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Youth-Led Protest, Avoiding 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

9 Jun

Artist, Nafis White, in front of her mural piece on performance of care and need of sustained action @nafis_white. Breonna Taylor mural by Kendel Joseph @lucidtraveler_art

On Friday, June 5th, Providence, Rhode Island Black youth and youth of color, organized and led a Black Lives Matter protest. 10,000 people of all races, ethnicities, and ages came out to support. As I marched along downtown streets leading to the State House with my eighteen year-old daughter, I looked around, and said to myself, finally, we all showed up–meaning, finally, us white people have showed up. I had been disappointed at past rallies–for example, memorials honoring Mike Brown, Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, where I would look around and see that the crowd was much more sparse than the much larger numbers of white people who attended the Women’s march or Anti-Gun Violence march.

But all of us together on Friday was a beautiful sight. Despite the heavy police and military presence, our young people inspired. Young Black women were the leaders, the glue that held the community event together. When a good number of people carried on the march that night throughout the city despite the imposed 9:00 p.m. curfew, young Black women were the ones to deescalate the crowd when police created moments of tension. Let us praise, elevate and continue to support our Black youth and youth of color, and not forget them, or let the glow from this day, and the purpose of this day, fade from our memory, or our duty to take action to continue to support the movement for Black Lives until all of us are free.

Youth led Black Lives Matter protest, Providence, RI, June 5, 2020
BLM youth led protest, RI State House
BLM march continues, James Street, Providence, RI

While I continue to stumble along the way in how to best support and use my voice to call out blatant racism, and to deconstruct racist systems that exist in every sphere of our lives, over this past weekend, I let myself stumble into a hole, a big ole’ donut hole. An owner of Allie’s Donuts, a Rhode Island institution for over fifty years, posted on social media that in support of breaking down systemic racism in policing, and to support Black Lives, they would no longer be honoring their 10% discount for the police or military.

Cue many white people losing their minds over this. Insulted white people took to social media to repeat the very words they said when Colin Kaepernik first took a knee. “How could they disrespect the police and the military like this?” “A few bad apples don’t spoil the whole bunch, girl…” Well, they didn’t say that one exactly, that being a line from a 1970’s Osmond brothers song, but the bad apples reference showed up a lot in said posts on Facebook and Instagram.

I found myself getting so mad, and unable to resist the voice in my head saying “Don’t engage, Wendy.” “You know they won’t hear you.” But, alas, the voice that said, “Don’t stand for this racist foolishness. Call them out,” won out. I responded to a few posts, and comments on posts, made by co-workers. As expected, their focus remained on the disrespect they perceived was being placed on the police and military, and their blinders did not allow their hearts, even when pressed, to acknowledge, to have empathy, or to even utter any word about the racial violence perpetuated upon Black people.

Today I decided, despite my continued pandemic comfort eating of way too much sugar and fat, including the intermittent donut, that I will pull myself out of the donut hole, and take better care of myself. I will continue to call out racist bs when I hear it, but I will place most of my energy in supporting Black people in my community through word and deed.

As hard as it can be to lift ourselves up through trying times, I am forever inspired and grateful to all the artists in our communities, in our world. I will have to do a whole separate post soon about the artist project, Gratitudes, that master printmaker, Jacques Bidon, and artist, Nafis White, both affiliated with the local non-profit art organization, AS220, carried out, but wanted to mention it to illustrate a point. Briefly, Nafis and Jacques, in response to COVID-19, conceived of and created print care packages consisting of thank you cards and fine art prints with inspirational quotes which they gifted to staff at Rhode Island and Miriam hospitals, and for the psychiatric hospital I work for, Butler Hospital. The prints are being distributed to our frontline essential workers–housekeepers, nurses, doctors, mental health workers, etc.–and they have been much appreciated by our staff.

One of the prints included in the print package, is a photograph of a flowering tree with this Toni Morrison quote: “This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self pity, no need for silence, and no room for fear. We do language. That is how civilizations heal.”

Yesterday, I got so see Toni Morrison’s words put into action. After work at the hospital, Jacques, let me know that there were a number of artists downtown creating murals on the boards that had gone up to cover small businesses’ windows–some that had been vandalized earlier in the week by youth not affiliated with protestors protesting for the purpose of racial justice–and others to prevent damage feared that might occur during Friday’s protest. However, there was no more damage done that night.

When I arrived, it was heart-opening to see so many artists working on creating beautiful images, and words–art created which reflected the beauty of Blackness, art that supported and called for the safety of, the equality of, and the justice for Black and Brown, Indigenous and Queer people, and art which called for us white people to recognize the call to do the work for the long haul for freedom to come to fruition for real.

The work, I’m told was de-installed today, but will be displayed at 1 Eddy Street, along with a gathering Tuesday, June 9th, at 6 pm, at this location, by the Breonna Taylor memorial mural. The gathering, as shared by Nafis White, will be “to celebrate Breonna’s life, to dance, lay flowers, and honor her and all the other women and men who have perished at the hands of the police.”

Defund The Police, Support Funds For The Community chalk art
Black Lives Matter mural in progress
Breonna Taylor mural by Kendel Joseph, @LucidTraveler_Art
More Mural art on Westminster Street, Providence, RI, by @Lunabadoula, @lizzysour, ysnel.com
Mural in progress by @naturalsnatural
Breonna Taylor mural, on corner of Washington and Eddy Street, where celebration of Breonn’as life will be held, Tuesday, June 9, at 6:00 p.m.

While I feel this post is a bit scattered, much like my mind these days in trying to ground and center myself so I can be an effective anti-racist, I’m going to close by sharing an article I wrote for local, Motif magazine: Be A Support: Five Do’s and Don’ts for White People Taking Anti-Racist Action. I thank, friend and poet, Christopher Johnson, for so generously encouraging me to write and send something to Motif, and thank, Motif editor, Emily Olsen, for her help in editing the piece, and for publishing it.

Have a beautiful day. And, fellow white people, please take anti-racist action today, and every day.

Thank you.

The Problem With White People Time

22 Jan

fonny tish if beale street could talk
If Beale Street Could Talk
Tish and Fonny, If Beale Street Could Talk
(photo credit: The Atlantic)

We’ve heard it, right? People from various cultural groups talking about being on “black people’s time” or “Spanish people’s time.” In other words, the self-effacing joke that when they say they’ll arrive at that family function at 3:00 p.m. and show up at 5:00 p.m., they are not late, and every one already knows they are not showing up at 3:00 p.m.

Then, there’s the joke comedian Chris Tucker tells about the one thing he learned from dating white girls, was, to be “on time.”

There’s beauty in realizing we have different relationships to time. I remember my mother and aunts talking about trips to Spain to visit my grandmother, who had moved there when she retired. As a teenager, I loved imagining the dinners they spoke of, that started around nine o’clock and stretched to midnight with a languorous parade of tapas, wine, espresso, and conversation.

But time can become a problem when white people expect it to unfold in their real time. In all of my noticing, and consciousness-raising of my own whiteness, and whiteness as a whole, I have come to see how when we gauge an art form, or an event, or a social interaction through our white, European-centered lens, sense of etiquette, and what we’ve been indoctrined by white society to deem the way something should be done, we do a great disservice to black people, and of course to any other culture, ethnicity or race that is different from our own. To begin to break down our white-centered gaze, we must first remember how whiteness sees itself as the center, as the norm, and everyone else, as spokes streaming out from the center of the wheel of whiteness.

This whole matter of white people’s time came to my attention last week, when Joe Wilson, Jr., a main actor from the renowned Trinity Repertory Company here in Providence, Rhode Island, posted a social media note about a review in The Providence Journal. Joe, who is black, and who acts in and co-directs the currently running play, black odyssey, was incensed that theatre critic, Channing Grey, who is white, wrote the play “could use some trimming.”

The play, black odyssey, by acclaimed playwright, Marcus Gardley, is a retelling of Homer’s classic, The Odyssey. According to Trinity Rep, the play is how “one man’s journey home from war leads him on an adventure connecting him with his own ancestors and our shared humanity, before finally delivering him back to his wife and son.”

It is an epic tale–a layered journey of storytelling, with song, ritual, and time travel through ancient and current history of the African diaspora, including black American history and culture. The play is 2 hours and 50 minutes in length.

When I read the entire review, I was also bothered by other perspectives of the critic. Grey stated as if it was not enough for Gardley to not only show us “tortured slavery, …but also…police brutality,” it was as if he was saying, the nerve of the playwright to make me confront the ongoing history of black pain at the hands of whiteness. Another line about this being a play for “often forgotten audiences,” gave way to the reality of structural white-centered dominance in the arts, including who gets to say what is considered mainstream theatre.

But, back to white people’s time. When we say a play needs some trimming, we are saying that from our learned white-gaze, what a play should look like, how the story should be structured, how the art of storytelling should be expressed, how the actors should perform their lines, how the stage direction should go, and how tidily edited it should be. We are giving our white-centered critique of another group’s culture, which we do not know. Therefore, how can we critique it?

I can recall a time, of which I am ashamed of, when my own white people time showed itself. It was at a fundraiser several years back, highlighting the good works of local Black businesses. I remember catching myself thinking that the pacing of the event was slow in spots, and that the guests took too much time speaking at the podium. Then I caught myself, and said to myself: “wait a minute! When do white people ever give attention to black businesses, or host community events and notice who is included and who is excluded, or notice much else that black people do and accomplish, aside from our celebrity worship of black artists and athletes? And, so, while knowing black people don’t ever need my permission, or acknowledgment, I quickly jumped to the thought of, “go ahead! You should be taking all the time you want to stop and recognize yourself, and your peers, and to bask in the attention and praise you deserve. And, who am I to say how the pacing of an event should go, if I am only going to consider all the white-centered planning of events I have attended throughout my life?” I realized that my white people time was way off the mark, and I adjusted.

I almost had to slap myself when I caught myself using white people time again at If Beale Street Could Talk, a beautiful and deep film, inspired by James Baldwin’s story of the same name. The film was directed by Barry Jenkins, who also directed Moonlight. Stylistically, the film for me, with its use in places, of slow-motion cinematography, and time-suspended close-ups of its actors gazing into the camera, pulled me into another dimension of time, another dimension of being. The film asked me to slow down my i-phone, social media rush of a world, and simply be there in the moment with the young couple in love: Fonny, played by Stephan James, and Tish, played by Kiki Layne. The pacing of the film allowed me to get to know their families, their conversations full of weight, of gold, of lightness of being, their beauty, their love, their knowing determination to survive the reality of their lives living in their skin in 1970’s New York City.

There are a number of scenes where their love is shown through the actors’ suspended gazes at one another, and toward the end of the two-hour film in one of the scenes where Fonny is looking at Tish, my white people time kicked in. I wondered, could I do with a tiny bit less of the slowed moments, but then again, immediately after the thought came, I stopped my whiteness lens, and said, No! It is not for me to critique the movement of this film. Fonny’s loving gaze, the slowed moments that capture the love of these two main characters, and their families, is a love that white America rarely takes the time to see, to experience, to believe it exists.

The love of Tish’s family, the joy of living in all kinds of love–including family and friends–and the commitment to both, and also the deep knowing of the struggle to survive and thrive living as a black person in this country is something most of us white people don’t pay attention to. And so I acknowledged my white-centered lens had too thick of a filter on, and I flowed with Barry Jenkins’ flow. And, the flow was beautiful.

I realized, too, Beale Street’s storytelling wasn’t necessarily for me, or for white people to “get.”Some or all of it’s cultural signifiers and nuances, may skim over our heads, and hearts. But, it’s message of the reality of what it is like for black men to live and be wrongfully convicted–their lives “thrown away” in the unjust criminal justice system, and the impact that has on his families, is of course critical for white people to get. So is the portrayal and reflection of black people’s lives, humanity and narratives, when given dimension, and are seen in the world in a way so rarely seen in films telling white-centered stories, written by white writers, and filmed by white directors. Realizing all of this, I then had, and have, gratitude for being able to witness this story as told by its storytellers, Baldwin and Jenkins. I recalled Julie Dash’s film, Daughters of the Dust, and again remembered, time, and storytelling, is relative.

With all of this talk of white people time as it relates to black art forms and events centering the black experience, I am not saying white people don’t have the right to their own opinion about the quality of a piece of work, or can not share about how a piece of work made them think or feel, but knowing most of all of that is subjective anyway, what I am asking, is that as white people, we first take note of the lens we are looking through, and then, crush it.

Isn’t it about time we did so?

So Proud of Our Young People: Providence Student Walk-Out Should Inspire Us All

24 Jan

Young leaders of Providence Student Union Walk-Out

On Friday, January 20, 2017, at precisely 11:08 a.m., a thousand students from over eight public, charter, and private high-schools in Providence, Rhode Island, walked out of their classrooms, and poured into the streets for a unified march to the State House. They rose to action to show their solidarity for those they felt were endangered, and at the least, would not be well represented or cared for under the new presidency. (I still refuse to say his name.)

When plans for the march were first announced, there was concern from some high schools students because the march fell on a day of mid-term examinations. For about a week leading up to the walkout, there were conflicting reports of whether students who participated would be penalized or not, or given zeros on their exams. I have two daughters, a freshman and a junior at Classical High School.  They wanted to march, but were concerned about missing their exams.  I knew I wanted them to want to march, but that it wasn’t my decision. We talked about the fact that making decisions to stand up for something might mean you put yourself at risk, make yourself uncomfortable, because the people you care about who are being oppressed are often at risk, and live uncomfortably, and don’t have the luxury to choose to forget about what it means to be Black, or Muslim, or an immigrant, or gay or trans, and if it means you sacrifice something to stand up, then maybe that’s what you should do, and not worry about the zeros. In the midst of the girls deciding, with them still leaning strongly toward marching if they knew they wouldn’t get zeros on their mid-terms, an announcement came from the school saying […]

Me and Black Providence: Where’s The Connection?

25 May

My friend Ellen asked me if it was hard to come up with material for the blog, and to write so frequently.  I responded that it’s not so hard most of the time, but there are definitely days I have no idea of what I’m going to write about.

Early on, I had a lot to say, a lot I had already written about my growing up, and the way I was able to connect across colorlines as a young girl, teen, and into my twenties.  But, now that I have written a good deal about my past, I feel I have to look to news and ideas that are current, that aren’t always looking backward, and more importantly, that show my present day-to-day striving to connect across colorlines here in Providence, Rhode Island, where I have lived for the past five years.

Only problem is, I haven’t done much connecting.  Providence is a very diverse city; it’s population represented with diverse groups of people from Portugal, Cape Verde, Dominican Republic, Liberia, Nigeria, the Azores and beyond. Yet, I don’t know exactly why, but connecting with diverse peoples on a more personal level has seemed out of reach for me.

It seemed easier for me in other places to gain a sense of where certain communities of people lived, shopped, and ate.  Perhaps I used to be more adventurous; more of an explorer.  Maybe being a mother of two pre-teen daughters means I’m spending more time being their chauffeur, and not enough time expanding my horizons.

Where does the black community live here?  Or, is the community spread out over many neighborhoods?  I know of the Mt. Hope neighborhood on the East Side of Providence, but I don’t really know of other neighborhoods.  And, who are the faces of black Providence?What are their stories?

What’s a white blogger with an obsession about race relations to do?

I have to become the explorer again.  I need to connect with people who are black that I do know here and have them teach me about Providence and black culture and local black history.  I need them to help me connect with others that I don’t yet know.  I need to start collecting and sharing stories.

I’m excited just thinking about all the good things that will come from making new connections.  Thanks for listening.  I hope to share some new Providence stories very soon!