That whites and blacks have vastly different cultural experiences of being American is well established, with blacks generally getting the worst of the bargain. Significantly, our differences remain caged off. Opportunities for experiencing anything outside the cage are locked away, precisely because we are all conditioned to react to skin color; we can't not react to this otherwise meaningless factor.
In this blog, I have tried various approaches to stimulating conversations on race, looking for keys that will open our cages. Starting with Speak Right On, I've tried to point out how Dred Scott remains relevant today, and why.
I have posted comments to online articles and then reported on those "conversations"—a nice word for what amounts to, in most cases, people barking from behind a metal grill that blocks broader perceptions and understanding (me included).
I have reiterated news reports and statistics, because we need to know the facts before we engage in meaningful talk.
And I have tried to understand some of the emotional and psychological underpinnings of what works and what doesn't.
But I get discouraged. News on this topic is typically depressing, horrifying—and it's overwhelming in its frequency and magnitude.
In any given week, I read articles from a variety of sources that report (progressively and conservatively) on racial issues. I watch documentaries and "town hall" meetings when they're aired. I buy books, like Keeanga-Tamahtta Taylor's From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation (which I recommend). And I often have discussions with others in my personal circle.
This week, I watched President Obama on ABC answering questions directly pertaining to recent killings of black citizens and white police officers. He seemed a bit overwhelmed himself. I guess he was trying to be balanced, trying to avoid stoking emotions that are tender and volatile. But he seemed vague and evasive, and I felt disappointed by the absence of two things I've often admired in him—leadership and inspiration.
I'm left feeling, today, at this point in time, that maybe words and talking just aren't a strong enough tool for the job. Worse, I don't know that there is a tool that can do the job of creating more unity and less divisiveness when it comes to race.
Thankfully, I'm pretty confident this mood will lift; I've been down this rabbit hole before.
Part of me realizes that this bleak perspective also belongs to the conversation. . . .
And as soon as I accept this thought and this feeling, room is made for more creative thoughts: imagine how often black people have felt this way, exhausted from the effort of trying to make the world accept that they matter?
I mean it: try to imagine just that.
Dear Mary, yesterday's blog was heartbreaking. In trying to think how I might respond in a way that would be helpful, my thoughts eventually came to rest on the always beautiful wisdom of the Dalai Lama. An interviewer once asked him, Do you ever feel angered by all the cruelty and atrocities that the Tibetan people have had to endure? The Dalai Lama answered, Oh yes! I feel very much anger, but I don't let it bother me!
The above isn't a direct quote and it's been many years since I first read that interview. But what I took away was the important fact that we can't control our feelings, but we don't have to let our feelings control our actions.
Dear friend, you are right to be discouraged! Only a fool would NOT feel discouraged about the direction our world seems to be taking. Just don't let the discouragement get you down; don't let it "bother" you. Keep up the beautiful work you are doing. You do, after all, make a difference.
Ah, the support and the wisdom of the Dalai Lama are very uplifting. I am grateful. And this morning, like a prairie dog, I am poking my head up from the hole I've dug. ;-)
Dear Mary, I so appreciate the way in which you share your feelings and how you deal with them. There is so much truth in knowing to have emotions is to be human and as you described, as you feel and accept them they evolve into new expressions---many times creative ones. And that is exactly what you model to the rest of us.
This morning in the online ABQ Journal there is an article about a black police officer (Anwar Sanders) who works in Santa Fe and states that this in one of the most racist places he's seen. He acknowledges Santa Fe is quite accepting of gay people, yet that kind of acceptance doesn't seem to extend to black people. He speaks with enthusiasm about his job--how he likes helping people and how that can make a change. He wants to speak at public schools and when I read that I immediately thought of you. Perhaps it could open the door to educating students about racism and become a model for other schools nationwide!
Hi Jeannette, I just went to the Journal's website and read that article you mentioned. Thanks for sharing that. I respect the perspective of the article and those quoted in it. I have a friend in LA who really doesn't like visiting here because of all the stares she gets, and the isolation she feels being (often) the lone black person in public places.
I like your suggestion about school programs. I am working on a marketing plan, and this is one element I want to pursue. When Speak Right On was first published, I did several school talks. I had great apprehension about them beforehand, but I'm very glad I did them, and I'd like to do more. Thanks for the encouragement!
This blog is a wonderful tool for us to investigate and express our feelings about destructive racism. Thank you Mary. You are contributing to the conversation that needs to happen. It is so valuable. Here are my stream of consciousness contributions.
We each have our own race and history to stir into the stew: I can say without a doubt that I have avoided opportunities to speak out against unkind prejudicial comments which I have heard over time, yet I have not consciously contributed to them. There are so many ways to be racist. My father trotted my mother right out of the theater where they had gone to see Othello in the 40's. I feel sure my mother was shamed and must have curbed his bigotry after the kids came along.
After all the years have passed, we don't need the militia to enforce segregation: it just comes naturally.
We need to come together naturally. How? We have plenty of militia, plenty of cages.
I have heard some express their ways of countering the hatred: Kwame Alexander turns off the news when his daughter approaches. He instead writes children's books which focus on the beauty in the world because he believes that the mind of an adult begins in the child and he hopes "to open the doors to a purposeful life."
The remarkable Dallas Police Chief David Brown, whose own son shot and killed a police officer and was shot in return, said, "Don't be part of the problem: We are hiring. We will help you in your community."
Today, more reports of police officers being shot and killed in Baton Rouge. I noticed initially that there was no
mention of race. Then a commentator came on to say how extremely dire it is that our first responders are being hunted, ambushed and killed. How can they continue to respond?
We are are on thin, thin ice as a country and society. It is deeply discouraging.
When I heard of the shootings in Dallas, my initial thought was that it was the police shooting the protesters.
I too think of our president. He hasn't had a moment's break from the cruelty and ignorance of human beings all over the world. He was willing to jump into the fray and bring his beautiful family with him. That speaks to me about racism, and his faith in us. His calm demeanor is reassuring to me. I will really miss him.
Imagine the discouragement of President Obama, or Dred Scott.
Me, I am overwhelmed when my car breaks down.
Yesterday my car broke down in El Dorado. I had my car brought home. Before turning down Hwy 14, the tow truck driver stopped at Alsups for gas. He hopped out and began pumping. I leaned down to get something out of my brief case and saw his gun, not far from the gas pedal.
Oh my, Jan, you raise a number of good points. It is heartening to learn how others deal with racism constructively. And you're right, of course: violence comes in so many ways, intrudes from all angles. There you are in a tow truck, unaware of the potential danger of that gun. Since Santa Fe broadened its "carry" laws, I often wonder how many guns are near me when I'm in public.
I want to say to you: don't get discouraged. We don't need to change the nation or the world, we just need to cultivate awareness and compassion. I know you do that, and you make the world a better place. Thank you for speaking candidly and bravely here.