An Invitation to Work

My friend was walking down the street at the college campus where she lives and studies, and, well, this happened.

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I don’t have time to sit around crying indefinitely when this is happening.

There is work to do.

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As our kids played at gymnastics yesterday, a friend related to me the story of her relative who went into a liquor store. The man behind the counter sporting a Trump shirt said to him, “We don’t have to serve your kind anymore. Get out.”

I don’t have time to sit around crying indefinitely when this is the reality of people I care deeply about.

There is work to do.

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I was able to get to a Black Lives Matter event the other night. I don’t want to report on the details because it wasn’t open to the public in that way. But there were a couple of things that really stuck out to me and weren’t directly about the meeting, so I’ll share some pertinent items I witnessed.

The meeting began with the organizers saying, basically, “White people! Welcome! We noticed there are a lot of you here tonight. That’s great. Welcome to this conversation we have been having! Please know that this meeting is not about you and we will be prioritizing oppressed voices.”

At one point, an angry white HRC liberal lady spoke up and said, “So, do white people have a place in this? Because what I’m hearing you say is that…”

The facilitator was ready, and it was excellent. “I need to stop you right there. There is a place for you and we absolutely need you in this work but this is not the time for that.”

I was very relieved to hear another white person say, “White people’s place in this space is to stand in the back and listen. There is a lot we can learn by doing that here.”

Whiteness is so used to being at the center that it sometimes takes a great deal of work to avoid the impulse to recenter it even when other voices really need our attention before they are snuffed out.

Please try anyway. There is work to do.

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Garrison Keillor recently wrote a piece for the Washington Post encouraging the distraught liberal elite with some suggestions for lovely ways to spend their time.

“We liberal elitists are now completely in the clear. The government is in Republican hands. Let them deal with him. Democrats can spend four years raising heirloom tomatoes, meditating, reading Jane Austen, traveling around the country, tasting artisan beers, and let the Republicans build the wall and carry on the trade war with China and deport the undocumented and deal with opioids, and we Democrats can go for a long , brisk walk and smell the roses.”

No, Mr. Keillor. I don’t want to grow heirloom tomatoes and taste artisan beer and ignore what is happening to people I love. And it’s absurd to me that you would even suggest such a thing, let alone say it outright as the thing people should do. It may be that your Minnesota sarcasm doesn’t mix well with Ohio earnestness, but people are getting the wrong idea.

So by all means. Take long walks. Travel around the country (must be nice to be able to afford to do that on a whim!). Heirloom tomatoes and craft beer are delicious! But if that’s all you do, you don’t get to call yourself ‘woke’ or ‘ally’ ever again. You can find joy and beauty in life without saying, “Let them eat cake.”

I understand feeling paralyzed. The America you thought you lived in (the one where Hillary Clinton was going to bring us all together) doesn’t exist, and that is deeply destabilizing. If you can’t get past it just yet, I feel compassion for you. Whether you believe it or not, it’s true. I can feel compassion and frustration at the same time because I can be more than one thing. It may not seem like it right now when the shock looms large, but you can too.

So if and when you are ready, a growing group of us will be over here (not on the elite left, because apparently that’s where people are smelling the roses or something) doing the work to dismantle racism in our daily lives. You are more than welcome to join us. The comforting thing and the difficult thing is that, as I heard recently in a room full of people who have been dealing with this issue for a long time, is that if you are new to this conversation your very first job is to show up, stand in the back, and listen.

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Clans, Klans and What Connects Us

I am attempting to raise race-conscious white children. So sometimes we have conversations I wish we didn’t have to have. Like this one, which happened as we read Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges together earlier this week.

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“Look at this picture. This is a burning cross. It became a symbol of hate used by men like those three standing underneath it, but that’s not what it was originally for. Do you know where it originally came from? It came from Scotland. In the time of the clans a burning cross was set up on the evening before a battle to rally the troops to fight; for kin, for land, for freedom…it was meant to be a symbol to gather around.”

“Mama, what are they trying to get people to gather around?”

“Well, those men are white men…”

“But mama, they don’t look white…”

“I know. That’s because in the picture they are wearing all white clothing, and their skin, while it is called white, is really kind of a peachy color. Like ours. And they are trying to gather people around the idea of whiteness, and wanting to hurt people who aren’t white. They are trying to get people who think that to all stick together and that’s why they called themselves a klan. Their goal is to join all the white people together under their idea.”

“Are we white people then?”

“Yes.”

“But…what about black people? Like M and N? Are they black people?”

“Yes. Like them.”

“But they are our friends!”

“Right. So if you were going to gather people to be in your clan, who would it be? Would you only want people who look like you?”

“No! Absolutely not!”

“Well, that’s a start. I want you to think about what your criteria is for what makes you think of someone as ‘in your clan.’ Who do you want to be connected to? What is your idea? We’re going to continue this conversation. Probably for a really, really long time.”

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For a little more information on the history of the KKK and cross-burning as their attempt to bring legitimacy to their group, you can check out this short and informative article.