My Wish For You

It never ceases to amaze me.

From the time OUR young people hit puberty, brown and black youth face unsolicited feedback from the environment. It’s anything from the I-don’t-see-you face, to one of suspicion and harsh scrutiny.

Bosses go on vacation and tell staff “don’t hire any black people” for vacant positions. That is a true recent story. Luckily my young friend hired the best applicant anyway (coincidentally black). But how common is that noble demonstration of character? Yet, no one is racist and no, we don’t live in a white supremacist society

A white woman walks into a clothing store behind a young black mother buying their toddler’s very first pair of shoes. The salesperson ignores the mother. The white woman gets approached first. “May I help you?” This woman’s response? “Yes, you can HELP HER. But no one is racist and we don’t live in a white supremacist society

This, kind of micro-aggression goes on 24/7. It can be so much worse than that. At best, in place of casual friendliness, there is a constant drip drip drip of negative, fearful, hostile or zero feedback from the environment, resulting in a constant chipping away at a healthy life force. It either weakens or steels the heart, if not the soul. But no one is racist and we don’t live in a white supremacist society

As everyone knows, the only socially acceptable response from a person of color, when at the brunt end of this kind of treatment is: NO response. Zero. Politely pretend not to notice. Anything else and you become THE ignorant angry black person. Why, you’re making a scene! But no one is racist and we don’t live in a white supremacist society.

How about if a non-POC, points this out – even to “FRIENDS”? After friends recover from the first uncomfortable dialogue, that person soon enough finds themselves relegated to the “careful, gotta walk on eggshells with them” category – “too interested in politics”,  or “too sensitive”, “takes it too personally”. My wish on the magic lantern is that every white person would be like that white guy who was meeting those two fellows for a business meeting in Starbucks. “What the hell is going on??” And notably, what did those two men ask for?
********************************
“Robinson and Nelson also settled with the city of Philadelphia for a symbolic $1 each and a pledge that the city will create a $200,000 program for public high-school students who aspire to be entrepreneurs.” 

“We thought long and hard about it and we feel like this is the best way to see that change that we want to see,” Robinson told the Associated Press. “It’s not a right-now thing that’s good for right now, but I feel like we will see the true change over time.”

Here is what amazes me. Among even the most kindly, well-intended white people, there is a jagged stone wall of resistance, up against even considering and discussing the obvious benefits of white privilege, over a lifetime. The reason cited most often in my world is, “Well, we all have serious problems. Just because I’m white doesn’t mean I haven’t struggled, had it hard, encountered much unfairness.”

Yes, life is hard for lots of us. So somehow, it follows that there isn’t much interest in pondering on how to support or listen to brothers and sisters who live side by side in our communities facing these invisible barriers and ever-present fears, on top of everything else.

You see, I’ve come to notice that as white people, we are the objective ones. We understand everything. We have the true perspective. We know. We have nothing to learn from our brown and black brethren. We explain to THEM how to feel and how to perceive their encounters. And we are offended when that doesn’t quite work out to our satisfaction.

Yet somehow, NO ONE IS RACIST. I have never met a racist. I HAVE met a homophobe and many transphobes. Because they distort the Bible to back themselves up, so they try to defend hate against love. Imagine!

With the exception of white people who are centering their lives on this situation, to this day, I have not met any white person who will admit that our society is still structured on white supremacy. Not a liberal, not a conservative. It seems the way it goes is, “If I haven’t experienced it, in my heart of hearts, I just don’t believe it. They are exaggerating, misunderstanding, dramatizing.”

Laws MUST be put in place and laws must stay in place, and be enforced to protect EVERYONE in our society, for that very reason. You see, no one is doing it. No one. YET, IT IS DONE.

Even though science has established that there is no such thing as race, most still have a tribe that extends past families, and most cling to this as a primary identity.

Yet, in my experience, it is only by living and loving each other, ignoring that imaginary race barrier, that we understand the truth of our shared humanity, in our guts, our minds and in our hearts. Without knowing each other, and knowing each other WELL, it’s very hard to get past society’s walls.

Still, there are those of us to whom destiny calls, to create or be born or be parented and nurtured in families that ignore these cautions and barriers. Beyond the walls, we find a rich and beautiful tapestry, a depth of understanding, and lots of love. It’s love that by it’s very nature, extends out to all peoples of the world.

That is my wish for you. May you continue to expand your circle of love, increase your wisdom, and reap your joy. I will be right there with you.

 

Not All Whites

Beqi Brinkhorst: “Yes, white people should take a backseat when discussing racism. Someone’s going to have to take a backseat, that’s how it works. Why WOULDN’T it be the section that isn’t the victim of the subject? By making your own hurt feelings (as a white person) the focus of the discussion, you are proving the point of racism, not fighting it.”

Me: What she said. We find it SO HARD to just not be the center and to have someone else’s concerns be THE focus. The end. The hurt feelings, the painstaking parsing, the “but not all whites”. As someone else wisely pointed out, Of COURSE ‘not all…’. That’s why we’re sitting here having this conversation together! The assumption is, that is understood, UNTIL you felt anxious and just HAD to derail the topic because a conversation on race cannot take place without that insertion. “Yes, there, there. Of course we know it’s not all whites.”

Doesn’t matter that POC spend 90% of the time carefully appearing not to notice and staying focused in a world that is filled with micro-aggressions towards them, and dealing with assumptions made about them. That’s different. White people’s hurt feelings must always be the priority if they are present. And that is just as it should be. But oh, it’s everyone ELSE that’s “too sensitive”. Sigh.

I’m Not Cynical

I’m not cynical. It’s the opposite. From time to time, when I give my take on a topic in the news, I receive a surprised, “You’re so cynical.” People getting to know me don’t expect it, because I AM so positive. They expect rays of sunshine and daisies to flow from my lips. Hey, sometimes they do!

As a child, no one was really protecting me or to what I was exposed. So in the poor section of Miami Beach, I saw many things and experienced many things, too. Most of all, I saw really wealthy people come to act out where no one knew them. ALOT.

And at the apartment, I lived with an intelligent and curious person who was so done with being a parent and was still an abuse survivor as well as overworked, distracted and beaten-down-by-patriarchy.

So I am not surprised by things in the news that others are debating whether to believe at all. And to me, it is a KINDNESS to speak the truth and not look away from it. It’s what we can do!

Rape and child abuse are HUGE in this country. Note: My only question re Cosby is: Who did he piss off? What deal did he try to get out of that it is now suddenly Cosby open season? Of course he did it. But to think it is so uncommon…that is the part. Which well-paid underling was steering these hopeful girls to Cosby? Same with Jerry Sandusky case – only it should be a wake-up call and not “now we got that bad guy”. How many underlings looked the other way? For how many years? How many faceless peers shared his “interest” in founding Second Mile children’s charity? What did they tell themselves? So sad.

But a villain is found and scapegoated, thrown to the wolves so the rest can continue in quiet. If this is news, sorry to wreck your high.

You think it stops because it’s unpleasant to you when you notice it?

I REALLY don’t get the “staying positive” thing!!!! It looks to me like doing your part to support business-as-usual. And yet we wonder at the Holocaust and those reprehensible slave-owners. “How could this go on for so long?”

I am not for sensationalism. I get no kick. Check this: I don’t even rent movies with violence and sadism in them! That leaves out wide swathes of popular culture, that I would otherwise enjoy, let me tell you.

How come we are so into it on the screen but it’s so “inappropriate” and “extremist” to stand up to it in real life??!!!

I have an idea. How about learning to feel elevated, liberated and kind and good when you recognize an unpleasant reality for the first time? I think anything OTHER than that is CYNICAL!! Because it’s not telling the truth when deep in you, you know. How do YOU define cynicism?

And you have to ask, who are you protecting? And why?

Safety, Security, Happiness

Sometimes I get confused and think that strengthening a so-so safety net will FEEL better than generosity. I confuse the feeling of happiness with the feeling of becoming just a bit more secure.

I had no one to rely on in my birth family, and always had to work really hard with no safety net. So building financial security so I would not have to need with no one to help EQUALED happiness to me. When I found out I could make my own moves for myself I was proud that I worked my ass off.

This assumption about the ORIGIN of happiness, though, is encouraged by our culture. Even those of us that know that we are probably not going to achieve the stereotypical materially secure retirement this time around, feel it is IRRESPONSIBLE to choose generosity over trying to reinforce our position if we have the chance.

It’s a dog eat dog, right? We only have ourselves to blame, right? To counter childhood trauma, to fit in, to show society, we do our best not to need.

“This is what I am supposed to be doing, right? Okay, then. I can do that. I can BE that.” We all lose sight of the really big picture at points during our lives.

But if we are truly fortunate, we get to see a a choice, even with the help of a friend, and at a life crossing, we see we can decide between getting a tiny bit more secure or being generous in a meaningful way. We find out that the feeling of happiness we crave comes from giving to a worthy cause and not from another drop-in-the-bucket bank deposit.

LIFE IS SO GREAT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I am so grateful to not live a life of reactivity from start to finish and be able to grow. Like plants, we grow towards the light.

January 17, 2012 Haiku

Well, it’s May now, but on January 17 around this time, I submitted an entry to my niece Lori’s blog. It was Haiku Tuesday, according to Lori – or Lorelei, as I sometimes call her. So although I am positive my entries are not worthy of the name, I was, at that time, in the habit of throwing one in on Tuesdays. I love Lori.

So I took a little break and was silent at my desk at work for a moment. What I settled on was as follows:

*******************************************

Ambling along my way

while caverns yawn ahead.

Claire! Take care.

Don’t slip.

*******************************************

“That’s odd”, I thought. But it felt right so I stopped there. “That’s the one for today.”

A couple of hours later, I received a call from my spouse, Donald James. He was calling me from the middle of a street intersection in Apex. “Claire, I’ve been in an accident. The car is totaled.” I had trouble hearing him. He said, “I’m okay. Sorry if you can’t hear me. There are fire engines.”

Don was not okay. We found out later by looking at the police report that a woman at the wheel of a Chevy Suburban lost consciousness behind the wheel, her foot slipping to rest on the gas pedal. She hit the car in front of her, which sustained minor damage and pulled her way. She hit the car making a right turn into her street, knocking it off course. Then, still picking up speed, she ran the red light and came flying at Don, going about 55 mph, and hitting the front of his car at an angle, still demolishing the vehicle. Had he come through the green light even 1/2 a second sooner, she would have crashed right into his door. She continued on at a slower pace, stopped by the low brick wall near the gas station on the other side of the intersection. From what we know so far, Don was the only one with a serious injury.

But he was able to get out of the car and only thought his shoulder really hurt. His glasses were near the car and he pointed that out to a fireman, who retrieved his glasses for him. They were okay and he put them on. He was ushered to the side of the road, which is where I found him, with a policeman handing him back his license.

He told me our 2004 Prius had entirely sheered off the two front wheels of her Chevy Suburban at the axle. It was dragged on to the tow truck. So, of course, did our car.

We eventually discovered that he was not okay. He had two complete breaks of the C7 vertebra in his spine. That was when the fun really began. This kind of injury can easily cause paralysis or death at any point from the moment it happens until it’s repair, and during the repair as well. The surgery required was, as the surgeon we eventually settled on explained to us, “massive”, “carried serious risk” and “not routine for any surgeon”.

Don is a cautious person and no gambler. He had no good options, but he chose to try hard to give the bone a chance to heal on its own. This was boring and painful for him, and nerve-wracking and stressful for those around him. But hey, it wasn’t my neck! I supported his choice 100%.

He took almost no pain medicine, because he wanted to listen closely to his body and know how he was feeling. He wore first a rigid neck brace, later a heavier brace, covering both his chest and his back. He limited his activity to 4 hours of sitting at a time in the one chair we owned that he could tolerate, alternating with 2 hours of lying flat on his back in the bed he could tolerate, which is in our guest bedroom.

We went through three surgeons, eventually finding one who remains to us, an angel from heaven. An amazing man. He listened carefully to Don’s request for alternatives and brought to his attention a cervical stimulator – an electric device that has been proven to enhance bone growth. It’s more used post-surgery, to speed up healing, but Don was turning over every stone.

Based on what the surgeon explained, he knew it was unsafe to even lift a frying pan. He could not drive. On rare occasions that he had to be in a car, he rode in the back seat with the driver driving very carefully to avoid bumps. An air bag going off could kill him. He could not really walk outside much, because outside our house is a gravel driveway and uneven land. He could only remove the brace briefly to eat.

After almost 4 months of this, there was no significant change in his cat scans and x-rays. So he gave in to the inevitable and on May 8, he trusted Dr. Moe Lim, of the UNC Spine Center, to carry out a 7-hour surgery to re-stabilize his spine. As Dr. Lim reminded him, “It’s not really an elective surgery.” It took 13 screws, 2 rods, 2 connecting rods, bone grafts from his spine and from donor bone. He is now recuperating.

The effects of this accident on his life, but also on mine, and even the ripple effect on those closest to us,  have been massive. He can tell his own story and I hope he will. As for me, I am conspicuous in my absence, from the lives of my friends, and my children and my co-workers, due to both care giving, and to the ripple effect on my own health. I’ve been challenging a disease since 2005, and Don was before this, ‘the strong one’ that made it so I could mostly keep on keeping on with a busy job and a busy life.

But there have also been gifts – many I am sure are still to come and still in delivery. Most areas of life are getting a reboot. But we will save that for another day. It’s ongoing and still too soon to understand. Don is two weeks post-surgery and so far so good. He did well with it. Me: not so much. My health has taken some real hits and while I am out of work to help him, we have both needed help as, after several days of sustained high activity, I would become quite ill. I’m thankful my sister moved here a few years ago, to be close, and for my other friends. I am positive my health dips are temporary. And Don’s proving he is still his amazingly hardy self during recuperation.

I am grateful. I will always remember that haiku that came to me in that moment of reflection. “Claire, don’t slip.”

“Exams are coming. Do your best.” is how I take that now. And I have!

I find it reassuring to look back and remind myself that those words came to me as counsel. It encourages me to take what has unfolded and continues to unfold as something that I can make it through, will make it through, and above all, an event that can have a deeper significance.

I have the highest respect for the still small voice and try ever harder to hear it.