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. In it, Terry describes how Derald Wong Sue responds to microaggressions with:
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 the article provided me with some new perspectives of how to name what happens with ignorant interactions and how to deal with them, leading me to conclude that this was an opportunity to practice confronting the petty bullshit that white people spew and do in the faces and over the days and lives of people of color.
Simultaneously, I have been doing work this year where a big piece in the group dynamics work is to “name the thing.” Having to practice what I am preaching, I sent the “portrayals of Blackness” email in order for me to name to one white mother how whites — in her family and in the world — 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 parent’s behavior was racist as well as name some of the larger implications of racism and the heft of 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 husband 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 other parent. If anything, I was undercutting power by exposing what was already in the internet. And I was practicing for my own liberation. And for the liberation of my descendants, both blood and chosen.
I borrowed “Citizen: An American Lyric,” Claudia Rankine’s 2014 collection of poetry from the library weeks ago. It is full of social commentary written in formats that are part poetry and part prose elsewhere. It is currently overdue, so I grabbed it today to read a few more lines and a few more pages before I return it this afternoon. Fittingly, I read it in the midst of #ThisIsaCoup blasts into our global cyberscape thanks to the failed romance and mounting grievances between Greece and the European Troika. There is so much to read in these 24 hours since a “agreekment” (sic) has been announced through the fourth estate. But, Rankine’s words on page 75 strike me as apropos to the political and economic storm and man-made disaster happening over days, weeks, months and years in Europe:
what faces you, the storm, this day’s sigh as the day shifts
its leaves, the wind a prompt against the calm you can’t
Blue ceiling calling a body into the midst of azure, oceanic,
as ocean blushes the blues it can’t absorb, reflecting back
the day frays, night, not night, this fright passes through
the eye crashing into you, is this you?
Yes, it’s me, clear the way, then hold me clear of this that
faces, the storm carrying me through dawn
not knowing whether to climb down or up into its eye —
day, hearing a breath shiver, whose are you?
Guard rail, spotlight, safety lock, airbag, fire lane, slip guard,
night watch, far into this day are teh days this day was
meant to take out of its way. An obstacle
to surrender, dusk in dawn, held open, then closing,
then opening, a red-tailed hawk, dusk at dawn, taking
over blue, surveying movement, against the calm, red sky
whose are you?
Navigating these storms will require many skilled deckhands working towards a shared goal. It will require that many egos get put on ice or are told to pipe down because their attitudes prevent the key participants from figuring out the terms of negotiation and the chemistry to play well together. That’s why we have the adage of “all hands on deck.” Not doing so, will result in a European Quagmire that will result in the collapse of the European Union — too many opinions, too many differing wishes, and too many demands.
As Thomas Piketty and others stated in an open letter to Chancellor Merkel last week:
In the 1950s, Europe was founded on the forgiveness of past debts, notably Germany’s, which generated a massive contribution to post-war economic growth and peace. Today we need to restructure and reduce Greek debt, give the economy breathing room to recover, and allow Greece to pay off a reduced burden of debt over a long period of time. Now is the time for a humane rethink of the punitive and failed program of austerity of recent years and to agree to a major reduction of Greece’s debts in conjunction with much needed reforms in Greece.
What makes the Central District different (special?) is that for a number of decades at least until the early 1970s it was a black ghetto, meaning most of the people who lived there were not allowed to freely live elsewhere in the city.
– Quintard Taylor
Reading the words of Quintard Taylor this morning, I am reminded that what primarily defines a ghetto is exclusion.
Ghetto is about denying people the right to move freely. It is not defined by the constitution or composition of the people living within it. Nowadays, our language and the common usage of the term suggest that the word is more about the people who live within a ghetto not the social forces denying that group of people the autonomy to move, to live, to work or to go to school beyond a confined area. Taylor’s description of Central District as a Black ghetto in Seattle mirror the ghettos trapping Jewish families and communities in Poland and Germany.
This is what history teaches us. And how casual and sloppy use of language shifts blame and blurs who has power and who does not.
a few select lines from South African President Jacob Zuma announcing the passing of Nelson Rolinhlahla Mandela on national television:
a profound and enduring loss.
humility, compassion, humanity, love.
a lifetime of struggle.
what made him great, was what made him human – what we seek in ourselves.
in him, we saw so much of ourselves.
let us conduct ourselves with the dignity and respect that Madiba personified.
let us recall the values for which Madiba fought.
let us reaffirm his vision of a society in which none is exploited, oppressed or dispossessed by another.
let us commit ourselves to strive together, sparing neither strength nor courage, to be a united, nonracial, nonsexist, democratic and prosperous South Africa.
the deep gratitude of a life spent in service to the people of this country.
In addition to “a profound and enduring loss” his is a profound and enduring love.