Tag Archives: friendship

my racism story, part 2 (more background)

The part of my racism story I want to share now is from 2007, though it includes a reference to the experiences I shared in my racism story, part 1 (or, “will you be my black friend?”). It’s my hope that my friends and peers who are white might read my stories and consider their own experiences as people in America who identify as white; who, therefore, benefit from the racist structures of our society. I have found it helpful over the years to get honest with myself about the flickering but problematic background thought processes that have blocked me from authentic relationships with people of color:

“she’s Black, she’s Black, she’s BLAAAAACK!”

“She’s Black, she’s Black, she’s BLAAAAACK!” was just about all my brain could handle. Maintaining a simple and polite conversation was barely possible. No matter how much we had in common, no matter how likely a future friendship, I could think of nothing but that amazing dark skin, the transcendent hair texture, and my entire personal history of race relationships. Oh, how I wanted to prove to this woman that I was not like just any white woman! I knew, of course, it was just this level of self-consciousness that would make me utterly annoying to her. But, I just couldn’t help myself.

Helping myself, though, is really what race relations is about for me these days. I do care about the greater socio-political issues (shocking disregard for people’s lives all across the continent of Africa, overt brutality in our country, job discrimination, and of course the list goes on). However, my personal journey with racism now centers around me, my husband, and most of all, my daughter…

[post continues here]

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to my friend who hates it when people accuse him of microaggressions

A few minutes ago I wrote a quick but sort of long reply to a friend on Facebook. He’s a friend I’ve known online for almost twenty years. He’s quite progressive and was always on the same side as me in the heated debates of Usenet in the 90s. He replied to a link I shared in a way that disappointed me, though. I felt like this wasn’t the guy I knew, so I wanted to know more. I told him how I felt about his reply, and it came up that he dislikes the term “microaggressions” because people jump on him for apparently using them. As I said, I just replied to him. I like my reply a lot, so I’m going to share it here:

I think liberals who feel “woke” or that they’ve got some better and deeper understandings about racism, including their own racism are eager to share their new-found knowledge. I think they do this in different ways and for different reasons. (Gonna stop saying “I think” and assume you know it’s there.) In many cases, they’re so riled up with a passion to fix things that they jump on any situation that they now see as problematic and begin accusing.

Accusing, rather than mindfully discussing, does a couple things. It gives the accuser a feeling of power, like, I CAN DO SOMETHING! and it’s energizing. The accuser also gets to distance themselves from their own remaining racism. THAT person is still racist and I see it because I’m SO not racist!

I also think that microaggressions are so pervasive, insidious, and crazy-making (they are a lot like Gas Lighting, if you know that concept?) that accusing someone of using microaggressions probably isn’t all that helpful. They’re really slippery and hard to pin down.

What I’d do, if I saw someone doing something that felt like a microaggression to me (for me, it’s a feeling or intuition, not a factual thing) I might say something to them about how I felt and how I think the feeling came from those words or actions. I’d definitely not accuse or shame someone.

If the conversation went on and the context made it appropriate, I might talk about what “microaggression” means to me.

So, when your fellow liberals jump on you for doing something that seems extreme or ridiculous, I suspect it’s mostly about their own need to feel better and empowered. But, if you are disturbed by their accusations, I also suspect (as I said about your reaction to the linked article) there’s probably some uglier truth for you in the accusations. I don’t think anyone can make you want to dig into it unless you are curious.

And, finally, it’s an unfortunate problem (among many) that people who are trying so hard to make our communities more equitable are actually just kind of fucking things up even more. Giving a bad name to good information.

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Why I might not say anything (racism)

Anyone who knows me well knows I’d be more likely than most to boldly, brazenly, even “rudely” object if I witnessed injustice. I don’t worry much about how I’m perceived, relatively speaking, when it comes to social justice. I act.

That said, reflecting on this powerful video, I’ve considered a few reasons why I haven’t spoken up in the past and why I might not in the future.

If you haven’t seen it, check out the video. The woman describes her experience being implicitly accused of trying to pass a bad check simply because she is Black. Her friend (sister-in-law? I forget), a woman who looks white, intercedes and appropriately shames the clerk into better behavior. There’s more to the story, and it’s worth watching.

As I said, on reflection, I’m not sure I will usually say something when I witness racism (or any other -ism). Here’s why:

  1. The woman who stepped up and did the right thing was familiar (family, even) with the woman being mistreated. She knew her so the context was all the more absurd and wrong. This relates to #2.
  2. While I consider fighting racism my business and our fight, the pride people take in “fighting their own battles” is quite strong. I’d be concerned that I’d seem condescending or patronizing if I said something to the clerk. I’d worry the other person might think I didn’t think they could handle things on their own.
  3. If the situation were as “Black and white” as the experience shared in the video, I can tell you without a doubt that I would say something. In fact, that’s a big part of who I am. I risk rudeness when I see injustice. I don’t stay quiet. But, the truth is, the racism I witness (and I witness it a lot) boils down to a gut feeling. The nervous laughter and fumbling of a clerk who doesn’t know how to just be a person with another person and makes everyone involved uncomfortable. A receptionist who is mildly cold to a fellow patient. Or a dirty look that just screams bigotry but no words are exchanged.

That’s it. The racism I witness is almost exclusively of the “plausibly deniable” variety. It’s subtle, insidious, and evil. Standing up and doing the right thing is more complicated than the video above implies. I am not, in any way, condoning staying silent. In fact, if it weren’t for my concern that I might make the object of the racism uncomfortable by stepping in, I might very well get direct with a clerk for the shitty eye glares they give. Can you imagine it, thought? If it were my friend who was getting that cold awkward ugliness, and I knew they’d understand I was using my privilege for good, you can be sure I’d call the bigot out on their bullshit. But, a stranger? a subtle interaction? It’s not so simple.

I’ll be thinking about how to fight those plausibly deniable offenses for a long time. I’ll also be thinking with empathy about the people who don’t have the luxury of just thinking about the offenses, but have to live them every day of their lives.

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“Breathing. (twitter.)”

Sometimes I see an image in my mind. Sometimes it’s just a strong flow of feelings. Usually, it’s a little of both. In all cases, I never know exactly how a picture will turn out when I start. Sometimes, I have no idea at all what it will be, I just start drawing (or painting).

That’s what I did with this painting. I picked up the leftover nubs of oil pastels and just started scribbling and smearing them all over the birch panel. When I don’t know what I’ll be painting or drawing, that’s what I do. I find just moving my hand with the medium gets things going.

I started with the “just get color on the panel.” I added more color and still nothing was forming. I set it aside and worked on some other things.

A few days later, I had a dm (direct message, a kind of “chatting” on twitter) conversation with @tackie_jackie who suggested I make a painting about the word “breathing.” When I’m overstimulated, overwhelmed, or simply need to get back to my center (and, typically, away from technology), I’ve developed a habit of tweeting the word “Breathing.” and then walking away for a bit. Noticing my breathing has been an important part of my life in the last many months.

So, here are some pictures of the progression of the painting that is now complete. It is called: Breathing. (twitter.)

[youtube:http://youtu.be/ThWgNvV0LNs%5D

This and several other of my paintings will be hanging at the Starbucks on Congress at High/Free Streets in downtown Portland (Maine) starting on May 2, 2012. I would be thrilled and honored if you would check them out.

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my friend Paula

Weeks ago I saw on Facebook that my friend Paula had a birthday. I’ve been off of Facebook for a couple months now, so I didn’t have its handy-dandy little notice that her day was coming up. Turns out she fibbed about her birthday, but it was right around that time. I got to thinking about how I could really wish her a happy birthday. Not just an email (she’s an online-only friend). Not an e-card. Not just “glad you were born!”

For days I constructed a brilliant essay about her. About her and me, of course. It was in my mind for days, then I started writing. Everything I wrote was crap. For weeks, it wasn’t enough. Or it was too gushy. Or it was… well, screw it, I’m going to just tell you now. I wrote about how we met in the newsgroup misc.writing and how she scared the crap out of me. How she was so totally mean that I cried a few times after reading her posts directed at me. How even then I was struck by her open mindedness, her willingness to accept people with very overt and often offensive flaws.

I missed the blogging hey day (hay day?) that happened in the early 2000’s, so I never got to know her in that way. Then, as misc.writing finally and totally collapsed Facebook revived our online world in a new way. That’s when I started to really know her.

Paula is unique in this world. Of course everyone is, but Paula’s unexpected. I kept trying to classify her as… well, you name it, I tried labels on

her and none of them fit. She’s strong, funny, a great writer, a dependable friend, and beautifully honest. She’s gorgeous inside and out, too. She is one of my first friends who doesn’t come from where I’ve been. Our backgrounds are different, our values are frequently different (besides valuing honesty and there are a few other key shared values), our politics are often different (don’t even get me started on how misguided she is about Palestinians!), and she somehow understands the world that is shoe-lust. Shooz, that is. Or has it become sh00z? I think so.

She is herself. It’s what I admire most about her. She may sometimes slide into trying to be something or someway for others, but more than

most people, she stays true to being her. She’s an incredible friend, a solid shoulder when I’ve needed it, and always (did I mention?) honest.

She’s amazing. And, yes, I am very glad she was born.

Happy birthday my dear, sweet friend. Here’s some buttercream just for you.

 

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