Category Archives: race

Hold the sugar

This pink t-shirt emblazoned with a pithy statement supports The Slave Dwelling Project. Don’t you love getting bling for your contributions? I do. Or maybe this was a straight out purchase. I don’t remember. In any case, this is a particularly good cause, one offering experiences like the one I had with the group in Medford, Mass. in 2014 (posted about here).

Revealingly, when I looked for the shirt this morning I mis-remembered the statement as, “I like my history Black with a little bit of sugar.” Hmmmm. Probably accurate, though my reading list would suggest otherwise (PS, I finally finished all 500+ pages of “The Warmth of Other Suns”).

I love it when friends challenge me. In the wake of the Parkland shooting, a FB friend from high school pointed out two important facts: 1) the number of school shootings being reported by Everytown for Gun Safety is highly inflated, counting, for instance, a suicide in the parking lot of a school that’d been closed for seven months and the accidental discharge of a weapon in a man’s glove box in a school parking lot (no one was hurt), and 2) there are more gun laws in areas with high numbers of POC (which is to say, whites are scared shitless of black people carrying weapons).

Article about Everytown’s inflated numbers here.

Atlantic article about race and gun laws here.

Neither of these points, while well-taken, change my view that Americans are in urgent need of sensible gun regulations.

The non-inflated number of school shootings in the first seven weeks of 2018, by the way, is FIVE. Isn’t that shocking enough?

Meanwhile on a more personal front, the list of items I cannot find is getting annoying. I located the notebook from writing class, but still can’t find my earbuds (I wore them yesterday) or the external hard drive that I back my manuscript up on (I’ll save to a thumb drive ’til I locate it, but really?). That’s been missing for at least a week.

Speaking of manuscripts: there’s a solid chance that my first foray into the publishing world will be a bust. If so, I’m prepared to accept the rejection as a badge of honor. If it comes, the ding will stand as a sign that I’m putting myself out there, while also initiating me into a literary club absolutely littered with rejection notices.

Not a prediction and not feeling of defeat. Just saying.

Roof then ground

Added a roof. Up next: ground. Am trying to correct the tilt of the house, but perhaps I shouldn’t?

Yesterday Trayvon Martin would’ve turned 23. My heart still breaks to see his face.

Splashnewsonline.com

(Photo: SplashNewsOnline.com)

Here’s a poet with powerful things to say about motherhood and blackness.

There are no reliable narrators

“There are no reliable narrators,” said writer Matthew Klam recently.*

Even the stories we recite about ourselves shift with every telling, according to recent neurological studies (TED talk; no cite yet).

Add a dash of race, the legacy of slavery and questions of voice and you come to even thornier questions regarding authorship.

I’ll have some (more) rambling thoughts about this topic tomorrow. In the meantime, here is a link to the podcast, “Still Processing: Detroit and Confederate and Who Owns Stories about Blackness?” Two culture critics for the NYTimes, Wesley Morris and Jenna Wortham, attempt to answer some of these questions.

PS. I may’ve already shared this link. If so – forgive! It’s a signal of how good I found it!

* I haven’t read this novel yet but did hear the author interviewed by Teri Gross.

Ward and Northup

I finished four books in the first week of 2018, a fact that’s a little less impressive given that I’d already read 2/3’s of one and 1/2 of another and that one of them was a slender volume of poems. And Shakespeare? The text is limited to the facing pages, so that went fast, too. Also: I tend to be terrific out of the gate, flag at the mid-range and die towards the end. The real test for this challenge (#theunreadshelfproject2018) will be mid-summer and fall.

Jesmyn Ward’s book, “Sing, Unburied, Sing” has everything (except sex): addiction, death, redemption, a road trip, one character’s coming of age, parenting (both deficient and exemplary), prison and release, the long shadow of slavery, and ghosts.

Set in contemporary Mississippi, the story features three generations and centers on themes of caregiving, racism, and secrets. There are acts of self-destruction and acts of mercy. The author also takes an interesting look at the porous line between death and life.

The elders, who are both African Americans, take care of their two bi-racial grandchildren. Their drug addicted daughter, Leoni, drives north to pick up her white husband, who’s about to be released from Parchman Prison. Leoni gathers up her 13 year old son, her toddler daughter, and a friend for the drive. That journey parallels two others that are happening simultaneously: the journey of her cancer-ridden mother toward death and that of her son, who approaches adulthood by grappling with the harsh truths around him, some of which have previously been secret.

I can tell you without spoiling too much that the novel features two ghosts. Early on, we learn that Leoni’s brother was “accidentally” killed by her husband’s cousin (we are meant to see it otherwise). She can see her brother’s ghost, but only when she’s high, a fact that made her addiction both more complicated and understandable. The other ghost appears to her son during the drive to Parchman. He is a former inmate and will be instrumental in releasing a long-held secret of Leoni’s father.

The 13 year old boy is a better caretaker of his sister than their mother, something that causes Leoni no end of defeated bitterness. The scenes of mother lashing out in frustration are rendered well and, for obvious reasons, hard to take. We see one of the costs of drug abuse up close and personal.

The author shifts point of view by chapter so that we get different perspectives throughout, but every chapter features haunting, gritty, and lyrical prose.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

To follow Jesmyn Ward’s book with a slave narrative made for powerful and damning echoes. [Trump’s “shithole countries” comment came two days ago, so there is no escaping the specter of white supremacy these days, said a person with white privilege].

One of the most startling parallels between Ward’s novel and Northup’s narrative can be found in the labor scenes. It was shocking but not shocking that the field work scenes depicted at Parchman Prison were barely distinguishable from those of a plantation (think: patrollers and dogs; unpaid labor. Think: Ava DuVernay’s “The Thirteenth”).

Both Ward’s novel and Solomon Northup’s story contain details of racially animated violence almost too awful to bear.

I won’t go more into the slim and eloquent “Twelve Years a Slave” because I imagine many of you have seen the film, except to say this : reading the narrative is very worthwhile even if you’ve seen Steve McQueen’s movie. To hear the words of this free black is powerful. To slow down and see the world through his eyes, also powerful.

Also read: A Midsummer Night’s Dream and an issue of the literary journal, Rattle.

Wounded pattern, healing stitch

Here’s my finished contribution to Mo’s “I Dream of a World Where Love is the Answer” project. I wish making this pennant had afforded some answers. Instead, the embroidery mostly forced one queasy question after another. How will we move past this riotously awful period of history? Why are we being so battered by destructive ‘policies’, nihilism, and retroactive social ideas? How can seemingly intractable differences in world views ever be reconciled? Why do we live in a country where a sizeable percent of the population doesn’t think fact matters? How much of our republic will survive the hate-fueled attacks on its very fiber? Just getting through a news cycle anymore is fucking exhausting.

Mine is a pretty solitary life in a town that is, for the most part, progressive (and unfortunately, almost exclusively white). My relatives, with one exception, do not drink the Kool Aid (and by ‘drinking the Kool Aid’, of course, I mean watching Fox News). Even my media contacts tend fairly uniformly toward the liberal.

So, if one healing route is to find others with opposing views and have conversations with them*, count me out. Not doing that. Nope.

(Honestly, even though I understand its instructive value, I cannot even watch Fox News now and again to get the lay of the land).

I read “Hillbilly Elegy” last year and yeah, it was somewhat instructive, but I still don’t have the time of day for Trump supporters, in this case specifically, for coal miners who condemn others for receiving state assistance when they themselves are doing the same. I don’t understand, nor want to understand, defending a dying, polluting industry at all costs. Nope. Not my conversation to have. (And by the way, if JD Vance ultimately runs for office as I suspect he might and chooses to make facile references to ‘East Coast elites’, I will be the first to remind him that he graduated from the same ivy league law school as Hillary Clinton).

I read “small great things” by Jodi Picoult this summer. The novel tells the story of an African American nurse banned from touching a white supremacist’s newborn baby. It doesn’t go well. It was really hard to find any measure of sympathy for the racist characters in this book and not just because I happened to be reading it the week of Charlottesville. It’s because I have no sympathy for Nazi’s or any other form of modern day racist. Why would I want to talk with them?

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image by CNN

So, okay, skip dialogue. Prayer, then?

There’s also education.

The research I’ve done to set a novel in SC in the 1740’s has convinced me that without courageously facing our history, we are lost. We have to become aware of at least some of the gruesome details of American slavery. Then, we can acknowledge the lingering shadow and the ongoing harm. Otherwise, we will forever be torn apart by the history of human bondage’s after-effects.

Catch phrase: To deny racism is a form of racism.

The more I learn, the more convinced I am of this. In the introduction to “The New Jim Crow” Michelle Alexander makes the argument that white supremacy is a many-headed monster with regenerative power. When you cut one head off, another rears its ugly and savage face.

After education (and reflection), naturally, action must come*. Catch phrase (to quote Leslie Mac at an anti-racism training): “At some point, if you’re gonna dig a hole, someone’s gotta pick up the god-damned shovel.”

I used red seed beads to represent the blood of Africans who were kidnapped, transported and sold here. Their blood is a permanent feature of our landscape, as is the legacy of their labor. There is heft to this history. The fruits of enslaved labor are visible in many, many features of our built landscape, so it’s fitting that the lines of red beads are prominent and that they define whole areas.

The stitches took on the attributes of surgical repair in some places and of tailor-repair in others. I like how the stitched-down folds created texture when top lit and beautiful shadows when back lit. Imaginatively, the stitched repairs and the resultant shadows came to sometimes resemble a map and at other times, a scarred body. The act of integrating the dark cloth with the light cloth seemed at times to mimic the kind of healing process we all long for. 

In two places, I carefully ripped open the top silk to more clearly represent injury. Like the blood-red beads, the bands that resulted from the long tears suggest that our wounds are a permanent part of the American psyche. Stitching the edges gave me the hands-on, hopeful sense that maybe there is some vantage from which our nation’s wounds show up as things of beauty. The spirals were inspired by the carved stones at Newgrange, which I have personally visited. They suggest reverence for the earth, awareness of our small place in the universe, and mystery. Surely, healing will not come strictly from the mind, much as I might try.

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image by CNN

I cannot wait to see what Mo does with all of these — it’ll be extraordinary, that I know!

* Recent TED Talk called “Removing Your Filter Bubbles” by moveon.org founders made this very suggestion. Perhaps you need to be an extrovert and someone who moves in wider social circles than I do for this suggestion to have any possibility of success?

* On 2018’s To Do List: make sure none of our mutual funds invest in private prison corporations (if they do, shift money); offer frequent flier miles to a couple of Cambridge Black Lives Matter activists; continue to read black authors and buy their books; continue to follow and support criminal justice reforms here in Massachusetts; continue to oppose the totalitarian, racist regime in the White House with protests, calls to Congress, and more; learn more about the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute in Boston. Maybe (finally?) attend the Annual Slave Dwelling Project Conference. Continue with financial contributions to: the Southern Poverty Law Center, the NAACP, the Royall House and Slave Quarters (here in Mass.), the African American History Museum (in Washington, D.C.) Most importantly, to me personally: finish my novel featuring enslaved and elite characters to the best of my ability.

PS. I was reading Judy Martin’s blog this week and found a post full of so much process that I found familiar that it was almost spooky. Her poetic musings are wonderful and provocative.

PPS  In my fabric win, Deb Lacativa included four bobbins of her specialty threads. I am enjoying using them in this piece.

“Racism is a morphing beast”

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Recently, I attended an OSPAN anti-racism workshop run by Didi Delgado and Leslie Mac.  #OSPAN — stands for “Organizing on (Safety) Pins and Needles.”  Developed by Leslie Mac and Marissa Jenae Johnson, these in-person and online trainings are designed to help whites become better allies.

Attending was my way to take constructive action after being stunned by Didi Delgado’s incisive piece about whites’ failures at being allies:  The Caucasian Invasion.

It was a smart move. I came away both charged and humbled. The meeting was held in Boston a few blocks from Fort Point Channel. I took the T in, which for this old broad was something of an adventure. The clouds were gorgeous and it was a little too warm for my pea coat, but I would’ve been cold in anything lighter. That’s the kind of spring we’re having.

The meeting started a half-hour late, during which time I was stunned (agog really) to see how focused the gathering group was on their phones (what can I say? I don’t get out much). Hardly anyone talked or introduced themselves. I ate cinnamon Altoids (five at a time for some real fire) and — what else? — looked at my phone.

It was a decent-sized group with all ages represented. About half of the attendees were employees of non-profits, individuals clearly charged with bringing back reports. A fair number of UU ministers were present.

After some emphatic jokes about the origins of the program being ‘finding a way to get white people to pay me’ (which, P.S., I have no problem with) and a very brief ‘ice-breaker’, the facilitators went over basic rules of engagement (listed below). Many in the group appeared to be familiar with them. I was not.

  1. TAKE INDIVIDUAL AND COLLECTIVE RESPONSIBILITY. To be an effective ally, whites must  both own and counter our status of privilege. This means addressing the sins of the past (reparations; addressing the ongoing legacy of slavery) as well as acknowledging the privilege of the present. In any given setting or relationship, ask, ‘who has the power here?’ and ‘how am I wielding my power?’ and ‘how can I leverage privilege in aid of marginalized or oppressed people?’
  2. ATTACK THE PROBLEM NOT THE PERSON. Didi Delgado shared about how truly awful some of the comments to her articles are by way exemplifying how to violate this rule.
  3.  PROGRESSIVE STACK  and STEP FORWARD/STEP BACK, according to wikipedia:

. . . a technique used to give marginalized groups greater chance to speak.[1]

The progressive stack attempts to counter a flaw in traditional representative democracy, where the majority is heard while the non-dominant groups are silenced or ignored.[1] In practice, “majority culture” is interpreted by progressive stack practitioners to mean White people, men and young adults, while non-dominant groups include women, people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, people of color, and very young or older people.[2][3]

The “stack” is the list of speakers who are commenting or asking questions in public meetings. Anyone can request to be added to the stack. Generally, people speak in the order in which they were added to the queue. By contrast, in meetings using the progressive stack, ‘stack-keepers’ invite people from non-dominant groups to speak first (i.e. before people from dominant groups). They use the phrases ‘step forward’ or ‘step back’ to manage the list.[4]

(edited)

4. OUCH AND OOPS. ‘Ouch’ is a shorthand reaction to an offensive remark and ‘oops’ a shorthand response. This technique can be employed to briefly acknowledge hurtful statements or attitudes and apologize for same, with the goal of keeping a meeting from being derailed. Participants can choose to explore at greater length outside the meeting, or not.

Personal aside:  You know that moment in “Hidden Figures” when the Kirsten Dunst character is trying to defend or apologize for her complicity with racist decisions within NASA (and really fucking it up) and the Octavia Spencer character says, “you might want to stop talking now”? That was a major ‘ouch’ and ‘oops’ moment.

I wished I’d had this technique sooner in life. Funnily enough, the friend with whom I attended “Hidden Figures” said those exact words to me years earlier. It happened at a track meet when I sputtered aloud my surprise that our kids’ coach was black (there were reasons why it surprised me). I tried to add nuance to the statement — it was a sign of progress that it never came up, in my parents’ generation it would have, just like not knowing Mr. ______ was gay for two years. Blah, blah. She at last said: “you might want to stop talking now.”

Picture this then, years later, white woman leaning toward black woman in the cinematic dark, whispering,”You said that to me once upon a time.” The two of them laughing.

5. THERE IS NO QUICK FIX.

“Racism is a morphing beast.” (Leslie Mac)

As a constantly evolving, complex problem, fighting racial injustice requires sustained effort and constant learning. Activism of this sort does not lend itself to a check-list. “White people LOVE lists,” Leslie Mac joked (it’s true!) and then added, “anti-racism isn’t a a list. You can’t check if off.”

The work is messy and we’re gonna get messy doing it.

6. INTENT v. IMPACT

While some slack can be given to those allies with good intentions but little to show for them, black people have the right to make judgments based on value.

Is our involvement casual? More like a hobby than a sustained commitment? Would we risk our lives, the way they are forced, day by day, to risk theirs?

“I can’t eat your good intentions.”
Leslie Mac

 Here are some other points covered:

  • Support of black lives cannot be conditional.

African American activists don’t have to frame their message in ways palatable to white people in order for us to support them. Didi Delgado is often dismissed as an “angry black woman” and in fact two of the recurring criticisms of her recent article were that it wasn’t constructive enough and its tone was too abrasive.

How can anger be a disqualifier given the history of oppression in this country?

T-shirt at the event:
“BLACK LIVES MATTER
more than white feelings”

Needing a tax receipt for a gift is inherently conditional. Below please find some creative forms of giving (shared with permission):


  • Black people are not monoliths. Neither are their responses to oppression.

The imposition that every black person speak for all black people is something James Baldwin referred to as : “the burden of representation”.

The burden of representation is not only hurtful and limiting in one on one exchanges, it is corrosive to wider intellectual inquiry and has a way of encouraging tokenism.

Certainly there ought to be room for elegant rants as well as polite political analyses.

I suppose whites make value judgments about who their sources are, as well, gravitating toward those that inspire rather than demoralize. But, if one is not feeling uncomfortable at least some of the time, it might be worth asking ‘what am I avoiding?’

  • White missteps are inevitable and we ought to anticipate them

How can #WHITEFRAGILITY surprise us anymore? Our job is not to avoid screwing up (and certainly not to avoid being in the fray out of fear of fucking up), but to make the recovery time quicker and a tad more graceful.

Name it / Claim it / Tame it.

Didi Delgado, “I’m still holding white people’s hands during my oppression.” Also: “I don’t want to spend time with someone who leaves me on the line because I made them uncomfortable.”

  • We mustn’t forget to act!

Self-education
Reflection
Analysis
Action

These are the stages to becoming a decent ally. We need to guard against getting stuck toggling between learning and reflection and failing ever to get to action.

Leslie Mac: “People ask, ‘what should I do,’ but once you get through the first steps, knowing what to do will be obvious.”

“At some point if we’re gonna dig a hole,
someone has to pick up a god-damned shovel.”
Leslie Mac

  • Accountability is a real thing.

One of the primary objections to some white efforts — Stand Up for Racial Justice, for example (explored in Delgado’s article, The Caucasian Invasion) — is the lack of accountability to people of color. It’s one thing to take ownership for learning history and understanding grass-roots movements, it is another thing altogether to expect to effectively fight racism with no actual ties to black people.

Becoming accountable is an ask, one with real risks (see: ‘it’s messy’, above).  However, absence of accountability is no excuse for failing to act.

Hope you benefited from this post. As always, comments welcome.

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PS  As a writer of a novel set in South Carolina during the mid-eighteenth century, I am really flummoxed on the business of accountability. How do I ask a black reader to review my manuscript — it’s long, for one thing.  And for another, the issues around creating authentic voices, cultural appropriation and exploitation of African American pain are really tangled.

“Please read my draft (which I hope will be published someday and maybe even produce a little income). Let me know what you think? And if at all possible, please don’t tell me this isn’t my story to tell.”

Would any of the icky problems around cultural appropriation and profit be mitigated by an up-front commitment of a portion of earnings to black causes?

I think about these things a lot.


Good news!

THE SUN is OUT!

I got my NEW GLASSES! They were so INEXPENSIVE!  I got TWO PAIR!



YARD WASTE pick up resumed! I LOVE RAKING!





This potted beauty was $14.99! I should have gotten TWO!

I’M GATHERING info about impeachment for my group. I’M DOING something! Learning! Networking with OTHERS! Remembering the only thing I ever liked about the law (i.e. applying constitutional principles to right wrongs).


I LOVE TWITTER, because I find funny things, too!

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MY NEW Endocrinologist IS A DOLL! He TOOK AN HOUR to explain things to me! It’s like the Universe SENT HIM A MEMO on how to perfectly offset the behavior of DR. ARTURO, of Boston– an unprofessional, condescending, cavalier prick who dwells in a grubby office and actually hung up on me a few weeks back. I GIGGLED ALL THE WAY HOME!

And get this, my new AMAZING doctor recommends using FOOD to feed the body calcium not supplements!  GREENs — I love them! Beans, yogurt – real FAVES of mine! BYE BYE ridiculously EXPENSIVE HORSE PILLS!!



Working on chapter summaries and it FEELS LIKE PROGRESS! Also, read part of  TERRIFIC ARTICLE ON CULTURAL APPROPRIATION (to be shared later — regarding the Emmett Till painting controversy). IT gets added to my ‘I HAVE PERMISSION TO WRITE A STORY SET IN SLAVE TIMES’ file (Yes, I have such a file). YEAH!!!
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The BLM activist who wrote an article about how thoroughly and completely white people ruin the movement for racial equality IS OFFERING TRAININGS IN BOSTON NEXT WEEK! HER ARTICLE RUINED MY DAY. I DIDN’T EVEN KNOW HOW to say so without evoking #whitefragility and #itsnotaboutyou but I DARED TO anyway to a BLACK FB FRIEND. We’re still friends.

I’M GONNA GO! (Am I foolish to think it can’t be two hours of telling white people how much they suck?) I FEEL BRAVE! I FEEL GOOD ABOUT TAKING RISKS WHERE IT REALLY MATTERS!

Organizing on [Safety] Pins & Needles Level I & II @ 24 Farnsworth St, Boston, MA 02210-1211, United States, Boston [from 11 to 13 April]

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Have a nice weekend everyone! And I won’t blame you if you decide to skip the “Bad News” post that’s already forming in my head.