Tag Archives: Elijah McClain

Wendy Jane Soul Shake 2020 Year in Review

28 Dec

Dr. Fauci John Lewis
Dr. Fauci, John Lewis Street Art, NYC, August 2020

Every year at this time I write a year-end recap of the blog, and the times we are in. But how in the heck am I supposed to summarize this year? Nevertheless, I’ll try.

I began the 2020 WJSS blog with February’s post, Tell Me The Truth: Exploring The Heart of Cross-Racial Conversations with Shay Stewart-Bouley and Debby Irving, The afore-mentioned title was a public discussion at a Connecticut community center, between, Shay Stewart-Bouley, racial justice and equity non-profit executive director, writer, activist, and author of the blog, Black Girl in Maine, and Debby Irving, racial justice educator and activist, and author of the book, Waking Up White. I have followed both women for some years now, and it was good to hear them continuing to grow and share their dialogue on what it takes to stay open and honest in cross-racial conversations and friendships. There we sat, hundreds of us, elbow-to-elbow, in rows of folding chairs, taken in by their talk. How could we have known that within a month, our country would be thrown into lockdown over a global pandemic–the Covid-19 virus–and that such large gatherings would be prohibited, and that our facial expressions would soon be hidden under masks?

But racism doesn’t stop due to a virus, and in April and May I wrote Let Us Not Forget Racism In The Time Of Covid-19, and Conspiracy Theories, Freedom, Mirrors: What Reality Are We Running From. In these posts, I drew attention to the reports of how the virus was impacting Black and Brown and Indigenous individuals and communities, at a much higher rate than white people and their communities, due to our country’s history of racism–both bigotry, and systemic. This history and the policies and laws born out of it, created inadequate and less accessible healthcare for Black and Brown communities. In addition, we have seen how some Black people seeking care for Covid symptoms have been mistrusted, and dismissed, and their treatment mishandled, which even resulted in some cases, in death. Also, noted, was the higher number of essential workers of color who don’t have the luxury to work remotely, thereby creating risk of exposure for themselves, their families, and their neighborhoods.

In Conspiracy Theories, Freedom, Mirrors..., I held up a mirror to how I believe it’s racist when white people call the virus a hoax, and government’s way of trying to control us, and hurt our economy. Knowing how the virus has a lesser impact on white communities–even though there are countless, white people dying from it, too–having a belief in a conspiracy theory and government control is harmful to Black, Brown and Indigenous people. To put these communities at risk because of your selfish wish to have a haircut, is simply racist. I wished instead that we could be thinking of how instead of going back to what we were, to the way things were–to wishing you could go back and hide in the comfort of Starbucks and your gym routine–that we could be forging a new way of being, and caring for ourselves, and others.

At the same time these conspiracy theories were roiling, the signaling of a renewed racial justice movement rumbled beneath the surface with the release of the video in early May, showing the February killing of Ahmaud Arbery by two white neighbors, while Ahmaud was out for a jog.

And, then, on May 25, 2020, Minneapolis resident, George Floyd, was murdered by police officer, Derek Chauvin, following the arrest of Mr. Floyd for possibly passing a counterfeit twenty dollar bill at a convenience store. The world watched the horrid act of the officer pressing his knee into George Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, of Mr. Floyd’s pleading for his life, and calling out for his mother in his last moments of life. We know this because of the bravery of seventeen year-old, Darnella Frazier, who was in the crowd of onlookers yelling to Chauvin, and other officers present, for Chauvin to get off of George Floyd, to no avail. Ms. Frazier’s video showed the world the truth and horror of what happened to George Floyd that day. It held up a mirror to our country to say, especially to white people, we can no longer say this is not happening. We can no longer say, “he should have complied.” We can no longer say, “the officers are just doing their job, and defending their own safety.”

Shortly after this national tragedy that reverberated around the world, there was a new wave of uprisings–a resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, this time with many more white people finally waking up, and now, joining in the call for racial justice. I was inspired by what I was witnessing around me, in particular, the young Black leaders, many still in their teens, leading their own city’s marches, using their voices, loud and strong, to let us know we are truly at a time of racial reckoning in this country. In response to these feelings, I wrote, Youth-Led Protest, Falling Into The (Donut) Hole of Trying To Enlighten Those Inflicted With Blindness To Their Racism And A Big Thank You To The Artists Who Do The Spiritual Lifting.

BLM March in tribute to George Floyd, Providence, RI, June 2020

While I was hopeful and inspired about the fight for racial justice being rebirthed, The Falling Into The (Donut) Hole part of the title of that post (and I might be famous for writing the world’s longest blog titles) referred to the extreme anger I also felt when seeing social media posts, and hearing conversations by some co-workers of mine. Their comments showed they still weren’t getting it, and at this point, it is a willful not getting it, as far as I’m concerned. Posts about “riots” and “looting” and “destroying their own neighborhoods.” Posts with the meme that says something like, “…if you don’t want trouble with the police, then don’t do things that are illegal.” I engaged with some of these posts because they are racist. And while I didn’t want to project, and I am no white savior, I thought if it was hard for me to look these co-workers in the eye and work alongside of them, I imagined the harm it would also be causing for my co-workers who are Black. I did my, try every angle of presenting facts, trying, with kindness to ask for, to look for an empathetic bone in the offenders’ bodies, all the while knowing I wasn’t going to change their point of view. I took action, but shortly after this time, decided I would not engage any more with these social media posts, and would put my energy to better use.

During this time of feeling sadness, anger, and a will to keep fighting for what is right, I was grateful, and stay grateful for the artists of our time, who always hold up a mirror to what is happening, and who show us what love looks like. The artists in my city of Providence, Rhode Island–Black artists, Latinx artists, Indigenous artists, Asian Artists, white artists, came together to create protest posters, and gorgeous street murals. They showed us what solidarity, and hope, and resilience looks like.

Providence artists create street murals for downtown business district, June 2020

This also became a time to reflect on what it means to be white, and to see how our whiteness and white supremacy operates and how we have been programmed to believe what we believe about ourselves, and about those who we “other.’ With Some Of Us White People, I attempted to imagine all the various ways we white people were feeling, thinking, and behaving in the wake of the George Floyd killing, the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, the June killing of Rayshard Brooks by a police officer in Atlanta, and the call for justice to charge the police officers responsible for the killing of Breonna Taylor.

All the books on race we were buying, the films we were watching, the conversations we were having, the marches we were attending, the t-shirts we were sporting, all in the name of trying to catch up and educate ourselves, and finally start to learn and believe a portion of the things that Black people in this country have been trying to tell us for centuries, and to do something about it. All the ways we gingerly, or not so gingerly, asked Black people how to help, or, ask if they were okay, when on a daily basis, we heard the refrain of many Black people saying, “I am not okay.”

At this time, I got to write two articles for local, Motif Magazine, Be Of Service, 5 Do’s and Don’t’s for White People Taking Anti-Racist Action and A Surge In Activism, Activist Groups Help White People Show Up The Right Way. Motif, like many individuals, businesses, arts spaces and journalism outlets, was also looking to give attention to the current fight for racial justice. It was my friend, Christopher Johnson, who encouraged me to write the articles. Christopher, who is Black, is a poet, and playwright. His most recent work, Invoice For Emotional Labor, centers on the idea that he shouldn’t have to educate white people about racism, but in his experiential, cutting words, he does just that. While I have been to readings of the work-in-progress, I can’t wait to see this play performed in its entirety.

I have not mentioned much here about the in-between spaces of dealing with this year, and haven’t ever gotten too much into my personal life here beyond my experiences with dealing with matters of race. But I alluded to it in How To Hang In There: Today Baratunde Thurston’s Podcast, How To Citizen, Helped. In this piece, I spoke about knowing how we all have our burden to bear in life, and in this year, in particular, as we deal with a global pandemic, a call for our country to face its true history, and deal with our racial reckoning, reparations, and healing.

This year has impacted each and every one of us in all kinds of ways. I know some of you might be feeling the burden of being a parent who all of a sudden has to become an assistant teacher while your young child does their online schooling, and, figure out how to work from home at the same time. That teachers are working extremely hard to teach simultaneously in the classroom, and online, and worry, too, about exposure to the virus for themselves, and their students. That some of you are feeling isolated by working remotely. That some of you are trying to pay your bills as a small business owner, when your business isn’t able to operate at full capacity, or at all. That some of you are out of work. That some of you are trying to stay connected and care for an elderly parent with visiting restrictions in place, and that some of you worry about exposing immune-compromised loved ones. Some of you have to work in grocery stores, in public transportation, and other businesses with high volumes of person-to-person contact, and have never had a break. That some of you have lost some one you loved, or multiple people that you loved. That some of you work in hospitals–nurses, doctors, housekeepers, dietary workers–and are seeing far too much of death, and experiencing trauma and stress from all that you are witnessing while working countless days, hours, months, trying to save lives, and maintain a safe hospital environment.

And in all of this I am reminded of the words of local community activist, Pilar McCloud. In this post, Pilar spoke of how many people in the Black community have always had to struggle and work through adversities and obstacles due to bigotry, and systems of racism. She sees how this pandemic is just another thing for Black people to work through, and finds it interesting how more white people are finally getting to see what struggle feels like, with the pandemic, and their new awakening to racial injustice.

As for me, I work as an Activities Therapist at a psychiatric hospital, and run groups with patients on an Adult Intensive Treatment inpatient unit. Because of that, I have stayed working full-time in person, and while it is not dealing with the same kind of intense stress and trauma of working in a medical hospital, it has felt stressful at times to me, and I know it has to my co-workers. I am grateful I still have a full-time job that gives me structure, provides me with a daily purpose, and ensures that I can continue to have an income. I love working with our patients. I have amazing, compassionate, co-workers, and we pull one another up, mostly with humor, especially at the times we need to laugh, so we don’t cry.

But our patients are in emotional distress. The pandemic has exacerbated their depression, their anxiety, their paranoia, their mania, their feelings of isolation, and their psychosis. Trying to get our patients, who share a common milieu space, when they are at various levels of awareness, psychosis, and, or paranoia, to wear their masks, and to social distance, is trying, to say the least. To keep constant vigilance of possible patient and staff exposure, and get updates on actual staff and patients who have contracted the virus, especially on one’s own unit or area, is unsettling. To try to support people suffering more during this global pandemic, while we ourselves are suffering, can also be challenging.

In another capacity at work, I am the Coordinator of the hospital’s Healing Arts program. Started by my former supervisor, Barbara Ostrove, who was director of our Occupational Therapy Department, I, along with support primarily, from fellow staff member, Occupational Therapist, and artist, Laura White Carpenter, write grants, and develop and coordinate arts programming for our patients and staff in the form of artist residencies, exhibitions, and special events, all utilizing the arts to promote wellness and healing, and to humanize the hospital experience, and environment. This fall, we were supposed to have one of our past resident artists, violist, Ashley Frith, do an artist residency, but that was not to be with the virus. We are trying to hold off a bit for her to be able to come in person to connect with our patients in an interactive group format, as well as to offer some relief for our staff through performance and conversation. If that is not possible, we will have to think of possibly doing a live or recorded video residency, something we are hoping to avoid, as we feel it’s not the same experience. We may create an entirely different kind of residency experience all together. We shall see.

Still in the early months of the pandemic, I tried to be all heroic, and Laura and I did sidewalk chalk art murals outside our hospital’s entrance–brightly-hued florals and hearts, with words of thanks–which were greatly appreciated by staff. I was lucky to connect with local artists, Jacques Bidon and Nafis White, who so thoughtfully made beautiful handmade prints and thank you card sets that they distributed to three local hospitals’ essenttial workers. At our hospital, we received 100 print sets which we were able to distribute to our entire housekeeping staff, to our Patient Assessment Services (emergency room) staff, and to the staff taking care of our geriatric and dementia patients on our Senior Specialty unit. I also was able to procure a grant of three Amazon music loaded tablets for our inpatient units to use from the non-profit organization, Musicians On Call. We see how much music helps our patients to feel calm, connected, and energized, and so we were grateful to be granted the tablets.

Artists, Nafis White and Jacques Bidon and their Care Print packages for essential workers

Yet, after this initial burst of energy to use the arts to help us get through this time, I came to a standstill. These days I often feel like I’m this high functioning depressed person, just getting by each day, and not delivering the kind of care and attention I should be to our patients. I cannot bring myself to come up with another arts thing to give to patients and staff. It’s a Catch-22. This is exactly the time the arts can help us, and it is what I preach. I see how many artists, locally, and nation-wide are still showing up, and making the best of these times, and lifting us up with their work, yet I am unable to move myself to action.

Laura, Healing Arts Program, Chalk Art honoring our fellow frontline workers
me, Chalk Art for our fellow frontline workers, May 2020
The truth, May 2020

I say all this, not to get off-topic, or to get attention or sympathy. I say this because it is real, with this time we are in, and each and every one of us, I know, has their own story of how this time is impacting them, and how they are managing. I also acknowledge that feeling ungrounded with all that is going on has made me feel scattered, unable to commit and follow through at times when it has come to continuing the daily, long-term work of fighting to break down racism and the racist systems we live in. I touch upon these themes in the Baratunde Thurston post, even though I haven’t ended up following through to continue to listen to his podcast beyond another episode or two. I hope that you are able to acknowledge how you are feeling and are able to share that with someone, and I invite you to please feel free to share here below, how you have been managing during this year of Covid-19, and this time of a critical call for us to finally face our dire need for racial reckoning in this country.

Still, we all manage to carry on in some way. It is not all gloom. Yes, there are moments of joy, too, that appear for me, and I truly hope for you, too.

Getting to visit NYC with my daughters-surreal in its emptiness, but still loved

Our beautiful New England fall still came, and yet without the news of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks and Breonna Taylor, daily filling our newsfeed anymore, I worried that many white folks were forgetting about the fight they so vehemently said they were there for in June. With covid fatigue, and racial justice warrior fatigue in mind, I wrote, Fighting Racism Got You Down? Don’t Make Those Brunch Reservations Just Yet. I worried that so many of us who were waiting for the Presidential election, with hopes that we could oust the current one, would, once that happened, think all was well.

We do hold hopes the new President, will in January, begin to undo all of the evil policies and legislation put into place that hurt mostly Black, Brown, and Indigenous people, as well as our immigrant community. Yet, the post warns us to stay vigilant, and to keep fighting, and to not let things go back to the status quo. It asks white folks to not just rest easy, because the blatant hate is gone, and we are being taken care of again. It asks us to not forget our privilege, or the will to make things truly equal for every one, to include everyone, on not a hierarchal level, with white people at the top, but one where we are all together, side-by-side. (My August 2019 post, Every Day, Chip Away at De-Centering Whiteness speaks to this in more detail)

While I was able to, though more sporadically, keep writing this year, I got stuck in my own head, thinking I was real special, and developed a case of the white fragility. In, What I Didn’t Want To Share, Or: If This White (Jewish) Woman Went To Confession, This Is What She’d Say, you can read all about my bout with thinking as a white person, I should step back from writing about race, and how still after so much time of writing about race, and educating myself and doing anti-racism work, I still worry way too much about saying or doing the wrong thing in my cross-racial conversations and actions. Thankfully, through friends, Black and white, who help give me perspective on this, I carry on, striving to not worry what others will think, ready to engage in the conversations that come up because of my writing or dialogue, and take responsibility for what my impact is. I am also thankful for friend, and racial justice activist, Joan Wyand, who shared about the new podcast Eyes On Whiteness, which helps me look at how whiteness operates within me, and others, and the world around me. It’s truly helpful, and I highly recommend it.

In my most recent post, Catching Back Up With Artist Kenya (Robinson) And The Luck, Or Lesson Of, Finding What You Seek, written right before Thanksgiving, I share part of an older post never published about an encounter with visiting Florida artist, Kenya (Robinson) who gave a talk at the Providence Public Library for the exhibition, HairBrained. I follow Kenya on Instagram now, and in November, was lucky to catch an IGTV video she made on what she, as a Black artist, noticed was a passive-aggressive style of communication she was encountering, with white women. I was moved by Kenya’s thoughts, and desire to share with those of us listening, how to use our own inner creativity to ‘hack’ these conversations to be able to communicate authentically, and move beyond the way we’ve been programmed for survival with all of our ‘isms, and in doing so, create a new pathway to tap into our true inner energy where we are all the same.

In my blog post title, I use the word ‘luck,’ but when Kenya in her video held up her fortune cookie fortune which said, ‘If you seek it, you shall find it,” she emphasized that there are no coincidences, and so my happening upon her talk that day was meant to be, and I am grateful for the lesson, and the reconnection to both Kenya, and her important work. You can follow her at www.privilegeasplastic.com and on IG @kenya9.

Which makes me think about the word intention, as my year of 2020 blogging comes to an end, and this challenging year is about to wrap up. I have been challenged to keep the things in my life that I say are important to me–continuing the work required to bring about racial justice, equality and freedom, being present in the way I want to be for my two daughters, for my friends, and for my family, being present and giving better energy to serving our patients in my workplace, delivering more Healing Arts programming in my workplace, and opening myself up to the possibility of loving, and letting myself be loved in a romantic relationship.

I know we all have our lists, and that mine is probably sounding just like any New Year’s Eve Resolutions list. Yet, I hope not. I know I can be gentle with myself at this time, and not get down on myself for the things I feel I can’t muster the energy for. I hope you will, too. I also know, as is quoted often in this work of racial justice, in the words of Dr. King, that “the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” I know that I won’t give up the work, and that the work started long before this time we are here on earth, and will continue long after we are gone, and each thing we can do, every day contributes to making things better for all of us. I know that we can make this new post-covid world a better place for all, and not go back to our ways that don’t make a way for all of us, but just for a few of us. I know we can do this. I know we must. I pray that we are not in a rush to get back to ‘regular life’ where we are all about having to make enough money so we can consume things that make us feel comfortable, and fool ourselves into believing everything is all right, forgetting the valuable lessons about what matters to us, is us. All of us. Not just some of us. All of us.

This year, in particular, I thank you all from the bottom of my heart for your support, for engaging with me, and with one another about how race, racism, whiteness, cross-racial connection, and the work of breaking down racism and racist systems shows up in you, and what you are doing about it. I wish you the will to keep doing the work to make the spaces where you are, free and equal, truly equal and equitable, with all perspectives honored and included, and with whiteness de-centered, and not above any other perspective. I wish each one of you, peace, continued good health, safety. I wish you joy.

Fighting Racism Got You Down? Don’t Make Those Brunch Reservations Just Yet

3 Oct

Breonna Taylor illustration by Robin Hilkey

How are you all doing? It’s been 18 weeks since the killing of George Floyd, 1 week since the indictment for the bullets that hit Breonna Taylor’s neighbor’s wall, and the non-indictment for killing Breonna Taylor, and 4 weeks since I last blogged.

Have you noticed that things have quieted down…and…they haven’t? Since I last wrote, we are not seeing as many televised Black Lives Matter marches. They are still taking place all across the country, but as usual, it seems the media stays hungry to capture the few where destruction occurs, perpetuating the narrative that protestors are violent, that Black Lives Matter, or, the Movement for Black Lives, is violent, and that white people should be very afraid. Yet, let’s take a closer look.

In August, we saw how the horrible killing of a five-year old white boy by his neighbor, a Black man, was used by white racists to try and draw some kind of correlation between a lack of outrage for this white child’s death at the hands of a Black person–which is highly rare–with the systemic violent deaths of Black people at the hands of white police officers, which happens…a lot. Somehow, these gaslighters could not believe that Black, Brown and white “liberals” were also outraged and saddened by the boy’s tragic death, and could not make the connection that justice was served in this case. A manhunt and arrest and jail without bail of the boy’s killer occurred all within 24 hours. Contrast that with the six months it took after Breonna Taylor’s killing, to get the heartbreaking, but unsurprising news from the grand jury, that there would be no indictment in her death, other than for the one officer charged with wanton endangerment for the bullets fired not at Breonna Taylor, but at her neighbor’s house.

We saw in late August in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Joseph Blake be shot in the back at close range by police officers while walking to his vehicle after trying to break up a domestic dispute. His children were sitting in the back seat of his car at the time. When protests broke out following the shooting, we saw 17 year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, a strong Blue Lives Matter supporter, and militia group member, fulfill his mission to support the police as they dealt with “rioters.” We learned Kyle’s mother drove him across state lines to do just that. We saw him use his AR-15 rifle to straight up shoot and kill protesters, Anthony Huber, 26, and Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and injure a third man. We saw Kenosha police allow Rittenhouse to roam the streets that night, with his rifle, even after he held his arms up in the air after killing the two men, as if surrendering. We saw police cruisers simply pass him by. We saw Rittenhouse arrested a few days later, alive, unscathed.

Just this past Tuesday, during the first presidential debate, we heard our President refuse to denounce white supremacy. We saw him instead prop up the white supremacist group, The Proud Boys, giving them the go ahead to “stand back and stand by.” Somehow, some of us thought it was merely dinner entertainment–a humorous evening watching two childish, old men shouting over one another.

So, just checking in, since the videos and memorial tribute memes of George, Ahmaud, Rayshard, Breonna, and Elijah have waned, and the racial justice proclamations made by many corporations are no longer flooding our social media feeds. As are the number of days ago growing, where we passionately said to our friends, co-workers, family, and ourselves, we were going to do something about all of this. I wanted to ask, how are we all doing with this? Are we allowing ourselves to be lulled back into complacency–into a forgetting that this movement requires us to keep at it every day?

I am remembering the article I wrote for Motif Magazine last month, with interviewee, AJS, activist, and member of Standing Up For Racial Justice (SURJ). In a conversation we had afterward, AJS reminded me how all of us who seek to break down racism and the racist systems that uphold it, have to realize that we are part of a continuum. We have to keep doing the work. As white people, we need to support Black leaders who lead the charge in Black liberation. The work has been done before us. The work will be done after us. While we might not see the change we seek to see in our lifetimes, we must keep working, now supporting Black youth, Asian, Latino, Muslim youth, white youth, all of our young people, who are picking up this charge, so that our future generations can realize the changes we wish to bring to fruition.

And, I know we are tired of this virus, and wearing masks, and we just want to feel some semblance of normalcy as summer bid us goodbye, like breathing mask-free on the beach one more time, or dining outdoors at our favorite restaurants. We deserve some relief from having to stress over how we sent or didn’t send our kids to school, how we’ll pay our rent, how our businesses will survive, and how we will mail our ballots if they keep pulling our mailboxes out of the ground.

While I too, wish for carefree days, wish for certainty, I think of my friend, poet, actor and playwright, most recently of the upcoming, Invoice for Emotional Labor, Christopher Johnson. Christopher has posted on social media, and we have talked together about white apathy when it comes to the deaths of innocent Black people–and let’s just say for a time marker–beginning with the death of Jordan Davis in 2012. In reference to our upcoming presidential election, Christopher shared a meme that asked, will we, once Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are elected–will we just go back to our brunch?

Will we? I’m asking, will we, white people, order the status quo avocado toast with a big side serving of white complacency? Will we put on, not our clear face shields, but opaque side blinders that enable us to block out everything in our vision and memory bank that reminds us of racial violence, of racism in education, housing, generational wealth building, and criminal justice? Will we keep our masks on long after we are finally able to shed them, so that our lips stay silent?

Or will we order the Fight The Powers That Be omelette? I was taught at our family’s yearly Passover Seder, the dinner service using symbolic foods and storytelling to remember the time the Jews fled slavery in Egypt, that the foods we nourish ourselves with that night hold great meaning. I ask today, will the egg in our omelette–which in the Seder represents both the symbol of life, and, a sacrificial offering in mourning of the destruction of our temple–now beckon us to both mourn the ongoing deaths and destruction of Black lives, and the mourning of our own souls which must be torn open, filleted, with urgency, as we acknowledge and reckon with the truth of our racist, violent lives, and history, once and for all? Will we heed the call to make the sacrifices necessary to bring about equality and liberation for Black people in this country? Will we allow the egg to renew and sustain ourselves in this cycle of life as we continue this fight? Because we know none of us are free until all of us are free, right?

Yes, let us take part in that kind of brunch. One that nourishes and keeps us on the path of the continued fight against racism in all it’s insidious forms and systems. I have faith in you. In us. I know that even though I haven’t been hearing all of us talking or posting as much about George Floyd, about Breonna Taylor, or about systemic racism, I know we want to keep fighting, right? Every day, right? At our places of work, at our schools, anywhere we encounter a Karen or Ken, and even, and especially when, we think nothing “wrong” is going on. Because it is. It is the systems that we think we can’t “see,” but I’m hoping that everyone who says their eyes are now open, cannot unsee. I’m hoping we will work on breaking those down most of all.

We can do the work right where we are. In our communities. We can learn how to advocate for and support Black people by reaching out, whether to an individual or to a Black led community organization, and ask how you can be an advocate and support–without causing emotional labor, without being a savior, and without trying to take that white person lead of “Here take this, I know what’s best for you.”

If you work in a school, or are a parent of a school child, you can advocate for and support Black and Brown leaders calling for equal resources, for curriculums and teaching and learning that honors all children, and for changes in the unjust, ineffectual, penalizing, school disciplinary systems. If you work in real estate, you can be the eyes and ears of unjust practices in those dealings. If you work in a non-profit organization serving BIPOC communities, and the leadership and board of that organization is majority white, and does not live in the neighborhood being served, be a part of breaking that down. If you care about the environment, you can get involved in environmental justice work. Ditto for all of our majority white spaces we find ourselves in, where Western, white cultural norms are seen as superior. You can question why there are not more Black people where you work, or where you order your outdoor latte, and ask why microaggressions that happen to your Black co-workers go unchecked. We can all learn that diversity doesn’t mean we get a few more token students of color in our schools, or co-workers in our office, and think everything is honky dory. We can learn it is about changing the culture, alongside our peers, not over them, so that everyone is equal, and white supremacist culture no longer reigns. This is a time of reckoning. The time is now. Order the omelette.

from the heart

it’s a start, a work of art

to revolutionize make a change

nothing’s strange

people, people we are the same

no we’re not the same

cause we don’t know the game

what we need is awareness, we can’t

get careless

you say what is this?

my beloved let’s get down to business

mental self defensive fitness

(yo) bum rush the show

you gotta go for what you know

to make everybody see, in order to fight the powers that be

lemme hear you say

Fight the power lyrics @universal Music publishing group, by public enemy, 1989, songwriters: Carlton Ridenhour, Eric Sadler, Hank Shocklee, Keith Shocklee

SOURCES: Breonna Taylor illustration by Robin Hilkey

Some Of Us White People

30 Jun

Protest following death of George Floyd, Providence, RI, June 5, 2020

It’s been a little over three weeks since the local protests took place here in Providence, and all over the world, in the wake of George Floyd’s death. And it feels like it’s been three weeks of vast numbers of white people in a tizzy over how we could not have known how bad things were for Black people in America, and how blind we all were to systemic racism.

Some of us woke up, and rose up, and said we want to help. We pored over the Google Doc of resources shared widely on social media by Sarah Sophie Flicker and Alyssa Klein–books, articles, organizations and funds to donate to, and legislators to call. Some of us also learned of the Justice in June Google Document turned website with expanded anti-racism resources and teachings by Autum Gupta and Bryanna Wallace.

Some of us bought all the books recommended on social media to educate ourselves on the history of racism in this country. Books like, Stamped From The Beginning, and How To Be An Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi, The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo, The Me And White Supremacy Workbook by Layla Saad, Waking Up White by Debby Irving, and White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo. Currently, The New York Times Bestseller List for Paperback Non-Fiction, shows all top ten books are on race, with the aforementioned books on the list.

Some of us have confessed on Facebook how ignorant or blind we were to our own white privilege. How blind we were to the continued systems of racial inequity that came about post-slavery through policies and laws that created redlining, Jim Crow laws, loan discrimination, education disparities, job discrimination, mass incarceration, and the one we, if we have any humanity, can no longer deny: the more than “a few bad apples,”systemic racism inherent in law enforcement, and the never-ending police brutality against Black people.

Shortly after some of us spoke about being overwhelmed and not knowing where to begin to educate ourselves, and take action, we learned about the police killing of Rayshard Brooks in a Wendy’s parking lot in Atlanta on June 12th. The 27 year-old Brooks, married and the father of three children, had fallen asleep in the Wendy’s drive-thru and the police were called. After a half-hour of conversation where Rayshard politely told officers he had a few drinks, and offered to leave his car in the parking lot to walk to his sister’s house which was just a few blocks away, the officers decided to arrest Rayshard after a failed sobriety test. Rayshard, who was on parole, and working hard to stay on track with his family and work life despite the many restrictions and burdens the judicial system placed on him, most likely feared what an arrest would mean for him and his future. He resisted by trying to free himself from the officers trying to cuff him, Brosnand and Rolfe, and a scuffle ensued. Rayshard did grab one of the officer’s tasers and ran away, pointing it over his shoulder, and shooting the taser once at Rolfe, a taser which cannot cause deadly harm. Officer Rolfe shot at the back of Rayshard Brooks with his gun, hitting him twice. Rayshard fell to the ground. Officer Brosnan stood on Rayshard’s shoulders while he was on the ground, and Rolfe kicked his body. They stood over his body for two minutes before administering any medical attention. Rayshard Brooks died later that night at the hospital after coming out of surgery.

Some of us returned to our urgent call to ourselves to “do something!” Some of us worried still about offending Black people by either saying or doing the wrong thing, so some of us did nothing. Some of us thought and hoped we were doing the right thing by reaching out to our Black friends and asking them how they were doing. Some of us felt guilty when we read articles written by Black people who were taken aback, or baffled, by the awkward ways white people were reaching out to them– about friends who before now, rarely, if ever, had conversations about race with them, or ever noticed the micro-aggressions their friends endured, or the way their own white privilege allowed them to move through the world never having to think about their race, because their white skin was the default.

Some of us Venmo’d our Black friends, either at their request, or after seeing articles that said sending money to your Black friends is what you should do, because we sure owe them, or as a gesture to promote self-care for the recipient, then felt guilty again when we read some posts on social media about how sending money to Black people was insulting. I received a link to a podcast through Facebook Messenger from my friend, Darrell, who is Black, which he thought was hilarious, and which I had to admit I could see my own shortcomings in. The podcast, /reply-all/, episode #162 The Least You Could Do, produced by Emmanuel Dzotsi, was about this very subject of Black people receiving texts with offers of money from white people, like some kind of offering to absolve ourselves from the sin of being white, and benefiting from white supremacy. In fact, toward the end of the podcast, Black Latinx comedian, Milly Tamarez, did just that. After the 2016 Presidential election, she did a stand-up act asking white people to pay her, and if they did, she would absolve them of the sins of their people. It took off, and lots of white people sent her money, confessed of their sins, and received absolution. While some of the sins confessed started out light, like performing in a West Side Story play in school where all the parts were played by white people, some got darker as time went on, like the confession by a young white guy who was dating a Black woman but was afraid to get intimate with her because he feared he wouldn’t be as good a lover as a Black man. I hope all of us reading here will want to listen to this podcast to hear Milly’s response, and her thoughts about the whole experience of her White Forgiveness Project, as well as the thoughts and feelings that some Black people are having about how white people are reaching out to them at this time.

Some of us may have found ourselves saying, “damned if we do, damned if we don’t,” yet, hopefully we learned instead, that Black people are not a monolith, and do not think alike, and that most Black people would probably say they’ve lived “damned if we do, damned if we don’t” to the point of life vs. death, every single day. We hopefully learned that while one friend or acquaintance might welcome your reaching out to ask them what they need from you, and one person might say, Venmo me, and another friend might tell you they are too exhausted from experiencing racism to do the emotional labor to respond to you. They might nudge you to initiate your own self-education, and tell you to talk to other white people who may be further along on their journey in anti-racist work and action. They might tell us to figure out amongst ourselves what we should do next. After all, it is all of us white people who created and continue to uphold racism and racist systems in the first place. But, we’ll never know what to do if we don’t put ourselves out there and ask.

And as some of us are spending way too much time dealing with our own white fragility, rather than being of benefit to the movement to support Black lives, we learned of the death of Elijah McClain. Elijah was a 23 year-old massage therapist from Aurora, Colorado who was walking home from a convenience store when he was stopped by officers after a call was made to police about a suspicious person walking down the street wearing a mask. Elijah, who played violin on his lunch break to cats at animal shelters, because he believed it calmed them, was a slight, young man, with anemia, who wore the mask to keep warm. He did absolutely nothing wrong, and was wrestled to the ground by several officers, held in a carotid hold, and injected with the tranquilizer, ketamine, before being taken by ambulance to the hospital. Elijah suffered a heart attack on the way there, and was brain dead and on life support, when several days later, his family had to make the decision to take him off life support, at which time, Elijah passed away. The heartbreaking words of Elijah McClain while he was being arrested and his tiny frame being pressed on, to the point he vomited and could not breathe, have been shared widely:

“I can’t breathe. I have my ID right here. My name is Elijah McClain. That’s my house. I was just going home. I’m an introvert. I’m just different. That’s all. I’m so sorry. I have no gun. I don’t do that stuff. I don’t do any fighting. Why are you attacking me? I don’t even kill flies! I don’t eat meat! But I don’t judge people who do eat meat. Forgive me. All I was trying to do was become better. I will do it. I will do anything. Sacrifice my identity. I’ll do it. You all are so phenomenal. You are beautiful. And I love you. Try to forgive me. I am a mood gemini. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Ow, that really hurt. You all are very strong. Team work makes the dream work…(crying)..oh I’m sorry. I wasn’t trying to do that. I just can’t breathe correctly (proceeds to vomit from the pressure to his chest and neck).”

– Elijah McClain

And as we ask again, what should we do, some of us are pulling out our pocketbooks and making donations to local and national Black-led organizations that promote justice, and build resources for Black communities. Some of us are educating ourselves through reading, conversation, and attending virtual panels led by Black scholars and activists. In Providence, the calls to Defund The Police rang loud and clear this week on a 9-hour Zoom call for the City’s Finance Committee meeting, where residents, Black, white and Brown, got to use their voices to speak about far better ways to address community wellness and public safety.

Yet some of us learned of another Providence meeting of the City Council members, where Black councilwoman, Nirva LaFortune, was talked over and muted during the Zoom meeting, by fellow councilman, John Igliozzi. Igliozzi announced a petition he said he created to bring to the RI General Assembly to appeal the state’s Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights. Councilwoman LaFortune stated on the call, that she had been working on a resolution to repeal the bill and it was on the agenda to present to the council. She continued to say that Igliozzi was aware of and co-signed on it, and that this petition was appropriated from LaFortune by him without speaking with her, or giving her credit for the research, and work that she had done. Igliozzi continued to erase the work and voice of the Black woman councilwoman, as he muted LaFortune several times more as she tried in vain to make her point heard and acknowledged–the final time right after the councilwoman told Igliozzi that “this is oppressive behavior.”

And in all of this, still we wait for the arrest of the two officers who killed Breonna Taylor while she was sleeping in her home in Louisville, Kentucky. Breonna, 25, a beloved EMT, and her boyfriend, were asleep when the police broke into their home unannounced. Thinking it was an intruder, Breonna’s boyfriend walked toward the living room, licensed gun in his hand to defend himself and Breonna. The police upon sighting him started shooting. They fired eight shots that killed Breonna. Why did they break into her home? They were looking for someone who had a warrant out for his arrest for drug dealing. They were in the wrong home. The person they were looking for: He was already in custody.

Some of us are performing activism with expressions of outrage, and sadness, followed up with lackluster, or absent action. Many corporations have made statements in support of Black Lives Mattering, along with proclamations of intention to make their workplace “inclusive” and “equitable.” Some have even already instituted a policy to now make Juneteenth an official holiday. Some of us are seeing media outlets scramble to feature stories on race, and even hire Black writers and photographers and journalists to tell them. We are seeing art museums and arts organizations all of a sudden featuring the works of Black artists on their sites, like the Poem-a-day series I subscribe to that for the last month has featured daily poems by contemporary, as well as, 19th and 20th century Black poets.

Some of us are so worried about how dangerous the world feels “because of all the rioting and looting and Chicago and Black on Black crime, and nobody wanting to be a police officer anymore because of how dangerous it is for them, with everyone being against them now…” Many of our inner Karens have been exposed.

Some of us, a lot of us, say we really care, and we really do, and all of us, have to really do. I heard a Black woman artist at the George Floyd protest, who said in conversation with a friend of hers, another Black woman, that at this point, the only way white people can show they are supporting Black people, is to do one or more of these three things:

Give money

Share resources

Put your body on the line

Some of us see ourselves in some of this here, or all of this here, or none of this here. Trust me, my own white fragility guilt and shame level has been on ultra-high, too. Now is the time to rid ourselves of the guilt and shame that does nothing but absolve us in our own minds from doing anything, keeps us uncomfortable about ourselves only. Keeps us stuck and inert. With this focusing on ourselves and how bad we feel, we cannot see beyond ourselves, or be strong enough to do anything to break down racism. All of us have to be willing to be in discomfort outside of ourselves, whether it is in conversation with other white people about race, whether it is asking a question to a Black person that we are worried is going to make us seem racist, or whether it is digging into figuring out what actions we can take in our communities to break down systemic racism.All of us need to decide which ones of us we see here, and which one of us we are going to become.