activism, Children, community, race, Take Action

Whose Life Matters: Privilege, Policing, and the Distribution of Trauma

cop holding baby 2

One block from home after a Black Lives Matter event, blue strobes flash in the rearview mirror. The irony does not escape me. I bend to pull my wallet from under the seat. Beyond irony, a stunning privilege. I feel around the floor. My hand closes around leather. I pry it out and set it on the passenger seat.

Continue reading “Whose Life Matters: Privilege, Policing, and the Distribution of Trauma”

Learning, Poetry, race

Privilege Play

Cartier-Bresson Boys Guns

My son in the dark
with a Nerf gun rebuilt
using power drill
and silver paint
darts between houses
and flattens into shadow
while I walk the dog
twenty paces behind
performing solitude
first
and then alarm
as he springs
from between parked cars
and levels his sights
certain
all of us will make it
home
alive


Image: Henri Cartier-Bresson (1935)

activism, Change, community

Beyond Belief: #UUWhiteSupremacyTeachIn

BlackLivesUU

We believe that hundreds of UU churches signaling to their own members and to the larger community that “our faith takes racism seriously, especially within our own walls” will push our faith toward the beloved community we all seek.

Black Lives of UU

On Sunday, my Unitarian Universalist congregation participated in the first #UUWhiteSupremacyTeachIn. This began as a call to action by Black Lives of UU for congregations around the country the dedicate one day of services to teaching about racism and white supremacy. Our worship team took the charge seriously, shifting not only the content of the service but the very structure of how we gather together. A new seating arrangement brought everyone face-to-face. Without the familiar printed order of service to guide us, we watched videos of anti-racist leaders like Tricia Rose, and worshiped in the company of art and music by people of color. Most notably, our pastors made unflinching use of the term “white supremacy.”

Continue reading “Beyond Belief: #UUWhiteSupremacyTeachIn”

activism, Change, Purpose

White Privilege at a Racial Justice Action

SURJ note

In February 2015, Natasha McKenna, a 37-year old neighbor and mother, called 911.  The help she expected was not what showed up.  Instead, she was herself arrested on an outstanding warrant.  In custody, she suffered a mental health crisis.  She was restrained while naked and put into leg shackles and handcuffs.  Six Fairfax County police officers in hazmat suits put a bag over her face and tazed her four times.  She stopped breathing.  Natasha McKenna died a few days later.  The deputies responsible for her death faced no charges and continue to work in law enforcement.

Today, SURJ Northern Virginia gathered at the Fairfax County courthouse in front of the detention center where Natasha McKenna was held and brutalized.  The protest found its way to Route 123, a narrow and busy corridor through downtown Fairfax.  At 9:00am right during rush hour, we stepped out into the street and stopped traffic.  Coverage of the story is here and here and here.

Continue reading “White Privilege at a Racial Justice Action”

community, Determination

Show Up

People are getting live-killed on Facebook, y’all.  If we aren’t showing up now, then when?  It’s time to get out there.


SURJ Organizer, 7/10/2016

Over 70 folks came out for the SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice) meeting.  They had to bring in more chairs.  After last week in America, despair and outrage have combusted into something that refuses to stay contained.

The meeting was two hours of focused, efficient movement.  We engaged in small group discussions about concrete things we’ve seen white allies do to disrupt racism and cultivate justice in our communities.  We heard from the organizers about activities that have gained traction in the first year of this young organization’s life: immigration reform, police accountability, renaming buildings that celebrate the Confederacy, and coordinating a region-wide canvas in majority white neighborhoods in the run-up to the presidential election.  We then split into breakout sessions for a deep dive into each of these areas.  Finally, we learned about the next public action planned for this coming week.

Around the country, ally organizations are stepping up to make a stand for Black Lives.  The focus is on police departments, sheriff’s offices, and Fraternal Orders of Police.  Affiliated organizations led by People of Color have put out the call to SURJ and other white allies to take bolder action on issues of police brutality.  Facing our white privilege means more than talking about it on social media.

It means showing up.

It’s time to take our horror at what happened to Philando Castile and turn it into a movement.

And what happened to Alton Sterling.

And Natasha McKenna.

And Freddie Gray.  And Trayvon Martin.  And Michael Brown.  And Eric Garner.  And Tanisha Anderson.  And Tamir Rice.  And Zamiel Crawford.  And Dominick Wise.  And Frank Shephard.  And Vincent Valenzuela III.  And the 5 Dallas police officers, some of whom had stood with the protestors before the shooting began.

And so many more, each a story.  Each a neighbor.  Each a life blown short by a force whose call to protect has gone haywire.

The organizers asked who would be there for the coming action.

At a public protest, my skin and income lower the risk of abuse to negligible.  This fact does not make me proud.

It makes me raise my hand.

It’s time to show up.


 

Change, Purpose

The Myth of Colorblindness

We tell ourselves the story that we have triumphed over the (official) racism of the land. We say, “It was awful then.” Then we twist ourselves into logical contortions to explain or ignore mass incarceration of Black men, the economic marginalization of communities of color, and a whole continuum of institutional racism.

In the post-civil rights era, newer forms of racism present formidable obstacles because they recruit and rely on our belief system about racial equality and egalitarianism. They hold that we exist in a meritocracy, and any consideration of race in policy or access is itself indicted as racism.  The new forms are more insidious than the public expressions of white supremacy so easily identified and vilified as racist.  Our shared narrative is a public expression of racial equality.  Continue reading “The Myth of Colorblindness”

Purpose, Reading

King and Queen

Mahalia

The trick is to tell him the dog can stay in bed with us for the first book. We settle down in the nest of pillows and blankets. Poor, long-suffering Noodle is crammed into my boy’s insistent grasp.

We begin with Mahalia Jackson: Walking with Kings and Queens. The illustrations are rich and the story simple enough.

Simple does not always mean comfortable.

Bug listens and the dog drifts into a warm stupor.

Ms. Jackson left school in 4th grade to take care of her baby cousins and only returned when she was 16 and living in Chicago. She soon had to quit yet again to work as a maid and a laundress. Through all this, she sang in churches, she lifted congregants to their feet. People joined because her voice called to them.

When we finish the book, Bug asks, “What is gospel?”

I give him the barest definition then search up a video on my phone. There she is, young and vivid, her voice weaving in and over a gathered crowd’s soulful noise. She vibrates, filled with light and bright as the sun. The hall is an unnamed church. It is crammed with people, white and black both. At the lectern on the other side of the room, Martin Luther King, Jr. waits with a patient smile.

Bug knows that face, of course. From his first years, King’s image and his words have           stood with those of the founding fathers and the flag to which he pledges allegiance.  They are basic building blocks in the canon of his education. For him, “I Have Dream” is a prayer both fixed and abstract existing in another time and context. King is prophet from first introduction, forever commanding an elevated position above a faceless crowd.

Now, on my tiny screen, the man, real and revenant, young again. The camera pans from Ms. Jackson’s crackling energy to Dr. King’s measured calm. Heads bop in and out of the frame. My son is transfixed. On the jumpy, amateur film, King steadies himself and seems almost uncertain where to fix his gaze. The force drawing people into jubilation is not him but this woman who opens her voice, this surge of power in song.

Bug is up on his elbows, staring with wide eyes into the screen. “Who is that?” he asks.

“That’s her,” I say. “That’s Mahalia Jackson. This is during the civil rights movement.”

Usually when we do what Bug calls “learny things,” he is more than willing to roll his eyes and tell me how boring it all is. He endures until we can get back to the fun stuff, to Rick Riordan and teen demigods doing battle with gorgons.

For this moment, Poseidon waits. Bug watches, immersed. The camera turns to the room as the song quiets. Young folks and old, black folks and white, faces alive on the long-ago film. They are crammed in together, expectant, ready to step through the door one voice has throw open.


Image from Reed Magazine

 

 

Parenting, Purpose, Reading

Tug of War

Talk About Race

The mother with a son Bug’s age tells me she wants to raise her child colorblind. She is white, her boy Latino. She says our children will be able to grow up without racism. She says in her family, they choose not to point out differences.

My voice stumbles before overreaching. We’re both on our way somewhere. In this fleeting conversation, I say too much and not enough.

It’s a mistake for well-meaning white liberal parents to avoid conversations about race and bias. Racism is happening. It is grown right into the structures that govern our lives. What good do we do if we fail to give our kids a vocabulary for understanding it, for talking about it? For changing it?  Continue reading “Tug of War”