politics

Accidental Racism, Intentional Activism

Previously posted at Medium here.

This is possibly one of the most complicated things I’ve ever written. That’s not because I shy away from tough subjects. I’ve been writing online since 2002, contributed to books and other publications, and written two of my own books discussing things like religion, politics, and mental illness.

This is more complicated than all of those because going deep into my history to look at things I’ve always viewed one way, but now realize the very foundation I grew from, and have stood atop, is different than I knew, different than I counted on to support me, is understandably scary.

My people are religious, conservative, patriotic Republicans. Defending the constitution and our country is synonymous with living a Christlike life. We are “Good People,” salt of the earth. It would be easy to shorten this entire piece to, “I Now Realize My Dad Is Racist,” but that wouldn’t be the whole story. It wouldn’t feel fair, while technically true. And it wouldn’t explain how easy it is to be racist and not know it.

Let me tell you one version of my dad. This version of Dad is in his mid-eighties and is happening now. He’s still physically fitter than some his age. He can climb the stairs with some help. He enjoys the outdoors and has a walk every day. He does not know my name, nor who I am, and can’t utter more than a few syllables of any word because he can’t recall how to say them. He sometimes has a soft chuckle that dissipates as soon as it hits the air around his lips. He is mostly pleasant and amiable and we appreciate that because we’ve heard stories of dementia or Alzheimer’s patients who are combative at this stage.

Dad chokes on his food and we all stop, frozen in place, conversation suspended mid-sentence, mid-chew, until the danger passes. We do not welcome the day he won’t be here with us anymore, while at the same time, accepting it will be sooner rather than later. We speak well of him, always, because to do otherwise would be disrespectful and he was, and is, a good man. We make an effort not to speak of him in the past tense, as in, “Dad used to love that, didn’t he,” because he seems more gone than here sometimes, even while sitting across from you at the table.

An earlier version of Dad, from 1986, is the one that sends me to John Birch Society Camp where I learn about communism and how white people should be smarter than believing Black people could ever be a part of white society, because Separate But Equal is correct and a combined society is a communist plot that Black folks are just not smart enough to understand.

This version gets the Phyllis Schlafly Report every month in the mail. It’s the one who pulls out his Dancin’ Sam to entertain the grand kids, a black-face-painted wooden puppet with legs and arms that go round and round, swinging to the beat, while he slaps the paddle under its feet, insisting it dance. This version of Dad will weep at a patriotic song, is a member of the local Mormon Battalion reenactment group, and rides the lead horse while wearing full regalia in the parade. He is strong and charismatic. He sings loudly, beautifully, and plays the piano with gusto. He puts up flags along the main streets before dawn on the 4th of July, Pioneer Day, and other holidays. He recites poetry, loves the Founding Fathers, and is the hardest-working person I know. He’ll give you a quarter if you can make him laugh. He’ll pay you a dollar if you memorize and recite a poem.

This version of my dad is well-beloved by the small town we live in. He’s a doctor and doesn’t turn anyone away who can’t pay, including the Native Americans from the reservation, and his office holds pottery, sand paintings, and textiles he’s taken in trade for life-saving procedures when they insist on giving him something.

He’s a public servant. He picks up trash along the side of the road in his “spare time,” of which he has none, but which he seems to find anyway. He speaks fondly of his mother and the dog he had as a child. He loves little children. He is faithful to my mother. He strives to provide well for his family. He tries to help us all understand how to work hard. I watch him speak in church, eyes shining with the Spirit, and witness the people who come up to thank him after services. He is uncomfortable with the praise. He’s a humble man. Everywhere I go in town, people know my dad and love and respect him. He would tell you the KKK was a terrible, hateful organization.

An even earlier version of my dad is from the late 1930s. He’s got a younger brother and they are best friends. They swim in the canal next to the orchard they take care of. They don’t have running water in the house, which has dirt floors. They are very poor. He stares out at me from the black and white photo, both of them wearing swim trunks held up with rope, skinny arms and dark eyes, choppy hair. They live among the citrus trees in Arizona, a place very few people call home, let alone minorities.

Going through my father’s photo albums, which he, himself, has meticulously created over the years, I see him grow up from a skinny child who is mostly limbs, to a young adult sporting a crew-cut and who looks cooler in faded jeans and a checked shirt while holding a couple of cats than anyone could ever hope to.

And then I flip the page and freeze, I stop breathing, as I see a newspaper piece, carefully cut out and pasted on the thick album paper with rubber cement. “Minstrel’s Cotton Blossom Sextet” the headline says, and the image shows three couples in blackface and costumes, including my father, who is getting ready to be “Moe” in a song and dance routine at his college. The year is somewhere in the late 40s or early 50s.

How do I reconcile this man? My heart feels heavy and complicated. Is it obvious I love him? Because I do. I want to excuse his behavior. I want to tell him how hurt I am seeing this. I want to tell him how disappointed I am that he didn’t teach me better. I want to protect him from anyone who might think ill of him. I understand on an even deeper level how complicated people are and how they are many things at once. He is the dad I love and also deeply flawed in this way.

Here’s what I think I know about my dad: he is at once both racist and not, or in other words, he’s accidentally racist. You could replace “accidentally” with other words like ignorant, oblivious, thoughtless, and indifferent and you wouldn’t be wrong. This doesn’t excuse it, but it does help explain how an otherwise compassionate man could also be racist. And, I think when looking from this vantage point, anyone could examine themselves and see where they might be doing the same thing. We have to be fearless in truly seeing ourselves.

My Dad has the disadvantage of his upbringing. He has unexamined bias and prejudice. He would also give anyone the shirt off his back, if they needed it. He used his medical training to help everyone, no matter their skin color, or if they had the ability to pay. He is kind and wants to help others, which is why he became a doctor. He lived in Puerto Rico for two years and continued to talk about how much he loved the people there. And he grew up in, and continued to live in, areas where minorities were mostly hidden on reservations or in neighborhoods he didn’t go to often.

He listened to extreme-right Republican political talking heads. His patriotism and racism somehow converged to be one and the same. Taking care of his own family and his own country came first. He would carelessly talk about another race, not understanding how what he was saying was so hurtful. But then, he would get up at 3am and race to help someone who wasn’t white, at no cost to them, because he loved everyone.

My discomfort with extreme patriotism starts to become clearer as I look through his albums of photos and newspaper clippings. I have never understood my father’s ability to cry while talking about the Founding Fathers or while listening to a patriotic song. I do not feel it as he does. I love my country, yes, but I don’t believe we are The Best and The Only who deserve freedom or a livable wage or all the best toys. Running water. Electricity. Peace. Equality. And I regret the way white people go into other countries and replace the local customs and rituals and spirituality with our white versions, as if ours are better than theirs.

I’d like to think that if he was still of sound mind I could talk this over with him, reason with him, and he would tell me he regrets the racism he participated in and perpetuated by not thinking very hard about it. I’d want him to tell me that he sent me to JBS camp to learn more about how the USA meddles in foreign affairs and less because he wanted me to believe that white people know better than other races. I’d want him to tell me that he’d changed and evolved over the years and that he was proud of me for changing and evolving, too. That anyone could change and evolve if they understood and wanted to.

But, what if he didn’t? What if he told me he thought being in blackface in a college skit was hilarious? That his Dancin’ Sam was just good, family fun? What did he think about civil and social justice in 2000 or 2005 before his mind began to fade? What would he think now of a President Trump? And for the first time in years I’m maybe glad I can’t talk to him because I’m afraid of his answers. I’m a coward.

***

It feels impolite to speak of my father this way. He’s still alive but unable to explain himself, although I would hope he wouldn’t feel attacked. I choose to speak of him and share these things because I know I’m not the only one. I am a part of a generation who came from a generation who was accidentally or purposefully racist. The times, they were a’changin’.

You had to pick a side in the 60s. You were either promoting equality or you weren’t, right? But, what if you lived in a white town, in a white state, in a white part of the country, and it didn’t seem real to you because there was no one to defend, or stand up for, where you lived? It’s the difference between belonging to the KKK, marching with Martin Luther King, Jr., or simply being on vacation while the 60s happened. Privileged, yes. But I’d like to believe it wasn’t malicious.

I was born in the 70s, and where I grew up, everyone was white. I lived in a white town, in a white state, in a white part of the country, and race things didn’t seem to apply to me. We were all accidental racists. And I raised my kids accidentally racist, because they had my example and carelessness and misunderstanding about how other people lived. I accept my part and my laziness, which my white privilege affords me, but I am angry, so angry, at the part public education, with textbooks provided from Texas, played in my ignorance.

It’s not that my kids never had friends who weren’t white. They did. But I didn’t teach them about what that meant, because I didn’t know. I didn’t see color. I treated everyone the same. God loves everyone the same, I said on numerous occasions.

***

About ten years ago, a few years after I had realized just the beginnings of a justice awakening, in that place where you understand theoretically why something is wrong but before you feel it inside yourself, I was with my husband around a campfire when someone told a racist joke. I felt uncomfortable. I didn’t laugh. I looked down. I said nothing. My husband loudly asked why that person felt that joke was appropriate. An awkward silence followed. I was simultaneously mortified and exhilarated. I didn’t know you could do that, just speak right up and pin someone to the nasty thing they had said, with no apology.

I felt proud to be his wife in a way I couldn’t explain. I grabbed his hand. I still didn’t dare look those people across the fire in their eyes, but I learned something so valuable that day.

***

When Ferguson happened, I was sad and angry, but I wasn’t lit. I didn’t look around, horrified, and jump into action. I looked around, saddened, drank my coffee, and prayed. I followed the news. I left comments on Facebook threads. I gave my condolences. I hoped that the fighting would stop and that people wouldn’t get hurt anymore, while not understanding anything about why it was happening and that it can’t stop until people like me take part. Black Lives Matter confused me.

I am the white person who learned, agonizingly slowly, why it mattered that Black people were getting mowed down carelessly or with great malice and with no justice.

When Orlando happened, it hit closer to home. I’m bisexual, and I felt those deaths in my bones. I wept. I wanted to DO something. And some of those people were Black and I read a piece by a Black queer man asking why more people cared about Orlando than Ferguson, which broke his heart because they were all his people.

Maybe because I was in a fragile state when I read his piece, it made it possible for me to be open to hearing everything he wrote. I really took it in. I felt it deeply. And I asked myself some tough questions.

Why do I say I love everyone equally and think about them as my brothers and sisters and yet do nothing to help them in a real and physical sense?

Why didn’t I speak up louder, more forcefully, unmistakably, when someone made a racist joke to say I didn’t find it funny and name it — Racist?

What kind of a friend was I to my friends of color if I didn’t have empathy for their stories and pain? Why was I afraid to witness with them the horrors they and their families had lived through?

What good was my caring heart and my tears if they didn’t lead to action?

Why didn’t I know my own history?


***

I felt ashamed when I understood how accidentally racist I had been my entire life. That shame lasted the better part of a week, during which I cried a lot and read a lot and watched a lot of documentaries and sent a few apology emails and messages to some of my friends of color.

The responses I received were varied, but the main point expressed over and over again was simply, “Thanks or whatever, but don’t apologize. Get busy and change things.

Stop being accidentally racist and be an Intentional Activist.

And still, I did not really change. I learned more. I accepted reality further. I sat with feeling uncomfortable. But my life, for all intents and purposes, was exactly the same and stayed that way for months longer.

***

I recently had a post go viral. Thousands of people read something I wrote about listening with empathy to People of Color without getting defensive and hundreds watched the follow-up video where I tried to answer the question that had been hitting my inbox several times a day, mostly from people of color, “Leah, why do you care about social and civil justice? What happened to make you care?”

They were looking for a story. An incident that happened to change my heart. A defining moment where I went from racist to activist. A reason to trust me.

Even after asking myself the hard questions and answering them as honestly as I could after the Orlando shooting incident, I didn’t spur into action until November 9, 2016, the day after Trump was elected as our next president, because finally, finally, it affected me more than I could ignore.

My white privilege had protected and cocooned me and if Hillary Clinton had become our president, I doubt I would be the activist I am now. And for that I will always be sorry, because what I’ve learned since then is that it has always been affecting me, I was just too lazy to notice. I was a Good Person. I just wasn’t a very great one or a socially conscious one or a truly and thoroughly kind one or an empathetic or awake one or one willing to have the tough conversations even when people I love get uncomfortable.

The knowledge of the massacres and obliteration of tribes of Native Americans didn’t change me. Mostly because in many Christian religions, including the one I was raised in, this land was foreordained and promised as a gift to the white colonialists who “conquered” it. God saved it for them. There is so much in that seed of propaganda that dissecting it would take years.

The knowledge of the way our government routinely used people of color here in the USA and around the world as guinea pigs for medical treatments and medical experiments didn’t change me because I thought it was long before my time. It’s not. It still happens.

The knowledge that this country was built on slavery didn’t change me because I didn’t know what that meant. Not really. It was abstract and I believed it was all over and besides, I hadn’t been a part of all that. The new racial caste system, the school-to-prison pipeline, wasn’t a thing I understood.

The knowledge that the KKK lynched people of color didn’t change me because the KKK and other white supremacy organizations were mostly long-gone before I was born. Only, they weren’t. They never left and they’re coming back stronger than ever and with 2000% less shame than before.

The knowledge that unarmed Black people are killed while white people are given a thousand chances, coddled, and brought in for questioning even when they are heavily armed bothered me, but it did not change me, because I did not witness the pain of my friends of color. I prayed for them. I did not feel it with them.

These and dozens of other things did not change me.

It took a maniacal, sexist, misogynistic, xenophobic, selfish, catastrophically under-qualified white man, who reminded me of some people I grew up with, for me to finally change.

***

I recently watched the film, I Am Not Your Negro, which is done in James Baldwin’s own words and TV clips. It’s a film that captures you immediately with the truth and does not let you go until the credits begin to roll. It’s a piece of genius by Haitian filmmaker Raoul Peck. You need processing time after this film. You need to weep, witness horrors, and then get back to work.

Mr. Baldwin says something near the end of the documentary, after he’s called out our moral apathy, which should go straight to the heart of any Christian unwilling to get involved in this fight.

He says,

“What white people have to do, is try and find out in their own hearts why it was necessary to have a nigger in the first place, because I’m not a nigger, I’m a man, but if you think I’m a nigger, it means you need it.”

I have been pondering this deep and hard. In my health & wellness work, so much of the emotional processing a person does is about how they feel about their place in their family, in their community, in their churches and all the places where we see Othering.

I was the Other in my family. Many people who I work with were or are their family’s Other. History tells us tribes have always had Others as ways to make the core part of the tribe, the Inside People, feel stronger. Ostracizing those who won’t follow tribe rules makes everyone else feel like keeping the rules in the future.

Tribes survive by conquering their enemies. It’s a matter of life and death. And if we don’t have enemies, we create them because it feels good to band together. It’s not just the smaller tribes, it’s our own country’s way to go to war to bring the American people all to the same side when a current administration feels like they need that.

Dear White People — why have we done this Othering to People of Color? Why do we need someone to hate and oppress? Why have we not evolved past our ancient tribe dynamics to a place where we can accept all as equal and repair with equity the tragedies we’ve perpetrated? Are you willing to give anything up so that others can have what they need?

When will we have enough wealth, property, things, and status that we no longer have to try and hold on to it with our talons, never sharing the good stuff we’ve accumulated and making sure no one else can get close?

Can we be honest with ourselves? Can we move past being simply “Good People” and be truly good? Can you stop being an accidental racist and move into being an intentional activist?

Like my mom used to always say after I’d accidentally hurt my younger brother many times in one day, “Leah, you have to mean NOT to, if you don’t want to hurt someone. It’s not enough to say sorry after repeatedly hurting them on accident. Do better.

***

I’m currently writing a book about Unconventional Gratitude. Would you like support me? Click here to watch the video.

Bisexual White American Female

It’s December 22, 2016. I’ve just written my mom an email.

The contents of this email include me breaking her heart. I’ve thought of a dozen reasons not to write it and fought with myself about it for over two months but at the end of this day, I will go to sleep knowing she knows the truth. The peace I feel from that thought engulfs me and I hit send.

*****

I’m eight. I was just baptized a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I’ve been waiting for this day because ever since I can remember, I’ve been promised that on this day, the day I am baptized, I will feel 100% sinless and clean. It will be the most beautiful day I can imagine, I’m told, and I’m so lucky to be in a family that is LDS because being baptized by immersion is the only *true* way to have your sins washed away. I’ve contemplated the near disaster I avoided many times over the past year leading up to my eighth birthday. What if I had been born to another family? Or in another country where Mormons didn’t exist? What if? This thought has kept me up at night because I know I’ve done nothing to deserve this life, which means it’s completely out of my control.

As I’m raised from the water, the white zippered suit clings to me in annoying ways. I feel naked in this completely wet suit in front of several dozen people, mostly parents and family members of all the eight-year-olds getting baptized today. A tiny bit of water got up my nose, but I was careful to pinch it tightly so I wouldn’t feel like I was drowning. This is another fear that has kept me up nights for many months. What if my hand slipped off and I got water up my nose? I would cough and probably come up too soon which would require them to dunk me again, and if that happened, I for sure wouldn’t get clean enough.

I look out at the smiling faces as the water beads down my face and neck. I feel no different but maybe it just hasn’t had a chance to work yet, I think. Maybe my sins are like rubber cement and don’t come off so easy and it will take until I get dressed and then confirmed with a prayer from my dad and THEN it will take. THEN I’ll feel clean. I walk up the steps and out of the font and feel sins clinging to my ankles, trailing behind me like shadows. The things that have happened to me will never leave.

After I’ve changed into my dress, after I’ve been confirmed, after I give my dad a hug of thanks, my primary teacher asks me, Leah, don’t you feel wonderful? Don’t you feel clean? Don’t you feel the Spirit? Yes, I say, and nod my head and in that moment I realize two things. I am a liar and will always be a liar, and if I don’t feel clean right after I was baptized I won’t ever feel clean and that’s just who I am. I feel further away from God and the people in my family than ever before.

*****

I’m fifteen. I’ve been to several parties on a weekend night where most of the young men and some of the adult men in this chapel have been partying and engaging in debauchery, some of the time with my own person. It makes it very, very hard to take it seriously when I’m told these men hold the only true priesthood directly from God, the only true source on the earth today.

Hypocrites, I think. Everyone in this room including me is pretending to be something they aren’t.

It’s been a fight to get me to church for years, but now I stop going at all. I stop pretending to be good. I embrace who I am like never before. I cause trouble. I hurt my parents. I choose to be Real, no matter the cost.

I’m attracted to one of my best girlfriends and have dreams about her, but in real life I have sex with my boyfriend repeatedly and my parents send me in to talk to the Bishop. He tells me to repent and I tell him I will try. I don’t really try. My parents are beyond hurt. I’m messing up the entire family in an eternal sense. It’s too much pressure for a teenager. They send me to live with various family members to get me away from the situation. I find trouble no matter where I’m sent because that’s what I believe I am and like seeks out like. I am trouble. I will always be trouble.

*****

I meet a guy my high school junior year that seems like a straight-laced good Mormon boy. A few months later I get pregnant. A few weeks after that I get married and six months later, our son is born. On the day he makes his debut, I am seven days away from turning eighteen. I am a baby raising a baby married to a guy who is determined to be an adult. He is alone in his ability to do that.

*****

The pressure from the church to get sealed in the temple is non-stop. My husband and I finally agree and are rushed through two weekend classes with missionaries to prepare us. Our son is one and I’m pregnant with our daughter. We live in Germany and my husband is in the Air Force. Everything about our lives is new and stressful to me.

My sister and her husband fly out to be with us for the temple sealing. Everyone in my family is so excited we’re taking this next step. I’m hoping and praying that I will feel something while I’m in the temple. I’m hoping God will finally answer my prayers and bless me to feel the Spirit.

We begin in the temple by doing the Initiatory and I immediately feel violated by hands touching my naked skin. The rest of the time in the temple is a blur as the feelings of violation continue and I can’t figure out how to act right. So many memories of being abused from my childhood are swirling around in my head. I feel angry that everyone has been telling me to come and do this and I feel bewildered by every else’s lack of concern by what happens inside the temple.

I don’t go back.

*****

I drift in and out of mental stability, birthing three more children, weathering the mostly downs of a marriage created of necessity. Most of the time it takes too much will power on my part to buy into the idea that there is a God who would approve of how my life has gone down.

During one of my active church phases in 1995, I sit in the bishop’s office and listen to him tell me that I should forgive my husband his indiscretions again and if I don’t, the sin is with me. Forgive, forget, and move on, he tells me. That’s what Jesus wants you to do. Do it for your family.

I think about what he said as we drive home and I realize I won’t be able to and I literally have no idea what that means for my future. The idea of divorce doesn’t move in my circles. This is an unknown world. I will again be the person in my family who is completely different than everyone else. This isn’t a new feeling, but it doesn’t seem to get any easier as the years go on.

*****

Joe and I have been unofficially dating for two weeks. It’s October 2002 and neither of us wants to date anyone but neither of us wants to not spend time with the other person. This leads to lots of hanging out and doing nothing remotely date-like while at the same time totally dating.

It’s a Sunday and LDS conference is airing. We’re watching it together and I’m explaining that I’ve been thinking about going back to church after years away. Joe tells me he’s never going to be a Church Person. I tell him I want to be with someone who is religious. He shakes his head, no, he doesn’t think he ever will be. I start to cry. And then he starts to cry, because it’s possible we just identified a Deal Breaker even though we most certainly aren’t dating.

I’ve recently come out of a second mental hospital stay and the urge to try and fit in with my family is insistent. It’s exhausting to always be different. If I found someone religious, maybe I’d be like all of them.

Instead, I listen to my gut and start to really date Joe on the record.

*****

Joe and I are married. Our parents all come to our home for a weekend to meet. I’m struck by how vehemently his mother, Phyllis, argues in favor of Catholicism straight to my mother’s face. It’s like she believes it as much as my own mother believes in the LDS religion! My mind is blown. In all my travels, I just assumed Mormons were the only ones that truly believed theirs was the real truth or cared that much. Other people seemed to take their religion with a grain of salt. To realize that most religions believe they are also The One True Religion is information I wasn’t prepared for.

My thinking about religion and churches begins to change. I attend mass with Phyllis and get blessed by a priest. I ask one of my Catholic friends if she truly believes her church is the only true one. Of course, she says, why else would I attend?

Why else, indeed, I think. And when I extrapolate this thought to the millions of people around the world who are alive now or who have ever lived, religions begin to seem much more like tribes of people who need rules to keep them similar and give them structure than they do divine institutions created by God.

All the churches can’t be true, can they? Wouldn’t that make none of them true? And what does “true” mean, anyway? There are parallels to country patriotism here that I can’t quite put my finger on, but the negative feelings I have when people go super-mongo USA! USA! USA!!!! and how I feel when someone says their church is the only true church begin to converge.

*****

My youngest son is nine. He has not yet been baptized into the LDS church. This is causing concern for many people, none of the least being my own parents. My son isn’t sure if he believes what his teachers have been teaching him. He is a slow and methodical adopter and will not be rushed. He has gone to church sporadically over the years as I’ve ping-ponged between believer and doubter, resulting in stretches of months of non-attendance. His three older siblings have all been baptized. Eventually, he decides what the heck. Might as well. I attend the service with my husband. My ex-husband is the one who is baptizing our son. I know for a fact that he isn’t “worthy” to do it because he drinks alcohol. No one seems to care. The LDS church is full of people just like him and it no longer surprises me that so many are lying and pretending.

*****

Instead of getting divorced when things start to fall apart between us, we radically change our lives by selling all our stuff and making a plan to travel the United States. Our first stop is to visit Joe’s parents in Virginia and instead of leaving right after Thanksgiving, we move in and I become his mom’s companion for the next year.

I watch Phyllis get weaker day by day physically, but her spirit just gets stronger. She’s a beautiful example to me and I grow to love her deeply. Joe’s dad is what I would describe as agnostic and pokes a little fun at religion in general, but Phyllis never apologizes for having her beliefs. She never tries to convince anyone else she’s right. When I’m with her, I can believe, too. She just simply Is and Believes until the very end.

*****

My dad is getting older and continues to remember less and less. I go home to spend some time with them while he can still remember my name.

I’m with my mom in the basement going through boxes of old family photos. She asks me how I know Joe is faithful to me after my first marriage ended so poorly. I tell her it’s because one day early on, Joe called me from work to tell me a redheaded woman had just walked in and he was suddenly smitten with a crush. In that moment I realized he would always tell me. He wasn’t into secrets. He didn’t get off on constructing an alternate life while married to me. He immediately called me to include me. I was on the inside. He would never cheat on me and lie.

Mom asked me if I had ever had the experience in reverse. I told her about a woman I had fallen for during the period Joe and I were separated in our fifth year of marriage. I heard myself saying the words but I couldn’t believe I was actually telling my mom I had had extremely deep feelings for someone the same gender as myself. Her face was turned away from me as she bent over the box to grab another album.

But that was then, she said into the box, now you and Joe are fine. And that was true.

*****

I’m becoming Reiki certified. I finally feel things– energy and movement–and it is a type of spirituality and I embrace it. I start to understand what everyone has been talking about all these years. There is a warmth you get in your chest or a melting in your gut. I can sense movement in my hands and denseness or clearing as I work on someone else. It’s amazing. I am thankful and enamored with finally being able to talk about Feelings and know what I’ve been missing. This is a connection to my family that I’ve longed for. I can talk of spiritual things and fit in. I’m a part of It and it is delicious and satisfying.

I find God or He finds me. I’m determined to get to know Him better. I embrace the concept of being a Church Person.

*****

It’s October 2014. I’m in my quest of Reclaiming the Divine. I decide that I don’t know what I’m saying no to, so I better go back and try the LDS church back on to see if it fits me now, or if I fit within it, now that I’m older and can feel things.

I decide that if I’m going to do it, I’m going to Do It. I’ll become temple-worthy and say yes to callings and get involved in every way. Immerse myself as completely as I can.

I keep the Word of Wisdom. I throw out my inappropriate clothing. I attend church meetings. I tell my mom I’m going back to church. She is astonished. She does not believe it. She is unbelievably happy. Her prayers are literally being answered. The missionaries tell me that the rituals inside the temple have changed since I went in so many years ago. They tell me I have nothing to worry about.

On Halloween, late in the afternoon, tattoos carefully covered, I sit across from my mom on a beautiful couch in a heavenly, white room inside the St. George LDS temple and she still looks as if she can’t believe it. I smile at her. She leans forward and whispers, I didn’t think this day would ever come. Tears glisten in her eyes. Where is your faith, Mom, I whisper back jokingly to her in hushed tones. My brother, sister, and niece are beaming. I feel like I finally, truly fit in with my family.

*****

In the temple it’s quiet. For a person like me who is sensitive to mental energy, it’s such a relief from everything. White and calmness are everywhere. I step inside, and it’s peaceful. I step outside and it all comes landing back on my shoulders again. I am relieved that what the missionaries told me is true. The way things are done in the temple has changed. I don’t ever feel uncomfortable and no old, painful memories are triggered when I go. I make a goal to go weekly to enjoy the peace and freedom I feel inside.

The rituals and prayers in the temple are beautiful. There is a sense of the Sacred all around you. I sit in rooms quietly and contemplate God. I can’t seem to rectify how I believe He is with how my church describes Him. As usual, I’m quick to believe the fault must be with me and my understanding.

My God is welcoming and non-exclusionary. I don’t believe God requires special words or handshakes that only some people know to come into his presence. I push away my questions about why I continue coming and working in the temple because I fit in with my family and because I assume I must be missing something. I just don’t get It. I continue to focus on the parts I love and appreciate and not look at the parts that don’t make sense. This isn’t hard for me because I have lots of conflicting beliefs at the same time.

I simultaneously hold and believe the following two concepts: 1. Everything matters and everything I choose to say and do, or not say and not do, impacts everything else in large and small ways. I am responsible for everything I experience so if I’m frustrated and disappointed by the world, I need to fix things inside of myself. 2. I am insignificant and nothing I say or do matters in the big scheme of things because Almighty God is in control of all things and His plans won’t be thwarted by someone so insignificant as me.

It crosses my mind that this entire thing is privilege. I have the opportunity and time to sit inside holy buildings and have these philosophical thoughts when others are outside these walls simply trying to survive. That in and of itself is something I can’t make sense of.

*****

The attack in the Orlando, Florida nightclub happens. I’m devastated. I feel it inside my bones. I weep. I see posts on social media declaring that these people brought it upon themselves because they are gay. I’m sick to my stomach when I realize some of them are LDS.

In grief, I brandish my keyboard like a sword and write a Facebook post declaring that it’s no secret I’ve been in relationships with women in the past and if you believe it’s a sin then you should unfriend me immediately.

But, then I find out it has been a secret to a lot of people that I am Bisexual and I realize I haven’t been true to myself or others in my community because I Pass.

An LDS friend send me a message telling me I’m not sinning because I’m not acting on those feelings and I’m married to a man. No one would ever know if I didn’t tell them, so why tell them? I’m hurt and angry by this note but I can’t put into words exactly why because she’s right. No one would ever know if I didn’t tell them.

*****

Someone asks me if it hurts Joe’s feelings when I talk about being in relationships with women and I have to think about it. I realize what she’s asking is if it hurts him MORE than it would if all my past loves were men. Like, me being Bi is against him somehow. Insulting to him, maybe.

*****

I visit my brother and his wife. It’s the 4th of July. We’re talking about politics, which is historically a no-no given that we are on diametrically opposite ends for most things. The LDS church has recently come out with additional policy statements for how the Gay community is to be treated. Love the sinner, hate the sin remains the mandate, but now we’re going to love the sinner even better and harder and with more intensity so they really feel it. But their kids can’t be baptized until they are over eighteen to save the families from fighting and even though it’s the law of the land, if you’re in a same-sex marriage, you are apostate and will be disciplined and probably excommunicated from the church.

I ask my brother if he understands how it feels to be the person who is “the sinner” being loved, despite the sin. He tells me of course he does because we’re all sinners.

I tell my brother that I’ve been in relationships with women and been in love with women and to me, loving a woman or loving a man is the same thing. He reminds me that I was like that “before” and that those sins don’t apply to me anymore, thank goodness. I struggle with how to tell him that I’m still the same person. I’m Bisexual. That’s how I’m made. I’m married to a man who I love deeply and can’t imagine being with anyone else. But that’s not because he’s a man. It’s because he’s Joe. I “pass” because Joe is a man. No one who knows me from church would think of me as Bisexual.

I explain to my brother that there are countless people who are in relationships with someone who is the same sex as them and they are in love, married, having families. They are happy. I watch his face as he starts to understand what I’m saying. I’m telling him those people don’t feel like they are sinning. I’m telling him those people are just like me. Up until this point he has assumed that people who engaged in same-sex love and relationships knew they were sinning and doing the wrong thing. It’s almost beyond comprehension to consider that they just feel like regular people.

Later that night as I fall asleep I pray to God and ask Him how this all works. How can I know so strongly that I’m ok, that all these people who are like me are ok, and at the same time belong to a church where people like me are thought of as being wrong and sinners when they choose to be with someone who they love who is the same sex? There are no answers as I lay in bed, but I feel the string that makes me fit in with my family begin to go slack and become tenuous. I’ve tried so hard to fit in, but there is the slightest fragrance of relief I sense just outside my field of consciousness as I drift to sleep.

*****

It’s October 2016. I go in to talk to my bishop and renew my temple commitment. He asks me questions, which I recall answering two years ago, and answer the same way. I pass.

I meet with the stake president and he asks me the same questions. I answer the same way. I pass.

*****

It’s November 9, 2016. I feel hungover even though I haven’t been on a bender in many years. I’m devastated by the election results. I slept terribly. I feel crushed and worried and I’m in mourning.

Most of the people at church that next Sunday are curiously quiet. It takes me way too long to realize that’s because so many of them voted for Trump. The message is unification and moving forward. I am heartbroken and alone. I realize I haven’t done my job in declaring who I am and what I believe and decide going forward I will be different. I consider how that will work when I teach the women’s class and the lesson talks about the Proclamation to the Family and I realize this is going to be even harder than I thought it would be. How will I fit in with them and still say what I need to say? How will I bring their white privilege to their attention and help them understand how voting for Trump put so many at risk? How will I pass as a good Mormon, Relief Society Education Counselor, Temple Ordinance Worker, and still be who I feel like I need to be?

But then I realize, I don’t want to pass anymore. I’m not straight and I don’t agree with some church policies. I plan to publicly protest for the rights of marginalized people, including the gay community. It feels vitally important post-election to do whatever I can and to use my voice however I can.

I set up an appointment to speak to my bishop again and explain how upon further reflection, I can’t answer the questions the way I did originally. I need to change some of my answers. After some consideration, he asks me if there’s any way I could have my own private beliefs and support groups as I see fit, but not protest publicly, and teach the lessons as outlined in the handbook. I tell him I cannot. What seems to him to be privacy, feels to me like hypocrisy. I cannot be one thing but pretend to be another. I won’t.

My husband tries to get me to reconsider and move slower as I extract myself from my church commitments for reasons I think even he doesn’t understand. He’s seen me have a lot of joy these past two years. He’s helped me pay my tithing and made sure I got to the temple. He’s gone to church with me and sat through uncomfortable fast and testimony meetings where people of all ages speak to the congregation about why our church is the one and only true church. He’s never made fun of the sacred underwear or changes to my wardrobe. I literally can’t imagine a more supportive person. I listen to his worries and I take them to heart because he’s seen how happy I’ve been.

We eventually find our way into a tense discussion where I have to ask him to stand down. I tell him that no amount of fitting in with my family is worth living a lie that I don’t believe, and they wouldn’t want me to do that, anyway. I tell him that I don’t believe there is one true church and that the very exclusive nature of the phrase “One True Church” has the narrow-minded sticky fingers of man, not God, all over it. I reject it. My heart tells me all churches are good that bring people closer to God. That in the scriptures it talks about the Body of Christ and that’s everyone who identifies as a Christian. We all have to work together. We need to stick together. We need to accept each other. God lives in my heart and I take Him with me no matter where I go. I fit in with God and it no longer matters if I fit in with my family or not.

Life feels so incredibly short and precious to spend any of it worrying about if I’m fitting in the right way or belonging to the right church. What spectacular wastes of time those things are and what a significant amount of energy I’ve been spending on them. I renew my commitment to God to be the best person I can be and to be His hands wherever and whenever I possibly can.

I feel a weight being lifted off my shoulders. I feel a warmth in my chest. I feel a confirmation that I’m doing what’s best for me and I’m immediately engulfed in gratitude to my God.

I start writing an email to my mom.

When Donald Trump Wins

So. Donald Trump won. He won the first time with a little help from his friends and he won a second time when the Electoral College cast their votes today. That image is from when Pennsylvania voted. Just a stream of sad and mad emojis for 45 minutes across my screen.

This is our reality now. We’re living in the Trump America Reality Show. And we all have to take responsibility for it, especially if you’re a white, straight American. And I say that knowing full-well that no non-white American would think otherwise, because they have known for, oh, always, that they have to show up and fight. They haven’t had a choice.

No more petitions to email boxes that don’t have a pulse. No more phone calls to the harried staff of members of congress or state senators who are overworked and exhausted. No more mailing a ton of paper postcards to someone to make ourselves feel better. None of that matters except to make you *feel* like you’re doing something. I know because I signed all the things. I sent the postcards. I sent all the emails. And they didn’t change anything.

What You Can Do That Really Matters

Who do you know in your local government? Can you volunteer?
What are the policies that are being written? Can you help inform others?
What is happening this year in your area in regards to the LGBTQ community and their rights? Can you show up for them?
Is your city accepting refugees? Can you help tutor or acclimate them?
Is your city taking care of the homeless? Can you help do more than donate items?
Do you have a local SURJ? Can you join? Can you start a local chapter?
Is your church talking about important things? Can you speak out?
Do the schools your children attend treat hate appropriately? Can you find out?
Does your neighborhood have small businesses? Can you shop there?
Does your neighborhood have families that need support beyond Christmas? Can you become friends with them and help them all year round?
Does your family understand what’s happening in the world? Can you have tough conversations with them?

If there’s one thing we’ve learned through this last election cycle, it’s that if we don’t get really, REALLY involved in our local government and cities, we can’t do jack. It’s always been that way, but I think it’s been easier for most of us to just sit back and wait, hoping others will take the helm and then we freak out towards the end when terrible things are happening and we can’t change anything.

Trump is our president elect and there is nothing we can do about it. It’s happening. But if we all pitch in and create change in our local areas, we can change things. We can have real impact. If you’re a white person, please feel the weight of this on your shoulders. It’s appropriate. If you’re a straight person, please feel the weight of this on your shoulders. It’s appropriate. If you’re a Christian, white, male American, *please* feel the weight of this on your shoulders. It’s appropriate.

I know it would be so much easier to go back to bed and pull the covers over your head. I want to do that several times a day. But, I can’t. You can’t. It’s time to get super focused and fight harder than you ever have before.

When President Obama said we’re at our most vulnerable when we’re making enemies of each other, he was right. We’ve got to do better. Stop pointing fingers. Stop blaming each other. That ship has sailed. Start really talking.

No one is coming to save us. No one is going to make it better. This is our mess and we have to clean it up and I really think we can if we work together.

Communication 101

img_0274Growing up, my mom sat down with us every few months and taught us a new principle of conversation. It should be noted that I did not like these meetings. I wanted to watch Scooby Doo, but it was a requirement, and so I tried to quiet my interrupting voice and keep my fidgeting limbs still so I could learn about things like Reflective Listening and the Broken Record technique.

To have a conversation means to give and receive words, ideas, views, thoughts, and feelings. If I look objectively on what happens on Facebook, other social media platforms, and often in person, we aren’t having many conversations. We do a lot of Deflecting. Watch talk shows, news programs, or anything on TV where anything of importance is being discussed and you’ll see what I mean. There is hardly any real conversation happening and this is a bad thing for us as a people, as a nation. This is the world where someone like Trump thrives because truth means nothing to him or the people around him. Truth is everything and in order to find out the truth, you have to talk about things without getting defensive or dismissive so you can really hear.

Our kids soak up how we talk about others and how we treat others and then they go to school and act it out, but even more, bigger, harder, wilder. So if you’re calling people who don’t think like you do idiots at home and laughing when the talk show says they should get thrown out of the country, then they’re going to go to school and call someone an idiot, laugh at them, and then take it two steps further. Because that’s what kids do. And right now, our schools are missing empathy big time. (Help me create this empathy game for kids!) When you have 90% of teachers reporting that the increase of hate in their classrooms has skyrocketed this past month, you’ve got to pay attention. (And then consider supporting a cause that tries to help teachers know how to handle it.)

Here’s my advice to you if you’re new to this and you honestly would like to not be enemies with everyone who disagrees with you. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Just sit with it. You won’t die from this discomfort, I promise, even if it feels like you will. Be willing to suspend that NEED you feel to make a decision and just sit with the new information.

Here’s a quick rundown on some communication types: (This would look great as an illustration. Someone do that.)

Deflective


Person 1 I can’t believe what just happened. I feel terrible.
Person 2 Why are you always exaggerating?
Person 1 I’m not! Here’s some supporting evidence that happened!
Person 2 You’re an idiot. I can’t believe you’re upset about that.
Person 1 (yelling) You don’t care about anything or anyone! You’re a terrible person!
Person 2 No, YOU’RE a terrible person.

RESULT:(And then they unfriend each other on Facebook.)

Reflective


Person 1 I can’t believe what just happened. I feel terrible.
Person 2 Something terrible happened?
Person 1 Here’s some additional information about what happened. I’m really scared and upset!
Person 2 Wow, that sounds hard. I can see why you’re upset and scared.
Person 1 Yeah, I wasn’t prepared for that. This is terrible.
Person 2 Yeah, that sounds terrible and I can see why you feel unprepared.

RESULT: Person 1 usually leaves this conversation feeling heard by Person 2. Nothing has changed for either person, but Person 1 doesn’t feel alone.

Empathetic/Compassionate


Person 1 I can’t believe what just happened. I feel terrible.
Person 2 What? Oh no! That sounds terrible! Tell me more!
Person 1 Here’s some additional information about what happened. I’m really scared and upset!
Person 2 I would be, too! That’s upsetting! I’m feeling upset with you!
Person 1 Yeah, I wasn’t prepared for that. This is terrible.
Person 2 How can I help you be prepared next time? What can I do to help?
Person 1 I could use help with A, B, and C. Could you do any of those things?
Person 2 Totally. I can do A and C and I bet we can find someone to do B. Let’s figure this out together.

RESULT: Both people are changed in this conversation. Ideas and feelings have been exchanged and heard. Person 1 feels supported and Person 2’s compassion has made it impossible to not help in some way. Good things come from this type of conversation.

Disagreement/Discussion


Person 1 I can’t believe what just happened. I feel terrible.
Person 2 Tell me more about it.
Person 1 Here’s some additional information about what happened. I’m really scared and upset!
Person 2 Well, I’m hearing your concerns, but I don’t think I would be upset in your situation.
Person 1 I wasn’t prepared for that. I’m worried and upset.
Person 2 Yes, I hear that you’re worried and upset, but have you considered A, B, and C?
Person 1 No, actually. I haven’t heard about A, B, or C. Can you explain more so I understand?
Person 2 Sure. Here’s all the facts I know about it, plus here are some websites where you can read more.
Person 1 I’ve read the stuff you sent me. Thanks for the links. Because these things happened in my life and how I was raised, I don’t really agree. I’m still worried.
Person 2 Thanks for taking my opinion in to account and reading the facts I sent you. I guess we’ll disagree with each other on these points but I still think you’re a good person.
Person 1 Thanks, I think you’re a good person, too. Let’s BBQ this weekend.

RESULT: This one can go all different ways. People get really passionate. There can be yelling sometimes. But the focus stays on the issues and not the people talking. They remain human beings to each other, instead of “stupid idiots” because they don’t agree.

The thing is – we all feel like good people and we all are “good people.” (There are exceptions to this, of course, but generally…) The person who believes differently than you on a political matter is not an idiot. They are your family, a member of the human race, and if one of us is hurting, we’re all hurting.

The ONLY way to move forward is to talk together until hearts and minds are changed, and that won’t happen when we use conversation stoppers aka insults and accusations. We are actually on the same team. We all want the freedom to pursue happiness in a peaceful nation where people are thriving and prospering. How we think we should get there will vary wildly.

Speaking to someone who has different beliefs than you or comes from a different type of life than you, who is so foreign that they just don’t make sense at first is ok. It’s good. Let it feel weird. Be willing to look dumb to try and learn more. Ask questions. And when they tell you things you don’t understand, ask more questions. And then, and this is of the upmost importance, don’t discount someone else’s lived experience because it’s never happened to you.

They lived it. They’re sharing it. Receive it.

Things to remember:

1. These tips do not apply when someone is verbally abusing you. If that happens, walk away.
2. These tips do not apply if you are a person of color and you’re talking to someone who is racist. Walk away and call in your white friends.
3. These tips do not apply if you’re having a really bad day and you just need to eat brownies and watch reruns of M.A.S.H. Tell the other person you need a time out and you’ll reconvene soon.
4. It’s OK to disagree with others. It is not your job to make them change their minds. People typically need time and space for that to happen and the harder you push, they further they back away.
5. The best way to change the minds of those around you is in the example you set and this goes a frillion times more for kids watching you.
6. You will make mistakes. This is fine. This is life. We are all learning. The question is – what will you do immediately after? (Answer: apologize sincerely and then do better.)

Onward – Day 20

marmaladesunset
MARMALADE

I come to the beach
Heart deflated
Breath flat and simple.

I sit on the dune
Waves smashing
Sun bronze and dipping.

I watch the pelicans
Wings beating
Formations ebb and flow.

I soak in burnt color
God’s palette
Marmalade and scarlet red.

I brush sand off my feet
Soul infused
Life fat and possible.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

We’re on day #20 since we, the Americans, voted to put Trump in office this coming term. These past twenty days have felt like a gut-punch mixed with some invaluable family time, and a steep learning curve of about 50 degrees. Uphill. In snow. Wearing used and leaky Wonderbread plastic bags over the insoles of my Moonboots.

I chat with my friend who comes to help me deep-clean my home once a week. She tells me how afraid she is for her son in elementary school because of the violence she’s seen since the election, even in the schools. I feel helpless to do anything for her besides repeat that we are here for her, whatever she needs.

Another friend reports to me in a wooden voice how she was grabbed and shoved the other night and how the two men laughed as they left her, bruised and shaken, yelling, “Welcome to Trump’s America!” not caring who heard them, daring the night to call them on their assault. I feel scared to leave my home alone most days because of how their rudeness and brashness reminds me of how I felt during and after the assaults that happened to me.

Because of those incidents and hundreds of others, it feels like there are no more rules. I survive with rules. Rules make me feel safe, but they only work when people respect them. This America, on day #20, feels like the rules no longer apply.

I can’t stay still. I refuse to sit in my home, scared to leave. I’m deciding that to do nothing is to say I’m ok with what’s happening. And I’m totally, for sure, not ok with what’s happening. If you’d like to do something, too, you could use this website to help you get started or make your own list like mine below.

Here’s what I’m doing to insert a bit of normalcy and power back into my court:

I’m using this as a guide to make sure I’m supporting who and what I want to support: Boycott Trump, Mashable
There’s also an app that can help: Boycott Trump
Boycott companies that support the Dakota Pipeline: Collective Evolution

I’m participating in Weekly Action by using these two websites as a guide:
Weekly Acts of Resistance
What to do This Week

In an effort to never be blindsided again, I’m trying to understand all sides of the issues by consuming news from reliable sources:

Podcasts:
Hey! That’s My Hummus!
Politico’s Nerdcast
The State of Things
NYT The Run-Up
NPR Code Switch
FiveThirtyEight Politics

And to get the conservative side:
Common Sense, Dan Carlin
Dana Loesch
Glen Beck
Chris Salcedo

Websites:
BBC
PBS
Reuters
The Independent
NYT
Inside Newsletter

I signed up to help refugees in my area. Check locally and see how you can help.

And I self-care like crazy.

I’d love to hear what you’re doing. xo
(Sign up for the Vital Empathy newsletter in the sidebar and footer.)

A White Lady’s Guide to Systemic Racism

Hello, White People. I’m glad you’re here. Regardless of whether you’re looking for a fight because you’re mad I’m talking about this, or if you’re happy you found some information you’ve been looking for, or if you’re anywhere in between on the spectrum, welcome. Information is good and the more times you are informed about something new or hard, the easier time you’ll have making peace with it. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable for a little while. Sit with it. It’s going to be ok. [ If you’d like to join a group of people trying to figure out how their white privilege supports systemic racism, go here and join our Facebook group. ]

My Story

31517420_9e3fe0fd7d_oLike many of you, I was born in an almost exclusively white town and grew up in an almost exclusively white town with lots of white people in my state and very little diversity. I used to hear about people of color talking about racism and my first and last thought was usually, “Well, that doesn’t apply to me. I’m not racist,” or, “Is racism still a thing? I just love everybody!”

It took me years of listening to the stories of people of color before I understood that yes, it is still a thing and yes, it does apply to me, and yes, I have racial tendencies. I wasn’t exposed to it like you see in the movies. I’d certainly never call someone the N word or make fun of them behind their back or feel like I’m better than them, so I figured I wasn’t racist. Wrong.

The Difference Between Acting Blatantly Racist and Benefiting From Systemic Racism

If you are a blatant racist, you’re a member of the KKK or other white power hate group. You think white people are better than other races. You enjoy the thought of non-white people being hurt or put in their place. You think slavery was no big thing and why not do it again. If this does not describe you, and you are white, then you are not a blatant white racist person. Congrats. It’s kind of the least we can do.

19However, if you are white and you are given the benefit of the doubt in most cases and you don’t have to worry about being killed by someone who hates non-white people when you run to the store for a gallon of milk because you feel safe most of the time and you aren’t afraid of police officers and no one has called you a thug or a terrorist and you fit in with most crowds where ever you go and were given the opportunity to go to a good school and had teachers who called on you in class, gave you encouragement, patted you on the head, and who overlooked your mischief because “kids will be kids” and they didn’t get you suspended and then in juvie by age twelve and then prison by fourteen charged as an adult or had a mom that was able to stay home because your dad had a pretty good job and you don’t feel like you need to prepare your own children before they leave the house on how to “act” and make sure they aren’t carrying ANYTHING that could be mistaken for a gun so they have the best chance of not getting killed before they come home or it was kind of a given that you could go to college if you wanted to and you don’t feel like you have to speak on behalf of your entire race in certain circles and after going to college and being educated and succeeding at life you don’t ever hear that you’re “so articulate” and you don’t have to work four times as hard as everyone around you for only partial credit and when you went to school and took history your people weren’t slaves and the stuff you learned in that history class didn’t try to hide the travesties that had been done to your people and you aren’t worried when a racist bigot becomes president of the USA because it doesn’t affect you that much – then you are benefiting from systemic racism.

Stop defending yourself and proclaiming that you aren’t racist. Start finding ways to be actively NOT racist.

Letting Go of Shame and Guilt

211Man, when I first realized I was racist I was hit with a huge ball of shame and guilt. Wow, it was paralyzing. First I argued with anyone who would listen as I listed all the reasons I was exempt from racism. Then I was mad because hey, I didn’t ask to be in this system and why is it my fault what some white people did years ago before I even existed! I had nothing to do with it! I shouldn’t have to worry about it or clean it up.

When I finally quieted down enough to FEEL and sit with my feelings, I realized I was sad. I was super sad that these horrible things happened and there was no way I could change that. I felt helpless.

Part of moving to the next step is realizing that the guilt and shame do no good. It doesn’t help fix anything. It’s like lead around your feet, keeping you immobile and in pain. If you’re a halfway decent person, it’s going to hurt hard to feel and understand the depth of the injustices that have been done to our non-white brothers and sisters. It hurts to witness their pain. You want to push it away or ignore it so you don’t have to feel how much it hurts. But owning our history doesn’t it make it worse, it makes it better. There’s no possible way to learn if we don’t pay attention and take stock of reality.

Know this: the only way is through. Feel it, own it, move on through and ask, “How can I do better?”

Real American History

Here’s a doozy. Remember American history classes through elementary and middle and high school? Well, I hate to tell you this but it was probably a bunch of crap, or at least a large portion of it was, starting with Columbus and the great white invasion across America that nearly wiped out the Native Americans. The founding fathers were racist slave owners, rapists, and bigamists. Did you know we enslaved the Chinese? We forced them to build our railroads and our government worked overtime to dehumanize them during WWII through the end of the Cold War. How about the Japanese internment camps? When it comes to women’s rights, the suffragette white leaders were racists. And President Reagan knew what he was doing when he furthered the “War on Drugs” campaign. And this is just a tiny drop in the bucket of the bill of goods we’ve been sold. Now, does my saying that mean that none of them did any good? No. They did some good. But is it the whole story to say, “Those were good people”? No. No, it is not. Finding out that Gandhi was kind of a jerk and beat his wife doesn’t erase the good stuff he did, but we aren’t doing ourselves any favors when we try and make him ONLY good. He’s a whole, complete, human being with good stuff and bad stuff, just like we all are.

Accepting that these people are both good and bad is hard because it means we have to accept that we, too, are both good and bad. We’re wired to always give ourselves the benefit of the doubt and we really like our heroes to be on a pedestal where we can compare everyone else to them.

All I have to say is Woody Allen or Bill Cosby, am I right? Complex stuff, right there. Easy to write the person completely out. Harder to recognize the good and acknowledge the bad and let them sit there, together, like reality.

Don’t be afraid to learn the truth about stuff. It doesn’t mean your world is ending. It does mean you’ve been lied to and manipulated your entire life. Doesn’t that make you mad? Mad enough to do something about it?

The “Other” and Empathy

25I wrote a bunch about the Other here and it might be a good idea to go read that. We have, as a culture, made people of color the Other in our communities. The totally sad and ironic thing is that some of them never asked to be here and a bunch more of them were living here, totally happy before we got here. We stole them from their homes, forced them across the ocean in chains, and if they were “lucky” enough to survive the journey, we beat them and forced them to slave for us, building our Land of the Free, Home of the Brave. We lied to them, stole from them, and killed them by the thousands. And now we shrug our shoulders and go, huh, well, what are you guys so mad about? How can you still be mad? What we’re really saying is, don’t make me think about it and stop making me feel bad because I don’t like that.

Thinking of others as Others hurts us all. There is no way to heal as humans on this earth if we don’t look at everyone and see them as ourselves. And most of this gut reaction of revulsion towards others is based in fear. We don’t want to be like them. Just in case you’re curious, this includes people like Hitler, Donald Trump, and the person that physically or sexually violated you (and me). Putting them in another category, separating them from me, who is a human, makes them less than human, and that hurts us all. Remembering they are human helps remind us to be better people.

Just to be clear, I’m not saying you have to forgive someone who has hurt you and I’m not saying you shouldn’t have boundaries with others or judge their actions as wrong or hurtful. You should absolutely make boundaries to protect yourself and you don’t have to forgive anyone. What I’m saying is that in every instance, to keep us all human, you need to be able to see them as human also.

Oh, man, I can just hear several of you right now getting so angry with me. It’s ok. You be angry. But keep reading, ok? Let’s tackle a super hard one first, because if we can do this one, learning to humanize everyone else is going to be so much easier. And let me say that if you love Donald Trump but hate President Obama, feel free to try this with his name instead.

What makes a Donald Trump? Classic narcissist, liar, able to talk out of all sides of his mouth, charming to those that like him, completely not worried about integrity or ethics, sexist and misogynistic, and he seems to be just fine with that in every way. Proud, even. In fact, he seems to forget after he says some of his declarative statements from one group to the next because he’ll say the complete opposite. I don’t personally find a lot to like there and that could stop me dead in my tracks from seeing him as a human being. It’s easy for me to label him all kinds of things that keep him securely separate from me. It feels much safer. And I admit, I did that for most of the past year.

However, I need empathy in my life. I need it for myself in order to own my life and keep growing up and through and not get stuck when I make a mistake. And in order for me to have empathy for myself, I need to have it for others. So the first thing I have to do is ask, “How am I Donald Trump?” and then I play the game until I come up with at least five things.

  • We’re both humans on earth in the year 2016. (<-- no lie, I was stuck with just this one for quite some time.)
  • I grew up with a limited American History education and I’m assuming he must have, too, given that his dad was who he was.
  • I was told things by my parents that I chose to believe simply because they are my parents and I love them.
  • I’ve spent time feeling hurt by others and trying to prove my point so they’d listen.
  • Sometimes I lie to myself to get through a situation where I’ve bitten off more than I could chew.

Now I have a basis of understanding him. Do I like him more? No. I like him even less. Do I excuse the things he’s said and done and will do? No. He should be held accountable for every terrible thing he’s done and will do. But he’s a human to me again because I can see myself and my own experiences in him and I look at him with (admittedly, maybe only a little) empathy. If you feel like you need help learning how to feel empathy, here’s a short guide.

Now that we’ve covered the basics of empathy, how does that relate to our situation right now and systemic racism? Empathy is the only path for true understanding. Do you want to stop being complicit in systemic racism? Then finding empathy for those you currently don’t relate to is the only way. And if I can do it with Trump, surely you can do it with people of color you’ve probably never met because you live in a town like I used to.

Ask yourself how you are like a person of color. Where are your similarities? If the truth is that there are no Others (and that is the truth!) and we see ourselves in everyone, how does that change your approach? What privileges have you been afforded in this life that the majority of them don’t have? Do you feel pressured to see your life as “less hard” when you admit that they’ve gone through hard things because you get caught up in comparing? When you humanize them, does it make it easier to relate to them as people struggling through life, just like you, but with several disadvantages? Have you ever felt at a disadvantage and if so, how were you hoping people would treat you?

Does owning our real, factual history mean we are bad people? No. Terrible things have happened in our history and the only way to help them not happen again is to TALK ABOUT THEM. Shine more light. No secrets. In Germany, they teach about the holocaust happening by inviting survivors into the classroom. We could take a page out of that book.

And a few words about justification: The harder we have to hold on to something and prove we’re right and justify why what we did wasn’t so bad or we had good reasons? The more we make others Other. You can read all about it here.

Fair & Balanced News

35Oh, the age of online social media. You start a profile, upload your photo, add all your friends and start liking each others stuff. And then you do it on the next platform. And the next. Soon you’ve got all these little exclusive ecosystems where you are surrounded by everyone who agrees with you. They post news stories, you post news stories, you like each others stories and memes and gifs with Stefan from SNL and sooner rather than later, the platform you’ve chosen starts to serve you just what you like to read. Perfecto!

Let’s slap that big hunk over to the side for a sec and look at journalism at large right now. Systematically, we’ve lost our true journalists who held ethic and moral codes to their writing. Dan Rather has been one of the last of his breed and if you follow him on Facebook, you know what I’m talking about. I remember reading the paper growing up and there were facts and there were opinions and hardly ever the twain should meet. And if they DID meet, it was explicitly labeled as an opinion in the sea of facts.

Now we have completely fabricated websites with the exclusive aim of confusing people and muddying the facts. Satire is already confusing to certain generations, but when you add in other websites that are written as if factual, but are in fact complete lies, so much of our country doesn’t even have a chance unless they do what it takes to become educated outside of their little spaces. The lies and hyperbole are too much.

Ok, so pull that first load over and add it to this load. Together, we have the perfect storm of misinformation and living in a Yes-World. You only hear from those that agree with you and you’re reading information that is more opinion than fact and meant to confuse you.

With newspapers and old-style journalism going away, we’ve got to become smarter consumers of information. This is on you, friend. I know it’s much easier to just keep pulling up the same websites you’ve been looking at. It’s comforting to look at the world from those windows. But when our nation is divided this much, we’ve got to get the facts from each side to try and understand each other.

Case in point – on Facebook throughout the entire last year, I was never served one single story that was complimentary to Donald Trump in any way, shape, or form. If I only relied on that information (or TV pundit talking heads loyal to an agenda on their station) I would believe that Trump was 100% terrible and was mostly a buffoon and that the majority of people didn’t like him or buy into his garbage. And that is in fact what happened. I was blindsided this election as the red states went to Trump because I had been safe in my Yes-World where everyone agreed with me. It was impossible for him to win the presidency of the USA. And yet.(***UPDATE below)

I’m willing to bet I’m not the only one this happened to. I now understand this more than ever and I resent the part I’ve played and been played by Facebook. I don’t know that I would like Trump any more than I do now but I would have had a broader understanding of what the rest of the people in my country were seeing and thinking. I would have been more prepared for this eventuality. And that’s on me. And it’s on you, too, if you don’t make an effort to do better.

Finding unbiased and factual news sources is hard. Try some of these links, search through them for yourselves, and please, don’t automatically discount sites that disagree with your world view. Take some of those in and sit with it.

***UPDATE Jan. 2017: Since I’ve written this, I’ve yet to come across a conservative person I know in real life that actually *likes* Trump. I keep hearing why they voted for him *despite* how much they don’t like him. Which always comes back to this: They were willing to overlook his many, many, MANY faults and disgusting behavior because they are white and not affected.

Now What?

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailAcknowledging someone else’s worth does not diminish your own. Be open to feeling and learning. If this is the first time you’ve run into this information, maybe reading it for today is enough. Maybe you’ll need to go through some emotional stuff. Maybe you’ve got some guilt and shame and anger to work through. All fine. Keep up the self care.

But as soon as you’re able, come back and read it again. Have you seen our world lately? It needs all the help it can get. We are low on Love and rife with misunderstanding and hate. How long do marginalized people have to wait for white people to learn their own history, own it, and then have a desire to do better?

Read some of the books and watch some of the documentaries listed below. Click over to some of those websites and read some different view points. Find out how you can actively be NOT a racist. And I bet you have people in your family you could talk to. Then try talking about it with your neighbors. There’s probably a social justice group somewhere near you. Will it feel awkward? Heck yeah. Super, duper awkward. But it’s the only way forward, so do it anyway.

If you’d like to join a group of people trying to figure out how their white privilege supports systemic racism, go here and join our Facebook group.

And a little aside to those friends of mine of the religious persuasions: I know you try and surround yourself with beauty and love and focus on the positive. I know you want to pray and have faith and rely on God to solve these hard problems. I know in your heart this doesn’t feel like you. But think on this: you have the OPTION to not be exposed to these types of things, these things that offend you like the N word and looking at lynching footage and listening as someone who speaks coarser language than you shares their story. It is that very option that is your privilege. God uses his many hands on the earth to do His good works. See if and where and how you can help. See if He will strengthen you to witness, learn, and then help heal.

Have something to add to these lists? Talk to me here, especially if you have ideas for other marginalized people’s information.

Politics

WARNING: very political and link heavy post ahead. If you are in the mood to fight, maybe come back later after cookies and milk.

After going to the RNC, I’ve been fascinated to see what the public has done with Palin. There is no doubt she was the star of the show. Everyone was talking about her speech the two days leading up to it and the day after it. It was almost like Mccain’s speech was expected to add very little, if anything, to the party. I don’t ever remember a VP choice making prime-time exclusive interviews (WARNING – window resizing going on), before the Presidential candidate does, with the likes of Charlie Gibson and ABC and having a network like ABC cut it up and use it within an inch of its life on morning shows, latenight shows etc. It’s like she just won American Idol. So far I think she comes across as very literate but very inexperienced in her interview bits.

I thought Palin’s VP acceptance speech was very well delivered. She nailed it and the people were eating out of her hands. In fact, if I knew nothing about her policy beliefs, I would wish she was a Democrat simply for her charisma. She clearly knows how to work a room. I bet we would even be friends if we lived next door and if I lived in Alaska and had been on the receiving end of a higher rebate last year and this year, I’d really love her.

However, she wasn’t completely honest about the details in her speech. She implied she sold her luxury jet on Ebay and the truth is she listed it but then sold it privately after it didn’t sell. And she says she turned down The Bridge to Nowhere which is technically true although she did support it first while campaigning for Governor and then after removing her support, kept all the earmarked money raised for it and used it for other things. The media is all over these discrepancies. But I’d just like to know about one political candidate that has never skewed the facts to make themselves current with the public’s opinion. I’m not saying it’s alright that they do it. I’m just saying that to pick one candidate’s speech apart and not all the others is wrong. And people should certainly be allowed to change their minds after hearing more facts regarding a situation.

It’s a climate of exaggerations and slight untruths and culminating in out-right lies or intentional misunderstandings. That’s how we play during the elections. Pouncing on the ‘Lipstick on a Pig‘ fiasco is one example (which McCain himself has said a number of times.)

Which brings me to Flip-Flopping, or Changing Your Mind, as I like to call it. Somehow, that is the worst thing a candidate can do. But how can a potential VP and P work together on a campaign if they can’t discuss their differences and come to some compromises and resolutions about how to support each other? And why is that a bad thing? Isn’t that what we all should be doing? Figuring out how to come together and work together and get this government changing towards what we all need: a stronger and safer economy, a better heathcare system, a better foreign policy with improved relations with our allies? I think the belief that we have to all believe the exact same thing to be in a political party or the exact opposite of the other party is short-sighted and does nothing to bring this country together.

I think we really need the new President of the United States to have a VP that agrees with them on some things, but also have some different views and bring things to light that the President might not see. Challenge some beliefs to make sure all the sides are getting out there. I think we’ve seen for the past eight years what it means to have the president surrounded by a complete cabinet of Yes-Men.

Both candidates picked the running mate their campaign needed. Obama needed the experience Biden had to offer and McCain needed a rockstar to bring in new excitement. They have both succeeded in doing what they set out to do. McCain’s crowds have grown by huge proportions and Obama’s critics can believe Biden would be ready to assume the presidency should anything happen. Good on both scores.

But what I really hate is when all the hoopla starts and takes our attention away from the real issues. Why does it matter whether Palin’s daughter is pregnant or not? What I care about is how she views RvW and how she supports no abortion for rape or incest victims. That is what is important. That is policy. That is what I want to know about. And that is just one example, but you know I could go on all day. As could you, since there is hoopla on both sides of the isle.

Growing up, my family was very private about voting. You just didn’t ask each other who or what you voted for since it was something that could cause contention. I’ve kind of believed that myself up til now. But, this year, when this election is so important to our country, I feel like I need to be public about who and what I support.

I will not vote for McCain/Palin. McCain has voted 90-95% with President Bush and I think what Bush has done to and with our country is criminal. (And I’m not even mentioning the lying about torture and the human rights violations.)(Except, I guess that was mentioning it.)

McCain has said he will try to overturn RvW. Palin believes in no abortion for incest and rape victims. As a rape victim myself, I can’t imagine how that would have been to get pregnant and who is to say whether or not, if I had, if I would have aborted the baby or not. But to not have that choice is unimaginable.

Palin believes drilling in Alaska is the answer to our fuel problems. While I don’t disagree that some drilling might be necessary, I think the focus should be on alternative fuels and not on drilling. Why has the government not supported alternative forms of energy all these years? Because Bush has been under the thumb of large oil companies and has not been willing to buck the system, watching them rack in millions upon millions of dollars while the American people suffer and pay more and more at the pump. Bush has made it a point to not support efforts to explore alternate energies. McCain will slide right into Bush’s empty seat. I have no faith that he will be any different. I believe he will eventually agree with Palin on drilling in Alaska and do nothing to further other avenues.

McCain doesn’t see what a farce the entire war in Iraq has been. He doesn’t think that Bush lied to us. He believes we need to stay much longer and create a democratic society there before leaving, which in my opinion is impossible and always was. He believes we need to pour another 12-16 billion dollars a month into this civil war. I disagree on every point. Especially knowing that the country of Iraq has a surplus of 80 billion dollars while we go more and more in debt. (I would love to see us apply that money to a better heathcare system here at home.) It’s past time to withdraw from a war that we never should have entered, which we did enter on false pretenses.

McCain’s heathcare plan includes nothing new except a tax credit which may or may not work. If it does work, it’s because he’s taxing all the employers who DO provide heathcare for their employees. He won’t apply pressure to heathcare providers to provide care to people in high risk or preexisting conditions. As far as making sure every American has coverage, it will fail. Here is a snippet:

McCain then spoke of the need for Americans to improve their physical condition and suggested some people with preexisting conditions could be put in what he called “high-risk pools.” But McCain’s bottom line was that he would not put requirements on insurance companies.

I don’t disagree that many Americans, including myself, need to improve their physical conditions. I just don’t agree that THAT is a viable heathcare plan.

McCain thinks our economy is pretty strong and that we are not headed into a recession. I think we are already in a recession. You can’t look at the housing market and the manufacturing businesses closing and the small businesses barely making it and the huge unemployment rate and really believe our economy is fine, can you?

McCain wants to build walls between Mexico and the U.S. He’s not completely honest about his involvement with earmarks. He believes national security and immigration are the top things Americans are worried about, demonstrating that he’s not really listening when we’re screaming WE ARE IN A RECESSION. And I don’t think Palin is qualified. There are far better qualified Republican women that should have been chosen for their experience. But they don’t have the star power Palin has.

I will be voting for Obama/Biden. Obama’s economic plan includes cutting taxes for all those people making less than 250K a year (around 80% of Americans) (more here) (and here is an interesting study about Republican vs Democratic economic policies showing that more people do better under the Democrats). I agree with Obama about Outsourcing. I agree with him regarding growing a clean energy economy and creating 2 million new jobs. (Here is what Senator Hillary Clinton says about it.) And I love his Hybrid Car plan. I like his incentive plan for new/small businesses, entrepreneurs and women.

More reasons I will vote for Obama: he wants to start by talking with Iran, not fighting, he wants to eliminate global poverty, admits he smoked marijuana and that he inhaled (about 57 seconds in), he’s committed to network neutrality (Biden’s support is ambiguous and I’ll be watching to see how that plays out), he wants to use technology to open up our democracy and be transparent to the American people, he supports the guest worker program for immigrants, he wants to raise the minimum wage, he trusts women with the right to make decisions about their bodies, he believes in educating our youth so we have less unwanted pregnancies and our young children won’t be coerced by pedophiles (and he refused to discuss Palin’s pregnant daughter), he has a great healthcare plan including guaranteed eligibility and affordable premiums, he sees the recession we are in, and he was always against the war in Iraq, just like me.

Reasons why I support Biden for Vice President: he’s the least wealthy senator – dead last on the list and for some reason I find that quite endearing in the world of politics. He’s been a senator since January 1973 which is long enough to see our government go through many cycles and know what works best. He’s the chairman on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. He drafted the Violence Against Women Act. His voting record is alright, not great, but alright. We agree on stem-cell research, banning cruel and inhuman treatment of detainees, not extending Bush tax cuts that help the wealthy, better funding for our troops and a timetable for removal, and more funding for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.

I am voting NO on Prop 8. (It’s a mixed bag where Obama is concerned.) My entire family disagrees with me with the exception of Joe. Even my daughter. My brother and his wife are heading up the efforts to pass Prop 8 in their area, coordinating all the meetings, passing out 4,000 yard signs and going door to door. I’ve had discussions with all of them and it always ends up boiling down to one thing: they think it’s a sin and wrong to be gay – I don’t. I support with all my strength any measure to help us all be equal. Every instance used in the following NPR letter supporting Prop 8 is used to demonstrate how we should be worried that gay people are going to try and get into every part of our lives and force themselves places they aren’t wanted. Fear.

Adoption services: Catholic Charities in Massachusetts refused to place children with same-sex couples as required by Massachusetts law. After a legislative struggle — during which the Senate president said he could not support a bill “condoning discrimination” — Catholic Charities pulled out of the adoption business in 2006.

Medical services: A Christian gynecologist at North Coast Women’s Care Medical Group in Vista, Calif., refused to give his patient in vitro fertilization treatment because she is in a lesbian relationship, and he claimed that doing so would violate his religious beliefs. (The doctor referred the patient to his partner, who agreed to do the treatment.) The woman sued under the state’s civil rights act. The California Supreme Court heard oral arguments in May 2008, and legal experts believe that the woman’s right to medical treatment will trump the doctor’s religious beliefs. One justice suggested that the doctors take up a different line of business.

Psychological services: A mental health counselor at North Mississippi Health Services refused therapy for a woman who wanted help in improving her lesbian relationship. The counselor said doing so would violate her religious beliefs. The counselor was fired. In March 2001, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit sided with the employer, ruling that the employee’s religious beliefs could not be accommodated without causing undue hardship to the company.

Civil servants: A clerk in Vermont refused to perform a civil union ceremony after the state legalized them. In 2001, in a decision that side-stepped the religious liberties issue, the Vermont Supreme Court ruled that he did not need to perform the ceremony because there were other civil servants who would. However, the court did indicate that religious beliefs do not allow employees to discriminate against same-sex couples.

Youth groups: The city of Berkeley, Calif., requested that the Sea Scouts (affiliated with the Boy Scouts) formally agree to not discriminate against gay men in exchange for free use of berths in the city’s marina. The Sea Scouts sued, claiming this violated their beliefs and First Amendment right to the freedom to associate with other like-minded people. In 2006, the California Supreme Court ruled against the youth group. In San Diego, the Boy Scouts lost access to the city-owned aquatic center for the same reason. While these cases do not directly involve same-sex unions, they presage future conflicts about whether religiously oriented or parachurch organizations may prohibit, for example, gay couples from teaching at summer camp. In June 2008, the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals asked the California Supreme Court to review the Boy Scouts’ leases. Meanwhile, the mayor’s office in Philadelphia revoked the Boy Scouts’ $1-a-year lease for a city building.

My problem with trying to see it their way is that as I read through all the examples I can only see prejudice and exclusion and breaking the law. In other words, those very same examples reinforce how I feel about defeating Prop 8.

There is probably more to say and if I think anything, I’ll update down here. Feel free to leave any venomless comments.