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.


    June 11, 2015

    Encounter at Walgreens

    About a week ago, I was going to my local Walgreens. As I pulled into the parking lot, I noticed a man lying on his side on the grass that separates the city's sidewalk from the parking area. Then I realized (1) he wasn't just sleeping, he was passed out; and (2) he was Native American.  I parked close by, sat on the grass beside him, and used my voice to try to stir him. Nothing happened. Then I took the risk to tap his arm, to see if that would awaken him. I was relieved that his arm was warm but he didn't stir.

    I was clear that I would not be calling the police.

    I ended up calling a friend of mine who is Native American, hoping to get his counsel. He didn't answer his phone, though, and I left him a message. A minute later, a group of 5 or 6 Native Americans, ranging in age from 16 to 60, appeared from behind me, and another 2 or 3 employees of Walgreens came across the parking lot toward us. The first group pulled the man to his feet and were able to rouse him back to alertness; the Walgreens workers, including a store manager, thanked me for being there.

    After the Walgreens people left, and I was standing there stunned by the sudden appearance of "everyone."  I was starting to back away, to give the group some privacy.  Then the youngest of them came up to me, shook my hand several times over--from a traditional White handshake to a finger-clench one and then something like a fist bump--and ended by saying, "Hey, thank you."

    I was so very humbled by the whole thing. And very relieved that no one had called the police.

    April 4, 2015

    Thoughts about the season of Passover and Easter

    I've been thinking about this season of Passover and Easter... I'm working hard to "see" the rabbi that these two holidays center on, to see him as the dark-skinned man that he was, and not the whitewashed Americanized version that I've seen in American film and TV, in White Christian houses of worship, etc.

    I've been thinking about #BlackLivesMatter and how despite this rabbi's background and supposed centrality to the Judeo-Christian story, my Jewish education cast him out as easily as White mainstream America casts out my Black cis and Black trans and Black GLBTQ sisters and brothers.

    I've been thinking about how much I want our collective healing--a deep, meaningful one.