Word Winding

attempting to spin cacophony into sanity

Archive for the tag “Racism”

White Timidity

Why is it so difficult for people to talk about race?

Fear. It’s all down to fear.

For those who have racism tattooed prominently across their chests or emblazoned on their white hoods, it is a violent fear-channeled-into-hatred rejection of any who differ from them, usually drilled in from birth. That’s a no-brainer.

For many people, however, it is a different sort of fear altogether. Fear of saying the wrong thing. Fear of attracting negative attention. Fear of being unable to back up statements in the face of opposition. Fear of creating an argument or of offending or alienating others.

All twitchy little fears that pale ludicrously in comparison to the real fears of racism. The life or death fears. Like going along minding your own business only to suddenly find you are the “wrong” color in the wrong place at the wrong time. Where even holding your empty hands up in a globally recognized symbol of surrender may do you no good.

So get over your timidity and talk about it, already.

(Do plenty of reading and listening as well, especially if you are new at this, and do not hesitate to share the words spoken or written by those who know more on the subject than you instead of always coming up with your own from scratch.)

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Explaining Privilege (Unphotographed Moments – Days Sixteen, Seventeen, and Eighteen)

(This post is part of a series for August 2013 entitled “Unphotographed Moments.” Read the intro to the series here.)

I have been fixated upon privilege and discrimination for more than half my life. Lately, in the Zimmerman verdict’s aftermath, I have been disheartened by the deluge of evidence, ranging from reposted Facebook memes to articles that read (at first glance) as well-reasoned, that shows how little the concept of privilege is even addressed let alone understood in this country. To that end, this “weekend edition” of my unphotographed moments series will be devoted to tracking privilege. This is what it is like to live in my head, in my heart, in my privileged skin.

I will add that this is by no means an exhaustive list of the ways my privilege has influenced my experience of the past three days; that would be impossible.

Friday’s Unphotographed Moments:

This morning I was fortunate that I have a husband, that he did not have to work early in the morning, and that he was able and willing to wake up with our kids so I could sleep in. I rolled over onto my stomach, stretched my limbs out gratefully, and dozed off easily.

Today I was lucky to have a portion of my job (teaching my Little Uncaged Musicians classes) be one where my children are welcome so I don’t need to find childcare. I was fortunate to have one class member barter her clarinet abilities as well as her delicious cooking skills for participation in the class, another babysitting hours since my husband’s job and mine sometimes overlap and the rest of my lessons which are almost all not ones I can bring my kids to, and another dress up items for my little ones. These are all luxuries one would normally have to pay for, but I have the skills to teach a class that is worth something to these students’ parents. I have those skills because my parents valued early music education beginning with singing to me as a baby and piano lessons starting at age 3, because they supported my freedom to follow my interests both financially and emotionally, because their parenting style and the educational philosophy of my first school (a private Montessori school) encouraged creativity and problem-solving, because they funded much of my college tuition, and because while I still needed to find a part-time job to help support myself as a student I had an implicit safety net allowing me to take a risk like running my own home teaching studio. I likely have had a number of students over the years who chose me (or even who chose to learn one of the instruments I teach) because we shared a race, whether or not they were aware of it. I have certainly been able to attract more students by living in middle class neighborhoods, where I have never had to worry about racism preventing me from getting an apartment or house.

Today while I was piling children into the car a woman walking wearing earbuds stopped, paused her music, said hello, and then offered me a gallon of organic milk her departing houseguests were leaving behind. I was lucky to share her race or she might not have considered me a worthy recipient. If she had still offered, it might have felt uncomfortably condescending. Further, I was fortunate to not be in a state of poverty forced to choose between getting to work on time (i.e., leaving rather than waiting for her to go home and get it) and having free milk for my kids. I was also privileged to be able to decline gracefully, something that might have been less well-received had I been a POC and she still white.

Today I was privileged to have an electric car (or a car at all) in which to drive my children to Rapunzel’s house for babysitting (so lucky to have someone I trust utterly and completely with my kids) and then myself a half-hour north to teach a family of three students who otherwise might not have chosen to take lessons with me due to the driving time involved. I was lucky to have taken a good driver’s ed program offered in the summer at my high school, patient parents to take me out and a car in which to learn, rather than either me or my parents having work prevent me from attending, such that I eventually cultivated a calm and safe driving demeanor as well as a meditative approach to unexpected delays allowing me to worry very little about whether I might be late when navigating stop-and-go traffic as a result of an accident (5 min late, and I was lucky my students don’t mind just running five minutes over on the rare occasions when that happens). The meditative approach is from my gentle and introspective mother, my constantly-self-improving father, many many other people, and piles and piles of books I have been lucky to encounter. (Not to mention the literacy required to glean their wisdom.) Had I been involved in the accident, I of course would have automatic advantage over any POC involved, especially if the justice system were involved. And had their been no accident at all, I would’ve arrived a few minutes early to my lesson and sat in my parked car listening to the radio without “threatening” passersby in the process.

Tonight my husband put sound equipment away dressed all in black in a state park outdoor music venue without serious concern for his safety. No one thought he was stealing, or drug dealing, or even loitering. I know this without asking.

Tonight I was privileged to have the luxury of contacting my husband three different ways (phone message, text message, and email) to ask him to bring home an emergency pack of paper diapers because not only had I failed to do any laundry so we were out of cloth ones, but we had also run out of the disposables Owlet uses at night as well. I was privileged that he was in a car to make such a side trip easy and of course quite fortunate to live near a relatively safe fully-stocked grocery store open 24 hours. He was lucky to have on his pale skin and therefore not looked at askance for shopping at such a late hour, and dressed in black clothing to boot. I was lucky to have learned of E.C., had an easy time implementing it, and therefore was in a place to hope that our underwear-clad child wouldn’t soak the bed before diapers arrived (and, in fact, she got up to use the loo in the middle of the night and was dry in the morning for the first time in ages!) and that our little guy wouldn’t overflow his diaper before those reinforcements were here.

Tonight when I fall asleep I will not worry that my son could grow up to be Treyvon Martin.

Saturday’s Unphotographed Moments:

This morning I was fortunate that I have a husband, that he did not have to work early in the morning, and that he was able and willing to wake up with our kids so I could sleep in. I rolled over onto my stomach, stretched my limbs out gratefully, and dozed off easily.

Today I was privileged not to need to work. I have weekends entirely off most of the time.

Today I read a book to my daughter in which all three of the characters were white and neither of us noticed at the time. However, the characters were a family with two moms and a child, which did at some point drift to my attention.

Today my husband and daughter were able to go shopping as white people. That means no one looked at him with suspicion, no one tried to touch her adorable hair, and they were both surrounded at every moment with people who share their race. Furthermore, they are the same race, so no one wondered whether he might have kidnapped her. No one looked at his purchases for confirmation of stereotypes they might have about his race.

Tonight my daughter and I watched the first half of The Sound of Music (her first time!) and neither of us noticed at the time that all the actors were white and all the characters heterosexual.

Tonight my husband put sound equipment away dressed all in black in a state park outdoor music venue without serious concern for his safety. No one thought he was stealing, or drug dealing, or even loitering. I know this without asking.

Tonight when I fall asleep I will not worry that my son could grow up to be Treyvon Martin.

Sunday’s Unphotographed Moments:

Today I was privileged not to need to work. I have weekends entirely off most of the time.

This morning I got in my car (discussed at length above) and took my children out to breakfast with that disposable income I have where we ate in the company of our own race. The cashier gave Owlet a free bread turtle (for the second time in our two visits to this place); I wonder if he would have done the same for a POC. I hope so. I did not ever feel the behavior of my kids was interpreted by onlookers as a positive or negative reflection on my entire race.

After breakfast we drove to the Unitarians, arriving nearly an hour early to play at the little playground there. No one looked at us as interlopers or wondered to themselves if perhaps we were a homeless family because we were dressed well enough and white. We dropped Platypup off in the preschool room and finally (whew!) encountered our first POC of the day. Still, the congregation is very middle class white overall, and so I cringed a little to see that the topic of the service was racism.

As eager as I am for us privileged folks to do some serious talking on the subject, I am always a little squeamish for fear it might be bungled. It was not bungled, but the chosen method for topic introduction was to ask us to pair up sitting there in our pews and each tell a true story about a time we had been discriminated against. The man next to me relayed his experience having a disability and being bussed to a special school to the mockery of the neighborhood children.

My mind went completely blank. Having spent the past couple days hunting down my privilege with vigor, I was incapable of rewiring my brain in search of the opposite. I stuttered something out about having lived a very privileged life and being unable to think of a thing. He looked at me with unreadable eyes and soon the regular service order resumed.

It was three hours before I remembered a single experience of discrimination.

Tonight when I fall asleep I will not worry that my son could grow up to be Treyvon Martin.

That, my friends, is privilege.

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Today’s one-shot photo:

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The little rugs my Little Uncaged Musicians sit on in class.

Question #14: In search of the right questions to combat racial injustice

(This post is part of a series for July 2013 entitled “Question Month.” Read the intro to the series here.)

My Facebook post earlier today:

“Question No. 14: What are the right questions to ask in the face of racial injustice so blatant it is difficult to breathe?”

In case you have been living blissfully unaware, take a look at the following:

http://www.slate.com/articles/life/florida/features/2013/oh_florida/zimmerman_reaction_in_florida_history_of_shameful_jury_decisions.html

http://awareofawareness.wordpress.com/2013/07/14/dear-america-its-not-you-its-me/

http://gawker.com/the-zimmerman-jury-told-young-black-men-what-we-already-770650992

http://www.standingonthesideoflove.org/blog/grieving-for-trayvon-all-over-again/

Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

What can I personally do in my community to reduce racism?

Is there anything I can do directly for teenagers in particular?

In what ways am I complicit in allowing racism to exist in my presence?

Is there a tangible way to participate in the national protest of the Zimmerman verdict in balance with my regular obligations?

Who are the most influential racists in my community (specific prominent people as well as groups), and can they be swayed or are we just waiting for them to die out?

In what arenas is racism most destructive, and which fall closest to my skill set?

How can my privileged status (white, highly educated, financially stable, physically/mentally/emotionally healthy, gifted with supportive family and friends) be useful and not a barrier to collaboration?

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This I know: immeasurably precious though he is, my son’s skin does not make him more deserving of life and justice than any other.

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