If we were living in normal times I would’ve been writing about current events on my blog as a way of processing and inviting conversation. Instead I’ve been deliberately silent.

I stayed silent because so many people are strongly and poignantly expressing the collective horror, sadness and outrage that I also feel over the murder of George Floyd and the countless other black men and women dying from injustice.

Because I respect the need to center Black voices in the ongoing struggle against racism, I have retweeted, reposted and amplified to my admittedly small circle.

I am doing what I can, where I can, when I can and I know I can do better. I committed long ago to challenge my biases, to engage other white people around race, to work to dismantle systemic oppression, and to broaden the conversation about DEI.

What’s prompting me to write now is the wave of despair I feel witnessing relentless Calling Out against allies because they are not devoting 100% of their attention to anti-racism 100% of the time.

There is legitimate and undisputed need for anti-black racism to remain in the public awareness through news, social media and active protest.  American citizens habitually lose interest and look away when a tragedy dominates the news cycle for “too long”. So we know that it’s essential that people don’t move on when nothing has yet changed.

But what is gained by Calling Out or shaming an ally for posting on Insta or Twitter about something significant in their life not connected to racism?

I’m not talking about influencers taking a #BLM selfie for product placement, or celebrities making tone-deaf, self-serving public statements, I’m talking about people who have committed to being non-performative advocates and allies willing to own all of their flaws & mistakes along the way.

I know that allyship is in the eye of the beholder, but I fear that so much calling out & attacking will lead to shame and inaction.

It’s a big leap for some folks to even realize that all Black people are not aligned on how white allies should engage.

  • One person says “Remember to check on your Black friends and co-workers” and another person says “Stop performing caring and leave us alone!”.
  • One co-worker says “Stand up for me and speak out”, and another colleague says “Don’t presume to save me or speak for me”.

The conflicting messages are, in fact, the first part of the learning. Feeling uncertainty and discomfort about doing or saying the wrong thing is baseline for personal growth.

Calling someone out is easy on Twitter/Insta/FaceBook. Calling someone In is harder and takes more time. It’s that same immediacy that causes us to withhold the grace for others mistakes that we often have in person.

Our society appears to be increasingly susceptible to polarization and absolutes rather than nuance. This is nowhere more apparent than on the internet where “with us or against us” is now signaled by a persons willingness to wear a mask during a pandemic.

The calls for justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and others, criminal justice reform, and defunding police/refunding the community have caused some people on social media to adopt a “with us or against us” attitude toward posting.

Some folks are viewing any deviation from anti-racist content on social media as grounds for attacking the sincerity of the supposed ally’s commitment to anti-racism. That requirement moves allyship from an ongoing process of learning about and taking action against oppression (my definition) to an impossible place of never messing up and never posting about anything other than racism.

That feels like defeat to me.

I know I can’t live up to that measure on social media, in my work or in my life. I don’t abandon my allyship because of fatigue or because as a white cis-gender woman I have the privilege of ignoring racism. But I reserve the right to have the fullness of life – the sorrow and the joy, the horror and the beauty, the serious and the frivolous.

I am single minded in my devotion to working to make the world more compassionate, equitable and just. I am just as single minded in my commitment to my ongoing learning about my own biases, privileges, and blind spots.

Enjoying a cat video or a beautiful garden doesn’t diminish my commitment to Black Lives Matter. Posting on Twitter about PRIDE, or disability rights or Women in STEM doesn’t diminish my commitment anti-racism. Things may slow me down, life events might interfere, but my dedication doesn’t change.

I was thinking of the Emma Goldman quote “If I can’t dance I don’t want to be part of your revolution” as I scrolled through various attacks and subsequent mea culpas social media. We have a framed print by the activist artist Ricardo Levins Morales in our house to remind us of the fullness of life.

We have another print included below that illustrates a quote by the labor activist Rose Schneiderman that I read daily. It is my prayer for the world – that we will all have the right to life, and the sun, and music and art. That we all have bread and roses.

But first we need to find faith in each other and a little grace.

Ricardo Levins Morales illustrates a quote by Rose Schneiderman

 

 

Much remains the same since I wrote this post back in 2014, and some are actually worse. One thing that is better (and worse) is a new Tamir Rice Safety Handbook created by the ACLU of Ohio in collaboration with Samaria Rice, the mother of Tamir Rice.

The better is that Samaria Rice can help publicize a tool that may keep other children from being killed. The worse is that we need a guide for black and brown children to navigate interactions with law enforcement.

My version of the old “two steps forward, one step back” is to think of social progress like a spiral. I can’t always see how the twists and turns move us forward but I believe in the value of the outcome and so I keep on keepin’ on.

And I hope you do too.

ORIGINAL POST: Now What?, November 25, 2014

I knew the Ferguson grand jury would not indict officer Wilson. I’m not cynical, just familiar with history.

I knew I would feel like shit hearing the outcome, but I wouldn’t have predicted the sadness. I naturally lean toward anger & outrage in the face of our ongoing social & political injustice.

Closer to home, Tamir Rice, the 12 year old boy from my old neighborhood who was killed by a police officer on November 22 for having a toy gun, deepens my sadness and amplifies the questions.

  • How will we change the value we place on black lives in this country?
  • How will we change the perception that black skin is to be feared – the assumption that drives and justifies a violent response from police?
  • How will we grant black teenagers the benefit of youthful stupidity – a privilege widely enjoyed by white teenagers?

The biggest question, the one that is currently making me sad is – what do we do now?

I just taught a workshop the other day about dealing with difficult situations by recognizing your habitual responses and learning about different potential choices. Deciding how to respond rather than just reacting.

So how will we respond to our deeply flawed and biased society? What do we address first? The legal system? Gun culture? Institutional racism? The fact that citizens are brainwashed into thinking that they have no power to change the system?

If I had my druthers I’d start with eliminating folks feelings of collective helplessness so we can get to collective action.

We need to do more.

I need to do more.

For the first time since the slaughter of the children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, hearing news made me cry.

Make no mistake there has been a nonstop parade of horrifying and repugnant behavior since 2012, but for whatever reason, the mass shooting in El Paso brought me to tears.

Later that same day I was having a discussion with a prospective client about how I facilitate discussions about diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). They wanted implicit bias training but were worried about “blame and shame” – that I would be “too angry” or make their participants feel bad about racism.

This is a legitimate fear. Most discussions of “isms” will feel risky to somebody in the room.

In this case, talking about bias felt so risky to the client that they put off hiring a DEI consultant for two years following their decision to “offer education on the topic”.

As I explained how I work, I realized that I should probably need to include some description of my values and belief system on my website and in my proposals.

I need to be explicit about the change theories I ascribe to, and the evidence based research I utilize. These are the bits and pieces that help folks see the rigorous underpinnings that support my DEI work.

In the meantime, I told this prospective client that I don’t believe in “blame and shame”. My workshops, facilitation and coaching are always centered on individual growth. People shut down and dig their heels in when they are attacked. I don’t like when it’s done to me so I don’t make a habit of doing it to others.

That said, what I do instead is invite folks to be uncomfortable.

Think of it like when you go to the beach, or to the pool on a cool day. Some folks creep into the water slowly, some dive in and get it over with quickly, and others stop when the water reaches their ankles.

But they are all in the water.

Getting in that water – those discussions of racism, sexism, xenophobia and so on – is a choice for most people. And if you don’t know how to swim it can be scary, even life-threatening.

What I do when I facilitate is invite you to be uncomfortable.

I invite you to be brave and get in the water with me. To be cold, to flail and to tread water. To hold your breath and go all the way under.

To learn to swim.

I never throw anyone in the deep end by themselves. That’s not my style. I am right there with you in the deep or the shallow. You can trust me. I won’t let you drown.

Now more than ever we need to understand our role in shaping the society we live in.

We need to commit to the actions and behaviors that will make our “good intentions” reality.

We can do better.

If you work with me for more than five minutes you’ll know that’s one of my signature phrases. I use it to remind myself to start where people are to help them move forward. It keeps me in a place of hope and out of that cozy place of judgement.

“We can do better. We are all good people doing the best we can, and we can do better.”

Watching the students who survived the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School become activists has both been beautiful and heartening. Seeing their grief and outrage evolve into a national movement that is shifting thinking and promoting action makes me feel hopeful for the future of our democracy.

Last week I read a blog post about those students that shook me up. It wasn’t the nasty vitriol accusing the students of being crisis actors or “deep state operatives”, whatever that means. It was a point of view that I hadn’t even considered. And it made me feel ashamed of myself.

Ashamed that I was guilty of exactly what the writer described.

Ashamed because I could see I had a blindspot.

Shame is something that we not only generally avoid experiencing, but we try not to talk about it either.  But shame is a really useful feeling that helps us to understand when we are wrong, or when we act wrong.

I mulled over this vague feeling of shame in the days after I  read the blog post. I might still be mulling except I happened to have a conversation this week that helped me put my finger on it. We were talking about how blindspots are part of implicit bias which reminded me that my discomfort – my shame at my behavior – meant learning.

I am glad to now have perspective that I was previously blind to. I’ll try to keep shining a light on my blind spot in the future as well as trying to remember to dig around occasionally and see what I’m missing. We are all only human.

I invite you to read the blog here.

Why It Hurts When the World Loves Everyone but Us

 

When I tell the story of my career path I often use the image of a mosaic.

I sometimes use the words “Once upon a time…” to help bridge the distance between the idea of “job” and “career path” for audiences who may be more comfortable with one word and not the other.

At one point in my life I had jobs in what is now called “the gig economy”, scraping by in the nonprofit world doing what I loved. To make that possible I also worked cash registers, served fast food, cleaned houses, sold advertising and hustled for free lance.

When I was a child I loved books, and school, and my teachers so I thought I would also be a teacher.

As a young adult I imagined my life would always include the arts (Once upon a time I was an actor & director…), or arts management (I spent years at Cleveland Public Theatre & then founded and ran Red Hen Productions, Feminist Theatre…), or some creativity (play and story writing…), outside of this peripatetic blog.

Then I imagined I would spend my life in the academy reading, writing, discussing and teaching philosophy. (That’s a longer story…)

I was lucky to find my true vocation (coaching & facilitating change) and now devote most of my time and energy to working with people and organizations who do good in the world.

Because I was a citizen of the USA and worked at liberal (or tolerant) organizations, I always had the freedom (within reason) to be politically active without fearing repercussions or retaliation.

Now, as someone who is self-employed, my job is my career.

That means I have thought long and hard about what repercussions my opinions and political activity will have on my ability to get work. I know that I am a small fish in a small pond, and maybe (hopefully!) I am being paranoid, but the world seems to be titling toward those who take names and make lists.

Years ago, while canvassing for domestic partner registration, I spoke with an elderly Jewish man who said “I will never vote for this! It is a terrible idea! Lists make it too easy for them to find you.”

Thinking of this Jewish man, and with conscious choice, I have decided to resume writing about my politics on this blog. It is part of the mosaic of who I am and will only become more so if we continue our drift toward despotism. (Please watch this crystal clear 10 minute explanation of despotism if you think my use of that phrase is hyperbolic.)

And, as an American citizen, I believe political engagement really is my job.

mommy

 

I live in a segregated neighborhood.

That may seem like an odd way to describe my corner of our racially and socio-economically diverse inner-ring suburb, but the truth is I live in the midst of a lot of folks who share my values and think like me. We chose this city because we wanted fellow citizen activists (as annoying as that can be at times), as well as good schools, a walkable neighborhood, and easy access to everything a major city has to offer.

A primitive human instinct to stay safe by sticking close to your tribe, also known as Self-Segregation.

But when I wake up everyday to alarming news that makes me wonder out loud – “Who are these people? How can they believe these things?” – I know I need to “Check my Bubble.”

We all have a Social & Cultural Bubble despite access to excessive amounts of information. It’s pretty normal to live in a Bubble near people with similar values, where dissent is reduced or limited through social politeness. And, because the Internet makes it easy we don’t examine this “information diet” that filters out news that conflicts with our beliefs. In other words, we live in a Bubble.

In my Bubble everyone is appalled and horrified at Trump’s efforts to undermine the legitimacy of the election, incite violence and encourage vigilante behavior in his followers.

I was thinking about that Bubble as I watched the third presidential debate and read the analysis.

Recently I participated in a diversity workshop where provocative questions are used to initiate deep, honest conversation and breakdown biases. The workshop was held in a rural area with participants from a mix of demographics (age, gender, race, professional status.)

The workshop questions were opportunities for people to share personal information about themselves beyond their surface presentation and disrupt their implicit biases about others. The dilemma for most participants is how to answer without leaving yourself too vulnerable.

Sometimes its tough to remember that we make choices like these every day about how we present ourselves to the world. For some people the stakes are always high. Depending on the situation, deciding to share the invisible parts that make us the complex people that we really are can be dangerous and/or exhausting.

We humans make assumptions about people based on their looks that we then call a “first impression”. In about a tenth of a second we form an opinion about a person based on the color of skin, (assumed) gender, class (clothing), and work ethic (their weight). And then we add to that impression with additional information. When people are selecting information to reinforce their assumptions (positive or negative) that’s bias.

The diversity workshop was an effort to help folks see and unravel their assumptions. After last nights debate (and the last three months!), I couldn’t help thinking we need similar workshops to bring people together around politics. That would mean Trump, Stein, Johnson, and Clinton supporters openly, respectfully, sharing information in an effort to disrupt bias.

Because we cannot afford to dismiss Trump supporters or third-party supporters as Wackos.

I agree that some people hold deplorable opinions and twisted world views, but the majority don’t. As I have written in this blog before, I know people who support all four of the candidates, but I don’t always understand why.

We owe it to ourselves to try and understand what is driving people to the level of fear and disillusionment that allows them to believe in large scale plots and conspiracies, dismiss evidence, and embrace a world view disconnected from accepted reality.

We are the sum of our parts, visible and invisible. When we choose to reveal our invisible parts that’s when it gets interesting. When we struggle to understand others invisible parts, that’s when it gets real.

Clinton’s closing statement at the third presidential debate,  “I’m reaching out to all Americans — Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. Because we need everybody to help make our country what it should be”, reminds us that the USA is what it is because “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

I’m with Her.

Jones Hand Sewing Machine Parts Diagram
Jones Hand Sewing Machine Parts Diagram

I Fit the description…

This is what I wore to work today. On my way to get a burrito before work, I was detained by the police. I noticed the police car in the public lot behind Centre Street.  As I was walking away from my car, the cruiser followed me.  I walked down Centre Street and was about…

http://artandeverythingafter.com/i-fit-the-description/

IMG_4544.JPG

I discovered years ago that when my thoughts are racing too fast, and for too long, that I lose complete touch with my body. I become a head in a jar.

This is different from the “brain in a vat” of Matrix movie fame. Which, on some days, seems really pleasant – float in your isolation tank while the imaginary world takes care of itself through the computer.

What I’m talking about is my habit of living from the neck up. It creeps up over the course of months until I’m caught off guard by some physical reminder that I have a body. Usually in the form a crick in my neck or a swollen knee.

My go to method for finding my whole self again is to get a massage.  In some fantasy one-percenter future I would indulge in a massage once a week rather than once a quarter.

Over the twenty years that I’ve enjoyed massages I have only used a male masseuse twice. They made me uncomfortable and I’ve skipped getting a massage if only a men were available. I felt like a male masseuse couldn’t really understand how to work on me and they wouldn’t have that Zen, I-am-communicating-with-your-body-through-my-hands thing that I look for in a good masseuse

A couple weeks ago I couldn’t take it anymore and needed someone to put my trapezius back in order and rub all that cortisol out of me. My usual person was not available so I ended up agreeing to use the man.

All the reservations I just mentioned were compounded when I met him at the salon and discovered he was very big and powerful looking. Oh no! I thought, not the dreaded “sports massage” that’s “good for you” and leaves you sore rather than relaxed.

Fortunately for me, what I experienced instead was the massage I have been dreaming of since the woman I preferred ran off to Bali ten years ago. (Part of the salon name is “Dream Spa” so its fitting.) Carlos’ hands managed to put my head and body back together and I’m grateful I changed my mind and tried him.

And that’s how bias works my friends. It’s as simple as that. Preconceived notions, possibly from limited experience, left un-examined, and used for decision making. Happens in everything from casual interactions to business decisions every day.

So what’s the answer? For me, its reflecting on choices and calling myself out when I notice I’m operating from bias.

And also being an ally in situations where bias might be present. Sometimes being an ally is complicated because I’m not “speaking from a place of cultural authority”, but, I hang in there and try to be appropriate rather than appropriating. The reality is we can’t can make progress reducing bias if only those who experience it are considered capable of countering it. In some circles that’s still a standard position.

I know I can’t know the reality of lived oppression, but I feel – perhaps incorrectly – that I can still stand up, say it exists, and fight to change it. And of course admit when I’m wrong. Going a little deeper than just calling #WhitePriviledge or #FirstWorldProblems.

The upside of this small personal revelation is I now have a fabulous new masseuse I can go to. Who works on Sundays!

May he never quit the salon.

mommy

While I was facilitating a discussion about race this week it came up that some people “didn’t want to get into it” because black people are “always so angry.”

There’s a lot to address in that statement.  I chose to see it as an open door and put aside any discussion of white privilege. Instead, I raised the concept of anger being a response to repeated pain. If the injury is familiar, if it happens over and over – sometimes every day – when it happens again, its possible the response is anger.

Or flame.

I always hesitate to respond too quickly to racial events in the news for two reasons: first, because I want to be thoughtful and not throw gasoline on any fire, and second, because current events take a few minutes to evolve even in our instant world.

I have my personal reaction to the actions of Baltimore mom Toya Graham, but I’m more concerned with the way the narrative about her is shaped to match the agenda of politicians and talking heads all over the political landscape.

How we get our information, what bubble we choose to live in, impacts our ability to process in the present, as well as in the future history books. And even Howard Zinn sometimes left things out.

I am still thinking. And watching. And reading. And processing.

In the meantime, I found Claire Potter’s perspective to be very worthwhile. On the heels of our daughter remarking today, “Why are you guys always talking about such depressing things every morning?” this sentence hit me hard – “because I grew up to study violence, and race, as historical phenomena, I have access to even better informed despair than I did as a child.”

I may have to buy her book Doing Recent History.

Read her blog post Teaching Baltimore, Teaching the History of American Violence.

Baltimore_districts_map

 

 

The comment was “Anyone who doesn’t think we are living in a police state is deluding themselves.” It was made in response to the video of the public defender who was “arrested for resisting arrest” while trying to protect her clients rights.

I don’t think the person making the comment really meant a police state like the Stasi or Gestapo, it’s just insanely difficult to name the disbelief and outrage at police behavior that seems increasingly arbitrary.

What was especially useful about this incident was that the trumped charge was applied to a small, white female attorney. In a suit. With glasses.

Aside from the fact that the “perpetrator” was instructing her client about their rights and didn’t do anything to warrant arrest, it’s a powerful visual to watch a calm, professional woman trying to talk to police, inside a courthouse, and get immediately handcuffed and shuffled to jail.

What we are seeing, through the grace of smart phone cameras everywhere, is police autonomy taken to extreme. Police officers, good, bad or indifferent, appear to be increasingly operating from the assumption that they have the right to be right.

This means cops expect 100% compliance to requests (orders, commands) of citizens in all situations regardless of the level of danger or provocation. This is a new frontier for a majority of US citizens.

100% Compliance is the idea behind “The Talk” that African-American parents have with their children. The Talk, how to conduct yourself with the police, is a slightly more main stream topic since Trayvon Martin segued into Eric Garner, into John Crawford, into Michael Brown, and then Tamir Rice. And even more recently when Bill DiBlasio’s comments about talking to his bi-racial son about being careful around cops, was taken by NYC police as an insult requiring apology.

The drop of lemonade we can squeeze out of these lemons is that more people can now see what it looks like to have an encounter with cops who have 100% control and authority. And use it. It’s shocking because it’s NOT racial profiling, its police autonomy pushed to the extreme and used to ensure 100% compliance.

And the bright, beautiful lemons keep piling up as we see the privileges that once made people feel secure they were an “Us”, and not a “Them”, no longer protect anyone from the expectation of 100% compliance with police orders.

An attorney at a nightclub was arrested for obstructing official business. The “probable cause” was cause she was giving her friends the legal advice that they didn’t have to answer police questions without knowing if they were suspects. She got in the way so they got her out of the way.

It’s so easy for people to find a reason why that black guy deserved/caused/triggered a fearful cop’s over-reach. (No kidding – trolls and cop apologists were blaming Tamir Rice for not putting his hands up in the 1.5 seconds before he was shot.)

It’s harder to explain rights getting tramped on when the people look like nice, upstanding (white) citizens.

Remember Henry Louis Gates getting arrested on his front porch? The cop knew he lived there, he wasn’t arrested for breaking and entering, he was arrested for being “disorderly” and yelling at the officer. Professor Gates was mouthy. His age, his position at Harvard, his intellect and international celebrity did not give him the right to be angry at a police officer. So he went to jail.

Last summer a Cultural Studies professor in Arizona was charged with assault, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest after arguing with a police officer who stopped her for jaywalking. Watching the video you can hear her astonishment at the officers disrespect. Her rational responses, her nice clothes, her position as a professor at the university didn’t give her the right to refuse his orders, or keep her from being thrown to the ground like a criminal.

The examples go on and on. If the police have the absolute right to be right – always defended later as ” appropriate actions, with bounds” – then citizens have no rights.

How do we reclaim our rights to due process, to probable cause, to police as protectors rather than aggressors, if dialogue and de-escalation are off the table?

Profiling and arrogant, unfair treatment of citizens by cops is not just about black and brown people anymore, its all kinda folks. Maybe that will be the wakeup call. The disconnect between the police and citizens will continue to deepen and fester unless we do something about it. Before we end up in that “Police State” folks like to talk about.

9 Tips for Talking to Police Officers:

  1. If you are in a car, keep your hands on the steering wheel at all times.
  2. Do not reach for your wallet, in any bag, backpack or glove box.
  3. Keep your hands out of your pockets.
  4. Be polite (yes sir/no sir) and comply with orders. Do not argue.
  5. Do not struggle, resist or run.
  6. Do not lie.
  7. When possible, ask if you are free to leave.
  8. Be silent.
  9. Remember details, record what happened as soon as you can, and if your rights are violated, call the ACLU.

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There is a moment in every public discussion of race where the topic is no longer the justice or injustice of an action, the existence of structural discrimination, or lack thereof.

Comments explode beneath news stories, viscous and sticky, about what the personal appearance says about the people involved.

If the subject is a black woman they start with her hair, move on to her nails and end up with her clothes. If the subject is a black man the sequence is usually hoodie, sagging pants, and “gang related accessories”, meaning anything from his shoes to his tattoo’s to his jewelry.

Just how “white” does a black person have to look, dress or sound before their appearance isn’t a factor that caused what happened to them?

SamariaRice-638x504
Samaria Rice, mother of Tamir Rice

Samaria Rice, the mother of Tamir Rice, the 12 year old boy shot on Cleveland’s west side, was derided for her choice of hairstyle at the press conference where she talked about her son being killed by police. Followed by comments about her being a bad parent, her son being a “thug”, and how he deserved what he got because he didn’t follow police orders.

Maybe if Samaria Rice looked more like Condoleezza Rice (no relation), maybe the attacks on her character would lessen. Maybe not.

Now the brutal truth of Samaria’s description about her daughter’s treatment by the police when she ran to her little brother after he was shot is now on the video released by the city. As Samaria reported, her daughter was tackled by police, handcuffed, and placed in the patrol car. The police look so cold-blooded and heartless, and the girl looks so desperate to get to her brother, that it made me cry to watch it.

There is no sound with the video but her mother said when she arrived she could hear her daughter screaming for her from inside the patrol car. On the video its 15 minutes before any police officer even approaches the car to talk to the handcuffed sister. Its five minutes after that before they take the handcuffs off her. The video ends, her mother and brother are on the way to the hospital, and the girl is still sitting in the patrol car. In shock I would imagine.

Comments on the video say things like her treatment proves stupidity runs in the family as she did not comply with the cops either, and people need to teach their children better and so on.

I’m wondering what visual might get people to feel compassion for the little girl traumatized by seeing her brother shot and bleeding on the ground. Maybe if she were more light skinned? Wearing a school uniform instead of jeans and a hoodie (we’ll overlook the fact they were at a playground & rec center).

john-filo-photo-of-mary-ann-vechiojpg-4338af7e714952b6
Mary Ann Vecchio, a 14-year-old runaway kneeling over the body of Jeffrey Miller minutes after he was shot by the Ohio National Guard, Kent, Ohio, May 4, 1970. Photo: John Filo

How about this one?

I know I don’t have anything productive to contribute to the conversation at the moment. No solutions, no call to action, just observations and suppositions.

The world is complex outside the comfortable hegemonic box. Sometimes it can be made simpler for people with careful preparation, like Mrs Rosa Parks whose story helps school children understand what 15-year old, pushy Claudette Colvin started by shouting about her constitutional rights on that Montgomery Bus. Both were necessary for change to happen.

So who is the attractive, composed, light-skinned, well-educated, married African-American symbol of this civil rights revolution I wonder? Or maybe video and the internet will make that concept obsolete.

Watch the 30 minutes of the Tamir Rice video that was released and let me know what you think.

Video shows Tamir Rice shooting aftermath
Video shows Tamir Rice shooting aftermath

 

The neighborhood I grew up in appears desolate and broken. Ten miles from where I live, its at least ten years since I’ve driven down those streets.

I made the long trip back recently for a very specific reason. To participate in a protest for Tamir Rice, the 12-year old boy shot by police outside of Cudell Recreation Center on Cleveland’s westside.

The rec center next to my elementary school, two blocks from my childhood home. The rec center where my friends and I spent countless summers swimming, playing tennis and goofing around by the clock tower.

The protest was attended by people who had traveled by bus from Ferguson, Missouri to stand in solidarity with the Cleveland protestors. I thought if they could ride a bus all night I could at least drive 25 minutes across town.

It was a hard thing to witness in a place so familiar that now no longer belongs to me.

Afterward, on the way home, I drove past my mother’s house, and was struck by how very tiny it was. (Eight people in 900 sq. feet & one bathroom – no kidding.)  I was unprepared for the unrelenting poverty.

Used to be lots of homes like my moms with overly groomed miniscule yards, flower beds and American flags flying. Now there is very little evidence of that kind of effort.

Looking the past in the face makes me pay attention to what I’m doing in the present to make a better future. How am I acting in my daily life, what am I contributing in my community, what is in my head and coming out my mouth that reduces racial injustice? Some days probably not so much.

Tomorrow I am participating in a facilitator training for the YWCA “It’s Time To Talk: Forums on Race” series. If they choose to use me as a facilitator I can help myself and other people have safe, meaningful discussions about race. Even if they choose not to use me I call spending six hours in social justice training “checking my head” a good day.

How do you check your head?

Mavis will see you out.

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Cudell Rec Center has a beautiful glass wall on the front and a sliding glass wall on the pool patio. I loved to swim in the winter and watch it snow through the steamy windows.

 

 

 

 

I recently saw a picture of Cinderella’s slipper with the caption “If Cinderella went back to pick up her shoe she wouldn’t have become a princess.”

Whatever your feelings about that ashy inspiration, I personally find it useful to occasionally look back and see what if anything I am learning. So 10 lessons in no order.

1. I got no chops.

I auditioned for a staged reading that sounded interesting and realized that whatever limited acting talent I once possessed has rusted to a point beyond embarrassment. I got nuthin but a decent reading voice anymore. I need to find an acting class and a patient director in 2015. Followed by a completely desperate community theatre.

2. Dancing makes me happy.

I always knew this but sometimes I forget to do it. Dancing by yourself, while slightly less enjoyable than grabbing a friend or stranger, is at least not the same slippery slope as smoking weed or drinking by yourself. Jazzercize – even though I can’t follow half the choreography – helps take the edge off the need to move.

If I were to resolve something it would be throw more house parties in 2015 so I can dance to loud music with other sweaty, happy people.

3. Talk less, listen more (in meetings and other difficult situations)

Whenever I remembered to do this I was always happier walking out the door afterward.

4. Not everything broken can be fixed.

‘Nuff said.

5. Everyone’s a little bit racist. (Including me.)

The first time I heard that song in Avenue Q I laughed so hard I could barely hear all the lyrics. Too bad it doesn’t get sung by school choirs like that annoying song from Rent.

If it was, if this song was considered appropriate content for school children and their parents, maybe we could start these desperately necessary conversations about institutional bias and white (and male) privilege from a different place. Just a suggestion.

6. Just because I can’t deliver what a client wants doesn’t mean I’ve failed.

Multiple clients this past year engaged me as a coach to help them create a road map for a new career or a new direction. The problem is you have to know where you want to go before you can decide how to get there. Sometimes when clients don’t know what they want, they think coaching doesn’t work. Unfortunately, I didn’t get issued a magic wand when I completed my training so I can’t make (vague and often unarticulated) wishes come true.

For the first time acknowledging my limitations feels like strength rather than weakness.

7. I am an optimist trapped in a pessimist body.

My daughter says people see me as “proper” (isn’t she polite?), I also get called “serious” and “intellectual” all the time. With a little push some folks might be persuaded to talk about my “Bitch Face.”

It’s obvious I’m not a smiley person, but it may be less obvious that I am a deeply hopeful person.  I really do think that individuals make a difference agitating for change in their communities and in the world. I think the world is full of good people doing the best they can. I believe I have a responsibility to stand up, speak up, lend a hand, hold a hand.

My hope for change and my committment to action just doesn’t show up on my face, or on my T-shirt. Its just how it is. And, once again, I resolve to smile more to help my face reflect my heart.

8. People change.

I am not  the same person I was twenty years ago and neither is my little sister. We may not have had much in common through the years but a conscious choice to see if we like each other now has led to a new circle of family that hasn’t existed for a long time. And I am grateful.

9. I am a writer.

This is a silly thing to have to learn but I have resisted ever referring to myself as a writer, no matter what I write or publish.

However, I need to write. I need people to read my writing. I want to spend more time writing in 2015  and more time acknowledging that writing is part of who I am.

10. Everyday is a second chance.

It’s all a do-over. Right here, right now. Life is what we make of it so live it up.

 

I know I learned more along the way but we have a party to go to where I hope there will be dancing.

Best wishes to all for a happy, healthy and prosperous 2015!

brain

UPDATE: November 25, 2019

Much remains the same since I wrote this post back in 2014, and some are actually worse. One thing that is better (and worse) is a new Tamir Rice Safety Handbook created by the ACLU of Ohio in collaboration with Samaria Rice, the mother of Tamir Rice.

The better is that Samaria Rice can help publicize a tool that may keep other children from being killed. The worse is that we need a guide for black and brown children to navigate interactions with law enforcement.

 

ORIGINAL POST: November 25, 2014

I knew the Ferguson grand jury would not indict officer Wilson. I’m not cynical, just familiar with history.

I knew I would feel like shit hearing the outcome, but I wouldn’t have predicted the sadness. I naturally lean toward anger & outrage in the face of our ongoing social & political injustice.

Closer to home, Tamir Rice, the 12 year old boy from my old neighborhood who was killed by a police officer on November 22 for having a toy gun, deepens my sadness and amplifies the questions.

  • How will we change the value we place on black lives in this country?
  • How will we change the perception that black skin is to be feared – the assumption that drives and justifies a violent response from police?
  • How will we grant black teenagers the benefit of youthful stupidity – a privilege widely enjoyed by white teenagers?

The biggest question, the one that is currently making me sad is – what do we do now?

I just taught a workshop the other day about dealing with difficult situations by recognizing your habitual responses and learning about different potential choices. Deciding how to respond rather than just reacting.

So how will we respond to our deeply flawed and biased society? What do we address first? The legal system? Gun culture? Institutional racism? The fact that citizens are brainwashed into thinking that they have no power to change the system?

If I had my druthers I’d start with eliminating folks feelings of collective helplessness so we can get to collective action.

We need to do more.

I need to do more.

Cudell Recreation Center where Tamir Rice was killed

Thank god for cell phones.

The images of the protests and police reaction in Ferguson, Missouri over the past week are grotesquely similar to images from the civil rights confrontations from the 1960’s. One difference being the real-time broadcast to the world of events that seem like they should be taking place in another country.

A country at war.

Maybe its the litany of names that is making it hard to ignore the truth but it seems like attention is finally being paid to the institutional racism that is fact in the USA.

I watched a video blogger this morning reading and reacting to a HuffPost story about how white suspects are treated better than black victims. What struck me about it wasn’t his outrage, but the fact that institutional bias and subtle racism are still news.

A lot of people still don’t believe – no matter what evidence is presented – that we live in and have created a country of unequal treatment, unequal opportunity and unequal justice under the law.

People of the American “Cis-majority” – people assigned to white privilege at birth – need to understand the magnitude of difference in how they experience the world and how African-Americans experience the world.

The concept of white privilege seems to have stopped shocking people the way it once did. Maybe a concept of “Cis-majority” can rattle the cages of those who do not count themselves among the culpable.

We are all culpable. Everyone operates from unconscious bias. I do. You do, no exceptions. All of us have power to do harm.

Some of us just happen to have the power to do grievous harm when choices are informed by unchecked unconscious bias and institutional structures that aid and abet racist outcomes.

Some of us just happen to jump to the conclusion that a black man, by his very existence, is dangerous. Some of those jumping to conclusions carry guns.

All of us, no matter the degree of our “Cis-majority”, can at minimum shut up and believe black people when they say they are experiencing discrimination, racial profiling, disproportionate arrest and wildly disproportionate incarceration.

Black people standing in the streets in Ferguson are not “complaining”, “defying the rule of law”, or “being disrespectful to police”, they are protesting. Exercising a right that’s supposed to belong to all American citizens.

Oh wait, we’re not comfortable with “them” exercising that right because it makes “us” uncomfortable what with “them” being so prone to violence and all. It just goes on and on and on and on.

Heres a hope. When he gets back from vacation maybe President Obama can work with the slogan “Shut up and believe” since he can’t seem to get behind “Hands up, don’t shoot!”

Something has gotta change. Now.

Read the Huff Post article here.

Outrage In Missouri Town After Police Shooting Of 18-Yr-Old Man