“People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.”
- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Today my family went out to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday. As is our custom now, we choose to do something together as a family that we could not have done 50 or 60 years ago. We decided together to go see a movie, and sit side by side in recognition that once, in my own lifetime, we would not have been allowed to do so in many places in our country.
When we got into the theater itself we found it to be a small space that was relatively full. The higher seats were mostly taken and there were a smattering of single seats sprinkled throughout the upper section. Normally we would have split up, but not today. So we found 4 seats together in the lower section closer to the screen, sharing popcorn and the pleasure of spending time together.
I'm thankful for those who have gone before us, who have made not just these simple outings possible, but for the greater things.....such as being able to have the family that I have. I'm thankful for those who put their lives and well-being at risk, so that I could be the wife and mother to this husband, and these children. It is because of the struggle of others that I can enjoy a sweet afternoon with my husband and children in safety. Such a small thing as going to an afternoon movie, together, as an inter-racial family, has come at great cost. Thank you Dr. King, and to all the others who have fought the great fight for racial equality and brotherhood, for making my life beautiful.
"I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality... I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word." - Martin Luther King, Jr.
A good friend of mine said to me recently, "but there is still a long walk ahead of us to eliminate the racism that exists in our country today. Especially recently I have felt that our quest for equality has been given a heavy blow..."
Indeed, a blow has been dealt, but to whom? And why has it felt so heavy? The issues are complex. There is the overt, in-your-face racism of the KKK and White Supremacist groups. And then there is the more subtle, pervasive, hard-to-pin-down kind that has become institutionalized. The racism of White Privilege. Both have been dealt a blow. My response to her was roughly this:
"The walk ahead of us is exactly my point too. I invite people, especially White people like myself, to really be honest with and examine our own inner sanctum. That's why I write and confess my own journey in recognizing the prejudices I had within my own head that I didn't even realize were there.
When I was young, I had long thought that I was "color-blind" as some folks say. I don't really support the use of that word now. But I once did. I thought I treated everyone with fairness and equality. I convinced myself that I did. In reality, I had many preconceived notions that I didn't recognize. I had to see it in myself before I could admit it. It should be said that those thoughts were not malicious thoughts. I didn't want to hurt anyone. They were just ignorant thoughts. "Ignorant" in the sense of "not knowing".
I mean no insult when I say this...but In general, I find many White people are that way, regardless of political affiliation. Most are not intending to be malicious. They just "don't know" what they "don't know". It is often reflected in the kinds of questions I get asked by White people. As Dr. Beverly Daniel-Tatum writes, often White people are deathly afraid of talking about racism with Black people. They haven't had to think about the reality of racism, so it has not been a topic in their conversations to any large degree. They're afraid of their lack of knowledge being exposed. They're afraid of saying something that would make them appear unintelligent. So they do not engage in conversations about racism with Black people.
But because I'm White, many White people feel comfortable asking me things about my inter-racial marriage or my husband's thoughts on things or my children's experiences. Which is fine. I invite the dialog. It needs to happen. I want White people to be comfortable asking the questions they ask me. But it also shows me that White people have a lot to learn about racism in this country. The fact that they are surprised by its persistence in America speaks volumes to me. It's been here for so long. Black folks have been talking about it for so long. White folks have not wanted to face it or deal with it. Rather they've said things like, "Slavery happened a long time ago. Why are we still talking about slavery?" or "We've had a Black president now, so don't we live in a post-racist society?" or "Jim Crow was done away with decades ago. Why all the anger?"
Because racism never went away.
Black folks have known this for a long time. White folks are just recognizing this truth. Honestly, I don't feel that our quest for equality has been given a heavy blow in a negative sense. I feel the lid has been blown off, and we can finally see the sickness inside. Maybe now the infection can drain and has a chance to heal. But it will take guts for people to look at themselves. And from my experience, and the questions that have come my way, it is not relegated to one side of the the political aisle.
It has a lot to do with White privilege....and there are many White, privileged Republicans and Democrats who have no idea how they contribute to the racial divide. But now.....there is the invitation to talk, and get behind another person's eyes....and see how they see......and make internal changes.
This year, celebrate King's birthday in a more sentient and intentional fashion. Do you have friends of other races? If not, then make some. If so, do something together that you could not have done 50 or 60 years ago. Be mindful of the gift we've been given for the opportunity to rise up out of our past and make that "bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood.......become a reality". Be deliberate.
The last time I talked with my Dad, he was coherent. That was just a week ago. He is less so today. His mind and body are less and less cooperative. The human body can only go so far. Take so much. Yet it is doggedly determined to live.
So I will covet in my heart my most recent visits with Vincent Francis Parlato. My father. My Dad. I flew to New York the day after Christmas. Everything looked like I was not going to make it back there before he died. But I did. And he soldiered on. He even made it out of the ICU and into a rehab hospital. And I had time with him. Time to hold his hands that I love so much. No one has hands like my Dad, massive and imposing, once strong and powerful. Now weakened by neuropathy and age. Time to talk. To squeeze next to him in his bed, all six foot three of him with my arm across his immense chest and my head on his shoulder, and just be quiet. To hear him breathe. To stroke his hair. To kiss his scruffy face. To smell his scent. To say one more time, "I love you, Dad." To hear one more time, "I love you too." I even got to see him smile and capture it in my mind forever. A precious, precious gift of time, and touch.
December 26, 2016
I think I am going today to see my father die. I bought a ticket last night that will fly me out to Syracuse this afternoon. I spoke to Dad in his hospital bed yesterday, and his wheezing was horrible. All I could manage to say was that I loved him. Repeatedly. He tried to talk but hardly had the breath to support it. And he didn’t know what to say, other than that he didn't know whether he was up or down, and that he was scared. I couldn’t stand being here anymore. It was comforting to get online and buy a ticket. I now knew what to do. It was time to go.
My friend Linda, has been posting on Facebook for the past month one thing she is thankful for, every day. It has made me think about the things I’m thankful for, and right now, I’m thankful that if I must see my father die, it’s at this time of year. At Christmas. Because all around me, I see indications of Jesus coming to earth. Of God becoming flesh and bone. Spirit becoming human. And I am thankful for the mystery of His presence.
Donald Miller says, “It comforts me to think that if we are created beings, the thing that created us would have to be greater than us, so much greater, in fact, that we would not be able to understand it. It would have to be greater than the facts of our reality, and so it would seem to us, looking out from within our reality, that it would contradict reason. But reason itself would suggest it would have to be greater than reality, or it would not be reasonable.”
I got up early, unable to sleep more. I got up to turn on my tree lights and light the candles around the living room, and to sit in the middle of it all. In the middle of this glowing, warm light. The flames bounce and flicker and I remember that in Jesus "was life, and that life was the light of all mankind", and even the smallest flame dispels the darkness. I feel like I’m getting ready to fly into darkness, and I need to fill up on light and take some with me and carry it around in my chest. Somehow in the middle of this pain, there is still joy in knowing that God became Man, for the very purpose of defeating death and the grave. 1st Corinthians: “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” I can’t describe the fullness in my heart despite what I know is waiting. I am surrounded by reminders of His love for us. Death can snuff out the life in our bodies, but it can’t touch the joy of knowing the One who came and removed its power. I don’t understand how this joy is possible at this moment. So palpable. I didn’t think it could be like this. But I’ll take this peace, and put it on like a warm sweater. I’m thankful for discovering that the promise of His rest in the midst of calamity, is for real.
It's time to go.
BeCause We Can is now on Facebook:
the BeCause We Can Facebook page is devoted to seeing the beauty in diversity; in particular, within African-Americans, and "Anglos", as I am called here in New Mexico. I was "White" when I lived in New York. In New Mexico, I am considered "Anglo". Regardless of the label, my family is biracial - Black and White. For the sake of this content, and in light of the racial struggles we have seen in our country in recent days, this website is dedicated to fostering positive relationships between people of the Black and White races in an effort to forward understanding, appreciation, healing, friendship, and love.
Visit our Facebook page at Because We Can @ Susan Parlato Revels. I'd love to hear your stories, comments, concerns, or whatever the posts stir in your mind.
- Susan Revels
With kindergarten done for the day, I was hungry for a snack. A plate of cookies sat on the table. The old radio on the counter cranked out a tinny Doris Day. “Que Sera, Sera? Whatever will be, will be.” My mother sang quietly along with Doris as she rinsed silverware at the faucet.
What will it be? Which cookie is the biggest? My finger touched each cookie as I recited the familiar words:
“Eeny, meeny, miny, moe,
Catch a n#$@&r by the toe,
If he hollers let him go,
Eeny, meeny, miny, moe.”
I reached for the chosen snack, but my mother’s hand stopped me. Her eyebrows came together in a troubled wrinkle when she knelt down beside me. I felt the weight of her hands as she set them on my shoulders. Am I in trouble? Her words came out in quiet, measured tones.
“Susan, I don’t ever want to hear you say that word again.”
“Which word, Mommy?” I had said many words. Which one was "that word"?
My mother drew me close to her. The “N” word struggled out from her lips. “N#$@&r. Do you know what it means?”
To me, the word sounded like “booger”. I had always imagined it to mean a big monster made entirely of boogers all green and yellow and drippy, so of course you would not want to have any bodily contact with him. A toe was a small enough appendage to grasp without getting your hand too sticky. He would not like you gripping him by the toe, so he would open his dark toothless maw and let out a wretched groan. Then, you would let him go.
I thought I knew the meaning of the word in question, but apparently I did not.
My fingers fidgeted with a shirt button. “No. What does it mean?”
“It’s a word that some people use when they’re talking about a Black person. It’s not a nice word. It hurts people’s feelings. We don't use that word.”
It means a Black person? My 5-year-old brain had trouble processing this thought. Why would anyone need to catch a Black person in the first place, and by the toe no less? Why catch anyone by the toe? An arm, maybe. But a toe?
The more perplexing questions were, why was there a word that was meant to offend a Black person when he or she had done nothing to you? And, why was this in a children’s poem? It was my first exposure to the concept that some people devalue the humanity of another because of skin color.
My mother’s hold tightened. “You’ll never use it again, will you?”
“No, I won’t.” I said. There was no reason to, now that I knew what it meant. It made no sense to use it.
Racism. It takes root at a very early age. I had had a glimpse into the world of adults where individuals said things to wound someone else who was merely different than themselves. The purpose was to inflict pain and degradation, without cause. My wise mother had spoken into my heart that afternoon and set a precident. I'm thankful for a mother who seized the moment and planted the seed to examine and question while I was so young. Still, a peculiar door was cracked open that day, and a little bit of my innocence ran through it.
Thanksgiving with the Revels family!
A THANKSGIVING PRAYER FOR 2016
"O God of all Creation: You have cared for the earth, and have filled it with your riches. Abundance flows in your steppes, through the pastures and wilderness. You provide for our land, softening it with showers, bathing it in light, and blessing it with growth.The hills sing with joy; the meadows are covered with flocks; the fields deck themselves with wheat; and together they glorify your name!
On this occasion of our Thanksgiving, we as a nation take rest from our labors to consider your many blessings. We thank you for our freedoms, and for the opportunity to contribute our skills, our attributes and our values toward the good of society.
We thank you for the mixture of our cultures, blending us into one people under God. Help us to be a light unto other nations, and to further the cause of freedom and justice all over the world.
We remember those who are less fortunate than we. We lift up in prayer the victims of poverty and racism, and all those who suffer from forms of political and economic oppression. Let the word that goes forth from our mouths speak of your peace, and let us proclaim our hope in Christ as Savior of all humankind.
We pray that you will bless all those who gather here, as we have come to experience your presence among us. Give us your guidance, O God, and empower us for your work. For we claim nothing for ourselves, but return all honor and glory unto you, and offer our thanks and praise. Amen."
From "Prayers for God's People"
Thomas P. Roberts, editor
So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. - Matthew 7:12
“To me, the scariest part of what we saw with Donald Trump was not understanding how much racism still existed in this country,” Reiner continued. “It was kind of papered over for a while.” A friend of mine posted this article on Facebook. The author of this article says," So while Trump and the GOP and their racists voters will enjoy their victory now, they have ignited a progressive wave of rage that is going to bury them and drag them kicking and screaming into the future America deserves. http://addictinginfo.org/2016/11/15/director-rob-reiner-moron-trump-is-last-gasp-of-the-civil-war/
These are words by Rob Reiner today. I love Rob Reiner. I love the movies he makes. I love him as an actor. But these words are incredibly disappointing in what they reveal.
In this post election environment, I don't condone the things hate groups are doing in their actions toward others. I have skin in this game. My husband is Black, my children are mixed and the threats being made towards others have personal meaning to me. I know what a burnt rainbow flag thrown in a yard means, as happened in Rochester, NY. It's akin to a burning cross on a lawn. I also maintain that those hate groups do not represent the Republican Party. There are many Republicans I know and none of them are a part of or defend such activity. For Reiner to brand all GOP voters as racist is uninformed at best, and mean spirited at worst.
In like manner, I cannot support the violent, destructive activities being carried out by those protesting Trump's election. Businesses are being destroyed and people feel their safety is being threatened by what have now become hundreds if not thousands of people rioting in the streets. This is not “loving” behavior either. There are Democrats who say the rioters do not represent their party, and neither do they represent Hillary Clinton. I believe them.
I do not know how this will all proceed regarding Trump. I am as eager as the next person to see what happens. Numerous people in this country were going to be unhappy with the outcome of the election no matter which way it went. And so here we are.
One issue stands out above the rest, to me. The "racism" issue being levied against Trump and anyone who voted for him is striking. I have long known there are places in this country where I will not live or travel to because of the hate groups and the intensity of the intolerance that exist there. I won’t put my family or myself in harms way like that. Having lived in Harlem, found a place within in the Black community, and having married a Black man, I know the arguments against racism by Black people have been around an inordinate amount time.
Reiner says, “it was papered over for awhile. ” Papered over? To whom? Not to the Black community.
Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum, a Black female psychologist and author of Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting together in the Cafeteria? 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.”
Mr. Reiner, if you could not see it until now, if you thought it had been “papered over” and ended at some point, you are sadly, ignorant, or blind, or both. I don’t say “ignorant” to be insulting. I mean it according to its definition: lacking knowledge or comprehension of the thing specified; unaware; uninformed. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ignorant
For a man of your wealth and access to the world, this SEEMS to indicate a lack of intentionality on your part to truly understand those who are different from you. Have you not taken seriously the news this past year? I am saddened to find how far this is from the definition of “progressive”. I hope and expect progressives to be more fully informed, especially a man of your stature.
As a White person myself, I find that White people in general recoil when challenged with discussions of race. When Black people bring up racial injustice, many White people shut it down. They have not stood up and spoken out against the shootings of Black men, women and children by White police officers. They have not "heard" and accepted the pain of this recurring issue. I don’t say this lightly. I do have family members that have been in the police force, and I love and respect those men and women whose lives are endangered every time they report to work. Still, it grieves my heart to hear of “one more shooting.” Yet the White community largely remains silent.
When confronted with "Black Lives Matter", the frequent response is, "Well, ALL lives matter, really." That in itself is dismissive of the message that a specific community is in pain because their loved ones are being killed. When that ache is spoken of in a cry to alleviate it, the “All lives matter” response does nothing to comfort or bring resolution.
This subjugation is felt, daily, in homes of Black Americans across the country. It’s been happening for years, but only now is there a collective White voice speaking out against what they define as racism. In my own writing about self reflection on the part of Whites to examine the possibility of an inner bias, a common response from White people is, "You know, Black people are racist too. What about reverse racism?" That is not the point. Facing the prejudices in ourselves, which is often times unrecognized, does not merit finger-pointing in the other direction. That becomes "transference" and "deflection". White people don't want to consider themselves "racist". It is a heinous thought to most, which is a good thing. But, they don't know what they don't know. And now, there is all this talk about racism and Trump and "the Deplorables" by a vast number of White people. But is it truly genuine? Trump is not the only person to examine. It’s time for self-reflection even by those of us who are claiming racial foul. Are we White people in actuality ready to participate fully and with vulnerability in this dialog? Or is this merely playing the blame game in order to find a sufficient scapegoat? I hope they (we) are ready, because it's time. And if that kind of transparent dialog can come out of this election process, then I welcome it, and have reason to hope in the American people and the healing of the racial divide .
As I recounted in a previous blog post entitled Racist Pt. 1: How Did This Happen?, my experiences with Black people growing up were limited mostly to how people of color were portrayed in the media - characters in Shirley Temple movies, Gone With the Wind, the nightly news. As psychologist Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum wrote in her book "Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?", it is not uncommon for many White people to have grown up in environments that are very homogeneous, lacking racial or ethnic diversity. While I did have exposure to various ethnic groups since they existed within my own family, I did not have much exposure to other racial groups. As Dr. Tatum calls it, I had merely "second hand knowledge" when it came to races different from myself.
I do have a distant but distinct memory of the first time I ever saw a Black person. It may sound odd for some people to hear that. I wonder how that experience might translate for Black people in America. Can many Black people remember the first time they ever saw a White person? By and large, probably not, since most Black communities in the United States, being part of a minority population, interface regularly with White people as a daily occurrence. It may feel "taboo" to talk about this topic. But we must dialog about such things, even if it feels uncomfortable.
Back to upstate New York: I was perhaps three years old, not yet in kindergarten. Standing in line with my mother at the P&C grocery store on north Main Street, we awaited our turn at the check out. Several people were ahead of us. I was looking around, keeping myself occupied, when I noticed him. A middle aged Black man stood in front of the cashier as she rang up his groceries. I had, to my recollection, never seen anyone like him. His face, neck and hands were all dark brown. I seem to remember him wearing a fedora style hat as men commonly did in the late 50's and early 60's. As a three year old might do, I stared. Some people have argued that small children are color blind. I heartily disagree. Children do notice people, especially people different from themselves. They may NOT yet associate fear with the differences they see. Or they might, for other reasons. I could not take my eyes off of this man and I recall feeling some measure of alarm. I did not feel fear. It can be described more as a deep level of concern. In my mind, something must have happened to him to change him to that color. I assumed he must have been my color at one point in his life, and some horrific event must have happened to cause such a pronounced change. Had he gotten in an accident? Was he sick? Had he gotten burned? Was he okay?
"Mom!" I said quietly, "What happened to him?"
I don't recall if my mother shushed me. Perhaps she did, since we were around other people. But I do recall her eventually giving me an answer.
"Nothing happened to him, honey. That's just the color that he is. He was born that color."
"Oh...." I said.
I remember feeling an immediate sense of relief to know that pain had not been associated with a color "change". But now I had a new piece of information that brought surprise and curiosity to my small world and a whole new set of questions! He was born that color? Well how did THAT happen? What did his mother think when he was born? Was she surprised to see that his face and hands were brown? And how did MY mother know that he was born that way? He was an older man and she didn't know him. She wasn't there when he was born! Answers such as this led me to believe that my parents knew everything. It was quite a let down for me upon finding out that they didn't. But that's another story.
Seeing this man and hearing my mother's answer did not yet elucidate for me that this man was completely brown from head to toe, that his mother and father would likely also be brown, that brown children came from brown parents (most of the time), and that there was a whole WORLD of brown people out there! That understanding would come with time. And with it would come the realization that brown people down through history and into the present, had indeed experienced their lion's share of pain.
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