New Poem: My Whiteness

Last night I participated in my very first Poetry Slam at the Lubeznik Center for the Arts and … I didn’t make it past the first round. I learned so much though and heard some amazing poetry. The woman who eventually won read directly before me in the first round and the man who came in second read directly after me. I knew I couldn’t beat them, but I wish I had been able to read this poem then. But man, it was a good night.

And if you just want to hear it, here’s the audio recording.

My Whiteness
April 6, 2017

With not a stitch of hair on my head,
my whiteness came first

My femaleness came next
but, first, and not at all
unexpectedly, came
my whiteness

For years, as I rallied
my feminist cries from
age twelve on,
my whiteness was the
first thing served up
allowing me to bellow
at certain men
with little to no risk

I didn’t see how my whiteness
wore me like a protective bubble

to keep danger out
consequently keeping me
safe from understanding
the differences in the
parallel lives lived by
women of darker hues

My whiteness blind-folded me,
slapped my ass
and sent me out in the world
as if my path were the only one

My whiteness came first
hard, bright and loud
like a flash bomb
that tamped down the
voices that spoke in
frequencies my ear was not
tuned to hear
that told stories in a code
I wouldn’t crack
because
I didn’t have to

My whiteness paved my way
and bought me drinks
and changed my tires
and waived that traffic ticket
and opened those doors
while I thought I was doing
it all on my own, with the
talents and treasures God gave me

My whiteness isn’t a burden
or a curse
or a shame I wear like
last year’s purse

My whiteness is a ticket
I didn’t purchase
the entry fee and the raffle ticket
and the complimentary drink

My whiteness requires no apologies
nor shame
but
my willful ignorance
does

I can no more pop the bubble
of its protection than I can
change the pigment I’ve been given

but

I can throw paint upon it,
or words or shapes or
fabric drapes
making visible
the invisible shield
of my whiteness

Ain’t Gonna F*ck Around No More

Fair Warning on language and on the habit of chaning song lyrics. And just about everything else–if you aren’t offended by parts of or the entirety of this post, I’ll feel I have missed the mark. You have been warned.

This morning, the tune of a song was rattling around in my head. But the words came out of my mouth like this: “ain’t gonna fuck around no more.” Sometimes I think God whispers. Sometimes I think she just lets go of her everlovin’ shit. Today, she reminded me that it might be way past time for me to do the same.

I’ve been angry for the past week and a half. When I wasn’t curled up like a fetal ball of jangled nerves on the couch or the bed, I was wishing I had something to kick. Sometimes it came out in Facebook posts that were less than kind. Sometimes it came out in just stuffing it all back down. But mostly it came out in not being able to face the world—because I get to choose not to.

Friends were checking on me and I wouldn’t have any of it … and then the thing that pulled me back into the world is the thing that usually does, I had to attend to something for my daughter. I was lucky in that when I went to see one daughter, I ended up seeing all three. And then I got an invite to a friend’s house. And then I pulled myself to church and then to a discussion about being neighborly in one of the most racially segregated regions in the country. And, on Monday, I had lunch with another friend.

This morning, I realized how I was segregating myself from the people who voted differently than me. The posts I was sharing were putting people I love at arms length and the phone calls I was answering (or not) were doing the same.

I gathered my like-minded friends close, and decided I was too hurt and angry with the others for their votes to even look at them or their Facebook posts, let alone talk with them in a civil way.

And maybe that’s what I needed, but it was horseshit.

I ain’t gonna fuck around no more. There’s no time for reaping more division by hiding from people who think differently—and it ain’t gonna change no hearts, either.

I love people who voted for the other candidate. I love them. Full stop. I love them.

And so, I have to find a way to talk with them and be part of their life so that we aren’t adding to the pain this country is already in. And I realize I’m the one that has to do that. I’m the one that built those walls (to coin a phrase).

I love my friends who voted for an unqualified candidate with no real policies and rhetoric that inflamed people to reclaim the worst of our actions as Americans. And I don’t automatically think it is because they are racist that they did so. And yet, …

I also love my friends and people I don’t even know who are now at even greater risk of being harmed or killed because of the color of their skin or their faith, of being deported or having loved ones deported (please don’t respond that they should have come here legally and it wouldn’t be a problem, because that will completely challenge my ability to be near you and love you at the same time—I’m still very tender even if I ain’t gonna fuck around no more), or having their marriages annulled.

My friends who are anything other than white, heterosexual and Christian are terrified, and their needs are my first priority. Simply put, they need me. They need me to use my identity as a married, heterosexual, cis-gender white woman with a wicked vocabulary to make sure that their rights are protected as much as mine, as much as yours. And they need me to talk to you, to keep you at the table so that maybe you can begin to see them in the whole of their humanity.

I was following a car down 49 the other day that had a bumper sticker that read “Respect Life” with a picture of a perfect pink baby being cradled in perfect pink hands. I couldn’t help but wonder at every stop light what that would mean if next to the words “Respect Life” was a woman in a hijab, or a Mexican migrant worker, or Trayvon Martin, or Matthew Shepard, or, or, or …

“Respect Life” is a great slogan for us all to adopt, but it needs to figure in to all of our policies, not just those for perfect pink babies.

So here’s what I’m going to do with my new philosphy: I’m going to try to listen to you from a point of trying to understand rather than to try and convince you. And I’m going to ask you to do the same. And I’m going to tell you if I think something you just said is harmful to other people. I’m going to ask you to picture that the life you have lived is not available to a lot of people, even if you have had trials and tribulations of your own. I’m not trying to suggest I’m smarter than you nor more enlightened, but I am going to remind you that my philosphy (besides the ain’t gonna fuck around) about government is “people first.”

You know I’m no Christian, right? Still, the thoughts that have permeated my mind most, besides they aforementioned, are the following:

“Fear not!” and “Do unto others.”

Both are hard right now, but will become easier and easier once I truly stop fucking around.

Have a blessed day, y’all. Be kind to yourselves and to others and maybe, just maybe, we won’t be fighting this civil war for the next two hundred years.

Love,

Tina

28. Slanted

So what, you ask,
if slaves built
the White House
What about
the union laborers?

And this is where
I want to turn into
your mama and take
you by the ear and sit
you in a corner
with history books
written by and
for Native Americans
and African Americans
and Mexican Americans

or novels written
from a perspective
that isn’t white,
straight and slanted

and tell you not to
step out until
you have learned
empathy,
humility,
compassion

Or at least not
to get mad when
someone else
lays claim to
pain.

It ain’t all about
you,
friend. It just
ain’t always
about you.


Photo by Stephan Krahn: http://orig11.deviantart.net/5f4f/f/2012/243/e/5/the_chair_in_the_corner_by_stephankrahn-d5d32ma.jpg

7. No Pretty Words Today

I tried. I sat in a waiting room
looking at two beautiful babies
and wrote a bad poem
but in the back of my mind
all I could think was
and what if they weren’t pale?

Would their grandmother
be able to protect them
from the protectors like
she does from that door that opens
wide and quick with no
sight line from the other side.

There are no pretty words today.

There are jagged words
that could rupture the
bubble of whiteness in America
blast through the blue wall
both of which keep us from
each other in beautiful
human
humane ways

but they never seem
to penetrate

and another black
family mourns
while we say “No More!”
and chorus in “Enough!”
knowing that no change
is possible until
we all see that change
is required

#altonsterling
#sayhisname

 

 

Let’s fix this

I put an old poem on my blog because I needed to put something up, but it wasn’t what I needed to say. I needed to say, Come on, world, don’t let me down–don’t let each other down. I wanted to say if it is truly a Christian nation that you want, America, make it so and stop balancing budgets by slashing help to the poor, the sick, the elderly. Feed the children and their parents who are trying so very hard to provide in a world that has sharp edges and unkind inclines. Stop serving us platitudes when what we need is food. When did we become so mean? Was it from the first when we landed and took all that we saw and more? When did mean and hoarding ever work? Why can’t we hire people to fix bridges and build fast trains and spend our time working together rather than tearing each other apart? Why can’t we listen better? Why can’t we holster our f***ing guns. Or better yet, what’s that saying about beating swords into ??? I don’t know any more. I watch the world at large and am so discouraged. And then I see the world small and I see the warriors for the good, the sentinels for the kind, the watchdogs for the weary and I am brought back to hope. But hope, she doesn’t serve the poor their breakfast, or mend the holes in their socks. It doesn’t keep the house warm or even there. I know I’m weary and I am one who can walk from the fight when my feet hurt because my skin doesn’t instigate fear just for being on me. #blacklivesmatter because if I get pulled over for a broken taillight chances are I’ll drive away with a warning. Let’s fix this. Let’s let genies of our colonial past out of their bottles and be honest with each other that making slaves of a people, creating wealth by conquering does not only harm the vanquished, but leaves a blood …

And that’s where I stopped when I wrote this post on April 9, 2015. Looking through old posts and I find this one, and I wonder why I never finished it, why I never posted it.

And the saddest thing? Nearly a year later … more lives taken at the point of a gun, by civilians and police, alike.

… creating wealth by conquering does not only harm the vanquished, but leaves a blood-stain that won’t wash out even if you, yourself or your family, didn’t kill the Natives or own the slaves.

Reckoning. A real reckoning is in order. Not one of blood, but one of truth. We did these things. We promised these things. And we haven’t lived up to our promise, let alone our possibility.

Until we can live uncomfortably with that truth and try to find a way through it, we are going to keep on getting what we’ve got. At least that’s what I think I meant to say nearly a year ago, before the election cycle, #flintwatergate, Paris and San Bernardino (linked as if they were one word, these days), and all the other lives taken by individuals steeped in a learning that resonates through-and-through with centuries-old understandings of wealth, work, and human dignity.

Fear at the Table

We gave Fear the place
at the head of the table
and then wondered
why everyone got so mad
and started buying guns
and decided the world
was going to hell

We forgot to look at the
whole table
who else sat there
staring into the napkins
resting on their laps
afraid to make eye contact
out of fear that Fear
would mark them, too

And who else was sitting
at Fear’s elbows
amplifying his message
and scaring the women
who stood holding
the serving plates
because they had
no
voice
at this table

They, at the elbows of Fear,
pound the table
with meaty fists
then move in ways to reveal
that they are conceal carriers,
but this was not intimidation,
but freedom

Freedom
you keep using this word,
as Inigo Montoya might say,
I do not think it means
what you think it means

And here we are
gawkers at the spectacle
of Fear and his minions
wondering why they are so scared

of brown folk
with voices raised up
in songs born out of
freedom promised
freedom deferred
freedom denied

And we wonder Fear and
his minions never
learned the lessons
not only history
but Star Trek
and young adult dystopian novels
and Zombie shows have all
taught us

Fear will silence
a people only so long.
Oppression is a
petrie dish
for imaginative thought
and action

that will win,
in the end,
because the soul
flies and
sings like the dove
and knows
none are free
until
all are free

At least that’s the story
my religion tells.

 

photo credit: white-dove-flying-picture-hd-desktop-wallpapers.jpg

Welcoming the Zombie Apocalypse

Pouring my coffee
looking out over the empty church lot
in my back yard I found myself
thinking
that perhaps it IS
time
for a
Zombie Apocalypse.

Hear me out.

I would see them coming
across that yard
clear on their intent
to eat my brains
and turn me
into
one of them.

Better that
than politicians
and pastors
who preach love, life
and liberty
to all

who are white.

Those, I let in my house
only to realize
too late
they are here for my soul
and the heart
of democracy.

Zombies aren’t really
alive.
And neither are we
as we hunker down
and away
from the humanity
we share.

Race, Policing, and Small Town America, 2015

(Image credit Vector Portal)

Between the last few innings of the Cubs game and the beginning of the Democratic Presidential Debate, last night, I stood in a hallway at Valparaiso City Hall, trying to hear bits and pieces of the Human Rights Council’s meeting. The room was packed and many of us were straining to hear the un-mic-ed council members and members of the community discuss the resolution the council had drafted in response to an arrest made in the Hilltop Neighborhood of the City in August, 2015.

You can read about the meeting, the arrest, the response from the Fraternal Order of Police and of the Mayor and watch the arrest video in this article in the Times.

While I had trouble hearing some of the words, I had no trouble hearing a deafening defense put up by some officers of the law. Here’s what I heard: entrenchment on the part of the officers who came to the meeting. Entrenchment in a belief that they should not be questioned by the Mayor, by the Human Rights Council, or by citizens who do not have any law enforcement background. I heard officers proclaim this was a good stop and that it had nothing to do with race. I heard a lot of defensiveness about being accused of racial profiling and racism. And I heard the unmistakable rush of wind that happens when an opportunity for true human connection and understanding is lost.

What a lost opportunity to talk about race in small town America. Because as much as the officers do not want to be labelled racist (rightly, so–none of us does), their behavior in defense of the officer and in condemnation of the young man arrested is endemic of the deep well of racism from which this nation drinks.

I’m a middle-aged white lady who has never been a police officer. What skin do I have in this game? All of it.

I want the best from our police officers and I want a civil society where citizens can ask questions of those in authority. I want people to actually listen to what the organizers of #BlackLivesMatter are saying–not what conservative talk radio hosts are saying about them. This isn’t about police officers being bad people. It’s about officers being people. People who are flawed, who make mistakes, and who judge others from a place in their brain they don’t even know exists. We are all people like that.

The opportunity that was lost in the anger and the deflection of the meeting last night was the opportunity to look at both the officer and the young man who was arrested as people who both made mistakes in judgement. Yes, the arrest could be viewed as a “good” one. But the piece that was missing in that ‘good’ arrest was the question of “is it right?”

I watched the tape. I agree that the young man’s behavior could be viewed as confrontational. But at some point in that tape, I determined that neither this young man nor his companions were a threat to the officer (or any of the other many officers who arrived at the scene). I also believe that at some point, so did the arresting officer. And the right thing in that moment would have been for the officer to step back from the situation and offer the young man a scrap of human decency, and perhaps even vacate the arrest. He could have grasped–in a city that is more than 90% white and has a history of not being decent to people of color, in a time in our country when black people are being shot by white officers at an alarming rate–that maybe, just maybe, this young man was reacting out of fear, too.

What an opportunity for connection that could have been, when the officer realized that the young man was neither a drug dealer nor a threat, but someone’s son who was afraid for his life, to turn to the young man and say, “we both could have handled this better.”

I don’t think anyone who was not an officer or related to an officer who was in the room or in the hallway last night wanted to hang the officer out to dry. I can’t speak for anyone else, but all I really wanted to see from the officers in the room was an inkling of understanding that this particular arrest could have gone differently and could have had a better resolution than any of us who were standing in that tension could imagine.

I went to that meeting last night with a heavy heart about the ruling in the Tamir Rice shooting.  The Tamir Rice killing.  The Tamir Rice murder. The shooting was deemed “reasonable” and it was just enough for me to decide it is time to be unreasonable about race in America. (For more on this, please read Brittney Cooper’s piece in Salon.) So as I stood listening to officer after officer refusing to even consider the racial under- and overtones of this event and the way this event connects to all the others over the last several months, years, decades, I held a sorrow mixed with anger that isn’t new.

Let me be clear, I am not calling anybody racist. I am calling everybody racist. Even uber-liberal me. I see race. I respond to race. I learned race from the cradle and it will be a part of my life to the grave. Unless … unless we learn to look at our past, see how it–unbeknownst to us–has shaped our nation and shaped our lives from the macro to the micro.

If you listen, really listen, to the people who are chanting #BlackLivesMatter, you won’t hear this as a condemnation of certain person and definitely not of specific police officer. You will, if you listen, hear a call to action to change a system of complicit oppression that has endured for 300 years. We won’t any of us be free from our history and legacy of slavery until we are all free from it–and none of us will be free until we can look at our history as a country and our history as a people with an unblinking honesty that hurts like hell.

We want police to do better. We want government officials to do better.  And we, as citizens, have to demand better, too, but we can’t demand better if we don’t understand that it is possible. Nor can we demand better if our feet, heads and hearts are immobilized by denial about how the construct of race is the foundation upon which this country and our legal system were built.

Thank you to Mayor Costas and Chief Brickner for asking for better of all of our employees and citizens. Thank you, also, to the men and women who wear the uniform and do the very best that they can within this system. And especially, thank you to the volunteer Human Relations Council, who are individuals with busy lives fraught with their own drama but who take the time to work to make Valparaiso open to everyone.

I’ll again ask you to look at the Brittney Cooper piece I linked to, above. It is time for us to step out of our reasonableness and embrace ways of being in the world that honor humanity.

No. It’s way past time. Hurry up, friends, we have to catch up.

Whitewashing

An ad for a movie came on while my youngest daughter and I were watching TV last night. “That looks fun,” I said.

“Yeah, too bad we can’t watch it.”

“Why? It’s on demand?” I said.

“It’s been whitewashed,” she said.

“It’s been what?” I asked, not because I didn’t know what it meant so much as I was surprised that it was a word she used.

“Whitewashed. They cast famous white actors in roles that should have been played by people of color,” she said.

I’d like to take credit for this. But I can’t take credit for a daughter who spends so much of her time out in a world that wasn’t available to me at her age. Through tumblr and other social media, two sisters and an outspoken group of friends, this kid is much more aware of race and gender politics than I would be until I was, I don’t know, 50?

My daughters would have been Michael Brown’s generation, had he lived.

Yesterday, I saw a meme go by in my newsfeed that compared the noise being made about a black criminal (the meme’s words, not mine) and a black man kills two white people on-air and nothing happens. A white friend posted it. They got several likes. I thought to comment, but didn’t. Walked away and did the work required of me that day. But the meme stayed with me. My feelings of dissatisfaction about walking away nagged at me all day and all night. So, here it is, again and again and again, until it doesn’t need to be said anymore:

Dear White Friends,

The uprising known as #BlackLivesMatter happened because, thanks to social media, cell phone cameras and not one police shooting of an unarmed black man, but innumerable instances that ended black lives at the hands of police officers. Police officers have one of the hardest jobs and the Black Lives Matter movement is not a condemnation of individual police officers or the work they are called to do. It is a condemnation of a political and justice system that values white as the “norm” and black as dangerous. You can’t argue, without contorting yourself into some strange and demented monster, that the shooting of Tamir Rice was justified. And that shooting, so close on the heels of the shooting of Michael Brown, who lay dead, bleeding and uncovered in view of his family for four hours, kept this movement going, as have all the senseless shootings of unarmed black men and women happening on a daily basis.

Our history has been whitewashed, too, dear friends. We believe that our experience is the norm, that because we can live lives of relative peace and be pulled over without being shot, that our Black (and Brown and Native) fellow citizens must be doing something to trigger the events that killed them. But this world is not fair. Our system of government, our system of governance, our systems of justice, have failed to provide safeguards that require us to all be treated fairly and given the same opportunities for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Life. Dear friends.

Life.

That is what this movement is about. About preserving the right to life in America. It should not be taken away because a man is selling loose cigarettes, jaywalking, carrying a bb-gun he intends to purchase in a big box store. And there is no excuse for the taking of the life of a child playing (as children do) in a park.

My friends, I love you, and it is through this love that I beg of you to please stop and think before you say “All Lives Matter,” or share memes that denigrate the movement thinking that there is some false parity between what happened to those news reporters and what is happening to black, brown and native peoples across this country in 2015. Please look beyond the whitewash and give yourself the gift of perspective.

This movement is disruptive, as it needs to be. It is disrupting our understanding of the legend of America: that it is fair, just and free. Which it is, for the most part, for us white folk. But our experience is rooted in the history written by the victors, the conquerors, the slave owners as well as the abolitionists (many of whom thought slavery was wrong, but also believed that Africans didn’t have the intellectual capacity of the white men who ruled us all for so very, very long).

I ask you to think and read and wonder. Pick up a book by an African American (anything by Toni Morrison, Alice Walker –I’m showing my age here–or Ta-Nehisi Coates, you can start here). Wonder how your life would be different if you were born black in America in 1950, 1960, 1980, 2000? Think about what you can do to grow your compassion and understanding for people who live next door to you but in a whole different country.

God gave us brains, compassion, and imagination and I invite you to use them all and ask yourself this very singular and important question: what do you want for this country in these times? What do you want for your family, your community, your country?

Because if what you want is peace, prosperity and freedom, then you need to work for it for everyone of every race in this country. There’s no way to whitewash that truth. I wouldn’t even if I could.

Go in love, dear friends, go in love.

#blacklivesmatter.

What’s holding me back, #blacklivesmatter

I wrote several posts yesterday that never made out of draft mode. My news feed was full of the death of Sandra Bland and, of course, of the shooting in Tennessee. I wrote flippantly and poignantly, and then I never found the courage to just be out there with my opinions, feelings, pleadings.

Then, this morning I took seven minutes to watch a video from this year’s Listen to Your Mother’s #blacklivesmatter collection. Just one. That’s all I could do this morning before I start to crush my to-do list again. I want you to watch it, too, but watch it in the context that this isn’t just about black men and boys.

As I showered just now, I thought of how invisible I am in my privilege as a middle-class, middle-age, white mother who can go about her days and get pulled over for a traffic violation that should have gotten me a ticket in the very least but instead got me a stern warning. The world I live in is not the same world my friends of color live in. I know it. But I’m not doing what Keesha Beckford asks of me in this video, at least not enough. It is the very smallest thing I can do, remind you that the world you and I live in, dear white friends and family, is not the same world that Keesha and so many other loving mothers live in, including the mother of Sandra Bland.

Take seven minutes, friends. Then let’s talk. I need to do more. WE need to do more.