I don’t write a lot about race for several reasons, but when I do, it’s heartfelt. This is one of those times.
Note to Dear Reader: if you are not familiar with my writing on Medium.com you will not know my work on the topics of diversity and race. I am outspoken in those areas because of my upbringing and my professional career in corporate supplier diversity. That has morphed into an interest in expanding diversity in the outdoor spaces. This is an essential part of who I am and this may help explain why.
When George Floyd was murdered, someone I had just befriended on Medium was thrown, as were all Black folks, into a tailspin. I stuck it out with her on the phone, and our connection was created on the crucible of that event. I found a number of damned fine writers, some on Illumination and others with their own pubs or on Zora. I attended, read, commented, wrote about and published articles touching on Black Lives Matter and race to the extent that some of my readers shit-canned me because of my stance.
Kindly, good riddance. I don’t hide who I am to keep eyeballs.
First, a little background on why the topic is deeply personal.
I had/have a lot to say, because I am Southern-born to White civil rights activist parents who believed that Martin Luther King should have run for president. I had a second mother, not that my father remarried. This woman was for all intents and purposes more a mother to me than my own, and her kids my siblings. She and I worked side-by-side on my father’s farm.
Not a nanny. Dad’s employee, just as I was. I spent more time with Christine and her four kids than my own family. Christine was my full-on education in so many things which today form the basis and backbone of what I understand about color, race, religion and much more.
This is Christine:
Christine passed in 1996, a loss I feel to this day. Her oldest daughter Jackie, my closest Black sibling, died a few years later of diabetes. I feel that loss terribly as well. My parents didn’t just open the door to my engagement with Black folks but actively encouraged it as well. That ensured my full involvement with Black families growing up, and also ensured that Black Excellence was no surprise to me, and color in the community is the normal.
I am physically uncomfortable if I can’t see diversity.
That said, I still grew up in the Deep South during desegregation, and I guarantee you that the messaging, ugliness, the beliefs and assumptions about Black folks entered my thinking.
That doesn’t make me evil. I know how to hear a thought when it rises and challenge it. But that means that I have to accept that all of us in some way harbor racist thoughts if for no other reason than they are inculcated into our culture and everyday thinking. It’s foolish to say “I’m not racist.” Chances are we are all racist in some way that we simply haven’t seen or noticed.
Again, that doesn’t make me evil.
What would be evil is if I acted on those beliefs. What would make me evil is if I fought against the legitimate rights of Black folks (and in all fairness, all folks of color) to change the fundamentally racist institutions which have cost America and the world a great deal of brilliance and value.
Most folks likely have no clue that we have ice cream because of a Black chef. Or that laser eye surgery is available because of a Black female doctor. You get it. Most don’t. The point is that institutions that work against the development of Black brains, ANY brains, are evil. They don’t just cost Black folk, they cost all of us. Who’s to say that some of those Black people who died at the hands of White folks didn’t have the potential to come up with a cure for the cancer that is killing your mother?
To that, please see this:
Where I’m going with this
Illumination gave me connections with Rosenna Bakari, a brilliant PhD who has become a treasured friend. Also with Sharon Hurley Hall, who moved the majority of her superb writing over to her own site. Rebecca Stevens A. has morphed in no time from a gentle writer to a superb author with a considerable following, whose personal prose about her own experience illuminates the living reality of those competent Black women trying to function in a hateful world.
I also read Johnny Silvercloud, who is a fellow veteran and damned good photographer who inserts himself and his camera into very dangerous situations for a Black man (like far right-wing demonstrations) and walks away with a whole lot of truth.
And then there’s Marley K., whose material is stunningly difficult to read if you can’t handle truth ladled out without the trimmings. She has her own site, too, as do many others, perhaps more than a few who graduated off Medium and are now sharing space and ideas, often on Twitter. MarleyK is the real deal, and she has a considerable following for good reason. Marley is a voracious reader and it shows.
She really puts hard thought and solid research into her work. All these writers do, for that matter.
Now to the point, thanks for hanging this far. Anti-racism is a topic fraught with misunderstanding and hijacking and gaslighting. While I am no fan of those comments on LinkedIn and Twitter which viscerally attack people -deservedly or not- I have found that even where people have some knowledge of where I stand and the support I have for this work, the feelings run so high that I’ve also been roundly attacked.
This is how we lose allies, especially those allies who really do care, do want to support, do wish to take risks in support of this work. One gentlemen took a comment out of context, gave it his own most inaccurate spin, and I’d had enough. Blocked.
I was sorry to have to do it, but I already invest time and effort, mostly behind the scenes. To that, I find, read and pass along books, articles and material of potential interest to various Black writers who are far better equipped than I am to address those issues. I hardly need to be centered.
But I also don’t need to be publicly gutted for something I neither said nor did, and am tired of peoples’ taking comments of most sincere support out of context.
You learn to keep your head down. So I have. Instead, I rarely comment, for fear of being accused of centering myself as a White woman, and when I do I try very hard to be as clear as I can. Today I saw some comments that caused me to want to post again. My Black female friends, whose work I read, highlight and often pass along to other folks, have a pretty good idea of my intentions.
Today I saw a tweet which inspired me to respond, and the essence of that response is, to me, important to share. One Black writer tweeted about why so many people accuse Black folks of hating White folks. This is an oversimplification but the essence of it is how when Black folks point out racist institutions, practices (voting rights, anyone?), redlining and all the other painfully obvious standard and longstanding American ways of doing business, all too often the overheated and childish response is that Black folks hate all White folks.
First of all, those are kindergarten tactics. Second, mature people don’t take such things so personally. The example I gave on Twitter was that if your toddler made a mess, (one hopes) that you make sure said toddler understands that you love them but not the behavior. That critical distinction is at play here.
Sober, mature people understand that when people point out a problem with an institution, that is education. That is an observation. The history behind our institutions is long and storied and deeply racist in too many cases. Pointing it out and asking for those practices, policies and institutions to be updated to reflect the claims this country makes about equality isn’t hate.
It’s information, education, and an invitation to make the entire country better. For all of us, thank you.
There’s no hate speech involved. Black folks have asked for a dialogue for centuries. Right now, factions of the Republican Party, which is 90% White and Christian, are actively dismantling the very institutions that our founding fathers built because they don’t like what’s coming. And what’s coming is a minority White country, the first in the world, with many other once-majority White countries to follow.
One of my great-great-etc. grandfathers signed the Declaration, so you will forgive my irritated self for having some skin in this game. White skin, thank you, but White skin very comfortable with sharing equal footing with Black skin, Brown skin, Red skin, Yellow skin. Whose birthrates outstrip those of White folks.
You cannot argue with birthrates. Black folks, most certainly in America, have been trying to save this country from itself for years. Now some White folks, calling themselves Christian, are tearing it part because in kindergarten, I guess somehow they didn’t learn how to share the sandbox.
And they are apparently utterly terrified of the tidal wave of Black Excellence that is coming, like it or not, folks who did the work and got the education and earned their degrees the hard way by studying, not getting Mommy and Daddy to bribe their way into the Ivy League schools.
Marley points out the ongoing problems with top Black talent, as well as Black talent that has skewed too White and is paying the price, and Black talent that has taken on the Establishment and will likely pay the price. Because society isn’t at the point where being Black, brilliant and capable, especially more capable than the existing power structure, is acceptable.
Marley’s work, which I have now been reading for about three years, is challenging. But I stay porous to such material, on purpose. The ability to acknowledge difficult truths allows us to grow, and when we grow we can hold difficult viewpoints and truths in a safe space, and ask the increasingly hard questions about where we go from here without getting our panties in a twist.
Such things require great maturity. Not a lotta that in politics right now.
We are all witness to an upheaval, a tearing apart of a country built on and struggling to maintain racist policies and institutions, and fighting hard to keep things as they are. One puerile tactic is to accuse any Black writer who dares write the truth as hating all White people.
Okay. Some probably do. And every time I read the news headlines I am reminded of how many White so-called “Christian” Americans really do hate all Black people. The fact that there are some folks at either end of the bell curve ignores the other fact that most of us are in the muddy middle and trying very hard to find our way forward without an all-out war.
Lotta Black folks out there acting like adults. Lotta White people in power acting like the kind of brats my first grade teacher would shove into a corner wearing a well-deserved dunce hat.
I read these Black men and women because we are all witness to a country having a terrible time coming to terms with its past. Denial is the handmaiden of the drunk. We desperately need sober, sane, competent conversation about these difficult topics.
When anti-racism writers speak their truth, to this I wrote on Twitter:
“Let’s fix this” isn’t “I hate you.”
These people-Black and White and everyone else-love our country enough to ensure that all the brains, the brilliance, the competence that we encompass, all colors, genders, cultures, are shared by all. Immigrants were drawn here by a promise we’re not even keeping to our own including one helluva lot of White folks. That’s not hate speech. That’s an accurate observation. You just drive from Eugene to Portland and see how many folks are living the American Dream under the overpasses.
Too many of us are in trouble. And we do not move forward by excluding our best talent, talent that comes in every imaginable packaging. We need everyone.
That’s the America I wore a uniform to salute. To die for. For my part, listening to uncomfortable truths is part of what makes a country great. For that is how we grow together.
And it IS all about race. And if you’ll forgive the play on words, we can race to the bottom or race to the finish line together. In one of those scenarios, we all win.