It Starts With Me

LVal_2010When I look in the mirror, I don’t see Privilege. I do not think to myself, well today when I go to the store I will be treated well, store security will not follow me, the lady at checkout will not demand two pieces of identification if I write a check. I don’t think the police will likely let me go with a warning if I drive a few miles over the speed limit; no one will follow me if I am somewhere, in some neighborhood I have never been before looking at houses.

When I roll out of bed and consider my day, I don’t think to myself, “Damn, I am so lucky I was born White.”

Do you, or if like me your skin is White and your heritage is mixed bag of European American you simply take for granted the beginning of another day and never consider what it means to be fundamentally, you as in your racial identity.

When I look in the mirror, I see crow’s feet and think, “Shit they are getting longer and deeper”.

When I look in the mirror, I see the reverse skunk stripe down my part and think, “Dang, time for another touch up”.

I do not however ever see my racial identity in stark terms. I don’t see it and wonder how it might affect my life today.

What I don’t do is wonder what I should wear to the local market, it doesn’t matter what I wear, they will still treat me as if I matter. Even if I don’t do anything more than sort of comb my hair or just run water through it and hope for the best, throw on yoga pants and a tee shirt. Not one person in that store would ever think to wonder just what the hell I was doing there, I belong; my skin tone gives me the right, the privilege of belonging.

Never thought about how I was lucky, fortunate in comparison simply based on my much paler skin. What I considered were those things I could not change about myself that made my life more difficult;

  • I was born a woman.
  • I am getting older.
  • I had been divorced and financially ruined in that divorce.
  • I had been hurt and left with disabilities.

These things, some which are simply characteristic to my birth and others, which are part of life, affect my ability to find work and sometimes advance, stay productive, earn a living, prepare for my retirement and be financially stable.

They are frankly first world problems. They do not prevent me from moving in the world in meaningful ways. They do not cause others to look at me with suspicion simply for walking into a store or in the neighborhood. In fact some of my problems are invisible, some of my problems because of the color of my skin are more easily overcome than they would be otherwise.

Do I compartmentalize my own experiences? View the world based on my own expectations of a world that is better than it is. My husband has told me I do this that I frequently do not see “ugly” behavior for what it is; I do not put the behavior in its proper perspective. I have had to wonder about this lately, question my own ability to truly “see”.

One True Story

When my parents were alive they lived in a small town in the Hill Country of Texas, we visited often, to eat, drink and play golf. My parents lived on the golf course and frequented the clubhouse for lunch. There are very few Black people in this community. We never thought about this, never considered it an issue; it never occurred to us that anyone would treat a member of our family badly.087

We sat down and perused the menu (written on the chalkboard), we were all chatting and laughing together. My brothers, father and ex-husband had just finished a rousing game of golf and DB had beaten their pants off. The men were bad talking each other and we women were rolling our eyes and hoping they would stop, soon please. DB and I were only recently married and had not been to the new house together, but my father and mother were well known to the staff. When the waitress came over to the take our order, she went around the table joking with members of the family, taking orders as my father proudly introduced those she hadn’t met before. When she got to DB and me, she skipped over him, her eyes slid off him as if he didn’t exist though she had taken my order and he was sitting right next to me she pretended not to see him. It was astounding. My father reminded her she had missed his order and proceeded to proudly introduce my husband.

I realize now my father saw what DB saw and I am humiliated by my insensitivity. My husband was mortified and hurt by the encounter and refused to eat there ever again. He told me why and I understood it, I simply did not “see” it until he told me.

The arrest of Miss Rosa Parks - Historical Context

The arrest of Miss Rosa Parks – Historical Context

We that is all of us, in our intransigence regarding race relations in the United States today are the problem. Our refusal to see the problem, our refusal to discuss the problem in real terms, our refusal to ‘allow’ historical context to those that racial bias most affects; we are the problem. Whether we ourselves are unambiguous in our pathological bigotry or we are vague and shroud our intent in a labyrinth of policy and statistics, we remain the problem. Even if we believe we have not a shred of bias, bigotry or racism in our hearts, we are the problem if we refuse to see the truth of this nation and its very real problems with race relations today in 2013.

Discussions of Race and its Historical Context by the President of the United States is not divisive. This President is a Black Man in this United States. In spite of his Bi-Racial make-up he is seen as only one thing on the street, that is Black Man. When he was growing up he was seen as a Black Boy, a Black Teenager. When he ran for office he was hated or loved for his Blackness in many cases. His words on July 19, 2013, were not divisive they were contextual and personal. Yet before he was done those who refuse to see, refuse to hear and refuse to accept Historical Context and Racism as Reality in 2013 went after his comments as if he were the problem. He isn’t.

We are the problem. We are the problem on individual levels when we refuse to examine and correct our own responses and reactions. We are the problem when we refuse to engage in necessary discussions. We are the problem when we don’t speak up, when we don’t get involved when we see inequity happening right in front of us. We are the problem when we don’t stand up and refuse the status quo. We may not be able to change the hearts of men (or women), we can certainly change the outcome of how their words and our own affect our society.

It starts with us as individuals. It starts with me. It starts with you.

Comments

  1. Jueseppi B. says:

    Reblogged this on The ObamaCrat™.

  2. lbddiaries says:

    Powerful, powerful, powerful. I live in a town in an area that, when I first visited my parents here in the late 70’s, then moved here in mid-80’s, was caught in a time-warp. Black had no voice and “mixed race” marriages meant living on the poor side of town. I’m not sure much has changed. My white cleaner lady defiantly told me her boyfriend is black. My question was why she felt she had to describe him by color, and then why she was defiant, expecting me to be shocked. I knew the answers but wanted to see if she did. I have friends who married in the 70’s, faced all sorts of hassles (especially in the 70’s), but knowing they would, were never about race. They were about relationship and love. That defined them and they taught me so much. I loved this post.

    • Thank you. My husband was not born in America, moving here especially to the southlands has been an interesting experience for him. It isn’t that he wasn’t aware of racism in America, it was simply that he had never truly experienced it first hand. It wasn’t that I wasn’t aware, or that I hadn’t seen it first hand; I simply am sometimes blind expecting better from people because I desire better.

      I have been around small town Texas and its thinking all my life. My father though made a conscious decision not to raise his children with the bigotry and prejudice he was raised around. We are better for his decision, but I do think it perhaps made is blind at times.

  3. oh, val, posts like this are why i so enjoy your blog. you are right on so many counts. i think ppl are raised racist for the most part, i truly do. maybe it’s because my parents are from new york, mainly, and new york is amazingly diverse. so, i was never raised with any kind of hatred of the ‘other.’ they really did a good job there. i never, ever remember them commenting on anyone’s race, ever, or treating them badly in anyway. in fact, i remember quite the opposite – a surprise to my mother’s inclusiveness sometimes. for some reason what i coming to mind is when i was a teenager and i had been away in south america for quite a long time. my parents headed back to the car with me from the airport and a burly, black, porter offered to carry my bags. when we got to the car, my mom was so overwhelmed with seeing me that she also hugged the porter and my dad tipped him $5 bucks. the look on his face was something i won’t forget and it was because he didn’t expect it. my parents were/ are conservatives, but they always treated people like that. they deferred to the “content of their character” so to speak. everything else doesn’t matter. great, great piece as always. much love, sm

    • I agree, we are raised into bigotry it isn’t something we are born with. Like you, my father was a conservative nearly all his life. He hung his head in shame at the direction his beloved Republican party was taking though. Before he passed he finally could no longer align himself with what the party had become. Despite his Southern roots, he tried hard and usually suceeded in seeing beyond all the BS to the content of a persons character and into their heart. He certainly never passed his upbringing to his children and did not allow his father to do so either. I was fortunate, I had a wonderfully diverse upbringing, never really thought about much of anything until I came back to Texas. Then it really hit me.

      Hope all is going well with your house! I surely do miss you out here.

  4. WordsFallFromMyEyes says:

    An excellent, excellent post, Valentine.

    I think your dad is wonderful (or was – I didn’t realise bot your parents are gone). I’m surprised you didn’t notice though – as she just took your order. I can’t believe she did that though – to acknowledge and engage with all the people at a table, but one, seems impossible to do. It wasn’t an “oversight” was it? It was a deliberate snub, wasn’t it? That’s all I can imagine of it.

    Love the Obama videos as I’ve not seen them before. It just astonished me that your neighbourhood watch guys bear arms… but I do realise most Americans do (I think?), so it is normal for you. If a guy was on the street outside with a gun right now, that would be EXTREMELY worrisome and not normal.

    I saw a movie about Rosa Parks. She’s magnificent.

    • It was deliberate, yes. I didn’t notice because I wasn’t paying attention I was talking with other family members, there was a great crowd of us at the table. My father noticed because he was interacting with her, he was somewhat following her progress around the table and introducing her to his children, their spouses, his grandchildren. There were many of us there, I think at least 7 of us kids, plus our partners plus our children; so at least 20 if not more at the table that day.

      Oddly, most Americans don’t own guns. I know it seems so but we don’t.

  5. Excellent post on racism. Speaking out makes more people knowledgeable of the issue; when we sweep it under the rug we allow it to continue to exist.

    • Those who refuse to see, those who refuse to hear, those who refuse to acknowlege the existence are who cause its continuation. Each and every time we refuse to engage, whether because we think it is not our problem or not our business, we allow the problem to fester and continue. I just think someday, we have to start examining ourselves and stop pointing the finger at the other guy.

  6. I knew that you would speak up on this issue, Val. Excellent post.

    • To stay silent would mean I accept the status quo, I cannot. Thank you, I hope I will continue to speak up and stand up. In my heart, I hope we all will.

  7. “”” We are the problem. We are the problem on individual levels when we refuse to examine and correct our own responses and reactions. We are the problem when we refuse to engage in necessary discussions. We are the problem when we don’t speak up, when we don’t get involved when we see inequity happening right in front of us. We are the problem when we don’t stand up and refuse the status quo. We may not be able to change the hearts of men (or women), we can certainly change the outcome of how their words and our own affect our society.”””

    Great Words Val I whole-heartedly agree! ……… It starts with ME… you and each of us… We are who we have been waiting for to change the world.. But as yet not enough of us are awake yet to see it!…. But slowly more and more are yawning and stretching as they open their eyes to Really SEE what We are doing to ourselves!…

    Love to you my friend
    Sue

    • If only enough of us to truly begin to change hearts, minds and acts. Perhaps it is simply the baby steps. I remain hopeful Sue.

      • Its the Ripple effect Val… one step at a time.. but the more who step out the more will join… like the Domino effect… Until those whose house in out of order will topple,, And we all have to start somewhere….
        Sending you a warm hug xox

  8. Excellent points, Valentine. As I mature, I cannot understand why humans don’t see each other as equals.
    Canada is a huge melting pot and it’s illegal to harass or ill-treat ANY one. Still I’m not sure if we are all truly tolerant and / or as understanding as we make ourselves out to be.

    • Tess, I look at our nations and think we ‘welcome’ to our shores so many but that welcome is not without potholes, not with an underbelly. This has been true for the complete history of the US and probably of Canada as well. We cannot change the hearts and minds of humankind through legislation, only through our acts on a very personal level. Only through education at a young age, only through true integration. Tolerance is not about allowing ‘them’ to enter but about truly finding room in our neighborhoods, classrooms and at our tables for them to share as welcome members of our society. This starts with us, individually.

  9. As soon as the story was unfolding at the golf club, I saw it coming. Simply inexcusable! … and yes, it starts with individuals … and then, and only then, will it grow in society. Meanwhile, you are truly blessed with a good, understanding heart for humanity … so remember that the next time looking at the mirror. 🙂

    • In retrospect Frank, I should have seen it. I know Texas, I know the small minds and hearts of Texas. Yet I failed to see the slight, failed to feel what my husband felt. It was my own set of blinders, my desire that others would not behave badly, I cannot afford this any longer. Now I see, not bigotry behind every action but certain the truth of actions when they happen.

      Thank you Frank, for reminding me I continue to grow in my empathy and my compassion because it does start with each of us. I truly do want to be part of the solution.

  10. wow a power packed write up/wake up call
    yes more often than not we keep ignoring the problem, we are so bloody indifferent to our own kind and then wonder why no one comes for our help…there was time when we should have , the train has left the station, but if we want we can still run and catch it in the next but we have to hurry now
    loved the beautiful post Val
    big hugs sista, ♥

    • Hugs back my dear friend. We seem to think the same things and state the obvious with tears in our heart for the obliviousness of our fellow human beings. The stated “if only” becomes repetitious, doesn’t it.

      I sometimes find myself wanting to scream, “Wake the Fuck Up!”

  11. Valentine, just by reading this post I know that you realize that you see privilege when you look in the mirror. You may not think about it every time you look, but at least you know it’s there. A lot of people will simply refuse to see it.
    An excellent post, by the way – I had to give a link to it to another blogger instead of my own comment, when I saw that you said better what I was trying to say.

    • Thank you X. Perhaps if more of us saw honestly rather than on the surface, well perhaps it would be a start. I am sometimes despondent, sometimes feel so helpless and wonder what else can any of us do.

  12. Thank you Val, for sharing this post. We need to read more in the same vein because there cannot be enough reminders.

    All good wishes and bless you and your DB,
    Eric

    • Yet these reminders do not help those who refuse to see or hear the truth, we are failing I think to change hearts and minds beyond. I feel so helpless sometimes.

  13. When I was in grade one of my best friends at school was a little boy. On parent teacher day I turned to him with and said with shock “Your mum’s black”. My dad laughed because my little friend was black too… I just didn’t see it. We are still friends to this day. He is an aboriginal busker. A few years back I was in the city in a business suit and my friend (who was with his mates) saw me and came running up and gave me a big hug. The reaction from everyone was astounding and amusing. The suits and shoppers were horrified as were his aboriginal friends . Both saw colour and we simply saw friendship.

    • Similar I think to reactions everywhere, we see and feel friendship; others see what makes us different. I can only hope our children are better than we are, can hold on to the feelings of ‘only friendship’ for longer.

  14. I guess I’ve lived in the midst of so many colours, tribes and nationalities during my life span that it surprises me when I read something like this. Let me assure your readers that there is nothing more satisfying than to live and work in a diverse cultural context, so if you have doubts about it give it a go and you will agree with me then that under our cultural identities we all want the same thing, food, shelter, clothing, a feeling of fulfilment in what we do and the relationships we have. I feel sorry for those who have not yet discovered that! As a white I’ve been in humiliating circumstances by rogue elements within cultures, including my own. We should never let that impact on our feeling of self worth. It is our view of our self that is most important regardless of what others may think.

    • Ian having lived outside of the States, I know it racism is not expressed in the same way elsewhere as it is here. I also know, frequently we the privileged European White of the the US are not the Majority Power player that we are here. However, to one extent or another racism exits nearly everywhere, they problem in the US? We have added guns, violence, decades of poverty and the errosion of community to strip opportunity.

      No Ian, to ignore the Historical Context of what people feel is to ignore the history of this nation. To pretend we do not have a problem in this nation that does not include lack of opportunity for a significant portion of our citizens is to close our eyes to a problem that does exist, to pretend we all start out the same. In this nation, we do not.

      When you are constantly humilated within your own nation, then perhaps you or I might be able to talk about self worth in the face of constant humiliation. You and I do not have this experience, not every single day of our lives. You and I do not have to worry whether our children will be targeted as thugs or criminals simply for the color of their skin, this is a problem for nearly every Black mother and father in the US today. It is not rogue elements within our nation doing this Ian, it is nearly every element of our nation doing this, whether implicitly or explicitly.

  15. Thanks Val for sharing this very personal story. I know exactly how DB felt–it has happened to me too many times to count. But I am also grateful for people like you who have refused to keep blinders on because you have brought healing to DB and others like him when we bump up against your kindness and grace. Keep standing up for what is right. Some day we may end the cycle of hatred and ignorance.

    • Not alone my friend, not alone. I continue to learn how my bliss can be translated. My mantra in my mission to the prisons, both adult and juvenile has always been, “When you look at me, what do you see?”

      I think now it must expand to include race. While this has always been a component of the discussion because it was a component of the crime against me. Now it must be a component of the discussion of compassion and empathy as well.

      I don’t know that we will ever end bigotry. I think though, we can end its outcomes by simply standing up, individually, one by one and saying, “No, I refuse to accept this”.

  16. Val, I salute you for doing this and am humbled by your words. Well said and much needed. Thank you for the courage to reveal your own personal perspective on a conversation we all need to have.

    • Monica if it doesn’t start somewhere what happens? We cannot legislate the hard hearts of man (or woman) we can only ask ourselves how do we change the space we live in. I believe I am without overt racism, bias, bigotry or whatever; but what does this really mean. How many stupid, mean or ugly things do I say or do each day unintentionally? Certainly, the story I told above is an example of my insensitivity; I am more sensitive today by the way.

      If it doesn’t start with each of us, than where?

  17. Thoughtful post, Val.

    I agree that those of us who are white miss the subtle and not so subtle slights that others feel acutely. It is natural to miss things that are so unfamiliar. And how many accidental slights have we been responsible for?

    We have a lot of work to do; and that starts with recognizing the need.

    • Isn’t that the real problem Elyse, we are unaware. Becoming more aware, more awake is the beginning. I think though it is actually opening the door to the conversation. I tire of the idea we shouldn’t have these conversations, we should sit down as human beings and open these doors. Pretending the problem doesn’t exist is simple ignorance on all our parts.

  18. ***We are the problem. We are the problem on individual levels when we refuse to examine and correct our own responses and reactions. We are the problem when we refuse to engage in necessary discussions. We are the problem when we don’t speak up, when we don’t get involved when we see inequity happening right in front of us. We are the problem when we don’t stand up and refuse the status quo. We may not be able to change the hearts of men (or women), we can certainly change the outcome of how their words and our own affect our society****

    Val, you could be a speech writer. Damn. Send this to Obama. FABULOUS stuff. WOW. wow. I Love the power.

    Love the photo of You and Mr. Hot.

    • Thank you my dear friend. Passion does cause the words to come. I wish I knew how to broaden the audience to the right people, I would do so.

      I like that picture also, my son took it. I and Mr. Hot thank you.

  19. Val. I have aways thought that the discussing if racism can also keep it alive.

    It is interesting though, the things that happen in front of us but we do not see. After being on a submarine where everyone was navy blue, and this subject never arose. I came home and was shocked to hear members of my own family speak as they did.

    I am grateful for my time I. The navy for the tolerance and understanding I learned for many different kinds of people.

    Great post. I will ponder your words throughout the day while I am at work

    • Tom, others feel as you do that the discussion of Race and Racism in America somehow keeps it alive. It does not keep it alive. It brings it out of the closet and allows us all to have open and honest discussions about what is ugly and real.

      Every single time we deny historical context we deny what is a reality for many people in this society, not just what is real 147 years ago (the end of slavery) or 47 years (the signing of Civil Rights) but what remains real today. Just because individually you or I might not be part of the problem, if we ignore the reality of context for others we are then frankly part of the broader societal problem.

      We cannot force this issue to go away by ignoring it, pretending it doesn’t exist. We can only start changing it by openly and honestly talking.

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