Search results: how to hang in there

How To Hang In There: Today, Baratunde Thurston’s Podcast, How To Citizen, Helped

2 Sep

Baratunde Thurston
Baratunde Thurston, How To Citizen

Everyone has probably heard the phrase, “we all have our cross to bear.” Even as a Jewish woman, I of course, get it. We all have our burdens in this life–our own, personal sufferings. Whenever I recall that phrase, it brings to mind this Russian artist, Ernst Neizvestny, and the time he painted a gigantic wall mural inside the Eduard Nakhamkin Gallery in Soho, where decades ago I worked as a gallery assistant.

I remember bold strokes of black paint outlining the mural content. I remember grey boulders, and a man, was it just a regular man, or was it supposed to be Jesus, I can’t remember, but he was dragging a cross up the hill of boulders. It appeared heavy. I remember Ernst talking with the other gallery assistants and myself about the weight of the personal burdens that each person endures in his or her lifetime. I remember his thick, Russian accent, and the passion he held in getting out the words which gave meaning to his vision. I felt the weight of that cross, and maybe that day I even thought about my own current life burdens, which at twenty-six, were most likely centered on how I was going to pay my rent, or keep things good with my current boyfriend, a salesperson at the gallery by day, and a flirtatious band musician by night.

Today, as I sit with my own struggles, the heaviness I feel with wanting to be doing enough, doing enough of my part in breaking down racism and racist institutions and systems of oppression, I know I am not alone. I know I am not unique in this. Yet, as a white-skinned, Jewish woman, I do not bear the burden of being Black in America, nor the trauma, pain, and anxiety that comes with living in a Black body in this country today, and for the past 400 years. This week, I heard the weighted words of Black friends on social media, words expressing emotional exhaustion, and the wondering of how much more they could bear. Hadn’t we said, Enough is Enough, after George Floyd’s death? Yet hear we were with all eyes, and hearts, on Kenosha, Wisconsin.

And, the burden is complex for each one of us. And we have multiple burdens, right? Many of us are stressed and depressed from Covid fatigue. Related to the pandemic, we may have health worries, financial worries, worries of how our kids will safely receive their education, and the worry that comes from the uncertainty of when this all will end. We may be dealing with anxiety and loneliness from the inability to socially connect with one another in the way we are used to.

We are also living through the current racial pandemic, and the uprising of strong activism–the reigniting of the Black Lives Matter movement–that followed the death of George Floyd in May. We have witnessed the killings where justice has not yet been fully served for Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, and Elijah McClain. Again, for white people, this may feel like something new, as we continue to wake up, and finally see and hear some of the things that Black people have been trying to tell us for a real long time about racism in this country.

And if that was not enough, our country is hurting terribly over the most recent shooting of Jacob Blake by police officers as he walked away from trying to break up a domestic dispute. Then came the subsequent killings of two Kenosha protestors, Anthony Huber, and Joseph Rosenbaum, by 17 year-old domestic terrorist, Kyle Rittenhouse. There is also a great deal of outpouring of grief from the Black community, and people of all backgrounds from all over the world, over the death of actor, Chadwick Boseman. Boseman succumbed from colon cancer this week, at the age of 42. His role as T’Challa, in Black Panther was historic in creating representation of the first, leading Black superhero in cinema, as were his roles portraying Jackie Robinson, and James Brown, among others. Through the tributes I am witnessing, the fact that Chadwick Boseman was a cultural marker, and maker, for Black people in this country, and abroad, and that his loss is causing great grief for so many, is quite apparent.

With all of this, all of these burdens, you might be feeling like it’s hard to be grounded. Like how can you even focus on regular, day-to-day life, when life is anything but regular? Like you can’t remember what it’s like to experience joy, or feel guilty for getting to feel some joy in the midst of all that is wrong in our world right now. You might be feeling like your cross, or whatever symbol you want to use, is too heavy to bear. I know I am having a hard time right now.

As a white person living through all of this upheaval, I am reminded of the words of local activist and educator, and founder of the Providence, Rhode Island based non-profit youth organization, A Sweet Creation, Pilar McCloud. This spring, at a backyard talk with a group of us white folks who showed up to learn more about how to show up for Black people right now, Pilar said that it was interesting for Black people to watch how white people are struggling with the pandemic, and their new acknowledgment of racial injustice. She said, and I am paraphrasing because I did not record her exact words, “Black people have always had to struggle to survive. We are experienced at having to make our way through all kinds of obstacles,”… the obstacles of racism and racist policies that began with slavery, continued with Jim Crow laws, redlining, mass incarceration, and unequal educational and economic resources, to name a few of the burdens that Black people in this country have had to deal with since this country’s founding.

Pilar’s words of truth, and a lot of the other wisdom she and her co-host, Juan Carter, shared that evening, show up for me when I catch myself struggling, which is often. I try to do things to help myself feel like the world will not stay sick forever. I can recall the encouraging words of friends and family, who say there is hope all this darkness provides opportunity for better days ahead. My 3-mile morning walks at a local park by the bay here in Providence help elevate my mood. On this Monday morning’s walk I listened to writer, activist, comedian, Baratunde Thurston’s new podcast, How To Citizen. I had first come to know Baratunde’s work through his book, How To Be Black, and wrote a blog post on it when the book came out in 2012.

From Baratunde’s website, on How To Citizen, the site says,”Baratunde reimagines the word “citizen” as a verb and reminds us how to wield our collective power. So many of us want to do more in response to the problems we hear about constantly, but where and how to participate can leave us feeling overwhelmed and helpless. Voting, while critically important, simply isn’t enough. It takes more to make this experiment in self-governance work. Listen in to learn new perspectives and practices from people working to improve society for the many. Join writer, activist, and comedian Baratunde Thurston on a journey beyond politics as usual that will leave us all more hopeful, connected, and moved to act.”

Sometimes feeling scattered and sporadic in my attempt to do my part to support the fight for racial justice and Black liberation, I knew I wanted to listen in. I was glad I did. Baratunde’s first guest on what he called a prelude to the podcast’s first season was Valarie Kaur, a Sikh activist, filmmaker, lawyer, educator and faith leader. She is also founder of The Revolutionary Love Project, and author of the recently released memoir, See No Stranger.

I admit I had not known of Valarie Kaur before the podcast, but was intrigued and inspired by what she had to share, and after listening, understood Baratunde’s self-described intense, emotional draw to Valarie and her work. It was hearing these words she first shared on social media: “The future is dark. But is this the darkness of the tomb – or the darkness of the womb?” that blew Baratunde away.

In her discussion, Valarie asks us to act as if no one was a stranger to us, and to act with revolutionary love, which she describes as “the choice to labor for others, our opponents, and ourselves.” I admit I continue to struggle with acting or laboring with love toward those I see as opponents to racial justice, and the fight for Black Lives. Just last night I felt challenged when my friend and colleague, Amy, a white woman, posted on social media that she would be posting a lot about racial justice, and would make herself open to negative feedback from online ‘friends.’ I replied, “that’s why God invented the ‘Unfriend’ button.”

Amy responded saying that she likes to engage with people with diverse perspectives and beliefs, to see all sides of the story, and to understand that those with opinions and beliefs that counter hers have been influenced by the fact that they grew up with the institutionalized racial systems we still live in. She said she wants to try and understand others so that she knows what she is up against, and can be more constructive in her dialogues with them. I, on the other hand, go between wishing I had more grace, and believing it’s not deserved, in the conversations I have with white peers who have made racist comments about George Floyd, policing, and their interpretation of what Black Lives Matter means. Amy’s last comment though about “knowing what she’s up against,” was similar to something Valarie Kaur said about loving our opponent. Valarie said that it is not only pragmatic, but also, strategic to do so. She shared that when we know what, how and why people are thinking and behaving the way they do, then we can know how to have the conversation, what to talk about with them to “challenge the culture and institutions that promote hate,” which can then effect change.

There is so much more of value that was said, including a touching ode to joy between Valarie and her young son at the end of the podcast. I urge you to take a listen, and I bet you, too, will be inspired. I am hoping, too, after listening, you will see not only the tomb, but the womb. Baratunde, seeing that our country is now at a tipping point–that we can go in a bad direction, or a good direction,–inspired him to create How To Citizen. To that end, thankfully, Valarie believes we all hold value and can do our part, to see the darkness of the womb, and the beginning of “a new nation waiting to be born.” She also believes that practicing revolutionary love, seeing no stranger, and connecting to our joy on a daily basis, will allow us to sustain ourselves over the long haul while doing the work it takes to arrive there.

I was grateful that day for both the walk and the talk, which alleviated some of the heaviness I feel weighing on me. I want to know: How are you bearing your burdens? What helps you get through each day? How do you find joy, when in pain, when it seems elusive, or a luxury you cannot afford? I would love to hear from you, and have us share with one another. It can be our communal act of revolutionary love.


Photo credit: letsreimagine.org

Wake Up And Change The Racism, (insert: White) People!

23 Apr

Rashon Nelson, Donte Peterson

Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson

I almost used the cliché title of: Wake Up And Smell The Coffee, People, but that’s weak. Like, instant coffee weak. But enough with the clichés and play on words, as I reflect on what happened in the Philadelphia Starbucks last week, and if you don’t know, then you do need to wake up.

Two young real estate entrepreneurs, Donte Robinson and Rashon Nelson, went to a Starbucks in the well-to-do Rittenhouse Square neighborhood of Philadelphia to meet with business colleague, Andrew Yaffe, to talk about a deal they all were working on together. While waiting for Yaffe, who happens to be white, to arrive, the two men were deemed suspicious by (more…)

My MJ Thievery: There Goes The Neighborhood

20 Aug

It’s not always that when black people move into a white neighborhood, white people say to themselves, “there goes the neighborhood!”  Sometimes it’s the other way around.  Like the time I got caught defacing property in a black neighborhood in Brooklyn.  It was all because of Michael Jackson.  (more…)

Wendy Jane Soul Shake 2020 Year in Review

28 Dec

Dr. Fauci John Lewis
Dr. Fauci, John Lewis Street Art, NYC, August 2020

Every year at this time I write a year-end recap of the blog, and the times we are in. But how in the heck am I supposed to summarize this year? Nevertheless, I’ll try.

I began the 2020 WJSS blog with February’s post, Tell Me The Truth: Exploring The Heart of Cross-Racial Conversations with Shay Stewart-Bouley and Debby Irving, The afore-mentioned title was a public discussion at a Connecticut community center, between, Shay Stewart-Bouley, racial justice and equity non-profit executive director, writer, activist, and author of the blog, Black Girl in Maine, and Debby Irving, racial justice educator and activist, and author of the book, Waking Up White. I have followed both women for some years now, and it was good to hear them continuing to grow and share their dialogue on what it takes to stay open and honest in cross-racial conversations and friendships. There we sat, hundreds of us, elbow-to-elbow, in rows of folding chairs, taken in by their talk. How could we have known that within a month, our country would be thrown into lockdown over a global pandemic–the Covid-19 virus–and that such large gatherings would be prohibited, and that our facial expressions would soon be hidden under masks?

But racism doesn’t stop due to a virus, and in April and May I wrote Let Us Not Forget Racism In The Time Of Covid-19, and Conspiracy Theories, Freedom, Mirrors: What Reality Are We Running From. In these posts, I drew attention to the reports of how the virus was impacting Black and Brown and Indigenous individuals and communities, at a much higher rate than white people and their communities, due to our country’s history of racism–both bigotry, and systemic. This history and the policies and laws born out of it, created inadequate and less accessible healthcare for Black and Brown communities. In addition, we have seen how some Black people seeking care for Covid symptoms have been mistrusted, and dismissed, and their treatment mishandled, which even resulted in some cases, in death. Also, noted, was the higher number of essential workers of color who don’t have the luxury to work remotely, thereby creating risk of exposure for themselves, their families, and their neighborhoods.

In Conspiracy Theories, Freedom, Mirrors..., I held up a mirror to how I believe it’s racist when white people call the virus a hoax, and government’s way of trying to control us, and hurt our economy. Knowing how the virus has a lesser impact on white communities–even though there are countless, white people dying from it, too–having a belief in a conspiracy theory and government control is harmful to Black, Brown and Indigenous people. To put these communities at risk because of your selfish wish to have a haircut, is simply racist. I wished instead that we could be thinking of how instead of going back to what we were, to the way things were–to wishing you could go back and hide in the comfort of Starbucks and your gym routine–that we could be forging a new way of being, and caring for ourselves, and others.

At the same time these conspiracy theories were roiling, the signaling of a renewed racial justice movement rumbled beneath the surface with the release of the video in early May, showing the February killing of Ahmaud Arbery by two white neighbors, while Ahmaud was out for a jog.

And, then, on May 25, 2020, Minneapolis resident, George Floyd, was murdered by police officer, Derek Chauvin, following the arrest of Mr. Floyd for possibly passing a counterfeit twenty dollar bill at a convenience store. The world watched the horrid act of the officer pressing his knee into George Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, of Mr. Floyd’s pleading for his life, and calling out for his mother in his last moments of life. We know this because of the bravery of seventeen year-old, Darnella Frazier, who was in the crowd of onlookers yelling to Chauvin, and other officers present, for Chauvin to get off of George Floyd, to no avail. Ms. Frazier’s video showed the world the truth and horror of what happened to George Floyd that day. It held up a mirror to our country to say, especially to white people, we can no longer say this is not happening. We can no longer say, “he should have complied.” We can no longer say, “the officers are just doing their job, and defending their own safety.”

Shortly after this national tragedy that reverberated around the world, there was a new wave of uprisings–a resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, this time with many more white people finally waking up, and now, joining in the call for racial justice. I was inspired by what I was witnessing around me, in particular, the young Black leaders, many still in their teens, leading their own city’s marches, using their voices, loud and strong, to let us know we are truly at a time of racial reckoning in this country. In response to these feelings, I wrote, Youth-Led Protest, Falling Into The (Donut) Hole of Trying To Enlighten Those Inflicted With Blindness To Their Racism And A Big Thank You To The Artists Who Do The Spiritual Lifting.

BLM March in tribute to George Floyd, Providence, RI, June 2020

While I was hopeful and inspired about the fight for racial justice being rebirthed, The Falling Into The (Donut) Hole part of the title of that post (and I might be famous for writing the world’s longest blog titles) referred to the extreme anger I also felt when seeing social media posts, and hearing conversations by some co-workers of mine. Their comments showed they still weren’t getting it, and at this point, it is a willful not getting it, as far as I’m concerned. Posts about “riots” and “looting” and “destroying their own neighborhoods.” Posts with the meme that says something like, “…if you don’t want trouble with the police, then don’t do things that are illegal.” I engaged with some of these posts because they are racist. And while I didn’t want to project, and I am no white savior, I thought if it was hard for me to look these co-workers in the eye and work alongside of them, I imagined the harm it would also be causing for my co-workers who are Black. I did my, try every angle of presenting facts, trying, with kindness to ask for, to look for an empathetic bone in the offenders’ bodies, all the while knowing I wasn’t going to change their point of view. I took action, but shortly after this time, decided I would not engage any more with these social media posts, and would put my energy to better use.

During this time of feeling sadness, anger, and a will to keep fighting for what is right, I was grateful, and stay grateful for the artists of our time, who always hold up a mirror to what is happening, and who show us what love looks like. The artists in my city of Providence, Rhode Island–Black artists, Latinx artists, Indigenous artists, Asian Artists, white artists, came together to create protest posters, and gorgeous street murals. They showed us what solidarity, and hope, and resilience looks like.

Providence artists create street murals for downtown business district, June 2020

This also became a time to reflect on what it means to be white, and to see how our whiteness and white supremacy operates and how we have been programmed to believe what we believe about ourselves, and about those who we “other.’ With Some Of Us White People, I attempted to imagine all the various ways we white people were feeling, thinking, and behaving in the wake of the George Floyd killing, the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, the June killing of Rayshard Brooks by a police officer in Atlanta, and the call for justice to charge the police officers responsible for the killing of Breonna Taylor.

All the books on race we were buying, the films we were watching, the conversations we were having, the marches we were attending, the t-shirts we were sporting, all in the name of trying to catch up and educate ourselves, and finally start to learn and believe a portion of the things that Black people in this country have been trying to tell us for centuries, and to do something about it. All the ways we gingerly, or not so gingerly, asked Black people how to help, or, ask if they were okay, when on a daily basis, we heard the refrain of many Black people saying, “I am not okay.”

At this time, I got to write two articles for local, Motif Magazine, Be Of Service, 5 Do’s and Don’t’s for White People Taking Anti-Racist Action and A Surge In Activism, Activist Groups Help White People Show Up The Right Way. Motif, like many individuals, businesses, arts spaces and journalism outlets, was also looking to give attention to the current fight for racial justice. It was my friend, Christopher Johnson, who encouraged me to write the articles. Christopher, who is Black, is a poet, and playwright. His most recent work, Invoice For Emotional Labor, centers on the idea that he shouldn’t have to educate white people about racism, but in his experiential, cutting words, he does just that. While I have been to readings of the work-in-progress, I can’t wait to see this play performed in its entirety.

I have not mentioned much here about the in-between spaces of dealing with this year, and haven’t ever gotten too much into my personal life here beyond my experiences with dealing with matters of race. But I alluded to it in How To Hang In There: Today Baratunde Thurston’s Podcast, How To Citizen, Helped. In this piece, I spoke about knowing how we all have our burden to bear in life, and in this year, in particular, as we deal with a global pandemic, a call for our country to face its true history, and deal with our racial reckoning, reparations, and healing.

This year has impacted each and every one of us in all kinds of ways. I know some of you might be feeling the burden of being a parent who all of a sudden has to become an assistant teacher while your young child does their online schooling, and, figure out how to work from home at the same time. That teachers are working extremely hard to teach simultaneously in the classroom, and online, and worry, too, about exposure to the virus for themselves, and their students. That some of you are feeling isolated by working remotely. That some of you are trying to pay your bills as a small business owner, when your business isn’t able to operate at full capacity, or at all. That some of you are out of work. That some of you are trying to stay connected and care for an elderly parent with visiting restrictions in place, and that some of you worry about exposing immune-compromised loved ones. Some of you have to work in grocery stores, in public transportation, and other businesses with high volumes of person-to-person contact, and have never had a break. That some of you have lost some one you loved, or multiple people that you loved. That some of you work in hospitals–nurses, doctors, housekeepers, dietary workers–and are seeing far too much of death, and experiencing trauma and stress from all that you are witnessing while working countless days, hours, months, trying to save lives, and maintain a safe hospital environment.

And in all of this I am reminded of the words of local community activist, Pilar McCloud. In this post, Pilar spoke of how many people in the Black community have always had to struggle and work through adversities and obstacles due to bigotry, and systems of racism. She sees how this pandemic is just another thing for Black people to work through, and finds it interesting how more white people are finally getting to see what struggle feels like, with the pandemic, and their new awakening to racial injustice.

As for me, I work as an Activities Therapist at a psychiatric hospital, and run groups with patients on an Adult Intensive Treatment inpatient unit. Because of that, I have stayed working full-time in person, and while it is not dealing with the same kind of intense stress and trauma of working in a medical hospital, it has felt stressful at times to me, and I know it has to my co-workers. I am grateful I still have a full-time job that gives me structure, provides me with a daily purpose, and ensures that I can continue to have an income. I love working with our patients. I have amazing, compassionate, co-workers, and we pull one another up, mostly with humor, especially at the times we need to laugh, so we don’t cry.

But our patients are in emotional distress. The pandemic has exacerbated their depression, their anxiety, their paranoia, their mania, their feelings of isolation, and their psychosis. Trying to get our patients, who share a common milieu space, when they are at various levels of awareness, psychosis, and, or paranoia, to wear their masks, and to social distance, is trying, to say the least. To keep constant vigilance of possible patient and staff exposure, and get updates on actual staff and patients who have contracted the virus, especially on one’s own unit or area, is unsettling. To try to support people suffering more during this global pandemic, while we ourselves are suffering, can also be challenging.

In another capacity at work, I am the Coordinator of the hospital’s Healing Arts program. Started by my former supervisor, Barbara Ostrove, who was director of our Occupational Therapy Department, I, along with support primarily, from fellow staff member, Occupational Therapist, and artist, Laura White Carpenter, write grants, and develop and coordinate arts programming for our patients and staff in the form of artist residencies, exhibitions, and special events, all utilizing the arts to promote wellness and healing, and to humanize the hospital experience, and environment. This fall, we were supposed to have one of our past resident artists, violist, Ashley Frith, do an artist residency, but that was not to be with the virus. We are trying to hold off a bit for her to be able to come in person to connect with our patients in an interactive group format, as well as to offer some relief for our staff through performance and conversation. If that is not possible, we will have to think of possibly doing a live or recorded video residency, something we are hoping to avoid, as we feel it’s not the same experience. We may create an entirely different kind of residency experience all together. We shall see.

Still in the early months of the pandemic, I tried to be all heroic, and Laura and I did sidewalk chalk art murals outside our hospital’s entrance–brightly-hued florals and hearts, with words of thanks–which were greatly appreciated by staff. I was lucky to connect with local artists, Jacques Bidon and Nafis White, who so thoughtfully made beautiful handmade prints and thank you card sets that they distributed to three local hospitals’ essenttial workers. At our hospital, we received 100 print sets which we were able to distribute to our entire housekeeping staff, to our Patient Assessment Services (emergency room) staff, and to the staff taking care of our geriatric and dementia patients on our Senior Specialty unit. I also was able to procure a grant of three Amazon music loaded tablets for our inpatient units to use from the non-profit organization, Musicians On Call. We see how much music helps our patients to feel calm, connected, and energized, and so we were grateful to be granted the tablets.

Artists, Nafis White and Jacques Bidon and their Care Print packages for essential workers

Yet, after this initial burst of energy to use the arts to help us get through this time, I came to a standstill. These days I often feel like I’m this high functioning depressed person, just getting by each day, and not delivering the kind of care and attention I should be to our patients. I cannot bring myself to come up with another arts thing to give to patients and staff. It’s a Catch-22. This is exactly the time the arts can help us, and it is what I preach. I see how many artists, locally, and nation-wide are still showing up, and making the best of these times, and lifting us up with their work, yet I am unable to move myself to action.

Laura, Healing Arts Program, Chalk Art honoring our fellow frontline workers
me, Chalk Art for our fellow frontline workers, May 2020
The truth, May 2020

I say all this, not to get off-topic, or to get attention or sympathy. I say this because it is real, with this time we are in, and each and every one of us, I know, has their own story of how this time is impacting them, and how they are managing. I also acknowledge that feeling ungrounded with all that is going on has made me feel scattered, unable to commit and follow through at times when it has come to continuing the daily, long-term work of fighting to break down racism and the racist systems we live in. I touch upon these themes in the Baratunde Thurston post, even though I haven’t ended up following through to continue to listen to his podcast beyond another episode or two. I hope that you are able to acknowledge how you are feeling and are able to share that with someone, and I invite you to please feel free to share here below, how you have been managing during this year of Covid-19, and this time of a critical call for us to finally face our dire need for racial reckoning in this country.

Still, we all manage to carry on in some way. It is not all gloom. Yes, there are moments of joy, too, that appear for me, and I truly hope for you, too.

Getting to visit NYC with my daughters-surreal in its emptiness, but still loved

Our beautiful New England fall still came, and yet without the news of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks and Breonna Taylor, daily filling our newsfeed anymore, I worried that many white folks were forgetting about the fight they so vehemently said they were there for in June. With covid fatigue, and racial justice warrior fatigue in mind, I wrote, Fighting Racism Got You Down? Don’t Make Those Brunch Reservations Just Yet. I worried that so many of us who were waiting for the Presidential election, with hopes that we could oust the current one, would, once that happened, think all was well.

We do hold hopes the new President, will in January, begin to undo all of the evil policies and legislation put into place that hurt mostly Black, Brown, and Indigenous people, as well as our immigrant community. Yet, the post warns us to stay vigilant, and to keep fighting, and to not let things go back to the status quo. It asks white folks to not just rest easy, because the blatant hate is gone, and we are being taken care of again. It asks us to not forget our privilege, or the will to make things truly equal for every one, to include everyone, on not a hierarchal level, with white people at the top, but one where we are all together, side-by-side. (My August 2019 post, Every Day, Chip Away at De-Centering Whiteness speaks to this in more detail)

While I was able to, though more sporadically, keep writing this year, I got stuck in my own head, thinking I was real special, and developed a case of the white fragility. In, What I Didn’t Want To Share, Or: If This White (Jewish) Woman Went To Confession, This Is What She’d Say, you can read all about my bout with thinking as a white person, I should step back from writing about race, and how still after so much time of writing about race, and educating myself and doing anti-racism work, I still worry way too much about saying or doing the wrong thing in my cross-racial conversations and actions. Thankfully, through friends, Black and white, who help give me perspective on this, I carry on, striving to not worry what others will think, ready to engage in the conversations that come up because of my writing or dialogue, and take responsibility for what my impact is. I am also thankful for friend, and racial justice activist, Joan Wyand, who shared about the new podcast Eyes On Whiteness, which helps me look at how whiteness operates within me, and others, and the world around me. It’s truly helpful, and I highly recommend it.

In my most recent post, Catching Back Up With Artist Kenya (Robinson) And The Luck, Or Lesson Of, Finding What You Seek, written right before Thanksgiving, I share part of an older post never published about an encounter with visiting Florida artist, Kenya (Robinson) who gave a talk at the Providence Public Library for the exhibition, HairBrained. I follow Kenya on Instagram now, and in November, was lucky to catch an IGTV video she made on what she, as a Black artist, noticed was a passive-aggressive style of communication she was encountering, with white women. I was moved by Kenya’s thoughts, and desire to share with those of us listening, how to use our own inner creativity to ‘hack’ these conversations to be able to communicate authentically, and move beyond the way we’ve been programmed for survival with all of our ‘isms, and in doing so, create a new pathway to tap into our true inner energy where we are all the same.

In my blog post title, I use the word ‘luck,’ but when Kenya in her video held up her fortune cookie fortune which said, ‘If you seek it, you shall find it,” she emphasized that there are no coincidences, and so my happening upon her talk that day was meant to be, and I am grateful for the lesson, and the reconnection to both Kenya, and her important work. You can follow her at www.privilegeasplastic.com and on IG @kenya9.

Which makes me think about the word intention, as my year of 2020 blogging comes to an end, and this challenging year is about to wrap up. I have been challenged to keep the things in my life that I say are important to me–continuing the work required to bring about racial justice, equality and freedom, being present in the way I want to be for my two daughters, for my friends, and for my family, being present and giving better energy to serving our patients in my workplace, delivering more Healing Arts programming in my workplace, and opening myself up to the possibility of loving, and letting myself be loved in a romantic relationship.

I know we all have our lists, and that mine is probably sounding just like any New Year’s Eve Resolutions list. Yet, I hope not. I know I can be gentle with myself at this time, and not get down on myself for the things I feel I can’t muster the energy for. I hope you will, too. I also know, as is quoted often in this work of racial justice, in the words of Dr. King, that “the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” I know that I won’t give up the work, and that the work started long before this time we are here on earth, and will continue long after we are gone, and each thing we can do, every day contributes to making things better for all of us. I know that we can make this new post-covid world a better place for all, and not go back to our ways that don’t make a way for all of us, but just for a few of us. I know we can do this. I know we must. I pray that we are not in a rush to get back to ‘regular life’ where we are all about having to make enough money so we can consume things that make us feel comfortable, and fool ourselves into believing everything is all right, forgetting the valuable lessons about what matters to us, is us. All of us. Not just some of us. All of us.

This year, in particular, I thank you all from the bottom of my heart for your support, for engaging with me, and with one another about how race, racism, whiteness, cross-racial connection, and the work of breaking down racism and racist systems shows up in you, and what you are doing about it. I wish you the will to keep doing the work to make the spaces where you are, free and equal, truly equal and equitable, with all perspectives honored and included, and with whiteness de-centered, and not above any other perspective. I wish each one of you, peace, continued good health, safety. I wish you joy.

I Lived in Tulsa for Three Years, and Yes, I Didn’t Know About the Tulsa Race Massacre Either, Until My First Visit

14 Jul

My friend Ellen, from my old writing group here in Rhode Island texted me the other week saying she had been reading a lot about the commemoration of the 100th year anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre. Ellen remembered I lived in Tulsa, and thought it might be something I want to blog about. In all honesty, I don’t know if I ever would have started to write about race at all if I hadn’t moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma in the spring of 2003.

So many of us never learned about the massacre that Ellen, herself, was now learning about. We weren’t taught about it in our history classes–and that includes Tulsa students, too. Right now though, there are multiple new documentaries out, and a lot of journalism coverage of this horrific event. But for those of you who still haven’t heard anything about it, the Tulsa Race Massacre occurred on May 31, and June 1st, 1921. It ignited “...when mobs of white residents, many of them deputized and given weapons by city officials, attacked Black residents and businesses of the Greenwood District in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It marks one of “the single worst incident(s) of racial violence in American history. The attack, carried out on the ground and from private aircraft, destroyed more than 35 square blocks of the district—at that time the wealthiest Black community in the United States, known as “Black Wall Street.” The horrific tragedy happened all because “19-year-old Dick Rowland, a Black shoeshiner, was accused of assaulting Sarah Page, the 17-year-old White elevator operator of the nearby Drexel Building,” where the story goes, Rowland tripped and possibly reflexively grabbed onto Page’s arm to stop himself from falling. He was taken into custody. Hundreds, and ultimately over a 1,000 white people had shown up ready to attack and lynch Rowland at the jail where he was being held. A small group of armed Black men, many of them army veterans who had fought for this country, showed up to protect Rowland from being lynched. When they were leaving the area after reassurance there would be no lynching, a mob of white men tried to disarm one of the Black men. In the struggle, a shot went off accidentally, and that’s all it it took for the melee to spin out of control. I recommend you look into the resources below to learn the entire story of the Tulsa Race Massacre, and the lingering impact of its after-effects that continue to this day.

How did I end up in Tulsa? I hadn’t wanted to move there in the first place. Tulsa is where my now, ex-husband, was born and raised. It was his push for us and our two daughters, one and three at the time, to live there–where the cost of living was cheaper than where we were in New York City, where it would be easier for him to start his furniture-making business, and where the girls would be surrounded by lots of cousins, and other family–that landed us there.

I had lived in New York City for 18 years as an adult, and though we couldn’t afford to stay there, I was a city gal at heart, and it was hard for me to let go. Tulsa, though a sizeable city of 400,000 people, always felt like a suburb to me when I had visited prior to our move. Spread out, big car culture, strip malls, less arts and culture, or so I thought, and being land-locked, was all this New England born and raised me could think of. That, and no good pizza, was on my mind when we packed all our things up and headed west.

What I wasn’t prepared for when we moved into our bungalow house on 18th Street near Lewis, was the culture shock of noting right away, that in Tulsa, we were now living surrounded by whiteness. In New York, I loved the diversity of the people–friends, co-workers, and city dwellers–in all the spaces I found myself in. People who I got to connect with, or simply be anonymous with, as we moved through the city, whether it was at work, walking through my neighborhood, sitting in restaurants, riding the subway, dancing in clubs, hosting an apartment party with my roommates, or huddled in tiny East Village theaters. It is not lost on me now, that the diversity I loved then, came with the privilege of being white and being able to move into an affordable apartment in “Alphabet City” in 1985, a then largely, Latino neighborhood. I didn’t have the consciousness I have now, and which is ever evolving, that knew I was loving that diversity without having to think about inclusion, disparities, and the costs of being Black and Brown, in all of these spaces. It also hadn’t occurred to me since I had lived in cities for so long, that pretty much everywhere in America, if you are residing outside of an urban center, and that even inside of our cities, there is segregation. After all, suburbs were invented so white people didn’t have to live next to people who didn’t look like them. In cities, there is the history of white people gentrifying neighborhoods, having had the access to generational wealth to, again, live on streets surrounded by other people of means, which left out a vast majority of Black and Brown people who were cut off from that access.

From our fifth floor walk-up one bedroom apartment in NYC to our sweet home on 18th and Lewis, Tulsa

But as a newcomer to Tulsa in 2003, all I could think about was how white everything was. It was stunning to me. I wondered how all the white people around me could be living day-to-day not noticing the white bubble they were in. I knew that Tulsa, and all of Oklahoma had a large Native population, and when I researched this, a 2019 report said that Tulsa actually is the city with the largest American Indian/Native Alaskan population in the country, with 14% of residents claiming at least partial heritage. My ex-husband’s great grandmother on his mother’s side was Cherokee. In fact, when he came to pick up our older daughter the other day to bring her back to where she’ll be living this summer, he noted that the reason his family ended up in Tulsa, and on the “Indian Rolls,” was because of The Dawes Act of 1887. The Dawes Act, according to the Cherokee Nation website, says, “was a turning point in determining tribal citizenship. The Act developed a Federal commission tasked with creating Final Rolls for the Cherokees, Chickasaws, Choctaws, Creeks, and Seminoles in Indian Territory (Oklahoma). The Commission prepared new citizenship rolls for each tribe, incorporating names of approved applicants while simultaneously documenting those who were considered doubtful and ultimately rejected. Upon approval of the Rolls, the Dawes Commission allotted a share of communal land to the approved individual citizens of these Tribes in preparation for Oklahoma statehood (1907). The Dawes Commission required that the individual or family reside in Indian Territory to be considered for approval.” Dividing up tribal lands, and annihilating each tribe from their cultural and social traditions, was what the Dawes act set out to do, and was successful at doing so.

My ex, while acknowledging his ancestry, said, as he has said before, that he and his immediate family don’t claim to still be connected culturally to their Cherokee heritage. Though he and my daughters all have Bureau of Indian Affairs and Cherokee Nation tribal cards, as far as appearance goes, it seems the genes on his Dad’s side, whose primary heritage is Scotch-Irish, won out. Many of his family members have red hair and freckles, and I know…who’s to say that someone looks or doesn’t look Irish or Indigenous, or, like people have told me, Jewish. In fact, my older daughter, Leni, was just talking about how she had been looking at a lot of old photographs of Native American people recently, and that, “Dad’s nose looks like a lot of the noses in the photographs.” My younger daughter, Darla, said, “Yeah, and I have Dad’s nose.” (She doesn’t like her nose. I do.)

When settling in in Tulsa, I didn’t see the large communities of Native or Latinx or Black people that I knew existed there, intersecting much with one another, and it bothered me. And as I say on my About page here, I became obsessed with wanting to connect with Black people. Now I know we’re not supposed to be thinking in binary terms, and the totality and intersection of race, gender, sexuality, class, ethnicity is where it’s at, but growing up at the end of the Civil Rights era, in the diverse industrial town of Waterbury, Connecticut, where I had always sought out connections with Black people, and had already been attracted to Black culture, what I was missing in Tulsa was my connection with Black people. So, I overcompensated in the reaching out department by seeking out Black people in public spaces, like Target, the flea market, and the grocery store. I knew though, that I wanted to make more real, deeper connections to the diverse but separate communities of people that existed where I was now living.

It has been a habit of mine throughout my life to seek out cross-racial connections in spaces that many white people don’t tend to venture into. In this vein, I understand at times my whiteness has asserted itself in problematic ways. I’d think,”oh, you say I shouldn’t be here as a white girl,” well let me be here, just because I thought there shouldn’t be racial barriers. I did this, even though at times, my actions could have put Black people, Black men, in particular, in danger. Like the time at age 18, when I was in Roxbury, a Black neighborhood in Boston, a city rife with racial tension in the early 1980’s. After a night of drinking at a club, and driving around with my college roommate, who was white, and two young men who were Black that we had met while out, we stopped to buy cigarettes. One of the young men said he’d go into the store himself, and that we should wait in the car, that it’d be safer, because of the neighborhood, and because of our races. I, after too many drinks, self-righteously said that I wanted to go in, arguing that we should all be able to be together and it shouldn’t matter. I did go in, and there was no incident in the store where the cashier and customers were all Black, but the silence that hung in the air spoke volumes. While at the time, I thought I was standing up for the ideal that white people and Black people should be able to co-exist in the same spaces without bigotry hurled at them, I could have well been the same kind of dangerous white woman, like Amy Cooper in Central Park, or that elevator operator in Tulsa in 1921. I could have put this young man in danger for being seen with a white woman, if the wrong white man had seen us that night.

Flashing forward a little over a decade later, I was dating my ex-husband in the early 1990’s, and I made my first visit to Tulsa with him. His older brother drove us around town one night, and we drove through the Greenwood District. Looking out the car windows, I saw a quaint main street of a few blocks with one-story brick building storefronts. Many of the spaces looked empty. His brother told me the story of what happened in 1921. I was sick to my stomach. I couldn’t believe it. I had never heard of the Tulsa Race Riot, as it was called then, or anything like it. I thought how could my boyfriend live in a place like this, be from a place that did this? I even remember thinking maybe I should break up with him. I didn’t break up with him, but I couldn’t shake the heaviness of this news, even the brief, incomplete story I received that night, of the Tulsa Race Massacre. I wasn’t taught about it in school, and I learned that my ex and the majority of the white people I met while living in Tulsa, hadn’t learned about it either, and what little they did know, they acknowledged most white people kept quiet about it.

Living in Tulsa, I couldn’t keep quiet about how I was feeling about now living surrounded in whiteness, and the history of Tulsa, which I understood lent itself further to this separation. These feelings prompted me to write about my obsession with cross-racial connection. At first it was mostly journaling, and then the writing became the beginnings of my first essays, including the piece that would eventually become, Is Poppy A Black American? , one of the first blog posts here on this site. Writing was something I always felt drawn to, but I hadn’t done in any serious way before. But now, in Tulsa, it seemed like the only way to express my feelings about being stuck in sameness. While I didn’t have the language we have now about all these things, like inclusion, exclusion, white privilege, and white supremacy, beyond only linking it with the Ku Klux Klan, I knew I just had to write.

Aside from my writing, like I did in my past, I also sought out connections with members of the Black community in Tulsa. I was told the majority of Black people in Tulsa lived in what was called North Tulsa, due to being completely displaced with the destruction of Black Wall Street, and the entire Greenwood district. It was also inferred that white people didn’t really go to North Tulsa, so naturally, I looked to North Tulsa, to learn about the community and the people who lived there. I reached out and was accepted as a volunteer at the Rudisill Library in North Tulsa. The library houses The African American Resource Center and that is where I volunteered, reporting to then Director, Kimberly Johnson. Kimberly, originally from New York City, is now the Tulsa City-County Library Chief Executive Officer. She warmly welcomed me as a volunteer. I often brought my daughter Darla with me, who was two at the time, and she was always welcome, too. She stayed by my side reading board books while I shelved books, and magazines like Jet, Ebony, Mosaic, Black Enterprise and Sepia. I also got to help get ready for author visits, and fondly remember the talks of J. California Cooper, and Eric Jerome Dickey. I was saddened to hear that Eric passed away this year at the age of 59. I had remained in touch with him via social media. An engineer, turned stand-up comedian, turned prolific author of thirty novels, when Eric showed up on Facebook, I always appreciated his sense of humor, his being vocal on the ills of the world, and I was grateful for how he even so generously took the time to give me supportive feedback when I started this blog.

Kimberly Johnson, Rudisill Library

Kimberly Johnson, then, Coordinator of Rudisill Library’s African American Resource Center. Presently CEO of Tulsa City-County Libraries.

My daughters, Darla, front, and Leni, back, spending time at Rudisill Library with me while I volunteer.

I also remember Kimberly pointing out to me an elder woman at a library event, who was one of the remaining survivors of the Tulsa Race Massacre. I was deeply honored to be in her presence. The Resource Center, whose purpose is to collect, preserve and provide access to honoring and documenting the experiences of people of African descent, helped me learn more about the Tulsa Race Massacre, even though there still seemed to be so much discrepancy, especially in the white community, about the breadth of the destruction, and the number of people who were killed. Most white people just didn’t talk about it, and when they did, or when you saw something in the newspaper, it minimized the level of destruction, and especially the number of people who had died as a result of it. Accounts from the white community seemed to say it was anywhere from one or two or twelve or twenty people who were killed, and yet accounts from the Black community would say it could have been in the hundreds.

I hear so many people presently, Black, white, and Brown, who say they still don’t know much about the Tulsa Race Massacre, including people who live in Tulsa. What people who don’t know also need to learn more about, is that the Tulsa Race Massacre is not an isolated incident. There was Rosewood in Florida, the Elaine Massacre in Arkansas, and the Wilmington Massacre in North Carolina, to name just a few of many others carried out in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. In fact, two years before the Tulsa Race Massacre, the year 1919 was deemed Red Summer, for the white supremacist terrorism and race riots and massacres that occurred in over three dozen cities across the country. White people carried out these massacres due to resentment over their perceived threat of losing jobs to Black people, in particular, Black veterans, after World War I. White people didn’t want Black veterans to think they no longer had to follow Jim Crow laws even though they had just fought for our country, side-by-side with with white soldiers. White people feared the autonomy of Black people who were now becoming successful in business, home ownership, and gaining political power. These massacres were a result of white people’s fear, envy, greed, and hatred.

After the Tulsa Race Massacre, there was the harshest disenfranchisement of the entire well-to-do Black community of Greenwood. Tens of thousands of people lived in encampments, and/or were pushed even further north, their homes and businesses and churches burned to the ground, millions of dollars in investments lost. Yet, the Greenwood district was rebuilt by some of its inhabitants, rising from the ashes like the great Phoenix. There were strong attempts to halt this rebuilding by the white community, who blocked access to business loans and other relief funding. As time moved on, segregation laws loosened, allowing Black people to shop in previously whites-only establishments, and some of the business in the Greenwood area was lost. My ex’s brother, a city planner, told me how urban renewal of the 1960’s and 1970’s, like in many urban cities across the country, broke up those communities further by building highways right through them. That’s what happened to Greenwood. Of the thirty-five blocks of the Greenwood district that thrived during the early 1900’s, only two blocks now remain.

I remember walking down Greenwood Avenue for the first time, feeling the enormity of what that street was, and I know perhaps also felt a bit conspicuous as a white person walking through the neighborhood. I was an outsider, and was just learning the culture of the Midwest, and I didn’t know if I stood out as a white person walking down the street, given its history, and because, people didn’t walk around much in Tulsa. They drove, they parked, and got out and did what they had to do and got back in their car and drove off. I even remember one day when I decided to walk down a main road a few miles from the fairgrounds to my home, I had several people stop and ask if I was okay and if I needed a ride, because something must have been wrong since I was walking.

On Greenwood Avenue, though, I also wondered if I would be seen as an unwelcome intruder. I am not sure if it is a process of aging, but some of my memories are dim, which I wish were not. I can remember walking down the street, and that there were not too many retail businesses, that there were some offices, and I believe the newspaper office of The Oklahoma Eagle, was there, and some historic markers of what used to be in some of these places. I remember visiting the Greenwood Cultural Center (GCC), which hosts special events, exhibits and youth programming, and which “…stands as a monument to the scores of pioneers, trailblazers, entrepreneurs, professionals, politicos, and citizens who created a renowned and respected community despite formidable odds.” At the GCC, I met Cindy Driver, the then Director of the middle-school aged girls program, Women of Tomorrow. Cindy and I would soon collaborate on a youth arts workshop, which I will share about in the second installment of my writings on Tulsa.

Of course, the longer I lived in Tulsa, I learned there was much more to the city, and the state, than the white bubble I had first encountered. I learned, too, that there were, of course many more dimensional stories beyond the Tulsa Race Massacre, to the lives of the Black people living in Tulsa, and other surrounding towns, as well as with people of the Indigenous and immigrant communities in Tulsa. I took part in cultural events like the historic Black Towns tour, and the annual large-scale Tulsa Powwow, along with visits to the Gilcrease, and Philbrook Museums. I ate frybread for the first time, and found out what Frito Pies, and Indian tacos were. The taste of the pico de gallo at Rio Verde, a popular Mexican restaurant in North Tulsa, still lingers on my tongue. Delicious food is most often the factor that white people deem worthy to cross over into neighborhoods they often declare as “sketchy,” which was the case with Rio Verde, one place where the diversity of the city was represented over plates of gorditas, and glasses of horchata. I don’t eat meat so I never tried chicken fried steak, or Coneys, similar to the Olneyville system weiners we have here in Providence, Rhode Island. My hunch on the pizza was pretty correct though.

I also partook in more events at the Rudisill Library, like the memoir cookbook book signing of Cleora’s Kitchen. The event was hosted by her nephew, Dudley Thomas, who interviewed his aunt, Cleora Butler, and helped pull the book together, which was published on the day Mrs. Butler passed away. Cleora, who grew up in Muskogee, Oklahoma, was a renowned cook, and owner of her own catering company. She cooked for decades for many local oil barons, and other families, as well as for celebrities, like Cab Calloway’s band, when they were passing through town. Her Blue Cream House Special, a savory dip, was my go-to to make and bring to social gatherings with friends, and was always a big hit. As writer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie tells us, there is the danger of the single story. In that vein, I learned of the successes and joys and every day lives of members of the Black community and other communities of color. While I, while we, must learn about, and never, ever forget the horror of the Tulsa Race Massacre, I know I, and I hope we all, understand we must learn of the vast accomplishments and contributions that Black people in this country made to the shaping and building of this country. Like the Massacre, these histories were kept hidden from our school books, too.

I was highly inspired at the writing workshop I participated in with local writers Eddie Faye Gates, and Hannibal Johnson, both who have written multiple books about Tulsa, and other Oklahoma history, including the Tulsa Race Massacre. Watching the recent documentary, Tulsa Burning: The 1921 Race Massacre, and reading multiple articles about this horrific event, where both Gates and Johnson are noted, and interviewed due to their knowledge and research on this history, I further realize what a gift and honor it was to be in their presence, and to listen to them share firsthand their wisdom and experiences. I was especially endeared to Eddie Faye Gates, a long time teacher in the Tulsa school system who was personally responsible for gathering over fifty oral history interviews with survivors of the Tulsa Race Massacre. She knew how important it was to collect these true witness accounts before people passed away, and the truth was further erased. I learned that even in the Black community, these stories were kept quiet. The survivors still alive today, who were mostly children of varying ages at the time of the Massacre, also got the message to keep quiet about it from the adults in their lives, primarily out of fear of retribution, and to not have to relive the trauma and pain, or burden younger generations with it.

I talked with Mrs. Gates after the workshop. She was kind and generous, and I must have shared that I was Jewish, because I remembered she shared with me how she had strong ties with the Jewish community in Tulsa. I later learned, aside from her work and writings reflecting life in the Black community of Tulsa and other parts of Oklahoma, Eddie Faye Gates had also done extensive research on the Holocaust, and was a Holocaust Studies consultant. I was thrilled to learn while writing this post, that the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, in 2020, received the Eddie Faye Gates Tulsa Race Massacre Collection, “which contains a wealth of eyewitness accounts, photographs, and recorded survivor stories and other narratives of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre,” and which is a highly important history collection to be preserved and shared. The selfless work of Mrs. Gates, included being a part of the Oklahoma Commission To Study The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, in which part of this study calls for reparations for its survivors, should be uplifted and duly noted. The work of Black women is so often marginalized.

Another Black women, and newer resident of Tulsa in 1921, Mary E. Jones Parrish, watched the Massacre unfold from her apartment window, refusing to leave so that she could witness everything in its entirety. Parrish, an educator and entrepreneur, would share her story, considered, according to a recent New Yorker article on her, “the first and most visceral long-form account of how Greenwood residents experienced the Massacre..” in her book, Events of the Tulsa Disaster, published in 1923. Mary E. Jones Parrish’s great-granddaughter, Anneliese Bruner, is now working to get the book, and Ms. Parrish’s life, more widely read and recognized. A new edition of the book, with the title, The Nation Must Awake, contains a foreword by Ms. Bruner in which she shares what she sees as the parallels of what happened in Tulsa, with the January 6th storming of the capitol, as well as “racism endorsed by people in power.” This is what drives her to get her great-grandmother’s work out in the world again, so that we can work to stop the cycle of hate, violence, and injustice.

In my own trying to catch up with what is going on currently in Tulsa, I talked this month with my former sister-in-law, Paula Warlick. Aside from the important work she does, I always remember how she took me to the best thrift shops all over Tulsa. I felt proud of her when I learned that through her work as a Grassroots Manager with the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), she has initiated a project–a short documentary and upcoming virtual panel, on racial health disparities and access to medical care, which will focus on people living in North Tulsa. She shared that she is following the guidance of key members of the Black community in North Tulsa, like Kristi Williams, activist, and co-owner of the Black Wall Street tour, and Tulsa Councilwoman Vanessa Hall-Harper, in order to gather the full story of how the Tulsa Race Massacre and the impact of racial violence, the geographic displacement of a generation of people, the loss of generational wealth, and other forms of systemic racism have impacted the health, and access to healthcare, of the people of North Tulsa to this day.

Paula, with this collaborative project, is hopeful that by shining a light on, and building awareness of these disparities, as well as sharing about the ability for more people to receive Medicaid coverage, that real change can begin to happen. The ACS CAN statement for the panel reflects the same: “…With the passing of Oklahoma’s Medicaid Expansion bill on July 1st, which will provide health coverage for low-income individuals who don’t have other access to healthcare coverage, the Cancer Action Network understands the systems which create such disparities, and is working with several organizations and community leaders in Tulsa to host a conversation about the intersection between racial violence, systemic racism, health disparities, and the importance of access to healthcare.” The speakers for the panel event will include Kristi Williams, Co-Owner of the Black Wall Street Tour; Dr. Jabraan Pasha, MD, Assistant Dean of Student Affairs at the University of Oklahoma School of Community Medicine; Councilwoman Vanessa Hall-Harper, Tulsa City Council District 1; and Lance Barbour, ACS CAN Sr. State and Local Campaigns Manager. You can access and register for the July 23rd Zoom webinar panel, Medicaid and Health Equity: 100 Years After The Tulsa Race Massacre, here.

My daughters and I were so glad to have Paula’s daughter Zoe visit with us this week from Tulsa. A young adult now at 22, I asked Zoe, who attends college out-of-state, if she had attended any of the Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial remembrance events. She said she and her Mom walked around the Tulsa Drillers baseball stadium, ONEOK Field, which was moved to the Greenwood district from its former home at the Tulsa Fairgrounds. They walked the Pathway of Hope, which is a newly created pathway that acts as a connector within the Greenwood district, after the highway further divided up the neighborhood in the 1960’s. The Pathway contains photographs, historic marker plaques, and inspirational quotes, with a mission both to instill hope, and, to honor local prominent historian, John Hope Franklin, who strove to preserve the history of the Tulsa Race Massacre.

I also asked Zoe about whether she was taught about the Massacre in school. Zoe said that in middle school and in high school, there were lessons on the Massacre, and a film–she said, the same films every year, one a student-made film, that they watched. In her freshman year in high school, Zoe took an Oklahoma history class, where she said she learned more in depth about the Massacre. She shared that she and her fellow students most likely did have these lessons because the neighborhood the schools were in were close to, or within the Greenwood district, especially her high school, Booker T. Washington High School, which, by intention, has a diverse student body. She believed that other schools probably didn’t have the same lessons, as they were not a part of the formal curriculum, inferring that they probably left these lessons out because they weren’t comfortable with teaching and discussing it, or didn’t consider the need an important one. Zoe was grateful for the inclusion of lessons on The Tulsa Race Massacre, stating that it was so important to learn this history, even if the lessons weren’t always substantial. She also shared that through witnessing her mother put together the ACS CAN event, she has learned a lot more. One thing Zoe shared with me that I also hadn’t known, was that Tulsa moved the ONEOK minor league baseball stadium from the Fairgrounds to the Greenwood district–that same stadium where she and Paula walked The Pathway to Hope–without concern about what it meant to build an arena in this neighborhood traumatized by violence and destruction, as well as for the fact that the ground beneath the stadium was once a Native burial ground, which may also hold some remains of those killed during the Massacre.

Zoe also told me about the Tulsa artist collective, Fire in Little Africa, made up of rappers, singers, musicians, poets, and visual artists, who have produced an album, documentary and podcast, in commemoration of the Centennial of the Massacre. The project is being produced in the mansion formerly owned by ‘(W. Tate Brady, an Oklahoma businessman and member of the Ku Klux Klan. It was from this mansion that Brady, also believed to be one of the key architects of the massacre, descended 99 years ago to patrol the blood-stained streets of the Greenwood District, where Black Wall Street was.” (Business Insider) Stevie Johnson, aka Dr. View, the producer of the project, said though many of the artists involved felt uncomfortable recording in this home that held such a traumatic history, he feels that with Fire in Little Africa they are “reclaiming the space as their own, and bending history,” showing that what was happening then is still happening now, but artists like themselves, can create a new history, and make spaces for themselves to shape that new history.

In the three years that I lived in Tulsa, I learned a small part of that past history that Fire in Little Africa, and many other members of the Black community of Greenwood, and North Tulsa, are now bending in major ways, like Onikah Asamoa-Caesar, owner of Fulton Books & Coffee, whose mission “is to create a space to call home…to build community and to change our city through civic discourse..”, and Dr. Ricco Wright, founder of the Black Wall Street Gallery. Despite what people in the white community in Tulsa tried to forget, and keep secret, through the destruction of records, and through silence, this country, and the world, is finally learning more, too.

I know the Tulsa I lived in fifteen years ago has progressed in terms of consciousness, and a willingness of more members of the white community to acknowledge the horrific events of the Massacre and its impact. ILooking at friends’ photographs and social media feeds of Commemoration events, I saw many people of all different races, and ethnicities coming together to acknowledge this important moment. Yet, I’m also hearing, as I look for recent articles, and news reports on the Commemoration, voices of concern over gentrification of the Greenwood district, as well as commodification of the history of Greenwood, some of it by outsiders whose gains would not be contributing to the Greenwood community. I’m looking forward to talking with friends who still live in Tulsa, and through more research, to rediscover the Tulsa of today.

One person who I was grateful to reconnect with through email while writing this post was Alicia Latimer . Alicia is the current Coordinator of the African American Resource Center at the Rudisill Library, and is someone I also connected with when carrying out another art workshop with girls from the Greenwood Cultural Center’s Women of Tomorrow program. She let me know how Tulsa is busy with Commemoration events, and how though it is hard to recall this event and do the work to share about it, she carries on, and she encouraged me to do the same.

And, though I could only see myself surrounded by whiteness when I first arrived in Tulsa, I did, and I know that anyone else can too, find integrated spaces, and make connections with people whose backgrounds and experiences are different than their own. This reminds me of when I got to meet Civil Rights activist, Xernona Clayton, at the Race Amity Conference held in Norwood, Massachusetts. Ms. Clayton, originally from Oklahoma, said, that to live and engage with people who are different from ourselves is what makes life rich. I agree. And, if you seek it, you will find it. I uncovered things I didn’t know before. I learned more about the Tulsa Race Massacre and how that horrific act 100 years ago, still impacts the inequity that exists for Black people in Tulsa today, as well as serves as a reminder of the pain and trauma endured. Anyone who wishes to learn more about inequity, about the Massacre, about diversity, if you care about any or all of this, you can seek it, learn it, and be a part of bending history, too.

Sometimes it still feels strange that this New England born, city girl, lived in Tulsa. I used to reflexively roll my eyes right along with my friends when they’d say, “I can’t believe you lived in Tulsa..,” but Tulsa was for me a place where I found out more about who I am by building bridges, and Tulsa was where the seeds were planted for me to become conscious of how important the matter of cross-racial connection, and breaking down racism, and racist systems were to me. Even though diversity and fighting racism was something I cared deeply about since I was a child, Tulsa is where, as an adult, my life-long pursuit for racial justice and equity through writing, and through actions, took root. Hardly something to roll my eyes about.

It is my hope that you will check out the many articles and resources below to learn more about the history of the Tulsa Race Massacre, and the great achievements of people of the Black community in Tulsa. I look forward to hearing any stories and experiences you have to share, whether you are from Tulsa, or wherever you live, in relation to this important history, and in relation to your desire to build bridges, and be a part of the change we need in this country.

SOURCES:

Tulsa Commission 2001

Gilcrease Museum to Receive Eddie Faye Gates Tulsa Race Massacre Collection, The Black Wall Street Times, October 13, 2020

The Women Who Preserved The Story of The Tulsa Race Massacre, The New Yorker, May 28, 2021, Victor Luckerson

https://www.newyorker.com/news/us-journal/the-women-who-preserved-the-story-of-the-tulsa-race-massacre

Tulsa Entrepreneurs Reclaim Black Wall Street 99 Years After Massacre, Business Insider, May 28, 2021 (originally published June 2020), Dominic-Madori Davis , Jennifer Ortakales Dawkins , Tat Bellamy Walker , and Dominick Reuter

https://www.businessinsider.com/tulsa-massacre-entrepreneurs-reclaim-black-wall-street-trump-rally-juneteenth-2020-6#

Rudisill Library, African American Resource Center, Tulsa

https://www.tulsalibrary.org/research/african-american-resource-center

Tulsa Burning: The 1921 Race Massacre, documentary, The History Channel

https://www.history.com/specials/tulsa-burning-the-1921-race-massacre

Accountability, Artivism and Action: Where Are You On The Continuum?

23 Apr

George Floyd
Photo credit: Vanity Fair

The world was watching, and waiting, anxious, holding our collective breath, in hopes we could breathe again, if even for the one evening of Tuesday, April 20, 2021, the day the Derek Chauvin verdict came in.

Three counts of Guilty!

Relief, tears, breaths given for the ones George Floyd could no longer take–his life viciously taken by Chauvin last May. And we all watched it happen, only because brave 17 year-old, Darnella Frazier, recorded it, herself still pained that that’s all she could do. Yet, through her unwavering courage in bearing witness, the world saw what happened, and thankfully, the jury did it’s job to make Chauvin pay for his murder. Now we hold our breaths again to see what the judge’s sentencing will be.

Many have said this is not justice, it is accountability, and I agree. It’s not like this conviction means racism is ended. It doesn’t mean police brutality, use of excessive force, killings of unarmed and innocent Black people will end. It does not mean the system of policing, with its slave patrol origins, can be reformed without tearing the whole house down, and creating a new way of ensuring public safety in all of our communities.

As a white person who desperately wants a world where we all are free, I know this moment, most of all for me, doesn’t mean I can stop thinking about, or stop doing anything about ending racism in this country. And, I know it means that all of us white people have to stay doing something about it. I know I can’t just care about racism when I hear about yet another police shooting in the news, or someone I work with says something racist, even though those are times I must take action. As I always say here, I have to be thinking about, and acting every single day to break apart racism–whether it’s personal attacks, inequities in our communities in housing, schools, businesses, workplaces–or whether it’s policies and laws that uphold racism and privilege to people who look like me. I pray that we white people who were glued to our televisions on Tuesday evening, don’t go back to thinking it’s all good. It is hard for me to grasp the thought, conscious or not, of “if it doesn’t effect me, I don’t think about it, or do anything about it.” I remember the calls from Black friends and those speaking out against racism:”You must love Black children like they are your own” I remember what Darnella Frazier said when she was recording. She said when she saw George Floyd on the ground, helpless, she saw “my dad, my brothers, my cousins, my uncles, because they are all Black.”

And so why can’t we all say, especially when a person is on the receiving end of racism, whether a micro-aggression, a racial profiling incident, and most of all, when under threat of physical violence, why can’t we feel, and say to ourselves, I need to protect this person, because they are part of my family? And, every day, why can’t we self-examine, and be aware, and say why should I have access to this school, and the majority of people who don’t look like me are sitting in under-resourced schools, or, why do I get to have my voice heard, my ideas and perspectives centered in decision-making in this meeting, and why does almost everyone in upper administration look like me–where is the real inclusion?

I am not working across all these areas that I noted all of the time. One person cannot do it all. But we can find an area where we can do the work. Together we can all make a difference. We are part of the continuum of fighting for everyone to be free, and we have to keep on fighting.

If part of my way of doing the work is through my writing and my poetry, I know that I am just one of a vast number of artists who throughout history have used their art, and continue to use their work to reflect what is going on in the world, and who call to us to reflect, and take action. Call it art + activism, or artivism, it is definitely something that stirs my soul, and is an avenue that keeps me passionate about being part of the change to create a racially just world.

One of many local artists who inspire me to be a part of the fight against racism is Providence poet laureate, and playwright, Christopher Johnson. Christopher is in the process of workshopping his most current multi-discipline performance piece, which answers the asked and not so obvious unasked questions about race and racism. I was honored to be able to write about the workshop performance, Invoice For Emotional Labor, for Motif RI, which you can read about here. I invite you to think about the artists–visual artists, poets, dancers, actors, storytellers, musicians, writers, and the arts organizations, who inspire you, and who spur you to take action, and keep engaging in, and supporting their work. It will keep them creating, and keep us keeping on with the fight to make things right.

It can also help us build community, and not feel alone, or stuck in the thought of “but what can I do?..I am just one person..” We are all connected, and it is that realization, and acting like we are all connected, and all family, that will keep all of us alive, and well taken care of. I know that probably sounds naive, and Pollyanna, but is there any other way to get there?

I write daily poems on Facebook made up from my friends’ status updates. These poems, especially in times of chaos, horrific tragedy, and hate, help me make sense of what is happening, gives some order to my thoughts and feelings, and provides solace for my anxious, grieving heart. The poems, I always hope, in their documentation of the moment, honor all of the people who are grieving, and struggling with the same questions racing inside my brain.

This is the poem I created from my friends’ status updates on Tuesday, the day the verdict came in. Let us each day we wake up, ask ourselves who we are going to be today as we move through the world, and let us ask ourselves at the end of each day if we would want ourselves as a member of our own family? And remember each day who is a part of our family. (Hint: every one)

4/20/21

on pins and needles

it’s going to be

a long

30 minutes

it’s about to be

all the way on or

all the way off

george floyd is

21st century symbol

for 400 years of

lynchings and murders

come to a nexus

he represents

the thousands of

nameless, faceless,

unknown bodies that

lie decaying in

countless bogs, fields

and marshes

forgotten with

no headstones to

even mark

they ever existed

the verdict is in

guilty on all charges

I’m crying

the relief

god

guilty

all three charges

good!

but just a start

the people

have spoken

this is not justice

this is accountability

the whole system

is guilty

anybody else

emotionally exhausted

I wonder what the

verdict would’ve been

had the world not

been watching and

there was

no video

redesigning rooms in

a burning house

isn’t progress

I am thinking of

darnella frazier, a

17 year old girl

who had the courage

to film something that

was wrong

thank you to all

the bystanders who

bore witness to

this horrific tragedy

this didn’t happen

without you

blessed are those

who are

keepers of justice

this is justice for

my sons and yours

1 down and

countless others

to go

but his conviction is

no substitute for the

deep and deliberate

changes we need to

prevent further

police killings

and misconduct

makiyah bryant

I’m not black, but

I see the injustice

that you face daily

I’m not black, but

I will stand, kneel

& fight with you

justice would be

george floyd unharmed

please know

the difference

black men deserve

to grow old

“daddy changed

the world”

yes your dad

has definitely left a

historical mark

on this world

Thankful for Poem Contributors: Wendy, Christianne Warlick, Ronald Petty Jr., Warren Leach, Heather Parsons, Ntombi A. Peters, Jason Thompson, Kortez Artise, Sharlene Ebirim Downs, Ally Henny, Denitra Letrice, Michael Eaglin, Ulysses Prince, Angie Bannerman Ankoma, Orange Live, Innocence Project, Melissa Potter Laundry, Michael J. DiQuinzio Paintings, Patrice Jean-Philippe, Billy Porter, Johnny Washington Jr

Sources:

AMERICA RECKONS WITH RACIAL INJUSTICE
Darnella Frazier, Teen Who Filmed Floyd’s Murder, Praised For Making Verdict Possible
April l 21, 202111:15 AM ET by RACHEL TREISMANTwitter

Photo credit: Vanity Fair

Where Are All My White People At?

5 Mar

Photo credit. wyso.org

A friend suggested I jot down 10 random questions on a sheet of paper, instead of simply sitting down and trying to think of what my next blog post should be about. The questions became prompts. Of course, the very last question was the one: Will us white people ever look in the mirror like author James Baldwin refers to in The Fire Next Time?

What Baldwin knew when he wrote that book in 1963, was that us white people did everything we could to avoid acknowledging anything to do with our own history, and our past and present behaviors. We didn’t, and we don’t, want to acknowledge how this country was not founded on the principle that “all men are created equal.” It instead was founded on stolen lives and violence, through slavery, and through stolen land and genocide of the Indigenous people of North America.

The made up construct of race, with a hierarchy of whiteness seen as superior, and everyone else as other, and inferior, was put into place in order to create and sustain the systems of power and oppression that exist to this day. We white people implemented Jim Crow laws which legalized segregation, and set up laws and policies that allowed white people to live where we wanted to live, obtain a job without worry of discrimination, go to well-resourced schools in our own neighborhoods, work where we wanted to work, conveniently shop where we wanted to shop, take out a business loan or home mortgage with fair interest rates, and take advantage of the GI bill to again, afford to buy a home in a “nice” neighborhood and get that mortgage. Over one million Black veterans at that time were shut out of having the same access and opportunity to those benefits which allowed white families to continue to build even more generational wealth through home ownership.

Yes, when various groups of immigrants arrived in America from Ireland, Italy, and Jews from Eastern Europe, we at first faced discrimination too. But we were allowed to “become white,” and were subsequently afforded all the privileges of those who were called white before us. We got to live The American Dream. We all believed the American motto and individualist myth, that if one just works hard enough, they can achieve whatever it is they want in this country, and if they don’t, it’s because of their own laziness, lack of ambition, and moral inferiority.

We kept, and sill try to keep Black and Brown people from voting. We started the War on Drugs, and allowed crack cocaine to flood Black communities, which led to the mass incarceration of Black men and women, while white men and women either were let go, or served much lighter sentences for the same offenses. We kept and keep corporate boardrooms white, and are more likely to pass over resumes with names that sound Black. We are good as long as our kids get to go to the diverse enough public schools in our neighborhoods, but don’t want to send our kids to under-resourced schools in neighborhoods we silently think of as “too diverse,” of low socio-economic status, unsafe, and inferior in their academics. We don’t blink an eye at how we so easily see ourselves represented in our movies, museums, magazines, teachers, neighbors, co-workers, and we don’t notice who is not included. We pat ourselves on the back for making our workspaces or schools more diverse, but don’t secede our power, or ways of whiteness, thereby not changing the culture, or ways of interrelating and opening up to all perspectives of seeing and deciding on things, and so these spaces stay bound to white supremacist culture and conditioning, and unwelcoming, and block advancement to those who are not white.

And we really, really don’t want to look in the mirror and see all of this, and we don’t want to look into our souls and find all of this history residing there. Even, if our families arrived here in post-slavery times, we have this dust in our souls, and we have all of the heavy footprints of colonization, and white supremacist systems, institutions, societal norms, privileges, and racialized thoughts and behaviors, in every step and breath that we take.

Which brings me to the present. Many of us in this country feel, now is a time of reckoning in regards to race and racism in this country. Many white people are finally waking up to the violence committed against Black men, women and children, primarily by police officers and self-appointed white vigilantes. We have finally heard the call of Black Lives Matter, which fell on our deaf ears for 400 years prior to Trayvon Martin’s murder in 2012. We are finally waking up to all the ways we have oppressed, and continue to oppress Black people in this country.

And so after I jotted down that question about looking in the mirror, I expanded upon it. I free-wrote: will us white people do the work ourselves to unpack our whiteness, heal our rage and trauma that has to do with the racial atrocities we committed, and will we acknowledge, and do the body work, healing work–break it all the way down with, as Resmaa Menakem advised us, with our own selves, and our own white “guru,” not a Black guru, or Indian guru, so that we can truly acknowledge, reconcile, heal and take part in creating a fair, just, equal, equitable, integrated society without white people above any more, but have us truly living side-by-side in society?

Now, I can’t claim to be all woke to therapist and author, Menakem’s work just yet, including his book, My Grandmother’s Hands, Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies, because I am not. I just purchased his book, and have listened to him talk in two podcasts. His work focuses on internal generational racial trauma healing through not only working with our minds, but also somatically, through our bodies, where trauma resides. While listening to him, and you should listen, one of the things he said that stood out, was about how us white people really need to do our own healing, and that it has to be with us, and not, as I paraphrased above, by seeking out “Black or Indian gurus…” He went on to say this is going to take a lot of work, and take a long time, but that it must be done.

Which brings me to, doing the work. Where are all my white people at? I know a lot of us, as I’ve noted in recent posts, have been doing a lot of reading about the history of race and racism in this country, reading the works of Black authors–literary works, and works focusing on the work of anti-racism, as well as getting involved in racial justice community actions. I also continue to hear from fellow white people, and from Black and Brown people about white people, whether friends, or on social media, of us still posing the question of “what can I do?” or saying, “I should be doing more.”

Which brings me to: do the work.

Yes, I need to do the work. You, fellow white person, need to do the work. We all, all of us white people, need to do the work. And, what is the work? I’m just a middle-aged, white-skinned Jewish woman on a journey also trying to figure out what that means for me, for us. I am not a scholar, or expert to think I can tell you what to do and how to do it, but here are some thoughts and things I am doing, and striving to do.

The first thing we need to do is look in the mirror like James Baldwin didn’t hold onto hope that we could or would. We can’t do anything without acknowledging the reality of the totality of American history, and the violence and systems of oppression we created and continue to uphold.

Then, we can begin to educate ourselves, which many of us are finally starting to do through reading, and conversation. We have to be willing to get uncomfortable in the conversations we have with Black, Brown and Indigenous people, and to make mistakes, and allow ourselves to be corrected. We have to learn and practice not getting defensive, not over-apologizing, and not shedding white tears. We need to talk amongst ourselves, too, and hold one another accountable, and support one another in this work.

In considering all that needs to be done in educating ourselves, I was reminded of the ideas taught to me through teachers in the metalsmithing and woodworking classes I took, yet, I know this to ring true across all art forms. I remember my metals teacher especially, saying, as students we needed to learn and perfect our technique to the highest level, and then forget it, so that our authentic artistry and creativity could come through.

I believe we need to educate ourselves as fully as we can about racism, and about our own whiteness, and to deeply reflect on ourselves and the way we and those that came before us, have been moving through this world, and only then can we have the tools, and be in touch with our authentic selves, and be able to live the work of being fully human, take ourselves out of being white, and as world renowned author, poet, activist, and spiritual, transformational leader, Sonya Renee Taylor says, ” learn how to live in right relationship” with Black, Brown and Indigenous people in this country.

The Body Is Not An Apology author, Taylor, whose 2nd expanded edition I just purchased, beckons us to begin with “radical self-love.” Another book I am eager to read, I have gained much from following her on Instagram, and in listening to her conversation on the podcast, Eyes on Whiteness. Just the other day, I appreciated her talk on IG about white people taking responsibility. To put it in context, Sonya, who is American, just moved to New Zealand, after having previously split her time between there and the Bay area. I suppose after she announced her move this week, some white people chimed in to say they wish they too, could leave this country.

This talk came right on time for me. It seems lately I’m not only continually waking up to the ways of my own whiteness, but to the ways I have not taken responsibility, or done the work in other areas of my life. I’ve often been instant gratification girl. I want things to just happen. Like the time I urged my friend to send me the chanting meditation cd she had been listening to. A talented artist and poet, my friend had spent some time living in an ashram, practiced yoga, was doing her own spiritual work. She has always been a focused, intense, disciplined person. This was over ten years ago, but I remember her telling me that she was practicing the chanting while visualizing herself winning this poetry publication contest she submitted to. Well, she did win first place, and got her poetry book published. I can’t remember what I was hoping I’d win by possessing the cd, but I knew I just couldn’t get my hands on it fast enough. When it did finally arrive, I was thrilled. Now I’d be more spiritual, and more stuff in the universe would come to me. I don’t think I ever took the plastic wrapper off the cd set.

I say I want a lovely home, but don’t put in the time cleaning, painting, or de-cluttering. I say I want to be in love, but haven’t been consistent in making the effort to put myself out there, and to be fully present with the men I have met. Divorced for 8 1/2 years now, I know I sometimes hope that something magical will just happen, and I will live happily ever after. Cutting myself some slack along with all of you, for just trying to make it through this pandemic while working full-time at a psychiatric hospital, and hoping I’m holding up my two daughters’ spirits as they move through all of this too, I recently came to the revelation of still needing to put in some energy and effort. I need to do some work reckoning with my past, and open myself up to be able to give and receive love, so I can move forward and be present to the possibility of having a relationship. I am certain I will also need to practice the radical self-love that Sonya Renee Taylor speaks of to find my way in this.

See my pattern, and what I’m getting at? These things are much lighter than doing the work of breaking down racism, but I bring them up because we have to be willing to do the work. It will not be easy. We will not achieve enlightenment, or rewards, for doing the work we should have been doing since we first arrived in this country. But it is our responsibility.

In Sonya Renee Taylor’s talk, she said that some white people think, “the responsibility for solving issues of white supremacy delusion is on Black people’s shoulders.” She went on to say that it is white people’s responsibility to fix this. We created it. We need to figure out how to fix it, and fix it. She also said, that we have the “inhumane luxury” to propose to Black people that they make their needs or demands in a way that is comfortable to us–that we want it said in a certain way, a way that can’t sound angry–that we try and get away with simply having hope. That we say things like “I believe in the possibility of change,” but then do nothing. Or we say, “its too hard, or too slow, or too depressing.” Ultimately, as I shared above, Taylor says, our responsibility is to “make right relationship” with Black, Brown and Indigenous people here in America. We don’t, as Taylor says, just get to, up and leave America because we don’t like it here, and let racism and its systems of oppression continue to fester and rule, and then go run off to some other country where we can continue to live out our exploitive, gentrifying, white supremacist ways in other lands.

It is interesting to me that both Sonya Renee Taylor’s and Resmaa Menakan’s books relate to working to liberate ourselves through working with our bodies. As someone much more in tune with my emotions and instincts–heart over head–I am looking forward to taking my time with both of these important works.

We won’t fix racism or cure ourselves of our whiteness overnight, but we can’t afford to take any more time to start doing the work of fixing ourselves, and undoing racism and racist systems. We can’t wait until we think we know everything. We will never know everything. This is a journey, and we need to, if we haven’t already started, to start right now. Educate ourselves, and be hypervigilant about how whiteness is operating within ourselves, within other people, and within the spaces we find ourselves in.

Have the uncomfortable conversations. Make mistakes. Accept responsibility. Strive to do better next time. Speak up at your child’s school when you see how the white-led PTO is not including the voices, concerns, and desires of parents of color. Speak up at your workplace when your white co-worker makes a micro-aggression, or note the fact your non-profit organization’s administrators and board of directors does not include anyone representative of the community you serve. Get to know who the Black leaders in your community are. Find out ways you can support Black leaders, and Black-led organizations, without being a burden by asking them to tell you exactly what you should do. Share resources, either dollars, volunteering of time and/or skills, and show up at community events. Find out what the voting rights are like in your community, and get involved if things need to change for the better. Join an activist organization like Standing Up For Racial Justice, a movement of white people who come together to learn about racism, activism, whiteness, and fight for racial justice. There is so much we can, and need to do. There is so much we must do.

Are you ready? Where are all my white people at? Will you join me? May I join you?

Welcome to 2021, Or: When Privilege is Handed to you on a Silver Platter, And No, We’re Not Better Than This

11 Jan

The Daily Don BLM MAGA illustration by Jesse Duquette
Illustration Credit: Jesse Duquette, IG @the.daily.don

I am not a political pundit, and am not going to analyze the week’s event that we all witnessed with our own unbelievin’, yet believin’ eyes. There have been enough news shows and articles for that.

I will be another person, though, to call attention to the great disparities in how Black people, and their multi-racial, multi-ethnic supporters, were treated this summer during protests calling for racial justice, equality, and the very basic human request to not be shot and killed–mostly by police officers, and sometimes by white vigilantes, simply because of their skin tone. I’m quite certain, too, that many men and women who fancy themselves vigilantes like the white father and son duo who killed Ahmaud Arbery, were in the crowd that showed up at the capitol this week to “take their country back.”

We saw it with our own eyes on video, and on the news, and yet, Roots drummer, dj, author, food and culture enthusiast, Questlove, in an Instagram post, had something to say about the statement that so many in our country would rather believe in, namely: “this is not who we are.”

Questlove says, “It’s no coincidence the unpacking of our lives is going down this way (this instance, the events in dc, the pandemic, BLM, MeToo–everything that has risen to the surface in the past 5 years–I know a lot of people wanna hang on to the common thread of “this isn’t who we are” or “we are better than this” “A lot of you have to ponder & rephrase it now.. “This is who we’ve been?”…”Can you imagine what went unchecked without the cell phone camera? This didn’t just start now…or 2011…or back in 91 w Rodney King…..this has BEEN going on & no one believed it.”

Questlove’s Instagram post was actually in response to the viral video of Miya Ponsetto, the white woman who physically attacked jazz musician, Keyon Harrold’s, 14 year-old son, accusing him as the person who stole her cell phone. Ponsetto singled out Mr. Harrold and his son, who are Black, as they simply walked through the lobby of their Soho hotel to go have brunch. The phone, turns out, was actually left in an Uber.

But, as Questlove shares, this same belief he sees so many falsely holding, was shared by countless people posting all over social media that “this is not who we are” after watching the January 6th domestic terrorist attack on the capitol. We can apply the “this is not our country,” to this most recent ‘Karen’ moment, or to the storming of our nation’s capitol, and we certainly have been applying it for years, decades, centuries, haven’t we? Those of us with white skin privilege who believed the myth we were taught of how our great country was founded, of how our democracy was for all of us. We want to believe we are better than what keeps playing on the screens in front of our own eyes. But if that were the case, wouldn’t we be behaving like we are better than this? Wouldn’t we have made things equal, equitable and safe for every one through the ages?

Wouldn’t we be doing something to change things since the notion “that all men are created equal” was never carried out in law or deed? We witnessed how giving up power and privilege is so damn frightening for the white warrior face-painted, Davey Crockett meets neo-Viking, fur hat wearing, confederate flag waving, heavily-armed men, and women, who stormed the capitol. We witnessed hundreds of these white folks descend upon the capitol building, break in through a window, be let in by politicians, take selfies with capitol police, without the presence of the National Guard or police in riot gear. Friend, Gloria Johnson, a risk analyst, and strong advocate for her community who sits on several non-profit boards, said, on social media, contrasting January 6th’s insurgence with the uprising for racial justice after George Floyd’s murder, “protestors this past summer were beaten, gassed and hit with rubber bullets for protesting and yet these mofos were allowed to get into the SENATE CHAMBERS…without being beaten, gassed or shot! Nothing…Clearly restraint can be used by law enforcement”…She added, “…white supremacy is a hell of a drug..” after witnessing the insurgents “just chillin in the senate chambers…”

That about says it all. We don’t need pundits to tell us what we saw. If we, in the words of James Baldwin, which always come to me the strongest in these moments, look in the mirror, we will see that it is us, white people, who are the violent ones, the oppressors, who founded this country on white supremacist notions, laws, and policies, overt and covert, for over 400 years. We saw that when Black people asked this summer to be treated like human beings and their right to live and thrive like everyone else in this country, instead of as a monolithic, faceless group to be feared and harmed, they are met with violence. We saw when white people, armed with guns and zip ties, force themselves into the nation’s capitol building in an attempt to overthrow democracy, that they are given carte blanche to roam the halls, make violent threats, and desecrate property, all aided and abetted by the President and some of the capitol police officers there–never mind the fact that there were a number of police officers, former military, and government officials who were part of the insurgent mob themselves.

We witnessed the fear of all of these white men and women losing the grip on what they believe their white country does for them. They fear being in the minority by number, and by privileges, real and perceived, they have always benefitted from, either without caring what happened to Black or brown people in this country, or with the will to do great harm to them.

I plead for all of us white people to see that this is who we are, and to every day do something about it. We can no longer believe we are better than this. We have to do the work to make where we are in each one of our very own communities a safe, just, equitable and free place for Black people. This is our call. A new President will not fix this. It is on us. If you don’t know where to begin, as I’ve said before, look around in your workplace, your neighborhood, your schools, your non-profit organizations, at your elected officials. Are these places equitable and just and inclusive? Who is in charge? Who has the power to make decisions? Do your elected officials represent the needs of all people? Connect with and listen to the Black leaders in your community. Listen to Black women. Think of ways you can support them and their work, and ask them if your ideas to support are okay, are necessary, or are something that isn’t needed, or off-base, or white savior patronizing. If you feel stuck, comment below, or message me. I am no expert. I am on this journey, just like you are, but if we keep saying we don’t know what to do, then we are the biggest part of the problem.

It’s 2021. Who is ready to change who we are?

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Illustration Credit: Jesse Duquette, IG: @the.daily.don Twitter: @JRDuquette

Facebook: The Daily Don

Follow Questlove: IG: @Questlove @qls @questlovesfood

Catching Back Up With Artist, Kenya (Robinson), And The Luck, Or Lesson Of, Finding What You Seek

20 Nov

Artist, Kenya (Robinson)

“We can’t just jump into one another’s lives, and expect to know each other right away…”

That was artist, Kenya (Robinson), at the pre-reception for her lecture at the Providence Public Library’s HairBrained Exhibition, held in 2018. HairBrained was a look at the ways in which hair defines and reflects culture, self-identity, agency, and politics. Kenya’s talk, as stated in the library’s announcement, “offered a critical analysis of blondness, baldness, and beauty related to our collective hair politic, identification of gender, and normalization of whiteness.”

A small group of mostly white women stood around the oak library desk used to display a variety of blond hair bundles, which included: two-inch snippets of corn-silk smooth locks tied at their tops with elastic bands, long, textured ponytails with combs provided nearby, and a wooden hand-mop whose bristles were replaced with lengths of bleach blond hair. Kenya, who reminded me of how artists so well model the example of dress as self-expression, and whose outfit I envied, wore a white cowboy shirt with fuchsia fringe, similarly colored-velvety leggings, and high-heeled, sleek ankle boots. She did not have,  or wear, as we’d later learn of Kenya’s penchant for wigs, blond hair, but instead sported a short, natural style. Her comment about jumping into another’s life was in response to a woman who was yanking at one of the textured ponytail with a comb, creating a snarl midway through that seemed to be impossible to comb out.

“If that hair was attached to your child’s head, you wouldn’t be tugging on it that way. That would hurt, right? With our hair, we start at the bottom, and hold the hair above the snarl so that the person doesn’t feel the pain..well, sometimes people do pull like that, and the child complains, but you get what I mean?” Kenya said to the woman. The woman acknowledged Kenya’s comments, and moment of education, and re-arranged her grip on the ponytail and carried on with less resistance.

I attended Kenya’s talk and was struck how she managed, aside from her endearing vulnerability and sense of humor, which was a gift in itself, to ask us to think about inclusion, exclusion, racism, gender, and all the other “isms” as Kenya called them, without necessarily naming them. Instead, she challenged us to believe someone when they shared their lived experience with you. And, by the existence of her work dissecting “blondness,” and in turn, femininity, gender and racial identity, she asked others to see her and her work for what it is, and not through the gaze of gender or race. Kenya shared there were, and still are times where she has felt literally rendered voiceless, or her work not seen as intended, because of her gender (she did not clearly say, also because of her race) until she erased herself out of it. I cannot do Kenya, or the experience of her talk, as well as her work justice, but please know, that I was deeply moved and inspired by it, and thank her for that.

Another event I attended was Dr. Quincy Mills‘ talk which focused on the book he wrote on the history of Black barber shops from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Cutting Along the Color Line: Black Barbers and Barber Shops in America. Dr. Mills is currently Associate Professor of History at the University of Maryland. I learned how black barbers during slavery and shortly after emancipation, were employed to service white men with shaves and cuts, as white men liked to have their domestic services performed by black men and women, and as the role of the barber was looked at as too inferior a service for a white men to perform. Mills also asked us to look at the fact, in allowing black men to be their barbers, they had to trust that an enslaved, or freed man with a razor blade in his hand, was still inferior, in order to dismiss any internal inkling that he would ever consider slitting the throat of the very man that once enslaved him.

We learned of the prominent black barber, George Meyer who served President McKinley, and how doing so, made him a central figure in Republican politics, as he was seen as a gateway to the political office, and the associated favors that came with voting the President in. Of course, white clientele in the newly developing Jim Crow laws years didn’t want to sit side-by-side with black men, who they considered less than them, so black men were shut out from black-owned barber shops, until black barbers started to open shops in black communities beginning in the 1920’s and 1930’s. With the Depression era upon them, the black-owned barber shops became a space that was much more than a place to get a haircut and a shave, but a free, public space, or cultural center, where the politics of the day could be spoken about without worry, pass the time talking about the joys and struggles of daily life, and coming-of-age life lessons for young black boys.

Aside from the great interest I had in learning about the history of the shops, Dr. Mill’s talk brought back to the surface for me the time I spent working in a black-owned barber shop and salon in Boston in 1980-81. In a city, highly segregated, and rife with racial tension at the time, Danny’s His and Hers Salon was situated on Massachusetts Avenue, in between the bordering black neighborhood of Roxbury, and the more affluent, white neighborhood, the Back Bay. I got to experience firsthand the cultural space and conversation that Dr. Mills speaks of in his book, and from the customers’ perspective, too. I wrote a little about that experience in the 2012 post, Black Beauty Back In The Day: What I Learned About Jheri Curls From The Grown-Ups, And Interracial Marriage From A 5-Year Old.

As I revisited this piece, I see how much there would still be to say about the social atmosphere of this space, as well as how I’ve grown to more understand the how and the why of the much deeper, necessary teachings about the relationship between black men and white woman that showed up that day in the presence of a five year-old Black boy who was a teacher I did not yet fully recognize as such.

Kathy, me, Kim at Danny’s His and Hers Salon, 1981. Where I learned more than a backgammon lesson from the 5 year-old boy noted above

Inspired by this artist and scholar, I had to attend to my own craft. I went to the HairBrained writing workshop led by local writer, Mary Kim Arnold, and had lunch afterward with my writer/artist friends. I was reminded how artists really break down life, and their experiences, and even though I suppose I do that very thing in my writing, when in conversation, I always feel much more surface and superficial, and much less of a critical thinker when I hear my friends’ critical thinking, reflections and making meaning of an experience–whether it be a book, movie, art exhibition, or the writing workshop we just attended.

In reflecting on making meaning, and understanding myself better as a white woman with a strong desire to connect across race, and to be able to communicate without over-analyzing, or worrying about how I’m coming across, which gets in the way of being myself, and in the way of a true connection, I reconnected last week with Kenya (Robinson)’s work, this time, on Instagram. I listened to her video, titled, WHITE BITCHES IS CRAZY (or the creativity of passive aggressive language) Another tool for hacking the IZM

In this video, Kenya shared on the concept of the lexicon of passive aggressive language, and in particular, on her experiences with this language exchange with white women, both recently, and in her past. These experiences, she said, left her at first confused, unaware it was happening, or knew and sometimes would let go, but, most often, got her mad.

Kenya began by making it clear, with what she called her “pure positive love energy miracle tone healing music” playing in the background,  that her aim in this talk was to approach these lexicons as a language which we are acculturated into, and to personally, get away from a judging framework, so that her vibration and energy can stay high, and won’t get trapped in judging, which brings her energy down. Kenya generously wanted to share the tools of creativity with others, so they could use them to hack these languages, and have the ability to open up to the infinite creative possibilities that lie within us.

Kenya looked at the etymology of the words, passive and aggressive. She shared how while Black people’s style of communication is said to be ‘real’ or ‘authentic,’ as if it is compelled to be so due to feeling safe or comfortable, it is actually a tool of survival, learned by always being surveilled, being watched, so that Black people feel they need to respond, to give answers, to be reporters.  It is an acculturation learned as a response to a stressor; a survival tool. White women, in their closeness to white patriarchy, are acculturated to conform their communication in response to the stressor of patriarchy, yet Kenya wanted to also be careful to not  give all credit to that idea because it can get in the way of the creative possibilities that can come from the investigation, dissecting, and understanding of this behavior, which is more complex than stemming from a single source

Kenya believes by working within that middle space between the dichotomy of passive and aggressive, and understanding how acculturation of Black people’s and white people’s lived experiences under the framework of all the isms, impacts our language and styles of communication, we can practice using creativity to hack our communication, instead of the survival technique which we were programmed to use. This will open up tremendous possibilities for connection, and to those places inside of us where our cores, our entity, our energy, is the same, and where we can learn and grow and help one another.

I listened to her talk twice to absorb and process all that she said, and will listen to it again, I’m sure, to have it soak in even more. There is definitely more detail about how and why passive aggressive communication shows up, about our inner and outer racialized “programming” and how to creatively hack our communication, so I encourage you to listen, one, two, three, or however many times you wish to so that you, too, can learn and grow through Kenya’s offering.

 I know for myself, as a white woman who has always considered herself definitely passive, and indirect in my communications with others, I have not considered the impact, and the how, when, where, and why, of my own passive or passive aggressive style of communication with Black women or men. I will here on in, be alert to this, and as Kenya asks us, will begin with the outer creative hack every time, and the longer term inner-programming of acculturation under all the isms, every day, every time. That is the only way to open up creative possibilities, to open up a new way of being together in this world.

Kenya finished by saying that in practicing this creative language hacking tool, she, and we, can be responsible and active in our communications, and she finds when she doesn’t allow this passive aggressive communication to be heaped upon her, to burden her, she feels more power, and more energy and positivity, which allows her to be more creative, and more engaged with her creative process.

To put it more beautifully, I will share the closing words of Kenya’s talk: “I need to talk to whoever, I need to be creating with my fellow human beings because this is going to make me…so I can tap into that source inside of me. (Holding up fortune cookie fortune) “If you seek it, you’re going to find it.” You’re going to find creative ways to interact with other people. And, you’ll find creative ways to make beautiful things happen. Its going be gender non-specific, intergenerational, non-binary, transracial, cut across class, geography…none of these things are going to be impediments because it comes from a source that is timeless, that is ultimate creativity, that is unknown, in the most beautiful ways.”

I have deep gratitude for finding my way to Kenya’s talk this day. If you seek it, you’re going to find it.

To follow Kenya (Robinson)’s work, visit her at www.kenyarobinson.com, and on Instagram @kenya9

What I Didn’t Want To Share, Or: If This White (Jewish) Woman Went To Confession, This Is What She’d Say

7 Nov

I actually did go to confession when I was in the fifth grade. I grew up as a Reform Jew, and wanted to know what all my Catholic classmates did in confession so I had a few of my friends take me to the grand, Immaculate Conception Church in our downtown. They prepped me on what to do and say when I got in the confession booth, and told me how to go to the altar and kneel and count to sixty instead of saying the Hail Mary. I felt certain the priest would know through the screened booth that I was Jewish. I felt guilty because I lied to him about the sins I made up about fighting with my sisters and lying to my parents, and that it was five weeks since my last confession. I felt guilty for kneeling at the altar because Jews aren’t supposed to kneel. But it made me feel like I knew something more about my friends, and what they experienced as Catholics. Left in our school’s classroom every Monday with the two other Jewish students, and the one Muslim student, while the rest of the class went to Catechism class, I had crossed a bridge into their world, and felt better off for doing so.

Speaking of guilt, I know my writing has been more sporadic as of late, but do you remember that bit of advice I gave at the end of Some Of Us White People ? Yes, the one about not letting our white people guilt, or shame, keep us focusing on ourselves, keep us stuck and inert and unable to act. You may not remember, because I wrote that piece in June–over four months ago!

Well, I didn’t listen to my own advice. I let myself get sucked into, let myself wallow in feelings of unworthiness, guilt, and wondered with self-importance if I, as a white woman, had the “right” to write about race–that maybe I could, maybe I should, just be quiet for a while.

I started a draft of this post back then, but kept putting off finishing  and publishing it because it didn’t say all that I thought I needed to say, and because I worried about sharing my vulnerability, and being called out for my own self-centering, self-absorbed “white freakin’ fragility” nonsense. As I sit to finally come back to this writing, it is November 5th, two days post-election, and we all sit waiting for all the ballots to be counted, and for the news of who will be our next President.

To be honest, this conflict about writing is something I’ve grappled with at times during the ten years I’ve been blogging about race, racism, and cross-racial connection. The sentences run through my brain…should I write about Black popular culture? about anti-Black racism?…Am I going to offend Black people with what I write? …Are white people going to think I am an extremist and make everything about race?I have no place wanting to write up the stories of the Queen of the Maroon peoples of Jamaica, Ga’ama “Mama G”, or more formally, Ga’ama Gloria Simms. Ga’ama Mama G is a great woman leader, who I was honored to meet in Jamaica, and be able to befriend through my friend, Professor Diana Fox, Chair of the Anthropology Department at Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts. I tell myself, shouldn’t it be a Jamaican woman who is representative of, and knows, the Jamaican culture? And, when I hear Black people say we should center and amplify the voices of Black people, of Black woman, I of course, fully agree.

As a white woman, I am grateful for the diversity of this blog’s followers and with every one’s engagement and feedback. As a writer, I also often hear the phrase, we should know who our audience is. I have to admit, I think I am someone who has lived her life in many areas in an unintentional, but perhaps, intuitive way, and I know I definitely wasn’t fully conscious of, or strategic, about who I was writing for when I started blogging. As time has gone on, I realize it is my intention, and my hope that sharing what I’ve experienced and learned through reading the works of Black scholars and writers, and while in conversation with Black people, and other white people, and through this reflective writing,  that white readers here will absorb at least some of it, and begin to question and change the way they see matters of race and racism, and us white people’s complicity in it. It is my hope that we all, no longer being able to unsee the racist foundation upon which this country was built and maintained, that we white people will want to change our ways of moving and behaving in this world, and more strongly, will do the work to break down racism in every facet of our lives. I know that it is also my hope that I continue to engage more deeply in conversations about race with Black people, and to learn more about their lived experiences, and to be open to receiving their feedback and questions, and to grow with that, and to not become defensive, or to let my guilt take over, like the very guilt and shame that had me hedging about writing and sharing this piece in the first place.

When I do express this inner conflict about writing to friends, Black, and white, I challenge myself to listen to their feedback with an open mind and heart. I was recently reminded of something I know, but also, at times, forget. Professor Julia Jordan Zachery, Chair of the Africana Studies Department at University of North Carolina, said, “you have a race..white people forget or don’t think they have a race. You have a race, and you’re writing about race through your white lens.” Diana, who I mentioned above, and who introduced me to Ga’ama Mama G., has shared her perspective of noting the many identities we hold, acknowledging intersectionality and the power and privilege that comes with those identities, and on broadening our views to one of a global interconnectedness. While acknowledging the need for affinity spaces, she also believes in the need for people of all backgrounds to come together for bridge-building work, and to bring about change in this world.

I have also recently gotten feedback from some Black people, suggesting, especially at this point in time, that instead of my writing on matters pertaining to the Black community, that I should center the voices of Black people in the telling of their own communities. What’s probably missing for me, is more feedback and interaction from other white people, especially the feedback I don’t get from white people who don’t like, or don’t believe in what I have to say. They seem to stay silent, and I’m left to ponder their missing feedback.

In the more distant past, I know I have looked for the feedback that told me I was still a “good white person,” and wanted to avoid hearing words that challenged my people-pleasing, good white person self. I got defensive and did that white person thing, of saying to myself and to friends, that whoever questioned what I wrote, didn’t know me, or my true intentions.

After ten years of writing, I definitely still can feel wounded at times when I take in commentary about white people and whiteness. I can personalize a “not all white people” statement, and then immediately afterward know I shouldn’t. And then take it to the place of knowing, but it is all white people, and embrace it. The constructs of race does not allow us to escape our whiteness. There is a dichotomy that sits inside of me that I continue to work on. The voice that says, I feel bad about myself, and the one that says, I am here to hear everything that needs to be heard about racism, whiteness, and white supremacy and white people’s complicity in it because it’s far more important to break down white supremacist systems than it is to worry about my good white person status. The latter is stupid and useless and dangerous.

As I get mad at myself for still, after all this time, having these feelings of guilt pop up, and work to overcome them, I wonder if these feelings of guilt and shame are more recently heightened because of this moment in time, and are a necessary thing for me, and other white people to not overcome, but to work through, in the process of undoing our whiteness, and of decolonizing our racialized minds and ways of moving in the world. It has to get uncomfortable, at least I know that is true especially for someone like me, to truly get myself further along on the journey of changing myself, and growing my ability to be a part of the change of the systems of white supremacy I find myself surrounded by. I know it is far more important to be able to hear the statements of truth about where we are at, at this very moment in this country. White people have the dire need to reckon with the white supremacist notions and racial violence that this country was founded on, and has maintained over the past 400 years, and as this election reflects, shows that half the country is desperately trying to hold on to. I will never “arrive” at being done with the work of dismantling the whiteness that resides within me and the world around me. None of us will. It is a lifelong journey, and will continue to be for those that come after us. I will work on seeing this moment as necessary for me to grow, instead of one that gets me stuck.

Something that is helping me tremendously to reckon with my current white woman junkpile of whiteness, is the podcast, Eyes on Whiteness. The podcast is co-hosted by Maureen Benson, who identifies as a white woman and whose work focuses on racial justice and intersectional leadership in the areas of education and social impact organizations, and Diedre Barber, who identifies as a Black, Puerto Rican gay women, and is the founder and CEO of Filament Consulting Group, where she coaches others—youth, educators, and corporations–to bring about systemic change through the use of authenticity, compassion, transparency and high expectations.

In the words of the founders, “Eyes On Whiteness is a podcast that illuminates the insidious and ignorant ways of whiteness, regardless of intent. Our guests are invited to talk about the ways white supremacy and patriarchy are pervasive and ever-present.  Our conversations are rooted in a commitment to normalizing the “how, not if” lens for looking at the ways it’s present for all of us.”

Eyes On Whiteness and the conversations that Maureen, and Diedre, who Maureen notes in her introduction, shows up when she feels like it, as is her right as a Black woman taking care of herself and setting boundaries for her own emotional labor, are deep, and eye, and heart opening. These two women truly reflect their values of authenticity, transparency, compassion and accountability, whether it is the two of them reflecting on how they feel on this Election Day, or in conversation with their guests who have included, poet/educator, Roger Bonair-Agard, educator, facilitator and healer, Leidene King, E3: Education, Excellence & Equity founder, Dr. JuanCarlos Arauz, and the episode I listened to twice for all of its gems: the conversation with poet, activist, leader and author of The Body Is Not An Apology, Sonya Renee Taylor.

Eyes On Whiteness is making me, instead of always looking outward to analyze anti-Black racism, look inward in a way that helps bring awareness to the ways whiteness shows up in me, and how it permeates all of us, and all the spaces we move in. It is challenging me to work through this current bout of white guilt I have been letting overtake me. It is helping me to sustain my will to always show up and be present in this lifelong work of what, I believe Diedre has named, as transmuting white supremacy. They say transmuting instead of dismantling because it is their belief that we will never break down white supremacy completely, but we can transform it, and change our ways of being together and living and working together—replace the ways of white supremacy with a new, non-hierarchal, equitable way of relating to, and caring for one another—to make a new way, and a new world together.

I thank you for sharing in my confession. Maybe mine will help you share yours. Because it’s okay to not be perfect, to slip up, to be self-aware, so we can know what we need to work on on ourselves. I give thanks to Maureen and Diedre, for all they have given to me over these past few weeks. I will now go count for 60 seconds, and clear out those guilt cobwebs, and begin again, looking for the next bridge to cross.

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