Whiteness

The past epoch of my life is divided primarily into two time frames: before Chile (and an onslaught of mental illness that flared during & after that life-abroad experience) & after Chile.

Before Chile I wrote & spoke very little about how not to be an asshole to black folks. Some of my dearest friends were black at the time, but when I was with white folks, I rarely defended their experience or contradicted the pro-institution (pro-white supremacist) statements that white friends were made. At the time, I thought this was respect for my elders (most of my white friends, particularly the uber-conservative & racist ones, are well older than I). Now, I see that it was something I didn’t do because, due to my personality type & experiences I had within my family’s structure, & in the conservative protestant church, I identified with black Americans more than with white. Subconsciously, I equated my experience to theirs. It was a very naive & mistaken way to see things. No matter how great my suffering was as a young person, it was in no way comparable to the American black experience. That’s an apples to oranges comparison. Yet in some ways this time was beautiful in a simplistic, temporary way. I really just enjoyed being with people who I saw as being very similar to myself,. I was able to show great empathy & compassion without doing the same annoying shit most white people do in interactions with POC. .

At that time, I saw my role in undoing the horrendous & continual effects of the translatlantic slave trade, Jim Crow laws, & the global history of racism against POC, as primarily involving my own interactions with black folks.

Fast foward to AFTER Chile. I returned from 5+ months of life abroad with severe mental illnesses on my tail. Integration back into United States university culture only heightened the depression I had, & gave birth to a new illness: Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Not only was I wrestling with an illness I had known since adolescence, now I grappled an unfamiliar monster.

Needless to say, this mental/emotional cocktail brought the worst out of me. (Rumi said that the wounds are where the light come in, but I’d like to ask him what he has to say regarding the times when the wounds are where the darkness gooshes out? Anyway…)

I returned to Little Rock, hoping to reconnect with friends (white, black, hispanic, asian–everybody!). In interactions with black folks I immediately noticed strain. Strain that hadn’t been there a year & a half ago when I had moved away. I heard myself saying things to black friends that had made me cringe to hear white folks say in the past. Things like, well, you just have to work harder sometimes, or mentioning skin color off hand. Also, I would compulsively do things to “help” them & their families, buzzing around like a grandma on thanksgiving, instead of sitting down, listening, showing compassion & love–like FRIENDS do. Only recently did I realize that I had moved from treating black folks as subjects of their own stories, to objects of mine.

That, friends, is the ego. The ego LOVES to scapegoat minorities. (See: all of western history.)

Noticing the lack of health in these relationships, & my growing frustrations as I continued to buy gifts & “help” these friends (unsolicited, mind you! This was all me) without allowing myself to see them as humans & receive the beauty of their stories & relationships, (Note that not many of my white friendships were going well at this point, either. However, it is easier to dance around the ego in spaces that offer no hierarchy of being/ingrained subject-object bluepring for interaction.) Finally, I took steps back & lowered my interaction as much as possible with POC.

Sounds bad, doesn’t it? Real bad.

Yet I am glad I distanced myself. No one deserves a friend who gives & gives only to get more frustrated with the person who is passively recieving ! No one deserves to be the warm body in a race-based ego-tango!

I wish I had some gorgeous epiphany to share regarding race & what I have learned, & how enlightened I am now. I sure don’t, though. The insights into why I did what I did, what racism had to do with it, & what I needed to do to stop being white supremacy’s puppet, are what I wanted to share here.

I hope to circle back around, as my  heart heals & the ego’s sway over me weakens, to those beautiful relationships that had been built on mutual trust, shared experience, & radical generosity (on everyone’s part), despite GREAT odds. But I will wait. I will wait until I can interact without responding to external impulses. I will wait until I can love my friends as people, as sacred individuals, not as sounding boards for my latest black/white realizations or observations. I will wait until I can have a conversation in which I smile due to joy — not because I have to somehow acknowledge the blackness of another person. I will wait until my anxiety is healed enough that I can carry my own weight in a conversation with someone who is different from me, & refrain from perpetuating racism in my words & actions.

Sometimes, all I can do is try not to be another white asshole. That’s it. I can’t save black people from the continual injustices. That was never my job. (I couldn’t anyway–talk about ego.) Sometimes I can’t even INTERACT with black folks without wearing a forced “I’m white, you’re black,” smile! That’s the embarassing truth. Racism lives in me, fuck it.

I show myself grace because I am human. I am allowed to be human, to mess up continually. I am just not allowed to be racist & EVER think that is okay. I am grateful to artists like Tayari Jones, Ava DuVernay, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Austin Channing Brown, & others, who give me a window into a world that is far different from the one I live in. By grace, I can learn.

Watching When They See Us helped me see that my role is to engage whiteness & white supremacy’s hold on my people. The incarceration of those 5 innocent boys happened because of two white women who spun a racist story about them, & pinned them with blame. We have to reckon with this part of our history, our present, & our future. It is my job to engage white folks more than it is my job to “rescue” black folks. It is my job to rail against the system. To vote for black life. To shop at black-owned businesses. To champion black authors. To defend truth & justice at dinner tables, post offices, classrooms, etc. It is my job to look my (white) loved ones in the face & say, “that was racism. That needs to change.” Over & over. Until things get better. I don’t do these things because of what happened in the past. I do these things because I want to live a good life. I don’t want to be an asshole. I want life to be better for EVERY GOD DAMN HUMAN ALIVE.

Until there is justice for all, there will not be peace for any of us.

 

Donate now to help make a change.

 

“Don’t say, “Oh, it’s not really race, it’s class. Oh, it’s not race, it’s gender. Oh, it’s not race, it’s the cookie monster.” You see, American Blacks don’t actually want it to be race. They woud rather not have racist shit happen. So maybe when they say something is about race, it’s maybe because it actually is? … Don’t say “We’re tired of talking about race” or “the only race is the human race.” American Blacks, too, are tired of talking about race. They wish they didn’t have to. But shit keeps happening. Don’t say, “Oh, racism is over, slavery was so long ago.” We are talking about problems from the 1960s not the 1860s. …Finally don’t put on a Let’s Be Fair tone and say, “But black people are racist too.” Because of course we’re all prejudiced…but racism is about the power of a group and in America it’s white folks who have that power. … White folks don’t get denied bank loans or mortgages precisely because they are white and black juries don’t give white criminals worse sentences than black criminals for the same crime and black police officers don’t stop white folk for driving while white….Try listening, maybe. Hear what is being said. And remember that it is not about you. American Blacks are not telling you (non-American Blacks) that you are to blame. They are just telling you what is. If you don’t understand, ask questions. Sometimes people just want to feel heard.”

~Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah , 2013, p. 403-406

 

*DISCLAIMER: This post is about ME. This is a personal blog. Racism & the black experience in the USA is not, never has been, & never will be about me, or any other white person. These are my encounters, my growths, my shames, my confessions as they relate to my whiteness & the injustices I see (& have learned about having happened) in the lives of black Americans. I do not & will not speak for any POC ever, & should not be seen as a spokesperson for the black experience. Never lived it. Never will. I am extremely limited in communicating around this issue, but I wanted to share my experience. It haunts my days & nights.*

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Reproductive Paradoxes

The article is titled: “New York passes Reproductive Health Act, updating Abortion Law.” Two days ago, legislation passed in New York to update abortion laws. The webpage shows politicians smiling as the Act is signed. It allows mothers to get abortions if the baby may not survive or if her own health is in danger.

I support it completely and would vote  “aye” were it to surface in my state (Arkansas–yeah right!). Yet it does not seem right that they smile. This is nothing to celebrate. This is legislation sopping up the blood of the deepest wounds of our country, our species. Commentary that I see from friends and family on social media about this new act, chills my blood, pricks my tear ducts. I feel us sink deeper into moral mire.

By my personal ethical code, it is not necessary that I agree with someone’s actions in order to believe that action should be legalized. (i.e. if you go to a strip club, I am in no rush to join you, but neither do I think it should be illegal to do so.)

 

I have been working with children in teaching, nurturing, and caregiving roles since my career began (more often than not the three roles are rolled into one position and hourly wage). I developed patience in the pool with board-stiff students holding their nose high above the water for fear. Trial and error as a substitute teacher in a handful of charter schools has taught me the importance of never yelling, always speaking clearly. Drinks spilled, crackers crushed are constant reminders to say, “be careful”, every chance I get.

Sensitive reactions to slight reprimands teach me the importance of wisely chosen words, and challenge me to remember how raw one feels as a teenager.

 

Ever since I began working with children I have been underpaid, stretched daily, blessed by the under aged. This abortion bill and the subsequent social fallout digs claws into my heart. I do not want to argue.

Actually, I want to sit alone and grieve.

 

You don’t want your children?

My bright students.

Joke-telling, snack-eating wonders.

These friends who bring laughter from within me on the worst days.

(Sometimes I leave my car crying, I never return to my car with tears in my eyes. Time with my students heals me.)

 

Awkward misspoken words (orgasm instead of organism). Untied shoes. Declarations of foosball war. Curls clinging to cheeks. Three day long crushes, recess chaos, and incessant petitions for cough drops during class. Bright eyes behind fogged-up glasses. Boys with long hair who are outraged at the suggestion of wearing a ponytail. Full belly laughter.

 

You don’t want them?

 

I see daily what is written on our children’s faces. (Yes, they are our children. I claim them. They need the secure stamp of approval and belonging. They are ours and we are theirs.) They are disheveled and hungry. They are sexually overstimulated and without guidance. They starve for one-on-one time. They are dying to be handed an honest belief system and are handed iPads and Netflix passwords instead. Some of our children die in the streets, or pimp themselves for food. Some of our children pass away while on long waiting lists for simple surgeries.

If we cannot care for the ones we have, why does God keep allowing us to have more? (Grace.)

What have we done to deserve them? (Nothing.)

Is a woman punished for doing with her body as she sees best? (God gave her the body–is God not trustworthy?)

 

You don’t want them?

 

(Then again, I do not want children of my own, and use 99.9% reliable methods to prevent it. If I were to get pregnant on that .9%, I don’t know what I would do. )

 

Yet every day, my professional life screams, “Give them to me!”

 

Mother Teresa said, “If you don’t want your children, give them to me!” And I love that…but I am not prepared to act on it–not outside of my 40-50 hour work week & the young folks that I mentor.

I feel these paradoxes in the marrow of my bones: Give me our children….do what one wants with ones’ body. Criticize not our neighbors….we are mutually responsible.

It amplifies my achy confusion; my heart echoes humanity´s mournful cries. The human family groans together with the earth as it carries the heaviness of our violence, our ego, the footsteps of our many children, our single-use plastic cutlery.

I have no opinion on the Reproductive Health Act that passed in New York. Perhaps neither popular opinion is preferable. I swim in the recondite depths of human pain.

Pain is ideal soil for Love, and through Love, we may progress. Without it, we perish. May we progress in Love.

Amen.

childrenareflowers

Tapa(s) That Mountain

 

Climbing Pinnacle Mountain today was difficult. Stomach problems made it painful internally but it was not even an *Arkansas* hot day. There was a breeze that accompanied me as I wheezed, heaved, & groaned my way up the East Summit.

Damn, I love that mountain.

Every bit of the experience was familiar to me (though I did not used to be this challenged on the way up…). The contours on boulders smoothed by hundreds of feet scaling them each week, the canopy of leaves overhead, the friendly faces who greet & cheer you on as you ascend & they descend the steep trail. I adore the crags on either side of the worn path. I love the coolness afforded by the vines and greenery all around. I love the feeling of my chest rising & falling at the summit as I gaze for miles & miles, soaking in the sherbet sunrise. I hear firecrackers, set off not far away & roll my eyes.

God, I love this place.

This walk triggers a plethora of memories. When I was a child the mountain seemed so long, the trek lest arduous but definitely more lengthy. During high school for a time I climbed the mountain weekly with a fierce group of young women. We explored the crags & swung off tree branches. It got easier for us every week, but never lost its’ lustrous challenge, it never stopped reminding us of the warrior-women within. None of us spoke out loud of how powerful it showed us to be, this weekly strength practice–we were taught to be docile & dainty–but I know we all felt it. And secretly shared it. If the other girls do not remember, then I will be guardian and remember-er, and secret keeper of these memories.

In yogic philosophy  there is an idea called “tapas”. According to Deborah Adele, Tapas is the fiery determined effort we can make to offer ourselves up to transformation, by way of strength training, meditation, or any other focused practice. Tapas is discipline, it is taking the difficult action because in your gut you know it is the right action. Tapas is the courage to step into the fire for the sake of being purified.

Pinnacle Mountain has been a place where I have cultivated Tapas. That summit has been & was again tonight the altar where I offer myself to God, to transformation, to my higher, truer, better self.

I love it. Oh, I love it very much.

Here’s to more cardio & less carbs.

Feel the holy burn, friends!

 

Lydia Nomad