Let Us Not Forget Racism In The Time Of Covid-19

28 Apr

Coronavirus Impact on Black People

How are you all doing?

I know I’ve gone quiet here. I got overwhelmed by what is going on in my world, in all the world.

We are all overwhelmed, aren’t we? Or, if you’re not, perhaps we can Zoom, and you can share with me how you are not. Even if you are feeling like you are not, because some days, I’m like, okay, I don’t feel stressed outwardly, I’m just still going about my day, there still is something happening in our psyches, right?

Even if you go for your run, or feel cozy binge watching a series you’ve always wanted to have time for, or re-experience the forgotten joy of family dinners, we must all be internalizing some feeling of, this is not normal or, is this really happening? We must be internalizing some kind of fear, the dread of, will I get it? or, will I lose a loved one? or, how long will this go on for? or when is that unemployment check coming? or how are my children doing? or what in the world–inject disinfectant?! or…fill in the blank.

And that is normal. We are living through a global health pandemic, something that many who were born and raised in this country have not ever experienced. There is not a wrong or a right way to be right now. Whether you want to be productive or you feel unable to do more than get up, shower, and sit on the couch, it is okay.

I do find I need to be conscious of my mental health, and do something to get a hold of my thoughts, my mood, when I am feeling low. Much of the time this consists of eating donuts. I hope this comfort eating habit passes.

Yet, in all of this, what we must also know, is what is happening, and not happening, to Black and brown, and Asian people in this country during this time of dealing with Covid-19.

Asian, and Asian American people are experiencing racial violence, most often in the form of verbal abuse, by people who believe they are the cause of the virus spreading to the United States. Black people are not being believed about their symptoms, and denied testing when they show up at hospitals complaining of virus symptoms. I have read too many articles of Black people dying as a result of being denied care, and when I scroll my newsfeed on social media, the majority of friends posting their losses of friends and loved ones from the virus, are Black.

There are also the statistics that show the disproportionate numbers of Black people being impacted by the virus, and we know the reasons for this are layered. Health disparities caused by centuries of racism and racist policies, like the GI Bill and discriminatory lending practices, which didn’t allow Black people to live in “white neighborhoods,” forcing them to live in over-crowded neighborhoods subject to pollution, and poverty. Lack of opportunity and access to affordable housing, good healthcare, supermarkets, transportation, and jobs which pay a living wage, all contribute to health complications, like heart issues, asthma, and diabetes.

We are also talking about how education gone distance=learning mode is marred with inequity. Even when every student gets a chrome book, there are some students living with a lack of privacy and space, lack of internet services, unsettling home environments, and some students are learning some of their teachers lack online teaching experience. These factors create unequal learning experiences.

In big cities, and other urban areas, we are seeing that our essential workers trying to earn a living, are majority people of color. They do not have the option to not be in crowded spaces, or to not interface with the public. And, I have not heard a lot said about this, but when I do go to the supermarket, the majority of personal grocery shoppers, whether they are working for Instacart, or for the grocery store, like Whole Foods, are Black and brown people. And, while, I understand that we are told to stay at home and avoid the markets as much as we can, and that some people are health and immuno-compromised and should not go out, and that being a shopper is a good way to make money, especially during this time, it is a time where people of color are putting themselves, and their health, on the line, so that they can earn an income to live on.

We talk about this as being a pivotal moment for us as human beings. A time when our lives and many of our livelihoods have screeched to a halt, or at least, greatly slowed down. A time when our leadership has greatly failed us. A time when we are witnessing the unraveling of our capitalistic society. A time when people are saying it is showing us our own humanity. A time when everyone is blaming someone or something else, and a time when no one wants to take the blame. A time when we are seeing those who care most about keeping what they have for themselves, and a time when we see those with a lot, or with very little, sharing what they have so others can keep on living. A time, as a friend said, which can be used to think about the person we want to emerge as when this is all over. Please be kind, is something he often says. At this time, it is said with more urgency.

I noticed in the last week or two as I scroll through my social media feed, I have seen many videos of pow-wows, when before I might see them very rarely. I have read how the virus is also hard-hitting in the Native American community for many of the same reasons as in the Black community: health disparities that lead to underlying health issues, and lack of access to adequate healthcare.

When I see the pow-wow dancers in their respective tribes’ ceremonial dress, when I watch them move, hear the singing chants, the beating of the drums, I feel as if they are appearing as a message to all of us here. It is a feeling of the dancers of today and their ancestors both here in present time, to show us whose land this always really was in the first place, to show us what we have done to them, to their land, to show us how we have lost our way in respecting one another, in respecting the land, and to show us that we must again return to the beginning, to acknowledge all of our horrific wrongs, to start over, to right the wrongs, to begin a new world, based not on what does not belong to us, but on creating a new way that speaks of honor, love, respect, sharing, and community.

If we are going to rise from these ashes and build something new for this country, will we be kind? Will we white people make certain that we re-find our humanity and be a part of recreating a society that is truly equal and just? I say, be a part of, because while we need to be the ones to take the responsibility and use our positions of power and privilege to change the system, we must also do that with Black and brown and Indigenous people taking the lead in sharing what is wrong, and what is needed, and what this new reality should look like if we are to truly share vision, power and resources. Will we be certain that we become beautiful loving humans, who have finally awakened to the knowledge that we are all connected and none of us are free, until all of us are free?

Yes, we are overwhelmed, and it is hard some days to think of anything other than getting through our own personal, daily struggles, and that is real, real. But, it is also my wish that we do our best right now, every day, to keep our eyes wide open, and speak up and act appropriately so that everyone in our communities is getting what they need in this moment.

Wishing you all peace, good health, and safety. Please be kind.


SOURCE: www.theroot.com – article, Black Woman Dies From Coronavirus After Being Turned Away 4 Times from Hospital She Worked at for Decades, 4/26/20 by Ishena Robinson

www.washingtonpost.com – article, 4 Reasons Coronavirus Is Hitting Black Communities So Hard, 4/10/20 by Eugene Scott

Photo credit: pbs.org, Creator: Joshua Lott, Credit: Reuters

Tell Me The Truth: Exploring The Heart of Cross-Racial Conversations with Shay Stewart-Bouley and Debby Irving

17 Feb

Presenters: Shay Stewart-Bouley and Debby Irving

Last Sunday, I attended Tell Me the Truth: Exploring The Heart of Cross-Racial Conversations at the Glastonbury MLK Community Initiative Center in Glastonbury, Connecticut.

I had been wanting to attend one of these talks for some time now, every time I see Shay Stewart-Bouley or Debby Irving post about them, and was so glad that I could finally make it to this one in Connecticut, while I was there visiting family. Shay Stewart-Bouley is Executive Director of the civil rights organization, Community Change, Inc. in Boston, and a writer, and author of the blog, Black Girl in Maine. Debby Irving, is a racial justice educator and author of the book, Waking Up White.

The talk was held at MLK Community Initiative Center in Glastonbury, a town just outside of Hartford, which I always saw–as a person who grew up in Waterbury, Connecticut, a diverse, industrial town– as one of the state’s wealthier, white suburbs. I looked around in the spacious, light and airy room during the pre-talk reception, while I snacked on delicious food–babaganoush, fatayer, sesame cookies–which Debby said was catered by a local refugee family from Syria.The expectation almost didn’t register on a conscious level, at first, and then did–that the room of what seemed like a few hundred people, was majority white, with probably just under a dozen, Black people, and people of color, in attendance.

But, I was glad that all these white people were willing to come to hear Shay and Debby speak, as I was glad that I was there, too. I had first heard the two women speak about five years ago, when Debby’s book, Waking Up White, her journey of waking up to realizing how the construct of race, racialized systems of oppression, and white privilege, informed her life, and the world around her, and how her journey led her to do racial justice work. When I mentioned my attendance to their past event to Debby and Shay before the talk began, Shay said that that was the very first talk they ever did, and that I would now have the chance to see how the conversation between she and Debby has evolved. I hadn’t thought of that fact, and with Shay’s insight, was even more inspired for what was to come that afternoon.

I was inspired, even though right before I left my sister’s house to go to the talk, I told her I felt a bit nervous about going. She asked me why, and I answered that I supposed it was because I always feel so awkward in social, face-to-face interactions, regardless of the topic, and put pressure on myself at public events to think I have to come up with something deep to say or ask the presenters, which then fills me with anxiety and self-doubt, and so I just stay silent. I added that I want to be doing more in terms of racial justice work and breaking down racism, and feel like I’m not doing enough.

All that ridiculous, loaded, negative self-talk had taken over my brain, which is probably born out of fear of being honest and deep, in the moment when it comes to doing the work of racial justice, and having cross-racial conversations, which was the whole purpose of the afternoon’s talk, and why I wanted to go to it in the first place. My sister, who wanted to go to the talk too, but couldn’t, told me, in so many words, to not be silly–that I’m doing the work, and it will be a good thing to go. I knew that, and so packed myself and my fear into my car, as I always do, and went.

Not having any “good” questions to ask Shay or Debby after our brief chat, I blankly stared and smiled, in all my don’t know what to say next awkwardness, and soon after, both women moved on to get ready for their talk.

I let what Shay said to me simmer as I settled into my seat in the back of the very full, white-walled, mostly white-peopled, space. I took note of how it was indeed pretty cool that I got to see their very first conversation. I made a mental note to pay attention to noticing how the conversation might differ from their first meeting.

What I remember from that first talk, that even though Shay shared about herself, growing up in Chicago in a working-class family, and her work in the non-profit world, this first talk seemed to be more centered and structured like an interview, or review, of Debby and her book, Waking Up White. …” I remember Shay, saying what she thought about the book–that it had the voice of a privileged, white woman, and that it was basic in its framing of understanding the racist systems of oppression, like, the GI Bill, redlining, and inequities in public education, and Debby’s own noticing of her “good white person, white saviorism” traits when working in the arts in what was called, under-served communities of color.

Shay opened up the MLK Center’s conversation, referring back to her first connection with Debby, recalling how, “when I first got a phone message from her, I thought, who is this white woman who had the audacity to reach out to me to read and review her book, and have a conversation with her about it?” Five years later, Shay repeated how she thought Waking Up White is a basic book, but that it is an important, good beginning book for white people to understand, and perhaps begin their journey in understanding the roots of systems of oppression and white privilege in this country.

The two women let us know, their talk is always unscripted–they simply talk about what is on their mind at the moment, and take it from there. Snippets of the conversation that stood out in my memory were Shay’s statement of how when she visits a local bar on the island off of Maine where she currently lives, she listens to people’s conversations, and it strikes her how superficial white people’s conversations can be, especially with all that is going on in the world right now—people talking about the weather, instead of immigration, climate change, or the administration’s racist policies.

This comment made me think of one of the blog posts I wrote several years ago when I noticed all the white people on my Facebook timeline talking about the amount of snow we got instead of the not-guilty verdict in the first trial of the Jordan Davis killing. This was the case where a white man shot into a car of young Black teenage boys at a gas station, killing Jordan, simply because Jordan would not turn down the music blasting from their car stereo when the man yelled at them to turn it down.

Shay also talked about white people having to do their own healing, find their humanity, and of the inhumanity we possess, because, well, how can we not hold inhumane qualities for all the harm and suffering we have inflicted over the centuries on Black and brown people? When I hear these words, I know I experience feelings of shame and guilt, that my white fragility peeks out, but also know the truth of these words, and accept them. That these words are necessary for us to hear, to wrestle with, to believe, so that we can work to recover our humanity. And to think white people came up with the term and its implication, “three-fifths of a man.”

As Shay and Debby talked about their experiences having these conversations, and their individual work and life experiences, Debby noted how she was raised in this Anglo, wasp, tradition to always be nice, to avoid conflict, which made it difficult for her in the beginning of her journey to have conversations about the tensions she was feeling around the construct of race. She and Shay had an honest back and forth about what that meant, and Debby continues to work on this, but knows there will still be missteps. She encouraged white people to not be afraid to have missteps when talking about race. And, jumping ahead here to note a related comment at the Q & A at the end of the conversation, Debby said, “ we don’t enter into relationships with our parents, siblings, aunts, cousins or partners saying, we are going to have this relationship and there will never be any kind of misstep. We wouldn’t do that, right? Well, in having cross racial conversations, we have to remember that, and allow for that. Like any relationship, there is going to be missteps, and having these honest conversations helps to develop trust, and deepens the relationship.”

Shay also talked about the challenges she faced with being a Black woman whose experience includes Executive Director leadership of several non-profit organizations, one in Maine, and as mentioned, presently, at Community Change in Boston. Shay spoke of how at meetings in Portland, Maine, when various non-profit leaders met together to discuss initiatives in the city, that, “whenever I brought up ideas, I was met with lukewarm nods, or ignored, but when a particular white male in the group mentioned the same idea, the group would enthusiastically support him.” Shay said, “But the good thing is, this man noticed this, and became a mentor, and a true ally, in that he worked with me on how to have my ideas heard and put into action with the group.”

After about an hour of dialogue between Shay and Debby, they asked the audience to break out into circles of about six people each and to introduce ourselves and talk about what stood out to us so far about the talk, and anything we wanted to share about our experiences with race. In our circle, which contained a majority of white woman of varying ages, I couldn’t help but notice that several of the women, to me, discounted Shay’s experience of being a Black women not having her voice heard or trusted as a leader in the non-profit management world. The discounting came in the form of sharing that the women thought this wasn’t about race, and was more about being a woman, and shared examples of sexism in the workplace they experienced themselves.

I saw this as dissonance, or a very typical thing that us white people do regarding conversations about race, which is to say something is not necessarily about race, and then give some example of something related to them. In these cases, I always think of someone saying in response to Black Lives Matter, that All Lives Matter. I thought to myself, I have to say something to speak to that, but how do I do it in a way that the women don’t feel called out?

When it was my turn to talk, I shared that I knew of Debby and Shay’s work, had read Debby’s book, and follow Shay’s blog, and am on a journey myself in regards to race, racism and cross-racial connection, which I blog about. I said, “… and in this journey one thing that I have learned is that when a Black person shares something about racism that they experienced, to believe them, and, simply listen, and to not try and think of a similar thing that I may have experienced, but to leave it at that, and so we validate, and don’t invalidate that experience, and/or try and make it about us.” I am not sure it came out exactly like that, and because, like Debby who talks about her wasp upbringing, as a Jewish girl growing up at the same time as Debby, I was taught to be nice, and not to say anything mean, and while my parents taught us that racism was wrong, and that we should “treat everyone equally,” my family did not have difficult, deep conversations about things going on in the world. I worried that I had said something in our circle, in a way that both was a “call-out” and perhaps even showed this air of superiority—that I, this white woman knew more than these two women, and was a better white person because of it, even though I know that I am not. But I knew I had to at least try, to challenge what was being said, even though I want to learn how to say things with grace, as I was also thinking about meeting people where they are at, and saying things in a way that can be heard, and where people will not be hurt. I wondered how Shay and Debby would have handled this.

In the Question and Answer that followed our circle talks, a few questions in, a white woman took the mic, and asked Shay, “Can we get to hear your Black voice?” I did a double-take, and looked at Shay, who seemed to take one, too, and quickly answered back. “Let me think about that,” and then moved on to the next question.

Shay had earlier in the conversation talked about how Black people often have to code switch, and assimilate into white culture and present themselves in such a way that is palatable to white people, especially in the work place, and then when in the presence of only other Black people can relax and truly be themselves. I knew I felt disturbed by this woman’s question, as it seemed like she was asking Shay to put on a show for us. I thought in that moment, that Shay or Debby might respond more fully to that woman’s question, but I, myself, did nothing outwardly to question the question.

A few questions later, though, a Black woman in the audience addressed it. She asked, with patience and grace, “I would like to know if the woman could elaborate on what she meant by that question of Shay sharing her Black voice, because I want to understand what this woman means, where she is coming from.”

The microphone was given back to the woman who asked the question. She seemed a bit nervous as she spoke, but answered, “what I meant was, you talked about always having to think about the way you have to say things at work and other places so that you will be heard, and not seen as the angry Black woman, or something else, and in a similar conversation circle I did recently, a friend of mine, a Black woman told these stories of how she has to worry about her Black son being pulled over by the police and all these things that I never knew about that she was experiencing and went through, and so I wondered about those things for you, what are the thoughts you are having that you don’t say in the company of white people?”

I cannot remember if this happened before the woman answered the other audience member, or after, but Shay said, when she first heard the question “I was taken aback, and wasn’t exactly sure what the woman meant, and wasn’t sure I wanted to answer in that moment, so I moved on.”

At this point, Debby asked to comment, and said that this was a learning moment. To the white woman in the audience, she said, “When we do this work, and we are having these conversations, we say there is this thing called ‘Intention vs. Impact.’ You may have intended to mean one thing, but regardless, the impact it has on the person who it is said to, is what matters, and asking this question may have been taken by Shay, as if she was being asked, as Black people often are, to perform, as in this kind of minstrely way…” I looked over in the direction of the woman who asked the question about intent, and she and several of the people sitting close to her, also people of color, were nodding their heads, and I could hear one of the young people say, “yes, that’s what it sounded like to us..”

Debby went on to say how when this happens we need to validate the experience of the person receiving the statement, and accept their feedback. She added, “ I want to point out that, see, you did a good job just now. You were able to receive my feedback, and not get defensive, and that is a good thing.” She said that she realized, too, that she should have spoken up when the question was asked, and pointing to the Black woman in the audience who asked the question, said, “see, it is always Black women who speak up at these times,” and said that “I have to realize that that’s one of my limitations when this happens.”

I was appreciative of the playing out live of how a situation where intention vs. impact can cause harm, and the responsibility of speaking up and addressing it when it happens in a way that it is honest, and constructive, and as Debby and Shay beckon us, with the very root of their Exploring The Heart of Cross-Racial Conversations–remembering the importance of creating spaces to have these authentic conversations.

In closing, Shay said, “Let’s be bold, let’s be brave. Let’s go deeper. When you’re at the bar, don’t ask about the weather. Let’s talk about racism, climate change…about what’s going on in your community..”
Debby added, “..sometimes people say, well, we need to work on the systems and policies, and, yes we need legislation, but we need this, too.”

They were right. We need this, too. I know I did, and do. It made me realize, too, that afternoon–because there is always so much we take for granted in our daily lives–I realized how Shay and Debby have been a constant in my journey of becoming a more conscious white person who strives to break down racism, most often on a personal level through my writing and conversations with other white people, and with Black people and people of color, too. I realize that while in my writing I can “speak” more fluidly about my feelings and thoughts about matters of race, that I need to practice and put myself out there more in my face-to-face conversations.

In following Shay’s blog, Black Girl In Maine, I get to learn about Shay’s lived experiences, about the perspectives and experiences of the writers featured on her blog, and current issues on matters of race in our country through shared articles from outside the blog. Shay also makes herself vulnerable in her writing, at times sharing about what is going on in her personal life with herself, and family members. She shares slices of life about what she described when once asked why she chose to be a Black woman living on an island off Maine, one of the whitest states of the union, as, “..I’m doing my version of Eat, Pray, Love, Black Woman Style.” While it is not Shay’s job to teach me about race, I am inspired by all that she does, and have deep gratitude for the learning and growth I experience as a result of all the work she does, and gives to me and the many others she reaches and teaches, through her blog, public speaking, and non-profit work to bring about racial justice.

I first met Debby when we were in a writing workshop session together in Boston, probably over ten years ago. There, we discovered that we were both passionate about working on understanding our place in the construct of race, and breaking down racism. Debby was just working on the outline of Waking Up White, and, I am inspired by all that she has done and continues to do with her work since then, as a racial justice educator, and public speaker. At last week’s talk with Shay, I noticed, perhaps a softer Debby. I remember Debby in her first talk, shared openly and confidently about how she initially, as white people tend to do, took up space in a group setting, took the lead, problem-solved, tried to fix things, even in Black spaces, and how during this most recent conversation with Shay, she, and I am not sure how to phrase this, but Debby read as someone who recognizes her privilege as a white woman, and all the other privileges she called out that day, like, cis-gendered, class, able-bodied, etc—and who listens, responds without taking over the conversation, owns her privileges and their historical and current impact, and does not give off the air that she knows everything, or claims status of “good white person,” which she would probably like to hear since one of Debby’s public talks centers on how white people can go from “well-meaning” to well-doing.”

I give major thanks to Shay and Debby for their tireless work in the world, to break down racism, and to build a just world, free of racial inequity. Shay, who noted her relief that she has raised her son to be a “free, Black man,” and Debby, are putting out the call for all of us white people to do the work to heal our inhumanity, to understand our place in the construct of race, for people of different races to come together to have honest cross-racial conversations, and to do the work for all Black people to be free, because in this 21st century, there is still much work to be done.

2019 WJSS Year-In-Review

31 Dec

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is M4RJ2017-scaled.jpg
March 4 Racial Justice, organized by local activist, Ria, India Point Park, Providence RI October 2017
It all still matters!
Keep on working white girls!

I wrote here a lot less than I have in previous years. It’s not that I am not thinking about race, cross-racial connections, and breaking down the systems of racism. It is definitely not that. I still think about all of it every day, pretty much 24/7.

I’d say part of the reason why I haven’t posted as much is because I sense I need to shift my focus away from shouting out racism in print because we know it exists, and we see it every day, even though there are certainly a number of, mostly white people, who will gaslight you all day and say, “it’s not so bad, ” or “every one has a chance to succeed if they just work hard, like I did,” or “well, you must have done something to provoke,” and here is where you fill in the blank: “the store clerk to follow you,” “the neighbor to call the police on you for being a Black real estate agent showing another Black person a home in a “white” neighborhood,” or, “the police officer to shoot and kill you for being in your own home playing video games with your nephew.”

I know I need to concentrate more on whiteness, what whiteness and white supremacy has done, and continues to do–how it shows up in our every day lives, and how I, as a white woman, and how all of us who are white, play a part in upholding white supremacist institutions and policies and ways of living, that make sure that racism and racist policies continue to exist, therefore, ensuring that inequities continue between Black people and white people in this country.

(Note: As most of you know, my focus on the blog is about the relationship between Black people and white people in America. I know there are many more areas where inequities take place, many more intersections of race, gender, ethnicity, country of origin, etc., that impact all of this, but my focus is on us, here in the United States)

I have wondered if the writing is still of any value, and how to make it more so, and that, too, has kept me from writing. I also have strived to be doing instead of writing. To speak up when I see and hear either, blatant racist comments, or actions, and speak up when I see and hear things said by white people, that don’t seem to be conscious of their implied racist undertones. I like to call it coded language, that again, may be unconscious to the person speaking it, but to my ears and eyes, implies the exclusion, obliviousness, or an implied inferiority in reference to race and Black culture.

Finally, I have been working behind the scenes on a couple of writing projects, both related to race, which one of these days I will share here. I mention them to hold myself accountable, to keep on working on them. I used to write other things–poems on Facebook made from my friends’ status updates, memoir, and creative non-fiction, but it seems, I can’t not write about race, and so it goes. Here is what I wrote in 2019:

I took a look at the film, based on the James Baldwin novel, If Beale Street Could Talk, which prompted me to think about time, and what I saw as The Problem With White People Time.

In February I got My First Letter To The Editor Published in The Providence Journal. The letter was because of that coded language which I could not believe the critic used to describe the Trinity Repertory Company’s production of the play, black odyssey. The letter prompted a Barrington, Rhode Island man to write an editorial reply to the newspaper and tell me how I was part of what is wrong with America today, and my questioning the validity of a white critic’s perspective on a play representing African diasporic culture, was divisive.

In March, I knew I couldn’t Watch The Michael Jackson Documentary. At Least Not Yet.  A fan from the time I was five years old, I couldn’t bear to watch the one-sided documentary featuring two of the young boys, now men, who had accused Michael of child molestation decades ago. Not here to defend himself, and not wanting to watch the take down of MJ, I still have not watched the documentary. Shorthly after the film aired, I wrote and submitted a short story to a local bi-monthly reading series of writers’ personal essays. The theme that month was Biggest Fan.

I thought my piece on MJ was cool, and looked forward to sharing it at the reading. I also feared that because of the documentary, that anything to do with Michael Jackson would be cancelled, the term we use these days when a celebrity makes a misstep, big or small, and the masses decide they are done with that person, and push them off their pedestal. The pushing usually begins in the form of tweets and social media articles. I got an email that my essay on MJ was not chosen to be read that month. It could have been they had too many other worthy stories. But I couldn’t help but think the organizers of the reading most definitely cancelled Michael.

In April, I was one of the people who finally took the time, a little too late, to find out more about the prolific, and more importantly, philanthropic hip hop artist and entrepreneur, and wrote about my Finding Inspiration In Nipsey Hussle’s Beautiful Being.

In July, I wrote about what I intimated above: wanting to be about the work of breaking down racism, instead of just talking or writing about it. I wrote, If It’s Not What We Say About Race, It Must Be What We Do.

My last post of 2019, was born out of my frustration with myself for not speaking up when I knew I should–once again, in a situation where I felt coded language was being used to denigrate Black culture. In looking inward, I wrote When White Fragility Comes Knocking, which explored my own, and my college age daughter’s struggle to not fear having dialog about race.

I continued to keep up with educating myself by reading books like Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped From The Beginning, and How To Be An Anti-Racist, and joined in on the community book clubs for both books, led by The Center For Reconciliation. I kept up with blogs like Black Girl In Maine, published by BGIM Media, and helmed by Shay Stewart-Bouley.

I stayed inspired by daily learning about racism, and lived racial experiences, from friends, colleagues, and scholars, near and far, in real life, and on social media. And I stayed ready every day to do my best to speak up on not just the easy-to-call, blatant racism and racist statements I witnessed and heard, but also did my best to model my perception of what it means to ask questions during those moments that could so easily go unnoticed–those times where something needs to be said that de-centers whiteness, that speaks to who is being excluded, so that the spaces I move in recognize their white-centeredness, and do not stay white-centered, with hopes that other white folks, too, begin to chip away at the structures of white supremacy, and inequity. Things don’t always go as planned. I am human, and flawed, and stumble over my words much more when speaking, rather than writing. It is a process, but I know I must always try.

As the year comes to a close, like many of you, I feel, to put it lightly, disheartened, at the state of things these days, but I know I must stay optimistic, must keep on going, must keep on doing things to make things better, because for one, it’s white people’s job to do this work of breaking down racism and racist structures, and two, while I know we can’t daydream racism away, and we must seriously do the work, I am a relentless Pollyanna, and believe that things will get better. We will do the work to make things better, because can you truly rest your head on your pillow comfortably at night, as you settle for the alternative?

I want to thank all of you, readers, new and old, for being along on the journey during this year, and years past, and for all of the unwavering support you give to me.

I would love to hear what you have been up to this year. What you’ve read, who you entered into dialogue with, who inspired you to keep working to make things better for everyone. I wish you a beautiful beginning in this new decade, 2020. I wish you a decade filled with love, hope, joy, connection, and most important, freedom, and justice.

Thank you. xo

Happy New Year.


When White Fragility Comes Knocking

1 Oct

daughter, Leni, and me

My daughter Leni is in her second year in college. Snce she’s been ten years old, she’s wanted to become a dentist, and that is the path she is on with her studies. But even before age ten, Leni, like me, paid attention to race. She has been the muse for a number of my blog posts, like my favorite, Is Poppy A Black American?, inspired by Leni, when she was five, asking if my father was Black. She also wrote two posts of her own here: We White People Think White Culture is Cultureless and Proud Mama: My Daughter Leni Writes Her First Post for Wendy Jane’s Soul Shake.

Leni is currently taking a class in college, called Race and Power. Of course I was glad about that, even though a week before she started back to school, she made some comments to me during a discussion about race, something to the effect of, “you’re an older generation..us younger people, we all get along. You think differently because you’re thinking of the civil rights era, and it’s not like that anymore,…we all are more accepting of one another, it’s just normal for us to get along..”

I countered, “Well, I wonder if your friends, and peers of color, would feel the same way because while I understand what you’re saying about ease of getting along and acceptance for everyone across race, ethnicity, and gender identity, what about the microaggressions and racism that young Black people and people of color still experience on a daily basis, that you don’t?”

“Yes, I know that happens..but I don’t want to be the white person who thinks they know everything about race, and I won’t speak on that because that is not my experience,…and I’ll listen when a Black person or person of color explains something to me, but I’m not going to listen to a white person, explaining to me about race and racism.”

I know my Leni, so while there was much more we could enter into conversation about, I knew she wouldn’t hear it right then, so I let it go.

Fast forward to the second week of Leni’s Race and Power class. I get a phone call from her. Most of the time she calls me while walking from one class to another, or when she’s washing her face, or some other task or downtime thing. That Mom call to fill the void. But Leni also calls when she needs her mama for support. In this call, she shared how one of the Black students, a young woman in the class, mentioned she noticed the white students in the class were not commenting. Leni explained she felt bad about that, but that in that session there wasn’t anything she wanted to say, or if she had, it was already said by another student, and she didn’t want to repeat it.

I could relate. Whenever I go to a public event where there is a dialogue or Q & A involved, my fear of public speaking kicks in and these sentences loop through my brain, over and over:

“Wendy, you’re shy, so you should practice getting out of your comfort zone and say something, ask a question,” then, “I can’t think of anything to say or ask,” or, “I can’t think of how to phrase it so it doesn’t come out awkward,” or “you’re not that important, so don’t put all that pressure on yourself thinking it matters if you ask a question..”

Still, I encouraged Leni to contribute to the conversation in her class, and to not be afraid to share her opinion.

The following week I got another call from Leni. She told me she felt uncomfortable at times in the Race and Power class that day. She said that when a white person was sharing their opinion on the day’s topic, a Black student, kept shutting her down, saying, “no, no, you’re wrong. That’s not how it is..” I said, “okay, she is speaking her mind,” and then I asked her if the professor is intervening at all, directing the conversation happening in class. She said, “No, she doesn’t say anything. She lets the class talk.”

Leni continued to say that she was worried about saying “the wrong thing,” or students of color shutting her down, or thinking she doesn’t understand, or that she’s racist. I brought up the matter of white fragility and how those thoughts and worries are a part of white fragility, and talking about race for white people> I added that being uncomfortable is a part of it, too, because we worry about being seen as racist, or worry if a Black person becomes angry. But I always remember the question I heard about having conversations on race for white people that asks, “are you more worried about being called racist than you are about breaking down racism and structures of white supremacy?”

Again, I encouraged her to get uncomfortable. That it was okay to be uncomfortable. That it should be something white people allow themselves to be. That it’s necessary if we want to be able to have honest conversations, and take any steps in breaking down racism, and the structures of racism.

“Yeah, there’s like only four white people in the class…,” Leni continued.

“Well, now you know what it feels like for Black people to be, and speak, in majority white spaces they most always find themselves in. It’s good for you to experience that situation,” I said.

“I know what it’s like,” I could feel her eye roll over the phone, “…I was a minority in my high school, and well I wish it was like that. “..In my Multicultural Studies class, I was in the minority, but we all got along, and we could talk about things…I just wish we could talk about things in this class without getting angry.”

I brought up the need to be careful about tone policing, or the telling of Black and Brown people to not get angry when talking about race. She knew what I meant, but I suppose was having a hard time feeling it in practice.

I understood Leni, because I have felt all of the feelings she is now experiencing, on my journey to educate myself, and learn from others, about the construct of race, the history of racism, and most important, to make cross-racial connections to discuss race, without the fear of being thought of as racist, or just another white person who doesn’t get it.

I am still not good at making my voice heard about anything within a group setting, and it’s been years since I’ve been in a classroom setting, so I asked my friend Diana, an Anthropology Professor, with a focus on Carribbean culture, for her advice on how Leni might be able to share her perspective in class. Diana’s advice was for Leni to preface what she says with something like, “…what I share is from my perspective, which is shaped by my lived experience and who I am, being a white, Eastern European Jewish woman, with a small percentage of Native American heritage…I know it is different from other people’s experiences, and I appreciate being able to listen to, and learn from other people’s perspectives…”

I offered that to Leni, which she seemed to think could help, but she still worried about things “coming out wrong,” and being thought of as ignorant and racist. “Well, you just have to say what you mean to say. You may stumble. You are human, and what you say may not come out perfect, and you may say something that someone in the class finds offensive, and you will have to hear from them, how what you said made them feel..It’s all a part of learning and growing and understanding one another. I think people will see that you care enough to be a part of the dialogue. It’s important to not withhold. It’s important to be a part of the conversation.”

If only I always practiced what I just preached to my daughter.

Last week I had an awesome day in Boston. I really did. I went up to attend the National Organization For Arts and Health (NOAH) Conference, saw Leni afterward and had pizza with her, and then went solo to the Lizzo concert!

Throughout the conference, I noticed something I’ve not unseen since childhood, though admittedly it’s on a much more consistent, conscious basis now. That thing is noticing how white a setting is. From the thousands of attendees of this merged conference of Arts and Health and Healthcare Facilities personnel–to the introduction of a Board of Directors introduced by the lead Conference organizer, a sea of maybe thirty, mostly white men and a smattering of white women, to the break-out session presenters–people of color were a true minority.

I remember the words of Nina Sanchez, Director of Enrich Chicago a collaborative of 30 Chicagoland arts and philanthropic organizations committed to ending racism and systemic oppression in the arts sector, who said at a lecture here in Providence, “once you see it, you can’t unsee it”–the pervasiveness of whiteness, and how it shows up in spaces, not just in skin color itself, but in how the centering of whiteness shows itself in whose perspective gets shared, whose voices are included in decision-making in institutions, and who is left out, who feels safe, and comfortable, and who doesn’t.

It’s the latter I need to focus on and share right now. Of course I thought about how the make-up of the Board of NOAH is homogeneous and white, and as I knew already, the field of Art Therapy, and what is considered the main stream art world, is overwhelmingly filled with white people, because, like many fields, it links back generations to inequities in education, and who is supported to pursue what education and career goals, and who is not, which links back to redlining, bigotry and discrimination, which links back to Jim Crow laws, which links further back to slavery.

At the Conference breakfast keynote, I sat down at one of those big round tables with a few other strangers, and shortly afterward, a woman, who was Black, sat down next to me. I introduced myself to her, and somehow we got on the subject of how I had recently attended the University of Florida Arts and Medicine Summer Intensive, a two-week professional development program focusing on Artistic Practice and Arts Administration for utilizing the arts in health and community settings. I shared with the woman, who was there representing a youth arts organization based in Chicago, that I found the Intensive both inspiring and useful, and she gave me her card, as she was interested in hearing more about the work I do in a psychiatric hospital setting. I was also interested in hearing more about her work, and shared that I thought I had even heard of her organization somehow. We went our separate ways after the breakfast, but I found myself sitting next to her in an afternoon break-out session which focused on case studies where arts engagement practices either went right, or went wrong.

After hearing a touching anecdote about a pianist in a hospital playing a song for a man grieving his wife, which happened to be the last song they sang together right before she passed, to the counter, wrong case scenario of a contracted musician who got into a spat with a patient in the common area of a hospital, this next case study was shared.

The scenario, shared by an Art Therapist at a children’s hospital, was that an outside yoga practitioner was hired to facilitate some yoga groups on the children’s behavioral inpatient unit. The Art Therapist did not know of the work of the facilitator, as she was an outside person contracted by the Director of the program. On the day of the yoga group, the Art Therapist was called by a concerned nurse manager on the children’s unit. She said the young patients were becoming “disregulated,” or not in control of their behavior, and that the Art Therapist should come to the unit and observe what was going on. When the Art Therapist arrived, she said that “loud, rap music was playing,” and she emphasized the word “rap,” and continued “that the kids were using the yoga mats as light-sabers,” and that basically, the unit was out of control. There were some chuckles in the audience of about fifty attendees.

She went on to say how the music was inappropriate for this group of young patients, because of its language and subject matter. There was also some discussion about the yoga instructor not having experience working in this kind of setting. When I looked at the presentation slide that shared the names of the various scenarios presented, this one was called Yoga Rap.

Now, you might read this and not see anything out of the ordinary about it. And, part of that might be I’m feeling challenged to describe the tone of delivery of this scenario. But, what I do know, is I became really uncomfortable as this scenario was shared. As soon as the presenter mentioned rap music was playing during the yoga group, the tone was perhaps not incredulous, but close to it. I’ve heard this tone before, though. I’ve heard the implication that comes when rap music is mentioned in anecdotes like this one. It usually goes something to the effect of this genre of music being deemed negative, problematic, a promoter of violence, or is something to be made fun of, like, “yeah, imagine leading a meditative painting group, and playing some crazy, rap music for it..” or in this presentation, the inferred, “can you believe it, they played rap music in a yoga class?”

I wondered if the woman who sat beside me, or the one other person of color I spotted in the room, felt uncomfortable. I know I’m projecting here, because I cannot claim to know whether they were offended or felt unsafe in this room full of white people laughing about a yoga group paired with a music genre that, while appropriated by white Americans, and cultures all over the globe, originated, and is rooted in Black American culture. While I understood that this group example given did not work out well for the unit and population being served that day, I worried about the implication of this anecdote.

I thought, I needed to say something about this. All those voices that I mentioned earlier about what to say, how to say it, should I say it, kicked in. White fragility came knocking, and I worried about sucking the energy out of the room, and being met with silence. I worried about it coming off as attacking the presenters, and in essence, the NOAH organization.

During the Q & A session that followed the presentation, there were questions brewing about what kind of music is appropriate to use in what settings, and I imagined myself going up to the mic, and using humor as an icebreaker to talk about what was on my mind. To start off with something like, “well, before I make my statement, I just want to be sure we don’t give rap a bad rap…I mean, I know it was not the intention of this presentation to do so, and that clearly things did not go right that afternoon on the children’s unit during the yoga group, but I feel we have to be careful about how we talk about the different genres of music we use, so that all of the people we work with feel their culture matters and is respected. I for one, use hip hop and rap music often in the groups I facilitate on the psychiatric Adult Inpatient Intensive Treatment Unit where I work. And, yes, we do have some ground rules about music played. We say we must avoid music that has overtly violent or sexual lyrics, has profanity in it, or glorifies drug use because we do not want to trigger anyone, knowing those we work with have experienced a good deal of trauma, and are in a state of crisis, and in a fragile emotional state.

I was going to share, again with the thought to interject some humor, but also some insight into how music preference and impact is so personal and subjective, and would have apologized in advance for anyone who was a fan of Screamo music, about a recent group experience of mine. Just the other day when I facilitated a gentle stretch group on the unit, I asked a female patient what kind of music she wanted me to play. We had only two people in the group at that point. She said she liked rock. “What kind of rock, I asked?” “Heavy metal,” she said. Internally, I was thinking, oh, great. I do not like heavy metal, and. from my perspective, it doesn’t really go with doing the stretch group, just like it seemed the presenter didn’t think rap music paired well with yoga. I usually choose softer folk or r & b, or some relaxing instrumental music for stretching. But, I asked the question, so heavy metal it was. I asked what band, or if there was a particular song she wanted me to play. She said, “Lambs of God,” and named the song. I found it on Youtube, and pressed Play.

To me the music was hardcore yelling. Much like the yoga group example given, I felt like I was going to “disregulate” my own behavior, and found the music highly irritating. The patient who chose it seemed happy to be hearing her tune. When I looked at the other patient in the room, and a third that had since entered, they both seemed not to be bothered, but when the song finally ended, I was relieved to say to another patient, “would you like to choose the next song, so we all get a turn to hear something we’ve chosen?”

And, I don’t know. Maybe this anecdote would be offensive to someone that really likes heavy metal. But what matters even more is that I let my white fragility take over, and I never made it up to the mic to say what I ruminated about in my mind, and before I knew it the presentation session was over, and I had wimped out, and became, what I felt, was complicit in perpetuating the rhetoric of putting down a genre of music associated with Black culture in a predominately white space.

Ironic, given each week my daughter Leni is calling me about her Race and Power class, and I’m telling her to overcome her own white fragility and speak up, and say the things she wants to, and feels she needs to say. That afternoon, I did not practice what I’ve been preaching.

Yet, it is a goal of mine to do so. And I do sometimes. Most of the time. I call it my “wondering aloud.” Like when I was at the Arts In Medicine Summer Intensive and we were talking about Art and Aesthetics and presentation slides slipped by with words like Inclusion and Equity on them as bullet points, but weren’t discussed, I wondered aloud in our group of eighteen cohorts and program staff, “when we define what art is and what aesthetics is, the talk and education is typically centered mostly on white, European art history and aesthetics, and so I wonder things like who gets to define what art is, and who is included in that, and while I appreciated all the online modules we were asked to complete on Cultural Competence, I wondered how this program and how the field addresses this”…and I remember I didn’t want to go there and bring up this example because I didn’t want to sound like I was calling the host’s program out, but it just came out, and I continued…”earlier two of the truly wonderful musicians that the hospital employs to do bedside visits, spoke of their difficulty connecting with a Spanish speaking patient, and so we know that representation matters, and so how does the field, and how do we think about and put into practice these culturally competent practices so that we see from a variety of perspectives, and everyone is included?”

Well, it wasn’t quite that eloquent when it came out that day. But I said pretty much the gist of all that. Right afterward, as is typical with me, I worried that I had said something that sounded like a put-down, a call out, an attack. I was raised to be a nice girl, to be respectful, to not hurt other people’s feelings. Saying anything that I feel is negative or criticism is really hard for me.

I had to ask my peers during break if what I said was okay. Several I had become closer to, including one man, who is Native American, said they felt it was not offensive, that it was good to make the statement, even though they felt it wasn’t directly answered.

I try my best to make statements like that more and more where I feel there is a lack of inclusion, when white-centering has taken over, and there is an obliviousness as to its impact. I know I have my own blind spots, and I know in this white-dominated culture in our country, white-centering is happening all the time. It is my mission to be a part of actively breaking that down, and that means speaking up is really important, so, I can’t help to be highly disappointed in myself still, for not speaking up that day in Boston.

But, I carry on, and will do better next time, and the time after that. I don’t share this to have anyone read this, and then tell me, “but Wendy, you do so much good, or you do speak up, or take action a lot of the time, so don’t beat yourself up about this.” I am not writing this for that response. I am writing to lay bare my imperfections, my moments of failure, to ask all of us white people to do better, to do your own “wondering aloud” when you know it is necessary. We white people can feel very comfortable when denouncing white supremacy, and highly overt racist acts, but we need to get better when it comes to the every day exclusions, the every day white-centering, the every day microaggressions, the every day inferences that makes someone from another culture or race feel theirs is inferior.

I asked Leni if I could write a post about both of our struggles to speak up and not give in to our own white fragility, and I was glad, and proud of her when she said, yes. It made me feel like we are in this fight together. And, if we are to be accountable to one another in this fight, I, as her mother, want to set a good example.

And…that’s a rap.

If It’s Not What We Say About Race, It Must Be What We Do

22 Jul

I haven’t written here in a few months. It’s not that there isn’t anything to write about. Believe me, thoughts about race, racism, whiteness, and what is going on in this country, and what I can do about it, are spinning around in my head, and in my heart, 24/7. No excuses, but I was recovering from a botched cataract surgery, and the old eye is just about 100%. This week, though, I was asked by an acquaintance, if I was going to “blog about our President and his comments, and saying he’s not racist. So crazy,” he said. Crazy racist, I would say.

But, we know that. We shout out “racist!” “racism!” over and over again. We shout it out about our “Occupant in the White House,” as Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley calls him. Yes, the Congresswoman, who was one of four Congresswomen of color, who were told to go back to their own countries.

Oh, you want to hear more about the racism? About the Occupant’s rally, who a friend likened to a KKK rally? Where the crowd chanted “Send her back!” when Congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s name was mentioned? And how a day later, he doubled down on his damaging comments about Omar being linked to terrorism, by perpetuating the rumor that she got her brother a green card and United States citizenship by fraudently marrying him?

Or, do I keep writing about the viral videos that seem to pop up every other day of a white person telling someone just trying to buy their groceries, or work their job, to “speak English here in America”, or “go back to Mexico” or “I’ll have you deported?” And do I share how I agreed with social media friend, Michael Eaglin’s comments about how he’s lowered his expectations about people’s humanity, how he wondered aloud about our “basic respect and integrity,” and the fact that this “behavior isn’t admonished, isn’t found reprehensible by their communities and institutions, like family, church, schools, civic clubs, etc.’

Or, do I continue to write about the viral videos of white people still calling the police on black people, most recently, it was two black men, a real estate agent and a potential home buyer, who were thought to be breaking-and-entering a home the agent wished to show? Or, insert any normal life activity that black people are trying to do, just like white people, but are deemed criminal by white eyes that can’t comprehend the optics of black people living ordinary lives just like theirs.

Or, do I write about how some people keep saying these immigrants have to come in legally like their families did however many decades ago? The people who are able to separate themselves from any feelings of compassion or empathy toward children being taken away from their families, adults and children being kept in detention centers that mirror concentration camps, being treated with intentional cruelty, and not given their due process, as refugees fleeing unsafe countries are supposed to receive when seeking political asylum here?

And I wasn’t going to write about this, especially after my teenage daughters surprised me with their reaction to my action, thinking it privileged and performative. I questioned the purpose of sharing about the night of July 2nd, when I got arrested protesting at the Wyatt Detention Center in Central Falls, Rhode Island. But now I am sharing it, perhaps as a way to process that night’s events. I’m sharing how as a Jewish woman, I felt I needed to use my voice, and my body, to say #NeverAgainIsNow, and joined the Jewish activist group taking national action to block the entrances of I.C.E. contracted detention centers around the country, thereby disrupting their ability to do their harmful business-as-usual. I’m sharing about the pleading sound of men, women–and, were there children?–pounding on frosted windows to let us know they saw us, as we waved to who we could not see, to in effect, say, we see you.

I’m sharing that when myself and five women of the eighteen men and women who were arrested were put into a windowless van, with a metal wall separating us from the other side of the van, and we all sat there with our handcuffed or ziptied hands behind our back, and nervously chuckled on our ride to the precinct, how I looked down the narrow metal bench to the faces beside mine, and said to myself, I know these women, these are my people, even though, except for one, I didn’t know them personally. And at risk at sounding over-dramatic, and right after one of the young woman shared that she had just returned two weeks ago from visiting the Anne Frank house, I could not help but imagine us as the Jewish women who might have ridden together on cramped trains to concentration camps, and how maybe they nervously laughed, too, knowing their fate was not a good one, but worked to comfort one another, in the face of the grave inhumanity that would befall them. And in that moment, I knew, too, we were not them, but were here honoring them, and saying, Never Again, because it is now, we must not sit idly by. And, I thought, too, as we entered the van, of Freddy Gray, and how hard, and cold, the white, metal seat and walls and floor of the van were, and how his body was broken into pieces by police officers that night in Baltimore. But we were not Jews on our way to a concentration camp. We were not Freddie Gray. We were not Black Lives Matter protestors in Ferguson, Missouri, or Baltimore.

Us eighteen, that night, were white-skinned, and treated with calm, and kindness. We did not have to use milk to wash tear gas out of our eyes. We were not hit with batons. We were treated as human beings, and within three hours at the police station, we were all released with a summons. A week later in court, with an agreement to either make a donation to a non-profit organization serving the immigrant community in Central Falls, or do ten hours of community service, we had our cases dismissed. Amazing what whiteness and privilege, an accessory automatically included, can do.

Yesterday, I paused my own writing, in anticipation of attending the annual reading by the 2019 writers-in-residence at the Rhode Island Writers Colony in Warren, Rhode Island. The organization was founded by writer, and literary mentor, Brook Stephenson and his brother, John Stephenson. Brook, unfortunately passed away in 2015, at the young age of forty-one, and John has carried on his brother’s legacy with the continuation of the summer Writers’ Colony. The two-week residency creates a space for writers of color, not only to write, but to commune with one another, share ideas, work, and nurture one another’s creativity, which is rare in a literary and publishing world, that as they noted, does not make great space for them.

I was moved and inspired by all of the voices, and the work of the 2019 writers-in-residence: Alisha Acquaye, Sasha Banks, Jill Louise Busby, Fajr Muhammad, and Jive Poetic. Writers of short stories, novels, essays, and poetry– we listened to a coming of age short story, stories recording the history of, and the undoing of the America that brutalized black people for over four centuries, a novel about the disappearance and murder of black women in Philadelphia with a narrator who wondered if anyone noticed or cared, an essay from an author learning to love her body as a black woman, and poems about connection to one’s heritage, one about the futuristic genetic engineering of our souls that brilliantly begins with the whispered warning about seedless green grapes, and a poem about a white woman placing her hand on the poet’s chest, because she sees his “I’m Out – signed Harriet Tubman” tee-shirt, and feels she needs to share that in her past life she was a slave, too!

I got to consider my own white fragility too, when writer, Jill Louise Busby, read her piece, Oreo, a powerful, honest writing, and, trust me, those two adjectives don’t even begin to do justice to her words, or the soul-searching investigation of self, how whiteness always others, how not to use whiteness as a measurement of self, and much more, written with such directness and complexity, that I can never fully know or understand because at the end of the day, when I write about race, racism, and cross-racial connection, I’ll still be a white woman writing about it.

And, when the reading’s host, author, and the Colony’s Artistic Director, Jason Reynolds, said right after her reading, “it’s good to be unapologetic..and to feel the discomfort..well…for some of us,” the audience laughed, the white folks, probably more nervously so. And I nodded, the white person nod, to say, yes, we do, I do, need to feel the discomfort, to feel the sting, and yet, don’t make it about me, make it about us, about whiteness, and yet, at the same time, don’t push it away, and know, and take responsibility, and continue to do my own self-investigation, knowing how whiteness informs my perspective, my way of moving in the world, my relationships with everyone I come into contact with, and to know what whiteness has done, and what it continues to do, if I am ever to liberate myself from it, and try to effect any real change around me.

And on those days when I wonder what purpose my writing serves, if I am saying anything new, anything that matters, or when I promise I will reformat my blog, and work with other people to include new voices here, I also wonder: Does not everyone get it yet about racism? Or do we, myself, guiltily included, have to keep social media posting and sharing every race-related article–whether an example of a personal attack, or recognition of an institutional system–when we know racism exists? Do we call it out to prove it, or to show we are still outraged, or to escape looking into the mirror, so we feign disbelief that this is our country, that this is what we did, what we have always done, and this is what we are doing right now?

White people, I don’t mean in any of this, that we need to stop talking about racism, stop calling out racism, and white supremacist structures, institutions, and systems that created and perpetuate racism and inequity. Call it out. Call it out every day, every moment. Do not sit silent with what you see, what you know. Don’t ever be tired of talking about it, and calling it out, of people telling you you make everything about race. Because until there is equality and freedom for all, none of us are free. And, if you are tired of hearing about it, think of how tired black people, and people of color are of living it.

What I do mean, is I want us to ask ourselves, but what can we do? We feel overwhelmed, ineffectual. We don’t know how we can ever change the big, overarching systems that control what is playing out in our country when it comes to racism and white supremacist structures..

It is during those times of feeling overwhelmed, and ineffective, and yes, sometimes, helpless, I remember the words of friend, artist, curator, poet, humanist, Zaiche Johnson, who recently shared, “debating and dissecting political theory, can be compartmentalized gaslighting, when there is so much work to do in real time within our own community. The destitute and oppressed can’t eat CNN transcripts, meme wars, or cyclic policy dissertations. Altruism is the only cool.”

When I let Zaiche know his words here, and our past conversations about the same, help re-center and ground me to the work that I can do–about how we all need to focus on what we can do on a micro-level in our immediate communities where ever and every where we live–he reminds me how “we can only do our best commensurate with what we have accessible, which varies for each person.” I thank him for this detail which speaks to the very core of the necessary shift of sharing resources and access when, as white people, we are part of the privileged group that has made sure it got and keeps the majority of both.

On days like this when I wonder if I should be writing about race, and asked by friends if I’m going to write about all that is going on in the country right now, like “the President’s comments,” I know that the true answer is I cannot stop myself from writing about it. And, perhaps, I finally wrote about the detention center protest, because that was something I could do. That is what matters a lot more to me. That I never stop doing something about it.

Finding Inspiration in Nipsey Hussle’s Beautiful Being

12 Apr

Nipsey Hussle
Ermias Joseph Asghedom, known as artist, Nipsey Hussle
(Photo credit: staplecenter.com)

As a writer, and creator, I find inspiration in so much that is around me. In people watching, in nature, in the words of others. Lately, this last one is something I’ve truly needed to lean on. And I know not just artists do this. We all look for inspiration, especially when we are trying to achieve something. When we want to lose weight, we look to others who have lost weight as examples, and perhaps, we post inspirational quotes on our refrigerator. I’m not a corporate business person, but I see a lot of references to motivation and goal setting to achieve success, and climb the corporate ladder. I’m no athlete, but we all know the words, Just Do It, and we look to famous athletes to hear their words of inspiration for when we are trying to keep up with our own physical fitness goals, and our young people listen, as they strive to make it in their chosen sport.

I am grateful to be inspired by such a broad range of gifted and wise people that I cross paths with–people who are authentic, and allow themselves to be vulnerable, people who live to share their light with others, and some who don’t even know they are doing so. For the past year or two, I have felt stagnant and stuck and lacking energy in my day-to-day life, including my day work at a hospital, which I do love, but at times feel drained by, and stale in my approach to provide fresh, useful groups, as an Activities Therapist. I have also felt stagnant and stuck, and undisciplined, in my writing life. I have needed inspiration to lift me up out of the muck of lethargy, self-doubt, lack of motivation, and lack of discipline, and intention.

But I have been working on shifting my perspective, to focus on the daily joy I receive when focusing on the human connection at work. There was a patient at the hospital, who lives with schizophrenia, and who had me come see the inspirational quotes taped all over the closet door in their room. This patient is an inspiration on the unit, both to other patients, and staff. The patient considers themselves a philosopher, and always has positive words of wisdom and encouragement to share in the groups I facilitate. The patient has also shared with me how, when struggling with negative or paranoid thoughts, the patient will visualize themself as a battleship, which is “strong, courageous, inpenetrable, and invincible.” I love that the patient has created this self symbol of strength. It awes and inspires me.

I also look to other artists to inspire me to create, to lift me up, help me find the joy and meaning, and sense of purpose in my own life. That’s where Nipsey Hussle, the 33 year-old rap artist and entrepreneur who was murdered on March 31st, came in. Now, I will admit right at the start, I did not really know anything about Nipsey, whose real name was Ermias Joseph Asghedom. Sure, I had heard his name, and knew he was a rapper, and thought, oh that’s funny, he’s naming himself after the comedian that I knew growing up in the 70’s, Nipsey Russell. But, I didn’t know his work as a rap artist, his vision and accomplishments as an entrepreneur, or his beautiful spirit that shone through the words he spoke. His words about how he was choosing to live his life as an authentic human being, who learned to choose love and vulnerability, over anger, and who shared his knowledge of how through economics, he was able to as he said, “wiggle himself out of survival mode.” Nipsey believes this is necessary for anyone living under the pressure of poverty, and an environment where violence is a threat, to even be able to envision, dream, and desire something different for him or herself.

Nipsey had tremendous drive, ambition, and put in real “pound-the-pavement” hard work. He realized the need for an innovative vision of how to work outside the record industry, where he saw how agents and record executives earned the majority of the profits generated by artists. Nipsey taught himself how to be self-made, and wanted to share that with the people in the Crenshaw district in Los Angeles where he grew up. Yet his reach, of course, extended far beyond Crenshaw. When you possess greatness, and a spirit full with love, your reach is universal. Nipsey inspired people around the world with his artistry, but more so with his actions.

He reinvested in his neighborhood, in the young people coming up in South Central, Los Angeles, by buying the strip mall where he first sold his mixtapes as an aspiring teen rapper. He opened up his company, Marathon clothing store, there too. Nipsey was an investor in other neighborhood businesses he knew were important to have in places like Crenshaw. He knew there were people who were just as brilliant and talented as people who lived in more affluent areas, but in Crenshaw Nipsey saw how the forces of oppression and institutional white supremacy, promulgated lack, and a disconnect from resources and opportunities. To address that, Nipsey invested in a co-working space to assist entrepreneurs in developing their businesses, and a STEM lab for youth. Nipsey envisioned the lab could be a feed for Silicon Valley tech giants in the industry, who never before would consider looking to Crenshaw for such talent.

And, it’s not that I just, as a white person, want to love this struggle story of a Black and Eritrean man, who lifted himself up by his bootstraps, or think that as a white girl growing up in Waterbury, Connecticut, I know anything about what it is like to grow up in a neighborhood like Crenshaw. I even had another patient in the hospital tell me one day, a patient living with schizophrenia, who the other patients avoided because while still psychotic, was unkempt, and so their room and the area outside of their room didn’t smell so pleasant. I practiced extra kindness toward the patient because of all this, and one day the patient said to me, “I appreciate you..no one else understands me here.. but, you get me…I’m from the street…I mean, I know you’re not about that life, Miss…you’re a good person, but, thank you..”

The patient was right. I’m not about that life, but I am inspired, and feel connected to something greater than myself when I encounter human beings who are about love, creativity, and who value humanity, and yes, to other humans who are suffering, too. The patient who told me they knew I was not about that life, and like other people who live with torment in their brain which causes them at times to be in great distress, inspires me with their will and courage and strength, much like the other patient’s symbolic battleship-self, to battle against, and simply live with, the symptoms of their illness.

Hopefully, we can all find inspiration from people who we may not share the same life experiences with, who don’t look like us, and who possess their own talents and strengths. Yes, we have our uniqueness, and yet, we are all human beings, with many of the same shared desires and wishes for our lives. For example, my 80 year-old, Brooklyn born, Jewish dad had even heard of Nipsey’s murder, and brought him up to me during a recent phone call. He heard of how Nipsey had given back so much to his community and shared how he thought that was admirable.

I can truly actually imagine the two of them having a conversation about work ethic, since my dad is always talking about that, and expresses dismay at this generation who he believes is too invested in their cell phones, and not enough in working, or showing gratitude to their families. While talking about my daughter in her first year in college, my dad shared with me in that phone call how ” I knew Pop didn’t have any money, so I waited tables so I could pay for my tuition and books at UCONN…” made me think about what Nipsey said in a video I watched of him, where he shared how “my mother worked hard but we didn’t have a lot, so I needed clothes, but my older brother needed clothes first, and I didn’t want to shame her by asking for things, so I got my first job at 11 or 12 so I could buy some of my own clothes for school…”

And, as if that were not enough, in listening to countless interview videos with Nipsey on Youtube this past week, I have found Nipsey’s words as an artist, words I so needed to hear to help continue to move me out of my stagnant, procrastinating, self-doubting, undisciplined phase, as I try to quietly write something in a genre that is new to me, playwriting.

The words of advice that stuck out for me included, to first define who you are as a person and artist, and to not veer from that, to put aside your self-doubt, and, finally, to make a plan and set goals, because if you have a dream, but no map on how to get there, you can’t know where to go, and any thing that comes up, you will let it derail you. These words came right on time for me. And I know these words are said by others, in similar ways, and, yet, goal setting has been especially hard for me for some reason. I remember when I was doing street outreach for homeless adults with mental illness in New York City, I also had to do some case management. I just couldn’t connect with that practical work. I felt like, I can barely manage my own life, how can I tell someone else how to live theirs, how to achieve their goals? I am still a work-in-progress as a dreamer artist striving to connect a plan to the dreams and aspirations I hold.

Some might say we don’t need to put too much weight on what a celebrity says, that instead we need to look within, instead of outside of ourselves, but I say, it is a positive to be inspired by another person’s journey, and there is no right or wrong way, or place, to seek, and soak in inspiration.

While writing this, I just watched some of the live stream of Nipsey’s funeral at the Staple Center in Los Angeles. His mother, Angelique Smith, spoke with a firm calmness, and her words and spirit were described by many on twitter as “divine,” and “descending from our ancestors..” She spoke of how she could be calm because she was already prepared for the acceptance of death, and she spoke of her sadness over the wicked and evil in the world today that our young people have to live in. She spoke of how proud she was of her son. She spoke of how the only way to heal the darkness, is to be the light, to work to change the world. She spoke of how when her mother, Nipsey’s grandmother, called her to tell her something had happened in the shopping center, that she already knew, and that, in fact, as she was answering the call, she was ascending from the ground as she picked up her hairdryer. She said she was in a position of ascension already. And that all of us have to find a way to ascend, too. She said that the legacy of love her mother started, and passed onto her, that she passed onto her son, and he, being in the public eye, passed on to all of us, that we have to water those seeds of love, and let them grow. She said that Nipsey had an aura and energy that gave her power, and that she will miss that, and she said that, like the fairytales she read as a child of a king, a castle, and royalty, and people coming from far away to celebrate and honor the kingdom, and that today’s service was a celebration to honor Ermais’ life.

Nipsey’s older brother, Samiel, gave a tearful eulogy, laced with stories of the kind of gentle sibling rivalry and revelry that feel familiar to all of us. At the same time, the way Samiel spoke of their bond, and his recognition of how special his little brother was, and how much he wanted to support his brother’s vision and work, were beautiful. He recalled at how at age 11, Nipsey brought home a bunch of computer parts and, though Samiel had doubts about Nipsey’s claims about building his own computer, Nipsey taught himself how to do just that, and within a couple of weeks had built a working computer himself, the same computer he would first use to record his own music.

Nipsey’s girlfriend, actress Lauren London, read a touching, loving text she had recently sent to Nipsey about how much he, and their relationship meant to her. She, like Samiel, spoke about her complete awe and yet growing familiarity with how Nipsey researched everything, was completely self-taught in all that he did. She spoke about how he burned sage in their family home in the morning so that their energy would be a good energy, and that they would bring good energy out into the world each day.

Interestingly, I have recently been working on shifting my energy out of stagnation by doing the tiniest things, like driving a different route to work than the one I always take, and making my home environment more of a beautiful, comfortable space to feel at peace, and to be a space I feel clear, and comforted to write in. At work, instead of worrying about not feeling inspired, I focus on the giving and receiving of light that occurs in the human connection between me and the patients we work with, and with my co-workers, and feelings of stagnation fall away. I will continue to listen to and remind myself of Nipsey’s words and energy when I begin to doubt myself as a writer.

I am deeply saddened that Nipsey Hussle lost his life, and in a violent way, at a young age, when he was trying to do so much good in the world. It is a loss for his family, his girlfriend, his child, his fans, Crenshaw, and the world. His legacy will live on, though, and for that, we can all be grateful, and hopefully inspired, to live the values that Nipsey taught us in regards to dedication in the pursuit of one’s passion, giving back in a real way to one’s community, the sharing of how to do these things, how to spread love over hate, how to treat the ones we love, how to change our energy, and spread good energy, so that we can do good and have good come back to us, even when we may feel our battleship is off-kilter.

Here is one of the many videos of a young Nipsey Hussle I watched this week which I found inspiration in:



www.youtube.com, Nipsey Hussle: 7 Secrets To Success, posted by VYBO, October 26, 2017

Why I Can’t Watch The Michael Jackson Documentary. At least, not yet.

12 Mar

me, a couple of years ago in the MJ tee a good friend sent me right after Michael’s passing.

What do you do when your first love dies three times?

I can’t even. How do I even begin to write about all that I’m thinking and feeling, or more like, how do I write about what I don’t want to think about?

Michael Jackson. When MJ died, everyone was all like,

“Wendy, did you hear?”

“Wendy, are you okay?!”

“Wendy, our condolences…”

And, now, these past two weeks, it’s been,

“Wendy, did you hear about the Michael Jackson documentary coming out?”

“Wendy, are you going to watch the Michael Jackson documentary?”

“Wendy, did you see the Michael Jackson documentary?”

And then there was their commentary:

“..it’s very believable..”

“very credible..”

“very disturbing..”

“scary upsetting..”



As if I’m not sick over all this. “I can’t bring myself to watch it,” I tell my co-worker, Guy, whose Green Bay Packers screensaver I have changed to every MJ photo imaginable anytime he leaves his computer open. There’s been the Jackson 5 MJ, brown-skinned, fluffy teen afro MJ, white-skinned MJ, plastic surgery gone too far but not so far that I can’t look at him anymore MJ, Billie Jean MJ, and the American Music Awards, sparkly sequin ambassador jacket with Bubbles and Brooke Shields MJ.

Maybe it will make more sense if I share that I was supposed to marry Michael Jackson. I really, really was. I mean, at age 10, I had the scenario all planned out, and the written imagining is one of the many MJ blog posts I’ve posted over the past seven years that I’ve had the blog.

From the time I played the Jackson 5 Third album in my basement when I was in fourth grade, dancing to Mama’s Pearl, in my heart, I had teleported myself to the Jackson’s Gary, Indiana living room, just like how Michael and his brothers sang in “going back to Indiana..Indiana here I come..”‘

Now these documentary people want to take all of that, that adoration and love of Michael and his genius, away from me. I have not watched the documentary and I am not reading any articles about it, but have caught commentary from friends, strangers, and celebrities on social media. My eyes land, spend more time, on the ones I want to see.

“Just them lynching another black man.”

“He’s dead and can’t even defend himself.”

“Why’d they wait until he died to do this?!”

“He was on trial for this for years and he was cleared of all charges. He was found innocent.”

When the child molestation charges first came up in the early 1990’s, I had the briefest, oh no! moment, but quickly and firmly did not believe in these allegations. It was not that I chose to not believe them. I simply did not.

Now I don’t know what to do. Friends who watched the documentary comment on how credible and disturbing the story the two men, who claimed Michael Jackson accused them when they were young teenagers, shared as adults in their 30’s now. While during their original trials when friends I respected said they weren’t so sure he was innocent, it was easy for me to dismiss them, and believe I was right about Michael’s innocence. But now, I find myself wavering. Everyone seems to say the evidence is overbearing in its proof that Michael did these horrendous things I never thought he could have, would have done. Yes, I thought him odd. Yes, I wondered about his sexuality. But I didn’t believe he was a child molester.

“They took down Bill Cosby. They are taking down R. Kelly. Now they’re taking down Michael Jackson. They want to take down all of our successful Black males.”

But what do I do?

What do I do with the box of MJ memorabilia containing the two Michael Jackson dolls, countless magazines featuring Michael on the cover–Time, Rolling Stones–concert programs, MJ pins, earrings, trading cards. And, the fake newspaper my Mom ordered with the made up headline that read: Michael Jackson Admits To Loving Wendy.

And what about the MJ hologram poster my sister Sarah gave me? The MJ playing cards I bought on a visit to Seattle? The MJ decoupaged light-switch plate my sister-in-law Paula gifted me? Or the most amazing Spike Lee first Michael Jackson Memorial Dance Party printed label I peeled off a building on my way back to the subway from the Prospect Park tribute in Brooklyn?

And what about the most fabulous, show-stopping plastic, young afro MJ earrings that everyone always comments on, and the patients at the psychiatric hospital I work with get a kick out of, thinking they are really fun? Except for that one guy a few years back who said, “why are you wearing a dead pedophile on your ears?”

And now I really don’t know what to do. I mean he was said to be the pop entertainer of the century. I mean, Fred Astaire revered him as an extraordinary dancer. He was loved by millions, or probably billions, right? Wait. I just had the thought/question pop into my head, I wonder what Chris Tucker thinks? The comedian and MJ were supposedly close friends. What does Quincy Jones think? What do all the young boys and girls who still wear white gloves and practice their moonwalks think?

Is it true?

Does white America love taking its Black heroes down?

I’m not standing up for anyone who has done gross wrongs, and am not by any means giving any kind of pass to other recently accused celebrities like R. Kelly. I’m not from the camp either that with R. Kelly says, “well, I can separate the man from his music and still listen to his music.” Or at least I think I’m not.

I have not listened to R. Kelly since hearing about his documentary, and trust me, I used to. Ignition was a song I’d sing along to in the car when it came on the radio. I once even almost bought a hipster, heart-shaped necklace charm inscribed with the words, After the party, it’s the hotel lobby.

Guy, that co-worker whose screensaver I was always MJ hacking and I are both on the same page right now about not watching the MJ documentary. He was a huge fan, too. We are also both concerned about whether this means we have to stop listening to MJ music. Guy, in weighing this kind of decision out, said he is fine without listening to R. Kelly, but he is really hard-pressed about having to give up listening to Kelly’s song, Step In The Name Of Love. And, yeah, I can relate. That song is pure, escalating joy. But, never listen again to Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough, I’ll Be There, or Never Can Say Goodbye? Do I burn my Off The Wall album?

It’s another death of Michael. It’s the third death to be exact. There was the actual death of Michael Jackson on June 25, 2009. Then, as my friend Anisa, who I met up with at an outdoor film night, right after hearing about Michael’s death, shared, it was as if for her that the Michael she once knew had already died in a way, once he kept going further and further with his plastic surgery, and I think she may have also mentioned, the earlier child molestation charges. She said that his actual death didn’t hit her as hard because of that. I understood what she meant. I too, had frozen my MJ at the time of his Bad album and subsequent concert tour. I didn’t care as much for his later albums, and I was saddened by all the changes he was making to his appearance with extreme plastic surgery procedures and skin whitening. Of course, so much can be written, and already has, about what these things meant to him; about him. Still, his actual, second death hit me hard. Real hard.

That’s why it touched my heart when a good friend sent me in the mail the beautiful artist-made memorial MJ t-shirt pictured above, right after Michael died. Do I have to burn that now, too?

This is where I am at right now. Some may say I am in denial. But I can’t even come to any conclusions just yet. It is enough to think about the falling.

A house of cards collapsing.

A moonwalk abruptly screeching to a halt.

It’s the same question I began with. What do you do when your first love dies three times?

Here are some past Michael Jackson blog posts. There are probably more than what’s listed here:

Why Are You Wearing Those Michael Jackson Earrings

Calling Michael Jackson

The MJ One Cirque de Soleil Show: Never Grow Up And Still Never Can Say Good-bye

My First Letter To The Editor Published: And Its Barrington Clapback

11 Feb

trinity rep black odyssey

photo: Joe Wilson, Jr. as Ulysses, and Cloteal L. Horne as Circe, in “black odyssey” at Trinity Repertory Company, Jan. 3 – Feb. 3, 2019 (photo credit: Mark Turek)

On January 23rd, 2019, I got my first Opinion letter published in our local newspaper, The Providence Journal. I was so mad about a review of Trinity Repertory Company’s play, black odyssey, written by the paper’s theater critic, Channing Grey, that I just had to write the letter.

The play, black odyssey, by acclaimed playwright, Marcus Gardley, is a retelling of Homer’s classic, The Odyssey. According to Trinity Rep, the play is how “one man’s journey home from war leads him on an adventure connecting him with his own ancestors and our shared humanity, before finally delivering him back to his wife and son.”

It is an epic tale–a layered journey of storytelling, with song, ritual, and time travel through ancient and current history of the African diaspora, including black American history and culture. The play is two hours and fifty minutes in length.

Here is Gray’s review:

[Read more…]

The Problem With White People Time

22 Jan

If Beale Street Could Talk
If Beale Street Could Talk
Tish and Fonny, If Beale Street Could Talk
(photo credit: The Atlantic)

We’ve heard it, right? People from various cultural groups talking about being on “black people’s time” or “Spanish people’s time.” In other words, the self-effacing joke that when they say they’ll arrive at that family function at 3:00 p.m. and show up at 5:00 p.m., they are not late, and every one already knows they are not showing up at 3:00 p.m.

Then, there’s the joke comedian Chris Tucker tells about the one thing he learned from dating white girls, was, to be “on time.”

There’s beauty in realizing we have different relationships to time. I remember my mother and aunts talking about trips to Spain to visit my grandmother, who had moved there when she retired. As a teenager, I loved imagining the dinners they spoke of, that started around nine o’clock and stretched to midnight with a languorous parade of tapas, wine, espresso, and conversation.

But time can become a problem when white people expect it to unfold in their real time. In all of my noticing, and consciousness-raising of my own whiteness, and whiteness as a whole, I have come to see how when we gauge an art form, or an event, or a social interaction through our white, European-centered lens, sense of etiquette, and what we’ve been indoctrined by white society to deem the way something should be done, we do a great disservice to black people, and of course to any other culture, ethnicity or race that is different from our own. To begin to break down our white-centered gaze, we must first remember how whiteness sees itself as the center, as the norm, and everyone else, as spokes streaming out from the center of the wheel of whiteness.

This whole matter of white people’s time came to my attention last week, when Joe Wilson, Jr., a main actor from the renowned Trinity Repertory Company here in Providence, Rhode Island, posted a social media note about a review in The Providence Journal. Joe, who is black, and who acts in and co-directs the currently running play, black odyssey, was incensed that theatre critic, Channing Grey, who is white, wrote the play “could use some trimming.”

The play, black odyssey, by acclaimed playwright, Marcus Gardley, is a retelling of Homer’s classic, The Odyssey. According to Trinity Rep, the play is how “one man’s journey home from war leads him on an adventure connecting him with his own ancestors and our shared humanity, before finally delivering him back to his wife and son.”

It is an epic tale–a layered journey of storytelling, with song, ritual, and time travel through ancient and current history of the African diaspora, including black American history and culture. The play is 2 hours and 50 minutes in length.

When I read the entire review, I was also bothered by other perspectives of the critic. Grey stated as if it was not enough for Gardley to not only show us “tortured slavery, …but also…police brutality,” it was as if he was saying, the nerve of the playwright to make me confront the ongoing history of black pain at the hands of whiteness. Another line about this being a play for “often forgotten audiences,” gave way to the reality of structural white-centered dominance in the arts, including who gets to say what is considered mainstream theatre.

But, back to white people’s time. When we say a play needs some trimming, we are saying that from our learned white-gaze, what a play should look like, how the story should be structured, how the art of storytelling should be expressed, how the actors should perform their lines, how the stage direction should go, and how tidily edited it should be. We are giving our white-centered critique of another group’s culture, which we do not know. Therefore, how can we critique it?

I can recall a time, of which I am ashamed of, when my own white people time showed itself. It was at a fundraiser several years back, highlighting the good works of local Black businesses. I remember catching myself thinking that the pacing of the event was slow in spots, and that the guests took too much time speaking at the podium. Then I caught myself, and said to myself: “wait a minute! When do white people ever give attention to black businesses, or host community events and notice who is included and who is excluded, or notice much else that black people do and accomplish, aside from our celebrity worship of black artists and athletes? And, so, while knowing black people don’t ever need my permission, or acknowledgment, I quickly jumped to the thought of, “go ahead! You should be taking all the time you want to stop and recognize yourself, and your peers, and to bask in the attention and praise you deserve. And, who am I to say how the pacing of an event should go, if I am only going to consider all the white-centered planning of events I have attended throughout my life?” I realized that my white people time was way off the mark, and I adjusted.

I almost had to slap myself when I caught myself using white people time again at If Beale Street Could Talk, a beautiful and deep film, inspired by James Baldwin’s story of the same name. The film was directed by Barry Jenkins, who also directed Moonlight. Stylistically, the film for me, with its use in places, of slow-motion cinematography, and time-suspended close-ups of its actors gazing into the camera, pulled me into another dimension of time, another dimension of being. The film asked me to slow down my i-phone, social media rush of a world, and simply be there in the moment with the young couple in love: Fonny, played by Stephan James, and Tish, played by Kiki Layne. The pacing of the film allowed me to get to know their families, their conversations full of weight, of gold, of lightness of being, their beauty, their love, their knowing determination to survive the reality of their lives living in their skin in 1970’s New York City.

There are a number of scenes where their love is shown through the actors’ suspended gazes at one another, and toward the end of the two-hour film in one of the scenes where Fonny is looking at Tish, my white people time kicked in. I wondered, could I do with a tiny bit less of the slowed moments, but then again, immediately after the thought came, I stopped my whiteness lens, and said, No! It is not for me to critique the movement of this film. Fonny’s loving gaze, the slowed moments that capture the love of these two main characters, and their families, is a love that white America rarely takes the time to see, to experience, to believe it exists.

The love of Tish’s family, the joy of living in all kinds of love–including family and friends–and the commitment to both, and also the deep knowing of the struggle to survive and thrive living as a black person in this country is something most of us white people don’t pay attention to. And so I acknowledged my white-centered lens had too thick of a filter on, and I flowed with Barry Jenkins’ flow. And, the flow was beautiful.

I realized, too, Beale Street’s storytelling wasn’t necessarily for me, or for white people to “get.”Some or all of it’s cultural signifiers and nuances, may skim over our heads, and hearts. But, it’s message of the reality of what it is like for black men to live and be wrongfully convicted–their lives “thrown away” in the unjust criminal justice system, and the impact that has on his families, is of course critical for white people to get. So is the portrayal and reflection of black people’s lives, humanity and narratives, when given dimension, and are seen in the world in a way so rarely seen in films telling white-centered stories, written by white writers, and filmed by white directors. Realizing all of this, I then had, and have, gratitude for being able to witness this story as told by its storytellers, Baldwin and Jenkins. I recalled Julie Dash’s film, Daughters of the Dust, and again remembered, time, and storytelling, is relative.

With all of this talk of white people time as it relates to black art forms and events centering the black experience, I am not saying white people don’t have the right to their own opinion about the quality of a piece of work, or can not share about how a piece of work made them think or feel, but knowing most of all of that is subjective anyway, what I am asking, is that as white people, we first take note of the lens we are looking through, and then, crush it.

Isn’t it about time we did so?

2018 Year-In-Review. What I Wrote. What I Learned. What’s Next.

20 Dec

Rashon Nelson, Donte Peterson
Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson

At the end of each year, I look back at my writings here to remember, and reflect on what was going on in the world around me in regards to race, about what I’ve learned, and hopefully, how I’ve grown.

I started off 2018 by writing The Crack Cocaine Center Of Excellence about my anger over the discrepancy on how the opioid “crisis” is being treated now that it is impacting white suburban communities vs. how Black people were treated who were impacted by what was called the “crack epidemic” in the 1980’s.

On February 14th, we learned Valentines Day will now forever be overshadowed by the occurrence of the Parkland, Florida school shooting. In Let Us Listen To All Of Our Young People’s Cries For Help To End Gun Violence. I wrote about how proud I was of the Parkland students for rising up and becoming passionate activists working to end gun violence. Yet, as they garnered the nation’s and the world’s attention, and praise, I, and others, who also praised the Parkland students, wished the same attention was given to the young Black and Brown students in Baltimore, Ferguson, and throughout the country, who have been activists for much longer. They have been activists out of the need to speak on behalf of their communities who have experienced gun violence, and police brutality, and killings by police officers, but have not gotten the same mainstream attention as the highlighted, mostly white, suburban Florida students.

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