There's a video going around Facebook of a White guy doing a "social experiment". My friend posted it. Have you seen it? In a White neighborhood the guy holds up a sign that says, "Black Lives Matter". In a Black neighborhood he holds up a sign that says, "All Lives Matter". Then he sees how people respond. In the White neighborhood, people minimally engage him. In the Black neighborhood, he gets physically threatened, chased and kicked. If you haven't seen it, check it out.
I couldn't stop thinking about this video. Numerous things cross my mind. One is that not many folks of any race may feel comfortable commenting on it, for a variety of reasons. We as a nation are not used to engaging in dialog about racism in a functional, respectful manner. We don't know how to do it. It's too uncomfortable.
I'm reading a best-selling book called, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting together in the Cafeteria? The author is Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum, a Black female psychologist. In the book she explains the development of racial and ethnic identity. She has some insightful things to say about this issue.
Dr. Tatum says:
"I'm often asked by parents and educators about.....how to combat racism in daily life. White parents and teachers, in particular, often ask me questions about how to talk to children and other adults about racial issues. They struggle with embarrassment about the topic, the social awkwardness that can result if the "wrong" words are used, the discomfort that comes from breaking a social taboo, the painful possibility of being perceived as a racist. Parents of color, too have questions. They are sometimes unsure about how to talk to their own children about racism, torn between wanting to protect them from the pain of racial realities and wanting to prepare them effectively to cope with a potentially hostile world. "
Let's read that last line again:
"(Parents of color) are sometimes unsure about how to talk to their own children about racism, torn between wanting to protect them from the pain of racial realities and wanting to prepare them effectively to cope with a potentially hostile world. "
Please let that sink in a moment.
Dr. Tatum also says:
"My audiences often tell me that what they appreciate about my articles and public presentations is that I make the idea of talking about race and racism less intimidating. I help them to see the importance of dialogue about the issue, and give them the confidence they need to break the silence about race at home, at work, among their friends, and with their children."
Lastly, Dr. Tatum says:
"Talking about racism is an essential part of facing racism and changing it. But it is not the only part. I am painfully aware that people of color have been talking about racism for a long time. Many people of color are tired of talking, frustrated that talk has not lead to enough constructive action or meaningful social change."
In my opinion, we desperately need dialogue on these issues. So here's my take, all awkwardness aside and forget about being embarrassed about this topic anymore. It's time to hear each other. Although I think this video was an interesting social experiment, I think it has the potential of reinforcing the negative stereotype of, "See, white people just verbally express their disagreement while Black people get violent." This does not represent all Black people. I've had many great, sensitive and mutually respectful conversations about racism with Black people, and they didn't threaten me with physical harm.
Dr. Tatum writes about how often her White students would ask, "There's still racism in this country?" She makes the point that that kind of answer becomes dismissive of very real, tangible racial inequalities. If you disagree with the organization of "Black Lives Matter", then what about just the concept of Black lives mattering? When White people, as in this video, disagree with or do not show support for Black Lives Matter, it can be dismissive of a very real problem in our country.....that problem being that for too long Black lives haven't mattered. Accept this. They haven't.
When a Black parent has to STRUGGLE with wanting to "protect (their children) from the pain of racial realities and ...to prepare them effectively to cope with the potentially hostile world" .....that's a problem! I know those kinds of conversations happen every day across our country. Being part of an interracial couple, my husband and I have had those very conversations with our children about how they will be perceived by people outside of our home, by people of different racial backgrounds, by potential people to date, and how to react to police inquiries. Especially with our son!
"the pain of racial realities......the potentially hostile world....."
Those are realities that I'd say, in general, White people are clueless about. I was. For a long time. Or they don't want to face them. Or they don't think they have a part in perpetuating them, so they avoid the dialogue. THEY NEED TO ENGAGE IN THE DIALOGUE.
The violence in the video by the Black men toward the White guy with the sign? While I can't support it, I can understand what lies behind it. I believe it goes back to what Dr. Tatum says has happened for too long: White people dismiss the problem and say that racism doesn't exist. Or that Black people have been discussing racism for a long time and are frustrated that change hasn't happened more quickly. When frustrations are dismissed, especially when those frustrations involve life and death encounters for yourself or people you love, the potential for volatile reactions increases.
I would love to have seen a third video. What if the White guy went into the Black neighborhood and held up a "Black Lives Do Matter" sign. I would love to see what would have happened with that. That message just might build bridges.
(Continued from previous post "Self-Revelation")
So I was a racist. It was sobering to realize that that heinous word applied to me. I sat on the bed in my college dorm room contemplating exactly how and when that happened. It didn't just pop up out of nowhere. It had to start somewhere. So I began to go back through the years and revisit where that "superiority complex" could have taken root. I didn't find the answers immediately. It took some time.
I thought about my early experiences with Black people....which were few and far between. I was born in Buffalo but moved when I was three to a small town in central New York State called Oneida with a population of about 12,000 people. In addition to growing up in a small town, we also lived in the country. My closest friend lived about 3 miles away so my daily playmates were my 4 siblings. My elementary school had one classroom per grade level up to the sixth grade, and none of the children who attended the school were Black. Everyone - students, teachers, support staff - to my recollection, was White.
I am also a second generation immigrant on both my mother's and my father's side. Two of my grandparents went through Ellis Island. My mother's father heralds from Glasgow, Scotland. My father's father "came over on the boat" from Valledolmo, Italy on the island of Sicily. My father's mother was first generation Polish. Those paternal grandparents were both bilingual and it was common to hear Italian and Polish spoken on visits to my Buffalo relatives. Scottish kin came down from Canada speaking a brogue I could not yet decipher at 5 or 6 years old. The influence of where I came from played heavily into the development of my own ethnic identity. I identified significantly with my Italian heritage mostly because my last name was obviously Italian. "Parlato". But I had no first-hand experiences with Black people.
My limited knowledge of what it meant to be Black came from the television, and we were a family of movie watchers. I loved seeing Shirley Temple as she tap danced with Bill "Bojangles" Robinson and other Black actors. Those Black actors sang and danced wonderfully, but were not characters of strength and power. Theirs were roles such as butlers, chauffeurs and other service oriented positions. Little Shirley Temple seemed more empowered than they did. "The Ten Commandments" cast Black actors as dancers for entertainment, as litter bearers, as conquered people. "Little Rascals" had Buckwheat with his exaggerated facial expressions and unkempt hair. And of course there was "Gone With The Wind", with Black characters that reinforced stereotypes of subservience, enslavement, and ignorance. As I grew older and the 60s started to unfold, the next round of Black people I saw were from newscasters, harbingers of negativity, criticism and fear as the issue of Civil Rights made front page headlines.
In her book, "Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?", Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum states more succinctly the conclusion I arrived at.
The impact of racism begins early. Even in our preschool years, we are exposed to misinformation about people different from ourselves. Many of us grew up in neighborhoods where we had limited opportunities to interact with people different from our own families. When I ask my college students, "How many of you grew up in neighborhoods where most of the people were from the same racial group as your own?" almost every hand goes up. There is still a great deal of social segregation in our communities. Consequently, most of the early information we receive about "others" - people racially , religiously , or socioeconomically different from ourselves - does not come as the result of firsthand experience. The secondhand information we do receive has often been distorted, shaped by cultural stereotypes, and left incomplete.
These were the role models that as a very, young child began infusing stereotypes into how I thought I understood Black people to be. These "second hand" experiences left my thinking deformed and inaccurate. As I began to understand where my prejudices came from, and admit to myself that I was indeed, "prejudiced", I knew I needed to put myself in situations where those biases could be challenged and countered with real relationships and truth. This was a new road for me to walk. I knew it wouldn't be easy, but it did prove to be fruitful. My hope is that other White people, like I had to, become more introspective and examine what biases they might harbor because of how or where they grew up, and the experiences that influenced the development of their identity from their earliest years, forward.
(To Be Continued...)
My daughter, Beana (nickname for Gianina) , has discovered my essential oils and scent combinations. She likes the less chemical smell and the musky aromas of amber and sandlewood. So on a recent grocery run to the local health food store, she found a scent she "knew" I'd like and "bought it" for me. Of course....Papa was paying for the grocery bill. The bottle of Vanilla Amber happened to make it's way into the cart along with everything else. None the less I appreciated the thought, and she was right. I do like the scent. So does she.
Now it's become a regular part of our routine to share my oils, which I don't mind at all. I love that we have this relationship and she wants to share things with me. She winds her way into my room most mornings.
"Mama, can I put on some oil?"
This morning she was running a bit late. I'm on "drive them to school" duty on Wednesdays, so I was headed out the door for the car. She was headed toward my room to put on Vanilla Amber, but the door was shut, which meant Papa was in the room, possibly dressing. They know better than to just bust in.
"Mama, can you go into your room to get the oil? Papa's in the room and the door is shut."
"Yes," I said, and headed toward the room.
Our master bathroom is off our bedroom. I entered the bedroom and the bathroom door was closed, which could mean Scott, my husband, was in the beginning, middle or end of could be anything!
I knocked and asked, "Are you sitting?"
"Yeeeeeeeeeees," was the response.
Well, I'm not interrupting THAT!
"Okay, never mind. Bye!" I left the room and started heading out to the car.
"Sorry Beana, Papa's in the bathroom 'sitting'."
Her response: "What, and that stops you?" She was totally serious.
"Yes that stops me! "
"Why?" Again, totally serious.
"BECAUSE HE LIKES HIS PRIVACY WHEN HE'S TRYING TO USE THE BATHROOM!"
What is it with teenagers? Just because they now know their parents actually have seen each other naked does NOT mean that we share other personal intimate moments, especially those that require a modicum of privacy ! They're so funny! You have to cherish these exchanges.
September 21, 2001
Dear Cole and Gianina,
It is a different world today.
A week and a half ago, on September 11, 2001, four commercial planes were hijacked. Two slammed into the World Trade Center towers in New York City causing them to both implode within 30 minutes of being hit. One plane slammed into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. And one plane crashed in a rural area of Pennsylvania. The world was different from that moment on.
I had been out for a morning walk around the golf course across the street from our house here in Albuquerque, New Mexico, taking in the sunshine and thinking what a beautiful day it was. As I entered the house, your father was watching the news. He quickly called me to come in and see what he was watching. I remember how serious his voice sounded. And then his voice cracked as he told me, "A plane just crashed into the Pentagon."
I watched the pictures on the TV for a moment. My sister, Dee, works in the Pentagon. Everything seemed so surreal....like I was just watching a movie. A thought crossed my mind that Dee was okay, wherever she was. That this did not effect her. Then it all came screaming home to me that indeed she may have been hurt or killed. I called Grandma and Grandpa Parlato in Oneida, New York. They had not heard from her yet and were watching the events on television. Then I tried to call my sister, Lisa, but she was not at home. As I hung up the phone, it rang. It was Dee.
"Where are you?" I screamed into the phone. "Where are you?"
She was in Texas. She is the personal photographer for the Secretary of the Navy and she travels with him wherever he goes. They were on travel this week. She was safe.
But so many people are gone. The twin towers of the World Trade Center lie in heaps on the ground. Rescue workers, police and firemen who responded immediately to the attack were buried when the buildings collapsed. Many people were able to evacuate the buildings, but many were not and died in the attack and collapse. Immediately, airports all around the nation were closed and all planes grounded. Government buildings and labs were evacuated and people told to go home. Our nation ground to a halt. Everyone is immobile and in a state of shock. Suddenly, "home" does not feel so safe. Everyone feels like a target. And we are. Osama bin Laden, a very rich Saudi man who now lives in Afghanistan, has been identified as the main organizer of the terrorist attacks. He has made it clear that his wish is for all Americans to die.
Our government has gone into overdrive. It has declared "war" against terrorism and has focused on what it needs to do to protect our country. Our president, George W. Bush, has suddenly been catapulted into a global spotlight. Our military has been deployed to Asia and the Middle East, and may soon attack military targets in Afghanistan in an effort to close down terrorist camps and oust Bin Laden. Nations have come together to rally an organized effort to fight. Locally, we see signs of increased security all around. Soldiers wear green khakis and carry weapons at our airports and bases. Even the armory just down the street is now cordoned off with razor wire, cement barriers and soldiers on 24-hour guard. And our nation has been brought to its knees in prayer. All over the TV, media, radios, billboards, etc, the call has gone out to pray. Signs are everywhere, invoking the name of God in a very open and public outcry. People, in the sudden realization of their vulnerability, mortality and grief, are understanding their need for God. And they are seeking Him. Prayer vigils and religious services are being held all over the country, in houses of worship and in public stadiums and plazas. Churches are filled to over-flowing. Our president called for a national day of prayer on the Friday after the attacks. Two minutes of silence were observed by people in nations all over the world, to exercise a moment of reverence toward the impact of the attacks and the people effected. The news showed footage of major cities in numerous countries where traffic, movement, and activity came to a complete stop, as nations observed the moment. We all, as a global whole, are effected. May God hear us.
And you, my precious children, play at my feet, unaware of any changes in your small lives. You still play, and eat, and sleep, and cry, and laugh. I watch you with very, very different eyes. Suddenly, you seem so exposed. You seem so small and fragile, and I in a mother's fierce desire to protect you, cannot. All I want to do is hug you and kiss you and keep you close to me. Since the moments you were born, I have prayed for your protection, and for God to keep my eyes vigilant over you. I will continue to pray for this, and for God to use me to maintain your safety as much as is humanly possible. You have only been loaned to us, your Papa and me, for a short period of time. Ultimately, you belong to God, and I must remember that. You are His. And for that, I am thankful. He loves you even more than I could imagine myself loving you. He's concerned for your safety, and has ultimate ability to keep you within His loving gaze. What I can only wish to do for you, He is able to accomplish. And I am learning, through all this upheaval in our world, to release you into His trusted hands. I know that this insures nothing while we live on this earth. That as I sit at this computer and write this, we are still in danger of more terrorist attacks that may effect us personally and could very well kill us. It is frightening, knowing so much is out of our control. But ultimately, you are in His hands, and He is still on His throne. And He is still in control, no matter what we see, no matter what we hear, no matter what anyone says. Nothing escapes Him. I must remember to "walk by faith, and not by sight".
I don't know at this moment, if you will ever be old enough to read this letter on your own and understand it. But I write it in hope for the future. I hope one day you can read it, and take in this eye witness account of a period of your own lives. Grow, in love and submission to the Lord our Father, knowing how fragile and fleeting your lives are. Seek Him. Find Him. Trust Him. Follow Him. He will lead you. Live in the present, with your eyes on the future. Not just an earthly future, but an eternal future in His heavenly kingdom, in His heavenly presence.
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. Selah. There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God shall help her, and that right early.
The nations raged, the kingdoms were moved: He uttered His voice, the earth melted. The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah. Come, behold the works of the LORD, what desolations He hath made in the earth. He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth; He breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder; He burneth the chariot in the fire. Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the nations, and I will be exalted in the earth. The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah.
"Be still, and know that I am God."
May God help me to remember this; to trust Him with you, and with Papa, and with me. That no matter what happens, He is still my Lord and Savior and loving Father. And you, are His.
Your loving Mama,
I don't know exactly when I became a racist. It happened slowly, without me knowing it. It rolled in like a slow, damp fog to inhabit the spaces between my cerebral neurons. I had no awareness that it was there, percolating through brain cells to infuse into my thought patterns. I didn't think I was racist as a child. I didn't think I was racist in high school. I didn't think I was racist in college. I didn't think I was. But I do remember, exactly, when I discovered, I was racist.
I have not recounted this memory to many people. It's embarrassing. It is a memory filled with shame and shock. And self-revelation. Whenever I meditate on this memory I still feel a retching fullness in the back of my throat and my chest tightens. But it merits confession, because that's when I started "to think". It became the impetus for change.
I grew up in bucolic upstate New York (emphasis on upstate) amid dairy farms and hay fields. We had one television and it was black and white. There were a few Black families in my town, but I didn't know them. Everyone I knew was White. My first job was at fourteen years old selling corn at a local corn stand. I sometimes helped the farmer milk his cows. We had horses in the back pasture and chickens and pigs in the woods next to our house. We grew our own vegetables and made our own cheese and butter with raw milk dipped out of the vat from the farm down the road. We tapped and boiled down our own Maple syrup from the trees on our land. I was so "country".
In 1977, at eighteen, I took country with me to college. College was the State University College at Buffalo (SUCB) also known as Teachers College and Buffalo State. Not only was it in an urban setting, but it was also a college of choice for numerous Black students from "The City", as in, New York City. Which I had never set foot in. It was a foreign land to me. They brought "The City" to college with them, with Brooklyn and the Bronx on their tongues. Accent crossed with city-slang was a troublesome combination for my country ear to discern. It sounded like a different language to me. Literally. I'd walk past Black students in the student union with my head down thinking, "Please don't say anything to me. Please don't say anything to me. PLEASE don't say anything to me. Because if you do I WON'T UNDERSTAND A LICK OF WHAT YOU'RE SAYING!" I'd imagine myself standing there, with some young Black person probably asking me "What time do you have?", and me with a deer-in-the-headlights look on my face because I was sure I WOULDN'T BE ABLE TO UNDERSTAND THEM. Then I would be exposed in all my ignorant glory. And then they'd point at me and laugh and I'd run away crying. That was my nightmare. Mercifully, it never happened.
That wasn't racist. That was naivete. Lack of experience in life and with people. Eventually, my ear became attuned to city-speak and that "downstate" accent. It helped that my first roommate, Sheila, was Black and from The City. And that five out of the eight women in my suite that freshman year were Black. Two were from "The City", two were Jamaican, and one was Dominican who spoke English with a Spanish accent. That kind of frazzled my mind because I didn't know that people like her existed let alone lived in the room next to me. And those women - they were all beautiful. I felt like a country bumpkin compared to how they dressed and carried themselves.
I made friends and established positive relationships with people of other races. For my sophomore year, I became a resident assistant, and worked with and for other Black students in my dorm. I was overcoming my fear and immaturity, and to accelerate the process, I decided to take a Black History class. My reasoning? If I was going to become a teacher, I'd likely have Black students, and I better understand Black History. So on I went. The professor was Black, as were most of the students. I was one of two or three White kids in a class of about forty students. Initially, I was not well received. One must remember this was ten to fifteen years post Civil Rights, and my inquisitiveness was not always welcomed.
A couple weeks into the new semester a knock sounded on my suite door. It was two girls from the next suite over. They were in my Black History class and were themselves Black. They wanted some help on the homework, so I invited them in and we discussed the issue at hand. They were young and chatty and we talked easily. They stayed about ten minutes, resolved their questions, and then were off to do their homework. I was happy they came. I was proud to be able to help out. Of course they came to me. After all, I was friendly....and smart....and White. And a little wave of superiority rippled through my mind. I barely noticed it.
Wait wait wait wait WAIT! WHAT THE HECK WAS THAT?
I sat down on my bed in that little room in Low Rise East, and contemplated what had just happened. A very subtle, racist thought had just wafted through my head, and I'd barely noticed it. How often had that happened in the past and I'd never noticed it. A sick realization rose to consciousness. I thought I was better than. I thought I was smarter than. Because I was White.
But I didn't hate Black people! I didn't use "the 'N' word or call them derogatory terms! I wasn't the angry face of racism who shouts epithets and fights to maintain segregation! So I wasn't racist, right?
Then where did that thought come from? That was a supremacist thought. That thought is what a racist thinks. And that's what it made me. A racist.
It was the seminal moment on which my whole life turned. That's when I began to really think. And change.
“We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.” – Mahatma Gandhi
Regarding my previous post, I got a number of comments from friends, family, and friends of family about what my daughter meant when she asked, "Mama,do you feel weird?" while sitting in the Black hair care shop.
Some people remarked how sensitive and empathetic my daughter was by being concerned about her mom. Indeed she was then and is now a very empathetic person. Others wondered if she herself had felt "weird" in past experiences as a minority child and was applying that emotion to her mother's possible feelings being the only white person in a shop full of Black people.
I guess there are a few things to keep in mind. There are slightly more "Anglo" (White) people in Albuquerque than Hispanics (the label of choice by Hispanic people in New Mexico vs "Latino"). Albuquerque is surrounded by Pueblo Indian reservations as well as the Navajo Nation being not far away. Many Mexican people live here. The African-American population is relatively small compared to other cultural groups. My point is, there are a lot of brown faces in New Mexico. The neighborhood we live in is very mixed. And, my husband and I often remark at the number of mixed-race couples you see in Albuquerque, specifically a combination of African-American and White. I would imagine compared to other communities around the country, in Albuquerque, racial interactions are not as antagonistic or edgy. That's not to say that racism does not exist here. But we as a family do not get stared at or have hurtful comments made toward us. There is less racial tension in general, at least in our experience, which is why we choose to live here. My daughter was about 4 years old at the time of that story. She thought with the mind of a child. By that young age, she'd not been exposed to a lot of racial tension.
My daughter is now 16 years old. She saw me writing the blog post and knew the content of it. After the comments of some readers, I asked her if she remembered how she felt at the time, and why she asked me that question. Her response:
"Oh, I don't know Mama. You know how I've always liked being around Black people. I think I was just wondering if you were enjoying it as much as I was."
And that would be YES!
Ahhhhh. Well said, baby girl. Well said.