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Where Are All My White People At?

5 Mar

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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

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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

Wendy Jane Soul Shake 2020 Year in Review

28 Dec

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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.

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

20 Nov

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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

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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.

Fighting Racism Got You Down? Don’t Make Those Brunch Reservations Just Yet

3 Oct

image
Breonna Taylor illustration by Robin Hilkey

How are you all doing? It’s been 18 weeks since the killing of George Floyd, 1 week since the indictment for the bullets that hit Breonna Taylor’s neighbor’s wall, and the non-indictment for killing Breonna Taylor, and 4 weeks since I last blogged.

Have you noticed that things have quieted down…and…they haven’t? Since I last wrote, we are not seeing as many televised Black Lives Matter marches. They are still taking place all across the country, but as usual, it seems the media stays hungry to capture the few where destruction occurs, perpetuating the narrative that protestors are violent, that Black Lives Matter, or, the Movement for Black Lives, is violent, and that white people should be very afraid. Yet, let’s take a closer look.

In August, we saw how the horrible killing of a five-year old white boy by his neighbor, a Black man, was used by white racists to try and draw some kind of correlation between a lack of outrage for this white child’s death at the hands of a Black person–which is highly rare–with the systemic violent deaths of Black people at the hands of white police officers, which happens…a lot. Somehow, these gaslighters could not believe that Black, Brown and white “liberals” were also outraged and saddened by the boy’s tragic death, and could not make the connection that justice was served in this case. A manhunt and arrest and jail without bail of the boy’s killer occurred all within 24 hours. Contrast that with the six months it took after Breonna Taylor’s killing, to get the heartbreaking, but unsurprising news from the grand jury, that there would be no indictment in her death, other than for the one officer charged with wanton endangerment for the bullets fired not at Breonna Taylor, but at her neighbor’s house.

We saw in late August in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Joseph Blake be shot in the back at close range by police officers while walking to his vehicle after trying to break up a domestic dispute. His children were sitting in the back seat of his car at the time. When protests broke out following the shooting, we saw 17 year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, a strong Blue Lives Matter supporter, and militia group member, fulfill his mission to support the police as they dealt with “rioters.” We learned Kyle’s mother drove him across state lines to do just that. We saw him use his AR-15 rifle to straight up shoot and kill protesters, Anthony Huber, 26, and Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and injure a third man. We saw Kenosha police allow Rittenhouse to roam the streets that night, with his rifle, even after he held his arms up in the air after killing the two men, as if surrendering. We saw police cruisers simply pass him by. We saw Rittenhouse arrested a few days later, alive, unscathed.

Just this past Tuesday, during the first presidential debate, we heard our President refuse to denounce white supremacy. We saw him instead prop up the white supremacist group, The Proud Boys, giving them the go ahead to “stand back and stand by.” Somehow, some of us thought it was merely dinner entertainment–a humorous evening watching two childish, old men shouting over one another.

So, just checking in, since the videos and memorial tribute memes of George, Ahmaud, Rayshard, Breonna, and Elijah have waned, and the racial justice proclamations made by many corporations are no longer flooding our social media feeds. As are the number of days ago growing, where we passionately said to our friends, co-workers, family, and ourselves, we were going to do something about all of this. I wanted to ask, how are we all doing with this? Are we allowing ourselves to be lulled back into complacency–into a forgetting that this movement requires us to keep at it every day?

I am remembering the article I wrote for Motif Magazine last month, with interviewee, AJS, activist, and member of Standing Up For Racial Justice (SURJ). In a conversation we had afterward, AJS reminded me how all of us who seek to break down racism and the racist systems that uphold it, have to realize that we are part of a continuum. We have to keep doing the work. As white people, we need to support Black leaders who lead the charge in Black liberation. The work has been done before us. The work will be done after us. While we might not see the change we seek to see in our lifetimes, we must keep working, now supporting Black youth, Asian, Latino, Muslim youth, white youth, all of our young people, who are picking up this charge, so that our future generations can realize the changes we wish to bring to fruition.

And, I know we are tired of this virus, and wearing masks, and we just want to feel some semblance of normalcy as summer bid us goodbye, like breathing mask-free on the beach one more time, or dining outdoors at our favorite restaurants. We deserve some relief from having to stress over how we sent or didn’t send our kids to school, how we’ll pay our rent, how our businesses will survive, and how we will mail our ballots if they keep pulling our mailboxes out of the ground.

While I too, wish for carefree days, wish for certainty, I think of my friend, poet, actor and playwright, most recently of the upcoming, Invoice for Emotional Labor, Christopher Johnson. Christopher has posted on social media, and we have talked together about white apathy when it comes to the deaths of innocent Black people–and let’s just say for a time marker–beginning with the death of Jordan Davis in 2012. In reference to our upcoming presidential election, Christopher shared a meme that asked, will we, once Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are elected–will we just go back to our brunch?

Will we? I’m asking, will we, white people, order the status quo avocado toast with a big side serving of white complacency? Will we put on, not our clear face shields, but opaque side blinders that enable us to block out everything in our vision and memory bank that reminds us of racial violence, of racism in education, housing, generational wealth building, and criminal justice? Will we keep our masks on long after we are finally able to shed them, so that our lips stay silent?

Or will we order the Fight The Powers That Be omelette? I was taught at our family’s yearly Passover Seder, the dinner service using symbolic foods and storytelling to remember the time the Jews fled slavery in Egypt, that the foods we nourish ourselves with that night hold great meaning. I ask today, will the egg in our omelette–which in the Seder represents both the symbol of life, and, a sacrificial offering in mourning of the destruction of our temple–now beckon us to both mourn the ongoing deaths and destruction of Black lives, and the mourning of our own souls which must be torn open, filleted, with urgency, as we acknowledge and reckon with the truth of our racist, violent lives, and history, once and for all? Will we heed the call to make the sacrifices necessary to bring about equality and liberation for Black people in this country? Will we allow the egg to renew and sustain ourselves in this cycle of life as we continue this fight? Because we know none of us are free until all of us are free, right?

Yes, let us take part in that kind of brunch. One that nourishes and keeps us on the path of the continued fight against racism in all it’s insidious forms and systems. I have faith in you. In us. I know that even though I haven’t been hearing all of us talking or posting as much about George Floyd, about Breonna Taylor, or about systemic racism, I know we want to keep fighting, right? Every day, right? At our places of work, at our schools, anywhere we encounter a Karen or Ken, and even, and especially when, we think nothing “wrong” is going on. Because it is. It is the systems that we think we can’t “see,” but I’m hoping that everyone who says their eyes are now open, cannot unsee. I’m hoping we will work on breaking those down most of all.

We can do the work right where we are. In our communities. We can learn how to advocate for and support Black people by reaching out, whether to an individual or to a Black led community organization, and ask how you can be an advocate and support–without causing emotional labor, without being a savior, and without trying to take that white person lead of “Here take this, I know what’s best for you.”

If you work in a school, or are a parent of a school child, you can advocate for and support Black and Brown leaders calling for equal resources, for curriculums and teaching and learning that honors all children, and for changes in the unjust, ineffectual, penalizing, school disciplinary systems. If you work in real estate, you can be the eyes and ears of unjust practices in those dealings. If you work in a non-profit organization serving BIPOC communities, and the leadership and board of that organization is majority white, and does not live in the neighborhood being served, be a part of breaking that down. If you care about the environment, you can get involved in environmental justice work. Ditto for all of our majority white spaces we find ourselves in, where Western, white cultural norms are seen as superior. You can question why there are not more Black people where you work, or where you order your outdoor latte, and ask why microaggressions that happen to your Black co-workers go unchecked. We can all learn that diversity doesn’t mean we get a few more token students of color in our schools, or co-workers in our office, and think everything is honky dory. We can learn it is about changing the culture, alongside our peers, not over them, so that everyone is equal, and white supremacist culture no longer reigns. This is a time of reckoning. The time is now. Order the omelette.

from the heart

it’s a start, a work of art

to revolutionize make a change

nothing’s strange

people, people we are the same

no we’re not the same

cause we don’t know the game

what we need is awareness, we can’t

get careless

you say what is this?

my beloved let’s get down to business

mental self defensive fitness

(yo) bum rush the show

you gotta go for what you know

to make everybody see, in order to fight the powers that be

lemme hear you say

Fight the power lyrics @universal Music publishing group, by public enemy, 1989, songwriters: Carlton Ridenhour, Eric Sadler, Hank Shocklee, Keith Shocklee

SOURCES: Breonna Taylor illustration by Robin Hilkey

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

2 Sep

Baratunde Thurston

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

Some Of Us White People

30 Jun

George-Floyd-BLM-protest-20
Protest following death of George Floyd, Providence, RI, June 5, 2020

It’s been a little over three weeks since the local protests took place here in Providence, and all over the world, in the wake of George Floyd’s death. And it feels like it’s been three weeks of vast numbers of white people in a tizzy over how we could not have known how bad things were for Black people in America, and how blind we all were to systemic racism.

Some of us woke up, and rose up, and said we want to help. We pored over the Google Doc of resources shared widely on social media by Sarah Sophie Flicker and Alyssa Klein–books, articles, organizations and funds to donate to, and legislators to call. Some of us also learned of the Justice in June Google Document turned website with expanded anti-racism resources and teachings by Autum Gupta and Bryanna Wallace.

Some of us bought all the books recommended on social media to educate ourselves on the history of racism in this country. Books like, Stamped From The Beginning, and How To Be An Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi, The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo, The Me And White Supremacy Workbook by Layla Saad, Waking Up White by Debby Irving, and White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo. Currently, The New York Times Bestseller List for Paperback Non-Fiction, shows all top ten books are on race, with the aforementioned books on the list.

Some of us have confessed on Facebook how ignorant or blind we were to our own white privilege. How blind we were to the continued systems of racial inequity that came about post-slavery through policies and laws that created redlining, Jim Crow laws, loan discrimination, education disparities, job discrimination, mass incarceration, and the one we, if we have any humanity, can no longer deny: the more than “a few bad apples,”systemic racism inherent in law enforcement, and the never-ending police brutality against Black people.

Shortly after some of us spoke about being overwhelmed and not knowing where to begin to educate ourselves, and take action, we learned about the police killing of Rayshard Brooks in a Wendy’s parking lot in Atlanta on June 12th. The 27 year-old Brooks, married and the father of three children, had fallen asleep in the Wendy’s drive-thru and the police were called. After a half-hour of conversation where Rayshard politely told officers he had a few drinks, and offered to leave his car in the parking lot to walk to his sister’s house which was just a few blocks away, the officers decided to arrest Rayshard after a failed sobriety test. Rayshard, who was on parole, and working hard to stay on track with his family and work life despite the many restrictions and burdens the judicial system placed on him, most likely feared what an arrest would mean for him and his future. He resisted by trying to free himself from the officers trying to cuff him, Brosnand and Rolfe, and a scuffle ensued. Rayshard did grab one of the officer’s tasers and ran away, pointing it over his shoulder, and shooting the taser once at Rolfe, a taser which cannot cause deadly harm. Officer Rolfe shot at the back of Rayshard Brooks with his gun, hitting him twice. Rayshard fell to the ground. Officer Brosnan stood on Rayshard’s shoulders while he was on the ground, and Rolfe kicked his body. They stood over his body for two minutes before administering any medical attention. Rayshard Brooks died later that night at the hospital after coming out of surgery.

Some of us returned to our urgent call to ourselves to “do something!” Some of us worried still about offending Black people by either saying or doing the wrong thing, so some of us did nothing. Some of us thought and hoped we were doing the right thing by reaching out to our Black friends and asking them how they were doing. Some of us felt guilty when we read articles written by Black people who were taken aback, or baffled, by the awkward ways white people were reaching out to them– about friends who before now, rarely, if ever, had conversations about race with them, or ever noticed the micro-aggressions their friends endured, or the way their own white privilege allowed them to move through the world never having to think about their race, because their white skin was the default.

Some of us Venmo’d our Black friends, either at their request, or after seeing articles that said sending money to your Black friends is what you should do, because we sure owe them, or as a gesture to promote self-care for the recipient, then felt guilty again when we read some posts on social media about how sending money to Black people was insulting. I received a link to a podcast through Facebook Messenger from my friend, Darrell, who is Black, which he thought was hilarious, and which I had to admit I could see my own shortcomings in. The podcast, /reply-all/, episode #162 The Least You Could Do, produced by Emmanuel Dzotsi, was about this very subject of Black people receiving texts with offers of money from white people, like some kind of offering to absolve ourselves from the sin of being white, and benefiting from white supremacy. In fact, toward the end of the podcast, Black Latinx comedian, Milly Tamarez, did just that. After the 2016 Presidential election, she did a stand-up act asking white people to pay her, and if they did, she would absolve them of the sins of their people. It took off, and lots of white people sent her money, confessed of their sins, and received absolution. While some of the sins confessed started out light, like performing in a West Side Story play in school where all the parts were played by white people, some got darker as time went on, like the confession by a young white guy who was dating a Black woman but was afraid to get intimate with her because he feared he wouldn’t be as good a lover as a Black man. I hope all of us reading here will want to listen to this podcast to hear Milly’s response, and her thoughts about the whole experience of her White Forgiveness Project, as well as the thoughts and feelings that some Black people are having about how white people are reaching out to them at this time.

Some of us may have found ourselves saying, “damned if we do, damned if we don’t,” yet, hopefully we learned instead, that Black people are not a monolith, and do not think alike, and that most Black people would probably say they’ve lived “damned if we do, damned if we don’t” to the point of life vs. death, every single day. We hopefully learned that while one friend or acquaintance might welcome your reaching out to ask them what they need from you, and one person might say, Venmo me, and another friend might tell you they are too exhausted from experiencing racism to do the emotional labor to respond to you. They might nudge you to initiate your own self-education, and tell you to talk to other white people who may be further along on their journey in anti-racist work and action. They might tell us to figure out amongst ourselves what we should do next. After all, it is all of us white people who created and continue to uphold racism and racist systems in the first place. But, we’ll never know what to do if we don’t put ourselves out there and ask.

And as some of us are spending way too much time dealing with our own white fragility, rather than being of benefit to the movement to support Black lives, we learned of the death of Elijah McClain. Elijah was a 23 year-old massage therapist from Aurora, Colorado who was walking home from a convenience store when he was stopped by officers after a call was made to police about a suspicious person walking down the street wearing a mask. Elijah, who played violin on his lunch break to cats at animal shelters, because he believed it calmed them, was a slight, young man, with anemia, who wore the mask to keep warm. He did absolutely nothing wrong, and was wrestled to the ground by several officers, held in a carotid hold, and injected with the tranquilizer, ketamine, before being taken by ambulance to the hospital. Elijah suffered a heart attack on the way there, and was brain dead and on life support, when several days later, his family had to make the decision to take him off life support, at which time, Elijah passed away. The heartbreaking words of Elijah McClain while he was being arrested and his tiny frame being pressed on, to the point he vomited and could not breathe, have been shared widely:

“I can’t breathe. I have my ID right here. My name is Elijah McClain. That’s my house. I was just going home. I’m an introvert. I’m just different. That’s all. I’m so sorry. I have no gun. I don’t do that stuff. I don’t do any fighting. Why are you attacking me? I don’t even kill flies! I don’t eat meat! But I don’t judge people who do eat meat. Forgive me. All I was trying to do was become better. I will do it. I will do anything. Sacrifice my identity. I’ll do it. You all are so phenomenal. You are beautiful. And I love you. Try to forgive me. I am a mood gemini. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Ow, that really hurt. You all are very strong. Team work makes the dream work…(crying)..oh I’m sorry. I wasn’t trying to do that. I just can’t breathe correctly (proceeds to vomit from the pressure to his chest and neck).”

– Elijah McClain

And as we ask again, what should we do, some of us are pulling out our pocketbooks and making donations to local and national Black-led organizations that promote justice, and build resources for Black communities. Some of us are educating ourselves through reading, conversation, and attending virtual panels led by Black scholars and activists. In Providence, the calls to Defund The Police rang loud and clear this week on a 9-hour Zoom call for the City’s Finance Committee meeting, where residents, Black, white and Brown, got to use their voices to speak about far better ways to address community wellness and public safety.

Yet some of us learned of another Providence meeting of the City Council members, where Black councilwoman, Nirva LaFortune, was talked over and muted during the Zoom meeting, by fellow councilman, John Igliozzi. Igliozzi announced a petition he said he created to bring to the RI General Assembly to appeal the state’s Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights. Councilwoman LaFortune stated on the call, that she had been working on a resolution to repeal the bill and it was on the agenda to present to the council. She continued to say that Igliozzi was aware of and co-signed on it, and that this petition was appropriated from LaFortune by him without speaking with her, or giving her credit for the research, and work that she had done. Igliozzi continued to erase the work and voice of the Black woman councilwoman, as he muted LaFortune several times more as she tried in vain to make her point heard and acknowledged–the final time right after the councilwoman told Igliozzi that “this is oppressive behavior.”

And in all of this, still we wait for the arrest of the two officers who killed Breonna Taylor while she was sleeping in her home in Louisville, Kentucky. Breonna, 25, a beloved EMT, and her boyfriend, were asleep when the police broke into their home unannounced. Thinking it was an intruder, Breonna’s boyfriend walked toward the living room, licensed gun in his hand to defend himself and Breonna. The police upon sighting him started shooting. They fired eight shots that killed Breonna. Why did they break into her home? They were looking for someone who had a warrant out for his arrest for drug dealing. They were in the wrong home. The person they were looking for: He was already in custody.

Some of us are performing activism with expressions of outrage, and sadness, followed up with lackluster, or absent action. Many corporations have made statements in support of Black Lives Mattering, along with proclamations of intention to make their workplace “inclusive” and “equitable.” Some have even already instituted a policy to now make Juneteenth an official holiday. Some of us are seeing media outlets scramble to feature stories on race, and even hire Black writers and photographers and journalists to tell them. We are seeing art museums and arts organizations all of a sudden featuring the works of Black artists on their sites, like the Poem-a-day series I subscribe to that for the last month has featured daily poems by contemporary, as well as, 19th and 20th century Black poets.

Some of us are so worried about how dangerous the world feels “because of all the rioting and looting and Chicago and Black on Black crime, and nobody wanting to be a police officer anymore because of how dangerous it is for them, with everyone being against them now…” Many of our inner Karens have been exposed.

Some of us, a lot of us, say we really care, and we really do, and all of us, have to really do. I heard a Black woman artist at the George Floyd protest, who said in conversation with a friend of hers, another Black woman, that at this point, the only way white people can show they are supporting Black people, is to do one or more of these three things:

Give money

Share resources

Put your body on the line

Some of us see ourselves in some of this here, or all of this here, or none of this here. Trust me, my own white fragility guilt and shame level has been on ultra-high, too. Now is the time to rid ourselves of the guilt and shame that does nothing but absolve us in our own minds from doing anything, keeps us uncomfortable about ourselves only. Keeps us stuck and inert. With this focusing on ourselves and how bad we feel, we cannot see beyond ourselves, or be strong enough to do anything to break down racism. All of us have to be willing to be in discomfort outside of ourselves, whether it is in conversation with other white people about race, whether it is asking a question to a Black person that we are worried is going to make us seem racist, or whether it is digging into figuring out what actions we can take in our communities to break down systemic racism.All of us need to decide which ones of us we see here, and which one of us we are going to become.

Youth-Led Protest, Avoiding 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

9 Jun

BLM-murals-breonna
Artist, Nafis White, in front of her mural piece on performance of care and need of sustained action @nafis_white. Breonna Taylor mural by Kendel Joseph @lucidtraveler_art

On Friday, June 5th, Providence, Rhode Island Black youth and youth of color, organized and led a Black Lives Matter protest. 10,000 people of all races, ethnicities, and ages came out to support. As I marched along downtown streets leading to the State House with my eighteen year-old daughter, I looked around, and said to myself, finally, we all showed up–meaning, finally, us white people have showed up. I had been disappointed at past rallies–for example, memorials honoring Mike Brown, Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, where I would look around and see that the crowd was much more sparse than the much larger numbers of white people who attended the Women’s march or Anti-Gun Violence march.

But all of us together on Friday was a beautiful sight. Despite the heavy police and military presence, our young people inspired. Young Black women were the leaders, the glue that held the community event together. When a good number of people carried on the march that night throughout the city despite the imposed 9:00 p.m. curfew, young Black women were the ones to deescalate the crowd when police created moments of tension. Let us praise, elevate and continue to support our Black youth and youth of color, and not forget them, or let the glow from this day, and the purpose of this day, fade from our memory, or our duty to take action to continue to support the movement for Black Lives until all of us are free.

Youth led Black Lives Matter protest, Providence, RI, June 5, 2020
BLM youth led protest, RI State House
BLM march continues, James Street, Providence, RI

While I continue to stumble along the way in how to best support and use my voice to call out blatant racism, and to deconstruct racist systems that exist in every sphere of our lives, over this past weekend, I let myself stumble into a hole, a big ole’ donut hole. An owner of Allie’s Donuts, a Rhode Island institution for over fifty years, posted on social media that in support of breaking down systemic racism in policing, and to support Black Lives, they would no longer be honoring their 10% discount for the police or military.

Cue many white people losing their minds over this. Insulted white people took to social media to repeat the very words they said when Colin Kaepernik first took a knee. “How could they disrespect the police and the military like this?” “A few bad apples don’t spoil the whole bunch, girl…” Well, they didn’t say that one exactly, that being a line from a 1970’s Osmond brothers song, but the bad apples reference showed up a lot in said posts on Facebook and Instagram.

I found myself getting so mad, and unable to resist the voice in my head saying “Don’t engage, Wendy.” “You know they won’t hear you.” But, alas, the voice that said, “Don’t stand for this racist foolishness. Call them out,” won out. I responded to a few posts, and comments on posts, made by co-workers. As expected, their focus remained on the disrespect they perceived was being placed on the police and military, and their blinders did not allow their hearts, even when pressed, to acknowledge, to have empathy, or to even utter any word about the racial violence perpetuated upon Black people.

Today I decided, despite my continued pandemic comfort eating of way too much sugar and fat, including the intermittent donut, that I will pull myself out of the donut hole, and take better care of myself. I will continue to call out racist bs when I hear it, but I will place most of my energy in supporting Black people in my community through word and deed.

As hard as it can be to lift ourselves up through trying times, I am forever inspired and grateful to all the artists in our communities, in our world. I will have to do a whole separate post soon about the artist project, Gratitudes, that master printmaker, Jacques Bidon, and artist, Nafis White, both affiliated with the local non-profit art organization, AS220, carried out, but wanted to mention it to illustrate a point. Briefly, Nafis and Jacques, in response to COVID-19, conceived of and created print care packages consisting of thank you cards and fine art prints with inspirational quotes which they gifted to staff at Rhode Island and Miriam hospitals, and for the psychiatric hospital I work for, Butler Hospital. The prints are being distributed to our frontline essential workers–housekeepers, nurses, doctors, mental health workers, etc.–and they have been much appreciated by our staff.

One of the prints included in the print package, is a photograph of a flowering tree with this Toni Morrison quote: “This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self pity, no need for silence, and no room for fear. We do language. That is how civilizations heal.”

Yesterday, I got so see Toni Morrison’s words put into action. After work at the hospital, Jacques, let me know that there were a number of artists downtown creating murals on the boards that had gone up to cover small businesses’ windows–some that had been vandalized earlier in the week by youth not affiliated with protestors protesting for the purpose of racial justice–and others to prevent damage feared that might occur during Friday’s protest. However, there was no more damage done that night.

When I arrived, it was heart-opening to see so many artists working on creating beautiful images, and words–art created which reflected the beauty of Blackness, art that supported and called for the safety of, the equality of, and the justice for Black and Brown, Indigenous and Queer people, and art which called for us white people to recognize the call to do the work for the long haul for freedom to come to fruition for real.

The work, I’m told was de-installed today, but will be displayed at 1 Eddy Street, along with a gathering Tuesday, June 9th, at 6 pm, at this location, by the Breonna Taylor memorial mural. The gathering, as shared by Nafis White, will be “to celebrate Breonna’s life, to dance, lay flowers, and honor her and all the other women and men who have perished at the hands of the police.”

Defund The Police, Support Funds For The Community chalk art
Black Lives Matter mural in progress
Breonna Taylor mural by Kendel Joseph, @LucidTraveler_Art
More Mural art on Westminster Street, Providence, RI, by @Lunabadoula, @lizzysour, ysnel.com
Mural in progress by @naturalsnatural
Breonna Taylor mural, on corner of Washington and Eddy Street, where celebration of Breonn’as life will be held, Tuesday, June 9, at 6:00 p.m.

While I feel this post is a bit scattered, much like my mind these days in trying to ground and center myself so I can be an effective anti-racist, I’m going to close by sharing an article I wrote for local, Motif magazine: Be A Support: Five Do’s and Don’ts for White People Taking Anti-Racist Action. I thank, friend and poet, Christopher Johnson, for so generously encouraging me to write and send something to Motif, and thank, Motif editor, Emily Olsen, for her help in editing the piece, and for publishing it.

Have a beautiful day. And, fellow white people, please take anti-racist action today, and every day.

Thank you.

Conspiracy Theories, Freedom, Mirrors: What Reality Are We Running From?

12 May

corona masks

A couple of years ago I was dating a man. A man who, in the dating world, would be considered “good on paper.” An engineer with a good job, healthy, kind, intelligent. He lived in a beautiful mid-century modern home fitted with all of its original built-in fixtures and furniture. My girlfriends and family can probably attest to the fact that I have pretty much ignored those “good on paper” facts throughout my romantic life. That it’s always been heart over head. And since my divorce eight years ago, I have added something to the “look away from practicality and reason” factor when searching for a mate. I now also possess the need to find something wrong with someone to prove to myself that I shouldn’t like this person, thereby saving me from being seen, and letting someone inside my soul, inside my heart. To do that, would mean I would have to look in the mirror and see myself, my desire to love and be loved, to see myself in all of my flaws and vulnerabilities, to not hide, the good, the bad and the ugly. I’d have to love myself, before I could say, hey you, will you please love me, and I will love you back?

In the case of the engineer, aside from me realizing there was somewhat of a lack of chemistry–you know, the kind that wears off after the first few dates where you think maybe it was the wine at dinner that made it seem like you two really hit it off–I found out he believed in several conspiracy theories. I don’t remember the details exactly, but something to do with the government, and tracking us, as most conspiracy theories revolve around. Looking for a reason not to like, or allow myself to be liked, I asked one of the approachable psychiatrists on the inpatient psych unit I work on, what he thought about people who believed in conspiracy theories. I prefaced my question by saying this was someone I knew, and not a patient.

His response was that he didn’t feel concerned about people who believed in them, that people have their own views of reality, and that he in fact has, as time goes on, questioned his own thoughts and the reality, or validity of them. I understood what he meant. In the eight years I have worked as an Activities Therapist in a psychiatric hospital, and the many years before that working with homeless adults with mental illness, many living with schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders, I have had conversations with people who have shared their intricately detailed realities with me, which has opened up my own view of what “reality” and “normal” means, and has made me feel, at times, that my own view of reality is quite limited, dull, or predictable.

My excuse to break up with the engineer for believing in conspiracy theories dashed, I had to just break up with him for some other reason, which I did, at least proving to myself, I wasn’t going to hold onto him for the comfortability of his economic situation, and that super cool house which I was sad to not see again. In a way, I was being true to myself, able to look in the mirror and say material comfort doesn’t matter nearly as much to me, as real love.

Living in the age of the coronavirus there are new conspiracy theories swirling around. These include ideas that the virus is a hoax, or its impact grossly overstated, and that our government in this country is using the virus, the shutting down of our economy, the placating of the masses through stimulus and unemployment checks, the restriction of our ability to move freely in open spaces, all as a means to take away our freedom and impose martial law.

In the video, Plandemic, which surfaced and then was removed from Youtube, and which I only watched a little bit of, but read about, these theories are expanded upon, and include a bid to discredit Dr. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, as a controlling, research grant money-grubbing scientist, who held back information during the HIV/AIDS crisis which put off the development of life-saving drugs to combat the illness.

I have a hard time understanding the belief of the coronavirus conspiracy theories when there is scientific data shared about the toll the virus is taking in this country and world-wide, and facts shared discrediting the story of the scientist making claims in the Plandemic video. People believe what they believe, and I should not judge, lest I be judged myself. But what troubles me regarding the virus conspiracy theories, is how believing these theories, impacts people.

There is data that shows how the virus, and living under quarantine has impacted Black and brown communities. We now know, as I shared in my most recent post, Let Us Not Forget Racism In The Time Of Covid-19, that the death toll has been higher for Black and brown people in this country. This is because of racist policies and laws which created health and economic disparities, and inequity in access to quality healthcare, which led to Black and brown people possessing more underlying health issues, making them more susceptible to having complications, or succumbing to the coronavirus. We also know in the hardest hit areas, our urban centers, it is Black and brown people who are the majority essential workers who have had to keep working, who have had to be in spaces with many people, thereby exposing themselves to a much greater possibility of getting the virus, and/or exposing their families and communities to it.

We can say, let people, and I am going to say, us white people, believe what we want to believe, even though I know people of all races and ethnicities are prone to believing in certain conspiracy theories, but when those beliefs put Black and brown people in even more danger, like the coronavirus conspiracy theories are, I question the will of the person who is investing their energy in an ideal that harms others. I wonder with all the energy it takes to get to this truth about the man and what they are trying to do to us, with all of this running to get to the truth, what is the truth my fellow white people are running away from?

When I hear white people, and not even the obvious state house-stampeding, gun-toting, confederate flag-waving, swastika-wearing, I Want A Haircut sign-holding, white people, saying their freedoms are being impeded upon, the virus isn’t so bad, and we should reopen the economy pronto, I hear white supremacist self-interest. I hear hypocrisy.

Yes, I know that many people are hurting economically. Yet, with the phased, or no-holds barred re-openings of states, it will be the low-paying service jobs in restaurants, retail, and factories, that get called back first. The people who are economically disadvantaged and living in densely populated areas, and who will be majority Black and brown people will be putting themselves at greater risk. If they refuse to go back to work, whether it is due to wishes to maintain their health if they or their family members are health or immuno-compromised, or simply fear risk of exposure or spread of virus, their employer can fire them, and they will have their unemployment benefits cut off. The freedom of choice you wish to have about whether you wear a mask or can sit in a restaurant, is one that not everyone has.

I have heard people worry about the right to assemble and protest being taken away during this time, another sign of the government taking away our liberties. When I hear this, I remember the same people complaining that the Black Lives Matter protest several years ago that blocked the highway, was inconvenient. I remember when you said Colin Kaepernick taking a knee was unpatriotic and disrespected our military, ignoring the fact that Kaepernick said, time and again, he was protesting the racial profiling and killings of unarmed Black men, boys, and women by police officers. I remember you saying this isn’t the place for protest. I remember you saying if only Black people didn’t riot, if only Black people didn’t run, if only Black people complied. But now, you are saying it is un-American that we are not allowed to “protest” our right to use our voice, to claim our freedom to get our nails done.

When I heard Black people, Black people I work with, Black people I talked with on the phone, Black people I see posting on social media, Black person after Black person saying they are so tired, so exhausted of the murders, the lynchings, of Black people, at the hands of white people, when I heard Black people asking, “Why?” “Why do they hate us?” I know it is not enough for me to be sad, to be enraged. I know I, I know we must do something. Yet I am enraged when instead of more white people around me speaking about being sad or enraged and doing something–and certainly there were many that were–there were still the voices who did not speak the name Ahmaud Arbery, but instead used their breath to wonder about re-opening.

When I hear us white people question this video and flip the question this time, asking, why didn’t he run, I want to shake us. In the past, it’s been, why did he run, why didn’t he just do what the officer said, why did he fight back, why did she talk back? Now you want to ask, why didn’t he run! Has our consciousness not been raised by witnessing, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Korryn Gaines, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Amodou Diallo, Sean Bell, John Crawford, Philando Castile, Ashton Sterling, Stephon Clark, Freddie Gray, Rekia Boyd, Jordan Davis, and on, and on?

Are we white people spending our time chasing the reality we want to believe so we don’t have to, as James Baldwin has said, look in the mirror and truly see ourselves, and the horror of our reality–the brutalizing of Black, brown and Indigenous people for over four hundred years? Is it we don’t want to make ourselves vulnerable to that? To surrender to our good, our bad and our ugly? Would we rather look to make someone else the ogre, like the government taking away our rights? Is it easier to make the Black person, the one who did something wrong, by taking a jog in his neighborhood in broad daylight, or by placing one of his knees on the ground?

It is, right? It is easier to do that than it is to accept the white supremacist ideas ingrained in the fabric of our souls, easier to do that than to implicate ourselves, to implicate our whiteness, which leads to white violence.

Some might say I am doing some chasing myself. That I am tying together threads that don’t belong together–like dating a conspiracy theorist, one’s right to freedom, and the killing of a 25 year-old Black man out jogging, to justify my reality that in this time in history, the belief in coronavirus conspiracy theories is harmful and fueled by white-supremacist values.

Some might say when will Wendy stop trying to make everything about race? My answer to that will always be: when we are all truly free.

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Photo credit: ksltv.com

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