Today I was going to write about self-care beyond manicures, but I decided to bump that post to tomorrow. I planned to talk about meditation, journaling, and whatnot and I was hoping to skip over the vile stuff happening in Charlottesville, Virginia- USA this weekend. Not skip it in the sense that I wouldn’t ever talk about it, but maybe skip it for now. I feel corny adding my two-cents at the exact same moment all the other distraught white people are posting about it.
So why did my blog post about self-care get bumped? I’m sure you’re dying to know. I guess something shifted for me this afternoon while I sat on my breezy patio overlooking Lake Arenal in the mountains of Costa Rica. All morning, I was so happy connecting with my clients on-line. I was so comfy eating stir-fried kale and tomatoes…and drinking a cold beer. On a whim, I decided to scroll through FB to see what was up with my cyber friends around the world before I started working on my website. Yes, at this point I was aware that there had been tiki-torch marches by divisive white folks happening a few hours from my State-side home, but I kind of thought they would have petered out by today. Instead. I saw several of my Unitarian-Universalist buddies on FB, including the surrogate momma of my two cats, in Charlottesville as a counter presence to the racist parade happening in outside of UVA.
Huh…It’s still happening? The tiki-torch people are still fussing about their perceived inequality?
There are lots of posts about how wrong they are (I agree; they are foolish) so it feels very bandwagon-y to chime in now. I’m making a squinchy-face as I type because I’m so uncomfortable adding another “insightful” thing to the collective commentary. So many adults have posted appropriate things about peace and solidarity. Not much more to be said. At the end of the day, we are all expressing that love should win out… and that it’s Trump’s fault that we are in this situation… and that this should all end.
Truth bombs galore.
I suppose I want to add one thought to the conversation… Here it goes: this momentary disgust and righteousness can be pretty annoying to POC (that stands for people of color, I didn’t know what POC meant myself until I asked someone earlier this year…true story). Throughout the last 20 years, I have had lots of convos with non-white folks and they are consistently un-surprised by the latest show of force/violence/hypocrisy from white citizens/politicians/judges/police.
How do they get to the point where they preferred to adopt a resigned stance? Because racism is everywhere all the time for them.
They aren’t suddenly reminded that racists live among us because something finally happened that is getting TV coverage. Murder and injustice are ever-present in minority communities (and, no, I’m not referring to inner-cities) and POC talk about it all the time. Acts of racism are discussed in safe spaces and details of atrocities are shared off-line and away from the media that feeds 95% of the American population. As the wife of a POC and the mother of three boys who are considered POC, I can vouch that these conversations are free-flowing. My family talks about race with all of our non-white friends A LOT. It’s an on-going, never-ending conversation. Why am I mentioning this? Because as a white person, I am also able to run in a bunch of white-only circles and I know that race is rarely discussed there. There is some overlap with racial topics when Oprah, sports (don’t get white people started on Colin Kaepernick kneeling), or movies come up in conversation. Generally, I don’t talk about race relations very much at family or white friends’ homes. Almost never, if I’m being honest. Even as half of an interracial marriage, a mom of biracial boys, and an African-American Studies major…race/civil rights is not a normal thing to talk about. Of course, there are exceptions and I’ve gotten into many hot conversations about race this past year (lots of mixed thoughts about the state of our nation). To say it another way, throughout my 40 years, I’ve heard more about race/racism/racial injustice in non-white spaces than I have in white circles.
Why? (not a rhetorical question– I’ll pause while you answer in your mind)
Here’s the answer: people talk about things that matter to them and people talk about things that impact them.
For white people in the US (I’m not going global with this post), injustice and race relations are optional topics most of the time (almost always). I’ve had many academic and almost anthropological conversations about inequality with white friends, but rarely does it get personal. I can’t think of any of my white friends who have been excessively accosted because of their skin color. Just to keep us on track and not slowed by a lone example, let’s say race has been a potential problem for one or two of my white acquaintances. On the flip side, all of my non-white friends have numerous experiences of being targeted. Some I’ve heard about after the prejudiced incident, others I have witnessed.
Everything I’ve said up to this point has all been said before, I’m only providing some review/context for a couple of great action steps that we, white folks, can take facilitate more foundational shifts. Up until now, I hope you have two takeaways: I feel super lame that I’m posting about race relations on the same day as a ton of other people and that POC talk freely about race relations all the time among themselves (unless Ben Carson is around). To be fair, they always censor what they say depending on the company. Note: If you want to be excluded from conversations about excessive, racist or unjust actions by our country’s real-life Law & Order system, say something like, “If he’d only listened to the police officer he’d be alive today.” Or the even more scholarly, “He must have been innocent since the prosecutor chose not to indict him” when discussing current events. While some white folks may argue with you and try to change your perception, I’ve observed most of my non-white friends silently withdraw from the conversation while mentally taking you off their “people I can trust” list. Not joking.
So let’s get to solutions already:
- Go to the movies
- Talk to your kids
My racially-swirled family makes it a practice to SHOW UP for movies that feature stories and actors who are non-white. Why? Because we want to. We like the movies and we like learning about other people; whether it’s Ironman or Dr. King (Selma was hit with our boys). We are also aware that we can vote with our dollars.
As happy as I feel going to milestone movies, I simultaneously feel like I cannot breathe when I see a theater full of non-white folks show up for a movie like Hidden Figures. Some may say it’s beautiful to see folks come out in solidarity, but where are the white people? That movie was BAD ASS and sooooo fun. Tons of white people were featured predominantly (hello, dreamy Kevin Costner!) and the story was about America. It wasn’t a foreign flick. No subtitles were needed. It had a great soundtrack and amazing acting. It was fan-tan-tabulous. Looking at the numbers, it’s pretty incredible to see 12% of the population dominating the purchased seats. What does this have to do with anything? For starters, white people need to show up for other people’s stories. I’m not gonna tell you which movies to see, but start going to/financially supporting films that depict Americans that don’t look like you. Just do it. Worried you’ll be the only white person or people in the theater? You might be. Don’t be scared (your unfounded fear of violence by POC is racist, btw). No one will hurt you…unless you act like an asshole. Don’t be an asshole. You’ll be fine. In fact, I can almost guarantee you will get major cred (that’s short for credit) as a white person. POC have such low expectations for white people to be decent or fair, that your presence might even surprise them. Yeah for shaking up expectations!
Don’t talk in the movie theater, even if POC are talking. As a white person, shut your mouth and watch. Cry, laugh, and enjoy the movie. You can process through your feelings later.
Okay, let’s pretend it’s “later.” You’re at home with your kids. Talk to them! Talk about race. Explain our nation’s history even if you pray for your kid to be a member of a color-blind generation. Tell them how people have made mistakes in the past and we need to know our history so we don’t repeat it. Give them a context for the Charlottsville protests from through your lens; let them hear how your values play out when it comes to civil rights. Find books to read your youngsters. Just google “children’s books about race” and you’ll get a million great suggestions. Get graphic novels like the trilogy March for pre-teens. For teens-adult kids: get two copies of a fiction or non-fiction book about a non-white person then read and discuss it. Get comfortable being uncomfortable. Show up authentically for your kid and say, “I don’t know” when you don’t know. Look for understanding together. Dig deeper. Research. Search for answers. Understand that one movie and one book won’t represent non-white experience, but it can get the conversation started.
Then talk about all of the things you’re learning again and again and again. If you start infusing your life (and the lives of your children) with empowering narratives of love and hope and perseverance regarding equality, then that’s what you’ll end up talking about at dinner and on road trips. You won’t want to avoid the stories of murder or discrimination. Instead, you will have a context in which you can genuinely mourn alongside your brown and black brothers and sisters. You can have a rich dialogue about how and why you need to stand up to discrimination. You can also teach your children to champion your family’s values at work, in your house of worship, and at school. You can practice what they can say to show solidarity with someone being harmed. You can empower them to report hate speech or threatening acts. They don’t have to be in harm’s way in order to do the right thing. When more kids are proponents of equality, we have more equality. A real power shift happens when those on the side of love stand up and proactively show love to others.
Learn New Stuff… Discuss
In the end, if we all want more love in the world, we must stay engaged in conversation after posting outrage over tiki-torch marches on our FB page. We need to stop assuming the well-publicized incidents are isolated. We need to believe people who have been hurt and stop explaining away their pain. Please keep posting and writing and speaking out, but then create a real connection to the people you think deserve love. Learn more about them by watching movies and reading books. It is NOT the responsibility of every POC you encounter to educate you. Don’t ask the black guy at work or the Latino woman in line at Starbucks to explain racism or how it impacts them. There is already plenty of information floating around the internet and in the arts (plays, poetry, visual art, music, books, movies/documentaries, etc) to keep you busy for years. Explore all of the personal and historical stories about our nation’s people by yourself. After you learn something new, process your findings with your kids and other open-minded souls.
If you do those two things: learn and talk, you’ll be shifting our white community from a stance of aloof disconnection to one of genuine integration. You won’t only think about racism when provoked via news stories or protests. Instead, you will see how chronic our nation’s ailment really is and how your efforts can directly contribute towards our collective healing.
The journey is short, but each step is wildly rewarding. Start by learning more about the people the tiki-torch fools hate so much.