We Live in a Country in Profound Denial About The Nature Of Itself

I am currently reading The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson (the first African-American woman to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Journalism), about the Great Migration of African-Americans out of the South during the Jim Crow years. It makes me shake and cry with every chapter. It makes me feel sick and nauseous and angry and enraged and horrified. Sometimes I don’t have the strength to pick it up. I want to run away and hide from the horror of what happened in the last hundred years in this country – in the lifetimes (and in the lives) of my grandparents and my parents and beloved family friends.

At the same time, I cannot turn my face away. The Warmth of Other Suns is enlightening and it is empowering for me to read it. It is brilliantly written. It is well-researched and engaging. The narrative structure of the work follows the story of three specific individuals and their stories are interwoven with incredible detail of the culture and the history of the time, painting a vivid, poignant, and personal picture of life for black folks in the decades following the “end” of slavery. It explains so much. It explains things that I didn’t know I so desperately needed to understand. As I realized that people I was close to in my lifetime would have been alive during the hellish decades post-slavery (and would have dealt with some of the horrors described in the book, firsthand), I could feel the impact of the events of the first half of the 1900s on my own, personal life. It made my own grandparents and parents and, therefore, my own life experience, make more sense to me.

The book fills enormous gaps in the so-called “history” that I was taught in school. I think that most of us think of slavery as something that happened a long time ago, to other people, elsewhere, and that things got better after that and that now they’re way, way better and we’re really far from where we’ve come. What is astonishing is that slavery and neo-slavery has been happening and happening and its ramifications have been happening and happening, continuing inexorably forward, and somehow we have been hoodwinked and bamboozled into believing that it is all lost in the distant past. It is yesterday and it is today and it is tomorrow. Even now.

In the past couple of years, I have been trying to educate myself about anti-black racism and how things are in the shape that they’re in right now, racially. I’ve been trying to build a bridge in my mind between the Middle Passage and whoever was the last black person to be on video this week being killed by a police officer, extrajudicially. It has been clear that I didn’t have enough of a grasp of the history to connect the dots from here to there.

The more I educate myself, the more I come to grasp the enormity of my miseducation. It is profoundly astonishing to me the degree to which the history of this country has been concealed and the degree to which propaganda about both the past and the present has been fed to us all. Before I began this arduous, painful process of self-education, I could tell you more about the history of British, French, and Spanish monarchs from the Renaissance through Queen Elizabeth, the history of the Spanish Inquisition, and the history of the Crusades, than I could tell you anything about the brutal realities of Jim Crow, neo-slavery, redlining, or the mass incarceration of black people in the United States within the last hundred years. The excellent formal education I have received did not include almost any meaningful detail about the real cultural, structural, institutional, and economic ramifications of slavery and of the hundred years or so since then on this country and on all of us who live here. I am still shocked at the ways in which my education has been corrupted and I feel foolish that I am still so shocked.

Having been raised to believe that I live in a democracy where freedom of speech is the law of the land and the free-flow of information is held to be some kind of birthright, I am still astonished at the degree to which I have been brainwashed. We have been lied to, over and and over and over again and we mostly have no idea it has happened.

We live in a country in profound denial about the nature of itself.

As an individual, it takes consistent and persistent effort to break through that denial. But, it is worth it in order to be sane in the midst of this insanity. Collectively, it will take an enormous amount of consistent and persistent effort, on the part of an entire nation, to burn through that sweet, sticky fog of insanity that has left us as a culture in a stupor of denial and delusion, unable to meaningfully repair the impact of hundreds upon hundreds of years of slavery and systemic, institutional racism because the culture cannot even acknowledge that it has happened and is still happening.

I cannot singlehandedly overthrow this epic, wide-spread denial. I can only work to burn through the ignorance and denial that fogs my own vision so that I can see more clearly. I can share my truth and my meager tools with you and invite you to do the same. Burn through your ignorance and denial, share your truth about it with others, and share your tools.

I am only just beginning to scratch the surface and my research has primarily been concerned with the people I am descended from. There are so many more books and articles to read. There is so much education to do. For me, it has been exquisitely painful, but phenomenally liberating. Waking up to reality is so empowering. I invite you to join me on this journey of self-education, of burning through the ignorance and delusion, of waking up.

A partial list of what I’ve read on the topic of anti-black racism in this country (that I would highly recommend) includes:

Ta-Nehisi Coates: The Case for Reparations (article: http://www.theatlantic.com/…/the-case-for-reparatio…/361631/)

Michelle Alexander: The New Jim Crow

James Baldwin: The Fire Next Time

Robin DiAngelo: White Fragility (article: http://libjournal.uncg.edu/index.php/ijcp/article/view/249)

Ta-Nehisi Coates: Between the World and Me

Baratunde Thurston: How to Be Black

Isabel Wilkerson: The Warmth of Other Suns (I’m about halfway through)

There have been so many, many others, but these are the ones I can remember easily off the top of my head, because they were so useful for me.

The next book in my queue is Douglas Blackmon’s: Slavery By Another Name, but I’ll need a good work of science fiction – maybe something by N.K. Jemisin – or two between now and then, because I need a break between ordeals.

“It is truly horrible to understand yourself as the essential below of your country.

It breaks too much of what we would like to think about ourselves, our lives, the world we move through and the people who surround us.

The struggle to understand is our only advantage over this madness.”

–Ta-Nehisi Coates, from Between the World and Me

The following image showed up in my Facebook feed and it seemed like a good (albeit flimsy) excuse to talk with you all about all of this. Consider the green part of the image a typo. Consider, perhaps the red part extending through the entire part that is currently yellow. Then consider the green part orange, perhaps on its way to eventually someday, maybe being yellow. Green is off in the distant future, someday, maybe, hopefully, if we all work really, really hard on a collective level to wake up.

American Slavery - Segregation

 

 

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I Invite Us All to a Greater Level of Racial Honesty

First, check out this speech:

http://fusion.net/story/229269/deray-mckesson-gay-blacklivesmatter/?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=socialshare&utm_content=desktop+top

Then, read the rest of this post:

In the past year or two, I have been, as DeRay McKesson says in this speech, “coming out of the quiet.”

I have joked often about how I’m “coming out as Black,” and it’s more than a joke. I have been challenging myself to speak up and speak out about racism, classism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia as I see them, experience them, and/or as the have affected me and others. But, particularly, I have been finding my voice as a Black person to name issues of race as they arise in my life, in my history, in my life circumstances, and within the world.

The taboo against naming, acknowledging, and dealing with matters of race in this country is profound. Just naming my own truth, my own experience of the subtle and profound racialized experiences I am having and witnessing on any given day is a radical act. It is terrifying. Yet, the more I do it, the easier it becomes. I feel my strength and my power and my vitality growing to overshadow the fear of harm coming to me (in any of the innumerable ways that harm can come, from social/professional censure to incarceration to assassination a.k.a. “suicide in police custody”).

I have been moved and inspired and emboldened by activists in the #BlackLivesMatter  movement to speak out, to protest, to educate, to agitate, and again and again to refuse compliance with the conspiracy of silence that insists that people like me keep our mouths shut in the face of overwhelming and systemic oppression, discrimination, violence, and tyranny.

Not only do #BlackLivesMatter, but #BlackVoicesMatter, #BlackStoriesMatter, #BlackTruthMatters.

I may not be able to change systemic racism all by myself, but I can change the volume setting on my own voice. I can take my voice off of mute. I can project it. I can add my voice to the chorus of people speaking up.

Whether or not anyone else listens to me, *I* listen to me speaking up on my own behalf and on behalf of my own Blackness and it strengthens and empowers me. Some part of my soul that was dying due to voicelessness comes alive again and grows strong.

But, there is power in numbers. I want to invite us all to a greater level of #RacialHonesty. The invitation is for those of us whose voices have been more silenced in this country on the basis of race to acknowledge our racial experience (to the degree that we safely and healthily can) and for those whose stories and voices are privileged in this country on the basis of race to be more honest about what they do not know about the experience of people of color. It requires bravery on all sides. The more people of color who bravely speak up about their racial truth and the more white folks who bravely (and with cultural humility) listen, learn, and ally with us, the more change is possible.

Let us all come out of the quiet.

(P.S. Do actually listen to the speech DeRay McKesson gives here. It’s good.)

White People Don’t Let White People Spout White Nonsense a.k.a. No Ignorant White Person Left Behind

I think this article “Sensible Responses to White Nonsense,” by Mary C. Joyce is kind of awesome.

Let me explain: Sometimes, I post something on Facebook about race. Sometimes it is someone else’s writing; sometimes it is my own; sometimes a combination. I seem to have the awesomest friends in the world, because when I do share about my feelings and experience about race, my awesome friends (including a high percentage of white friends) seem to listen hard, communicate respectfully, affirm my sharing of my experience or my sharing of the information I’m sharing, add in a useful way to the conversation, and sometimes share what I’ve shared with their friends.

That’s where something strange sometimes happens. I go to their pages where they have shared the same things I have just shared and sometimes I read the most hateful, racist responses to it from their Facebook friends.

I am promptly horrified, super grateful for my own awesome extended community, and unsure what to do next. I really don’t want to engage personally (because, really, racism and toxic racial ignorance is pretty upsetting for me to engage with directly), yet I want the person to be engaged with, rather than censured. Largely, I see my awesome friends engaging with the person far more patiently than I would in that situation.

I then maybe thank the friend for the hard work they’re doing and the friend shrugs it off, like it ain’t nothing and they don’t need a cookie.

Because I have ridiculously awesome friends.

So, this article: provides cogent, clear answers to common comments made by less racially savvy white people. These are generally for white people talking to white people about racism, but could be adapted for the use of POC when talking to white people.

The article uses the term “White nonsense,” as almost a technical term. I like it. It’ll work when calling it typical white supremacist racist bull$&@% won’t help your case.

We need to have ways of talking back, articulately, to the standard white nonsense when we encounter it. But, especially white people talking to other white people. Because white folks aren’t saying to me what they say to other white folks. On the whole, white folks with less racial savvy are more likely to express their white nonsense to their (sometimes secretly more racially savvy) white friends than to me. For which, I am grateful. I’d rather be talking to my white friends than my white friends’ white friends. But, I also kinda feel we need to adopt a no-ignorant-white-person left behind approach to educating our racist friends (and friends of friends).

So, anyway, here’s some talking points. This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the greatest hits of white nonsense. There is a near-infinite supply of white nonsense and this only covers a few common themes. Please feel free to share more or better articles on this with me or in the comments or on your own blogs and facebook walls and twitter feeds and community forums.

Please Look For The Blindfold Covering Your Eyes. Then Remove It.

Please look for the blindfold covering your eyes. Then remove it. Underneath that blindfold, there will be another. Remove that blindfold. Underneath that blindfold, there will be yet another. Keep removing blindfolds until your eyes are uncovered. Allow the eyes to adjust. Bring them into focus. See. Don’t just stop at just “seeing.” Look around at the injustice, the inequities, and the lies. Integrate this information into your understandings of the world. Help your friends, family, neighbors, police forces, and lawmakers remove their blindfolds. Help them see. Help them look. Help them understand. Put your understandings together with the understandings of others. Make change. Make a difference. Make it better.
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Cartoon by Ann Telnaes: