euphoriafish: Avar photo I took in Japan of the Great Buddha statue in Kamakura. (Default)
It seems a Herculean task to write about civil rights issues properly when you've just started writing, even if you've been thinking about the issues and whether or not you have something to contribute to the conversation for quite some time. I published this blog publicly here in hopes that it would start a discussion first with people who are my friends, particularly my friends who are black but really everyone because I'm shyly not phoning you all equally these days. I get up and drag myself to breakfast and to writing, and then at the end of the day I should be socializing but there was something I didn't do and then I drag myself to bed. I'm going to keep editing these thoughts and re-posting them until my friends start calling me out and then when I settle it with my friends and reach a plateau on educating myself, I'll publish it on my Blogger blog and then try to get it published professionally so I can get called out by total strangers for leaving something out.

It started with the #solidarityisforwhitewomen hashtag started by Mikki Kendall on Twitter in response to white feminist writer Jill Filipovic defending something "defrocked feminist" Hugo Schwyzer said about his mental health and a long pattern of online behavior influenced by his mental health and a substance abuse problem to a woman named @Blackamazon and someone else on Twitter. If you read this Vice article, you'll be caught up to my understanding.

A friend of mine blogged about the #solidarityisforwhitewomen hashtag recently, about her reactions to lurking it and how she realized she has white privilege she has to check and how there are now Disney Princesses of all colors, which is the fun reward for looking at this important issue that gives us the squirmies while we are looking at it.

I've had a lot of noise in my head of late about white privilege, because I live in the Gateway to the South and we subconsciously segregate ourselves in my community. Sometimes the state song comes up and its lyrical mention of the history of slavery and how families were happy before being separated and sold down the river to suffering and death farther south. We don't fight in my personal experience, but I've heard the state song brought up with anger by black coworker friends and everyone in the room feels uncomfortable and there's suddenly this invisible barrier and the white people feel guilty and like there's nothing they can say and the black people feel angry about what happened and that they still have to be reminded at say, the pageantry of the Kentucky Derby. This is a state that clings to a history that wasn't kind to everyone. [I've read a good article that is entirely about Kentucky's state song that explained what Stephen Foster meant in a similar way to how my mother believes he meant it-- as just the first step toward social progression during a racist time-- but it comes across as very Not All White People in the same way Not All Man tries to protect men from feminists.]

I am underexposed to black culture, so I've sought it out a little bit through comedy and jazz appreciation -- have you heard any Terry Pollard or Mary Lou Williams? WOW--, and thoughts on the comedy of Trevor Noah are almost a whole separate blog post. I admire him greatly for using foreign language in jokes that teach understanding, and you don't have to speak the language to get the joke.

But that's still only passive exploration and sometimes I don't know how to be or what to say to my black friends who I want to know better. Some of my black friends still feel the need to call attention to the elephant in the room every time we hang out, and I wonder, what are our remaining inhibitions? Is there anyone in our group who doesn't love this person, what am I going to say, are they going to feel like I'm making embarrassing assumptions or am blind to my own historical privilege?

So there's been some noise and mental discontent for me. I thought first, I'll answer it by saying I have two counts against me also, I am female and have a disability. But I have never been denied entry to a place socially based on my disability, nor do I have any problems getting a loan. There is exclusion toward me and I suspect feelings that I am inferior, but never hatred. I read an autobiography by pianist/composer Mary Lou Williams wherein a brick was thrown through her window when her family moved to a neighborhood in Pittsburgh because most of the families on the street were white, and it reminded me to check my own privilege.

I'm reminded of Episode 3 of My Gimpy Life by actress Teal Sherer. It references two theatrical productions that call out the elephants in the room about being female, disabled, and/or being black. This web video has a new media portrayal of disability in the tone that I want to see more of, and it also shows the socially frightening situations that disabled people and black people sometimes discover. This story sums up perfectly what I think both groups are working against:

It's different situations at different times but on average race generates more hate than exclusion and disability generates more exclusion than hate. The end result is the same with people feeling less than safe and not ok to be themselves. We can only conclude that hatred and exclusion are wrong and if you don't experience thoughts about them on a too-often basis, you are lucky.

My mother grew up in an air force family and has told me she was around black and hispanic families on the air bases she lived on. She also experienced a bit of Apartheid when she went to South Africa during a study abroad trip and says Apartheid was oppressive for white people also and unfair to everyone, whichever door you were supposed to use to enter a shop. She told me that it was wonderful that in the United States we could totally relate normally to people who look different from us, yet just relating normally to people with more melanin in their skin that mine still seemed like an unreached ideal for half of my childhood in a small town that has diversity but does not embrace it outside of official events and human resources experiences at work.

There were no African American* children at my elementary school and I didn't have any black friends until college. My church is officially welcoming to everyone of all colors and lifestyles, but there is not diversity in the congregation because it's assumed that everyone has their own church or we don't know how to invite new members or we're not having the interactions in daily life that lead to those invitations happening. During middle school for a while I thought it was a class problem of people acting poor, and I still don't know what to do with that thought. I have taken classes with people both black and white who are well-educated, quiet academics; and I have worked with people both white and black who are less quiet and have less time to talk about academic subjects. I think I'm onto something but it's a faulty argument that still leads to self inhibitions and voluntary segregation. I don't know how to present it without bringing negative feelings into the room. I feel like newspaper columnist Leonard Pitts can present that argument but I should tread even more lightly and may be misremembering him saying anything to that effect. [Is there a specific essay I want to cite?]

I know there is still inequality in the world, and I've been particularly afraid to look at the judicial system. I blocked it out after watching Dead Man Walking, Shawshank Redemption, Orange is the New Black, Inherit the Wind, 12 Angry Men, To Kill a Mockingbird in both book and film form. I want to concentrate on myself and my peers and strengthening friendships. I am aware that the judicial system is unfair. I'm not in favor of the death penalty for anyone ever largely because race relations have factored into it being applied unequally. I want to believe that poverty leading to desperation and poor parenting are what causes crime, and those factors happen to poor white people as well as poor black people and the historical disadvantage is going away with affirmative action laws, such that race related assumptions do not really reflect the reality and biased juries are what creates the statistics. Biased juries surely will go away if everyone who has never committed a crime expects the best of each other and speaks openly and warmly about topics from which to build rapport.

I'm left thinking that my generation should step up to the next level of thinking on civil rights issues. We didn't grow up with direct exposure to political segregation and race riots, but our parents had memories of them and told us it's this amazing new thing that everyone is getting along now. (Which leads to worried thoughts of "Huh? Why weren't we?" and horror at the discovery of the history and then guilt and uneasiness that allows the fear stories to endure.) We grew up with Reading Rainbow and Mister Rogers, two shows led by adults with the mission to listen to and teach children about kindness and exploration. So what's left is for the newness to wear off and for us to know we are with our friends and can talk about differences in a way that never turns violent or exclusionary. We should assume the best and practice Buddhist loving kindness toward everyone we meet. I'm probably not excessively inspirational and my friends are definitely not excessively black to be in entertainment productions as the main hero or composer. (Understatement much?)

There are sometimes still awkward feelings among my friends and coworkers, and we need to look at them calmly and in the safety of friendship whenever some elderly jerk says something unacceptable in the news. I want there to be only love with everyone I know and not have it marred by history or fear of saying the wrong thing taken to the point that we don't say anything at all.

I hope we can talk calmly if I said anything misguided or offensive in this post. I am opening myself up to criticism here but would like to find a way to diffuse segregating situations, addressing whoever is upset, ignorant, or self-inhibited without making it all about me and my feelings.


* = I first wrote "black children" and thought it was a loaded phrase with historical emotional baggage, also that no social group wants to be thought of as children as an overgeneralization. This is a problem for both black people and disabled people, whether through cartoons and minstrelsy or martyring portrayals at telethon time. I have also heard some negative comments on the phrase African American as being unnecessarily long, and mixed levels of African pride/identification. And "black friends" just rolls out of my thoughts and feels friendly and normal. I would like to be closer to my four or so black friends.

My mom says there were black students who went to Africa with her and she had at least one conversation with them about how they thought they were black until they got to Africa and discovered they were not as dark as the native Africans. This was back in the 70s. But anyway, I decided to use African American for children and black otherwise. I am open to discussing this further if anyone wants to educate me.


euphoriafish: Avar photo I took in Japan of the Great Buddha statue in Kamakura. (Default)

November 2015


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