just one of the reasons I go up into the mountains of Maine:
Listening to the podcast “Our National Conversation About Conversations About Race” (or, “About Race”) I was cringing. I felt my body seizing up. The white guy, Tanner Colby, was embodying exactly what the other co-hosts were describing as infuriating and exhausting about white people. It was the episode called “Will you be my black friend?” And OH MY GOD I felt so much empathy for the co-hosts who were people of color. It was surreal, though I know it happens all the time. I’ve done it, for sure. The people of color were talking about their experiences, and the white person was saying, “But look at it the way I see it and feel differently about it!”
The conversation was about how, since #BlackLivesMatter began and especially since the Presidential election, white people are waking up on some levels to the realities of racism. Many are seeing how bad it is, how bad it’s been for a long time. So, the people of color on the podcast were talking about how white people would tweet at them, email them, talk to them at parties, all wanting to talk—to learn—about race. I had empathy for the lost souls (the white people) wanting to do better. I want to do better in that same way, and I’ve done what the co-hosts were complaining about.
When I was in college, I went to a workshop called “All Whites Are Racist,” put on by Tony Harris. I’ve written about it before, but I’m not sure I’ve written about the experiences that followed. There were two pivotal moments in the months following the workshop that were the cornerstones for the inner work I’ve done with my own racism.
The first was in a meeting for the group that brought the workshop to campus. The group was called “Society Organized Against Racism,” or SOAR. My campus was mostly white people, and there were several of us white people in the group, but more than half of the members were people of color. I had never been in such proximity to so many black and brown people. I was excited that I was going to be a part of this group that was fighting racism.
We were talking about plans for the group. I’m not sure what exactly we were talking about, but, I clearly remember one exchange. I was pleading with some group members, “How can I stop being racist if you won’t help me understand it?” I wanted to understand. I felt it made complete sense to go to the source: people who have been oppressed by racism every day of their lives had knowledge I felt I needed to stop being racist. And that’s really what it was about at that point. I wanted to be a better person. See? It was about me.
I’m forever grateful to the woman who seriously lost it on me. I don’t remember her exact words, but her meaning was “oh my god I am so tired of people like you, don’t expect me to fix you! it’s not my job!” I think I even cried. Yes. White women’s tears. (If you’re not sure why it was so bad that I was emotional in that emotionally heavy conversation, check out that link or google “white women’s tears.”) I needed that kick in the pants to start realizing it wasn’t about me and my feelings, that racism was much bigger and more than how I felt as a person.
The second turning point moment was also a SOAR-related event. We went to another college for a conference on racism. In the workshops, I was one of only a small handful of white people in rooms full of people of color. I was hyper-aware of being white. I was also hyper-aware that this must be something like what the black and brown kids on my college campus experienced all the time. Always not the dominant race in the room. Wow. Wow! The interpersonal skills required to be a part of that would be omnipresent and overwhelming. I became keenly aware of the psychological energy required simply to be in a room full of people where I was the “other.” I felt immense empathy for the students at my college who had to deal with that every day. I began a timid understanding the reality of what must be required for people of color to survive in the white world that dominates every facet of our society.
I haven’t written much about those earlier days of my own awareness because I don’t enjoy writing things that might seem like I think I should be applauded. I’m nowhere near “done” with my own work on racism and what I’ve done so far is not noble. It’s human. But, when I see people just starting out in their own awareness, I want to help. I want to say, look out! are you expecting a complete stranger to help you feel better, to help you feel less uncomfortable just because they are black or brown? That, right there, is part of the problem. Do you see? Can you see how you’re looking at racism in terms of how uncomfortable you feel and how that means you’re making it about you?
I think my racism story part 2 will be about feeling uncomfortable.
these dots and words are meant to keep the wordpress ads away from my post :-)
In the late 1990s, I began posting what I then called a “weekly column” or “web essay.” Long story short, I called the column “It’s All About Me! (the column).” These days, I’m not so convinced sharing my personal experiences will be of interest to others. Not because I think they are uninteresting, but because the www is flooded with post after post written by people who find themselves interesting.
I’ve missed writing about my experiences, though, on the ultra-personal level that personal blogging allows; my newspaper column must relate to current events and I must keep the readers in mind. I know that sharing my experience can benefit others, if only because they might feel less alone in their own foibles and peculiarities. But I also know that these days, we all need a lot of emotional energy to stay strong in the fight against fascism and I don’t want to add to the noise.
Posting here on this personal blog with very little traffic, I think I can play with those old experiences of sharing my stories and reaching readers while also not taking up any spotlight that should be shining on other voices. Maybe I can do some good without doing any harm.
these dots and words are meant to keep the wordpress ads away from my post :-)
The perspective in this photograph feels like a metaphor. It feels like it’s full of metaphors, actually, just like the asparagus was. Words don’t form for me about it, though. If I try putting it into words, I get lost. Not finding words is something new. Or maybe it’s something old that I’m finally accepting?
Painting lets me share without words, whether I’m viewing them or making them. When I visit van Gogh’s paintings I get as close as the staff will allow (that’s much closer than most “polite” museum-goers usually get). First, I stand back at the regular viewing position. I take in the whole picture; the shapes and layout, the lights and darks, the feelings it brings up in me. Then, I get in close:
I look as close as I can so I can see the brush strokes. (I’ve seen his fingerprints, too!)Looking very, very closely is what I do. Aware of the larger picture, I get in close and take it apart. I see the pieces. The whole picture is still there and doesn’t exist without all of the close-in parts; the close-in parts are usually luscious and meaty even when the overall picture is delicate or light.
Writing, even just this train-of-thought casual stuff, maybe especially this stuff, feeds my soul (if I believed in souls). Considering and discussing ideas also nourishes me. I love words. I love dancing with them — “nourish” isn’t quite right back there — and appreciating them. But, while I enjoy writing, the movement of ideas or thoughts or concepts from inside my brain out into the world in a verbal way isn’t comfortable or satisfying for me. Writing allows me time to consider my thoughts before getting the words out. And then there’s the fact that my inner-world has many places with no words; that’s why I paint.
Lately, instead of considering painting a luxury I can’t afford, both in terms of finances and time, I’ve realized I can’t fight it anymore. I need to get it out. Nothing has really changed in my life, except that, in some respects, everything has.
Since the 1990s, a significant part of my social life has lived online. I started “It’s all about me! (the column)” in 1997 before we called websites of online essays “blogs.” I spent a great deal of time in AOL chat rooms and in the usenet newsgroups misc.writing and alt.music.soulcoughing. Several of the relationships I formed back in the late 90s, including the one with my ex-husband, have continued all these years. The relationship I have with my online-only friends are real; that’s why I don’t call offline life “real life” when I’m talking about online and offline.
A couple weeks ago, I began changing how I use social media. I’m cutting back on it. I’m not the only one, I know, who has found it a time suck. It’s a common refrain, “I’ve been Facebooking/tweeting/Instagramming way too much! I need to cut back!” I made one significant change and I’m now considering other steps to find more balance in my life.
What I can’t figure out is how to cut out Facebook. On the one hand, I’d love to simply delete. I know a few people who don’t use Facebook and they seem to be fully functioning members of society. So, why can’t I pull the trigger?
Honestly, I resent the fact that I feel my professional and personal life depend so much on Facebook that I would be affected negatively if I quit. What kind of world is it that a corporate product has that kind of power over me?
If I were to quit Facebook, I would miss my friends. I know that. I would miss the ease with which I can catch up with people all around the country, even around the world. I would miss the easy way I can stay semi-informed about pop culture, including politics. But, that’s part of why I don’t like it. It’s so easy. It’s seductively easy. Is it like Fight Club?
Tyler Durden: We’re consumers. We are by-products of a lifestyle obsession. Murder, crime, poverty, these things don’t concern me. What concerns me are celebrity magazines, television with 500 channels, some guy’s name on my underwear. Rogaine, Viagra, Olestra.
Narrator: Martha Stewart.
Tyler Durden: Fuck Martha Stewart. Martha’s polishing the brass on the Titanic. It’s all going down, man. So fuck off with your sofa units and Strinne green stripe patterns.
Is it leading us to Bladerunner? Are we becoming replicants?
Am I quoting and referencing mass media movies try and process my philosophical considerations? (Yes.)
What is keeping me beholden to Facebook? I want people to read my newspaper column. That’s one thing. It’s a neat place to share that link once a month.
Then there are the real friendships, both close and casual. When I considered deleting a month or two ago, Facebook friends reminded me they enjoy my updates about my personal life. I don’t mean to sound self-important, but it matters to me that people would miss me. That’s what kept me from deleting then.
But, ugh, I don’t like Facebook. I really don’t like it. I don’t like how it feels so necessary! I’ve seen many people do very good things with it as an organizing tool. I believe it can be used as a force of good. But, ultimately, it’s a corporate product and more than one billion people use Facebook every day. How can that kind of dependence on a single corporate product be good?
Obviously, I’m not deleting Facebook yet (though I’m sorely tempted to do it right now!). And, of course, I’ll share a link to this blog post on Facebook. (Ugh!)
Here I am using a corporate product (WordPress) to make a post on social media (my website/blog). It feels a little different, though. I remember when I first started in 1997 and I used some html and an Internet connection to write my “columns.” I used Earthlink and then AOL to get online. I don’t remember what I used to write the text and code, but it certainly wasn’t something I felt was necessary to have a fully functional adult social/political life.
I’m going to shut my computer and go watch a puppet show. Then I think I’ll do some painting. Whether or not I share about it all on Facebook later, we’ll have to wait and see.