one aspect of my anti-racism work as a White woman (or, the racist White woman in the park)

Surely most of you by now have seen the footage of the White woman in Central Park calling the police on the Black man who asked her to follow the law and put her dog on its leash. We White women have a long history of getting Black people killed. I won’t write much about that here, but that’s a truth we White women need to face.

I want to share with you (my fellow White women) one small aspect of anti-racism work I’m doing in response to this latest example of White women putting the lives of Black people in danger. I’m noticing how I feel, in my body and mind, when I think of that woman and her reprehensible behavior. I’m noticing the draw to distance myself from her; I find myself wanting to focus on the fact that I’m not like that.

Digging deeper — and I’m noticing feelings of shame as I write this, knowing it’s ugly and I’m sharing it publicly — I also find I’ve had brief flashes of “I wonder if she’s mentally ill, perhaps we should have compassion” or other excuses.

I’m relieved to be able to say honestly that these pulls towards racism (excusing her racist behavior) are only flickers. Barely milliseconds, more of a whiff rather than long inhales of scent. I’m almost entirely centered and clear about the truth: this White woman responded to a Black man’s request with violence; she was entirely in the wrong.

But, as a White woman, it’s been my experience that one of the most powerful ways I can be a better human being is to interrogate the full experience in my body and mind when I consider other White people’s overtly racist behavior. Do I look for excuses? Do I “other” the White person so I can feel less a part of the problem?

The reason I want to notice these tendencies in me is that it is whiteness, the support of white supremacy, wants to keep me (a White woman) comfortable. It wants me to feel like the problems aren’t so bad. It wants to soothe me when I’m faced with racism so I don’t get too upset about it (which might lead me to wanting to change it). Whiteness is a seductive opiate-like drug.

This noticing is just one part of anti-racist lens I use to live my life (to be clear: I try to live my life through that lens, I never do it perfectly). But, I’ve found it emotionally, physically, intellectually, and spiritually freeing. I’ve been able to get more active in anti-racist work since I’ve incorporated this noticing into my everyday life.

I look for ugly truths in myself. I listen to myself, I feel my body’s response. And, these days, I simply notice them and let them go. I know those tendencies are my addiction to whiteness rearing its devious head, wanting me to not continue working in solidarity with other people on the paths to liberation for everyone.

Getting to the point where I simply notice and let them go has required some years of practice and study, learning from Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color how our systems in the USA are built on racism and how I benefit from the systems. Noticing what’s really happening in my mind and body has been one of the most important steps in bringing anti-racism into my daily life.

As Rev. angel Kyodo williams says: “”love and justice are not two. without inner change, there can be no outer change; without collective change, no change matters.”

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If you are interested in Buddhist ideas, I recommend highly Rev. angel’s Radical Dharma. It’s through Rev. angel that I got clear about the racist junk in my mind/heart’s closet that I needed to clear away.

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* I usually capitalize White just like Black is typically capitalized, following the lead of some Black people I’ve read online. These are socially constructed labels, and it seems right to treat them the same. On the other hand, I don’t capitalize “whiteness” or “white supremacy” because that doesn’t feel quite right. I’m not exactly sure why I’ve made these choices. There’s not a standard consensus about how to do this, though, so if you are not White and have feedback about it, I’d be grateful if you’d share it. If you are White and have feedback that you’ve learned from BIPOC, I’d love to hear that, too. (Thank you!)

bird watching, anti-racism, and living with a chronic/painful disease

How do I title these posts that are essentially train-of-thought? Today I’m writing the title based on some thoughts I had in the last couple hours and I’ll see what comes up as I write.

Ah-ha! My groceries are being delivered. I can see the helper bringing bags to the porch as I sit outside “working” (writing this post at the moment) in the sunshine. I love (and can currently afford) to tip really well. I am so grateful for the risks she just took for me!

If I was someone who bought stock, I’d buy stock in the company that sells computer domes. I love mine so much and I have been telling everyone about them. We’re all so tired of being on all these video calls, but if we can at least sit outside to do it? Tah-dah!

Topic change! On the bird feeder so far Ive seen one chickadee, one goldfinch, and many appearances of house and chipping sparrows. I haven’t walked with intentional birdwatching as the focus since I posted last. But I do know there’s a starling pair (I assume? though I only ever see one at a time) with babies in the gutter of our neighbor’s house. WOW. Those parents work hard!

Changing topic again! Talking with a White friend about the concept of White supremacy culture today was lovely. We were on a call for topics not obviously related to racism, but I shared with her how what I’ve learned about White supremacy culture has me stretching my concept of “how things are done.” Time, especially, as it loses and morphs meanings in this pandemic.

Relationships with BIPOC have had challenges for me and for my (very few, as is typical for so many of us White people) BIPOC friends. For me, anti-racism is sometimes just doing things differently than I have “always done them,” following the lead of other cultures, and learning as I go. I’m grateful to have a couple friendships deep enough to process the miscommunications and biases together when they come up.

I won’t speak for my friend and our private conversation, but she and I have also worked on finding the courage to speak honestly about racism. She comes from a much more conservative framework, and I’m grateful we’ve practice saying what we’re really thinking from a loving and non-judgmental place.

Listening is a bigger part of bird-watching than I knew until I started it. Now I hear bird calls and songs (I’m still not clear on how those differ) all the time. Some I now easily recognize. Most blend into each other like they used to always do. (I knew I’d find analogies or metaphors or teaching moments in bird watching and the rest of my life! Listening, hearing differently, is a big part of my anti-racism work.)

I’m tempted now to stop typing because this is getting long and I don’t want people to associate LONG READ with what I write, but I do want to get out a few more thoughts.

I’m not sure if I’ve written on here before about the fact that I have an autoimmune disorder? Well, I do. It’s most likely rheumatoid arthritis (that’s what I call it for the shorthand) or possibly psoriatic arthritis. Both diseases have similar prognoses and treatments, so which one it is doesn’t really matter. We caught it early, so I’m lucky.

But, living with this disease has been challenging on many levels. This past week I had what I now recognize as a “flare.” I think it was the worst one I’ve had (though my brain tends to minimize/forget previous pain so I can’t be sure). I was close to tears on and off throughout the day for a two or three days. If I stopped moving, starting to move again was excruciating (words fail). I was weak in ways I’ve never experienced — holding my coffee mug made my arm tired? Anyway, my rheumatologist is wonderful and accessible via the patient portal. I’ve started a short burst of prednisone and found relief almost immediately (within the first day).

The medications I take regularly to treat this disease impact my immune system. It’s not that I don’t have an immune system, my doctor assures me, but there is a pathway that isn’t there at the moment. A different pathway will be knocked out and the current pathway will be back up when I change medications in a week or so as part of our years-long exploration of what treats these symptoms best. (I did take Tr*mp’s favorite, Plaquenil (hydroxychloroquine), for a while but it didn’t resolve my issues.)

During this pandemic, having an even slightly compromised immune system adds to my daily awareness that we all need to look out for each other. You don’t know who might be high risk, so we need to assume everyone is. You don’t know for sure that you don’t have COVID-19 (so many are asymptomatic) so if you care about people other than yourself, you need to wear a mask. Please.

birdwatching and other notes

In the middle of March I thought I’d be posting here regularly. But, if you’re anything like me, you won’t be surprised to hear that I’m pretty tired of computer screens. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful we can connect with our loved ones via these digital pathways. But, ugh, a computer screen for *fun?* Hardly.

That said, I do want to check in now and again so here I am.

A few weeks ago I bought myself some binoculars and a bird feeder to hang outside our window. Both of these purchases are related to my newly forming interest in watching birds. It started a few summers ago, but it’s only this pandemic that’s got me slowed down enough to pursue it in earnest.

This week, I opened the box and brought out the binoculars. I tried them out when we were up in the mountains of Maine with very, very little success. Who would’ve thought it difficult to find birds?

It’s not, actually. It’s just that I was sitting there scanning the woods with the things instead of listening for the songs and calls and guiding my view there. I suspect many metaphors for life will come from this newfound interest. (Paying attention, focusing, slowing down.)

In probably less than an hour, total, or maybe closer to two, I’ve finally learned pretty well how to use the binoculars properly and have spotted some birds: grey catbirds, crows (who needs binoculars? but they are extraordinary close up!), chickadees, goldfinches, house sparrows, cardinals, and today I saw a pair of magnolia warblers! I’ve never seen those before in my whole 50 years, so that was a treat. I didn’t even know they lived around here? I’d never heard of them. Here’s a picture of what they look like, though I’m not going to delve into trying to get photos myself until I’ve gotten much, much better at simply spotting them.

Magnolia Warbler (Setophaga magnolia) (14023131977)
Magnolia Warbler (male)

Meeting for Worship

Like so many of us, I’m feeling pretty zoom’d out. But I’m happy to report that Meeting for Worship with my Society of Friends community “works” via this online format. It probably sounds strange if you aren’t used to unprogrammed Quaker Meeting for Worship, but we join together in silence — or “waiting worship” — for an hour. If someone is moved to share, if they feel led by Spirit, or the Light, or God… (there are many ways to describe it) they may speak out of the silence.

In our family, we turn off the video during Meeting, though most people leave it on. I don’t insist my kiddos sit still in the silence; I’m grateful they’re willing to join me in Worship at all. My younger daughter usually plays quietly or reads, and my older has lately been drawing and painting. This is something she drew during Meeting for Worship in April. The quote, “There is something in my mind that I do not invite,” was said by someone in worship.

One of the advantages of this new way of living is it’s easier than ever to join Meeting for Worship. If you’d like to join us, it’s at 10:30am EST on Sundays. Our website has the zoom info.