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Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Caring about Black people is disrespectful, apparently.


from: Madison Polkowitz / Gavel Media

There's a truth that I often talk about but my white friends don't usually understand: Amani (and by extension, our family) isn't always safe in all-white spaces. It's harmful for him to be the only Black person or one of a few People of Color.  So we avoid those spaces. I make an exception every summer for swim team. And I'm acutely aware all swim season of his Blackness in the sea of white.

Last night reminded me of how hard this is.

We kneel during the anthem. And we've done so for a few years now. It's an active way to continue the protest against police brutality of Black people in this country, regardless of what's in the news cycle. We kneel to show respect to veterans. And let me tell you: it hurts to kneel on concrete. I'm willing to bet that we are more mindful and intentional (and respectful) during the pledge than many of the folks who just stand there. Last night as I knelt during the anthem, my mind was on the concentration camps full of migrant children too. Kneeling, for me, is way more patriotic than standing. No one is free until all of us are free.

The kids choose to kneel sometimes too. We didn't let them until they could articulate to us exactly why they wanted to. I used to stay close because I was nervous... but nothing has ever happened so I guess I started to feel safer. I wasn't near Amani when the anthem was played before the swim meet yesterday. But I when I looked over, I saw him kneeling with me.

Please picture this: a little Black boy, 8  years old, respectfully kneeling on the concrete pool deck. Not goofing with buddies, not throwing a swim cap at a friend, not sneaking a cookie or a snack from the table during the anthem, not looking at a phone. All of those are things I see people (not just kids) do during the anthem at swim meets.

Kneeling on concrete in his bathing suit. Surrounded by white people.

And a white man told him he's being disrespectful.

I didn't hear it. Instead, what I saw was a friend of mine (another white man) walk over to Amani and kneel beside him. I will forever be grateful to him.  He heard it. And he, in that moment, put my kid's well-being (physical and emotional) ahead of his own beliefs.

I always feel a little on-edge at the pool but now it's back in full-force. We are back to wrestling if we can or should continue to do summer swim team.

White parents of white children... I know you don't wrestle with that stuff. If you have any Black children at your pool or on your swim team, know that this is the kind of thing they face. Parents of those little Black kids want their children to have the same happy, free, fun summer that your kids have.

When do we get to have that happen?



Thursday, September 13, 2018

When you visit a stranger in prison...



How do you begin to tell the stories of the people you met when you visit a deportation prison? The official name of the place is Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia. The imprisoned are either undocumented immigrants or asylum-seekers. And while it's officially called a "detention center," the words "deportation prison" align much more closely with my experience. I went as part of a visiting program through Faith Action International in Greensboro and El refugio at Stewart Detention Center that's based out of Atlanta but is physically in Lumpkin. El refugio provides a free place for family members to stay in order to visit their loved ones.

I went to visit a stranger. To hold space for someone in their suffering. My goal was to bring empathy and compassion into a place where there's very little. My country is doing this to people. I need to own it. I need to see it. And I need to share the story.

How do I share the oppressiveness of the place? Do I tell you about the miles and miles of barbed wire? The multiple iron gates I had to be escorted through in order to visit? The fact that we were locked in during our visit; that there is no real bathroom for visitors but the one I was allowed to use had a lock on the outside only? Do I tell you about how I couldn't even wear an underwire bra because the metal detector is so cranked up it would have set it off and I would be denied the visit? How do I explain that the only thing I could bring in was my government ID? No pen or paper, no comfort items for kids (and I saw many kids).

Do I tell you about the woman who, upon hearing on Thursday that her family members had been detained there, drove nonstop with her husband and 9 month-old from Houston, Texas (over 11 hours, she told me) to arrive on Saturday morning? And how, on arrival, she learns (from another visitor since the guards only speak English) that she can't come in because there's a hole in her jeans? I happened to throw in an extra pair of pants and was able to give them to her and let her change in our van. But only because I speak Spanish and overheard the conversation. I talked with her husband after - they were visiting his brother. He said his brother cried through their whole visit, absolutely crushed "because he isn't free."

How can I explain the tears in the eyes of the woman I spoke to who was there to visit her nephew? This wasn't her first time here. Her husband has already been deported from this very same detention center. It's the last place she saw him. And she told me how their 4 year-old son didn't understand the glass between them in the visiting room and he bonked his head trying to hug his daddy. And here she is again, back in the same place. This time to see her nephew, bringing his brother with her to visit. Her husband's "crime"? Driving without a license TO HIS JOB. The nephew? A boy in his 20's who has lived here since he was 8 years-old. He knows nothing of his home country yet is likely to be deported back there.

Do I tell you about the woman who shared with me that her husband has told her the food has bugs in it?

Do I tell you about the young man I visited who is Sikh and THEY MADE HIM CUT HIS HAIR AND BEARD? The whole experience has left me walking around in a rage... but this in particular is something I can't shake. He told me he talks to his parents in his home country regularly but he can't bring himself to tell his mom what they've done to him.

What about the man who was on hunger strike that we were hoping to visit? He needed a check-in because he's not doing well. But we were told by the guards that we would only be allowed to visit him last since now he's a "medical case" and they only let those folks have visits at the end when they can be by themselves (visits happen in groups of 5). So that meant we would wait 4-6 hours before being allowed the 1 hour visit. We had a 9 hour drive back to Greensboro ahead of us so we couldn't wait that long to see him. My friend who was supposed to visit him was particularly shaken by this.

These are the stories I'm holding today. I'll be honest, I'm not entirely sure I'm done processing this. I'm outraged, disgusted, and ashamed that our government is doing this to our fellow human beings. They are in detention because they are "flight risks" but they all want to be citizens here... undocumented immigrants have been showing up for immigration check-ins for years. We have no evidence that they need to be locked up like this. They are not violent. How is an asylum-seeker a "flight risk"??? They are actively asking for our help - not running away.

And where's the justice in this? The court system in Lumpkin, GA has about a 2% relief rate for asylum-seekers. Yet the judges at the NY detention center have about a 60% rate. That's not equal justice. Just by landing at Stewart (which is one of the largest detention centers in the country), a person is quite possibly sentenced to death... people DIE when they are deported back to their countries. The young kid I visited (he's 21) told me he's not safe at home. He's been detained in that place for 20 months. At home, he's been attacked. I asked him if he felt safe inside the detention center and his response was that it's safer than back home. But he also shared that he is "sad every day" in there.  I didn't tell him I knew about the 2% rate at the prison he's in. I don't even know if he knows.

Stewart Detention Center has 1900 men in it. 1900 people who have either been ripped from their communities or are here seeking help. And we've imprisoned them. The water is green, the food is often bad or has bugs in it. This center has the worst reports of human rights violations of all the detention centers (why do we even have multiple detention centers for this?!?!?)

I was really struck by how the company logo was larger than the name of the facility.

And we are paying for it. This is our tax dollars at work. My state is facing a hurricane right now and our current president moved money away from FEMA and put it toward immigration detention. And Stewart Detention Center is a FOR PROFIT COMPANY. CoreCivic runs it. Their logo is all over the place there. Folks are getting rich with our tax dollars while incarcerating innocent people.

So how do I tell you all this in a way that makes you care? Not care. You probably care just by reading this and most likely you cared before. But how do I share those stories in ways that move you to action?

Do you want to visit someone? We need more folks to have primary experiences with the detention centers & detainees so that they can share their stories. Can you be a pen-pal? Getting mail really brings some hope to the folks there and it provides welcome relief from the monotony of being in prison with no news from the outside. Would you be willing to buy a book to send to an inmate? There's no programming in detention centers... not like prisons. No classes, no real libraries, support groups, or 12-step programs. And, as always, talk to your representatives. Tell them we don't want detention centers - there is NO NEED to hold folks in a medium-security prison.




You can connect with some good organizations and learn more here:
El Refugio at Stewart Detention Center - https://www.facebook.com/elrefugiostewart   or their website at http://elrefugiostewart.org
Detention Watch  -http://www.detentionwatchnetwork.org/resources
Read about Southern Poverty Law Center's lawsuit against CoreCivic: https://www.splcenter.org/news/2018/04/17/splc-sues-private-prison-company-uses-forced-labor-detained-immigrants-georgia-boost

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Antiracist Guide to watching the Greatest Showman



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:  

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/true-story-pt-barnum-greatest-humbug-them-all-180967634/
https://www.newyorker.com/culture/richard-brody/the-greatest-showman-and-the-far-more-fascinating-real-life-of-p-t-barnum

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

Why does it always have to be about race?




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.


So….yes, friends. It is always about race. And to be honest, it's really hard for me to understand why we all aren't talking about it every chance we get. 💔 

Monday, February 26, 2018

My boys need better than "Boys will be Boys."

Image result for boys will be boys kind humans
from www.redbubble.com/

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

Lonely

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

do something.




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.