What if everything you’ve ever been told is wrong?

The churning I am experiencing means that everything I have to say will not fit neatly into a single blog entry. But let me start by saying this:

It’s not about what you think it’s about. Or rather, it’s not that simple. If nothing else, remember that. There is so much going on beneath the surface.

I have so much to say and it pains me so much to say it and it is going to take me a while. But let’s start with this phrase: “Implicit Bias”.

Got a minute? Take one of these tests. Or a few of them. Then ask yourself how you came to believe the things that you believe. The things that you don’t even *know* you believe.

This mess we’re in came from somewhere. We want to believe that we woke up one day with our enlightened, post-racial selves and that we are not carrying the baggage of our nation’s history. And why can’t people just get over it?
A poem by June Jordan, called “Jim Crow: The Sequel” is haunting me these days. It was written roughly in the Clinton era, and I think I came across it in an issue of Essence magazine. Here’s an excerpt:

But for two hundred years this crazy
land the law and the bullets behind the law
continued to affirm the gospel of
God-given White supremacy.
For two hundred years the law and the
bullets behind the law, and the money and
the politics behind the bullets behind the
law affirmed the gospel of
God-given White supremacy/
God-given male-White supremacy.

And neither the Emancipation Proclamation
nor the Civil War nor one constitutional
amendment after another nor one Civil Rights
legislation after another could bring about a
yielding of the followers of that gospel
to the beauty of our human face.

I know that the phrase “white supremacy” will upset some people, but please know that I am not talking about someone with a Klan hood in their closet. In fact, I am not talking about individuals at all. And I think that before I can go further, I will need to define a few things, will need to explain why I label myself a “recovering racist”. As disorganized as my rants may be, I would be so grateful if some of you would be willing to see through that and to join me as I continue to wrestle with these issues.

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Just showing up

“Maybe I shouldn’t be here.”

The doubts came on almost instantly, brought about, no doubt, by the fact that I wasn’t seeing as many familiar faces as I would have liked or expected to see. (Cue social awkwardness in 3…2…1)

The church was emptier than I had anticipated. Not an aching, slap-in-the-face empty like Marlene’s funeral had been, but my guess would be that there were not more than 200 people present. It didn’t feel like it was enough.

It also felt so disjointed in a way that I don’t think Rick would have wanted it to be. Skot Welch‘s eulogy gave much honor to Rick’s work, but I felt like the message of racial reconciliation was too sanitized overall…as if the message was muted. Dear God, at my funeral I want people to be pounding their fists on the table, shouting against injustice, breaking the uninitiated out of their kum-ba-yah complacency.

(Someone later pointed out to me that this wasn’t Rick’s way…he approached these issues with grace and gentleness…so probably this is my bias. Also, I do need to acknowledge that some people (most normal people?!) would think that this was not the time or the place for such a rant.)

But if others I’d been expecting to see weren’t there, should I really be? I started to doubt myself. I had asked to leave work early so that I could sleep a few extra hours before the funeral. I had struggled to articulate to my boss the relationship I had with this…friend? colleague?  We had worked together, had common passions, spoke the same “language” when it came to issues of white privilege and injustice. But sitting there, alone, I was starting to feel like a fraud.

I’ve long wrestled with the vagaries of funeral rituals. The question I posed once of whether it’s more appropriate for a casual acquaintance to go to the wake* or the funeral itself was never quite resolved, with people landing solidly on either side of the issue. Today’s funeral was one of the type that seems to be more common this days…no separate visitation time, just a time to greet the family in the hour preceding the funeral. I debated whether or not to come and “greet the family”. I’ve never met the family…except for his “brother” and co-host Skot Welch. I came most of all because I wanted to hug Skot, to tell him how very much I ache for him, how I of all people understand how important friends are, and that there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother. If I could do that one thing, perhaps my presence there could be redeemed.

I wrote most of this (up until this point) during the funeral…on my phone. I imagine that the people sitting behind me were glaring at me disapprovingly, thinking I was on Facebook or some such nonsense. How to explain to them–to anyone, really–that I need to write in order to process?

The service was over, right on the hour, and I made my way out of the sanctuary. Skot was standing right near the door, and in my typical rude fashion, I cut in on a conversation he was having to give him a hug and to tell him how sorry I was. I ran into a few other friends, brothers and sisters in this work.  I almost felt redeemed. I was simply showing up. Whether or not I felt I had the “right” to be there, it was done. I had been there.

And hopefully, just showing up was enough.

*I had a friend tell me that calling it a “wake” is antiquated and conjures up images of drunken Irishmen. East Coast friends would disagree, and old habits die hard.

Sunday blogging against racism–The Help

(disclaimer: I’ve been pondering changing the label for these posts to “Sunday blogging about race”–because it’s not always directly about racism, and because I think that talking about race somehow seems safer than talking about racism, which by definition needs to name someone as a racist. [The term is one I originally borrowed from an event in the blogosphere called International Blog Against Racism Week.]

To begin the change with this post, though, strikes me as being a big old cop-out, the intention of which would be to separate myself from the “racist” label. And with what I need to muddle through right now, I’m afraid that I need to keep that label as close to me as I possibly can.)

So now I have seen the film, and have a renewed energy for finishing the book. Not because I’ve fallen in love with the story, but because I need to wade through layer upon layer of confusion. I don’t even know where to begin to process this, although I do know enough to know that my gut instinct, wanting to talk through it to (and at the expense of) my blak friends, is the wrong way to go. I am sure I will still do it, but at least I will feel guilty about it. :-/

There has been so much talk about the film, and I have read all kinds of commentary about its message. Even if I hadn’t, though, I have been in this anti-racism work for too long to be able to go into it expecting to be able to see it as a “nice story”. I am accustomed to questioning everything, and in particular, I am increasingly hypersensitive to movies about black folks that prominently feature a white hero.

Now here’s the weird part. I don’t think that this movie had anything to do with black women.

Yes, I know, the premise of the book was that this white woman wanted to tell the black women’s stories, to give them a voice. And I know that the storyline was intended to bring out many of the nuances of 1950’s American apartheid, so yes, I get it that race was prominent here. But what I really saw in the film (we’ll see how different the book is) was the way that people can live in the midst of something that is so morally reprehensible and yet not be willing to stand up for what is right. The real story here is not the two or three “good” white people who dared to stand up for these women, but the dozens upon dozens (and historically, thousands upon thousands) who stood by and let such pure evil continue, and for such trite and morally bankrupt reasons. It is a story of betrayal of the worst kind . . . of women turning their backs on the most real relationship they have in order to save face in front of a heartless bunch of shallow wenches.

The question that came through the loudest for me, the thing I am wrestling with, is this: In which areas of my own life am I complicit in evil and doing everything in my power to justify my refusal to do what is right? Katrina Browne, the writer and producer of Traces Of the Trade, has asked this question in her own context, but it’s the piece of this that is most troubling to me. What am I lying to myself about?

The “easy” answers include things like buying clothing made in sweatshops, or eating fruits and vegetables that I have paid impossibly low prices for because the people who labor to bring these foods to me are not paid a living wage. And I can engage in all sorts of self-deception. I have to eat, right? I have to wear clothes. And anyway, the problem is too big for me to address . . . it’s just how things are . . . the extent to which we can justify our complicity in the face of so much injustice is beyond what I can fathom.

I want to believe that i am a Skeeter; it helps sustain my frenzied denial of what I know in the deepest recesses of my heart to be true, that I have the heart of a Hilly. Feel-good movie? Not for me, and not for anybody who wants to be honest with herself.

Sunday blogging against racism–Bingo is for everyone

Last week, I went to play bingo, since I hadn’t been in quite a while. As I was updating my Facebook status throughout the evening, more than one of my friends alluded to “blue-haired ladies”. I’m quite certain that this is the perception most people have of the Bingo hall (and we’ll save age-ism for someone else to tackle!), but in reality, a Friday night bingo game is remarkably diverse. There are people of all ages, ethnicities, etc. Though Bingo (hmm. to capitalize, or not to capitalize?!) is considered a “woman’s game”, there are certainly a fair number of men that play, also. There are Latinos, Asians, African-Americans, and they all co-exist very nicely in the smoky haze. (well, except for that one time.) They are united by a common desire to hear their number called, and to go home with a few more dollars in their pocket than they came in with. (this last part only happens for a lucky handful of folks . . . ) 

bingo

It’s just a beautiful picture of what our world could be . . . 

or maybe I’m just cheesy. 

PS–I didn’t win. Now I want to go back next weekend, and so on, until I actually DO win. who SAYS I’m not a hopeless optimist?!

Sunday blogging against racism #32–blue-eyed Noah

So a good friend of mine is about to have a baby, and as I believe in reading to babies as much as possible, I was at the bookstore checking out board books. I was delighted to find a sweet little board book with a cloth baby head at the top . . . awwwwwww, how cute. And I was all excited to find a book that had an African-American baby on it . . .

So I was about to buy it until I started flipping through it and saw something that REALLY BUGGED ME . . .

               

There was Noah, in all his blue-eyed, pale-skinned glory. AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

“God made you special, little brown-skinned baby, but apparently not AS special as God made blue-eyed Noah.”

The saddest part of this to me is that I am SURE the publishers didn’t even register the fact that there might be a problem with the way they were representing Noah (not just in this book, either. I’m quite SURE Noah did not have Hollywood-issued baby blues–so the other books in this series, even if they featured a white baby, should NOT have featured a blue-eyed Noah, or David, or Jesus, or anybody else in the JEWISH Bible. well, maybe someone could’ve had blue eyes along the way–but that pasty, white person skin? I think not.) But I want my friend’s little boy (who will already have the deck stacked against him by virtue of the fact that he will grow up as a black man in this society) to have the message come through loud and clear that HE is special and unique and BEAUTIFUL to God, exactly as God made him, without contradictory images that seem to imply that the “real” heroes of the faith always have white skin.

The kitten should’ve been my first clue.