race

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.

A Mormon Speaking Out

Buckle up. It’s a long one.

Since the day of the election, I have been looking for prominent LDS people who are speaking out against what’s happening as Trump puts highly questionable people in his cabinet and violence has erupted around the country in his name. I feel pretty alone in being an LDS member and wanting to speak out about what’s happening. And with the exception of an absolutely beautiful piece by my new friend Jennifer Borget, who is a Mormon and also a Black woman, I can only find very few talking about it.

The church put out its official statement, just like they do every election year, where they remind the members of the church that we believe in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law (AOF #12). The LDS church doesn’t pick sides. I get that, although I’m not comfortable with it in all circumstances.

I’m no John Pavlovitz, but I’ll do my best.

Not everyone has been quiet. Some Mormons, like C. Jane Kendrick, voted for Hillary for the same reasons I liked her better than Trump. Some are speaking up about what they see happening now that’s similar to other regimes that went bad quickly, like this piece by Allison Czarnecki which contains this gem, “Initially when Hitler ran for office, people laughed at him. He was totally unqualified, he was crazy, and he wasn’t even considered to be a viable contender. Sound familiar?” The similarities are something to notice. Take it from this Holocaust survivor.

As I’ve asked those around me WHY don’t we talk about what’s happening right now, the bulk of responses I’ve received from loved ones have been some variations of these: “Focus on the good because what you focus on expands, This is all part of God’s plan so have faith in Him, Article of Faith #12, It’s time to come together and pray for the best, In our church we just go do the work quietly and don’t invite contention or anger (because that invites the devil), Some Mormons feel about Hillary like you do about Trump, and WWJD.

I don’t really buy it. I know it’s uncomfortable to talk about. I know we aren’t used to it. In theory I agree with some of those things. But in practice, do they hold up?

FOCUS ON THE GOOD BECAUSE WHAT YOU FOCUS ON EXPANDS


From an energy perspective, this is true. If you focus on bringing joy into your life, you will bring more joy in your life. This will be personal joy – for you. That’s wonderful and a natural law of the universe. If you’re a negative person that focuses on the negative aspects of life, you will start to notice more negative things and you’ll feel more negative in general. This will be a personal sadness – for you.

Is pointing out that horrible things are happening, to the tune of an astonishing 400+ *reported* hate crimes since the evening of the election done in Trump’s name, focusing on the negative? I’ve been posting and reposting things from others on my Facebook wall that no one wants to look at and I get that no one wants to look at them, but some people have no choice. How do things change if you don’t shine a light on them? If no one speaks about what’s happening to the minorities, immigrants, and people of color in our country, does that make them just disappear because we aren’t noticing them? I’ll tell you what, I haven’t been talking about them for over 20 years because I didn’t need to because I’m white and it didn’t affect me, and they haven’t gone away, so if that would have worked, maybe I’d agree with you, but the result of millions of people not talking about something has made it worse, not better. There isn’t more joy for everyone, even if there is for us personally, because we focused on our joy.

What I hear when you say this now isI’m white and this does not affect me. If I don’t look at it, it doesn’t change anything in my life, so why would I care? I’ll focus on the stuff that is joyful because I can. This is white privilege wrapped in a Universal Truth, so it feels ok. If you are a Black person or Muslim person today, you aren’t saying this. Sure, you’re trying to find your joy. Sure, you’re trying to bring light and laughter into your homes. Sure, you’re hoping your children are having some fun and that everything isn’t pressing down on them 24/7 and trying to have the best attitude. But you don’t have the luxury to NOT LOOK. You know what’s happening politically. You know who Trump is putting in his cabinet. You have to look at who is being hurt and where and how. You must look, or you might die. You might be next.

THIS IS ALL PART OF GOD’S PLAN, SO HAVE FAITH


I might have a unique perspective on this, or at least a different one than many members I know, being someone who left the LDS church for many years and then came back. Usually what this means in the church is: just accept what is happening because we don’t have all the answers and we don’t pretend to know better than God. If it’s happening, it’s because He wants it to be.

Here’s the truth – God can turn everything around to be good because He is a mighty and fearsome and awesome Being. Someone rapes me? He can turn it to good years later. You lose someone you love in a horrible death? He can turn it for good. You make mistake after mistake after mistake? He will turn it to good. There is literally nothing God can’t eventually turn to good for you.

This does not mean it is all part of His plan. That’s the “free will” part of the LDS gospel. I don’t for a second think that the guy who molested me when I was a toddler was part of God’s plan for me. I don’t think He and that dude created this little event where I would get traumatized and damaged from being sexually violated. That guy had free will and he used it to hurt me. And then, years later, God turned it for good for me. Same for every insult and injury I’ve sustained to my person and all I have accidentally and intentionally perpetrated on others in this life. That’s the beautiful part of having faith in the gift of the atonement. We make mistakes and we have a way to find Grace.

What I hear when you say this now is Thinking about how our actions affect each other is harder than just accepting that everything is going how God planned. Having faith that God is taking care of everything means I don’t have to worry too much about what’s happening around me. If you’re an immigrant who is being spit on or roughed up or yelled at to leave, if you’re a Black person who has for YEARS been looked at as less than when they didn’t even want to be here, or if you’re any person in this country who is not white and straight who has had to endure persecution, or if you’re a person of any color that horrible things have happened to, then what you’re telling them is that these things are what God wants to have happen to them. Is that really what you want to say to them? I don’t think you do. I think you simply don’t understand what you’re saying. We’re responsible to do better as we understand better.

ARTICLE OF FAITH #12


AOF #12 states: “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.” As one of my brothers pointed out, this doesn’t say we’re “obeying, honoring, and sustaining” the kings, presidents, rulers, or magistrates. It says we are subject to them, the same way we are subject to the laws of the land. This one feels like an easy fix to me. You live where there is a king? He’s your king. You live where there’s a president? He’s your president.

As a church, we don’t believe in breaking the law. We believe in living by and upholding the law of the land. We uphold honesty. Somewhere there has to be a line where if the laws are unjust or oppressive or wicked we no longer uphold them. I don’t know where that line is. I imagine we’ll soon get to see it in action, though. If there is a registry for Muslims, which is a religion, and they are forced to register and face possible deportation, detainment, imprisonment, or unfair practices of being watched by police because of that religion, that seems like a pretty unfair and unjust law. You wouldn’t want your religion to be next.

Now is when we need to stand up for our Muslim brothers and sisters. We need to try and make sure laws like this don’t get created. And that might mean stopping white supremacists from being placed in the White House so they can’t help create them. So when you see me posting on Facebook links showing you how awful Steve Bannon is, that’s why. That dude is a racist and is personally giddy that so many terrible things are happening in our country right now. He thinks Satan is a good role model. He likes the darkness. And he’s not the only scary person being put in White House positions.

IT’S TIME TO COME TOGETHER AND PRAY FOR THE BEST


Here’s my short answer: Let’s pray, never ceasing, and let’s back our prayers up with some good works that show where our hearts are.

DO THE WORK QUIETLY, DON’T INVITE THE DEVIL WITH CONTENTION


If your goal is to educate and have a discussion but that makes someone uncomfortable with what you said and then you get in an argument because they got defensive about what you said, did you bring the contention or did they? Who invited the devil in? When we try to work through our disagreements, does that mean we’re bringing in contention and anger?

I agree with what it says here about the difference between disagreeing and contending. Most of the time, people don’t like to hear how they need to change. There is discomfort in change and tempers flare. And some of these conversations have been going on for years because we don’t want to hurt each others feelings and risk contention, so we back on down and say, It’s ok. At least we’re good people.

This is especially true when we start to talk about race. Calling someone a racist is rarely a good beginning, middle, or ending to any discussion. We all feel like we’re good people and good people aren’t racist. I mean, we all know that, right?

If I had to wager a guess, I’d say that it’s the Good People of the world who do the most damage. This is because Good People don’t think they are hurting anyone and they don’t need to see if they are because their internal gauge is always hitting the sweet spot of God-Fearing Good Person.

This is a huge blind spot. Being a Good Person doesn’t mean very much if you hurt people on accident. You have to mean NOT to hurt them. And right now, millions of people in the USA are hurting. They’re telling us they’re hurting and scared. They tell us they don’t understand why we, mostly white people, voted Trump, who with his own mouth has proven to be a racist, misogynist, xenophobe, and sexist person, the president elect of this country that they also call home. And we did that because as Good White People, it didn’t hurt us. We had no reason to worry (unless you’re a woman, like me).

What I hear when you say this now is Don’t make me think about this. I don’t want to feel bad. I’m a Good Person so stop bringing up anything that makes me have to reevaluate that.

SOME MORMONS FELT ABOUT HILLARY LIKE YOU DO ABOUT TRUMP


Here’s something I’ll admit – I have no idea what’s true about Clinton. The media spin machine has been on overdrive this election and I’ve heard all kinds of things that she was accused of. I’ve read explanations of Benghazi from both sides and I have no idea what’s real. It’s probably somewhere in the middle. I suspect the majority of Mormons wouldn’t vote for Clinton because she supports a woman’s right to choose and they see abortion as murder. So, if you’re a one issue voter, you’d have to vote against her. (But, do you know Trump’s true stance on abortion?)

I get that you’re not going to vote for what you consider murder of innocent babies (but you know that 9-month term abortions aren’t real, right?) but I don’t understand how when you’re so invested in the lives of fetuses, you fail to then be invested in the lives of millions of people that are walking around in our country right now, this minute, in danger. Where is your compassion for them? They were once in someone’s womb. Surely you still care about them after they are born?

At the end of the day, I’m willing to look at both Clinton and Trump against each other because I know that what I stated previously is true for so many, even if I believe in my heart it is a total false equivalency because one of them was a person qualified to run for president, who has spent her life in public service, and the other person has never held public office and has no idea how our government works.

Let’s look over the worst of what they themselves said over this election cycle:

Clinton Trump
“I think Donald just criticized me for preparing for this debate. And, yes, I did. You know what else I prepared for? I prepared to be president.” — Hillary Clinton, said during the first presidential debate. “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you,” Trump gestured toward members of the audience at his June 16 announcement speech from Trump Tower. “They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” Donald Trump, on Mexico, at a June 16, 2015, speech announcing his candidacy. Trump stood by his comments in the weeks that followed, asking CNN’s Don Lemon to explain to him “who is doing the raping?”
“To just be grossly generalistic, you can put half of Trump supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables.” — Hillary Clinton, said at a fundraiser. “He’s not a war hero,” Trump said at the Family Leadership Summit, during a discussion. “He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.” Speaking about John McCain.
“You may have seen I recently launched a Snapchat account. I love it. I love it,” she told an adoring crowd at Iowa’s annual Wing Ding dinner in August. “Those messages disappear all by themselves.” “I got him to give the birth certificate,” he said about President Barack Obama, bragging about the birther movement.
“Many of you are well enough off that the tax cuts may have helped you. We’re saying that for America to get back on track, we’re probably going to cut that short and not give it to you. We’re going to take things away from you on behalf of the common good.” “Look at all the cameras. This is like the Academy Awards.” Trump, at an event for veterans on Jan. 28, that he staged to counter the Fox News debate, which he boycotted.
“There are rich people everywhere. And yet they do not contribute to the growth of their own countries…..They don’t invest in public schools, in public hospitals, in other kinds of development internally.” “I alone can fix it.” Trump, in his July 21 acceptance speech at the GOP convention, on how he will reform the system.
“If you have guns in your home, tell your parents to keep them away from you and your friends and your little brothers and sisters.” — Hillary Clinton to middle school students. “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes. Blood coming out of her wherever.” Trump, about Megyn Kelly, in an interview with CNN’s Don Lemon the night after first GOP debate.
“Maybe he’s not as rich as he says he is … There is something he’s hiding … Who does he owe money to?” Clinton speculating on why Trump hasn’t released his tax returns. “Such a nasty woman.” — Donald Trump, said of Clinton during the third presidential debate.
“We’re going to build a wall.” — Donald Trump, said numerous times throughout the election.
“But we have some bad hombres here and we’re going to get them out.” — Donald Trump, said during the third presidential debate.
“Wrong!” — Donald Trump, said multiple times during the debates.
“Look at that face!” Trump said, according to the report. “Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?!” He continued: “I mean, she’s a woman, and I’m not s’posedta say bad things, but really, folks, come on. Are we serious?”
‘I would bomb the sh– out of them’ Trump has made no effort to tone down his fiery rhetoric when it comes to fighting the Islamic State, remarking a day before deadly terrorist attacks in France just how far he would go to defeat the group. “ISIS is making a tremendous amount of money because of the oil that they took away, they have some in Syria, they have some in Iraq, I would bomb the sh– out of them,” Trump told a Fort Dodge, Iowa, rally on Nov. 12.
“I would just bomb those suckers, and that’s right, I’d blow up the pipes, I’d blow up the refineries, I’d blow up every single inch, there would be nothing left.”
Trump on taxes.
“That makes me smart,” Trump said in response to Clinton saying he might not pay federal income taxes. (Which he doesn’t.)

And then we have what he said to Billy Bush about women. There is no interchangeability with Hillary Clinton in this. You can watch it here. You can read the transcript here. It wasn’t “locker room talk.” It was sexual assault talk and let’s not talk about it like it’s normal, unless that’s the kind of world you want to live in.

All in all, there are about 20 women accusing him of sexual assault and there are over 3,500 lawsuits and legal actions against him or involving him, because he likes to try and eviscerate whoever crosses him.

Let’s talk about their experience to be President of the USA:

Here’s Hillary Clinton’s achievements from her website. Here’s some from Reddit.

Here’s Trumps accomplishments from the Washington Post and from Time.

No matter how you slice it, one of those people has ample experience in public service and government work and one of them has none.

Here’s what Trump has done since we elected him.

(Quick aside – President Obama is the only president to be relatively scandal-free.)

WHAT WOULD JESUS DO

Jesus said Love Everyone.

Jesus was also a protester. “Protesting is the antithesis of being apathetic, complicit, callous, and passive, and Christians should take comfort in the fact that Jesus — the son of God — was very good at it.

I’m guessing Jesus would be listening to people so they feel heard, and in that, He’d be doing a way better job than I have been. I feel an urgency to help white people understand how their privilege affects our country and our world and I confess to not being as understanding and empathetic as I want to be.

I’m starting to understand the deep frustration people of color have at white people trying to tell them how they should be talking about things. “If you would just say it nicer.” “You’ll get more flies with honey.” “If you’d stop being so angry, I could hear you.” It is not up to the witness/listener to police the tone of the oppressed. I am not a person of color, so I truly don’t understand the depths of this, but based on the responses I’ve received about my “angry tone” on Facebook or in my posts, I’m starting to understand it. I’m hearing that you’d like someone to serve these things to you with more grace than I have, but I’m doing my best to talk about really challenging subjects. Are you listening with empathy in your heart or judgement of the delivery? Some of these things are just ugly and there’s no way to soften them up for you, but they still have to be said.

Here are some places you can learn on your own. Pick anything and read it. You can’t go wrong.

Syllabus for White People to Educate Themselves
Toni Morrison – Mourning for Whiteness
Faiqa Khan – Somewhere In Between
Morgan Parker – How to Stay Sane While Black
George Takei – They interned my family. Don’t let them do it to Muslims.
Rhon Manigault-Bryant – An Open Letter to White Liberal Feminists
Sarah Kendzior – We’re heading into dark times. This is how to be your own light in the Age of Trump
Jonathan Korman – How fascism accumulates power by testing people
Elizabeth Gilbert – I cannot throw you away
John Pavlovitz – Freeing Christians From Americhristianity
N Lamar Soutter – To My Republican Brothers and Sisters: A Thank You
Tobias Rose-Stockwell – How We Broke Democracy
Liel Leibovitz – What to Do About Trump? The Same Thing My Grandfather Did in 1930s Vienna.
John Scalzi – The Cinemax Theory of Racism
Rembert Browne – How Trump Made Hate Intersectional
Leonard Pitts Jr. – Time to take OUR country back
Courtney E. Martin – Questions I’m Asking Myself in Our New Present
Alexis Okeowo – Hate on the Rise After Trump’s Election
Robert W. Wood – Trump Gets $25 Million Tax Write-Off For Trump University Settlement
How Did Hitler Rise To Power?
Andy Borowitz – Many in Nation Tired of Explaining Things to Idiots
Patrick Thornton – I’m a Coastal Elite From the Midwest: The Real Bubble is Rural America
Dan Evon – Make the World Great Again
Charles M. Blow – America Elects a Bigot
David E. Sanger – Harry Reid Cites Evidence of Russian Tampering in U.S. Vote, and Seeks F.B.I. Inquiry

Let me end this epistle by saying that I love my family and friends that voted for Trump or support him now and I love those that are currently asking me to stop talking about the things I’m talking about or to change the way I’m talking about it to make it nicer. I hope by sharing my experiences and thoughts I can help people understand why I’m talking and writing the way that I am. <3 _______ Sources for quotes above: 1, 2, 3, 4.

White Privilege

img_5767When I wrote my guide for white people about systemic racism, the main feedback I’ve received in emails and direct messages from white people is some variation of, “I’m not racist. Stop calling me that. My life was/is hard. I don’t have white privilege.”

There’s a big misconception out there of what it means to have white privilege. Having white privilege is not a “bad” thing. It is a responsibility. I tell you this with all the love in my heart, white people.

Here’s how you know if you have white privilege: Are you white? Do you have white skin? If the answer is yes = you have white privilege. You cannot disown it. You cannot decide you don’t want it. You cannot spend your whole life doing good works that somehow erases it. You can *never* get rid of it. And having a hard life with white skin on does not mean you don’t have white privilege. It means you have a hard life and you might be challenged economically or otherwise.

White Privilege exists because this country was built by stealing and kidnapping people of color from other countries, forcing them to come live here, and making them slave laborers to build our country because we could. White Privilege exists because as white people, we slaughtered millions of indigenous peoples who lived here before us because we wanted their land and we could. White Privilege exists because we rounded up Japanese people and forced them without being accused of any crimes to live in interment camps because we could. White Privilege exists because we don’t have to declare war but we go into Vietnam and kill as many people as we can find because we can. White Privilege exists because we depend on thousands and thousands of Mexican people to do the jobs we don’t want to do and yet we get to look down on them and yell at them to get out of Our Country because we can. And White Privilege exists because we, as a country, can focus on a religious group like Muslims and threaten that we will catalog all of them in a registry so we can keep a governmental eye on them. Because. We. Can.

You, as a white person, don’t like or promote any of those things? Great! But, that does not erase your white privilege. You, as a white person, lived in an area that was predominately Black and experienced prejudice against you for your skin color? I understand, that has happened to me, too, but that was not reverse-racism nor was it Black Privilege, because neither of those things are Things That Exist because of this thing we call Systemic Racism.

Allow me to explain.

Because of the way we built our country and our constitution, non-white people were not thought of as Real People. They were livestock who could be owned like cattle. I mean, think about that for a minute. No, I mean FEEL about that for a second. It sucks. It’s really, really bad. And in our own constitution where we discussed the worth of people, our founding fathers decided Black people were worth oh, about 3/5th of Real White People.

We built our education system with white people succeeding in mind. We built our business systems with white people succeeding in mind. We build ALL of our systems with white people succeeding in mind. And in cases like Brown VS Education, we took what was working for Black people, meaning schools that were successfully educating their students, and we squished it by TRYING TO DO SOMETHING GOOD like eliminate segregation, and we forced those folks into environments where not only were they not wanted, but the entire system was set up to help white folks succeed and not them. Brown VS Education highlights just how much we, as white people, screw things up that we don’t understand because we aren’t willing to look fully and unflinchingly at our own white privilege. Segregation? Bad. Yes. Let’s agree that dividing people solely on the color of their skin is bad. But forcing people into a SYSTEM where ONLY white children will be successful because we aren’t willing to truly listen to what their needs in education are or to train our teachers to understand the deep and soul-rocking after-shocks of what generations of slavery have done to their families is unconscionable. Why not get rid of the white schools and put the white kids into the schools where the Black kids are learning? That’s not even an option because White is the Gold Standard. What is White is what everyone should want. I would bet good money that as the discussion went forth on how to integrate the schools, it was never even a question that they wouldn’t take the Black kids and insert them into the white schools. And this is a pattern that is replicated in every single system in our country. Hence = systemic racism based on white privilege.

If you have white skin, are you supposed to spend the rest of your life feeling guilty about it? <-- actual question I was asked. Well, I guess that's up to you. You can choose to feel any way you want about it. But, I can tell you that your guilt isn’t helpful in making anything any better. It’s going to keep you stuck where you are in your feelings, and your feelings don’t get any work done. I feel great about having white skin because that’s how God make me and I look for opportunities to use it for the benefit of those who don’t have it. God also made tons of people around the world in beautiful other shades besides white and they are all just as good as I am, but they might not have the same opportunities that I have. I go out of my way to look for people who don’t have white skin wherever I go so I can kind of monitor out of the corner of my eye if anyone is going to give them a hard time so I can intervene, especially now since Nov.9. And I try to recognize in all situations where things come easily to me how it might not be the same for others. That’s my responsibility because I was given this skin I did nothing to deserve. No, I don’t feel guilty about having white skin. I look at it like a sacred responsibility to use it for others. I’m no saint. I make a ton of mistakes. I have so much to learn about my own white privilege still. But, that’s ok. I’m trying, I’m teachable, and I’m paying attention.

See also: Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is

Hidden Gifts

rainbow-jpgThis past year or so I’ve been trying to find the gifts in whatever life hands me. When I’m stuck in traffic, maybe it’s that I got to hear something really great on NPR before I reached my destination. If I dropped and shattered a favorite heirloom glass serving bowl, maybe it’s that when I swept the floor I found the missing earring I’ve been looking for under the fridge. You get the idea. The game is thus: can I find the gift no matter how deeply it’s hidden, because I really and truly have to believe in a God that cares about me so much, He would only give me a trauma wherein a gift is hidden just for me. Otherwise, I don’t think I could do this Life.

When I meditate in the mornings, I frequently have an old trauma come forward in my consciousness. It will be something from when I was young and vulnerable. Abuse of all kinds. Situations where I’ve been holding on to guilt and shame and anger. Most of them I felt like I’d already dealt with and let go, but I stopped being surprised to see them months ago. And what I’m learning is that I can’t really fully release them until I find the gift, even if I’ve dealt with the trauma. And with some of the stuff? It’s hard. HARD. Finding a gift when someone has sexually assaulted you is a tall order, my friend. But so far, in my own experience, it can be done. It may not be fast. It is definitely not easy. And who knows, I may run into one in the future that takes the rest of my life, but it won’t stop me from trying because the pay off is worth it. And just in case it’s not clear, this gift is NOT in any way from the person who perpetrated the crime. That person did not do me any favors in harming me. No. It’s just that my God is so powerful, He can turn anything for good on my behalf.

Which brings me to this election cycle and this past few months in particular. In case you don’t know who I am, I’ll sketch it for you.

I’m the most white woman possible coming in at 100% European octane, who has been in relationships previously with women and believes in marriage equality and safe living for all, and who fell in love with a half-Mexican man. I was abused and assaulted by those I knew and some I didn’t starting before age four. I went through most of my life challenged with mental health issues like bipolar and DID [ I was a consultant for the Showtime series, United States of Tara ] and I am a passionate mental health advocate. I have physical issues like Lupus. I’m a mother to four children and have two grandchildren. I was raised in an LDS family, left the church for about twenty years, and then came back to it about two years ago. I live in California in a warm seat of liberals with a local economy that does alright and even though I was raised by an ultra-conservative father who sent me to John Birch camp one summer, I lean more left than center in most things. My husband has a full-time job with benefits which makes it possible for me to work from home on a part-time basis mentoring and doing energy work for others who have compound physical and mental challenges. I also write, shoot photos, make jewelry, paint, and do pretty much any craft that exists.

Between my husband and myself, we have a lot of family, including many minority and gay family members and friends who live all across the country. We mostly live paycheck to paycheck but have modest 401Ks. We have three month’s food storage smack dab in my bedroom requiring me to get in bed by crawling over canned goods because we live in a tiny condo and there’s no other place to put it. We will not have a gun in our home. Neither of us has a Bachelor’s degree but two of our kids do and one will soon and the other one doesn’t seem to need one because he’s already making more per year than we do by a very large margin. We don’t care about material things and are usually late adopters. The largest TV we’ve ever owned is so small you can’t read the questions on the screen when you watch The Chase.

I volunteer for my church on a weekly basis and can’t imagine my life now without it, although I’m also deeply conflicted about multiple beliefs that are held by most members. I hate crowds and having conversations that mean nothing. I’d prefer an afternoon on my couch reading, snuggled up to Joe instead of heading to a fancy party. I’ve been known to be awkward in public settings because I have a hard time regulating my language if someone says or does something that rubs up against what I consider imperative like protecting the underdog or exhibiting blatant racism, misogyny, xenophobia, or anything that implies that person thinks they are better than any other person on the planet. I’m getting better at picking it up when it’s not so blatant.

That means that this past year I’ve been repeatedly hit by Donald Trump and his words and promises. I’ve been in fear. I’ve been angry. I’ve been confused. I’ve been worried about my friends and family that aren’t white and straight. I’ve been worried about the future and what it means for someone like me with preexisting health issues and how protected I need to be walking down the street alone because my body is now not my own and is open season for leering men who want to grab me and assault me (which is how minority people have felt for, oh, ever.). And I’ve been wondering how to just forget all the things Trump said he’d do now that he’s going to be the president like so many people suggest because of course HE’S NOT REALLY GOING TO DO any of those things (but I don’t believe that) and I’ve been wondering how it’s possible to expect all the people who are now committing violence in his name to just stop because he says to, IF he says to.

These are not hypothetical worries I have. They are very real. And I’m that 100% creamy mayo white lady living in the lap of liberal territory. I can’t imagine how my Muslim immigrant friends feel or my Mexican and Black family and friends in red states feel or my LGBTQ and Latinx friends feel who married someone of the same gender or simply hope to use a bathroom in a public place without getting beaten up. And what keeps me up at night are the thoughts about how this is trickling down into our youth. The stories of what the kids are doing to the other kids at school. I mean, you remember school, right? It’s a nightmare even when you’re popular and the going is good. Imagine how those kids are feeling. (And then donate to Kelly‘s Being Black at School because they are doing the work.)

Circling back to the beginning of my post –> where is the gift? That’s what I go to sleep asking my God. Where is the gift in this? And He didn’t answer. For months I’ve been asking and frustrated and angry because it felt like He wasn’t playing by the rules.

Wait on the Lord, I’d hear. Wait.

Election night, as Joe and our son, Tony, and I watched the election results come in, it was about the time Florida kept going back and forth that I realized, I mean, it HIT me, Trump could win this. The only hope I’d had for months was that Trump was about to get his hat handed to him with a thorough trouncing and then things would go back to normal. I needed that so bad.

Normal is not coming. It’s not happening. Normal doesn’t exist anymore and I don’t think it ever did but I didn’t know that in my bubble. All my worst fears came true. Trump won and reports of violence started pouring in. It was like someone took the cap off the slow leak of terrible things that had been happening and everything burst out. Conservatives pretty much across the board had one of three things to say: 1. Stop complaining. 2. Things are not that bad. 3. Voting for Trump doesn’t make me racist. Minority liberals had one thing to say: 1. I’m terrified.

Over the past three days I’ve been in a crash course of learning what I didn’t know. Normal for me looked like living in a bubble of information that I already knew. It meant not having important conversations with the conservative members of my family to see how they felt. It meant not looking deeply into why so many people in the middle states were hurting. It meant discounting the importance of listening to my minority friends who had been worried for MONTHS that this was going to turn out bad. It meant looking at everything through a simplistic telescope. It meant being slightly smug that I was smarter or “got it” and those in the red states didn’t. It meant being able to lie to myself that I knew everything would turn out how I wanted it to. Needed it to.

And then, that is not how it went down.

Joe and I wept that night and off and on the next day and the next day and even today. We listen to someone elses story, witness their pain and grief, and feel that connection that only comes from surviving trauma. Make no mistake about it, this has been a PTSD experience for thousands. This is severe trauma that taps into survival fears. The Flight/Fight response. People are fighting for their lives.

But there’s been a gradation of grief that has begun to dissipate from time to time and every now and again something extraordinary happens. I find a gift. I realized today that I had a few I could list and as I started listing, more and more came. It was as if my God was saying, “Hey there. Here’s your gifts. You thought you would just get one or two? Sillyhead.”

That’s often how it goes. He gives me way more than I was expecting.

  • I had to dig deep to find out what I believed about the world and in doing so, I know myself better.
  • I have an opportunity to shore up my boundaries about what I believe is acceptable and think up strategies for what to do when I see them being crossed.
  • My own capacity for being there for others has increased. I can be more present.
  • I have to open my eyes to see where I failed and what my own part is in this, which creates room for me to change, grow, and improve.
  • I’ve been shown where I dropped the ball in relationships, giving me a chance to reconnect and do better.
  • I’ve been brought closer to members of my family who I haven’t had any serious conversations with in quite some time.
  • I realize I’ve made it through terrible, horrible things in my life and no matter what happens now, I’ll find a way to be ok and I take it upon myself to help everyone I can to find that peace also.
  • I reaffirmed my determination to not be a victim in my own story. No one gets to decide but me what kind of person I am or how I will respond to a situation.
  • I see more ways to be emotionally useful to others.
  • The training I’ve had in energy work repeatedly comes in handy in supporting others.
  • Joe and I had conversations about emergency preparedness and survival that we should have had long ago.
  • The potential for growth and important learning is happening right now. Like, RIGHT NOW.
  • It’s ok if I don’t know how to do everything right the first time around. I can always learn if I stay open to it and don’t get defensive.
  • I’m more ok with other people feeling uncomfortable while they’re learning. It’s part of the process.
  • I’ve had a sneak peak into my own soul and I pretty much liked who I saw.
  • To Do:
  • Learn Spanish.
  • Take a Self-Defense class.
  • Learn how to peacefully protest.
  • Learn the art of agreeing to disagree so conversations can continue.
  • Choose even more deliberately where to spend my energy and which direction I want to go.
  • Try to get more “in-between” moments with the kids where the real connections happen.
  • Tell everyone I love them

None of these things changes the situation at large. Nothing I’ve learned makes it easier for anyone else. It only changes what’s happening inside me, but with those changes I can come from a place of peace and that might be helpful to others while they navigate this tricky and deeply upsetting terrain.

I believe real conversations are the only ones worth having, and I intend to make as many of them go as deep as I possibly can. It’s going to take a long time to release all the trauma that’s happened, not just for me but for so many this past year, especially because it’s ongoing. I have hope I can do my part now because of receiving so many gifts with which to process it all. I’ll keep waiting on the Lord, but I’m also going to do everything within my power to help those around me. It’s a sacred responsibility.

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.

Justice Fergie on Race and Blogging

I’ve been to many blogging conferences and had a mostly white experience. I’ve wondered why there weren’t more non-white people in attendance. I went searching online to find out if I was just missing something and found Blogalicious, a celebration of diversity in social media. This was about a year ago and after looking it over, I moved on, thinking it wasn’t for me because I’m white. Obviously, I didn’t read what the conference is about very well. It also shows how my thinking has been in the past, which I’m trying to change now.

It wasn’t until a few weeks ago when I started thinking and writing about race that I revisited the Blogalicious website after Kelly brought it up in an email exchange. Blogalicious Founder Stacey created the online community BeBlogalicious. They have a conference coming up October 21-23 which sounds really great. Stacey was kind enough to answer some of my questions. (You can find Stacey/Justice Fergie on Twitter.)

Was there a particular moment when you knew you wanted to start Blogalicious or was it a more slow-coming-about process?

It was a slow coming-about process. Pretty much all of the attendees of the blogging conferences around the time that we decided to plan a conference to celebrate diversity in 2009 were quite homogenous. Also, we were seeing the same handful of bloggers being offered all of the opportunities to work with brands. We were hoping to broaden the horizon and show advertisers that a fantastic and diverse blogging community existed.

What need is Blogalicious filling?

Blogalicious strives to fill the need of giving ownership of a corner of the social media landscape to those generally cut out of the popular conversations, events and opportunities. Part of our credo is that Blogalicious is for THE COMMUNITY. It’s not about us. We want bloggers of all backgrounds to feel as if Blogalicious is theirs to fulfill whatever need it is that they need to fulfill; whether it be the chance to network with power bloggers, to educate themselves about social media, to raise their own profiles and brand images, or to promote their businesses and blogs – we want our community to make Blogalicious their platform.

How do you think it’s doing at addressing that need?

I think we’re doing a decent job 🙂 The best evidence is that the Blogalicious name has taken on a meaning of its own. We are propelled by the community that we’ve created. We started out planning to host a small conference; now we have an online community (BeBlogalicious.com), eBooks being published, meetups around the country, a documentary about it and so much more. As @brokesocialite says in our movie trailer: “Blogalicious is a movement. It can’t be contained to an event or a website – it’s a spiritual experience.” I think that speaks volumes.

What kind of feedback do you get about the conference?

The feedback we continue to receive is unbelievable. We literally get emails weekly from people telling us how Blogalicious has changed their lives. Just last month a blogger came up to me at a meetup crying and saying that there’s no words to describe how important Blogalicious is to her. It’s heartwarming. The support from brands has been amazing as well. It’s as if they were waiting for an opportunity to reach a multicultural audience.

How do you see/hope the landscape of the blogging world changing?

I think it’s changing as we speak. There’s already so many new and exciting voices making names for themselves, which is a far cry from what the blogosphere looked like 5 years ago when I started. I think that there is a definite sense of community, which is important. My hope is that we continue to uplift each other and to share information and opportunities. There’s plenty to go around!

Your recent post on Babble where you say making a separate list to honor non-white women isn’t a great idea seems to contradict your creating a separate conference. Can you tell me more about how you feel regarding that?

Interesting perspective! I can see your point. But actually, I don’t think that the two can be compared. Here’s why: Blogalicious is not “a separate conference.” We’ve been very adamant from the get-go that it’s a conference to celebrate diversity, meaning that it’s inclusive and EVERYONE’S invited. It’s a conference where everyone can feel welcome – moms and non; white and non; skilled bloggers and non – you get the idea.

What is something everyone can do daily to help diversify their online world?

Read someone with a differing viewpoint that yours; attend an event you might not otherwise attend; the key is to step outside of your comfort zone. Oh and of course, attend Blogalicious ’11 😉

Watch the trailer for the documentary here:

Mocha Momma on Race and Education

I spoke with Kelly of Mocha Momma fame about race issues in general, approaching the conversation, but also specifically in education. Kelly is an assistant Principal and has been an educator for years. She has first hand knowledge of how perceptions of race affect our youth. She has some really great discussions going on over at Mocha Momma. We’ve had some lengthy phone calls, but I’ve narrowed down what I’d really like to share with you all. Please see below, my interview with Kelly.

Is this everyone’s fight? Why?

I’m sure it is, but I think we first have to get past being able to talk about it. It’s uncomfortable and people love to say in their comfort zone, but too often the conversation gets stilted because it becomes a wait-I’m-not-racist when that’s not the issue. It wouldn’t *get* there if people were willing to do more listening to one another. To be honest, it needs to come from the people who want to claim so quickly that they’re not racist. Not enough listening is going on so we can’t get to the meat of things.

What is your first memory of injustice or racism? How did it shape your life?

I’m not sure how old I was but it was an age when I could still be carried by my father on his shoulders or have to hold his hand while we were out. This incident was especially painful because I recall how my dad looked when it happened. We were out getting ice cream and we walked to Baskin Robbins where there was a long line. I was on his hip and the white woman in front of us kept looking back at him. Most of the time I paid no attention to the stares, but in the late 70s we were still viewed as something to be gawked at so I got used to it later in life. I’m sure I was fussing at him and being a brat about what I wanted and he was telling me no in a stern, parental voice but the woman butted in because I looked much whiter than my black father so she took it upon herself to say something to him about talking to kids that didn’t belong to him in a ‘nasty tone’. He let her have it and I recall being afraid of this confrontation in a public place. In my small child mind I began to wonder if I did belong and that shaped my life profoundly. Where do I fit in? Where do I belong? Will I always feel like an outsider?

Can someone be racist if they have no first-hand experience with other races?

Of course they can. Especially if they watch tv, read books, and see the news. Racism is covertly displayed in all these things because of constantly perpetuated stereotypes in those places. When you only hear those things and finally come into contact with the other race, that is your baseline. How would a person who has never met a black person ever know that the stereotypes are just that unless their experience is broadened by experiencing other cultures? This question reminds me of when people tell me they don’t see color and I have such a problem with that. Here’s the thing…that story I told about my father shaped my whole world. You have to know that about me to understand a lot of things about the person I’ve become. Conversely, I have to know important things about people, too, and that’s where the listening, understanding, and paying attention to differences of color and culture come in to play.

What can educators do? What about truth in history books?

Some of the things educators can do are already being done like finally trying to seek teachers of different cultures to reflect student populations. You already know this about me, Leah, but I took my current position for that very reason because the student population had 40% black students and there wasn’t one black teacher there. I had to step out on some faith and be the first one to say this wasn’t okay if students only saw black adults in their building as janitors and security guards. While those are fine, respectable jobs, they need to see a variety. This year, we have two new black adults in educated positions and I feel really good about that.

As far as truth in history books goes, we are losing the battle because of who makes money here. On a small scale, we can look at good pieces like James W. Loewen’s “Lies My Teacher Told Me” and teach students to read critically and think about history with analytical and interpretive minds. For example, I found something recently from my alma mater that profiled a woman (she is white) who has a high profile job as a jury profiler. In the article it mentioned that she got a great education from doing a college project where she examined people at a country club and she said that it gave her a diverse background. While reading it I thought, “Country clubs are diverse? Since when?” and it seemed ridiculous to me. I wanted to take that article into the classroom and ask the students to see if they could read that critically when presented with information that doesn’t sit well with them.

On a larger scale, we have to look at textbook adoption. The big states that seem to run the textbook publishing companies have traditionally been Texas and California. Whatever they use is mass produced and mass published and many states look to see what they’re using, even if it’s a poor choice of text. I’m still not pleased with many history books that treat black history in a demeaning manner. It’s relegated to a chapter or unit and separated from the rest of American history. It’s frustrating because black history IS American history. Who drives that stuff? Why are cultures so separate in world history when it’s so melded together?

What do you hope to accomplish with your online writing? Do you feel you are doing it?

I just want to start a conversation where there has been no conversation before. I want to teach people, but I know I must be gentle in that quest. Some people don’t want to learn. They only want to argue their point and why they are right. And even still, some people don’t think I should be doing it or elevating myself to a status of feeling important enough to start this conversation. Mostly, I aimed at calling something out and that is this: We’re not really ready to talk about race. When people tell me that Stockett’s book “The Help” has been instrumental in doing that I have to call bullshit. No way. Black people have been having this conversation for a long, long time and the world has largely been ignoring it. But a white woman comes along who grew up with a black maid and all of a sudden white middle class women are suddenly comfortable with the conversation. There is something horribly wrong with that scenario. I have been wholly unprepared for the responses I’m getting for my part in the conversation, but something tells me that I am doing it. We are getting there. And “there” is where people from different cultures, backgrounds, ages, etc… are having this conversation together. That is my goal.

What do you think of the white savior issue? Where do you see it? How can we change it?

I’m sick of it. It’s a tired, lazy way of writing and expressing creativity and we see it everywhere. Movies, books, news. We can change it by first recognizing it because I have had recent conversations with educated people who still miss it. That critical thinking piece I was talking about with students needs to happen with adults. (and without the rage and passive aggression that I have recently seen on my own blog comments)

Is there a specific group of people that need to be educated more than others?

Yes. Everyone who vehemently defends where racism is not.

If there are different education needs for different groups, how can we facilitate that?

As an educator, I have had to ask myself what to do with a classroom full of students with varying backgrounds and ability levels. Do I focus on the lowest achievers because there is a sense of urgency? Do I stick with the largest group in the middle academic levels? Do I teach to the kids who are highly achieving and exceeding expectations? The answer is this: you teach to the top. You always have to teach to the top BUT you offer the supports other students need in getting there to reach the goals you have for the class.

In a case like The Help, should people see it to educate themselves?

Educate themselves about what? How white people view things? I think we’ve had enough of that. Didn’t that already happen with Gone With the Wind? Driving Miss Daisy? Dangerous Minds? Come on, we’ve seen that story before and if the goal was to “educate themselves” and it didn’t already happen then I don’t know when it will. How many more Magical Negro movies do we need? No, that movie shouldn’t be used because it’s lazy. It isn’t a story about black women and their voices that were eventually found. It’s a story about a white woman and the black maids are simply essential plot devices to the salvation of the white person’s soul. It’s more alienation than transcendence, but look at how many people want to defend it.

What is one thing, small and accomplishable, the people can do today?

Get out of their comfort zones and start asking more questions rather than offering trite answers. This includes everyone because we all have much to learn.

How are kids growing up today being shaped in terms of race? How will their generation will look at things?

Children are looking at race differently than my generation did. It stands to reason that this is true of every generation, but this one worries me in the sense that kids are actually seeing MORE stereotypes in media than I ever did as a child. Jersey Shore, Bad Girls Club, Real Housewives are really terrible in perpetuating stereotypes of Italian and Black people (and others, I’m sure) but I also see this happening in way too many things on Fox News and many conservative ideals of people I know who seem to be out of touch with culture in a way that is damaging to children. It scares me because I think it will be harder to break these racial barriers down. It’s something worth investigating when talking to children because I think their view of how they’ve been shaped is the key to better conversations about race.