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.


    March 27, 2015

    Questions about Whiteness, race, and racism

    Dear long-lost readers...

    I find that I am still writing about my journey as a Friend, but just not here. I want that to change.  I also want to be transparent and explicit:  my journey as a Friend is now closely entwined with my growth as a White anti-racist and as someone who is working for justice in my area.

    My hope is to engage a different practice of writing, one that would basically "cross-post" from things I write on Facebook or share via email or Twitter.

    Now, I realize that many White Friends may be more mystical than hands-on-for-justice- or activism-oriented.  I was much more mystical than I am now, and in hindsight I also didn't feel as whole or as connected to a wider group of people as I feel now.  At least, that's where I am currently, on this "journey to be faithful" in the face of my own humanness and the humanness of those who I meet along the way.


    For a good many months now, I have been receiving emails from a White Conservative Quaker friend of mine who is involved in both environmental justice and racial justice.  Jeff sends out emails with updates about his experiences. He's inspired me to send emails out as well, especially to keep my long-distance care-and-accountability committee updated as I go more deeply into anti-racism work.

    I feel rather clear to be engaging in White-on-White conversations among the Quaker community.  Sometimes the conversations are about Whiteness, race, and racism. Sometimes the conversations are about why the person cares about an issue as much as they* do.  Mostly, I use the conversations to build community around something that inspires us to do a tiny bit more on this earth to bring about justice and fairness.

    We who believe in freedom and justice cannot rest.  We must continue to evaluate how our own lives and Quaker practices--and sometimes even our cherished Quaker mysticism--can get in the way of being effective in working for freedom and justice.

    My friend started off his most recent group email by sharing this webpage, about "Where White people should start."  In the course of the email exchange among a few of us, I came up with a list of possible questions for Friends to consider, a few other "starting points."  Then I realized I didn't want to hijack or derail the original focus of my friend's original email; and I didn't want to overwhelm my friends with my list of questions.

    That's when I reminded myself of my new/renewed intention with The Good Raised Up, and so I post these questions below.


    • When did you first become aware of Whiteness as a race?  How did that awareness get started?
    • How often is Whiteness mentioned in vocal ministry or in committee meetings? Are there code words used for people of color? If so, why?
    • If some of your ancestors are not native (ie not indigenous), what did your ancestors have to give up in order to be considered "White" in this land?
    • When did you first become aware of White privilege?  How did that awareness get started?  
    • When did you first become aware of systemic racism?  How did that awareness get started?
    • Is there anything in your calendar, your email account, your bank account, or your friends list that would indicate your active involvement in working for justice?
    • How often are constructs and concepts like White privilege, White supremacy, or systemic racism mentioned during worship or committee meetings? 
    • What does "socialization" mean to you?  How are White Quakers socialized to think about Whiteness, people of color, racism, equality, etc? Is it different from how "everyone else" is socialized or conditioned?
    • Does our Quaker faith socialize us or otherwise prepare us to get involved or take action against injustice? What helps us get involved? What hinders us? 
    • How do we respond when news of racially based violence comes into our lives and into our meetings? 
    • What is the benefit of exploring these sorts of questions, actions, and topics?  What's the risk of doing so?  What's the risk of not doing so?

    Well, those are more than just a "few" questions!

    I will say that I feel much more in touch with a sense of Divine Wholeness since I started paying attention to how God was speaking through people of color. I feel like I'm reclaiming a long-lost part of my humanity--a sense of mutual humanity and dignity for long-lost cousins, neighbors, and friends who have been historically oppressed...

    And if religion allows for a re-membering of a fragmented body, a reconnection of life in the Spirit, then this justice work certainly has been a doorway for me into that Wholeness.


    *I use the pronouns "they," "them," and "theirs" in order to avoid the clunky "she/he," "hers/his" construction.  These pronouns are being used more frequently within the transgender community, including their supporters/allies.