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.
There have been some incredible pieces of historical documents written and distributed in the last month. Three that jump to the forefront of my mind are:
I am not surprised. This is symbolic of a court system and a set of values that do not consider a 17 year old boy being equal to a human. He is deemed to be less than human.
Part of my shaping of not surprised might be my patina of masculinity, to shield my fragile and sensitive being from the dehumanizing brutality of how humans treat one another.
Grieve. Feel your rage, disgust and disillusionment. And rise tomorrow to live for another day. Dedicate yourself to work towards a life of significance, to make a living, giving life, stoking hope and inspiration, appreciating the beauty and love in the Black people, Brown people, Red people and even the white people too, who surround us.
Turn off the television. MSNBC, CNN, the local news and Fox are all channels who’s coverage is to disgust, despair and disempower you. Each hour that you are mired on a channel — from ABC to HBO to Spike — is another instant that you won’t have back or get back. Instead, dedicate your life to activities that advance social justice and humanity, dignity and democracy. This means more time with real people, less time in television. And time with yourself. If you are so despondent or rudderless about what this means at this moment in history, remember that adage of Frederick Douglass that “power never concedes anything without a demand. It never has, and never will.”
50 years after the March on Washington and the delusion, smoke and mirrors that we were all equal (and propelled some to purport to being in a post-racial era), let this remind us — show us, instill in us — that many institutions and people do not see us as human. I do not know if they care to quantify us as more than 3/5ths of a human or less than three-fifths, but in our impaired nation, we are deemed less than human.
Let us not isolate ourselves from the other people of color who are other test subjects in a maniacal experiment of racial domination. For the last 12 years, Muslims, South Asians and Sikhs and others have been caught under the heel of Uncle Sam’s strange and trembling empire while Latinos/as, immigrants and people of color have become the next wave of men, women and children to fill the jails, prisons, detention centers, private prisons, parole offices, cells of solitary confinement, tent camps and extraordinary rendition as the Global War on Terror has come home to roost.
And, let us remember that most of the white people in this country, and the vast majority of people in the world, long for justice and democracy and to live in a country that adheres to tenets of justice, liberty, equality and dignity.
dictionary.com defines change as:
verb (used without object)
9. to become different:
10. to become altered or modified:
11. to become transformed or converted (usually followed by into):
12. to pass gradually into (usually followed by to or into):
13. to make a change or an exchange:
Different. Altered. Modified. I will add a few of my own choice vocabulary verbs: pivot. alter. release and incorporate new.
in the spirit of wordplay, using multiple choice:
(a) A school of thought that integrates how an individual cultivates their inner spirit simultaneous to the wisely engaging in efforts to impact public life.
(b) The cultivation of one’s inner spirit that symbiotically affects how they affect public movements for justice.
(c) Choosing to alter one’s practices that focus on their body, mind and soul while altering political, social and economic systems.
(d) Altering one’s practices within collective efforts to alter society.
(e) When an individual alters their internal state congruent to the alterations of public systems.
Love, compassion and empathy are emotional breeding grounds for systemic change.
wow. this is the kind of shit that makes me glad to ask questions.
and therefore, ask more questions.
i feel like i’ve acessed a treasure trove of links. data and stories. data and stories.
dude, there’s no judgement, i have profound combo of feelings: amazement, delight, respect.
in part synchronicity, in part magic. i say synchronicity for a few reasons:
1. the Marshall Ganz article in Sojourners magazine is brilliant, laden with deep learnings. thus, will require slow digestion, and repetition in reading it.
in fact, i was just requesting Marshall Ganz’ newest book, Why David Sometimes Wins, off of paperbackswap.com earlier today. i’ve had 3 books requested from me in the last 24 hours. and someday, hopefully i will get those credits translating into Ganz‘ recent book, When David Sometimes Win, or the books by bad-ass farmer in southern Virginia, Joel Salatin.
2. also, i was just thinking of needin to locate that Malcolm Gladwell article. though it sounds like there are severe misgivings in the points he argues, it serves a tremendous purpose. as a writer, he puts his thoughts down on paper and into magazines that reach an audience of millions. inevitably, such an article — as a moment in time — offers a hook, or door ajar, to discuss concepts of society, technology, what moves and motivates people, and justice. and forces us to have to consider the story that we tell, the point that we are trying to make. by incorporating the new data that he puts forth. or determining that there is no merit in giving verbiage by responding to a Gladwellesque social thinker/critic.
3. and then, synchronicity. cuz in getting to glance at your links on pyramids of engagement, and that alchemyofchange response
. which now that i’ve read it, is saying something similar to what i’ve said. in fewer paragraphs. and using less pretty words.
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.
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…