously special heart and spirit!!!!! Your answers in this stupendous interview were very caring and honest with your words being very apt and well-chosen, my so, so very dearest and darling friend, Wendy Jane!!!!! In my very, very heart, and very, very heart, mind, soul, and spirit I as the idealist and eternal positive optimist who I am wish all of us didn’t have to face an either/or choice between having all black or mostly black neighborhoods or gentrification with all or mostly marvelous white persons moving into these formerly all black or mostly black areas and communities, sister. Sister, I dream of towns, cities, suburbs, neighborhoods, and communities where we are all communities of all races, ethnicities, classes, ability statuses, sexual orientations, and socioeconomic statuses living together in the same communities in the great unity of the spirit as beloved community, sister. Wendy Jane, we are all in this together, my so, so very sweet white sister!!!!! Sister, I truly believe, think, and feel with all that I have that for you, my absolutely awesome white sisterfriend, Wendy Jane, and for other splendid white persons, that it’s perfectly okay, alright, normal, and natural to be imperfect in general in all of your special lives, but also for each and every one of you along your very understandably imperfect lifetime’s path and journey with all of your anti-racism efforts. Sister, you try so, so very much in such a diligent and conscientious manner as best as you can to be my and our wondrously wonderful right on white woman, friend, sister, and anti-racist ally, Wendy Jane!!!!! You have such a deeply loving and sincere heart and spirit, and I’ve always known that you are very, very deeply committed to this very process to the absolute best of your ability, sisterfriend!!!!! Wendy Jane, I thank-you, thank-you, thank-you so, so very much, so, so very profusely, kindly, dearly, and deeply For Always, sisterfriend, as you as usual as always are trying your very best with all that you have, my so, so very dear friend!!!!!! Wendy Jane, I have all of the sweet love for YOU, sister, and for other so very cool white persons as my sisters and brothers and our Good God’s children, very, very especially YOU, Wendy Jane, and other wondrously wonderful white women and I so, so very much love and cherish YOU, Wendy Jane, and other absolutely fabulous white women with all of you being my very, very heart, and also my very, very heartsblood, and my very, very lifesblood as the black woman who I am!!!!! Sister, I don’t mind answering very, very many questions about being a black person, black woman, and a lesbian black woman and it is my very greatest love and passion to share openly from my very heart and spirit with such an open heart and open mind in communicating openly as I reach out to you, Wendy Jane, and to others in such a very cross-racial manner!!!!! My friend, I have all of the such very blessed understanding and patience in all of the world, Wendy Jane, and I am here for YOU, sister, and for other white persons having all of your backs and having such trust, love, and complete confidence in all of you as I see in each and every one of you such great potential and actual good!!!! You all can for sure count on me to work with you and to be fully committed to this very process, sister!!!!! I think that the very most important thing is Progress, not perfection, and you, sisterfriend, and other white people are in your lifetime’s process along this journey toward anti-racism, and it is okay to be imperfect, too!!!!!

        Sister, I love the picture of these very yummy, delicious, and delectable donuts!!!!! Wow, I know these donuts are good with a 1/2 block-long donut line. Wendy Jane, please send to me a dozen box of these very scrumptious donuts!!!!!:)!!!!! Sister, I so, so very much understand you, dear, dear precious Wendy Jane, and your position in all of this!!!!! Wendy Jane, you are doing just your absolutely very best I know in my very heart and spirit, sister!!!!! Yay!!!!!

        Sister, I have been sick since last night-UGH!!!!! I had to cancel some plans I had today and this weekend with some local sisterfriends!!!!! Darn!!!!! Wendy Jane, as soon as I can I’ll write all of my responses to your very stupendous blog post article and interview here, and also to your great Facebook posts, my sister!!!!! I am just bursting with such very, very eager anticipation to very, very eagerly and delightfully do so, Wendy Jane, and it is my very great joy, honor, blessing, and pleasure, my sisterfriend!!!!! Wendy Jane, please have such a fun-filled and fantastic Friday, and a wondrously wonderful weekend!!!!! I love you so, so much, sister!!!!!!

        Very Warmly and Sincerely For Always, my so, so very For Always precious and special soul sisterfriend who you’re For Always so, so very much, Wendy Jane, with Such Very Peace and Love To You For Always, my friend, and with Such Very Blessings and Such Very More Blessings To You For Always, my friend,

        Yours For Always black sisterfriend and For Always in the very great spirit and solidarity, Sherry Gordon in Iowa City, Iowa

        • Wendy Jane October 14, 2016 at 6:33 pm #

          Oh, Sherry!

          Thank you, as always, so, so much for your tremendous response here. You don’t know how much you lift me up every time you check in here to give your feedback on each post.

          I am an eternal optimist, too, and I would love to see your vision of neighborhoods where people of all races, sexual orientation, socioeconomic statuses live side-by-side–though why do I have a hard time picturing Kim Kardashian wanting to live amongst us poorer folks?:)

          I always appreciate your kind words about my posts, and your support of my journey, knowing I am just trying to be open and honest and fumble and make mistakes, and not be perfect, and thanks for saying I don’t have to be perfect. And for being open to cross-racial conversations about breaking down racism and racist systems.

          I’m so sorry that you aren’t feeling well, and I hope that you are soon feeling much better and able to reconnect with friends, and get out and about in Iowa City.

          Thanks again, my sisterfriend!

          xoxo
          Wendy Jane

    • Sherry Gordon October 14, 2016 at 4:27 pm #

      Dear Diana,

      Well, hello, there, sister, Diana! Wow, Diana, I think that you have made so, so very many important and relevant points here with your awesome words in your absolutely right on post. Sister, I am a black woman and a lesbian black woman, and as bad as racism is I truly think and believe in my very, very heart, and my very, very heart, mind, soul, and spirit that sexism is very pervasive and universal as to how sexism exists from many men and boys across all races, ethnicities, backgrounds, classes, sexual orientations, ability statuses, and socioeconomic statuses. Diana, I went back to school as an older, non-traditional student here where I live in Iowa City, Iowa at The University of Iowa earlier in the 2000s, and I graduated with my B.A. degree as a Women’s Studies Major and receiving my Sexuality Studies Certificate. Sister, I am just so, so very committed to ending sexism against all of us as women and girls!!!! Diana, you are so right on here in your absolutely amazing post!!!!! Sexism is one of the common denominators which unite all of us as women and girls, sister!!!!! Diana, thank-you so, so much for your very brilliant and powerful post here, sister!!!! We are in this together united in the great spirit of unity as all women and girls as sisters, sister!!!!!!

      Peace To You For Always, sister, Diana

      Your black sister Sherry Gordon in Iowa City, Iowa

  2. Wendy Jane October 14, 2016 at 6:35 pm #

    oh, and about those donuts! I will have to work some extra shifts to afford to send you a dozen donuts out to Iowa! They are tasty, but cost a lot of $$$!

    🙂

    Wendy Jane

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