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Archive for the ‘race and racism’ Category

I write a lot about racism. And by “a lot” I mean A LOT. And I’ve been doing it for years. Anyone who knows my work knows this, or should know it, would know it if they’d been paying the least little bit of attention.

Since November 8th, much of my writing has had the same message, a message that has made some folks accuse me of being a racist: namely, that you, white people: you are responsible for THOTUS¹. You sided with the Klan, took up the cause of the neo Nazis, voted in a hateful, racist, misogynist, xenophobic, islamophobic, isolationist, elitist government. The who-voted-how numbers tell the tale quite plainly. White men went for THOTUS in droves. And more than half of white women followed.

I kept posting from the heart of my anger, telling white folks to take responsibility for the apocalypse-world they ushered in, telling them to come get their people and start doing the work of eradicating the deeply ingrained racism that is the poisoned lifeblood of this country, work they should have been doing all along.

Surprise! Some people didn’t like what I had to say. Some people felt saddened or angered or attacked by my posts. And I got a lot of pushback saying their feelings were hurt by my “come get your people” demand.

I was caught off guard – not so much by the fact that anyone was hurt, but by the fact that a lot of anyones were hurt. If only a few people had contacted me, I might have seen them as anomalies. But I had more than a dozen emails, a handful of private messages, and a bunch of responses to FB posts – they ranged from sad to offended to passionately self-defensive to curt. Clearly there was something I should take a closer look at.

So I looked. But you know what? I’m not wrong. White people decided this election. Full stop.

Yes, I know. Not all white people. Ob.vi.ous.ly. I never said all-a y’all voted for him. No. What I said was that all-a y’all are responsible. What I said was that white people need to come get their people, need to start doing the hard work. And that’s what I meant.

I get it, the offense. I’ve written plenty about racism, but those other times were easier for my white friends and readers. They could see themselves as separate from the “bad” white people I chastised in those posts, remain comfortable in the knowledge that they were “good” white people. But in my writing since the election, there hasn’t been any room for white folks to hold themselves above the fray. The things I’ve written are the first time I’ve come for white people as a group, a monolith. And being seen as a whole group rather than as individuals makes a lot of people uncomfortable.

Fine. by. me. I’m not interested in anyone’s comfort, or at least not yours. It’s your comfort that made it possible for the election to turn out the way it did. It’s your comfort that enabled you to talk only to friends and family who agreed with you about the issues, who never said anything that rippled the quiet, happy waters of agreement that kept you buoyed and confident. It’s your comfort that kept you from giving credence to the number and socioeconomic diversity of people clearly enamored of THOTUS. Y’all been too damn comfortable for too damn long.

I know. On November 8th you cried. On November 9th you cried. How could the world have betrayed you like this? How could it be possible for that man to win the election?

Yes, you cried. But you know what? I’ve been crying, too … for years. Where’ve you been? You never noticed, never bothered to look, never bothered to care.

And I don’t mean the old-timey crying – when you kidnapped me and forced me into enslavement on your plantations and in your homes, when you sold my children away from me, when you raped and beat and killed me, when you lynched me for sport, when you refused to educate me, when you kept me from moving into better neighborhoods and better jobs … or any of the other ways this list could go on and on.

No, I mean in my own life. I mean the little ways you’ve cut and slapped me, made sure I knew I was “other.” I mean 8th grade when you took hold of my arm and rubbed hard enough to break the skin and then looked at me, puzzled, asking why none of the dirt would come off. I mean that time after college when you fixed me up with a guy from your job who you thought would be perfect for me – he was Black, after all – but you didn’t bother to tell him anything about me, not even the simple fact that I, too, am Black. If you had, he could’ve said to you instead of me that he didn’t date Black women because he found us uncontrollable and disrespectful. I mean every time I tried to tell you about some large-scale manifestation of discrimination, and instead of hearing me, you told me to calm down, to not be so angry. Instead of hearing me, you told me about some time when you, as a white person, had been a victim of reverse racism.

And I mean this moment in my own life. In the bigger ways you’ve let me down and broken my heart. Civil rights activist Johnetta Elzie says it so powerfully in her poem, “Where were you?

Where were you when the media called us “thugs” for protesting?

When I stood outside on those hot summer days, and needed ice water? 

Or a back rub?

Or someone to talk to?

Why weren’t you standing with me?

Where the hell were you?

Where were you when we asked you to #SayHerName?

When Rekia Boyd was killed while playing at the park with her friends?

When Tanisha Anderson, Sandra Bland, Shantel Davis, and others died at the hands of police, with little media attention?

When our trans sisters — Brandi Bledsoe, Rae’Lynn Thomas, Dee

Whigham — were also murdered and also forgotten? 

Where were you?

If you can answer at least one of the questions here, answer me this: We’ve been marching for years — where the hell have all of you been?

Exactly right. Do you see it now? You have been making me cry since the day we met. And you’ve never noticed.

But you want me to pay attention to your tears, need me to understand how my statement of facts is painful to you, how it makes you uncomfortable. You want me to apologize.

Nope. No more. I’m over coddling you. Over biting my tongue when I need to call you out. Over swallowing my anger and hurt when you slap me down with your unconscious bias. Done.

Instead, I’ll be pulling on a brightly colored bathing suit, goggles, a nose plug. I’ll be doing that weird, arm-flailing body-slap Phelps does before a race. And I’ll be diving into an Olympic-sized pool filled to overflow with your tears.

A friend sent me Leah Roberts Peterson’s Facebook note. She wrote it after Saturday’s march, wrote it to her white sisters who had just stepped up in their pink pussy hats of solidarity but who were feeling attacked by questions and comments from women of color. She wrote:

The best thing you can do is take in all those feelings coming from our sisters who are hurting and angry and OWN IT. Remind yourself that yes, you’re trying because THIS is how they feel. You’re doing what you’re doing because it’s RIGHT and it’s how humans with empathy and sympathy and a working heart should live their lives once they figure it out. Not because all the Black women are going to magically start appreciating you. They owe you NOTHING. Mark the date on your calendar when you’ve got as many days under your belt being awake as you did being asleep, and then, maybe, start being a tiny bit impatient when others don’t recognize your efforts. My own date is June 17, 2061. I will be 91.

I tell you this with sincere love in my heart because I KNOW you’re trying. Sit in the discomfort of these moments. It’s ok to not feel comfortable. That’s how lots of people around the world live their lives every single day. Comfort is not our goal. Equality is. ❤

Oh, I am so here for this. When I talk about white fragility and you respond by dm-ing me how that term is divisive and hurtful … know that you’re flat out exhibiting A-grade fragility right there. When I talk about how the safety pins make me feel so much “Meh,” and you tell me I should be happy people are making an effort … just … no. Don’t do that.

When you say these tone-policing, silencing things, I respond as kindly as I can because I’m interested in keeping dialogue going, keeping lines of communication open, because I know and care about you. But I need you to take a moment, think about how microaggressive some of your comments are, think about how much your comments are really asking me to shut up and be grateful, to give you a cookie in appreciation for all your hard work on my behalf.

Yeah. What Imma need is for you to think about what’s making you uncomfortable and examine your discomfort before you come for me. Thank you.

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In 2017, I’ve committed to writing an essay a week.

It’s not too late to join if you’re feeling ambitious! Check out Vanessa Mártir’s blog to find out how!

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¹ Titular Head oThese United States


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This is Mr. My President and Mrs. My First Lady’s last night in the White House. I’m sure they’re doing it up, dancing and laughing through every room, singing old songs and clinking glasses. I’m betting there’s even a little cuddling under that last piece of mistletoe they saved just for this night. I’m sure they’re looking forward to having the tiniest bit of their real lives back — they won’t get too much of a return to normalcy, but that smidgen will surely feel like heaven.

Just about every day since Mr. My President was elected, I have said a prayer for him. (Does this surprise you? You couldn’t be more surprised than I’ve been.) Every clear night, I’ve given up my wish on the first star for him. I’ve prayed and wished for his life, for his health and safety, for the health and safety of his family, for him to have the love and support of his rockstar lady-wife and his fabulous daughters, for him to find the way to be the president we voted for.

Eight years of wishes. Eight years of dreams. And now I have to learn to say goodbye.

It hasn’t been an eight-year love fest. There have been those times … those times when Mr. My President has annoyed me, angered me, disappointed me, driven me crazy. He has backed things I’ve wished he wouldn’t, and turned his back on things I know he should have picked up and carried. But he’s always been my president, and I have always loved him, will keep on loving him. I love his poise, his sense of humor, his intelligence, his graciousness, his calm, his speechifying, his love of children, his measured contemplation of issues, his friendship with Uncle Joe, his love for his family … and most especially, his love for Michelle. For eight years he has stood center stage showing us what Black love can look like, showing us strength and grace, swagger and humility. And now, in his last act of modeling classy behavior, he will hand over this country to a man he would surely rather read for filth. And he will do it with dignity. Of course.

Thanks, Obama.

(Surprise me tomorrow morning and change your mind about Leonard. It’s really the one thing I’ve most wanted you to do these last eight years. There’s still time.)

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On New Year’s Eve I learned that a couple I was close to for years, parents of a friend I had from college until my early 40s, had voted for the Hate Monger. I knew they’d had a souring experience that had nudged them to the right, but I wouldn’t have guessed how far adrift they’d gone. They are a white couple and have many children, two of whom are married to POC. Yet they voted for a man who would happily deport one of those in-laws and would see the other as representing a country he accuses of cheating and mistreating the US. They have daughters. Yet they voted for a man who actively harms women and can’t be trusted to respect or strengthen women’s rights. One of their sons is a small business owner whose insurance likely comes from the ACA. Yet they voted for a man who vowed to get rid of that legislation on his first day in office.

The souring experience? Their youngest son missed out on an opportunity years ago … and they decided that what should rightfully have been his had been denied him because of Affirmative Action.

Yes.

Their youngest son is smart and capable. I’m sure he’d have taken complete and successful advantage of that opportunity. Do I automatically assume he was more deserving of that opportunity than any of the people who actually received it? No, but he’s not my son. Still, it’s a significant leap of faith.

Anger over Affirmative Action doesn’t puzzle me. It’s coming from a very clear and basic place. What should suprise me about that anger is how blatantly racist it is. Think about it: One hundred people are accepted into a program, and maybe five of them are POC. How are you — the angry, left-out soul — certain it’s one of those five POC who “stole” your spot? Why aren’t you assuming it’s one of the 95 white folks?

What was that?

I couldn’t hear you.

You aren’t looking at the white folks because … why?

Oh. You assume they deserve the same gifts and accolades you think you deserve?

Yeah. Thought so.

It’s the thing that always gets caught in my teeth with Affirmative Action haters — that instant assumption that they’d be riding high if it weren’t for some POC bogarting their position. And you know, maybe those five POC did take a white person’s place. But who said it was your place? Can we just acknowledge that there could have been dozens — nay, hundreds — of more qualified white folks ahead of you in line? Don’t forget the glistening, high-court-confirmed mediocrity of Abigail Fisher.

And while that youngest son moved on — is still moving on — his parents set their hair on fire and have let it burn to this day. Hearing about the end result of their anger and resentment made me wonder. Their bitterness drove them to embrace the same presidential candidate as the Ku Klux Klan, as the Neo Nazis. Could this loss for their child really have turned them from staunch Democrats to hardline Republicans? They’ve been on this path a while, voted for both McCain and Romney. Could their son’s disappointment really have been the initial push?

Were they sliding to the right all those years when they smiled in my face and welcomed me into their home? Did they question whether I had earned any of my successes? Did they see those as gifts, handed to me because I was Black?

I was close to their daughter for more than 20 years. She and I went to college together, studied abroad together. We moved to New York at about the same time, went to grad school around the same time. She stayed in academia, and I became a teacher, but we were still in each other’s lives. I was in her wedding and attended her sister’s.

When I think now about my interactions with her parents, they all become suspect. If their daughter hadn’t gotten into the college where we met, I would be exactly the kind of person they would have blamed for her failure, the kind of person they would have accused of stealing her seat. If I had gone to Paris junior year and she hadn’t been accepted into the program, would their anger have bubbled up then? Would they have assumed I’d taken her place?

Fortunately for their ability to maintain a relationship with me all those years, they always found me lacking. I am a collection of things they wouldn’t want to see in their kids. I’m not their style of clever. I’m fat. I’m not ambitious. I didn’t get a Ph.D. I didn’t get married. I’m childless. Did they treat me well because I posed no kind of competitive threat to any of their children? How quickly would they have turned on me had any of the facts of our lives put me ahead of my friend on the path to their idea of success?

I guess what I want to know is: how long? For how long was this belief in the inferiority of POC finding a warm, safe home in their hearts? How long was racial prejudice alive and well in these people I thought of as second parents?

Prejudice doesn’t just appear from nowhere. One of the scripts I’m working on for Adventures in Racism is about how children learn prejudice and how — or if — they can unlearn it. It’s been a challenging script for me because I keep waiting for the light-bulb moment, the bright flash of realization that will show me how to “unteach” those kids … but it doesn’t come because there’s no handy movie magic to solve this problem.

I was in kindergarten the first time I met people who disliked me because of my color. We were five, but my classmates had already learned their lessons well. I have since had the same experience with children even younger. Kids learn early. So, did my friend’s parents have seeds planted in childhood?

But prejudice isn’t only learned in childhood. It’s just as easy to internalize, over time, the steady drumbeat of inferiority that is the narrative surrounding Black people, particularly in this country.

Still. Something existed in both of these people before The Great Disappointment. Something strong. Something that made blaming people of color their first response to misfortune, something that instinctively spat up the assumption that an undeserving Black or brown person was being lifted up in their son’s stead.

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen or learned of someone I know fully blossoming into their racial hatred. But in those other instances, those people showed early signs — I can’t really be surprised to find a friend from high school posting racist memes about Mr. My President when, in 8th grade, she explained that she found Mick Jagger so sexy … except for his “nasty nigger lips.” Those early warning signs were helpful. I knew exactly who I was dealing with, how far to trust them, just how much not to let down my guard. This change in my friend’s parents — despite taking effect over many years — feels like an ambush.

I don’t know if I’ll see anyone from that family again. It’s been 12 or 13 years now since those friendships ended. I have a hard enough time thinking of what I’d say to my former friend, to her siblings — people with whom I still, presumably, have things in common. I can’t imagine having anything to say to her parents.

Maya Angelou’s quote keeps running through my head: “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” But these people never showed me who they really were. And that’s the thing that’s poking me. That “how long?” really has its foot on my neck.

In the end, it can’t matter. People I felt deep affection for harbored ugly, racist beliefs. Maybe the whole time I knew them, maybe only toward the end of that time. It can’t matter … still, I feel cheated. I feel as if they’ve stolen something from me, my memories of them, all the ways they made me smile — their jokes, their chaotic family meals, their insistence on having large pets in a house full of expensive artwork and delicate antiques — all of that is made grimy by the truth of who they are.

I see them now. And no repetition is required. I believe them this first time.


Two essays down in this 52-essay challenge!

And don’t forget to head over to Two Writing Teachers to see what other folks are posting for Slice of Life Tuesday!

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And so, Dylan Roof is guilty. On all 33 charges against him. Guilty.

And I’m glad of that. Of course I am.

When I shared the news, a friend commented that he wouldn’t be happy until Roof got the death penalty.

And I get that. Of course I do.

But …

Is it wrong that I want worse than death for him? I don’t know what that means, but that’s what my heart said when I saw the headline. He is clearly incapable of remorse, and I don’t believe in the death penalty … but in his case I want something visceral and inhumane and deep enough to reach whatever shred of humanity is still left in him.  And then I want it to go further.

That was my response to my friend’s comment. Is this who I’ve become? I think it is.

And I get that. Of course I do.

But …

Would there ever be a punishment that could fit Roof’s crime? I can’t imagine what it would be. Nothing anyone would or could do to him would ever erase what he has done, would ever make him understand that what he did was wrong, would ever bring anyone peace. So my wish for something “visceral and inhumane” doesn’t serve me or anyone else.

What, then?

Maybe a guilty verdict for Michael Slager. Maybe for Daniel Pantaleo. For Timothy Loehmann. For Joseph Weekley. For Stephen Stem. For Jeronimo Yanez. For Darren Wilson …

Maybe a country in which I wouldn’t need to write this.

Maybe.

I always wanted to believe we would grow up to be that country. Of course I did.

But …

At least today Dylan Roof is guilty. At least there is that.

It isn’t enough.

Of course it’s not.

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And now you’ll all know the truth: that, while I don’t post here very often, I’m running my mouth in other spaces. I’m cross-posting a piece from Just No More that grew out of some early-morning FB writing:

Brave New World Indeed

I suspect this is just the first in a 4-year-long series of posts. We’ll see.

In solidarity and struggle,

Stacie

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Last night was the Big Words reading … which means that I went out at lunch yesterday and wrote something to read. Seriously. I couldn’t think of how to approach what I wanted to write, couldn’t think of how to talk about all my talking and thinking about schadenfreude and the realization that I couldn’t sustain the feeling for more than a moment. The pressure of being only a few hours away from a reading can be powerful, however. So — while enjoying some truly yummy broccoli and edamame soup — I wrote this:

Schaden-Fraud

I tend to be a Weltschmerz girl at heart. Weltschmerz, to my mind, is the emotional opposite of the “damaged pleasure” that is schadenfreude. Instead of pleasure in another’s misfortune, us schmerz-y folks feel more pain. To be exact, we are made sad when we see the reality of world awfulness in comparison to the kinder, gentler world we hold as an ideal.

But then there was February 11th at Malheur, the end of the armed take-over of that wildlife refuge, and I was hit by a twinge of … of … what was that almost giddy sensation? Ah. Schadenfreude. There it was, salty-sweet and satiating.

As plenty of folks did, I followed the story of the armed white terrorists who rode into Burns, Oregon and took over the federal site. The Bundy brothers and their followers generated in me a choking anger with their wanton display of white privilege. Because that was what we were watching: a bunch of self-important white folks big-bellying around, secure in the knowledge that their whiteness would allow them to do just about whatever damn thing they wanted — hold press conferences, make demands, use revered Native land for latrines. White privilege. Text-book example. As I posted on Facebook early in their 41-day incursion: “Tell me a group of armed Black militants would have been allowed two weeks to hang out after occupying anything — a federal wildlife refuge, a 7-11, a community garden, a home of their own on Osage Avenue in Philadelphia.”

Black and brown folks, armed with grief and righteous indignation get called terrorists when they protest the killing of an unarmed child, but the Bundy Klan — yes, with a “K” — are called “patriots,” are called a “militia.” Law enforcement meets with them to negotiate, announces the determination to get everyone home without firing a shot. While police officers take less than three seconds to assess Tamir Rice’s threat level before gunning down that baby as he played in a neighborhood park.

A choking anger. A vise grip of fury, despair, and disgust closing around my throat.

I have no interest in being an armed militant. I would, however, like to be able to feel at ease walking in the street when there are police officers around.

But let us get us back to the big word, back to schadenfreude. For all the brave talk and bluster, I was interested — though not at all surprised — to see how quickly Ammon Bundy told his followers to give up and go home once there was some gunfire. These people had proclaimed their willingness to fight, to die for their right … to land that hadn’t ever been theirs, in a place where none of them lived and no residents had invited them or their guns and attitude.

They were so ready to fight … as long as all they had to do was talk about fighting. The moment some actual fighting started, all they wanted was to strike their tents and get home. Instead, they were met with arrest. And when Papa Bundy jetted in, thinking he had something of value to offer, the authorities grabbed up his entitled ass and threw him in jail, too.

And there it was: schadenfreude. The powerful desire to poke at the Malheur insurgents through their jail cell bars and laugh in their faces, to ask: “How’s that privilege working for you now?”

But that’s as long as my dip into schadenfreude lasts. Because before I can even fully imagine myself asking my snarky question, reality pokes me. Because what’s actually true is that their privilege is working perfectly well, and will continue to.

Forty-one days they vacationed at Malheur, lived on land to which they had neither claim nor connection. In Harris Neck, Georgia, unarmed descendants of enslaved Africans moved to take back land the government had deeded to their ancestors. Three days later, they were forcibly removed, dragged to waiting vans and arrested. Three days. No peaceful negotiations, no elevated titles like “patriot.” The Harris Neck claimants were denounced as “squatters.”

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. arrested on his front porch. Ramarley Graham shot to death in his bathroom. Aiyana Stanley-Jones shot to death as she slept on the sofa in her living room.

I had a moment’s flirtation with schadenfreude, but that pendulum took a painfully short swing before sending me careering back to Weltschmerz. The Bundys and their crew might pay some small price for their violence-mongering. Will their actions change anything, wake this country up to the threat represented by armed, angry, selfish, and self-important white people who place themselves above the law? I won’t hold my breath. But if that could happen, maybe I’d be able to enjoy more than a nanosecond of the tamarind candy of schadenfreude.


It’s the Slice of Life Story Challenge! Head over to Two Writing Teachers to see what the rest of the slicers are up to … and to post the link to your own slice!

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Am I in the process of discovering that all Black elder mothers remind me of Mildred? I’ve already established that Sonia Sanchez is Mildred. This morning, I listened to an interview with Nikki Giovanni and the way she spoke brought Mildred into my room, too. Unlike Mother Sonia, Nikki doesn’t look like my aunt. But something in her voice and the way she spoke were definite echoes. (At one point, she talked about eating okra and chicken feet, so of course that connected to Mildred.)

I have loved Mother Nikki for years and years. Her poetry is a light, and her bright-fire energy inspires me and gives me hope. She has a knack for poking at an issue, an event, a feeling in unexpected ways — thinking, for instance, about the thoughts and feelings of the white man who stood and watched Rosa Parks refuse to change seats.

I’m taking this Undoing Racism workshop because of the way it grounds me in the facts that inform my writing on race, but also because of how it can help me look in unexpected ways at the issues that explode up from my experiences and awareness of race prejudice. I love that the cosmos aligned itself so that I’d hear Nikki’s humor and wisdom and poetry this morning as I prepared to head into the final day of the workshop.


It’s the Slice of Life Story Challenge! Head over to Two Writing Teachers to see what the rest of the slicers are up to … and to post the link to your own slice!

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