When facing racism, undercut and expose

I wrote an email on Wednesday with a subject of: “About Black hair & portrayals of Blackness” to the mother of another child in the 3 and 4 year old class. What propelled, if not compelled, me to do so was having read a helpful article on microagressions by Ruth Terry in the October 2019 YES magazine a few weeks prior.

 By “naming” a microaggression, a concept Sue borrows from Paulo Freire’s seminal work, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, we are able to undercut its power and expose metacommunication behind it.

I’ve had mixed feelings about microaggressions for years, yet some new perspectives captured in the article of naming what they are and how to deal with them led me to conclude that this was an opportunity to practice confronting the petty bullshit that white people spew and do in the face of people of color.

And, I’ve been doing work this year where a big piece in the group dynamics work is to “name the thing.” This, I sent an email about portrayals of Blackness that proceeded to name how whites need to figure out how to talk about and tell stories about whiteness, family histories, and experiences with race. And when I say race that is shorthand for racism and racial differences and race-based consequences be they in school, in workplaces, or in society.

I had to name the thing for myself because to not do so would be to placate and accommodate ignorant, hurtful conduct. I was deliberate about writing how this other parents behavior was racist as well as name some of the larger implications of racism and the heft KF what it is to be Black in the United States; though, I could have said Black in the world, but that would have been a bit too meta and likely abstract for a white person that I had never had a conversation about race before Wednesday’s email.

I made a clear request for corrective action and also asked that they let me know of their choice. I made that request not assuming that they would definitely respond or even acknowledge my missive. On Thursday, I did get a response from the partner saying two things/ that the corrective action had been done and that I should not (maybe it said never) contact them again. I was not looking to make friends with the parent. If anything, I was undercutting power.

Not death, destruction or agony but joy

I am a paradox of patience and impatience. I endure hours and decades of odd behavior and unfortunate choices while I detest the sluggishness of the status quo in politics, the imbalances of economics, and the persistence of racism and sexual violence.

So, it is with some reluctant intrigue that I read this discussion on Kurt Vonnegut by Suzanne McConnell:

You do not have to experience death or destruction or agony to write. You simply have to care about something. Perhaps what you care about is joyful. 

I have waited and procrastinated. I have doubted self and squandered storylines and anecdotes. At times, I have dreamed of a story that does not dwell in the hatred and violence of humankind. I aspire to read more and write some such writing as the spoken word carries heft and the written word carries power. The power to continue, perpetuate or the ability to break from broken habits and cultural norms and storied tropes.

Trope: 1. any literary or rhetorical device….

Honoring Karim, the shaman

Eight years ago, in September 2011, we walked into the animal shelter in Santa Fe to meet the Bull Terrier, who at the time was known as Blue and when he came home with us a few days later we chose the name Karim. In Urdu, Karim means blessing. At the shelter, they estimated that he was 3 years old; we have since wondered if he was as old as 5 back then. Either way, that would make the last Tuesday in September, the 24th, his 11th (or possibly 13th) birthday.

This past Saturday, October 12, Karim died. We buried him at midday on Sunday, the 13th, in a grave that I began to dig (15% of what was the needed size and depth) in mid-September when I wondered and worried if he would day in the 48 hours that I was out of town. He didn’t die while I was gone, so I got to dig the grave that he and I needed. Since late August, we have known that his right kidney was inflamed and there was blood in urine. (Looking through photos after he died, we saw one from six months ago, from March that showed a few drops of blood in pee in the foyer.)

In Advice for Future Corpses: And Those Who Love Them, Sallie Tisdale writes (on page 88), “If you are going to help someone who is dying, you should be prepared to help in the toilet.” In a way, Karim had us (and many friends and dog sitters who came to care for him and Jataka when we were away at births or vacations), preparing for his death for years. Coming home to find piss or shit in the foyer became so frequent upon returning home that I was at ease cleaning it up some days and at other times I was livid. In recent months, I got into the habit of walking from the parked car to the front door quickly and by myself to see if there was anything awaiting us. And the day before he died, it dawned on me that I had been doing this quick walk to the front door because I anticipated that I would come home and find Karim dead in the foyer, on the couch, or on the dog bed. All that urine and poop was getting me ready for death. On Saturday, I came home to find him on the dog bed in front of the wood stove before walking back outside to let Brinda and Sabiya know that he had died before we walked in together to see him, sit with him, be with him and be with one another in the presence of his death.

It was a sobering last month or six weeks of his life as his weight declined quickly. I could see it first in his vertebrae along his back, then the ribs along his formerly stout midsection, and finally in the hip bones that portruded at angles that had never been evident before. When I would rub his neck, there was much less muscle and mass to massage.

The disintegrating, disappearing body was simultaneously jarring and expected as he loved so many foods. Before Karim, I had not known that a dog would chew up carrots, cabbage and broccoli. A constant topic of debate was whether Karim’s favorite fruit was peach, mango, apple or whatever was in season. In preparing for  his burial, I pulled out one peach pit and two cherry pits from a katori in the fridge for Sabiya to throw into the grave along with a pink collar and a white blanket that we wrapped him in. He loved blankets, and I have learned from Karim and Brinda that (some or most) dogs love sleeping partially or fully under a blanket. Whenever a blanket or a jacket, a pile of clean laundry or a pile of pillows and blankets for the bed were available, he would go settle in for a most comfortable snuggle — it didn’t matter to him if he slept so long as he got to snuggle in a makeshift bed.

Even as he was getting weaker and slower and skinnier, he walked over to a chair on the portal to lay outside for less than an hour. The autumn air was crisp in the shade and he would go to the green chair to get a few more minutes outside before I carried him back inside. In the last week, there were three nights that I took him out to pee when we were greeted with the hoo hoo hooting of an owl; one night, there were two owls in the valley hooting for the few minutes that Karim and I were out in the dark. On the morning of his death, a magpie — a bird totem for entering other realms — jumped under a table on the portal less than 10 feet from his dying body.

 ***
Karim was Brinda and my first dog together, who we got to through some incredbile and unpredictable circumstances, three months after moving to Santa Fe and 14 months after our relationships started. She was volunteering at the animal shelter and met him one week that I was out of town. 

     “You have to come home,” she said. “Bud, is everything all right?” “Yes, there’s a Bull Terrierr at the shelter!” “I will become in eight days.” “He won’t be here in eight days.”

I did not come home early but in that time, Blue, as he was known, was adopted by an elderly woman despite the concerns about his strength and temperament voiced by one of the employees. He was returned less than 24 hours later, then acquired kennel cough placing him in quarantine the entire time that I was gone. 

Brinda told me in the last few days that it is through Karim that like dthat I was along guy. It was through July 2014 reading/consultation with Lena Barrios, a Mayan healer, that I learned that my birth corresponds with the nahual of Tz’i

As our first dog, he was also our first child who instilled parental duties, responsibilities, existential questions, dilemmas and delights that we had not entertained or experienced prior to his arrival. We had innumerable, amazing experiences with him in eight years:

  • The first Halloween when children came knocking at the door and lost interest in candy when they saw the dog who they asked to pet.
  • When we sat in a hot tub outside the bedroom windows while he sat on the bed and watched us. After a few minutes of watching and waiting for me to get out of the tub, he squatted and peed on the middle of the bed to convey (what we understood at the time as) his displeasure of being left inside while we reveled outside. 
  • Another time, I was working upstairs, and one of us had let him into the backyard and then a few minutes later, inquired where he was. Brinda asked if he was upstairs with me. When I told her no, we ran to the back to look and wonder and wander around the backyard until we saw the hole under the fence. We ran out the front door scrambling and ran to the park less than a block away to find him accttached to the face of a 14 year old, large, female Husky with three adults trying to pull his jaw off of her. One trick that we had learned from a dog trainer a EDs or months earlier was to pull and pinch the inner thigh to get him to unlatch. I learned that and had to use it just that one time. (Some comic relief afterwards, when the Husky was safe back at her home and we were back in ours was to replay the one adult who was tossing — more accurately described as sprinkling — water onto Karim’s muzzle like he was a boxer.
  • When we moved all the furniture out of a previous home and left Karim with a bowl of water and bed. In four hours of isolation, he walked into and apparently rolled all over the inside of the empty, ashy fireplace because we came back to find his coat gray  from nose to tail. We will never know if it was some sort of cleansing practice or despair or simply some BT mischief.
  • This summer, we knew that he was getting closer to death, so we would let him go “sojourn” as he wandered for 20 to 30 minutes. Solo adventures had been inconceivable in his spry years because he likely would have gotten into a fight with the larger, older dog next door or been picked up by someone who fights dogs. But, the two things that we imagine that he was doing while sojourning were eating acorns and looking for an arroyo or a bed of leave, a shady spot or a sunny spot where he could choose to die. But, we stopped permitting the sojourns after a few instances where coagulated blood showed that the impact that the acorns were having on his kidney(s).
  • Four years ago, he ate so many acorns on walks with a leash that he had incontinence causing him to pee while laying on the dog bed. After consulting a neighbor who is a veterinarian and the Internet, we learned that acorns are toxic for dogs.
  • And the time that he saw a mouse in the foyer, snapped into terrier mode launching his 40 pound body into the air, using his muzzle to stun the mouse, before grabbing it with his teeth and throwing it down his throat.

Karim was the ultimate blessing as he prepared me for fatherhood. In the early years of our relationship, there were many a night that we would watch the dizzying and hilarious antics of Bull Terriers — splashing, spinning (or as we called it helicoptering), cuddling, and trancing — in videos online that had us laughing for hours at their joy, persistence, and intensity. There was the first year when we strapped a child’s pair of butterfly wings onto his back and paraded him around the kitchen. In those early years, we learned that in England, Bull Terriers were bred and raised to accompany and protect children in the countryside and I took this distinct lineage as a sign that child or children were coming, I just had to work with my own patience/impatience and trust some forces greater than I could imagine. By some miracle, he endured and lived long to support us with the arrival of two children before his time to go back to the mountain.

Hope and Fear

Dying people don’t lose hope; it just changes. First, you hope for a mistake…. Next, you hope for a cure. A new treatment. A miracle! Hope is a lot like fear; both are based on what might happen. Hoping for a cure and fearing that there isn’t one are versions of the same thought: I’m not going to die.

Sallie Tisdale in Advice for Future Corpses. Page 82

From: letter to white teachers of my Black children

You need cultural knowledge and skills.

Dominant culture in US suppresses conversations around race … for numerous reasons, most of them related to the maintenance of the power status quo.

Proximity does not equal awareness… And colorblindness is not a thing. While it’s right to treat children equitably, it’s also important to understand how race shapes lives in a racist system.

We all breathe in the smog of oppression, and the only way to expel it is to read, listen, reflect, ask questions and become better as a result of what we learn. I’m here asking you as educators to help lead the way. By improving equity in schools, by becoming truly inclusive learning communities with an effective anti-racist curriculum, we improve both individual lives and equity and justice in society. I’m here for you and I’m rooting for you. As Lilla Watson said, “… your liberation is bound up with mine.”

All the while listening to Curtis Mayfield, the get cut off. These and more concepts at: https://teachingwhilewhite.org/blog/2019/6/21/a-letter-to-white-teachers-of-my-black-children

Delta Land Stolen Taken Lost

Vann Newkirk II in the Great Land Robbery, September 2019 issue of The Atlantic:

A war waged by deed of title has dispossessed 98 percent of black agricultural landowners in America. They have lost 12 million acres over the past century. But even that statement falsely consigns the losses to long-ago history. In fact, the losses mostly occurred within living memory, from the 1950s onward.

No longer left or right

But politics of life or politics of death, according to Gustavo Petro, Senator in Colombia and presidential candidate in 2018:

I think that was a relatively logical way and a relatively realistic way to describe politics in the 20th century, but today politics is divided between the politics of life and the politics of death. Climate change worldwide separates us into two major sides. 

Death gets the bigger budgets: war, starvation, homelessness, illness, incarceration.

***

And investment in military spending begets occupation leads to resentment and radicalization, evident by the Pentagon’s own researchers who noted that the number of groups, the number of incidents and the number of countries consumed by violence have risen since the formation of the African Command Center in 2002.

Two Wolves

Two wolves were in the house and they kept trying to pick me up. Running around and I was getting away from them. They were brown in color with round shaped heads. I did not feel safe. How did they get in? How did they get out? I think they were two wolf spirits.

Globalization’s Four Progeny

Writing on England in the mess of Brexit, Alexander Cockburn writes on counterpunch that:

globalisation has produced political crises all over the world which differ in some respects but have certain common themes such as de-industrialisation, increased inequality, immigration, and the alienation of large parts of the population

These four define the political, economic and social tumult filing many countries and most nations. I studied Geography from Form 3 through 5 and the push and pull factors that we used to categorize migration provide scaffolding for the waves of people moving across land, continents, and bodies of water. These four elements compose a self-perpetuating cycle where inequality begets alienation that causes immigration resulting in more de-industrialization, which completes the loop by resulting in more inequality.