Friday, July 5, 2013

Commentary For the Times- Not So Much Shimmy But It's All Connected

A while ago a dear friend asked us to be guest writers on her blog. Jaime was able to contribute something but I'd been a little busy with Simon and chaplaincy and life. Last week with the Supreme Court handing down their decisions on Voters Rights, Native American sovereignty and of course Gay Marriage, I felt moved enough to stop doing pee laundry and write what was on my heart.

I submitted her my heart and waited. It wasn't so surprising a few days later when she let me know that my piece wasn't going to be published. I was so disappointed  Not with her. I still have deep love for her and the work she is doing. My disappointment was for the larger picture that keeps us afraid of talking about this. Whether it's a perceived threat to our livelihood, our friends, or understanding the world they way we 'think' it is, we (white people) are still so afraid to really commit to unlearning racism, our own, the system's, and those closest to us. 

So here it is. Here is what I wrote. Here is my heart and my story.

Part I.

Here I am sitting here feeling a little nauseated. Most of it is from the yoga class I just took (getting back to it after 6 months). But some of it (ok a lot of it) is from reading what is going on out there in the world. Jaime and I have been waiting for the Supreme Court to decide whether or not they, and subsequently the rest of the country, will recognize our family. I have not been waiting with bated breath, since it would be nice but, really I know my family. It’s strong like an ox and no one can take that away from me. What did knock the wind out of me were the decisions that were handed down regarding the Voting Rights Act and the Indian Child Welfare Act. My heart hurts.

I’m angry and I’m scared.

I’m scared to start this conversation because it means so much. I’m scared to come across as anything other than the complete buffoon that I am. I’m scared to even seem like I have an iota of understanding of this whole thing called Racism and race and integration and justice. It’s so huge and so old and so powerful. So maybe if I believe I have one millionth of an iota of understanding I can begin.

So here’s where I can begin. With a story.
I was 16 when I had my first "OMG, the world is not the way that I thought it was" moment.

I was a junior in High School and invited to attend a Conference that Mayor David Dinkins was sponsoring on 'Race Relations' in schools.

This was New York City so there were a few things to talk about. There were students from every High School in the city. Some were college-bound, some got their clothes from the lost and found. We were Gentiles and Jews, Muslims and everything else New York had to offer. We were all shades of NYC and I was so excited to be a part of a dialogue where unity and what the next generation had to offer was the focus.

I attended a workshop entitled "Violence in the Halls- more than just fist fights" and was surprised to find myself the only white person in the room.

Very quickly the conversation turned from introductions to deep sharing. Voices got raised, tears were flowing and hurt after hurt got named. Heads were nodding, hugs were given and there seemed to be a common understanding about how vicious fellow students, teachers, administrators, and other people's parents could be. Except by me

I had nothing to add. So I just listened.

Apparently word got around that this particular workshop had gotten really heated and when we were done and opened up the double doors to our smaller room, there were people gathered around to see what had gone on. This included a number of reporters that were there to cover the conference for the Mayor's office.

I was ready to step aside and let folks who had actually spoken during the session share what had gone on when something significant happened.

Every single reporter (at least 4-5) made a beeline for me.

A microphone, a camera, and several notepads, all in my face to find out my take on what had happened, asking if I was "attacked" during the session. People had shared stories of violence and isolation, deep despair and clear prejudice. The kind of stuff that makes your heart actually hurt in your chest.
And I was the one that was being asked if I was ok.

That was the first time that the facade of the world that I thought we all lived in came crashing down and a whole 'nother perspective came in to view.

It was one that was painful to look at. The world was not the way that I thought. People really were treated differently.

I spent the next 20 years looking for more of those moments. It broke my heart. It broke it wide open to hold even more of the world that I actually live in. It was a spark that linked understanding to action. While sometimes it burned (like when I got a serious talking to about taking up too much space during an anthropology class in college), it also gave me direction and community. I chose to be a social worker in schools so that I could work and play with children and the adults they spend time with, helping to create a culture of overt anti-racism and unlearning oppression (and yes celebrating diversity too). I went to work with white people and knew that while diversity was essential, there was/is work to be done before we share space (and power) with people of color. I represented. I said the wrong things over and over. I found other white people to work my guilt out with. It was my professional, my personal, my spiritual life. I wanted it to be a part of each and every day and each and every way I walked through the world.

And then....when I was 36, my professional life dropped away. My personal life became about 18 hour days in the ICU with our son. My life in connection with the Spirit came down to a faith that the life of my son was to be celebrated in every waking moment because who knew how much longer he would be with us.

My days got filled with ejection fractions, syringes, visitor badges, and staph infections. After we got out of the hospital it moved on to developmental delays, feeding tubes, Dr's visits, OT appointments, PT appointments, Speech therapy, early intervention, special education, and a larger germ pool.

I'm a stay-at-home mom of a 5 year old with developmental delays, a heart condition, a feeding tube, who loves robots, drumming, and is now just getting a inkling for peeing in the potty(Number way). He's also nowhere near being able to understand that his Mommy's heart is breaking for what our society is doing or not doing now that we've back-pedaled on giving everyone the right to vote, or taking away children to a foster system rather than have them live with their Native American families and communities. It's not just nor has it ever been just differences and inequality. It's violence and people grieving their lost loved ones, their sense of place, their sense of how much they matter.

So how do I walk and talk my heart when my kid's not even consistently understanding that he has poop coming out of his tush? How do I let him know that he's gonna grow up balancing his significant privilege with some significant setbacks? How do I let him know that there is room for both as he walks through the world?  That the challenge is to not become stagnant in either? How do I manage the tube feedings and fights with insurance companies  and ordering meds and trying to find appropriate summer programs with what used to be my life's work of uncovering/understanding/unlearning oppression? 


Part II.

Before this whole **** thing blew up (or bloomed) ***** asked me why there are so few Black readers. First, I want to say that we are not just talking about Black/African American folk.  We are talking about People of Color. We are talking about Non-white people. Native people, Hispanic people, all different types of Asian folk, Middle Eastern people, and on and on.  We need to start here, but as white people we are so tuned in to ‘us’ and ‘them’ and African Americans are a simple and obvious ‘them’. 

I don’t know how many **** are People of Color  but I get the sense that there aren’t that many.
I think it would be an interesting question to put out there somehow. In the interest of understanding who we **** are and who we might want to be. Who are we, simply in terms of our race/ethnicity? Simple Hah!!! That might just be another form of white privilege assuming who we are. BUT the  **** events show a lot of white faces (beautiful faces for sure but still mostly white).
**** is our founding ****. As much as I can tell she is a white woman. She’ll correct me if I’m wrong and then we get to have a whole ‘nother conversation.

But given that assumption… She, and I, and all other white folks are products of all the privilege that comes with being white women (and men) in this country. Without a doubt we have so many other pieces to who we are, but being white is a part of that and that what we’re talking about.

* An awesome part of white privilege is derailing conversations by saying, “But let’s talk about class, or gender, or sexuality!). Those are very real too.  So let’s stick it out.

When I say we are a product of the privilege that comes along with that whiteness…here is what I mean.
Anti-racism 101- (this is the stuff that blew my mind and continues to do so as I've tried to make it a part of my lens- the way in which I view the world every day)

In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue and since that year, a lot went down. I’m not even going to start with what happened to the folks that were here first, or those that were brought over as property. Nope, this is about us, whitey white folks that either were a part of that original sailing or came over afterwards but still burnt easily in the sun. White folk. We settled here, we founded towns and eventually cities. We separated from the Queen and got into some serious Country making. Everything started for us then. Every single institution that makes up our society was built. Government, education, banking, military, industry, health care and a few others that I can’t think of. It was all founded during this time.  These were all built by, for, and to benefit white people. Exclusively.
Legally and exclusively.

This was also a time in our history when people of color were considered less than. Less than human. Less than animals.  Just less than. Human beings were bought and sold, displaced time and time again, murdered for no reason, and put to slave labor building the foundations of our country . For Hundreds of years.

For hundreds of years.

 And then when we stopped being allowed to own other people, they were still kept separate, not allowed to speak their own language, taken to boarding schools, hung from trees, etc. etc .
 It’s not a history lesson but you get what I mean.

For hundreds of years.

 And here’s the kicker for me. It’s not until 1964 (then ’65 and ’68) that it becomes illegal to discriminate, segregate, and enact hate (So says MC Fitch) with the Civil Right Acts.  An Act written and signed by an all-white male government. (Nope, one white woman in the Senate, just looked it up.)

Check the numbers.
 1492 to 1964= 472 years
1968 to 2013= 45 years

I like to round up.

500 years of doing things one way, versus 50 years of trying to do them another.

500 Versus 50. 

(You can imagine me saying this 3x with both hands raised shaking my right hand for “500” and then my left “50”. Driving it home 3x for dramatic effect) It’s crazy making.

And then, I go back to make my point about what was happening during those first 500 years. Every single institution that makes up our country/society/culture was being built… with that mindset.

That’s deep.

 So what does this have to do with **** and spreading the love? What does it have to do with our nation’s top Court handing down decisions that most of us will never feel the effects of? What does it have to do with Rachel Jeantel on the stand during the Trayvon Martin trial? Or, Brittany Cooper on her flight home for the 4th of July?

Everything. We've come so far but really, we are infants when it comes to understanding how deep institutionalized racism and privilege go.  And when I say” we”, I mean white people. People of color know how deep it goes because it hits them all the time. For us white folks, it keep us separate, it keeps us safe, it keeps us utilizing privilege and resources, so much more than is our fair share. It hurts us and we don’t even know how it hurts us and that’s the nature of institutionalized privilege.

We might even know that we don’t want it but we’re not sure how to not use it. (Triple negative I know, sorry.)

This ***, this community, it reaches so many. And I believe that if we’re talking about love and justice and spreading the word of a man that was totally in the trenches, you got make a real aggressive effort to include people of color……

Or not.

It may not be your thing but that doesn't mean that there isn't work to be done with our readers, most of us who are most likely white.

In my opinion this is where the healing from racism and white privilege comes. White people working with other white people. It’s not my job to fix racism for people of color. That’s more about my ego that has been pumped hard by racism. It’s my work to be with other white people as we help each other move through the guilt to understand where our privilege and the institution of Racism are still in place.

The first question for me is really always, “Is there something keeping me from touching this?” I know the answer for me is always yes. I’m afraid of saying the wrong thing. I’m afraid of letting my privilege show its ugly head. I’m afraid of getting it wrong and being just another foolish white person trying to be ‘down’ but not going to get it right. Then I’ll be rejected by people of color and I really want to be liked. I really really want to be liked by them because in my heart of hearts it’s all about them liking me.  Yes, I still think that way. I do. I admit it.

More and more though I find that when I remember that it’s not about ‘them’ liking me, it’s about me liking me and doing the work with others like me, the deeper relationships and connections come. With other white people AND people of color. It’s about putting it out there that I am at the very beginning of this journey (just as we are as a society- remember 500 v. 50) and I can be gentle and diligent at the same time. And I will screw up over and over again. I have 500 years to unlearn and only 50 years of not so great (and some great) modeling to learn from.

It’s comes back to love and connection. If one of my main purposes here on this planet during this life is to feel love, in giving and receiving, without fear, then I must continue to practice what you and I love about **** and what she preaches.

Be Brave
Be Kind
Show up

 I love the bumper sticker “Don’t believe everything you think”.  Some of the most joy-full, heartbreaking open, hardest and best-est moments in my life have come when I've sat right down in that message and opened my eyes (or had them pried open for me) to be transformed. Not just learned something new on top of what I already thought I knew, but truly transformed into something wholly (Holy) different. Amazing things/people have come to me that way.

 And then there’s Jesus. Let's just remember that the man was dark. He was a person of color. He would be stopped more than you or I at TSA checkpoints. He would be having a harder time voting in November elections. He would be the one living down at Occupy rallies. Sure, because of the free food and health care but also because he was a radical. He was an activist. He lived in and breathed the call for justice.  Not in a ‘let’s pass legislature’ kind of way. He wanted to be, bathe, and break bread with the ‘lowest’ of the low AND he wasn't afraid to love those that were doing the oppressing either.

We are able to love so hard. It’s brilliant to watch it catch fire and spread around certain issues.  The support that Jaime and Simon and I have received from all of you, for our film, for healing hearts, for simply being who we are, has been amazing.  It is also heart breaking to watch it be selective. That we can have love and social action for some things but not others.

 ‘Love Winning’ is catching fire and spreading. That it has been directed at individuals for whom love has been dangerous and illegal even, is truly inspiring. I also want it to catch fire and spread in the name of justice that has been denied for hundreds of years. For people misplaced, disenfranchised, murdered, dislocated, denied, and silenced because of race or ethnicity. It’s not a simple conversation. It’s complicated beyond belief…but not beyond faith and connection and deep breaths and really, really listening to each other. Oh yeah, and we get to do all this while parenting, working, cooking, trying to make it through summer vacation drop offs, coveted date nights (and for some of us, feeding therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, insurance fights, and parenting wonder-full children with a little bit more going on.)

So thank you for loving my family and rooting for Love to Win. I will continue to do the same for you and for those affected every day by anything less than love and celebration.

Ginormous love and open arms to each and every one of you.


Part III.

Today while I was waiting to go in to the Chiropractor an older African American woman coming out and waiting to pay says "I don't mean to bother you at all but I wanted to ask you a question" I love questions so I say of course wondering where this is going.
She pauses and with some shyness asks "Are you Gay?"
I smile as big as I can back to her and say yes, still wondering where this is going but willing to grin into it.
She smiles as big right back and says "I just wanted to say congratulations to you. It's really wonderful isn't it? Congratulations."

I feel flushed with history, hers and mine, this moment,  and her generosity. I put my hand to my heart and just take it in for a moment before I say "Thank you so much for that. I know that what came before with the Voting Rights Act and the Indian Child Welfare Act makes it feel somewhat hollow but you just made my day reminding me that it's about keeping on and even a baby step forward is still a step forward.  Our work is not done. Thank you. Thank you for that."

She moves in for a hug and I am reminded that we are all in fact connected and while it's not easy feeling that all the time, especially when things are hard and promote separateness, making connections is still one of the most important things.
I know this might elicit a lot of responses and while I look forward to the conversations that ensue I also wanted to share some resources.  These articles have been helpful to me in understanding my own part in this as well as the parts that are in place that are not mine but that I need to work to dismantle.

It’s not perfect or complete but then neither am I.