Archive for June, 2020

How do we weed and water?

Thursday, June 4th, 2020


I do not want to center the white experience, but I heard Jason Reynolds say this week that it’s important for white people to speak to white people, and that feels true to me. So here goes:

Watching my (largely white) feed, I am seeing what seem to be a lot of heartfelt expressions of new awareness. I’m seeing vulnerable admissions of bias, and confusion about how to change behavior. That’s a good thing! One of the hardest steps for the comfortable is to accept that we are the root of this problem. This is one reason why the protests need to happen. Not just to change the government, but to change the culture, to change us. Until this moment, a lot of white folks have been able to look away, to feel it doesn’t concern them.

Not only does racism concern us. WE are the ones who must fix it, because we are the ones with the problem.

The truth is, we are all racist. I know there are folks who don’t want to hear that, but it’s true. No matter how we join the right organizations, and march, and read the right books, and make the occasional donation, or stick a BLM lawn sign in the yard (and yes, I’m talking about myself) we have all been raised by this system, and the only way we can make change is by ACTIVELY making change. We cannot magically remove the racism from our bones, but we can work to counter its existence with concrete steps that might mean we do less harm daily, and also that our children and their children have a chance for better bones.

So I want to say that right now, one challenge before us to is to set new patterns that we will CONTINUE to uphold, to establish behaviors that we won’t abandon as soon as the news cycle shifts. I see a lot of lists right now, of black authors to read and black-owned businesses to support, and I think that while these things may seem small when we have armored vehicles rolling through our streets, the truth is that they are things we we still be able to do when the protests end. (the protests never really end, but that’s another conversation).

My question is HOW DO WE MAKE SURE TO KEEP IT UP? For many of us, this is going to be a lot like a workout regimen, where you start out with a lot of good intentions and energy, and quit in few weeks. So how can we task ourselves with maintaining the change? I don’t have an answer exactly, but I do feel like this requires some planning and forethought.

You may say you want to support black businesses, and tonight you’ll order from the black-owned pizza place across town, but in 6 months, will you default back to the white-owned pizza place nearer to your house? You may say you plan to read all the books you see floating by on anti-racism lists, but when your book club picks the newest white-lady historical romance, you’ll probably read it, and say nothing.

I don’t mean this to be a lecture. Rather, I am trying to ask a question. HOW DO WE MAKE SUSTAINABLE CHANGE IN OUR OWN WHITE HABITS? We are all racist, and we are all, this week, resolving to take anti-racist steps to do better. This isn’t about changing who we are, but about changing what we do.

Maybe we set alerts in our calendar, so that every Wednesday night we are reminded: “Order dinner from a black-owned business.”

Maybe we send an email NOW, to our book clubs, suggesting a year of reading only black women authors.

I don’t know, do you? What can we do now that will help us carry this moment and this movement into the year ahead of us? So that when our busy lives distract us from our best intentions (and they will), we will not be able to so easily look away from what our better selves wanted to do?

One thing I am going to suggest right now is that parents join Raising Race Conscious Children and follow them for details on upcoming events and ideas for reading. Because all events are virtual right now, it’s a great time for people who don’t live in the Atlanta area to participate. Regardless of how much you participate, this will give you a regular online reminder that there is work you mean to be doing, no matter what else is going on.

I’d love to hear from folks who know of other online groups that might offer regular structure, education, and a chance to grow in community, so that we don’t forget all the things we intended to do differently in the coming months.

Okay, I’m done, but I want to ask: what thoughts do you have? What resources, but even more than that– what concrete ideas do you have for setting ourselves up for sustainable change? If you’re planting a seed this week in the garden, how will you make certain that you remember to weed and water?

(Related: I just did a search for “seedling” in free stock photos, to use here, and guess how many pages of scrolling you have to get through before you find a pair of non-white hands in an image? I don’t know, because I never found one. THAT is systemic racism, right there. White people not noticing that all the stock photos are full of white people, unless they make a point of seeking out melanin. I wonder if I would have noticed that two weeks ago? I wonder if I’ll notice in a year. I’m going to try my damndest)


A Day for Discomfort

Monday, June 1st, 2020

This morning, I am remembering a lot of hypothetical conversations during the primary season, as it became clear that Bernie and Warren were going to lose.

My father, in particular, said, “This election can be about revolution and systemic change, or it can be about the rule of law, restoring the status quo. I’m not sure it can be about both.” Neither of us, in that moment, thought the country was ready to consider the former. And as good white progressives do, we sighed and bemoaned that we might be forced to vote for Biden in November. And then probably we ate sandwiches or something.

I am remembering other hypothetical conversations over the years, when friends and I asked each other, “How bad will it have to get in this country before enough Americans are willing to demand real change?” People were too comfortable, we thought, and we wondered what it would take to make them uncomfortable enough. (And then probably we ate sandwiches or something.)

Trump is a horror show. Covid-19 is a horror show. But maybe, together, they’ve made enough middle class Americans uncomfortable that we can wake up and stare directly at two things that are truly making our nation sick, and always have: systemic racism and income inequality (which cannot be divorced from American capitalism).

For the last week, we’ve been seeing young leaders in the streets, who are not comfortable. Their discomfort is a gift to us now. And yesterday, my rabbi posted something powerful. He said: “To tear down a system built on white supremacy, we would do well to let our discomfort unsettle us.”

I would ask my comfortable friends– the people who call themselves progressives, to consider discomfort right now. If you say you hate racism, but have some amount of power in the corporate world or the law or government structures or the arts/media community. If you have money because you have benefitted from those structures– I ask you to think about how you can turn your discomfort into change. (Before you go eat a sandwich or something). How can you disrupt the system that creates your own comfort, to improve the world at large?

I feel like shit that I haven’t taken my immunocompromised body out in the streets, but a wise friend yesterday said to me, “there is a difference between choosing to be physically safe which is smart and necessary and choosing calculated intellectual/emotional/economic risks.”

I’ve been sitting with that, and I think it’s exactly right. Risk. In the streets, people are taking risks. They are giving up comfort, in hopes of actual structural change. And I want to suggest that for those of us who are not in the streets, there are other roles to play.

I have not been doing that myself, I’m ashamed to say. Instead, I’ve been seeking comfort–in my garden, my kitchen, my television and my bookshelf, my liquor cabinet and my search for a fucking plastic kiddie pool. Trump and the virus have made me unsettled, uncomfortable, unhappy, so I have tried to soothe myself.

But that’s not what this moment is for, I think. Even for those of us at home, the question is: what can we unsettle from where we are? What can we smash, and then rebuild? Not the window of a barber shop, but the structures we have been supporting with our jobs, our privilege, our daily lives?

I don’t have an answer yet, but I know I have struggled with this all my life– the balance of my comfort/privilege with what I claim to be my convictions and beliefs. And if I’m uncomfortable now, it’s because these protests are shining a light on the fact of my complicity, and all the ways I’ve benefitted.

People are attempting to dismantle the very worst thing, our national shame. And every day, we are either helping them do it, and/or we are supporting the structures that enable it. At the very least, we should be able to sit with our discomfort, and not soothe ourselves with wine and Netflix.

We post a picture of MLK to FB, or send 50 bucks to the NAACP for bail. But really, aren’t those just other small ways of seeking comfort?

Hopefully, those of us who claim to want change, to hate racism, will move from discomfort to action now. Right now. If not in the streets, in the spaces we live– our jobs, schools, etc.

You want to talk about November, but it’s June 1 right now, and the kids are in the streets. An election can’t undo the systemic problems of this country. An election never has.