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.

Almost daily I tell folks in my workshops and discussions that it’s okay to make mistakes.

When we talk about topics like race, gender, sexuality and other social categories, it’s common for people to hesitate to say something because it might come out wrong or open them up to an attack.

We are all afraid of appearing ignorant and ill intentioned, not to mention being considered racist, sexist or homophobic.

So I encourage embracing mistakes. And I ask folks to let me know – in real time or privately after the fact – if I say something that doesn’t land right with them. If I can’t stand to feel the sting of being wrong then how can I ask anyone else to?

And it does sting, make no mistake. I suffer from the same desire to be perfect at all times the same way many of you do. (Imposter syndrome has to wait for another post or I’m going to get off topic.)

I genuinely appreciate the feedback I get because I have come to see it as an act of trust. You have to trust in my open-hearted listening in order to risk telling me that something I said or did came off as wrong or bigoted in some way. You have to trust my reaction will not be to attack or deny your experience.

I believe if you are “someone who gets it” you have to be willing to take it when you don’t. Apologize, learn, do better.

Because I have been practicing this in the DEI arena for a long time the sting is familiar and I can cope.

However, when I make a mistake in another arena, feelings of disaster & panic compete with my instinct to hide and obfuscate. Run! Hide! Deny! Fix it!!!!

But eventually I can get back to the place where I can own the mistake, apologize, learn and move on. And be reminded once again I’m not perfect (ack!!), and that’s ok. Ish.

Having patience and acceptance with the foibles, flaws and “areas for growth” with my clients has become second nature.

Patience and acceptance for myself and my errors and flaws is, as they say, a work in progress.

So I messed something up. The reasons matter less than what I do about it now.

Deep breathe, suck it up, apologize and hope for grace from those I hurt or offend.


On another note:

I started to name this post “My Bad”, a phrase I have been using for 30 years since I picked it up from high school friends. But the other day, during a discussion about white privilege, a woman said she gets cautious around white people who use phrases like “my bad” and “girlfriend” when they talk to black people.

Ouch. Another lesson learned.

And just so you know, Mea Culpa auto corrects to the very fitting “New Culpable”.

woman_oh_no

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.”

I don’t know about you but I seem to have an almost magical ability to catalog every moment in my life where I fell short.

All those times I was “too much” –  too loud, too enthusiastic, too big, too flashy, too standoffish, too serious, too jokey.

And of course all the times I was “not enough” – not smart enough, rich enough, pretty enough or thin enough. Or plain old just “not good enough”, what ever the hell that means.

I consider this Too Much/NotEnough habit a special subset of the occassional 3 am litany of every wrong I have ever done to another person starting from grade 2 through yesterday.

That’s a different blog post.

The Too Much/NotEnough habit snaps to the front of my mind whenever I accidentally grab the wrong mental yardstick. I have several I reach for out of habit.

The first one was a gift from my mother – “Some people don’t have any legs”. Designed to remind her children that someone else always has it worse, this phrase was deployed to silence complaints big and small, from a skinned knee to a lost job. No whining, suck it up.

I agree that remembering that others have it worse is a valuable exercise to remind us to be grateful for what we have. Sometimes. But not all the time.

Comparison done right can remind you of what’s important. It can refocus gratitude and build resilience. It can even motivate us in a healthy way to get back up, try harder, or emulate those we admire.

But the wrong yard stick leads to dissatisfaction at best, and misery at worst.

My second yard stick is of the “Someone announced a new job/ promotion on Linked-In” variety. My dad always had those “gimme” yard sticks with hardware store names on them, so I picture this one with FOMO written in big red block letters.

That “too much/not enough” refrain starts playing to the tune of “should”, as in ‘I should be at that point in my career!’, ‘I should have that title by now!’, and ‘I should work harder!’ This particular measure highlights what’s missing like the tick marks on the door jamb that showing you are always shorter than your older sister.

The last stick in my mental tool box is the (unreali) stick. Not sure that worked but anyway…

This is where I compare myself to someone famous like like Brené Brown and discover …

“I am a FAILURE!!! We are the same age! Look at all she has accomplished! The books she has written! The people she helps! How brave she is! I never even got the PhD! Why would anyone want to work with me when they can just go hire Cook-Ross or Brené Brown? I should just quit!”

Once I peel that cudgel out of my hand and take a breath, I remember that comparison can also be a “Carrot” as in…

“Wow. Brené Brown’s success proves folks are willing to engage in change and transformation on a personal, vulnerable level. That is so cool. That means I can do DEI workshops and coaching from that same personal, vulnerable place.”

Now before anyone takes offense, know that I do not think I have Brené Brown’s chops, I am not a professor or an LISW, nor do I do the kind of leadership training she does. This isn’t really about Brené, although I do think she’s amazing.

What this is all about is the frequency with which I forget that we can choose how we measure ourselves.

Nobody makes me compare myself to Brené Brown, or a successful colleague, or a person struggling to make ends meet. That’s all straight from my tricky little mind.

Most days, when I beat back the “shoulds” and “too much/not enough” monsters, I work on replacing the carrot & stick with a clear picture of my personal best. Where I am today, how I got here and where I want to go.

So if I compare me today to with me five years ago, I can really appreciate what I’ve learned and how much my skills have improved. I can be proud of what I’ve accomplished and still focus on where I want to go next.

As I expand my consulting and coaching I am keeping this idea of personal best front and center because I want to work with folks interested in meaningful, sustainable change, achieved through self-knowledge and vulnerability.

I know where I want to go,  how I want to get there, and how I will measure success.

And I’m sure hoping you want to come along.

Onward and upward!

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

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

 

 

Given their druthers race is not usually the go to conversation topic for most people. It’s not hard to understand really, when you think about the ever present fear of saying or doing something that will get you called a racist.

I can say from experience someone calling you a racist (or homophobic) feels awful. I’ve been called both.

You can’t really defend yourself when someone calls you racist because its their perception of who you are.  Based on whatever facts they are using (assuming words or actions), our intentions, motivations and back story are no longer relevant.

What ever you say ends up sounding like a “but I have black friends” excuse.

When I have the opportunity to lead workshops about race I usually pull out the Jay Smooth video. This does a couple of things: gets some very important ideas in the open quickly, lets everyone look at a screen rather than each other while they hear those ideas, and puts an African-American voice in the room.

The fact that I am a white woman can work for or against me when talking about race. Again perception.

The other day someone introduced me to a new tool for my tool box.

Amandla Stenberg, a 16-year old actress, made a video about cultural appropriation for her history class: “Don’t Cash Crop on My Cornrows – a crash discourse on black culture.” I give it an “A” for its ability to raise issues in a meaningful way that leads to further discussion.

Don’t know why this feels like progress in the face of continual reporting of black men and women being shot to death by police, but it does.

Given my druthers I’d wade into a tough conversation every day if could. Anyone need a workshop?

nogeneforrace

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.

127

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

An uncomfortable truth is hidden under the national discussion about music being played too loud, and the hoodies that criminals wear. Racism is not going anywhere.

I feel this observation needs to be made especially in light of the recent Academy Award’s presented to Lupita Nyong’o and John Ridley. I don’t wish to minimize their achievements, just to point out that they will eventually be used by someone as an example of our post-racial society.

I’ve written this particular post several times since mid-February when the trial of Jordan Davis’s killer was in the news. I filed rather than published because I’m always weighing the relative merits of my opinions about racial justice issues against the fact that I am white, female, suburban and part of the “chattering class”, which may actually be a generous stretch for this blog.

I hesitated because as good as it feels to vent, or in this case Rant, self-righteousness and hyperbole are rarely positives. I care too much about these issues to be flip or off the cuff.

It is the impact of these “Stand Your Ground” self-defense cases that is haunting my thinking at the moment. Specifically the no duty to retreat provision.

The institutional racism of our judicial system, or any kind of systemic oppression, is a hard sell when people are not willing to acknowledge their own biases. So anyone talking about how the killings of Jordan Davis and Trayvon Martin are racially motivated is derailed, shouted down and marginalized.

The national discussion of the Stand Your Ground laws invariably skirts racism by focusing on an individuals right to protect themselves against a perceived threat. Self-defense is at the core. Rarely is the fact established that the act of being a black male in our culture IS automatically a perceived threat.

If you are afraid for your safety, and there is no need to de-escalate, a “reasonable person” would be justified in protecting themselves. Media generally presents black men as dangerous, so a “reasonable person” can be expected to be afraid of black men. Except that second sentence is never stated.

Klappstecker_SicherheitNo duty to retreat is the linchpin to this specific kind of institutional racism. Subjective perceptions of threat trump evidence and facts. My feelings about your potential to hurt me justifies necessary force. It’s quite disheartening.

I have heard some folks saying that the celebrating of 12 Years a Slave by the Academy shows that we as a culture are ready to talk about race and slavery in an honest way. I’m not holding my breath, but maybe its true.

If we are ready to talk about race in the US, let’s start the conversation by believing that racism still exists, there is no such thing as the race card, and actions count more than intentions. My recommended moderators for this national conversation:

Onward and upward.

Context matters. Until it doesn’t.

Watching and listening to the story unfold of how NFL player Richie Incognito bullied and used racial slurs against teammate Jonathan Martin, I noticed a theme in the commentary and reactions about how “context matters”.

Not quite “boys will be boys”, the explanations and defense of the NFL locker room culture sounded almost antiquated. Most apologists have couched what sounds like hazing, threats, bullying and racial slurs in the context of team camaraderie that only the initiated can appreciate.

It didn’t take long for those “the way things are” arguments to sound ridiculous despite their apparent accuracy.  The truth of the NFL culture (in or out of the locker room) permitting and, if Incognito is to be believed, even encouraging racist, bullying, and harassing behavior goes beyond what most people can justify or excuse even from a violent and aggressive sport.

I have to stress the word “most” because fans commenting on stories think this is the stuff that’s turning America into a bunch of sissies. Being “overly sensitive” to abusive behavior when, in the context of the physically and verbally violent sport of football, the abuse has been historically accepted and expected. Again and again context is the excuse.

I feel sorry for Incognito. The cultural change in the locker room, as small as it may end up being, will be the hardest on guys like him. The new expectation that things do not cross a certain line when players are busting each others balls will be tough to figure out when there was no line before.

The idea that you could be considered a racist if you use racial slurs will be the new context. And a reason is not an excuse. That may be a bit deep for most folks, but I’m putting it out there anyway.

The context arguments reminded me of a scene in the movie Babe when the cow says, “The only way you’ll find happiness is to accept that the way things are is the way things are.” The duck (who is fighting becoming Christmas dinner) says “The way things are stinks!” For whatever reason Jonathan Martin, like the duck, could no longer accept the way things are.

I hope the NFL follows suit.

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If there is one phrase I could will out of existence it would be “the deserving poor.”

Amidst endless obfuscation and obstruction of the Affordable Care Act and the de-funding of food stamps, politicians, pundits and your average person on the street continue to qualify charity as only appropriate for the deserving.

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