Sunday, July 29, 2018
I didn't want to watch Greatest Showman 'cause I'd read about how PT Barnum actually exploited the folks he had for his sideshow acts. But my kids' friends kept telling them what a great movie it is so we decided to watch it last night. The kids knew some of the historical truth about Barnum prior to watching.
You can learn more about PT Barnum's real life in these articles:
It's all the whitewashing & white saviorism you might expect. There was a part in it that made me so angry I had to leave the room. We keep making heroes out of white men who don't deserve it. And where are the movies celebrating People of Color who have actually made a difference in our society? Blech.
But we turned it into a good conversation. So here's a little Antiracist Conversation guide if you do decide to watch this movie.
1. PT Barnum did some terrible things in real life but is a hero in this movie. In contrast, The Black Panther Party began the School Breakfast program that continues today and even created a school to make sure impoverished kids were fed and educated. But today they are often characterized as violent, dangerous criminals. In real life, PT Barnum bought a slave woman and treated her cruelly as well as exploiting his other side-show workers. Why do you think he gets a movie in which he's shown as a hero to the very people he exploited but there's no movie like this for Malcom X, Huey Newton, or Bobby Seale? What might happen if there was a movie making those folks heroes?
2. Lots of folks seem to have no problem dismissing history because they loved the movie. Why do you think that is? PT Barnum exploited lots of marginalized people, but a lot of his abuse of individuals was based on race. How do you think it would feel to be a Person of Color watching this movie? What does it mean to People of Color when we dismiss history that harmed people who looked like them?
3. Who are the "heroes" in this movie? Since we know that marginalized groups don't need someone from the dominant group to come in and "fix" everything, how would you re-write this movie in a way that respects the leadership of the oppressed group? Who were the leaders within the circus? How would it have been different if Barnum uplifted them instead of being in charge himself? Note who Barnum chose as the next leader when he stepped down. What does that say about who he really respects?
4. The movie talks about some important points: people being respected for who they are, finding dignity for every person, no matter what they look like. However, Barnum doesn't share his power and keeps profiting off of their labor. Do his actions line up with the values the movie is trying to portray? This is a great opportunity to talk about white saviorism and how we white folks want to be the heroes when we really need to share power, uplift & respect local leadership instead.
5. Who makes all the money in the movie? Contrast the house Barnum buys for just his little family with the museum where apparently ALL the sideshow actors were living. Was this fair? Who had the actual talent versus who reaped the profits?
6. What role do women play in this movie? Do you get the sense that they can be more than love-interests?
What other questions would you add?
Friday, April 6, 2018
Whenever I meet someone new or get a FB friend request from a white person I've met recently, I hesitate. I worry. Will they think I talk about race too much? Will they still want to be my friend when they learn that I have a Black child and I talk about it? I've lost friends before over this.
But here's the problem: it is about race. Because right now, one of my three children has significantly different outcomes in front of him because of his race.
- At school, he's less likely to do well on the "standardized" tests that allow him access to higher-levels of learning. He's also more likely to get into trouble in the classroom, resulting in loss of learning time plus damage to his self-worth. He’s only 7, but we’ve already experienced this.
- In healthcare, he's less likely to get the care he needs, particularly if he is in pain. When I saw those studies, I remembered the breakthrough pain he suffered during after of his surgeries. We've already experienced this.
- In our justice system, should he survive an interaction with police, he's more likely to face jail time for the same crimes for which his siblings would be given probation. Jesus, let us never experience this.
- When he goes to get a job, his beautiful Ethiopian name makes it less likely someone will hold onto his resume. We have both income gaps and wealth gaps in our country based on race.
- When he wants to buy a house, he's more likely to be offered a higher rate mortgage for a house in a "lesser" part of town.
It's like I'm living the worst kind of social experiment. Am I supposed to not talk about it? I don't worry at all that two of my children might be shot and killed by police once they start driving. But my baby? I don't know how much therapy I'm going to need in order to let him go off by himself in a car.
We were driving recently with one of my close friends who just returned from living in Africa for several years. She can't get her registration sticker on her license plate without having to take off the frame and she just doesn't want to fool with it. My husband shared that he went an entire year without putting the sticker on because first he forgot and then he misplaced it until about a week before he needed to put a new one. And he was pulled over during that time. The officer didn't even mention it.
Want to know what I was thinking during that entire conversation? We better get our act together. There's no way in hell I'll let my Black child drive out of our driveway in a car that has ANYTHING remotely wrong with it. No expired tags, no broken taillight, no stickers missing.
White friends, do you share these fears for your white children? I know I don't. Or maybe you're thinking, "This can't be true. There can't be worse outcomes for Black people in every area of life?" Take a moment to look at the data, read this article using data from “Race and Economic Opportunity in the United States: An Intergenerational Perspective” by Raj Chetty, Nathaniel Hendren, Maggie R. Jones and Sonya R. Porter; the Equality of Opportunity Project.
Monday, February 26, 2018
I'm not a true "boy mom" because I have a daughter. But I have two boys. And as much as I empower my daughter and teach her how to use her voice and protect herself, I also know I need to teach my boys how to navigate the power our culture will hand to them over the women in their lives. In short, I know I need to teach my boys not to become rapists.
My oldest is only 11. He has no romantic interest in girls or boys whatsoever. I didn't realize I would be given the opportunity to teach him not to be a rapist so soon.
We were invited to go watch a movie with some friends. His younger sister's friends, actually. He and his buddy were the only older boys there. And after the movie, the boys hid behind a wall to try to scare some of the girls when they came out. Okay, whatever. I didn't think anything of it.
A few minutes later one of the girls was crying hard. I assumed the boys had scared her too much and went out to talk to them.
I was wrong.
It turns out, she had seen them hiding and they asked her not to tell her friends. In true girl-solidarity, she immediately turned to go tell the rest of the girls (go girl power!). But then the boys tried to block her from going back. My sweet child, the one I raise so carefully, used his bigger body to try to try to stop her, to control what she could and could not do. And he scared her.
Before you think I'm reading too much into it or I'm villainizing the boys... hold on. These are two good kids. They are sweet boys. But good kids make bad choices sometimes and that's when we have the chance to help them learn how to stay good kids.
If we put as much effort into teaching our boys how not to be come rapists as we do into telling our girls to be safe, I think we'd have some changes in society.
I took him home that night and we had a long, serious talk. He cried as he realized how scared he had made her feel. I told him "no means no" and "when she's not having fun, you stop." He has no idea that I'm thinking about possible future sexual partners (should he be straight). But he doesn't need to know that yet. We can start teaching our boys not to rape before they ever express any interest in sex.
What worried me most was the murmurs I heard in the room as the girl was crying. I heard "oh these boys" and "boys are like that sometimes." I imagine most of that comes from the knowledge that these boys really are good kids and that they really didn't mean to cause harm.
But here's the thing: my boys deserve better than "boys will be boys." I need our culture to not make excuses for them when they do stuff like this. Yes, he made a childhood mistake. But I need him to learn that boys are kind and gentle and empathetic. I need him to learn that boys DON'T use their strength or size to get what they want, especially not from girls.
So please do me and other "boy moms" a favor: hold our boys to a standard that's higher than our current rape culture. They need that as much as our girls do.
Monday, May 1, 2017
|Link to news story here|
His name was Jordan Edwards. And he was 15.
I'm running out of words to say to try to make you care. I can't seem to find the voice that will motivate you to do something. Mamas: another of our sisters lost her baby. He was shot by police. A fifteen year old child was killed by police.
Part of me wants to list all the details of his story so I can prove to you that he didn't deserve to die. But I'm not going to do that. Because a 15 year old child should not be shot and killed by police. Period. And now his is just another name in a long list of unarmed Black men, women, and children whose lives were cut short by a person in uniform who has been given the authority to be judge, jury, and executioner. Do the details even matter anymore if we are okay with our police force taking on that role?
White friends... Do you hear about unarmed Black men and children being shot by police and you aren't sure what to do? Are you stuck? Frozen? Do you care but because of segregation you just don't know enough People of Color for it to really resonate? We're so separated that these photos don't remind us of someone we love and so we're able to push away feelings and carry on.
Can I be honest? I get so discouraged. I'm a white woman but I'm also the mother of a Black boy. My heart freezes with fear each time I hear about another shooting by police. And the deafening silence in the white community around me speaks volumes.
I'm going to try hard not to make this a "white woman's tears" kind of post.
But I'm feeling pretty damn lonely this morning. And sad.
My reality is a weird no-man's land. I have white children and a Black child. But I'm white and so is my husband. I've learned and am learning what it's like to be raising a Black boy in North Carolina Home for us is a place where a KKK rally is scheduled this coming weekend, a place where I've gotten their recruitment flyers in my driveway. I know the fear that sits in the pit of my stomach when I think about him growing up, being out with friends without me, driving a car around this place where People of Color are still treated with suspicion and disrespect. I know how it feels to watch another police shooting of a Black child and see a reflection of MY child, a piece of my heart, in his picture.
So I sit and cry alone in my house because most of my white friends don't know what it's like to see a reflection of their children shot and killed by police time and time again. And I'm often afraid to burden my Black friends any more with my white woman's tears over this. Which is dumb, I know... they'd be here for me in a heartbeat if I merely said the word.
My local Black Lives Chapter leaders are teaching me that it's pointless to keep pointing out how bad things are for People of Color. They're leading me to work to help teach other white folks how white supremacy has harmed us too. They've learned the lesson long ago that white people just aren't moved to action by story after story of oppression, injustice, and mistreatment.
But me? I'm new to this. I've only been the mother of a Black child for 5 years. It's the most heart-wrenching, confusing, often lonely experience to parent this child whose smile comes wrapped up with joy and magic and whom I love so hard it hurts.
So yeah. This hurts. If you don't know what to do, reach out. Ask me. I'll get you plugged in. I know you are busy. But I bet Jordan's mom has been busy too. White friends, please don't let your silence speak for you.
Friday, February 24, 2017
There is SO much going on. I've felt scattered lately; torn in a million directions. It's felt hard to keep my feet under me.
But it's important that we not stop moving. Maybe you've never really been involved politically or in your community until this new administration. Or maybe you've been talking a lot about things for some years but haven't figured out yet how to take action. It's probably important that you ask yourself why that is. Regardless of your answer, I'm glad you've started or are thinking about it. We need to do something.
White folks: we are playing catch-up here. People of Color have been doing the work longer & harder than we have. Whatever you are doing, please ask yourself this one important question: am I following a Person of Color? (or even better: a Woman of Color?) Maybe in our history there was a time & place for white people to take the lead but we missed that bus, y'all. We just did. Please feel free to reach out to me and we can talk about your feelings about that (I have lots of feelings about that too). So please, if you aren't following the direction and leadership of People of Color... um, fix that. Quick-like-a-bunny.
And I get it: there's so much going on and you are super-busy. I truly understand. I have three kids and three jobs. And a husband who should win some kind of award for staying married to me. (Bless him; he's amazing.) For the past 9 weeks I've alternated between working a 56 hour week and a 32 hour week. I 100% understand the BUSY that life is. It's hard.
But this stuff is important. Very important. Our lives actually do depend on it. Standing up for the civil rights of minorities, standing up for our planet, standing up for dignity and truth and justice benefits us. We shouldn't do this work because we need to help out "the poor fill-in-the-blank" (the poor Black person, the poor environment, the poor Water Protectors, the poor LGBTQ community, the poor Latinos, etc). This is not a "we're at the top reaching down" kind of thing. We should be doing this because of the "poor human race." As a white person, I care about what happens to others because when their lives are better, my life is better too. My life is better because of the Black people who are in it, because of the gay and trans people who are in it, because of the Latino people who are in it, because of clean air and water. My life is better when justice happens and when me and my fellow (wo)man are treated with dignity. My life is better when we all can look at each other, see the image of God, and treat one another accordingly.
And if, as a white person, I can't truthfully say, "My life is better because of the people of minority status who are in it," I need to take a hard look at how I'm living my life. If my liberation isn't truly wrapped up in yours, I have some hard questions to answer. Again, feel free to reach out to me about your feelings about this. And I'll be honest, I'm not as good at this as I need to be. I've had some neighbors (like real neighbors. on my actual street) that I've been meaning to get to know and it took me till this week to introduce myself. I only know a few trans folks personally and not really all that well. I'm working on this too. I can do better and I know it.
So let's do something. Not sure where to start? The Resistance Manual is a fabulous resource to get you started: https://www.resistancemanual.org.
What's your point of access? Maybe you're upset about ICE raids. Or the threat to public education, Or mass incarceration. Or the refugee ban and Islamophobia. Or DAPL and Standing Rock. Or the new rescinded protections for trans people. Or something completely different. What are you passionate about? Awesome. Take that passion or concern and do something.
For me personally, "doing something" has been looking like this:
- Working hard to call my representatives daily. I haven't been able to do it every day yet, but it's my goal. I call about immigration/refugees and DAPL, mostly. But this week I'll be calling about trans-kids and protection for my trans brothers & sisters too. There's no excuse for me not to be calling every day. This takes less than 5 minutes.
- Next week I'll be helping with a home set-up for a newly arrived refugee. And my regular volunteer hours with a local refugee resettlement agency start back in about three weeks (Woot! I can NOT wait!)
- Serving on a committee for the White Anti-Racist arm of my local Black Lives Matter chapter.
- Serving on an Advocacy committee for my local school system to bring Restorative Justice policies to our schools.
- Continuing our commitment to public school: we pulled our kids from a charter school this school year because we could see how we were contributing to segregated schooling and I saw how my children's education was negatively affected by the lack of access to true diversity in their peer group (both racial and socio-economic). My regular volunteer hours at my kids' school will start back in about three weeks too!
- Closing our Bank of America account and putting our money in a local credit union.
- Committing monthly to reparations. This is an incredibly exciting thing to be a part of, friends: https://www.facebook.com/events/1387768267931483/
Are you interested in any of this stuff? Please reach out to me. Are you already "doing something"? Please share what you're doing. We need to connect more folks to points of access.
Let us not grow weary of doing good, y'all. We can do something.
Tuesday, August 23, 2016
|Anyone else think it's weird that the word is in the front here? It was probably a mistake,|
but I think this image speaks volumes...
Hi, I'm Kirstin. And I'm racist.
That sentence is so hard for me to write. I want to soften it. I wanted to title this post "That time I was racist" and I want to say "I'm racist sometimes BUT it's always unintentional." I've been writing this for weeks, avoiding hitting "publish" because it's shameful and difficult to publicly admit my own racism. But after having some conversations with both white and Black people about... well, everything: the Olympics, double-standards, policing, our regular lives... I know I need to share this.
The truth is, I'm a product of many things: my background, my upbringing, the culture in which I currently live, the voices to which I choose to listen. And a lot of the water and sunshine that nourished me as a child were steeped in racism. This means I have some racist tendencies. It might not be my fault that they're there, but it is my responsibility to learn to see them and then do the work to disable them.
I was raised in a predominantly white town in New England. I was taught all the proper white New Englander attitudes about racism: confederate flags are bad, you never use the n-word, don't make racist jokes, and all people are equal (therefore you should politely not see someone's color). No one ever expressly told me these things, but it was "caught, not taught." Racism in the North is a little more subtle. I remember my grandmother telling me how very much she liked a Black friend of mine, and how very much she did NOT think I should be dating him. My mother, who heard the entire conversation, said nothing. I don't say this to slam them; talking productively about race was not something in their wheelhouse. White people are often woefully unequipped to talk productively about race. No one teaches us. And our culture rarely presents situations in which we have to learn. I have been able to remain largely unaware of my race for the the majority of my life. That's part of my white privilege... it's virtually impossible for that to happen for people of color.
While I wholeheartedly believe that all people are equal, I have lived entirely in a world in which people of color are not treated as such. And that word? Racist? It's harsh, I know. You might be tempted to tell me that I'm not really racist, but let's consider what racism really is. I really love Ta-Nehisi Coates' definition: "Racism is not merely a simplistic hatred. It is, more often, broad sympathy toward some and broader skepticism toward others..." Have I ever hated Black people? Nope. Never. Have I ever been scared or uncertain about someone because of the color of their skin? Yup. Have I ever assumed that someone is poor or less-privileged than I am because of the color of their skin? Yup again. Have I ever dismissed the experience of a person of color because it didn't align with my own experience? Yes. So... yeah... that's all racist.
My dear white friends and family, I hear where your hearts are: you don't want to be racist. You believe that all people are equal and this leads you to think that you simply can't be racist. I didn't think I was racist either. I have some bad news for us: we're racist. Merely believing all people are equal doesn't make us immune. We've been taught, conditioned, and exposed to it as children. We've been participating in and benefiting from systems of oppression that were established long before we came along but continue to thrive under our management as adults. It's okay. Well, no... it's NOT okay but I think it's important for us to be able to recognize our own racism. So I'm trying to make the admitting it part okay. We can't fight racism if we don't see it. We need to stop being so scared of being called racist that we miss the opportunity to actually stop being racist.
So that's the bad news. But there's good news too. Want to fight racism? We need to start with our own hearts. There are some great things we can do. All of them involve the same thing: we need to listen. We've lived our own lives; we have our own experiences that have shaped the way we think. But living in America as a white person is significantly different than living in America as a person of color. And there's simply no way for me to learn what that difference is without listening with an open heart. I need to set aside my opinions, my knee-jerk reactions, the things I think I know, and really listen. And I need to hear and believe that what I'm hearing is true and valid. And then I can take action against racism, preferably following a person of color or an organization lead by people of color.
Are you a reader? Read Ta-Nehisi Coates' book Between the World and Me and read the articles he writes for The Atlantic. Check out the recommendations on this article: Required Reading if you're trying to understand what it's like to be Black in America. (this is really a fabulous collection of articles).
Are you a social media junkie? Check your FB and Twitter feeds. Are the voices you're hearing there predominantly white? Change that. These folks are some of my favorites to follow on Twitter - add them to your feed. And then when they re-tweet something, consider following that person too. The voices you start hearing will begin to show you a different perspective.
Austin Channing Brown @austinchanning
Broderick Greer @BroderickGreer
Jesse Williams @iJesseWilliams
Muslim Girl @muslimgirl
Larry Wilmore @larrywilmore
Deray McKesson @deray
John Lewis @repjohnlewis
Awesomely Luvvie @Luvvie
Ta-Nehisi Coates @tanehisicoates
Marc Lamont Hill @
Not on Twitter? Start following Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) on Facebook and read the articles they post. That page is actually for white people who want to fight racism and oppression. Find The National Center for Race Amity. They post some great articles & videos. And look for those same folks from the above list on Facebook. I think most of them are there too.
Watch Franchesca "Chescaleigh" Ramsey's videos.
Are you a podcast listener? Check out Code Switch .
Most importantly: are you a human? Find a friend. I know this is ridiculously awkward. I don't mean find a token Black person to be in your life just because of the color of his/her skin. But find ways to include people of color in your life. Consider attending a church or a program at a church that is diverse or predominantly Black. Intentionally get to know the parents of the children of color in your kids' classes. Are there not many children of color in your child's school? Think about why that might be. Volunteer at a local social justice agency. I bet you'll meet either staff or other volunteers who are people of color. Get to know them. Don't live your life in a white bubble. I live in a very segregated place, so this takes a good bit of effort on my part. That effort is worth it.
I've been working really hard on this. We can't dismantle the systems of oppression if we don't believe they are there. And we can't hear the voices of Black people if our own racism has shut our ears and our hearts. And here's something white people sometimes miss: an integrated life is better for white people too. I'm not fighting for racial justice because it's good for my Black son. It's good for my white son and daughter too. It's good for me as a white person. My life is better because of the people of color who are in it. My community will be better for me and my family when white systems of oppression have been shut down, because in the long run, my white privileges are actually bad for me because they come at such a steep cost to humanity.
And while I've learned so much and I'm getting much better, I'm still racist
Racism is bigger than you and me. It's not a Black issue. It's not a white issue. This is a human issue. Racism is systemic - it's in our schools, in our justice system, in our economy... but how can we help dismantle that if we can't uproot our own racism? We have so much work to do... so let's get going.
Sunday, July 10, 2016
In case you don’t know me, I’m white. I was raised in a white family. I married a white man and had two white children. And then we adopted an Ethiopian child. And we did all the right things: we read the books, attended the trainings, watched the videos. I knew life would be harder as a transracial family. I knew we were ready.
And at first, it was great. I felt righteous anger whenever I heard a racist remark and would spend the rest of the day feeling morally superior. I got to participate in conversations with Black friends about hair and skin and culture and the importance of having good role models of color in his life. I learned so much. I fielded compliments about the dazzle of my child’s smile and the awesomeness of his curly hair. His first week home, Black men stopped me out in public to tell me how beautiful my son was. That had never happened with my white babies. I was thrilled.
But I didn’t know.
I didn’t know that I would watch videos of Black men being killed by police and it would feel like it happened to family members because they look like the boy I love so much. I didn’t know that I would feel so traumatized and broken when I watched videos of young Black girls being thrown to the ground because they could be his sisters.
I didn’t know that I would fill with fear when I see my child playing with a toy gun at the pool. And how I know the parents around me are thinking about how I’m way too overprotective and strict when he’s in trouble for it because he knows our family rule is “no guns.” But I will NEVER let my precious boy play with a gun. Because in just a few short years he will be 12 like Tamir Rice was. And what if he has a toy gun on a playground and someone calls the police? Or what if he’s just looking to purchase a bb gun in Walmart like John Crawford when he’s a young man? Or what if he decides as an adult to own a real gun and is shot for having it in an open-carry state like Alva Braziel, Alton Sterling, or Philando Castile?
I didn’t know that I would tell people about my experiences with racism and they wouldn’t believe me. I didn’t know that I would talk about my fears for my child and I’d be dismissed and ignored. And I didn’t know that talking about those fears would get me labeled as “anti-police” or “divisive.”
I didn’t know that people would tell me that they don’t see his color and think they were saying something nice, as if erasing part of him would make things better. I didn’t know people would tell me I’m wrong when I told them I want them to see his color – it’s part of who he is and we love that. We love his Blackness.
I didn’t know that I would have to start talking to my child at the age of four about how important it is that he be respectful and polite, not just to police officers, but especially to police officers. Not because I want well-mannered children (which I do) but because it might save his life one day or at least keep him from gaining the attention of adults should something go awry in his near vicinity and he be blamed.
I didn’t know that I would have to hold him after we told our children about yet another racially-motivated shooting as he looked at me, wide-eyed, and said, “I hope that doesn’t happen to me” while his brother and sister cried and hugged him. I didn’t know I’d have to try to empower his white siblings to know how to stand by him while also trying to help them manage their own fears for him.
I didn’t know. Because I hadn’t listened. Black people have been telling us these things for decades. I didn’t think I was racist – I wanted to adopt a Black child, how could I be racist? My most shameful confession is that I didn’t care to know exactly how hard it is to be Black in America until it was my own child who faced it. I regret that with my whole being. You have no idea.
And this post shouldn’t even be about me. This isn’t about how hard it is for me, a white woman, to be raising a Black boy. Instead it’s a plea for my white friends and family to listen. Listen to Black voices. Check your Facebook friend list, your Twitter feed, and, most importantly, your real-life friends. Do you have Black voices speaking into your life? If not, why is that? And when you do: please listen. Believe them. That fear is real. Racism is real. Believe them when they tell you that #alllivesmatter is more harmful than helpful. Believe them even if every single thing they tell you doesn’t line up with what you think. Their life experiences are just as real as yours. Before I was the parent of a Black child, racism was something I could fight against when it was convenient for me to do so. I could take a break from it when I wanted to. I’ve lost that privilege. I regret every moment I didn’t spend listening.
My sweet boy is beautiful. He’s joyful, his eyes sparkle. He’s a pleaser and he always wants to make the right choice (even though he often doesn’t, bless his heart). He loves kisses and he loves to laugh. He’s silly and sweet and wonderful. Everyone who meets him falls in love with him. He is, by far, my most personable child. But when he gets older, he’s going to look like those men you saw in those videos who were shot & killed. He’s going to look like 12 year old Tamir Rice on the playground.
What’s going to happen to him when you no longer see him as cute and instead he’s menacing, a threat, a scary Black man?