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

My Peeps & Politics

The day that Donald Trump got elected as 45th president of the United States of America, I was in a study room in a university library in Temuco, Chile (South America). In a sense, I went crazy that day, at that moment. The things he had said, and the realities I knew my minority-member (non-white/non-heterosexual) friends lived, hit me with such raging force that I sat down in a hard desk chair and cried. The loco came when I lifted my head up and entered the social media world with a hard edge to my words, fingers clacking, and thoughts that hadn’t been there before.

Certain political issues are “hot-buttons” for folks from Left to Right on the political spectrum in the United States: Mr. Trump’s candidacy (and then presidency) triggered just about all of them. Gay rights, women’s rights, police violence, black liberation, etc. I believed (as I still do) that these issues are incredibly important in our shared life, but what I have realized is that they are not as important to me as having good days together. At the end of the day, they are just issues. Legislation that defends rights for LGBTQ+ people is not LGBTQ+ people. Support for a political servant who stands for the humane treatment of immigrants is not the immigrant we seek to defend. I want the system to change, I want good laws to be upheld, I want crooks out of office (to be clear). I am a Lefty, yep. That doesn’t matter half as much as the fact that I am a human.

It is important to me that we see and listen to one another, that however long the human species exists on this planet, we have good times together. I want people to not be alone more than I want stricter gun laws. Do I believe that stricter gun laws could reduce the number of violent deaths in our country? Absolutely. Others don’t. Neither of us have immediate control over whether or not gun laws change. What we do have control over is the quality of the energy that we put into the world, and the way that we treat one another. I want to feel comfortable hugging the people I work with–because of mutual care and attentiveness–(be she Republican, Democrat, White Supremacist, Libertarian, Socialist, Black Nationalist or other!) more than I want to convince someone else that marriage is for everybody.

I like a lot of people whose views I find dehumanizing, and contrary to my moral code, yet I want to be found continually inviting them into my life. Over certain dinners I have voiced my opinions, been rudely contradicted, and then seen the disagreer sink into shamed silence. That shame is not my responsibility, but neither do I want them to drown in it! I sure don’t want to be left to drown in my shame! Truth is, this place is better when we join hands in the face of shame. People will make their way through shame in their own way at their own pace. I’d rather we not have to make that journey alone. Regardless of beliefs or how we act on those beliefs, we all need one another (please accept that there are violent people, like some particularly in the media eye currently, who are best avoided).

In the face of the technological typhoon, we need to face the threat of isolation and overcome it with tolerance and radical peace-making.

The day Mr. Trump was elected I forgot that dogma is a closed door, and that it breeds conflict. In that moment I took life too seriously (Jesus’ words had taught me to look at the care-free birds), and let a desire to change people’s views (for the sake of other people) eclipse the true priority of loving those around me, and making peace (be it in person or through a screen).

On that day, when I heard the news (that I still perceive as horrible news–other people don’t perceive it that way….hey friends!) of Mr. Trump’s election my system shook off its foundation of unconditional, accepting, and compassionate Love that I had so fiercely constructed in my heart as a young girl. I hardened to hear that news and put up a shield. But shields are for defensive, combative living, and I am beginning to see (again) that I wasn’t made for such a lifestyle. My heart is aching with the weight of standing with a shield between myself and other people. The shield is too heavy.

I want to melt my shield down and turn it into a watering can. People are growing, they need water, not constriction. People are lonely, they need company, not a barrier. I believe that the ideals that lefties like myself stand for are about human rights. However, if we lose our ability to create and maintain healthy relationships, and to treat others with respect and dignity in daily life- social media INCLUDED–then we have lost the embodiment of the very ideals we fight for.

This is not an us-or-them universe, even when we feel put into a “them” category by family, co-workers, or friends (who side on the Left or Right). This is our home, this planet is where we belong, and we belong to each other. There is us, together, and either we will perish, or Love will win.

 

There is only one perpetrator of evil on the planet: human unconsciousness. That realization is true forgiveness. With forgiveness, your victim identity dissolves, and your true power emerges–the power of Presence. Instead of blaming the darkness, you bring in the light. ~Eckhart Tolle

Be messy. Be complicated. Show up. ~ Glennon Doyle Melton