2018 Year-In-Review. What I Wrote. What I Learned. What’s Next.

20 Dec

Rashon Nelson, Donte Peterson
Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson

At the end of each year, I look back at my writings here to remember, and reflect on what was going on in the world around me in regards to race, about what I’ve learned, and hopefully, how I’ve grown.

I started off 2018 by writing The Crack Cocaine Center Of Excellence about my anger over the discrepancy on how the opioid “crisis” is being treated now that it is impacting white suburban communities vs. how Black people were treated who were impacted by what was called the “crack epidemic” in the 1980’s.

On February 14th, we learned Valentines Day will now forever be overshadowed by the occurrence of the Parkland, Florida school shooting. In Let Us Listen To All Of Our Young People’s Cries For Help To End Gun Violence. I wrote about how proud I was of the Parkland students for rising up and becoming passionate activists working to end gun violence. Yet, as they garnered the nation’s and the world’s attention, and praise, I, and others, who also praised the Parkland students, wished the same attention was given to the young Black and Brown students in Baltimore, Ferguson, and throughout the country, who have been activists for much longer. They have been activists out of the need to speak on behalf of their communities who have experienced gun violence, and police brutality, and killings by police officers, but have not gotten the same mainstream attention as the highlighted, mostly white, suburban Florida students.

Also in February, I stumbled across a photographer’s website for a photo I wanted to use, and had to reconsider because what else can you do When The Photo You Want To Use For Your Blog Post Belongs To A Racist Photographer. I learned paying attention to who you connect and collaborate with is important, and to not take surface appearances for granted, lest you find yourself aligning with someone who you are deeply divided with when it comes to racism and viewpoints on white supremacy.

In April, I wrote a poem for Martin Luther King, and remembered the anniversary of Prince’s passing.

Throughout the year, the line of  social media videos kept getting longer when it came to capturing white people calling the police on Black people going about their daily living. Like so many, I was angered and saddened when the white manager, Holly Hylton of a Philadelpia Starbucks, called the police on real estate entrepreneurs, Donte Robinson and Rashon Nelson, simply for being Black while waiting for a business meeting there. In Wake Up And Change The Racism (insert: White) People, I asked us white people to become conscious about creating safe spaces for Black people, and de-centering our whiteness during the process, in order to create authentic spaces of comfort, care, safety and equality.

As a lover of arts and culture, in May, I was thrilled to be able to capture my reflections on two performances, The Pink Dress, and, Travis Alabanza, at Brown University Rites and Reason Theatre’s 10th Annual Black Lavender Experience.

Admitting I was not an intimate follower of the world of Anthony Bourdain, I was touched by how everyone who had something to say about his passing. shone a light on how, as a white man, Bourdain always showed respect and humility when connecting with people from cultures different from his own. It made me feel that  If I Die And Come Back As A White Man, I Want To Come Back As Anthony Bourdain.

As I looked inward at what whiteness does when it comes to centering itself and seeing all other people’s perspectives as “other,” and the grave, oppressive structures that have been built based on whiteness and white supremacy, I wrote Every Day Chip Away At De-centering Whiteness, and began to imagine what our world would look like if white people would take the necessary steps to de-center ourselves from all spheres of life.

In August, as the world, and our country, especially, mourned the loss of The Queen Mother Of Soul, Aretha Franklin, I recalled a sweet mother and child moment made possible by The Power of Aretha’s Think.

In the “Nothing is ever shocking anymore, even when white people keep saying they’re shocked that racist behavior still exists in 2018” department, I showed up at a North Smithfield, Rhode Island town council meeting when I heard their leader was calling for a suggested ban of purchasing Nike products, because he thinks Colin Kaepernick is rude to police officers. oy vey! I wrote What Whiteness Does and Doesn’t Do in response to the two town council meetings I attended.

Often forgetting that white supremacists don’t like Jewish people either, I was shocked and deeply saddened by the mass killing of eleven people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In On Being Jewish, On Being A Part Of The Tree Of Life, I remembered the times growing up, and, as an adult, that I knew I wasn’t welcome as a Jew.

In November, I went to see playwright Idris Goodwin’s, Hype Man: A Break Beat Play, which was produced at The Wilbury Theatre, and was directed by Don Mays. Not an art critic or reviewer, I focused on how a piece of art can afford us the opportunity to process race relations. especially in this moment in time. I was so hyped about Hype Man, I saw it twice!

In 2018, so many in our nation felt the continued stirring up of hate escalate, hate that, yes, was already here. Yet this current presidential administration’s credo of hate has emboldened racists to exhibit their racist behavior against Black and Brown people in even more overt, harmful ways, and technology has allowed white people the chance to witness that which they either didn’t know about, didn’t believe happened, or knew, but looked the other way.

We saw it in all of those phone calls to 911 for all the times people were not allowed to be Black in public–not at a cookout, not at a swimming pool, not at a convenience store, not showing real estate, not staying at an Air BnB, not at a Starbucks, not entering their condominium building, not standing in their apartment building parking lot, not eating lunch as a professor, or a student in their own college spaces, not napping in their Ivy League apartment buildings, and not doing their job presiding over a parent visitation at a frozen yogurt shop. We saw it when more Black people were shot and killed by white men–out of pure hate, as in the Kentucky supermarket killings of Vickie Lee Jones and Maurice Stallard. We saw it in the racial profiling leading to the assumption that during a public disturbance, any Black person is the assailant. Two innocent Black men, heroes, Jemel Roberson, and Emantic Fitzgerald Bradford, Jr., were trying to save others’ lives by apprehending the bad guyor getting people to safety. These good guys were killed simply because the police couldn’t believe a Black man was the hero. They instead saw Jemel and Emantic, as criminals, as the enemy. I, myself, learned anti-Semitism which I thought was not still such a threat, is one, with the killing of eleven people worshiping at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

Beginning these writings on this blog seven years ago was a way to discuss my strong will to connect and build cross-racial connections, and explore the wondering why it was always so important for me to do so. As the years passed, the path has turned evermore to me looking inward.  I ride the wave of keeping up with the unfolding of us white people educating ourselves, and still waking up to the fallacies of our history, and the harm and destruction that whiteness and white supremacy has done, and continues to do. All that I’ve learned and continue to learn, reveals to me how whiteness is ingrained, so deeply woven into the fabric of American life. We know white supremacy touches everything from home ownership, wealth-building, education, business ownership, job procurement and promotion, and, the ability to move safely and freely through life. We have to know, and stop gaslighting about the inequity in the distribution of resources and opportunities.  Yet, despite the facts, and this history, we don’t want to look at ourselves and admit these truths. Those of us that are willing, sometimes think we have to figure out how to undo it all. We then get overwhelmed at the how. All I know is I can’t unsee whiteness, what it does, what it won’t do, the obliviousness of it. The la la la la la, well, yes, this is awful, the yes, I fight for the rights of immigrants, for women’s rights, the I am not a racist, I am an ally, but the truth is the majority of us all too often just go back to our la la la la la lives, and still make sure our kids go to the good schools, that we live in the good neighborhoods, that we get that job, that promotion, that we keep our wealth. We feel so sad about it all, but we do what?

I know. It is easy to feel overwhelmed, sad, mad, helpless, hopeless with one horrible news story after the other about all the racist acts of violence  against Black people we white people are finally witnessing more, due to social media. But as a white person, when I start to feel this way, I jump right to the acknowledgment that, if this is how I as a white person feel, think about how Black people feel, who continue to have to live with racism, and actual violence against their lives, as well as their quality of life. I hear friends who are Black, and people I follow on social media, tell how though as horrible as things are right now for Black people in this country, the impact of racism and white supremacy is something they have dealt with for centuries. and they know they must, and they can, carry on. Through chattel slavery, Jim Crow, and all the inequities endured, the words of poet, Nikki Giovanni speak volumes:

“Black Americans. If we can’t drive, we will invent walks and the world will envy the dexterity of our feet. If we can’t have ham, we will boil chitterlings; if we are given rotten peaches, we will make cobblers; if given scraps, we will make quilts; take away our drums, and we will clap our hands. We prove the human spirit will prevail. We will take what we have to make what we need. We need confidence in our knowledge of who we are.”  – Nikki Giovanni

I recalled the words of Ferguson activist, Brittany Packnett, on a twitter thread, when she lifted up those losing hope in the struggle to be free from violence against Black communities:

In times like these, I look to the past.

I come from people not meant to survive, and here is our bloodline, stronger than ever.

Is it bad right now? Yes.

But this is not the worst it has ever been. Call on the ancestors. Work for the future.

Stay woke. Keep fighting. <3

I want to thank every #Ferguson freedom fighter, alive and with the ancestors, who sacrificed to remind America of her responsibility.

Today’s marches remind me of your sacrifice. Before 2014, a spirit of protest was dormant. You changed that. Thank you, thank you, thank you. 

If you’re looking for some hope, look at the sea of people marching in cities big and small today to very simply demand that our country respect everyone’s humanity.


                                      – Brittany Packnett 

When I get overwhelmed and feel hopeless, as a white, Jewish person, whose people have endured oppression and hate, too, I remember my ancestors and I have not endured anything like the Black people in this country have, and so I say to myself, who am I to be tired, to be frustrated, to feel hopeless? I learned this year more than ever that I must carry on, that I must continue to do the work to break down systems of oppression against Black people, that I must on a daily basis, de-center my whiteness with hopes that through this modeled behavior, other white people will follow suit, and that I must continue to do focused anti-racism work in my community, and not get overwhelmed by thinking I have to solve the whole big structure of systemic racism, because of course, alone, I cannot. My friend, Zaiche Johnson, who is pretty genius–a creative catalyst at Yellow House art space in Jacksonville, Forida, an artist, poet, curator, entrepreneur, no holds-barred truth-teller, activist–and, who is Black, told me that doing the work in your own community is the most important thing we can do right now, since the larger political systems are currently not able to effect any true change.

I hope for 2019 that we will all, as Brittany Packnett noted, demand that our country respect everyone’s humanity. And, I hope that when you feel tired, you will remember Nikki Giovanni’s words. They were not written for white people, and for me to see them as such would be me as just another white person looking to praise Black people for being so strong despite all they’ve been through. They are not for me either to look up to as Black mother figures who have to take care of me, the weak white woman. But, I will honor and remember these words, and keep doing the necessary work that is our job to do in breaking down white supremacy, as if our lives depended on it. Because they do.

As this year draws to a close, and we look forward to the year to come, I want to thank you all so very much for being here with me for yet another year of writing on Wendy Jane’s Soul Shake. Just as I know I need to keep working, I know that my connection with all of you, the time you take to read, to give feedback, and support, is needed, and so important to me, and I continue to treasure all of the connections and further reflection and dialogue that happens with the posts shared.

Wishing all of you a happy holiday season, and a beautiful, peaceful, action-for-humanity’s-sake filled new year.

Peace. Love. Light. Blessings. Grace.


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