“Looking at Black people like you would any other people,” a follow-up post

I want to tell you more, readers who are identify as white. I wrote on Black Girl in Maine’s blog about the awkwardness some of us get when we’re with Black people and I want to write a bit more.

The process of recognizing my own racism has been a long, long process. I want to tell you that when I got to the point, just a few years ago, where I really — and I mean really — recognized just how deep my own biases ran, it was painful and confusing. It played a part in what I can only describe as an identity crisis. Who am I, if I can be this ignorant? Looking back at my life, why did I only know a few people of color beyond the level of polite chit-chat? Why did most of my friends and family, progressives every one, also have only white friends? What did I really, really, really think about Black people?

Examining my racist, biased, terrified truth was a serious mindfuck (pardon me, but words fail when I try to explain this).

I had to float away from myself. I had to wonder who I was, because on a lot of levels, I really didn’t know for a while. I had to see that I thought about Black people as being “one way,” even though on a logical level I knew that was nonsense. I had to see that all people of color were “other” to me, no matter how much I wanted that to be not true. They were they and we (white people) were we.

I didn’t know about their hair, their makeup, their clothes, their language, they they they. As if there was one way. And, at the same time, as if learning about people’s differences was somehow not allowed. (Please keep in mind that I have known on so many levels that valuing differences is a beautiful way to move through the world!)

It was so confusing! It’s still confusing!

Lately I’ve been thinking about representation in tv shows. I was of the belief until just the last year or so that Black people couldn’t play “white roles.” Like, it would be too unbelievable to have a Black actor play a famous white person.

Why? Why did I think that was impossible? There are so many areas where I’m able to suspend my disbelief — how children of gritty British detectives always seem content to play with coloring books while their parent hashes out the details of where the murderer will strike next, for example — why couldn’t I accept an actor’s Black appearance and focus on the character they are playing?

I now believe I could. I’d like to see a lot more Black people playing “white” (as in historical fiction, say a Jane Eyre or something where we’re sure the main characters were white) roles.

I digress. But that’s part of what makes it so confusing. There are so many strands to unravel when it comes to my biases, my part in institutional racism.

What I want to tell you is that it has gotten better. After I crashed into the “holy shit. I *must* be racist in even deeper ways than I realized when I first started realizing it.” When I realized that I didn’t know how to just be normal around people of color; when I realized that I thought of people of color as different (and that meant less valued, less everything), as other; and when I realized that I felt deep, searing pain not seeing the full humanity in my brothers and sisters (oh, do I dare use that phrase? it’s what I mean, it’s how I feel, so I will risk it), I began to be able to let it go.

Using what I’ve learned over the last 7-8 years about Thich Nhat Hanh and Zen Buddhism, expanding my spiritual life in my 12 step recovery program and in my Quaker meeting, and, most recently, tying together my spiritual life and growth with the need for transformation in our racist systems (in great part through the work of Rev. angel Kyodo williams), I’ve experienced inner change. It’s hard to articulate because it’s a living experience. But the “other” feeling about people of color has almost disappeared. I’m not suggesting I don’t slip into it regularly. I do. But I catch myself pretty quickly. I have an authentic sense that we are all one. We don’t exist without each other. I have been released from a great deal of pain and confusion related to my own racism and biases and history.

So, it’s been my experience that really, really facing my own crap has been really, really difficult. But it’s also been my experience that it is getting better than I ever thought it could. It requires daily efforts on my part, but it’s really, really worth it.

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post-concussion syndrome setback and lessons learned

I thought I was “done.” I even told people I felt like I was pretty much back to my old self again. I started volunteering for things again, started writing more, and was cooking dinner almost every night. Life was good!

But, over time I stopped paying attention to what my body was telling me. I didn’t notice the headaches. I knew I was tired, but I “pushed through.” I didn’t realize that my post-concussion syndrome symptoms could come back with such force. (Note to the reader: my alarm reminding me to take a rest just popped up on my computer, I snoozed it for five minutes. If it pops up again, I’ll finish this post later!)

Last week, after a bad night of sleep, I crashed. Suddenly, it seemed, though hindsight says it crept up on me, I couldn’t think straight. As it was right after the crash, thoughts would come into my head but they’d slip away before I could know what they were. I couldn’t figure out what the right order of steps were to prepare dinner. Listening to the radio in the car made it difficult to drive. My brain was much too loud, my eyes weren’t focusing well, and I was beyond exhausted.

It’s been a week and I didn’t do a terrific job returning to an awareness of my symptoms. In the last couple days, though, I took more breaks and noticed when my mind was particularly slippery or foggy. I’ve had a lot of work to do, and a lot of it required high level intellectual thinking, but I did it bit by bit rather than in one massive dive.

Today I feel a lot better. I finished an essay I’d been working on. I’m about to make dinner and the prospect doesn’t feel overwhelming.

It was a rude awakening, though. I’m not as “done” as I thought I was. My speech therapist said she feels confident I’ll get to a point where it doesn’t get *this* bad anymore. I keep focusing on the fact that it’s been months since [pause to take that five minute break, thank you computer reminder system] I had symptoms that couldn’t be resolved by just a few minutes of resting my brain and eyes. I’ve been “back up to speed” in most areas of my life.

As with the rest of the post-concussion syndrome recovery, I’m reminded that my life improves when I take it easy. When I pace myself and don’t overdo it, even without the brain problems caused by post-concussion syndrome, life is better. I’m more present in life and I’m able to enjoy it. So now, after hitting “publish,” being present in my offline life is what I’m going to do.

is it time for me to quit Facebook?

I’m considering — very seriously — quitting Facebook. I realize these days it’s one of the best ways to reach people, but there are so many reasons why using FB conflicts with my values…
 
How would quitting Facebook impact my work? how would it impact my volunteer activities? how would it impact my activism? how would it impact my social life? what would I really, really miss?
 
I keep coming back to the idea that it’s only fear keeping me on Facebook. Fear I’ll miss out, fear I’ll lose money, fear I won’t know what’s happening in people’s lives. Living in fear isn’t how I want to live. The sense that Facebook has me held hostage is just one of the many reasons I think it’s time for me to let it go.

this white woman’s thoughts about Black Panther

Mostly, I’m going to keep my mouth shut in public about Black Panther. I want to leave the public opinion sharing to Black people. But, I do want to invite my white readers/peers/friends to see the movie and I want to tell you why I think you should (even if you, like me, don’t really enjoy action movies):

  • Watch the movie thinking about how almost every other movie made by Hollywood is almost all white people with only minor characters who are Black. Imagine watching almost all movies almost all of the time showing almost no one looking remotely like you. It’s an extraordinary opportunity to put your feet in the shoes of Black people in a small way, while also being entertained;
  • …and, related to that, it’s a glorious opportunity to just stare at Black people without feeling self-conscious or weird. We don’t get a lot of chances to do that. While it’s still a rare thing (and I’m sure you agree it shouldn’t be so rare), I think we should always take advantage of the opportunities;
  • The appreciation of real African cultures comes through vibrantly, even though it’s all fictionalized. Think about how you *really* think of “African culture.” Do you place it on the same level as European history and culture? Do you even know about the massive variety of African cultures? (I don’t, but the movie helped me realize how little I know and made me curious to learn more.);
  • Bring your children! and talk to them about all of these things. see what they notice on their own, see what they notice that you miss, relating to Black people in the US and racism.

I have so many, many more thoughts about the movie, but, again, I’ll keep those to my private discussions. For now, I suggest these reviews/discussions of the movie for you if you want to know more:

The reality of Blackness in the fiction of Black Panther

How the “Black Panther” Film Is “A Defining Moment for Black America”

What Would W. E. B. Du Bois Make of Black Panther?

The prison of unfounded positivity

Heart-shaped herb: Wakanda and ancestral healing

The Root’s many articles about Black Panther

BIPOC and what it must be like for Black Americans and indigenous people

Listening to solid news coverage about the struggles of immigrants and refugees, I was struck today about how disheartening, depressing, and even traumatizing it might be for Black people (and, now that I’ve been thinking about it, for indigenous people in the US) to have excellent passionate and committed activism and news coverage about the current issues facing immigrants and refugees. Even if Black and/or indigenous people fully support the rights and causes of immigrants and refugees, I can’t help but wonder (and I suspect google would bear this out) if Black and indigenous people might feel once again as if they don’t count or are invisible to the “allies.”

What I mean is this: Black people in America (and indigenous people here) have been terrorized and brutalized for hundreds of years, but they’ve barely made the news. Or, if the issues they face make the news it’s either covered from a white supremacist perspective or it only flashes in and out of the public eye.

Later this morning I saw on twitter an acronym I didn’t recognize: “BIPOC.” Instead of asking the tweeting person what it meant (they are an indigenous rights activist in Canada, I think? and I’m sure are bombarded by white people asking them to explain things) I googled it. It means “Black, indigenous, and people of color.” From what I’ve read, it’s used to help center discussions and work related to racism on people who tend to be marginalized when the term POC is used. For example, POC can refer to anyone who has Black or brown skin (or who identifies as a person of color). But, in general, Black Americans have enormously different histories than do those people who have come here voluntarily.

These days, as I’m hearing about the important good work being done for our neighbors who don’t have documentation stating they are legally allowed to live here, every news story I hear or read I think about how many stories about Black people being arrested and jailed for jaywalking or being systematically shut out of every single institution in the country. At this point, I’m not doing much more than thinking about it, but as I was noticing it, I felt like I wanted to share it.

As always, these notes are quickly written and are by their nature not inclusive of all aspects of these complicated issues. But, I’d rather say something than nothing at all when I’m in a place where it’s appropriate for me to speak/write. (For example, writing on my own blog is an appropriate place for me to take up space.)