inexperience + ignorance + isolation = racism’s 3 I’s

Racism comes from the 3 Is: inexperience. ignorance. isolation.

“When you combine those three I’s, what you get is people who are incapable of participating in and contributing in an inclusive society. everytime that i turn around, it is one of those I’s that people’s behavior is so off-track.

“Wealth has isolated him. as a result of that, and his own volition, had no real experience with a diversity of folks. he proved that he is ignorant or untruthful. or it may be both.

“That is what has happened, and what has been a focus — diversity and inclusion — has been a focus of my career.”

Saturday a.m.: appreciations for walking other paths

I appreciate the paths less taken by each of my parents. My mother, was the first in her family to get a BA. She had sought out adventure, the kind that travel fosters, since high school when she attempted to be an exchange student. Her travel bug metamorphised probably much earlier than that. While attending the state university in Boulder, one of the gigs she chose was to become a resident advisor. 

Through that RA, she made an acquaintance with my dad. One of the few stories that i can recall from what I have been told was how they were supposed to do a new student orientation. Well, when it came time to begin speaking with the students, he was silent and left much (if not all) of the talking to her. A pattern that has been evident for much of the four-plus decades that they have been together. 

The collegiality of RAs led to them getting to know one another, and eventually going on a date. I cannot fathom what it was like for mom, to date a black guy in the mid 1960s. They married in June of 1967, 12 months prior to RFK’s assassination in Los Angeles. 10 months prior to MLK’s assassination in Memphis. 

There are so many instances that I can glimpse how she is walking another, a different path. From having her own business in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Bringing silver jewelery from Taxco, Mexico and selling it around Denver. I have never asked how much she would make, but it was a creative outlet, exploration, and set of skills that mom built in the midst of raising four kids — who in 1980 ranged from 2-10. 

****

My father’s path of embodying a different type of maleness is what has been salient to me. To be a grown male in the latter half of the 20th Century, was a particular thing. Yet, (some of) my father’s uniqueness comes from not only being a man, but a Black man. Who was an oldest child. Having a father who had fought in the Korean War, and later taught at Tuskegee Institute. A father who was not only in the service and a veteran, but one of the Tuskegee Airmen. There are so many layers to my relationship with my father, and I can only fantasize (hypothesize, romanticize as well as idealize and be frustrated by) what my father’s relationship to his father was. My grandfather died a few years before I was born — I want to say three years prior, but I am not convinced. So, what I have known of him have been through stories, photographs, and family traditions, mannerisms and other subtleties that may be passed through genes as much as upbringing. 

A few more forms of my father’s intersectionality include black/male, oldest child/with a developmentally disabled sister, only boy/with two sisters. Over the past decade, I have attributed meaning to who my father is, trying to lump my notions — of identity, experience, values — onto a skeletal structure of what I conceptualize his early life having been. I am more conscious of the gender make-up in my dad’s family, and in my own, because he embodies such a unique form of masculinity for me. 

In my 20s, i was flabbergasted, sometimes irate, with his inability to express, to divulge, to share. As a kid, he taught all of us the mantra, “if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say it.” (that reads with far too many negatives than my lawyer-father would utter. if my memory serves me correctly) Those notions kind of worked in elementary school and as a teenager, but in adulthood I sought more perspective from him and everyone else in my family on what was coursing through his veins, his soul, his heart and mind. In my 20s, I fought the reality of what was, rather than embrace things for how they were. And those struggles have played some part in things being different today than they would be if I had not banged on the door of his feelings that he did not give voice to. A lot has changed in the eIght years since my mom told me how the only times my father would express his feelings were when he was sloshed. 

 

Omnipresent Identity

omnipresent: present everywhere at the same time. 

I have walked much of my 34 years in this life seeing myself, and the world, through the lens of race. My particular racial identity being mixed, mulatto, a half-breed of Black, white. There is a sprinkling of Native American blood in there, too — but I don’t live in a culture where we bother with one-sixteenths. There was a elementary school phase where i was name-called an Oreo; by a handful of white classmates (in an overwhelmingly white school). 2005 was the first time that I began to put my identity in terms of class. In June of that year, I had an epiphany that my white mother came from a working-class, white family. That was the first time that I had uttered that phrase. Seven years later, I am confident that ‘working-class, white family’ is a phrase that my mother will not use for the rest of her life.

I have entered into identity’s abyss in recent years. On Super Bowl Sunday of 2008, one of my two surviving grandparents passed. Dick Uhlenhopp had been in hospice for a month or so. Prior to that he had lived independently and on his own since Grandma Shirley died in October of 1987. Aside from my paternal/maternal great-grandmother, Buddy Jackson, my branch of the Jones/Uhlenhopp family trees had been spared death for the 21 years spanning from 1987 until 2008. What was different, in 2008, was that I was nearly 30 when Grandpa Dick passed. And I had been poking around family history, and asking quesionst hat had never occurred to me before, or topics that I had quietly agreed to remain silent about, as my siblings and others had. But with Grandpa’s death, I began to see how deeply identity goes. How many layers of an infinte onion, identity is.

Identity has become a doorway into personality, opinions, values, vantage and feelings.

I remember an exercise in college, where we were asked to compose a list of 20 or so identities for ourselves. Then we narrowed the list down to 5 by eliminating 15. Then we were told to whittle five down to one. In a room full of students of color, most of us had been selected for our leadership in student of color groups. Most of us settled with a singular identity emanating from our racial origins of Blackness, Latino/a lineage, API, immigrant or Native ancestry. That is, all of us saw ourselves as people of color. Except Sherman.

There was one guy who picked ‘friend’ as his one identity. He chose it over all others. I remember sitting near him, perplexed. Unable to fathom how a guy borne of two Chinese immigrants in Canada could see himself first as a “friend.” See himself only as a friend, especially when I saw his black hair, eyeglasses, toothy and nerdy smile wrapped in the skin and features that I had learned was Asian. I had even known that he was majoring in Economics, was raised in Saskatchewan, finished high school in Hong Kong, and had siblings. But at the time, all that I could distill Sherman down to was race.

How things have changed over a decade. I sense identity, multiple identities, everywhere (I suppose that I did with Sherman, too. But I placed a value on one identity over all others). I like to taste identity in the air, as if it is nectar of a flower or the smoke of a fire or from industrial pollution. Identity is that readily available. Identity is omnipresent. I listen to stories similarly to how a serious fan logs a baseball scoreboard. Identity has become a multi-faceted, nth-dimension in each of our souls and characters. Race and class are simply veneer for deeper stories, lives and identities that are buried within. I have come to see identity as including:

  • siblings: number of siblings, and place in sibling order (or an only)?
  • gender:
  • place of birth:
  • hometown: (do you consider this the same as the previous answer? that is indicative of something else)
  • place of current home:
  • closeness to mother/father/grandma/grandpa: relationship, distaste, struggles
  • favorite subject in elementary school: math, spelling, recess, science, p.e.
  • you get a high school diploma, GED or college degree:
  • more street-smarts, more book-smarts, or some of both?
  • math or literature: or as i like to say now-a-days, do you speak more fluently in numbers or letters?
    … aka, MS Word or Excel?
  • major or subject studied:
  • type of work:
  • reader: of fiction, current events, (even that distinct subpopulation passionate about) sci fi
  • paying rent or a mortgage, or multiple mortgages?
  • favorite author:
  • favorite vegetable:
  • favorite meal: breakfast, lunch or dinner?

Embracing more of our identities is vital in order to weave together stories that encapsulate more of the lives each of us has lived. I am unsatisfied with race alone, because as my father has pointed out, he finished high school in an integrated high school in West Virginia rather than attend a segregated school in Tuskegee. It wasn’t even his choice, but his parents sent him to live with family in Charleston, WV.

Back in 2005, I began to sense the nuance of identity by exploring the distinctions between each of my parents. My white mother has certainly had race privilege her entire life. Yet, I have come to appreciate how she lacked many of the class privileges that my father was raised with. Since then, I have explained it simply as “my mother had the race privilege while my father grew up with the class privilege.” The vestiges of my mom being the first in her family to get a four-year degree are alive today. In ways that I choose not to ask my extended family about, but alive, nonetheless.

Taking class identity and blending it with race identity has been an awakening experience. Class, is such an avoided topic, that what that means needs explanation. Middle class for me has been a father who’s entire career was as a white collar employee with the federal government. A father who had union representation, was trained as a lawyer, and has had comprehensive health insurance for as long as I can remember since i got my first physical the summer after kindergarten. I got a physical as a six-year old because the family was headed to Kenya. A gaggle of dependents and a diplomat for the US Embassy in Nairobi.

So I add:

  • health insurance coverage: any or out-of-pocket?
    … PPO, HMO, Medicare or Medicaid?
    … that you have on your own, or are a dependent on someone else’s?

I have honed how i tell my 1984 story, too. After years of telling the chronological story of living in six countries, four states in the country, three continents over 15 years, I now say how I finished kindergarten in Denver and began the first grade in Nairobi.

****

Last year, I was asked: Who are your ancestors?

Such potency in four words. There is a fits-and-starts fascination with history in this culture. For the most part, a historical amnesia when it comes to the history of families. How many people can tell where all four of their grandparents were born, grew up, and lived? How many of us readily know the years that our four grandparents were born, and died?

 I have a much lengthier answer than I did seven years ago because I have slowed down to ask. To explore, and to inquire with family members over the phone, and email messages as well as in person. The stories are too vast and invaluable to not ask now. There is a great risk in waiting until I will see my last living grandparent.

Armchair Elder

I saw her seated to the far right of the third row. Who was this white-haired woman glaring at me as I strolled down the aisle. I asked to enter the third row, seated just next to this elderly woman, with my mind using a single verb to describe her as she glared at me. I took my seat on my Southwest flight home. I had a story coursing through my head howt his white woman was fixated on my brown skin. As it turned out, she happened to be a curious, storytelling, fellow traveler.

It began when she asked me how the buckle of her seat belt worked. I learned two further data points within minutes, which were this was an 85 year old woman who was on an airplane for the second time in her life. The previous flight was two weeks earlier when she’d flown to RDU from MDW. Meanwhile, I have been on planes regularly. My first flights began at age six (nearly three decades earlier than the octogenarian seated to my left). One of the few questions that she asked me was if my other airplane rides were bumpier than our shared springtime flight from North Carolina to Illinois. I told her that, yes, they could get bumpy.

We shared an armrest, and she shared countless stories. For the next 80 minutes, I had a history tutorial courtesy of Mrs. Marilois Anderson of Morocco, Indiana.

Marilois lives in a duplex. She was a nurse until age 60 in a tiny Indiana town across the stateline from Chicago. At four, her parents moved from southern Indiana to Morocco, as her father got work for the telephone company. Her mother worked for Ma Bell, too, working the switchboard from their home. One time, Marilois placed the mouthpiece in her mouth, getting an electric shock that made the line go dead. Her father had been to war, too. He was a medic and driver. My young mind was curious about which war it had been. It was one of oodles of questions that I can not know a definite answer to.

Mrs. Anderson’s maiden name is Carter. She married in her early 20s, and had three children – one of whom lived in North Carolina, the nudge she needed to get on an airplane in her mid-80s. I got a glimpse of memory, the mind’s work, and the moment-by-moment nature of life when I asked her husband’s name. In the long pausing presence, I noted that she was unable to recall the name of a partner who died six years ago. She pulled her wallet out for a second time out from one of her two handbags. Her eyes searched for an ID with his name on it. Not on the credit card, nothing on her Medicare card. Then she did find a membership card for the World War II Memorial. Her eyes scanned the colors and images, and I read the name aloud: Mrs. Milton Anderson. I had a great uncle named Milt, too. My uncle Milt had fought in some war decades before I was born. For the 20-some years of overlap, I heard few stories of his service and his life.

Thanks to history, my ancestors and their stories, there were so many reasons that made Marilois’ memories of Morocco so familiar to me. She even said to me how she wanted me to meet her son, Jack, when I come through Morocco.

Multiple times during our flight, Ms. Anderson said that the airplane felt like we were “just sitting here.” It was magic when she peered out from her window seat. She remarked at how incredible it was that we were flying at 30,000 feet. When the floor of the clouds opened, she said, “I can see something.” I got a glimpse of how curiosity and adventure can live on. Can live in us. In her bike rides, her love of the public library, where the librarians of Newton County let her borrow knowing that some day, Mrs. Anderson, won’t bring her two books back.

Primary sources, found freely online

An excerpt from 1970, found online today:

But many … have become disillusioned after a time by their experiences with liberation groups.  More often than not these groups never get beond [sic] the level of therapy sessions; rather than aiding the political development of [those involved] and building a revolutionary movement, they often enourage escape from political struggle.

All this in the second paragraph of an article titled, “What is the Revolutionary Potential of Women’s Liberation?” I removed the references to women and women’s movements and women’s rights to make the passage applicable to numerous oppressed populations. It is applicable to sexism, racism, classism, homophobia and xenophobia.

Therapy is critical. And this suggests that it alone is insufficient to sustain, or continue to nourish the souls and liberation of those involved. The clarity of mentioning political development and political education is a clear second step after one has taken the first stage of deep healing. In order to grapple with the inner injury, there has to be an external system to grapple with.

Politics is a use of power.

In my own experience, revolutionary groups with only the therapy stage lose those who have been a part of them once they have healed. When there is a lack of new engagement, new opportunities, new levels of discourse then the initial emphasis of “therapy sessions” is insufficient.

On the other hand, the on-going presence of the initial stage of healing and a second track can create a dynamism and interplay between the two tracks.

 

****

There are passages that demonstrate how significantly times have changed:

 

As well as what remains the same:

Many of the characteristics which one needs in order to become respected in the movement — like the ability to argue loud and fast and aggressively and to excell in the “I’m more revolutionary than you” style of debate — are traits which in our society consistently cultivates in men and discourages in women from childhood.  But these traits are neither inherently male nor universally human; rather, they are particularly appropriate to a brutally competitive capitalist society.

The authenticity fixation has reached its limit in certain circles, and is pervasive in others. It may be perishing, but it has a long, slow death.

***

Eleanor Holmes Norton describes the intersection crash of race + family, in the Black Women’s Manifesto, writing:

With black family life so clearly undermined in the American environment, blacks must remake the family unit, not imitate it. Indeed, this task is central to black liberation. The black male will not be returned to his historic strength – the foremost task of the black struggle today – if we do not recreate the strong family unit that was a part of our African heritage before it was dismembered by the slave-owning class in America. But it will be impossible to reconstruct the black family if its central characters are to be crepe paper copies acting out the old white family melodrama. In that failing production, the characters seem set upon a course precisely opposite to ours. White men in search of endless financial security have sold their spirits to that goal and begun a steady emasculation in which the fiscal needs of wife and family determine life’s values and goals. Their now ungrateful wives have begun to see the fraud of this way of life, even while eagerly devouring its fruits. Their even more ungrateful children are in bitter rejection of all that this sort of life signifies and produces. White family life in America today is less than a poor model for blacks. White family life is disintegrating at the moment when we must reforge the black family unit. The whole business of the white family – its softened men, its frustrated women, its angry children – is in a state of great mess.

Tracing slavery

Baltimore, Philly and Greensboro just aint the same after reading Octavia Butler’s science fiction on time traveling into slavery. Kindred — first published in 1997. First picked up by me in mid-August 2010.

I’ve trampled over history this summer of 2010. Looked at leaves swaying along the interstate south of Philadelphia. Seen Black youth, Black families and Black communities with new eyes. New eyes cast having read about the slave trade, migration routes, escape routes, and movement of commerce.

I sat in a branch of the Durham Public Library, pulling books edited by Ishmael Reed and Member of the Club, a collection of articles written by Lawrence Otis Graham. Slavery doesn’t look the same now that it sits on the other side of the wall. A wall capable of taking my arm off, as it did to Dana/Edana in Kindred.

Atrocities of commerce. Or was it genocide borne of commerce, in visiting Colorado’s Camp Amache and Sand Creek Massacre. According to the War Department, Amache was called the Granada War Relocation Center.

All this, for a mulatto in miscegenation nation.

on Foucault, for the first time

This is brilliant:

“The main interest in life and work is to become someone else that you were not in the beginning.”

I gleaned it from the wikpedia entry on Michel Foucault. (h/t to brotha Scott for the lead)

It resonates with some of my writing from two weeks ago:

i don’t seek understanding, to be understood by my people. i’ve been exhausted by judgment from others, and my own self-judgment and my judging others. i’ve reigned in some of that judgment, less consumed with burning my energy in that drain/waste. it detracts from channeling it elsewhere.

Hooah: anything + everything except no

I heard about this brilliant campaign video earlier that brings together Senators up for reelection, entitlement, corruption, the Gulf of Mexico, the oil spill. I hadn’t known of VoteVets previously, but I’m now glad to have the acquaintance.

That lead me to wanting to figure out how to spell ‘woo-ha’ that i remember Jake Gyllenhall hollering in that Swofford movie a few years back. It turns out that it isn’t spelled like that, and there’s a good deal of history. I shouldn’t be surprised that there is such history in military matters — reminds me of the question, What’s your military story?

Here are two tidbits:
From HOOAH!Bar

The word “hooah” (pronounced who-aw) is an expression of high morale, strength and confidence that usually means “heard, understood and acknowledged” but can mean almost anything except no. It may have originated with the British phrase “Huzzah!” that dates at least to the 18th Century, although many other explanations are offered. It grew roots in the Army infantry and has now spread to the rest of the U.S. military.

Then in wikipedia

Hooah (pronounced /ˈhuːɑː/) is a U.S. Army battle cry used by soldiers “Referring to or meaning anything and everything except no.”

Books at the decade’s dawn

Of all the books on my nightstand, there’s currently plenty o nonfiction:

Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison
I Will Teach You to be Rich, by Ranji Sethi
Post Traumatic Slave Disorder, by Joy DeGruy Leary
Soul of Money, by Lynne Twist
The Summer of Black Widows, by Sherman Alexie

Ambitious to read books simultaneously, but it works better for me. It’s kinda like when I have an abundance of groceries in my kitchen rather than not enough. When I haven’t been to the grocery store, I end up glossing over the hunger I do have. And I hastily buy food out, which is rarely as tasty and satisfying nevermind nutritious and filling as what can be prepped or cooked at home. Similarly, too many books keeps my mind/soul in a literary state. I read more pages per week, or month, than when I stick to reading a single book that can stumble along, bore and lead me to putting that book down for days. And I avoid other books because I inhibit myself from picking up a different genre or author.

Here’s to reading more and more. Both online, on my mobile tech, and on the written and typed page. Back to Joy DeGruy to help me rest my eyes…