Tag Archives: #blacklivesmatter

my racism story, part 1 (or, “will you be my black friend?”)

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.

 

 

 

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these dots and words are meant to keep the wordpress ads away from my post :-)

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Filed under activism, my life story, my own chautauqua, racism

books related to racism that have helped me

There are lots of sources of information out there on the Internet, so I usually resist the temptation to recreate the wheel. But, I’m going to go ahead and share a few of my favorite books that have informed my experience as a person who benefits from white privilege (because I pass as white*). These are books related to why I understand the #BlackLivesMatter movement is the our modern day Civil Rights Movement.

“What would you do if the Civil Rights Movement was happening today?” It is happening now. We must act with our neighbors across the country.

I won’t summarize the story/content, I’m just providing links for my white peers who are interested. There are many other books (I found great lists by googling “what white people should read about racism.” Here are a couple shared by women of color: 16 Books About Race That Every White Person Should Read18 Books Every White Ally Should Read) and resources online, of course. But here are a few that have helped me especially in the last few years:

Between the World and Me

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

How to Be Black

Homegoing

 

 

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* Because “white” is a social construct, I’m exploring what it’s like to talk about myself as someone who “passes” as white. I know there is a deep and painful history of “passing” in our culture for people who are born into black and brown families, so I’m not sure if I will stick with this phrasing; I don’t want to minimize those experiences as I pass as white without any effort. My thought is if I don’t just say “I’m white,” then perhaps I’m pointing out the fact that it’s really only because of our country’s foundation (slavery) that we have such a divide based on “race;” that identifying as white and being able to pass as white (without any effort and only positive consequences).

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Filed under activism, racism

we choose our battles

A good friend on Facebook is an activist for animal rights. Another spends her time fighting for the rights of trans* people. I also have friends who raise money for good causes, friends who focus their energy on their children, or use all their energy just getting through the day.

There isn’t time in the world to be an activist in every cause. We have to pick and choose where we spend our time.

Black and brown skinned people don’t get to choose whether or not racism affects them, but even they, to some degree, can choose how much time they dedicate to the “cause” of fixing our system.

I care about getting clean water to all the parts of the world where people are dying because they simply don’t have clean water. I care about stopping Apartheid in Palestine. Some issues spark my passion and some issues, like clean water and Palestinian rights, I have to put aside and say, someone else has to do that.

I was thinking this morning about how much #blacklivesmatter, #sayhername, and ending mass incarceration means to me. I wrote about realizing that people fighting global warming are also social justice activists. In that same vein, I want my friends to know that I recognize we choose our battles. I don’t judge you harshly for your apparent lack of interest. When we are watching our children play, or enjoying a potluck, or chit-chatting online, I enjoy you and your life with all of your varied choices.

I won’t be quiet about the issues that matter most to me, but I don’t expect you to make the choices I make. I respect your right to focus your energy in different places.

I believe everyone—and I mean everyone—does what they need to do to make the world a better place. Keeping lines of communication open feels more important to me these days than force feeding my beliefs into other people’s life choices. We are all in this together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under activism, friendship, mindful living

#blacklivesmatter #staywoke #sayhername and listen

My column—about keeping the violence against black and brown people in the forefront of our discussions rather than focusing on police good deeds—has elicited a response I didn’t expect. Even one of my closest friends who is a police officer read my column as a condemnation of his identity. I know what he thinks because I actually turned to my two LEO (a term I just learned, that means Law Enforcement Officer, for those of you who also didn’t know) friends for help. After so many “after this you’ll be out of luck if you call 911” types of comments, I needed to confirm that the police would continue protecting me. Even thinking that question for a few minutes has me still feeling shaky. And, yes, they both confirmed that public opinion doesn’t sway how they do their jobs. The pro-police people won’t turn violent, said one.

As so many people continue misreading my column as one being anti-police, or as disrespecting LEOs, I want to restate the actual point: we are living in a world where the news of violence against black and brown people is only just starting to be understood in the white world. White people need to hear and not dismiss or gloss over the realities of mass incarceration, including police violence. We need to recognize our systems are built on racism and we need to work to change it.

12 Ways to Be a White Ally to Black People, on theroot.com
11 Things White People Can Do to Be Real Anti-Racist Allies, on alternet.com

 

(note: the term “ally” is distasteful to me and I recommend not using it. the point of these links is to give concrete suggestions of actions white people can take in the fight.)

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Filed under activism, racism