Tag Archives: The Body Is Not An Apology

Where Are All My White People At?

5 Mar

Photo credit. wyso.org

A friend suggested I jot down 10 random questions on a sheet of paper, instead of simply sitting down and trying to think of what my next blog post should be about. The questions became prompts. Of course, the very last question was the one: Will us white people ever look in the mirror like author James Baldwin refers to in The Fire Next Time?

What Baldwin knew when he wrote that book in 1963, was that us white people did everything we could to avoid acknowledging anything to do with our own history, and our past and present behaviors. We didn’t, and we don’t, want to acknowledge how this country was not founded on the principle that “all men are created equal.” It instead was founded on stolen lives and violence, through slavery, and through stolen land and genocide of the Indigenous people of North America.

The made up construct of race, with a hierarchy of whiteness seen as superior, and everyone else as other, and inferior, was put into place in order to create and sustain the systems of power and oppression that exist to this day. We white people implemented Jim Crow laws which legalized segregation, and set up laws and policies that allowed white people to live where we wanted to live, obtain a job without worry of discrimination, go to well-resourced schools in our own neighborhoods, work where we wanted to work, conveniently shop where we wanted to shop, take out a business loan or home mortgage with fair interest rates, and take advantage of the GI bill to again, afford to buy a home in a “nice” neighborhood and get that mortgage. Over one million Black veterans at that time were shut out of having the same access and opportunity to those benefits which allowed white families to continue to build even more generational wealth through home ownership.

Yes, when various groups of immigrants arrived in America from Ireland, Italy, and Jews from Eastern Europe, we at first faced discrimination too. But we were allowed to “become white,” and were subsequently afforded all the privileges of those who were called white before us. We got to live The American Dream. We all believed the American motto and individualist myth, that if one just works hard enough, they can achieve whatever it is they want in this country, and if they don’t, it’s because of their own laziness, lack of ambition, and moral inferiority.

We kept, and sill try to keep Black and Brown people from voting. We started the War on Drugs, and allowed crack cocaine to flood Black communities, which led to the mass incarceration of Black men and women, while white men and women either were let go, or served much lighter sentences for the same offenses. We kept and keep corporate boardrooms white, and are more likely to pass over resumes with names that sound Black. We are good as long as our kids get to go to the diverse enough public schools in our neighborhoods, but don’t want to send our kids to under-resourced schools in neighborhoods we silently think of as “too diverse,” of low socio-economic status, unsafe, and inferior in their academics. We don’t blink an eye at how we so easily see ourselves represented in our movies, museums, magazines, teachers, neighbors, co-workers, and we don’t notice who is not included. We pat ourselves on the back for making our workspaces or schools more diverse, but don’t secede our power, or ways of whiteness, thereby not changing the culture, or ways of interrelating and opening up to all perspectives of seeing and deciding on things, and so these spaces stay bound to white supremacist culture and conditioning, and unwelcoming, and block advancement to those who are not white.

And we really, really don’t want to look in the mirror and see all of this, and we don’t want to look into our souls and find all of this history residing there. Even, if our families arrived here in post-slavery times, we have this dust in our souls, and we have all of the heavy footprints of colonization, and white supremacist systems, institutions, societal norms, privileges, and racialized thoughts and behaviors, in every step and breath that we take.

Which brings me to the present. Many of us in this country feel, now is a time of reckoning in regards to race and racism in this country. Many white people are finally waking up to the violence committed against Black men, women and children, primarily by police officers and self-appointed white vigilantes. We have finally heard the call of Black Lives Matter, which fell on our deaf ears for 400 years prior to Trayvon Martin’s murder in 2012. We are finally waking up to all the ways we have oppressed, and continue to oppress Black people in this country.

And so after I jotted down that question about looking in the mirror, I expanded upon it. I free-wrote: will us white people do the work ourselves to unpack our whiteness, heal our rage and trauma that has to do with the racial atrocities we committed, and will we acknowledge, and do the body work, healing work–break it all the way down with, as Resmaa Menakem advised us, with our own selves, and our own white “guru,” not a Black guru, or Indian guru, so that we can truly acknowledge, reconcile, heal and take part in creating a fair, just, equal, equitable, integrated society without white people above any more, but have us truly living side-by-side in society?

Now, I can’t claim to be all woke to therapist and author, Menakem’s work just yet, including his book, My Grandmother’s Hands, Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies, because I am not. I just purchased his book, and have listened to him talk in two podcasts. His work focuses on internal generational racial trauma healing through not only working with our minds, but also somatically, through our bodies, where trauma resides. While listening to him, and you should listen, one of the things he said that stood out, was about how us white people really need to do our own healing, and that it has to be with us, and not, as I paraphrased above, by seeking out “Black or Indian gurus…” He went on to say this is going to take a lot of work, and take a long time, but that it must be done.

Which brings me to, doing the work. Where are all my white people at? I know a lot of us, as I’ve noted in recent posts, have been doing a lot of reading about the history of race and racism in this country, reading the works of Black authors–literary works, and works focusing on the work of anti-racism, as well as getting involved in racial justice community actions. I also continue to hear from fellow white people, and from Black and Brown people about white people, whether friends, or on social media, of us still posing the question of “what can I do?” or saying, “I should be doing more.”

Which brings me to: do the work.

Yes, I need to do the work. You, fellow white person, need to do the work. We all, all of us white people, need to do the work. And, what is the work? I’m just a middle-aged, white-skinned Jewish woman on a journey also trying to figure out what that means for me, for us. I am not a scholar, or expert to think I can tell you what to do and how to do it, but here are some thoughts and things I am doing, and striving to do.

The first thing we need to do is look in the mirror like James Baldwin didn’t hold onto hope that we could or would. We can’t do anything without acknowledging the reality of the totality of American history, and the violence and systems of oppression we created and continue to uphold.

Then, we can begin to educate ourselves, which many of us are finally starting to do through reading, and conversation. We have to be willing to get uncomfortable in the conversations we have with Black, Brown and Indigenous people, and to make mistakes, and allow ourselves to be corrected. We have to learn and practice not getting defensive, not over-apologizing, and not shedding white tears. We need to talk amongst ourselves, too, and hold one another accountable, and support one another in this work.

In considering all that needs to be done in educating ourselves, I was reminded of the ideas taught to me through teachers in the metalsmithing and woodworking classes I took, yet, I know this to ring true across all art forms. I remember my metals teacher especially, saying, as students we needed to learn and perfect our technique to the highest level, and then forget it, so that our authentic artistry and creativity could come through.

I believe we need to educate ourselves as fully as we can about racism, and about our own whiteness, and to deeply reflect on ourselves and the way we and those that came before us, have been moving through this world, and only then can we have the tools, and be in touch with our authentic selves, and be able to live the work of being fully human, take ourselves out of being white, and as world renowned author, poet, activist, and spiritual, transformational leader, Sonya Renee Taylor says, ” learn how to live in right relationship” with Black, Brown and Indigenous people in this country.

The Body Is Not An Apology author, Taylor, whose 2nd expanded edition I just purchased, beckons us to begin with “radical self-love.” Another book I am eager to read, I have gained much from following her on Instagram, and in listening to her conversation on the podcast, Eyes on Whiteness. Just the other day, I appreciated her talk on IG about white people taking responsibility. To put it in context, Sonya, who is American, just moved to New Zealand, after having previously split her time between there and the Bay area. I suppose after she announced her move this week, some white people chimed in to say they wish they too, could leave this country.

This talk came right on time for me. It seems lately I’m not only continually waking up to the ways of my own whiteness, but to the ways I have not taken responsibility, or done the work in other areas of my life. I’ve often been instant gratification girl. I want things to just happen. Like the time I urged my friend to send me the chanting meditation cd she had been listening to. A talented artist and poet, my friend had spent some time living in an ashram, practiced yoga, was doing her own spiritual work. She has always been a focused, intense, disciplined person. This was over ten years ago, but I remember her telling me that she was practicing the chanting while visualizing herself winning this poetry publication contest she submitted to. Well, she did win first place, and got her poetry book published. I can’t remember what I was hoping I’d win by possessing the cd, but I knew I just couldn’t get my hands on it fast enough. When it did finally arrive, I was thrilled. Now I’d be more spiritual, and more stuff in the universe would come to me. I don’t think I ever took the plastic wrapper off the cd set.

I say I want a lovely home, but don’t put in the time cleaning, painting, or de-cluttering. I say I want to be in love, but haven’t been consistent in making the effort to put myself out there, and to be fully present with the men I have met. Divorced for 8 1/2 years now, I know I sometimes hope that something magical will just happen, and I will live happily ever after. Cutting myself some slack along with all of you, for just trying to make it through this pandemic while working full-time at a psychiatric hospital, and hoping I’m holding up my two daughters’ spirits as they move through all of this too, I recently came to the revelation of still needing to put in some energy and effort. I need to do some work reckoning with my past, and open myself up to be able to give and receive love, so I can move forward and be present to the possibility of having a relationship. I am certain I will also need to practice the radical self-love that Sonya Renee Taylor speaks of to find my way in this.

See my pattern, and what I’m getting at? These things are much lighter than doing the work of breaking down racism, but I bring them up because we have to be willing to do the work. It will not be easy. We will not achieve enlightenment, or rewards, for doing the work we should have been doing since we first arrived in this country. But it is our responsibility.

In Sonya Renee Taylor’s talk, she said that some white people think, “the responsibility for solving issues of white supremacy delusion is on Black people’s shoulders.” She went on to say that it is white people’s responsibility to fix this. We created it. We need to figure out how to fix it, and fix it. She also said, that we have the “inhumane luxury” to propose to Black people that they make their needs or demands in a way that is comfortable to us–that we want it said in a certain way, a way that can’t sound angry–that we try and get away with simply having hope. That we say things like “I believe in the possibility of change,” but then do nothing. Or we say, “its too hard, or too slow, or too depressing.” Ultimately, as I shared above, Taylor says, our responsibility is to “make right relationship” with Black, Brown and Indigenous people here in America. We don’t, as Taylor says, just get to, up and leave America because we don’t like it here, and let racism and its systems of oppression continue to fester and rule, and then go run off to some other country where we can continue to live out our exploitive, gentrifying, white supremacist ways in other lands.

It is interesting to me that both Sonya Renee Taylor’s and Resmaa Menakan’s books relate to working to liberate ourselves through working with our bodies. As someone much more in tune with my emotions and instincts–heart over head–I am looking forward to taking my time with both of these important works.

We won’t fix racism or cure ourselves of our whiteness overnight, but we can’t afford to take any more time to start doing the work of fixing ourselves, and undoing racism and racist systems. We can’t wait until we think we know everything. We will never know everything. This is a journey, and we need to, if we haven’t already started, to start right now. Educate ourselves, and be hypervigilant about how whiteness is operating within ourselves, within other people, and within the spaces we find ourselves in.

Have the uncomfortable conversations. Make mistakes. Accept responsibility. Strive to do better next time. Speak up at your child’s school when you see how the white-led PTO is not including the voices, concerns, and desires of parents of color. Speak up at your workplace when your white co-worker makes a micro-aggression, or note the fact your non-profit organization’s administrators and board of directors does not include anyone representative of the community you serve. Get to know who the Black leaders in your community are. Find out ways you can support Black leaders, and Black-led organizations, without being a burden by asking them to tell you exactly what you should do. Share resources, either dollars, volunteering of time and/or skills, and show up at community events. Find out what the voting rights are like in your community, and get involved if things need to change for the better. Join an activist organization like Standing Up For Racial Justice, a movement of white people who come together to learn about racism, activism, whiteness, and fight for racial justice. There is so much we can, and need to do. There is so much we must do.

Are you ready? Where are all my white people at? Will you join me? May I join you?

What I Didn’t Want To Share, Or: If This White (Jewish) Woman Went To Confession, This Is What She’d Say

7 Nov

I actually did go to confession when I was in the fifth grade. I grew up as a Reform Jew, and wanted to know what all my Catholic classmates did in confession so I had a few of my friends take me to the grand, Immaculate Conception Church in our downtown. They prepped me on what to do and say when I got in the confession booth, and told me how to go to the altar and kneel and count to sixty instead of saying the Hail Mary. I felt certain the priest would know through the screened booth that I was Jewish. I felt guilty because I lied to him about the sins I made up about fighting with my sisters and lying to my parents, and that it was five weeks since my last confession. I felt guilty for kneeling at the altar because Jews aren’t supposed to kneel. But it made me feel like I knew something more about my friends, and what they experienced as Catholics. Left in our school’s classroom every Monday with the two other Jewish students, and the one Muslim student, while the rest of the class went to Catechism class, I had crossed a bridge into their world, and felt better off for doing so.

Speaking of guilt, I know my writing has been more sporadic as of late, but do you remember that bit of advice I gave at the end of Some Of Us White People ? Yes, the one about not letting our white people guilt, or shame, keep us focusing on ourselves, keep us stuck and inert and unable to act. You may not remember, because I wrote that piece in June–over four months ago!

Well, I didn’t listen to my own advice. I let myself get sucked into, let myself wallow in feelings of unworthiness, guilt, and wondered with self-importance if I, as a white woman, had the “right” to write about race–that maybe I could, maybe I should, just be quiet for a while.

I started a draft of this post back then, but kept putting off finishing  and publishing it because it didn’t say all that I thought I needed to say, and because I worried about sharing my vulnerability, and being called out for my own self-centering, self-absorbed “white freakin’ fragility” nonsense. As I sit to finally come back to this writing, it is November 5th, two days post-election, and we all sit waiting for all the ballots to be counted, and for the news of who will be our next President.

To be honest, this conflict about writing is something I’ve grappled with at times during the ten years I’ve been blogging about race, racism, and cross-racial connection. The sentences run through my brain…should I write about Black popular culture? about anti-Black racism?…Am I going to offend Black people with what I write? …Are white people going to think I am an extremist and make everything about race?I have no place wanting to write up the stories of the Queen of the Maroon peoples of Jamaica, Ga’ama “Mama G”, or more formally, Ga’ama Gloria Simms. Ga’ama Mama G is a great woman leader, who I was honored to meet in Jamaica, and be able to befriend through my friend, Professor Diana Fox, Chair of the Anthropology Department at Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts. I tell myself, shouldn’t it be a Jamaican woman who is representative of, and knows, the Jamaican culture? And, when I hear Black people say we should center and amplify the voices of Black people, of Black woman, I of course, fully agree.

As a white woman, I am grateful for the diversity of this blog’s followers and with every one’s engagement and feedback. As a writer, I also often hear the phrase, we should know who our audience is. I have to admit, I think I am someone who has lived her life in many areas in an unintentional, but perhaps, intuitive way, and I know I definitely wasn’t fully conscious of, or strategic, about who I was writing for when I started blogging. As time has gone on, I realize it is my intention, and my hope that sharing what I’ve experienced and learned through reading the works of Black scholars and writers, and while in conversation with Black people, and other white people, and through this reflective writing,  that white readers here will absorb at least some of it, and begin to question and change the way they see matters of race and racism, and us white people’s complicity in it. It is my hope that we all, no longer being able to unsee the racist foundation upon which this country was built and maintained, that we white people will want to change our ways of moving and behaving in this world, and more strongly, will do the work to break down racism in every facet of our lives. I know that it is also my hope that I continue to engage more deeply in conversations about race with Black people, and to learn more about their lived experiences, and to be open to receiving their feedback and questions, and to grow with that, and to not become defensive, or to let my guilt take over, like the very guilt and shame that had me hedging about writing and sharing this piece in the first place.

When I do express this inner conflict about writing to friends, Black, and white, I challenge myself to listen to their feedback with an open mind and heart. I was recently reminded of something I know, but also, at times, forget. Professor Julia Jordan Zachery, Chair of the Africana Studies Department at University of North Carolina, said, “you have a race..white people forget or don’t think they have a race. You have a race, and you’re writing about race through your white lens.” Diana, who I mentioned above, and who introduced me to Ga’ama Mama G., has shared her perspective of noting the many identities we hold, acknowledging intersectionality and the power and privilege that comes with those identities, and on broadening our views to one of a global interconnectedness. While acknowledging the need for affinity spaces, she also believes in the need for people of all backgrounds to come together for bridge-building work, and to bring about change in this world.

I have also recently gotten feedback from some Black people, suggesting, especially at this point in time, that instead of my writing on matters pertaining to the Black community, that I should center the voices of Black people in the telling of their own communities. What’s probably missing for me, is more feedback and interaction from other white people, especially the feedback I don’t get from white people who don’t like, or don’t believe in what I have to say. They seem to stay silent, and I’m left to ponder their missing feedback.

In the more distant past, I know I have looked for the feedback that told me I was still a “good white person,” and wanted to avoid hearing words that challenged my people-pleasing, good white person self. I got defensive and did that white person thing, of saying to myself and to friends, that whoever questioned what I wrote, didn’t know me, or my true intentions.

After ten years of writing, I definitely still can feel wounded at times when I take in commentary about white people and whiteness. I can personalize a “not all white people” statement, and then immediately afterward know I shouldn’t. And then take it to the place of knowing, but it is all white people, and embrace it. The constructs of race does not allow us to escape our whiteness. There is a dichotomy that sits inside of me that I continue to work on. The voice that says, I feel bad about myself, and the one that says, I am here to hear everything that needs to be heard about racism, whiteness, and white supremacy and white people’s complicity in it because it’s far more important to break down white supremacist systems than it is to worry about my good white person status. The latter is stupid and useless and dangerous.

As I get mad at myself for still, after all this time, having these feelings of guilt pop up, and work to overcome them, I wonder if these feelings of guilt and shame are more recently heightened because of this moment in time, and are a necessary thing for me, and other white people to not overcome, but to work through, in the process of undoing our whiteness, and of decolonizing our racialized minds and ways of moving in the world. It has to get uncomfortable, at least I know that is true especially for someone like me, to truly get myself further along on the journey of changing myself, and growing my ability to be a part of the change of the systems of white supremacy I find myself surrounded by. I know it is far more important to be able to hear the statements of truth about where we are at, at this very moment in this country. White people have the dire need to reckon with the white supremacist notions and racial violence that this country was founded on, and has maintained over the past 400 years, and as this election reflects, shows that half the country is desperately trying to hold on to. I will never “arrive” at being done with the work of dismantling the whiteness that resides within me and the world around me. None of us will. It is a lifelong journey, and will continue to be for those that come after us. I will work on seeing this moment as necessary for me to grow, instead of one that gets me stuck.

Something that is helping me tremendously to reckon with my current white woman junkpile of whiteness, is the podcast, Eyes on Whiteness. The podcast is co-hosted by Maureen Benson, who identifies as a white woman and whose work focuses on racial justice and intersectional leadership in the areas of education and social impact organizations, and Diedre Barber, who identifies as a Black, Puerto Rican gay women, and is the founder and CEO of Filament Consulting Group, where she coaches others—youth, educators, and corporations–to bring about systemic change through the use of authenticity, compassion, transparency and high expectations.

In the words of the founders, “Eyes On Whiteness is a podcast that illuminates the insidious and ignorant ways of whiteness, regardless of intent. Our guests are invited to talk about the ways white supremacy and patriarchy are pervasive and ever-present.  Our conversations are rooted in a commitment to normalizing the “how, not if” lens for looking at the ways it’s present for all of us.”

Eyes On Whiteness and the conversations that Maureen, and Diedre, who Maureen notes in her introduction, shows up when she feels like it, as is her right as a Black woman taking care of herself and setting boundaries for her own emotional labor, are deep, and eye, and heart opening. These two women truly reflect their values of authenticity, transparency, compassion and accountability, whether it is the two of them reflecting on how they feel on this Election Day, or in conversation with their guests who have included, poet/educator, Roger Bonair-Agard, educator, facilitator and healer, Leidene King, E3: Education, Excellence & Equity founder, Dr. JuanCarlos Arauz, and the episode I listened to twice for all of its gems: the conversation with poet, activist, leader and author of The Body Is Not An Apology, Sonya Renee Taylor.

Eyes On Whiteness is making me, instead of always looking outward to analyze anti-Black racism, look inward in a way that helps bring awareness to the ways whiteness shows up in me, and how it permeates all of us, and all the spaces we move in. It is challenging me to work through this current bout of white guilt I have been letting overtake me. It is helping me to sustain my will to always show up and be present in this lifelong work of what, I believe Diedre has named, as transmuting white supremacy. They say transmuting instead of dismantling because it is their belief that we will never break down white supremacy completely, but we can transform it, and change our ways of being together and living and working together—replace the ways of white supremacy with a new, non-hierarchal, equitable way of relating to, and caring for one another—to make a new way, and a new world together.

I thank you for sharing in my confession. Maybe mine will help you share yours. Because it’s okay to not be perfect, to slip up, to be self-aware, so we can know what we need to work on on ourselves. I give thanks to Maureen and Diedre, for all they have given to me over these past few weeks. I will now go count for 60 seconds, and clear out those guilt cobwebs, and begin again, looking for the next bridge to cross.