Saturday, November 07, 2020
The two days after Election Day had had me struggling. What this election process revealed, in a big way, is that nearly 50% of our country is willing to buy into conspiracy theories, believe lies, and support a person who mocks and denigrates people over human decency for the sake of...well, I'm not even sure I know or understand that part. In a regular election, I could write it off as only a small percentage of Americans, but the 50% I’m referring to represented more people than have ever voted before, so it was more of an exact representation and reflection of our country than we’ve ever had.
As the election results were coming out, I watched my BIPOC friends post comments on the day after the election saying they were disappointed, but not surprised, that so many voted for this kind of behavior. Honestly, I guess I was. Despite what I see and hear from friends and family, I wanted to believe...I chose to believe...that we, as a White people, are better than we truly are. People of color know better; they always have. We’ve shown them who we are over and over and over. However, for me, seeing it, blatantly, on the TV screen was hard for me to swallow. I completely lost hope in the process. I wanted to curl up into a fetal position and make it all go away. I couldn’t understand how people from the civil rights era...people like John Lewis...fought so hard for justice and equality and never gave up in the face of such opposition. And not only that, he always spoke of love for his fellow humans, even in spite of them doing everything in their power to make him feel less human!
By Thursday, my thinking had shifted. I had given up, but Stacey Abrams had not. Two years ago, she lost the election for Governor of Georgia in an election that seemed extremely unfair. Instead of feeling resignation, like I did, Stacey Abrams pulled herself together and got to work...as, I have learned, Black people and people of color do.
I wish I had learned more about our Black and Brown heroes in our textbooks in school, because it is truly the Black and Brown people of our country who give me hope and whose shoulders we stand on. It is the Stacey Abrams’, the Colin Kaepernick’s, the John Lewis’s. But there are also so many others who aren’t in our textbooks and even more who are in our cities fighting for justice for everyone, in spite of the odds...in spite of the setbacks...in spite of the threat to their own economic and physical survival.
In my world, it is Billy Lane, Byron Sanders, David Lozano, Vicki Meek, Vickie Washington, Sara Mokuria, Amber Sims, Jamila Thomas, Rebekah Thomas, Deborah Douglas and the list could go on. My White privilege causes me to look at these efforts and think our world changes because we are getting better as a country. However, what I had to acknowledge this election is that we are not. The reason we are getting better is because of the people of color whose shoulders we stand on. But what I know is that to simply give them a hand clap is shallow. They don't ask for (or need) my praise or anyone else's; they never have.
For those of us with White privilege, it can be easy to get discouraged and want to give up on the justice and equity that needs to happen. It feels like an uphill battle and it feels endless. But, ultimately, we still maintain our privileges in the world, even if we give up.
I will never understand or be able to fathom the vast injustices people of color receive on a daily basis. But what I can do is listen to them, be led by them, and take direction from them. Kudos, my friends, YOU are making us a better country and a better place to live. Thank you for your unending patience and perseverance. May we all follow your lead and your direction.
White privilege is being in charge of the narrative.
Saturday, September 12, 2020
In 2005, I attended a conference in Atlanta, Georgia. Knowing that Atlanta was home to the beginnings of Martin Luther King, Jr. and knowing that Atlanta is the mecca of some very important HBCUs (Historically Black College and Universities), I was eager to attend the conference and use any extra time exploring the historical aspects of the city.
I arrived at the hotel early and immediately began flipping through the nicely bound hardback book set purposefully on the table so tourists like me could search for things to do while visiting the city. Intently thumbing through the book looking for anything related to Martin Luther King, Jr., the Civil Rights movement, or the colleges, I came up empty handed. Somewhat annoyed and sure I’d missed something, I flipped through a second time...with the same results.
Not to be deterred, I moved on to look at the map of the city placed in the conference bag provided at registration. Because the conference I was attending was for multicultural educators, I figured the reference maps would surely direct us to these very significant sites and perhaps introduce me to others of which I was unaware. I excitedly reviewed the sightseeing options that were neatly outlined as suggestions for days one through four.
Day one: Coca-Cola museum, CNN studios, Atlanta Children’s Museum, Braves museum, and Six Flags over Georgia.
Figuring those must be the most frequented sites in the city, I moved on.
Day two: Stone Mountain Park, Hard Rock Café, the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum, the High Museum, and Underground Atlanta.
By then, I wasn’t expecting much for days three and four, but it still seemed a slap in the face that a paper making museum and a patio in an historic district were held in higher regard than anything related to Black culture or our Civil Rights history. Not a single thing was mentioned in those two categories.
Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised. I’m guessing whoever wrote those visitor books and created those maps were educated under the same system I was: a system that didn’t expose us to all of our history. It was only through my own reading and research that I knew about Atlanta’s prominence in the civil rights era, Ebenezer Baptist Church, and the four deeply revered and historical HBCUs that make up the Atlanta University Center: Clark Atlanta (1865), Morehouse (1867), Spelman (1881), and Morehouse School of Medicine (1975). After finding my own way through Atlanta that trip, I also learned that The Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change has been in existence since 1968, a memorial tomb for Dr. King and eternal flame was dedicated in 1977, and a visitor center was built in 1996. It seems that a company creating books and maps of and for the city of Atlanta should be expected to know and include those prominent places.
In 2014, Atlanta opened a National Center for Civil and Human Rights. Today, if you dig into the AtlantaDowntown website, you can now find a Black History and Civil Rights Tour and Atlanta’s Journey for Civil Rights Bike Tour. Even more interesting to me is the link to a different “Civil Bikes” website that offers tours and acknowledges, “This is the history we were never taught in school. Learn about the heroes we didn’t grow up with, but should have.”
Despite these seeming advances, I still find it troubling that in the Atlanta Preservation Center Walking tours, they have a walking tour that spotlights “Confederate fortifications” but not the historic HBCUs. I find it unsettling that the “Sweet Auburn” tour is the only one featuring “African-American commerce and culture in Atlanta,” yet it is also the only one of the fourteen tours that gives no prices or availability and, instead, says, “This tour is available for parties of ten or more by prior arrangement,” and has a form to fill out if you would like to request a tour (None of the others require “ten or more” or a “prior arrangement” tour). It also seems curious to me that, in the other thirteen tours advertised, the only two items related to culture--Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie’s throne and Japanese Zero war planes--are called midtown “oddities.”
Why should it take so much effort to learn about deeply-rooted history, especially when it’s connected to someone like Dr. King, who we love to tout as our historical peacemaker? What do we gain (other than privilege and power) by erasing parts of our past, wiping out any reference to achievements by people of color, and calling the ones that we do acknowledge “oddities”?
White privilege creates the maps, and the language around them, that determines who and what is important. By creating the maps, we were and are able to influence how White people see the world, as well as tell people of color how they should see the world. White privilege also controls the system that chooses the contracts of the businesses who will put the books on the table and the maps in the hands of visitors. The process often favors those who are already connected with the city...and those are often largely White. The process has typically been too arduous for minority-owned, small businesses to have the time and resources to take on.
In 2013, the city of Dallas created a Business Inclusion and Development Plan that specifically states that they will work harder to “increase participation of locally owned Minority/Women-Owned Business Enterprises.” Plans like those are created out of necessity...because Minority- and Women-owned businesses are continuously being overlooked. My guess is that Dallas is not the only city that has had to do that.
Leaving people and places off of a map and out of the process communicates a message....but people of color have been pointing this out to us forever. Why does it take me doing this research and having to discover it for myself before I believe what they have always said?? What we, as White people, need to realize is the research has already been done. Our job is to hear what they’re telling us and join in the fight with them to correct these messages and change the literal and figurative maps.
Saturday, September 05, 2020
In case we’ve forgotten (or didn’t know), Rosa Parks did not sit down on the bus because she was tired. She was tired of her people being oppressed. She intentionally stayed seated, despite angry people all around her.
Seriously...imagine that bus. The bus is full and a White man is standing. Rosa Parks is told to get up so the White man can sit, because that is the law and that is what is expected. And Rosa Parks says, “I’m not in the White section.” Imagine the looks she must have gotten. Imagine the outrage and incredulity from the passengers when a young Black woman had the audacity to speak that way to the driver! Imagine the driver asserting his power, threatening to call the police to have her removed, threatening to arrest her himself, and she replied, “Do what you have to do,” and continued to stay seated until the Montgomery police arrived to forcibly remove her from her seat.
From a safe distance, we can now reflect and romanticize her peaceful protest (which it was), but the truth of the matter is they did not see it as peaceful then. Instead of seeing it as an equal rights issue, they saw her protest as a slight against them and, if listened to, felt it would take something away from them. So they enforced “law and order”...like they are doing today.
Her resistance helped start a bus boycott that lasted for 381 days and disrupted an entire economic system, which made people even more angry. (People really don’t like their pocketbooks being messed with.)
Just because she was doing what we now think of as a very right thing didn’t mean that everyone all of a sudden got on board. Rosa Parks lost her job after her peaceful protest and her husband was fired from his job as well. It got so rough that they eventually had to leave Montgomery and move north in order to start over.
Let me pause here to remind us all of Colin Kaepernick. Four years ago, he quietly knelt during a football game because he, too, was tired; tired of police brutality toward Black men. His resistance wasn’t even breaking a law, but people made it seem like it was.
Like Parks, he endured the looks, the anger, and the outrage while he continued to kneel and he, too, lost his job because of his audacious action. Also like Parks, Kaepernick’s action called attention to an issue, but his one action did not result in the desired change. Since it did not, we have had four years of intensifying protests that are causing some people to be extremely uncomfortable.
I’ve seen people on my Facebook feed longing for the peacefulness of Dr. King, but it seems we also need to be reminded of his stance on things as well. In his Mountaintop speech in 1968, the night before he was murdered, Dr. King talked about how the protests back then brought with them “a little violence” and he lamented the fact that the press highlighted the violence more than the many injustices people were facing.
In this same speech, he was preparing people to march and protest for equal pay and more protections for sanitation workers who were literally being eaten alive by malfunctioning trash trucks. Martin Luther King, Jr. didn’t bother listening to the detractors who tried to convince him that equality is what it is. Instead, to all of us he asked, “The question is not, ‘If I stop to help this man in need, what will happen to me?’ ‘If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them?’ That’s the question.”
I see many more people kneeling these days. I find it almost humorous, considering that four years ago kneeling was considered the ultimate form of treason. However, though the action of kneeling has become much more acceptable, what Colin Kaepernick took a knee for has still not changed. Nearly every day, we are introduced to a new video of yet another Black man who was shot or asphyxiated by a police officer. Today, I can sit in my comfortable White privilege or I can revisit a paraphrased form of Dr. King’s question: “The question is not, ‘If I ally with Black people to stop police brutality, what will happen to me?’ but instead, ‘If I do not ally with Black people to stop police brutality, what will happen to them?’ That’s the question.’
“We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. … One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.” ~Martin Luther King, Jr. Letter from a Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963
Saturday, August 29, 2020
When I was in high school, I wasn’t taught about the Civil Rights Movement...or at least not much. But in college, a wonderful professor opened up a whole new world to me. He showed clips of Eyes on the Prize in our Social Work Policy class. Real footage...all black and white...of what happened in the 60s. I was shocked...dumbfounded, actually. I knew about Martin Luther King. I knew he had a dream and I knew (or thought I knew) that his dream was fulfilled.
After being introduced to the clips, I begged my professor to borrow his VHS tapes. I needed to know more of the story. He was hesitant. After much begging, however, he conceded.
I watched the entire series that summer and cried my way through. It had never occurred to me that people...White people...could be so cruel...so mean...so evil. I was horrified...and then angry. Why had no one ever told me about what happened during this time period before?? It was a turning point for me.
This new knowledge caused me to start questioning the history I had learned...and led me to discover quite a few disturbing pieces of history that seemed extremely important, but that were left out of my history books. Because the authors of these texts didn’t feel the need to tell me *all* of my history, I wondered what else might have been left out. Here are a few things I’ve found:
Homestead Acts of 1862--Gave land grants to White Americans for colleges and farmers needing land. However, grants were not provided for enslaved people...and slaves were not freed until 1865...so African-Americans were not able to establish the same wealth as White people.
Forty Acres and a Mule (1865)--Set up to compensate for the land not given to African-Americans during the Homestead Act. Forty thousand Black people (which wasn’t all of the freed slaves, but it was a start) were given 400,000 acres of land in Georgia and South Carolina...only to be taken back when it was found that confederate planters had previously owned it. President Andrew Johnson reversed Special Field Order No. 15, forced African-Americans off of the land, and returned it to the White men.
GI Bill of 1944--Gave out free college and low-interest mortgages...but this didn’t include African Americans, who were prevented from qualifying for home loans, which also prevented them from establishing wealth in the same way White families did.
It’s not that I wasn’t told about my history. It was that I wasn’t told *all* of my history. The parts where BIPOC (Black, Indiginous and People of Color) were denied those same opportunities were conveniently left out of the explanation or downplayed significantly.
I grew up in what I would consider an upper-middle class family. I grew up on a huge farm. I’ve always admired and respected the way my dad has been smart about his investments. Not long ago, I was asking him about how it all started. I knew our family...my ancestors...had established the area of the Ozarks where I grew up, but I wanted to understand how. That’s when he told me about the Homestead Act.
Our family was given land that they farmed and developed...and passed down through the generations. That opportunity allowed them to have the capital to purchase more land throughout the years and that land has created my inheritance. That same land opportunity, in Missouri or elsewhere, was denied to African-Americans.
Let that sink in. My current wealth, assets, and privileges are directly related to an 1862 Homestead Act that I had nothing to do with. But I benefit. My children will benefit from it and my children’s children will benefit from it. I have always taken that for granted. It never occurred to me that I had advantage...until I realized that in 1862 Black people were not allowed that distribution and now have to work 10 times as hard to make up for over 150 years of accumulation of wealth that they were denied.
I took my history at face value. I celebrated the fact that our country gave out land grants, created education systems, and provided free college and low home loans to veterans. It just never occurred to me that during those time periods when those new opportunities were taking effect, certain individuals...certain racial groups...were excluded from and intentionally denied those opportunities. It never occurred to me that the things that made (and make) America great only made (and make) America great for *some* people.
Saturday, August 22, 2020
When I moved into my apartment complex, the Dallas Morning News wanted to write a story on me. It was basically a story about how I had done something unimaginable. The children and families in the apartment complex were all Black and Brown and I had sacrificed myself to offer them something better. (you can read more about it in the fourth installment of the White Privilege Chronicles)
At the time, I couldn’t understand why so many in my community had a problem with the article. In my mind, the newspaper simply presented the truth:
“Janet Morrison does the hard thing, the hardest thing called for by the Christian faith: She sits, she listens, she loves people--one by one--on their own terms.” … “She is a small-town Missouri girl, 24, who has chosen to live in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Dallas. It’s so poor that all of the color seems drained from the place. The parking lot is gummed with oil patches. The cars are dusty. It’s rare to see one manufactured in this decade. Concrete is pitted, the railings are rusty. Apartment doors are flimsy.”
As I look back on the article, it is painful to read. It’s all about how wonderful I am and how awful the community is.
Yesterday I learned a new term that gave me a whole new understanding: Deficit-framing (thanks, Deborah Douglas!). Deficit framing defines people by their problems. Not only does it define people by their problems, it conditions the rest of us to see and focus on those problems. It allows us to be free of our own shame and guilt and place the responsibility on the people in the situation.
The above article could have said that the apartments were “...dilapidated because of years of neglect by the owner and haven’t been repainted in years. The owner doesn’t bother to clean or repair the parking lot, the railings, or the doors.” The reporter could have said that, “Minimum wage has not risen in years, which forces people to live in substandard housing and purchase cars that barely get them back and forth to work.” She could have said, “The community endures the hard choices of working all day, surviving on a minimum wage salary, and coming home to an apartment complex that the owner refuses to fix.” All of that would have been true as well.
Instead, she focused on me...my choice, my sacrifice. Though I did not know or understand deficit-framing at the time, it was quickly pointed out to me by friends and neighbors that they didn’t enjoy being painted in such a negative light.
It’s not just newspapers; nonprofits use deficit-framing all of the time. They do it because it works. As a program director, I have often been asked to pitch stories to help raise money. I remember one specific story that I thought was amazing. I had met the dad in a monthly meeting we both attended at the local elementary school. He was always very vocal and opinionated, which was right up my alley. As I got to know him and learned he had two kids, I invited them to our program. They started attending our weekly school-year program, then our 8-week summer program. As they outgrew those, they both began working and volunteering in our after-school and summer programs. My friend always pushed and encouraged his children to, “Do better than us.” He wanted his kids to understand how gruelling his work was with such little pay so that they would aspire to go to college and end up in a situation with a more comfortable job that had benefits. I had a whole story around how amazing this family was, with all of their drive and ambition. What we offered was opportunity and a connection to resources that hadn’t been available to them.
Our development department came back and asked, “But who helped them? You did, right? We need an individual to talk about so we can show what they did for them.” The success story they wanted was from the staff or volunteer side...not from the community. Deficit-framing and help *for* communities; asset-framing for and help *by* outside individuals. It’s what brings in the money.
Stories like these bring readership. They make people feel good. They get donations for the nonprofit they represent.
And they alienate and distance People of Color.
When we are constantly bombarded with images and stories of negativity about a specific ethnic group, our brain automatically generalizes this narrative. With every new image, our brain associates with the negative and bypasses the positive. Not sure this is true? Name five people or groups of color who have done something to benefit themselves or their community. Now name five people or groups of color who have done something negative. See how that works?
This is further reinforced when we create a White person or an outsider as the hero. Associative thinking automatically leads us to believe that if there is a hero, there must be a villain. White people become the heroes and Black and Brown people become the villains.
Though I would like to think that I no longer contribute to deficit-framing, I know that’s not true. I know I say and write things that still demonstrate my deficit-thinking, in spite of my intentions. Honestly, I worry about messing up. I worry that some of my friends and mentors who are people of color will notice it and call me out. But I also know that my desire to do better is more important than my fear of someone calling me out. And I know that while my ego might be bruised, the lessons I learn can only help me be more conscientious.
I like to live by the principle, “Where you focus is where you’ll end up.” My hope is if I focus on asset-framing instead of deficit-framing, my writing, my thinking, and my scope of how I see people will adjust accordingly.
Sunday, August 09, 2020
I began recognizing my White Superiority twenty-five years ago. I had started working at an “urban ministry.” As I sought out things for kids to do, people responded and started donating items--toys, books, computers. Donated books were easy to come by...and I was happy to accept.
Though I don’t remember what brought it to my attention, I started noticing that the characters in the books didn’t look like the kids who participated in our program. Donation after donation came in, all the same: White, White, and White.
Until then, it had never occurred to me how White books were. I had grown up a voracious reader and had never noticed that all of the books I read looked like me. The same went for movies and TV shows (with the exception of the Cosby Show).
I had never noticed that the music I listened to was mostly by White people. That the names of all of the buildings at my college were named after White people. That when I went to Washington D.C. in high school, I saw the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Thomas Jefferson Memorial...all White people. My history books, with a possible mention of Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, were dedicated to lauding White people’s accomplishments. Disney movies were all White princesses with White knights in shining armor sweeping them off of their feet. The dolls advertised on TV? All White.
Though our rural Missouri town was small (707 people to be exact), I did get some exposure to people of color. The maids and butlers in TV shows and movies were Black or Hispanic. The bad guys in children’s books and Disney movies always had dark skin. Welfare moms on the news were represented by single Black women and “deadbeat dads” were represented by Black men. We were taught to lock our doors in the “scary” parts of cities where homes were more rundown and people of color were walking the streets. In the 80s, “Rock 99,” the local radio station, proudly proclaimed, “We never play rap!!!”...which, we knew, was mainly created by Black people.
In my childhood, I fell in love with old black and white movies like White Christmas and I loved tap dancing movies with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. I was never exposed to African-American movies like Cabin in the Sky or astounding Black tap dancers like the Nicholas brothers. I had no idea they even existed until about 20 years ago when a Black friend intentionally showed those movies and more, knowing how many knew nothing about them.
White Superiority is about a system that is in place that tells me I am important. By default, people who are not represented are given the message that they are not as important. If they were, they would be represented more. White Superiority is not about how I feel; it’s about who I am by default.
The problem lies in who chooses...and has always chosen...the representation. Until we recognize that multiple voices and multiple perspectives need to and deserve to be represented, and until we fight to make sure that becomes our reality, our White Superiority will remain intact.
Wednesday, August 05, 2020
Caden was a 7th grade Black boy in the program I run. He was a sweet kid, one-on-one. With other kids, though, Caden’s behaviors were exasperating. I was constantly pulling him aside to talk to him.
Caden’s mom was awesome and supportive...toward him and us. She let us know that she was a single parent trying hard to make sure he had male role models and good influences. I felt like we had a good relationship.
A few months into his time in our program, Caden’s behavior and attitude seemed to get worse. Several girls were complaining about inappropriate (and very graphic) comments he made to them. I spoke to his mom. She was understanding and concerned.
When the behavior continued, I addressed Caden directly. I tried to help him understand that what he was saying to girls was inappropriate and could really get him in a lot of trouble. However, my conversation with him didn’t change anything. My co-worker, who was Black, agreed to talk to him. I thought she might be able to connect with him in a way that I couldn’t. She had a very direct talk with him as well, but the behavior continued.
In my mind, his appearance had started slipping as well. He had always dressed neatly, but now he seemed to be more unkempt. He was wearing old t-shirts and jeans and his hair looked bushy and uncombed. I wondered if he might be using or selling drugs.
Not sure how to help, but really wanting to, I decided to try to appeal to his teenager side and use lingo I knew teens used. I wanted him to know I saw him and was noticing what was happening. I expressed my genuine concern and then pushed a little harder... “Your hair isn’t combed and you look like a crackhead. Is there something I should know?”
I guess I thought this would help him open up because he would feel like whatever he was dealing with wasn’t getting past me, but it didn’t happen like that. Instead, a few days later his mother confronted me. Caden had told her what I had said because he was hurt and offended. At that point, I realized I had not only damaged my relationship with him, but with her as well. I would like to say that I apologized (which I did) and everything worked out (but it didn’t). My words had added insult to injury. Caden’s behavior didn’t change and his mom became distant.
There is no doubt Caden was struggling. His behaviors were definitely cause for concern. But as I look back, I realize my own behaviors were also cause for concern:
Caden was a teenage boy. Why didn’t I find a guy to address those behaviors?
Caden’s “uncombed” hair was actually a current style that many NBA players were wearing. What if I had paid attention or educated myself more on Black hair...especially considering that I had Black kids in my program?
I had a good relationship with his mom. What made me sidestep her and figure I could solve a problem she couldn’t?
If I was concerned about him using drugs, why didn’t I bring that to her attention?
What if I had asked his mom how she would like me to handle it instead of jumping in without her knowledge?
As Caden’s behaviors worsened, what were my underlying assumptions about his mom that caused me to keep her out of the loop?
I would like to say this was early on in my career, but it wasn’t. This incident happened after about 15 years of working in Black and Brown communities, of doing a lot of reading and research, of listening to and learning from people of color and attempting to do anti-racist work. What’s even more egregious to me is that until I spent time writing this, it didn’t occur to me that my offense was not only against Caden, but actually against his mom as well...and maybe more so.
White privilege makes me believe that I act/react because of someone else’s actions and overlook my own egregious behaviors. White privilege makes me believe that I care more than someone who may be closer to the situation. White privilege makes me feel like I am absolved of all responsibility because I am simply acting out of care/concern.
What I need to realize is that my actions in this situation were a series of microaggressions. What I also need to realize is that I have been conditioned to be this way. We all are. The conditioning is nothing I can help, but the way I pay attention to it and adjust my behaviors is.
Saturday, July 25, 2020
I can’t remember if I originally heard about Nat Turner in a history class or much later when I started doing research on my own. Either way, I remember thinking he was cold-blooded. During his revolt, he led about 70 slaves to kill about 60 White people. They went to homes and murdered men, women, and children...with an ax.
Nat Turner was eventually caught and executed. White militias went to great lengths to find him. They ended up killing 120 slaves and free Blacks in the process and, ultimately, executed 56 slaves for their role in the uprising. To me, those actions seemed justified. It seemed unnerving to have someone that brazen out there killing “random” people.
Juxtapose that with slave owners.
At the same time Nat Turner went on his killing spree, the slave owners he was killing were enslaving 2 million people. Because slaves were their “property,” slave owners took liberties to skin them alive, pour hot tar on them, “quarter” them, dismember them, whip them with chains, rape the women, sell them, work them innumerable hours without pay, separate their families, lynch them in the town square, and force them to watch their friends and neighbors be lynched so they wouldn’t want to step out of line. Slave owners even took their own children to watch the “festivities” and made postcards out of the lynchings.
However, unlike Turner, no slave owner was ever convicted for their crimes. Ever. No slave owner was even sought out. In fact, we lauded (and still laud) those people as heroes for the many other things they did in their life. What we deem as their “successes” allow us to excuse their insane treatment of people. What’s strange is that I have always been troubled by Nat Turner and the potential ripple effect of his actions, but never near as troubled by the slave owners.
Don’t get me wrong...I’ve always thought slavery was wrong, but when I read the history books, slavery comes across like a thing of the past: Millions of human beings were tortured and killed...the Emancipation Proclamation was issued...slaves were freed. Thank you, next.
Why did I feel so at ease about the fact that Nat Turner was executed for his actions and just as at ease that no slave owner (then, or even now) faces any repercussions for his?
The reality is, our history books focus on the detrimental impact Nat Turner had on White people and the potential destruction he could have caused had he not been stopped. William Styron’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Confessions of Nat Turner (which wasn’t written or dictated by Turner at all), presents Turner as having sexual fantasies about a White woman, which helped drive his killing spree. Styron’s book, along with his bias, influences and informs what is written in our history books.
Let’s think for a minute… What if, instead, throughout our whole lives we had read about Nat Turner’s amazing courage and bravery in opposing a system that was brutally torturing and killing millions of people? What if we had read about Turner risking his own life to make slave owners take notice so that they would possibly change their treatment of people? What if we had read how insane it was for people to own and brutalize people and how crazy it is that they have never been held accountable for their actions?
White privilege is embedded in the way we read history and what we read influences our thoughts and actions. White privilege leads me to take my history at face value and never question the angle from which it is presented. White privilege tells me that “Give me liberty or give me death!” is only a phrase that can be applied to some people...because if it applied to all of us, wouldn’t Nat Turner be the poster child?
Saturday, July 11, 2020
I ride my bike down to White Rock Lake quite often. I almost always go early in the mornings. Almost every time I ride, there is a Hispanic lady running down the path. She’s a tiny lady, petite and fit. She jogs slow and steady and makes it look easy; my efforts and attempts at jogging tell me it’s not.
As I rode by her the other day, my mind wandered and I pondered her life...How is she able to get out of the house to run every single morning?! I wonder what her husband and kids think of her leaving so early every day. I bet her husband has to leave for work super early...landscaping or construction...and I wonder if he expects her to cook breakfast every morning. What about kids? Who’s watching them while she’s gone? I wonder if her husband approves of her running each morning? Why do should he be “approving” her running anyway?? Maybe she’s a stay-at-home mom so she has time to run.
I had just stereotyped her entire life in less than 15 seconds as I rode by her. Where did I get all of those thoughts….and how did I get that from a lady running along a path to the lake??
I thought about the other women I see jogging. What stories do I create about them in my head?
I pictured a White woman jogging and began to ponder her life. I tried to think about the way I would construct her story. I came up with a much different picture:
That’s awesome that she gets up so early every day. I wonder how she manages to get up early every morning and run. I bet she has a demanding job and this is her stress relief. I wonder if she has kids. I bet she chose to hold off on having kids so she could focus on her job. That’s probably what allows her the freedom to run every morning. I bet her husband is encouraging.
Doing that forced me to think about how my brain automatically characterizes and caricatures people so fast and so subconsciously that it impacts the way I see them and what I expect of them before I even know them.
What I want to believe is that those thoughts are harmless, but I know they aren’t.
I want to believe if both of these women applied for a job with me, I would look at their resume and treat them equally, but I know my thoughts impact my decision-making...whether those thoughts are conscious or not.
Based on my thinking, I know I would assume the Hispanic lady probably had more responsibilities at home and a husband who expects more of her. I would assume that she wouldn’t have as much time for her job, even though I couldn’t legally ask her questions like that. Conversely, those split-second thoughts would probably lead me to also assume that the White woman is more likely to be a career woman who would dedicate herself to the job and would have the time to be devoted without distractions or financial struggles.
Metacognition. It’s a concept I learned in grad school. “Thinking about your thinking.” I learned it as something we educators need to help children do. When children gain awareness of their mental state, they achieve at higher levels.
However, it works for adults as well. Being aware of our thinking and understanding how we process information impacts how and what we learn. Being aware of our thoughts helps us adjust and regulate our behaviors.
I obviously still have these thoughts. My hope is that being aware of them allows me to confront my thoughts and actively reverse them. It’s kind of like walking backward on a people mover in the airport. It’s not enough just to stand still; I have to actively and aggressively walk backward so I don’t simply get carried forward to a destiny I don’t want to reach.
Sunday, July 05, 2020
“Sunday, June 20, 1943, a fight broke out between several hundred white and colored men on Belle Isle, a park extending into the Detroit River on the east side of town. ...one of the worst riots ever seen in the United States, an outbreak that would mark a turning point in American race relations. Until the 1943 uprising in Detroit, most riots in the United States, from the 1863 Draft Riots in New York to the riots in Tulsa in 1921, to Atlanta in 1906 to Washington, D.C., to Chicago, Springfield, and East St. Louis, Illinois, and Wilmington, North Carolina, among others, had been white attacks on colored people, often resulting in the burning of entire colored sections or towns. This was the first major riot in which blacks fought back as earnestly as the whites and in which black residents, having become established in the city but still relegated to run-down ghettos, began attacking and looting perceived symbols of exploitation, the stores and laundries run by whites and other outsiders that blacks felt were cheating them. It was only after Detroit that riots became known as primarily urban phenomena, ultimately centered on inner-city blacks venting their frustrations on the ghettos that confined them.”
~The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson (p. 155)
No commentary needed.
Saturday, July 04, 2020
I know flags are an attempt at being patriotic. They are a symbol that shows how much we care for our country. But, these days, they are also a statement. The more flags we display, the more we say to the world that we believe in our country...that America is the greatest...that we support the troops...and, these days, that we oppose Black Lives Matter.
I have no idea if the latter was the statement this yard was trying to make. However, when I saw all of the flags, my first reaction was that I would make my own statement. I would go and buy a bunch of Black Lives Matter flags and put them in my yard as well!
I pondered the idea the rest of the way around the lake and came to the conclusion that it wasn’t my best idea...but it also got me thinking about why my first reaction is feeling a need to make a “statement.”
My conclusion? “Statements” are fairly easy and involve little risk.
Here are a couple of ways I make “statements” that are risk-averse:
Protests. I have participated in quite a few protests. People know I participate in protests. I do this because I feel strongly about whatever I’m protesting. I’m glad I participate because what I’ve learned by walking in these protests is that the way protesters and police are portrayed in the media is slanted; protesters are often bad and police are usually good. From my own personal experience, this isn’t necessarily true. However, truth be told, I haven’t participated in protests that push my boundaries too far...like blocking highways. I truly respect and admire those who do and wish I had their courage; I just haven’t been able to do it myself.
Kneeling. While I completely agree with kneeling during the national anthem and completely support it, I do not kneel myself. I would gladly kneel with anyone who takes that stance, but the truth of the matter is that I have never had the courage to actually do it on my own. I may choose to stay seated or stand without my hand over my heart as my own way of silent protesting, but I have yet to kneel.
When we, as White people, make statements that go too far or stop too soon, do they hurt people of color more than they help?
I thought about the White people I have seen jumping on police cars, turning them over, and throwing bricks through windows in their attempt to ally with protesters to make their statements. I wonder if they think about how their looting gets blamed on the Black people who are peacefully protesting?
I thought about White people who jump in to topple statues to make a statement. I wonder if they use their contacts to bail themselves out and get the charges taken off their record...and, if they do, if the same was done for the Black people who toppled those same statues.
I thought about myself and how I am willing to take a knee as a statement amongst a crowd of protesters, but how I’m much more hesitant when I am by myself in a crowd of mostly White people.
Each of those are important ways to ally...but when we aren’t willing to take all of the heat, are we really being allies?
I’m really glad that so many people are participating and coming out to join the current movement. And while I’m sure the numbers themselves will help move it forward, I wondered what will happen when we start seeing a few wins, when the cameras are turned off, and when being a part of the movement involves sacrificing some of our own luxuries. Will the movement continue to be diverse or will White people settle back into being comfortable and content with the miniscule progress that was made? And then, maybe more importantly, will White people attribute that progress to how many of us got involved or will we give credit to the people of color who have been crying foul for centuries, long before any of us were willing to get involved?
As I continue working this out in my head, I ask myself questions like: What am I willing to give up? What am I willing to sacrifice? How much pain am I willing to endure? How long am I willing to endure discomfort for the equity that I claim is so important? Am I willing to lose my job over this? Am I willing to go to jail even though I have a 13-year old daughter?
As a White woman, I have the luxury of opting out if I feel like it involves too much risk or too much sacrifice. If I opt out, my life and opportunities are no less because of it. My privilege stays intact. Right now, it’s easy to ride the wave and go along with the crowd. The question I have to keep asking myself is what am I willing to do when everyone has gone home and no one else is looking? How will I continue to fight for justice?
Friday, July 03, 2020
I was returning a tub of supplies to a lady who is the director of a physics camp where the Scholars from my college readiness program were attending.
I drove up, handed them off to her and we started chatting. While chatting, another girl came up to return her supplies. In the era of COVID, I backed away and stood by my car. The teenager walked up and handed her tub to my friend. Her mom drove up and stopped beside my car. “Thank you for doing this camp!” she hollered out the window to me. I looked around, thinking she was talking to my friend, who was further up and was actually taking the tubs and talking with the girls. Nope. She was talking to me.
Of course she was. I’m White. My friend is Black. She assumed I was leading the camp. It happens all of the time. I get mistaken for the person in charge. All. Of. The. Time. By White people, by Black people; it doesn’t matter.
I have been at all Black events (like my husband’s cousin’s wedding) and someone asked me where they needed to go for the reception after the wedding. I have been at a national conference where someone wanted direction on where to place the food. I’ve tried to write it off as my personality or some vibe I give off. Maybe I just appear to know what I’m doing. But what I’ve come to notice is that it really doesn’t matter what venue I’m in or what I’m doing. It doesn’t even matter what I’m wearing (I rarely wear even a blazer to make me look professional). People automatically assume that I am in charge...because I’m White.
In my own passive-aggressive way, I have started looking at them like, “Why would I be in charge?” and shrug like, “Why would I know what you are supposed to be doing?” even though I know exactly what’s happening.
On the flip side of that, though, I do it, too. Last year I went to the grocery store early one morning when they were stocking the shelves. A man, probably in his late 40s, early 50s, was squatted down and had a black, windbreaker type jacket that seemed like something an early-morning worker on a cold day might wear (Don’t ask me why that’s what I assume early morning stockers wear...because I truly don’t know). I assumed he was stocking the shelves. “Excuse me...could you tell me where I could find…” I asked. He looked at me much like I look at people who ask me if I’m in charge and said, “I’m sorry, I don’t.” It took me a second to figure out why he wouldn’t know where something was in the store and then I realized...he didn’t work there! He was simply a Black man in the store getting groceries early in the morning, just like me. I was embarrassed, but there was nothing I could do. The damage had already been done.
I want to write it off as harmless...as a simple mistake anyone could have made. But it’s not a simple mistake. It reinforces a power structure where White people are expected to be in charge and people of color are expected to be subservient. And it happens all of the time. I’ve heard Black and Hispanic friends talk about it. No matter where they are, they are assumed to be a worker (even if they have a doctorate and are running a program...like my friend with the physics camp). No one has ever mistaken me for a worker. Ever. Always a boss.
Reinforcing the power structure impacts our psyche. When people assume I’m a boss, I start acting like a boss; when people assume I’m there to serve them, I either succumb to their expectations or become frustrated trying to convince them otherwise.
I know I have to actively work against my biases because my biases impact my actions. Before I say, “Excuse me,” and try to ask for help, I have had to intentionally start looking for a name tag or some kind of identification that shows me they work there...and even if I am convinced they work there, if I don’t see it, I don’t ask.
I know I never intend to do harm...and I think people of color often give me a pass (more often than I deserve). However, being dismissive by saying, “I didn’t mean anything by it,” feels like I’m using my own measuring stick to decide whether or not I’m hurting or harming someone else...and that doesn’t seem fair. If I’m determining whether someone is hurt by my actions, it seems like I should be using a measuring stick they create, not one I do.
Saturday, June 27, 2020
One of my first pivotal realizations happened when a 5th grade boy used to hang out in my apartment. He struggled to read three-letter words. I was baffled by that because there was nothing I knew that made him different than anyone else who came over to my apartment. I decided to go across the street to the school in my neighborhood and visit with the Assistant Principal about it. When I explained the situation and asked why that might be, she simply shrugged and very matter-of-factly stated, “Maybe he has reached his peak.”
Her comment shook me.
I volunteered at that same school for many years. At one point, the school was chosen to have the internet installed. Other schools had already received the internet by then, but I was happy it was finally happening in our school. Workers came in during the day and entire classrooms were displaced--like the first grade classroom who’s new surroundings became the main floor hallway for a week so the workers could install the internet in their classroom. It was noisy and distracting...but it seemed like the price we had to pay in order to get up to speed. I thought nothing of it until a friend of mine...a teacher from Allen, Texas (a suburb of Dallas), came to visit. She asked why it was so noisy and why kids were in the hallways. I explained that we were finally getting the internet. She looked puzzled. “That would *never* happen in Allen!” she explained. I was confused. It had never occurred to me that it could be done differently. In her school, the workers were required to work at night so as not to disrupt the kids’ learning. That made so much more sense! I wasn’t sure if it had never occurred to our school administrators or if they just didn’t want to spend the money on overtime. Either way, kids’ learning was disrupted for a good bit of that semester.
Again, at the same school, a friend of mine began subbing. She had a college degree, which is required of substitute teachers in Texas, but she had no teaching background or experience and her degree wasn’t in English, which was where she was placed. She was asked to teach fifth grade English Language Arts. Fifth grade ELA was really important back then because fifth grade was the year they had to take TAAS, the state standardized test, and had to pass Reading, Writing, and Math in order to move on. My friend subbed for several days in a row and then was asked if she would be a permanent sub for the rest of the year. She taught that class for the majority of the school year. These fifth graders’ entire future was determined by how much they could learn from a substitute with no prior experience.
One could say that was just my experience in one school, but I have been in more than one urban school in my career and things like these aren’t uncommon. I have more stories.
Where you live determines what kind of resources your school gets. Kids’ in urban communities have to work harder to learn.
I can already guess what some might angrily comment, “Not all teachers/principals are bad!” “We need to weed out the bad teachers!” “DISD isn’t like that anymore!” But while each of those statements may be true, there is a SYSTEM that has been created. Here are some facts:
- Teachers in urban schools still don’t believe that their kids are college material. It shows on a survey DISD does with the teachers in their schools every year. I’ve sat on SBDM (Site-Based Decision Making) Advisory boards of at least five schools and hear how teachers options for students. When teachers don’t believe kids are college material, they teach them differently. They prepare them differently. Less resources are put toward college and more are put toward technical education.
- The state dumbs down the requirements of what it takes to graduate from high school. The state of Texas used to require four credits in each core area: math, reading, science, and history. But graduation rates were low. It didn’t make them look good. So instead of trying to figure out how to improve their educational system, they created, “A new, more flexible graduation program” where students only have to have three credits in math, science, and history. They achieved their goal. High school graduation rates went up and the state looked better to the outsiders. However, it didn’t do the kids any favors. Competitive colleges want to see that kids have taken more core classes and more *rigorous* core classes. If a school isn’t pushing them to do that, kids take what is required. Kids and parents don’t find out until they’re trying to apply to college that they didn’t have a rigorous enough transcript to make them attractive to the competitive colleges. Even then, many of them don’t really know why the colleges aren’t accepting them. They did what was required so they assume it is some deficiency on their part. Instead, the system created a lack of opportunity for them.
- Many schools across the nation have started offering more technical education options and make them sound exciting by calling them “collegiate” or “early colleges” or even just flat-out calling them “technical institutes.” Money is invested into them, they look fancy, and marketing teams go to town. While some are truly AS (Associate of Science degrees...an “Associate’s”), others are AAS (Associate of Applied Science) degrees, which simply prepare them to go into a technical field after high school. The argument is that those kids will “make more than I do” when they get out of high school. While this may be true for some, the $50,000-$75,000 salary right out of high school is not what everyone gets. And the truth of the matter is that a college degree will give a student way more options as they navigate their future. If you want to argue with me, please help me understand why the competitive private schools like Greenhill, St. Mark’s, Ursuline, Hockaday, etc. aren’t promoting these pathways in their schools.
While I may have joined others in the past of lamenting that only about 6% of our kids in urban school districts classify as “prepared for college”...and while I might have blamed the other 94% for not doing enough...I have learned that the system is not designed for them to go to college and access the same opportunities that put them in a competitive college or workforce arena. I have learned that this is what makes it possible for us as White people, to continue to dominate the CEO, Board President, and top-level administration positions in our society.
Monday, June 22, 2020
The workshop was designed to get White and Black people in the same room and to be honest with each other. It required White people to LISTEN to what their Black friends and participants had to say. While I wanted to believe I was ok with that, I had been in circles where people of color talked about things that White people had done that were irritating and I was afraid this was the opportunity for the tables to turn. I felt like I was opening myself up to Black people pointing out all of the ways my actions had wronged them. The thought of that confrontation made me extremely nervous.
I think I would like to tell you (and reassure you) that the confrontation doesn’t really happen in situations like that. I would like to tell you that the weekend was very pleasant and that we had a kumbayah moment. But it wasn’t and we didn’t. The weekend was just as uncomfortable as I’d expected.
At the beginning of the weekend, like many others in the room, I explained that I wasn’t taught to treat people differently. My parents raised me to be kind to everyone. I talked about the time a Black missionary stayed with us and how my parents helped him financially as my proof that I was taught not to discriminate.
The leaders of the workshop accepted my comments, but continued to push all of us on our kind memories and challenged us to go deeper.
As we sat and thought in silence and then listened to one or two others figure out some things that may have affected them in the past, my memories started coming back as well...
My aunt gave me a “n----- baby” rag doll for my sixteenth birthday. It didn’t even occur to me how wrong that was until college, when I started to tell a Black friend about my doll and stopped myself mid-sentence, realizing how inappropriate that was.
On the way to church, I heard black people jokes (and can still remember one of the jokes).
When showing pictures to my aunt and uncle after a mission trip, my uncle asked, “What are you doing with all of those n-------?”
When visiting home after living in Dallas for a little while, an adult I was very close to matter-of-factly told me, “Janet, don’t you go marrying no black person.” (I think the “n” word was used, but I’m giving her the benefit of the doubt).
A family member had hollered out a bus window at some people calling them “wetbacks.”
I was shocked at what I ultimately remembered...as well as what I had repressed.
We did another activity where Black people were asked to sit silently while the White people came up with a list of their privileges. The White people at the table sat for five or ten very long minutes trying to figure out what privileges we had. We couldn’t think of a single one. A Black lady who I had considered a friend sat beside me and watched incredulously, desperately trying not to speak and shout out all of the privileges we weren’t saying. I thought sure I had ruined our friendship.
Our friendship wasn’t ruined, but I was forced to acknowledge some ugly truths. I was forced to acknowledge that racism exists, whether I want to believe it does or not. I was forced to acknowledge that although I don’t see my privileges, my privileges impact others...and the people they impact are extremely aware of them, whether I am or not.
I was like the Emperor in The Emperor’s New Clothes. Growing up, I was sold a story. As long as I was nice to people, I couldn’t be racist. If I worked hard for what I had, then others should too...and if they didn’t have, it was because they didn’t work hard enough. The story made sense to me and I believed it.
But at the retreat, people called me out. They pointed out ways that, like the Emperor, I was not seeing how the things I had been told about Black people and how my privileges impacted my own thinking. They were trying to reveal to me what people of color already knew, whether or not I chose to listen.
I didn’t like it. I didn’t want to believe that I could be racist. It felt better when other [usually White] people affirmed that I was doing good things. It felt even better when other *Black* people affirmed that I was doing good things.
I look at that weekend and am thankful that the people in that room were willing to call me out. It wasn’t comfortable and it wasn’t fun. And it wasn’t the last time it happened. I realized I had a choice. I could leave the weekend and proceed by hanging around people who affirmed me and made me feel good about my actions or I could pay attention and use that as a starting point to go find some anti-racist clothes.
I chose to find “clothes”...but that’s not to say that I haven’t been exposed since. The reality is, whether I acknowledge it or not, my racism exists and is embedded in me. I don’t think I’ve heard a relative say the “n” word in 20 years, but often it’s the more covert stuff that is more dangerous.
In order to do different and be different, it is my responsibility to listen and learn. There are documentaries, conversations, and books all available for my consumption (even more so now than there were then...though they weren't completely absent back in 1995 either...but it took a little more effort to find). Today, if we listen, there are even people (literally) shouting in the streets.
I have learned that the shame doesn’t lie in stating that I am a racist. People of color already know that’s a part of who we are. Instead, it’s what we do with what we know.
Unlike the Emperor, I have decided that I’m not comfortable continuing to walk through the crowd naked. So when someone tells me I’m racist or have done something offensive, I believe them. (I don't like it...and it hurts...but I believe them). I then go back to the drawing board to find some new clothes...and try to have enough humility to thank them for letting me know.
Thursday, June 18, 2020
I was working for a ministry at the time and a reporter caught wind of what I was doing. She thought it would be a good story. Fresh out of college and new to the big city, my ego swelled. The Dallas Morning News wants to do a story on me??? Of course I wasn’t going to turn that down!
The lady writing the article came to my apartment to visit a couple of times. Per usual, about twenty kids were gathered. She talked to them and had a photographer take pictures for the article.
When the article came out that Saturday, I eagerly went to the closest gas station to get a copy. It was on the FRONT PAGE of the religion section! Not only that, there was a small picture at the top of the VERY FRONT PAGE of the newspaper that beckoned people to look inside and read the article! I had made it big!
My neighbors weren't near as happy and told me so. I was crushed. I didn't understand why they were so upset. Looking back, here's what I learned:
- I hadn't bothered to ask permission from any of the parents to see if they wanted their children pictured in this article. Neither had the reporter or photographer. (What made any of us think it was ok to take pictures of children and splash them across the Dallas Morning News without talking to their parents?? Would we have done that in any other neighborhood? I'm pretty sure we would not have.)
- I wasn't the only person who was working to entertain and improve the quality of life for the children in that apartment complex. The apartment manager, who also lived in the apartments (and had for years), was often having little parties to keep the kids entertained and off the streets. She often threw the parties with her own money, yet no one had offered to do a story on her efforts...but, she was Black and was from that community so, for some reason, I guess her efforts didn't count.
- The article focused on how run-down the apartments were, as if the apartments being run down were the fault of the people who lived there instead of the fault of the owner who refused to take care of his/her property...as if the people in the apartments created the rodent problem in the apartments instead of the owners refusing to provide enough pest control to get it under control...as if I were the great one for subjecting myself to those conditions.
As I left my apartment that evening, one of my neighbors said, "That article was written by a white lady!" I shot back, "You don't know that!" We argued for a bit and I kept trying to convince them that they didn't know what they were talking about. But, of course, they did.
It wasn't that the reporter got the facts wrong. The facts were correct, but the slant was there. There's a way that white people write and talk about communities of color that I didn't understand then. We focus on the negative. We present the bad parts as if they're the fault of the people in the community instead of recognizing and acknowledging the systemic injustice that has occurred: the fact that people of color were forced to live in slipshod housing because they were redlined out of other neighborhoods...the fact that people of color were not allowed to even enroll in colleges until not that long ago...the fact that having less education has often meant lower-paying jobs, which means that being able to afford better housing isn't even an option.
We laud other white people as saviors and completely overlook the efforts of the people who live in those neighborhoods. Perhaps their efforts aren't to the level of what a white person can do. Again, that also has to do with systemic injustice...because the people in the community trying to do something typically aren't granted access to as many resources or gifted with a friend of a friend who offers grants and funding to pass that money along to them to improve their own community.
That evening, instead of listening to my Black neighbors and trying to understand what they saw and heard in the article, I, a White woman, worked hard to convince them that their reality was wrong.
Who was I?? ... Who am I?? ...to convince another person that I know their reality better than they do?
But that is white privilege.
Tuesday, June 16, 2020
During our evening free time, a group of about six of us (all white, a mixture of guys and girls) left the hotel to walk around the downtown area and experience the city. As we walked, we began seeing bars on the windows. Not long after, a police car pulled up beside us and a white officer urgently told us, “You need to get out of here now! I’m serious as a heart attack!” Though we wanted to act bold, we knew he was protecting us and we quickly turned and walked in the other direction to get back to the hotel (and safety) as quickly as possible.
Fast forward about 10 years. As an adult, I moved into a neighborhood near Fair Park in Dallas, a neighborhood known for being predominantly African-American. A new Bank of America had gone up in Fair Park so I was excited to have one near me. (Financial institutions are unusual in African-American neighborhoods, but that's for another post).
I needed to get some cash so I had driven over to the bank one night around 9:00. I waited in the car until the African-American couple finished with their transaction and were walking off. I then walked up to the ATM. While standing there, a white police officer got out of his car and walked up to me. I was a little uncomfortable with him in my space, but he was an officer so I acknowledged him.
He asked me if I knew where I was. "Yes," I replied. He repeated his question with more insistence. "Yes," I replied. "I live here." Looking as if he questioned my ability to know where I was, he continued, "This is a bad part of town and you don't need to be here," he explained. "Where do you live?" he questioned. A little taken aback because I didn't feel like a stranger needed to know where I lived, I told him the street I lived on. He kinda shrugged (because my street truly was on the other side of Fair Park), cautioned me, and walked back to his police car.
From both of those incidents, I realized that the officers were being protective of me. That's what police do.
But what I realized after the second incident is that the officer approached ME. He didn't approach the African-American couple that was at the ATM before me. He didn't approach the people going in and out of the grocery store a few yards away. He approached ME. He wanted to make sure *I* was safe.
What I learned as a child and teenager is that the police are my friend, that they have my best interest at heart, and that I can trust them. What I have learned as an adult is that police protect people *from* the people in communities like the one where I now live, but are not necessarily there to protect the people who live *in* communities like mine.
Police protect the people they feel deserve to be protected. I am a "deserving" one. Apparently, the other people walking around the evening I went to the bank were not as deserving.
What is the difference? The only thing I could see is skin color. I'm guessing that's what the police officer saw as well.
Monday, June 15, 2020
I knew I needed to be creative and make my campaign something that stood out if I wanted to win. My mom (a stay-at-home-mom) jumped in to help. Before the internet was a thing, she somehow figured out how to make fortune cookies so we could embed a "fortune" in them: “Janet Morrison for Treasurer."
I got to school before sunrise that morning and boarded the bus to go to West Plains, Missouri (40 miles away). It wasn't until we had gotten off the bus in West Plains that I realized I had left the fortune cookies at the house! Panicked, I frantically called my parents and BEGGED them to bring them to me (bailing me out was not something my parents usually did). About 45 minutes later, my dad showed up, fortune cookies in hand.
Because my dad was self-employed, he didn't have to ask a boss to release him, nor was he an hourly wage worker who might have lost his job or, at the very least, lost a day's pay over his child's forgetfulness. He had a car, so it wasn't a question of figuring out how he would get there. We always had money for gas so the 80-mile round trip, though an inconvenience, wasn't an impossibility. All to bring me fortune cookies. All so I could win a political campaign.
It wasn't a landslide, but I did win. And in my mind, that meant I was the better candidate.
The reality was that I had advantages. I had parents who had the luxury to make all of that happen. Had I not had all of those luxuries and that domino effect of a mom who didn't have to work outside of the home, a dad who could leave his job, a family who didn't worry about hourly wages, a gas tank that was always full, the end result would have probably been different.
The other person may have only lost because they used the resources they had...and maybe those resources were simple markers and construction paper that weren't as flashy as homemade fortune cookies. Or maybe they had a working parent who couldn't take off to drive 80 miles to deliver their child's supplies that they forgot...not because they didn't want to, but because they didn't have a car, couldn't afford to take a day off without pay, or might have lost their job had they tried.
"Privilege" is our bootstraps that we like to think are due to our own hard work. "Privilege" is what helps us get ahead of our opponents and makes us think we earned it.
Sunday, June 14, 2020
Every morning, the big tanker trucks would leave to go into the fields. There was a gravel drive beside our house where they all had to go out. I don’t remember what I was doing...but I do remember one morning, walking across that gravel drive as a tanker truck was leaving for the day. I could have stepped up my speed to get out of the way, but I didn’t. I remember thinking, “He’s not going to run over me; my dad owns this place!” and continued sauntering across the gravel road. As I expected, the tanker truck slowed to let me pass.
Though no one told me I had power, I knew I did. At seven or eight years old, I knew I could stop a tanker truck. At seven or eight, I knew I would have no consequence for being defiant. Even though my parents would have scolded me had they been witnessing it, I inherently knew my dad’s employee was not going to expose me and, therefore, I would not get in trouble. My dad has power, ergo I have power.
And that’s how it starts.