Category Archives: social justice

Green medicine and harsh questions

Saturday. Wellesley. Green medicine.

Sunday, we saw a moving play in two acts about a conversation between a white professor at an elite private college and a black history student. It was moving. Tough to watch. Didn’t answer any questions. “The Niceties.

From the article about white playwright, Eleanor Burgess, and the play’s creation:

The imbroglio at Yale made Burgess, a former high school history teacher, realize that smart, educated, and well-meaning Americans couldn’t talk to each other about race. ‘ I started to believe that we actually disagree much more than we think we do.’

…the advantage of having the debate unfold on stage, where audience members are not taking part in the conversation directly. ‘You’re not personally being attacked, and you don’t have to think of a next thing to say. So you can actually hear the entire conversation and just let it wash over you.’

The play was set prior to the presidential election and all of us wondered how much starker the terms of the argument would’ve been today.

Questions:

Who gets to decide what perspective is important?

What role does the insistence on source documents in writing about history play in discounting the history of slavery in general and the lives of the enslaved, in particular?

Where should people in positions of power draw the First Amendment line when it comes to triggering images and content?

What would happen if professors were more open to the strengths of millennials (and less reflexively dismissive)?

If saying “sorry” isn’t enough in the wake of a problematic encounter, what sorts of reparations are?

Should change be approached incrementally or in dramatic sweeps? And, who decides?

What actual supports do students of color need and deserve on college campuses, particularly bastions of privilege like the ivy leagues.

(The role these institutions play in perpetuating a closed loop of power is particularly on display this week with the Kavanaugh revelations).

Back to work.

PS is it weird that all four of us who watched the play think that Kavanaugh will be appointed and yet nevertheless find the many ways that protest and pushback are having an effect in real time, inspiring?

Who gets named: Ida B. Wells

Women We Overlooked aired on The New York Times podcast about a month ago. It features an interview with a New York Times obituary writer/researcher and went on to discuss the life of journalist and activist, Ida B. Wells.*

I learned on Sunday’s 60 Minutes feature about the Alabama memorial that there’s a special part of The National Memorial for Peace and Justice dedicated to Wells.

My #unreadshelfproject includes relevant history in: “News for All the People, The Epic Story of Race and the American Media” by Juan Gonzalez and Joseph Torres.

“When she took over as editor of the Memphis “Free Speech” in 1889, Ida B. Wells had already made something of a name for herself challenging racial bigotry.” In 1892, Wells wrote a stunning editorial following the lynching of eight men, after which the offices of the paper were burned down and her life threatened. Wells happened to be out of town that day and subsequently moved to Chicago. From there she “launched a systematic investigation of the hated practice [of lynching] around the country” and wrote about her findings in a series of newspaper articles and a book called “Southern Horrors” … Wells was also active as a teacher, feminist and civil rights leader.

Amy Goodman’s podcast, Democracy Now, interviewed the authors of “News for All People”, here.

Finn was just picked up and I’m off to Salem. Time to order a fridge and hire movers. If time, we will jaunt over to Kane’s — the greenhouse over by Trader Joe’s. My sister’s new place has wide windowsills, perfect for some potted geraniums.

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This post is a placeholder, containing some homework for myself — I hope you don’t mind. Wanted to capture these things while they’re still fresh. 

*  If you don’t know about The Daily — you’re in for a treat. Each episode is only 20 minutes long and yet manages to do interesting and in-depth reporting. They’re an essential part of my news fare these days.

Onward and upward

Poster talk

I thought the March for Our Lives rally in Boston would be bigger than the Women’s March but not so sure at the time we left (early to get to The Paramount).

CNN: there is something decidedly different about this rally.

Me at home: yeah. Youth.

Me at Boston Common: and vaped pot.

The day warmed up beautifully. I squatted as part of a human obstacle for a street performer at Downtown Crossing which you may never see since K filmed it with a lovely view of my ass as I bent over.

And now a play. What a day!

Palm sky house



Too much blue? Added more today including at rooflines. Those are the pieces I’m considering taking off.

The bottom dark blue floral strip came from a pair of rayon pants I bought a couple of weeks ago.

More progress shots, just for fun.


Another rainy day here. Spent part of the morning at a program for the 21st Annual Mother’s Day Walk for Peace.

“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.

Protest sustenance

Seven encouraging minutes by Dr. Glenda Russell that are worthwhile and, believe it or not, funny.

Highlights:
“Don’t cultivate anger, direct it.”

“I cannot help but feel some measure of anger. I must deal with that anger.
I don’t want to wrestle it to the ground. I want to harness it.” Charles M. Blow

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” MLK, Jr.

Don’t give your power to those who would do you harm. Focus on your allies.

Sleep enough, eat well, and limit your exposure to depressive media.

Because so many groups are being attacked simultaneously, “the potential for mass mobilization and coalition building is greater than it’s ever been in my lifetime.”

Frederick Douglass: ‘The end of the Republic begins when the heroism of the struggle for equality yields to the cowardice of resentment.’

Jill Lepore: “What could possibly be more important, more meaningful, or more fun, than making this election the basis for renewing the struggle for justice, equity, and peace.”