August 29, 2016

Healing our disconnectedness

In my worship yesterday, I found myself lingering on thoughts and reflections on the spiritual wounding that occurs whenever I choose to disconnect from someone else.  That choice often is driven by anger, resentment, hurt, shame, fear, etc.

It seems to me, in turn, if I am not intentional about how to go about my own healing, then I can resort to filling that wound with whatever might cover up the original pain--which can include some form of power play or domination over someone else.

When I view the choice to disconnect from a multigenerational lens-- oh my! My ancestors who left their families and homelands behind to come to this land... Those devout men among my predecessors who chose to abide by sexist religious teachings and subjugate women... And my American-born relatives who unconsciously accepted the racist, white supremacist conditioning they were exposed to in this country....

I appreciate reading about the concept of recovery-as-a-journey* as it applies to oppression (racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, etc). I know I am helped, often wordlessly, by reminders that I can "debias" myself and that I can "decolonize my mind."

It will take time, intention, and community building. My socialization into the cycle of pain/disconnection/asserting power started long before my grandparents and I were born; it will take a great deal of time to heal and "recover" from that multigenerational wound.

With recent and current national struggles over marriage equality, voting rights, immigration rights, indigenous rights, climate change, and the movement for Black lives, I am thinking of two more parts of my own cycle of recovery and healing: self-awareness followed by (re)connecting.

Sometimes that reconnection piece involves getting involved in justice work. I am beginning to wonder if justice work is required in order to heal a collective wounding, whether that wounding is named and acknowledged or not.  Examples of justice work include:

  • Prison reform/abolition and ending mass incarceration;
  • Land return to indigenous communities;
  • Wage and employment equity for people of color, and wage equity for women;
  • Immigration reform;
  • Ending police brutality and providing full accountability for police misconduct;
  • Protesting extreme extraction of the earth's resources. 

For me, worship helps me see where I have sinned--where or how I have disconnected from someone, and whether the Way is open, or how the Way might open, if I wanted to reconnect or wanted to repair that wound. The repair will look different if the wound is interpersonal, systemic, or multigenerational.

I have more reflection to do, and more healing.

Thanks for reading me.

*During the 2016 FGC Gathering of Quakers, an African American Quaker recently shared her ideas with Friends there about "recovery" in relation to oppression.

May 11, 2016

Testimony on a Minnesota bill about body cameras

Dear friends in the struggle for racial justice,

Below is what I read as testimony during the 10 May 2016 committee hearing in the Minnesota legislature about body cameras.  It isn't an exact transcript of what I ended up saying but it is very close for nearly all of it.

Although 3-1/2 of the 4 hours of testimony was against advancing the proposed bill, the committee ignored our testimony, openly acknowledged the power of the police lobby, and voted to move the bill along, unchanged. It probably didn't hurt that three or four of the thirteen committee members themselves are or were police officers.  No wonder I wanted to draw parallels the next morning between the election in an earlier era of white supremacists to serve on our legislative bodies and the final vote tally that took place yesterday.

There will always be more work to do to end racism, to uncenter whiteness, and to take down white supremacy.



House Committee for Civil Rights & Data Practices
10 Fifth Month 2016

My name is Elizabeth Oppenheimer.

My pronouns, when you refer to me, are she, her, and hers. I introduce myself this way because as I attend meetings with young adults, this is a practice that they are using more and more.

And I am a Quaker who feels compelled to speak to this issue and the proposed legislation.

Today marks the 3-year anniversary of the officer-involved shooting of unarmed Terrance Franklin, an African American man in Minneapolis.

First, before I forget, just as someone raised the question [at this committee hearing] "Where have you been while we've been developing this bill for years?" I would ask, Where have you been, to not know the concerns of communities of color and of white people who have direct relationships with those communities during sessions to discuss the use of body cams?  

I also want to acknowledge that opportunities for public comment yields no guarantee that community input would have an equal amount of influence as, say, the police lobby. In fact, given what Minneapolis just went through [see above link], major community recommendations were completely left out of the Mpls Police Department's proposed policy about use of body cameras. 


I'm giving testimony today in part because I want the record here to show a few things.

I want the record to show that the proposed legislation completely erases or discounts the long, important work at the request of the Minneapolis' mayor and police chief, already carried out by that city's Police Conduct & Oversight Commission there (the PCOC).

I want the record to show that the work done by entities such as the PCOC has included research-based best practices and community-based recommendations, all of which are effectively ERASED here.

Onto the proposed legislation:

I have a strong concern that the proposed legislation, which currently would allow police officers to have unrestricted access to recordings or "data" prior to writing their reports after an incident, would then allow them to in turn create data--in the form of police reports--that would set in motion a narrative that could explain away any misconduct that the bodycam may have recorded, whether or not there was "substantial bodily harm" [a phrase used in the bill].

Once a narrative gets out there, one that is based nearly entirely on official police statements without inclusion of eyewitness statements that may run counter to the officer-created data or narrative, the stars too often align to favor the police officer's version of what happened--and such unrestricted access to recordings produced by the bodycam unfairly advantages police and disadvantages historically negatively profiled communities, such as African American, Native American, and Latinx communities.

I caution us to think through who gets to decide what are "offensive to common sensibilities," a phrase already mentioned at this hearing. A historically oppressed group develops a different "common sense" from what an historically privileged group might develop. Similarly, who gets to decide what will or won't promote police accountability? 

To that effect, I want the record to show that the work by entities such as the PCOC has included researched-based best practices and community-based recommendations

In addition, a nearly unanimous group of community members at multiple sessions for bodycams in Minneapolis favored, as do I, keeping the recordings separate from the creation of written reports. That separation would keep in tact the EVIDENTIARY VALUE of both the recordings and the reports. 

In essence, this piece of the proposed legislation comes across as a form of willful denial and even rejection of the community that has already spoken up to put into place a policy that would PREVENT officers from reviewing the recordings created from a body-worn camera.  This seems to be willful disregard about what Minnesotans are actually saying and a disregard of what has already been identified as best practices when it comes to use of body worn cameras.

In closing, I want to mention the new TV series Underground and a little bit about my own background.

In Underground, the well-intended, heavily socialized white people made conscious and unconscious choices to disconnect from the people around them who are darker skinned, in order to "go along to get along" with their white peers. They had to choose to unsee, thousands of times a day, their brothers and sisters of color who were mistreated by so many.

We ALL start as idealistic children, at least I know that I did.  I promised to myself and to my second- & third-grade teachers that I would work for peace, that I would be friends with everyone, that I would be kind.  The young white son in Underground made similar promises in his heart. So did you, I'm guessing. 

But when **I** willingly turn away from pain and mistreatment of people of color who I know, and who have sat in my house and in my workplace and in my classroom, I am choosing to stay sheltered from their pain so I can stay disconnected from community members who call on me--on you--to be on THEIR side too, to create policy and laws that protect THEM from the harm of an unjust system ...  even though you may choose to unsee them, a thousand times a day: 

So when you propose legislation to disregard what communities here have said, communities that experience the most severe impact of our government's laws; when you vote to disregard researched best practices of bodycam policies from across the country, please don't think about the people you choose to unsee who end up as hashtags in social media or as leading stories on the evening news. 

Don't think about the promises you made to yourself and to your teachers, as I did, to be kind and peaceful and loving. Don't think about the facts about the disproportionate representation of Minnesotans of color who are targeted, profiled, brutalized, arrested, jailed, or killed at the hands of our police officers.  Don't think about the part of your soul--or mine--that dies, a little at a time, each time you or I act to unsee the ongoing harm of that deadly system. 

I have done that over the years--though not as a law maker or as a police officer--and I don't wish to betray my soul, my heart, my sisters and brothers of color any longer.

Please exclude the ability for officers to preview the data prior to writing their reports. And please consider reading the PCOC report in its entirety, given its national scope of research regarding best practices.

Thank you.  

August 11, 2015

Staying woke: Confessions of my "No TV" days

NOTE: The following post has a number of hashtags included, noted with the "#" in front of a word or phrase.  A number of social media sites, like Facebook and Twitter, use hashtags as a way to follow a topic. You can do an online search for each hashtag to get more information about that particular topic. Include the # sign in your search.  --Liz
I had a conversation with two white Quakers the other day, after a Ferguson-solidarity event (#MN2Ferguson), about how a number of us Friends pride ourselves in not having a TV anymore, not listening to the news, or only listening to public radio, Democracy Now, etc.

But even those outlets are embedded in unexamined whiteness, unintentionally minimizing or even erasing the lives and the lived experience of people of color. (There's also unexamined classism, and systems embedded in unexamined middle-class norms, so keep that in mind, too.) An active part of my own journey into anti-racism work is the work of undoing my "socialized whiteness," exploring my socialized conditioning of overvaluing my "good intentions," and deepening my commitment to showing up for racial justice and for working for meaningful change.

I admit that it's been part of my white privilege to be able to turn off the news, or to get by without a TV... but that choice--to turn off the TV and simply NOT HEAR about what goes on in communities of color also had cut me off from the realities of what people of color endure Every. Single. Day.

It's a privilege to be able to turn away from deeply disturbing news and then get back to our everyday life. It's a privilege that also marks what some are now calling white fragility.

With the Green Revolution in Iran a few years ago, I learned to turn to Twitter--not to create an account, but rather to do an online search for hashtags back then: #GreenRevolution for example. ...And the news that was coming from Twitter was vastly different from the (lack of) news (initially) coming from the mainstream media.

That was the beginning for me, to learn to use the internet and social media when there were rumblings of things going on. I wasn't turning on the TV so much, but I was turning to Twitter.

Next up for me was to turn to Twitter for tracking and amplifying the work of marriage equality for same-sex couples, especially when the issue came to my state.

During the 18-month period of work to defeat Minnesota's proposed anti-GLBTQ marriage amendment, I began to find my own voice on Twitter, amplifying and repeating what others were sharing (that's called "re-tweeting" or RT for those who are curious).

My life is very different now: thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court, marriage for same-sex couples is now a protected right.  More importantly, I actively choose to "stay woke," as younger people are now saying (the hashtag #staywoke is actually used in social media).  I choose to pay attention and seek out news, rather than avoid it.  I choose to go to news sources that point out systemic oppression and that track fast-breaking news--sources that provide consistent messages of what's happening when there are incidents especially involving racism.

Network television seldom provides the coverage I seek.  Being at #FergusonOctober in 2014 and comparing my own experience there with what the mainstream media was reporting at the time highlighted for me the difference between news provided by mainstream media and what civilians were posting on Twitter.

So now, when I hear or see a news story of significance, especially involving the police or people of color, I use that initial exposure as a reminder for me to check out social media, especially looking for/listening for reports from civilians of color.  And by centering on the reports from people of color, I am beginning to see the world through different eyes:  a different reality that had been hidden from me before, because of the thick veil of privilege I didn't know I was wearing.

It's all too easy for me these days to forget where I started my own journey, exploring white privilege and how I unknowingly, unintentionally used it to keep me comfortable and insulated from horrific news around the world, in my country, or even in my neighborhood.  But then something comes up, like #MikeBrown or #FreddieGray or a conversation here or there, and I remember:

  • I don't know what I don't know.

  • I'm socialized to disconnect or shut down when things get tough.

  • Good intentions sometimes have harmful impacts.

  • Good intentions don't outweigh harmful impacts.

  • Rewriting how I was socialized is a never ending journey.

  • We're all on a journey.

  • Friends call that journey continuing revelation.  Sometimes it includes turning off the TV; other times it includes using it differently.


    June 18, 2015

    Becoming conscious of protecting my Whiteness

    In light of the recent Charleston shooting at a historical AME church, I want to acknowledge that I protect myself from being vulnerable when White folks begin talking about racism, Whiteness, and White privilege. It's not something I've been conscious of until recently. To outsiders and observers, I can come across as listening intently, or as adding to the discussion by sharing "what I've learned as a White person."

    Inside my own skin, though, as someone who is working for racial justice, I know I am not stretching myself by sharing parts of my own anti-racism journey. Sharing my experience is something I do fairly easily. In some respects, I'm putting on what I now see as a show, for the sake of accompanying others who are struggling, and I get praise and encouragement for doing so.

    I'm the only one who knows that I could be doing more. I could be making myself more vulnerable, take more risks. The Inward Teacher, along with guidance from friends of color, is in fact giving me such instruction.

    I might not feel ready to take on more risk, like participating in direct actions of civil disobedience that could end with my being arrested.  Even as I hesitate, God loves me. And God requires that I do more on behalf of God's Family and its members of color that are not treated kindly.