White Girl Race Talk

I got on the train and noticed only shades of brown from milky coffee to dark earth. No one seemed to notice me and no one made space for me. I had no expectations of either. It was my first day of work in this city and the train would take me from Brooklyn to Midtown Manhattan. On the way home that same afternoon, I got on the train and noticed a lot more creamy beige to soft pink faces. We got to my stop, the first stop in Brooklyn, and it seemed all the fair-skinned folks exited the train. That’s when I realized, I’d moved into Honkey Heights. I thought sarcastically, “Well, mom would be glad. I found the one neighborhood in Brooklyn that is “White” enough to be safe.”

I would walk down the streets of New York and see so much diversity. It was a thing I’d never really known growing up in Texas, then being in Colorado and stationed with the Navy in Washington. I’d worked with many people from the Philippines, as well as African-Americans and Latinos. I’d always gravitated toward people from other cultures and had dated many guys of varying skin tones – often not bothering to ask about heritage because it would come up in due time if there was reason. And let’s face it, in this world, sooner or later there would always be a reason. I had experienced huge fights with my mother over dating “Black” guys, but that didn’t push me one way or the other because I gravitated to the people I liked – smile, smarts, eyes. Who made me think and laugh, that was who I wanted, regardless of skin tone.

My grandmother grew up in Arkansas in the 20s. She was unapologetically racist and I called her on it, but of course it was a quiet “house racism.” She may have been racist, but she sure would be friendly face-to-face. Afterall, “Times have changed.” But through all that I’d never personally felt uneasiness or openly, public race negativity until I moved to Brooklyn.

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Once in Brooklyn, I heard race. Shopkeepers and customers switched languages and dialects between each other with what felt like a magical ease until I learned more. What they were doing, with the dialect switch was code switching. Code switching is a tool to flow between the culture you are part of versus the cultures where you feel like a visitor and so switch into the guest dialect- totally an oversimplification and just writing about it make me uncomfortable. I can’t imagine doing it with the smoothness of opening a door. Customers made barely under-the-breath comments about the immigrant shopkeepers trying to gyp or jew them out of change. High school kids hooted and hollered on trains, laughing about their day, or commiserating about having been slighted.

Kids threw around color descriptors (which while not negative, I’d never heard in public).

“You know that new girl?”

“The coffee baby?”

“No, fool, the darker girl with the tight baby dreads.”

A couple years in, we rented an apartment further into Brooklyn from a Hasidic family. The wife refused to shake my husband’s hand when we signed the lease and the husband would not take my rent check from my hand. I had to place the check on a counter and he would pick it up. They were not culturally permitted to touch Gentiles or opposite sex. 

I spoke to a shop owner who wanted me to be sure to know we had moved into a Puerto Rican neighborhood, not Dominican. (Which is also very different than a Dominica area, do not be mistaken.)

Cops would get on trains and I would see darker skin folks avert their eyes. Blue intimidation had arrived.

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This blatant race talk and behavior of cultural division shocked me. I thought I’d moved into one the most diverse places in the country and with that I somehow expected there would be openness and acceptance. Was I ever naïve.

The thing about it all however, was I never knew how to Talk About It. I was the white girl from Texas, what did I know or what could I possibly contribute/change and more immediately was it any of my business? I was just one, insignificant, uneducated voice. Now, ten years later, as a mother, having grown through a divorce, our return to Texas, and a country stirs with ongoing racial tensions, I have that question even more.

As a white privileged (need we even put those two words together?) woman, I am intimidated to talk about race. I’m afraid I’ll insult someone or be misunderstood. I fear my good intention will lead to no progress so trying seems almost pointless. And before you tell me my fear is nothing compared to the fear of living Black in America, let me say I know I am being a fool to think all the things I think. I recently read an article that pointed out white people are “deathly afraid, even if unconsciously, of falling off the pedestal.”

The balanced and sane amongst us so badly want to be in the moral and ethical side of race politics that we are frozen in a place of inertia that appears apathetic. I want to fall off that pedestal, but the problems of race in this country are So Big that I don’t even know where to start a conversation on race. Sure, I talk amongst my white friends and we wring our hands and say things need to change, but then we go back to sharing videos of cats smacking dogs.

And that might be just the thing we do not get as a country. As a social majority, white folks are like a bunch of damn cats running around acting like they are sharing space, but in truth getting everything they please and leaving the leftovers for the systematically disadvantaged. And minority groups are those poor, beaten dogs who get fussed at if they ever bark at the cat or growl when the cat, once again, steals their bed. They are told to be happy with having a new bed to share because they no longer have to sleep outside, but the problem is the bed isn’t really theirs and can get taken at any time for no good reason. And our police and laws keep the imbalance in motion. 

White folks are running around, perching high on our pedestals, and burying our shit so it don’t stink. When anyone tells us we should clean out the litter we give them a self-important swipe:

“Oh, but that’s not ME. I accept everyone.”

“I would speak out if I saw a cop out of line.”

“But the Civil Rights movement brought equality.”

“But I do everything I can.”

The reality is I might accept everyone, but what do I do to embrace those I do not know, those whose struggles I’ll never be able to truly sympathize with? How do I learn?

The reality is if I ever saw a cop behaving out of line, I’d likely be terrified to intervene. They carry guns and have no remorse over using them.

The reality is the Civil Rights movement started the change, but government/finance/private business continues to put barriers in front of equality.

The reality is I do not do everything I can because I am comfortable, scared, and embarrassed. I was born into that golden ticket of white privilege and I don’t know how to use it to leverage for others. What can I do? I suppose, to start, I will work to find that edge of the pedestal and dive off. I will make an effort to be part of hard conversations. I will not wait for those conversations to begin, but I will work to read and learn more history and start those conversations. When I see something that is unequal, whether local or distant, I will speak up and ask why. I don’t know if falling off the pedestal and making a fool of myself through my ignorance will help, but it high time I try harder because staying on the pedestal will definitely not create change.

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I lived in Brooklyn 2005-2008. This post was originally written in 2015, but feels too fresh. I continue to do work, learn, react, and listen better.

Bully Pulpit

A bully has taken the game. A game of power where bullies excel, all the others sit dumbfounded because this bully that has been placed in power is louder and brasher than all the other bullies. The others look on and can’t imagine how this bully can be so impossible. They had the game rigged with keeping up appearances and subtle nods to equality that would keep their constituents just satisfied enough to look past the underlying manipulation, but their bluff was called and an “honest man of the people” was put in the President’s chair. Finally, the people, though not the majority, pulled the mask off Washington and showed them what we already knew was true. Though no one dared speak it. The game is not only rigged, most are only there to serve themselves. And no one really wants to change the rules. In fact, what are the rules to those who can make and take them in a day? So now the junior bullies look on in disbelief, but won’t take impactful action to throw the President out because they may show or may themselves be revealed as the manipulators and self-serving grabbers they are.

Oh, but there are a handful of good ones. Presently, the number of good folks in Washington may be the highest number in history. Those voices (most female) are making quite the fuss- turning over tables and announcing the king has no clothes- but as they’ve always been, they are shushed back and asked to be respectful. After all, no one wants to truly upset the status quo (read majority White patriarchy). Besides, there are so many checks and balances, how much harm could this imbecile of a President possibly do?

hours

by the keys they are moments

the world is an updosie place

with people calling it “new normal”

but far from normal is any of it

a system built on broken backs

breaking down

an unseen virus collecting souls

of those who can’t play well with others

and collateral angels fallen

for the hubris of others

days lost to the gains of time

doors allowed to slowly open

barged down and barred again

as the new new life preys

upon our lives

we will adapt and overcome

or we will hold on to the past

and decay in the arms of change

George Floyd

George Floyd :: Minneapolis :: May 25

From the Investigative Update on Critical Incident on the Minneapolis Police website.

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Two officers arrived and located the suspect, a male believed to be in his 40s, in his car.  He was ordered to step from his car.  After he got out, he physically resisted officers.  Officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and noted he appeared to be suffering medical distress.  Officers called for an ambulance.  He was transported to Hennepin County Medical Center by ambulance where he died a short time later.

At no time were weapons of any type used by anyone involved in this incident.
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That entry makes George Floyd’s death sound like a heart attack.

A knee with the weight of a grown man behind it will cause medical distress. George Floyd was handcuffed and pinned to the ground by Derek Chauvin who kneeled on his neck for seven minutes.

No weapons were used, only a well placed knee across the neck ended the life of another Black Person in America. Three murders in four months and these are the ones that have gone viral and we have been made aware of through social media and news outlets. School shootings are down because there are no children in school, but Black murder continues because Black people die by living in America.

Breonna Taylor :: Louisville :: March 13
Ahmaud Arbrey :: Brunswick :: February 23

I cannot believe I am writing about another Black death by police. Yet, I can because this is America and the lives of Black men people are not valued the same as the lives of other people in this country.

Scientists are searching for a vaccine for COVID, but what is the vaccine for intrinsic racism and murder of Black lives? Will we ever live in a world that truly values life?

generations at war

In high school, to protest the first Gulf War, I sat vigil on a median while it snowed. In civilian clothes, for fear of retribution, soldiers from Ft. Carson joined our silent vigil. Thirty years later, American forces never truly left and oil continues to be traded for blood. Thirty years later, the guise of goodwill and nation building lifted, the profiteers and pilfering politicians have learned nothing but to send another generation into battle- saving their own children to inherit their place in political office.

America’s leaders, what is right about any of this? Being there does nothing to make us a better country.

At 19, because I protested so loudly before I could even vote, I joined the military to serve our country. From an first generation American grandfather who was dropped behind enemy lines in WW2, I believed in an America that protected the weak and welcomed the stranger. I had yet to learn the history behind the glorified ticker-tape of the victor. I joined the Navy to serve a nation based on freedoms for all. I served, to be able to always defend those who embraced our rights through protest at any cost.

I realize now, how delusional that was because the wars we fight now and forever in our history have had nothing to do with defending our rights. The wars were and are about the money and those who hold the power of industry and militarization. Even the idea that we must embrace our freedoms at any costs is ludicrous. Those freedoms- those inalienable rights- should not have to be fought for in repeated fashion. Furthermore, those inalienable rights most certainly have nothing to do with those who live on the land of the Middle East or what is under the crust of its land.

I once thought I would want my daughter to share my journey, to serve the country I believed in enough to go to battle for, but that is no longer my desire. I will never encourage my daughter to join the ranks of our military. Instead my daughter will know of my journey of protest. Though it seems a fruitless battle in opposing further invasion and murder for oil. We will join arms and let our faces be seen and voices be heard. It may be of little use, but it puts us on the right side of history.

The unfortunate continued battles for our freedoms are not won on battlefields. They are fought in the war-room living rooms of America, planned out by the most common, but bravest of citizens. Freedoms are won in our streets, at counters, in front of clinics, in schools each day. Freedoms are won by artists and writers who move people to action. Freedoms are won in jail cells and court rooms. Bullets and wars are made to create diversion and division- to sustain the status quo. Freedoms are held by the fearless. Those who hold their ground in the face of others who would rather draw blood for perceived differences and the mighty dollar than to sit and talk about our commonalities.

My daughter may go to war, but it will be for those who do not have a voice. The immigrant, the child, a woman’s reproductive rights, our environment and natural resources. Our fights are many and growing each day, but they are not in the desert lands of the Middle East. Our fights are in the streets, homes, and classrooms of America. Our fight is to recognize we are no better than the next person. Our fight is to regain the humanity that is quickly being lost.

Society’s Turtles

a new walking bridge flanks the wooden train bridge, that

nature is diligently dismantling.

urban decay cradled this space,

not so long ago inhabited only by feral dogs and humans

now a busy path from paycheck lofts to office cubes

connects a fabricated neighborhood of flag ship groceries and hair salons

you won’t find a bodega or $2 dry cleaner in the mixed urban use zone.

it came up with plans to be shiny and young

— a place to begin before you marry at 28 and move to a shady place with solid schools and a country club membership.

lives anchored above, dropping shade onto new concrete and old shadows

from a very different light.

amidst it all people pass through with their world’s belongings strapped to their back

turtles of humanity’s kind, rarely will they be picked up and guided safely to a place where they will be protected. and like turtles perhaps they don’t seek others help

human turtles are left to make their way, instead of depending on a pond ruled by a set of social norms and expectations, comfort that can be snatched by the whim of corporate or social court, they fold into their carried home and go about creating their pond at the edges of the rules.

silent witness

Those who saw Eric Garner put his hands up and say, “I’m minding my business, officer, I’m minding my business. Please just leave me alone. I told you the last time, please just leave me alone.”

What of those who saw this happen? Did their guts squirm? Did their consciences push, “Say something. Break the tension. Speak up!”
Did a fear of blue anger being turned upon them bring them to silence?
They did what they thought they could do: pull out a cell phone and film the scene play out.

When Justin Damico approached, Ramsey Orta recorded the moment.
Did he think it would stop at a conversation?

When the other cops swarmed in.
Ramsey kept filming.
Silent.

When Eric pulled his hands away from Daniel Pantaleo’s handcuffs.
When Daniel wrapped his arms around Eric’s neck.
Ramsey kept filming. Everyone stood by.

Did they imagine it would stop when handcuffs were attached?
Silent.

When Daniel and Eric hit the glass window.
When Eric was lowered to the ground.
He kept filming.

Were they all too shocked to act? Or was this abuse so common all they could do anymore was stand silent, bearing witness.

When Eric gasped, “I can’t breathe,” it was locked into Ramsey’s phone.
“I can’t breathe.”
“I can’t breathe.”

When Kizzy Adoni didn’t intercede to stop her officer from keeping an illegal chokehold on Eric for 15 seconds … while he would gasp, “I can’t breathe,” eight more times.

Again he gasped, “I can’t breathe,” and no one stepped forward.

Six more times, he would gasp, “I can’t breathe.”
Five times, he would gasp, “I can’t breathe.”
Four, he would gasp, “I can’t breathe.”
Three, he would gasp, “I can’t breathe.”
Two, he gasped, “I can’t breathe.”
One gasp, “I can’t breathe.”

While he laid on the ground, unresponsive for seven minutes, no one took action. Death creeped in and they kept filming, bearing witness.

Silent.

So many were involved, so many watched the crime unfold. An unarmed man was confronted and attacked. So many passed by and remained silent.

After he was dead and no one was held accountable, people took to the streets. Movements grew, but police violence continues. Those responsible were not held accountable. And those who silently witnessed were outraged.

Witnesses continue to film, but who steps in? How many silently witness as anger and hatred spread death. How many more will die? Their deaths posted for our consumption, while we wring our hands and watch the viral videos on YouTube.

Our silence is deadly. If we do not take action, we hold the world back.