Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Change’ Category

Mauro Malang Santos

Racism is the single most critical barrier to building effective coalitions for social change.

The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond

Last night at an event focused on building support for immigrant communities, every single participant was a white person.

At a meet-and-greet at a local bar for Virginia Democratic Lieutenant Governor candidates, almost every participant a white woman.

At all the discussions of racial and social justice in my Unitarian Universalist congregation, the attendees are predominantly white people.

At an interfaith vigil that took place after the local JCC and UCC were vandalized with Nazi symbols and hate speech, all but a few attendees were white people.

At the university where I work, a place nationally recognized for the diversity of its student body, the faculty and staff meetings in my department are comprised almost entirely of white people.

At the local Huddle, every attendee is a white woman.

At the “Love Lives Here” family parade in response to Richard Spencer setting up shop in Alexandria, almost all protestors were white people.

At a dialogue hosted by the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution to bridge the post-election divide, all but two of the student organizers and one student participant were white people.

At the Kitchen Conversations at my house, eight of ten participants were white women.

Anyone see a pattern here?

(more…)

Read Full Post »

Tordjman Sorrow 3

Two months, no tears.
Drought or deluge?

Touch the earth.
Watch the sky.


Image: Yoel Tordjman, “i will go by fire and water”

Read Full Post »

goa-reed-flute-cave

Because now we must save the whole world, my son’s bow slips from the strings. The last reverberation hums against windows closed against night. So does the cold flash of his gaze when he slaps the songbook shut.

He refuses.

I walk out.

(more…)

Read Full Post »

Carry On

taylor-glass-head

Poor as sin, a bottle of wet, two friends dead. A man outside her window. Wallet on the car floor, wheels spitting asphalt, WaWa bathroom, brown tile walls. Lady pushes her girl into the stall, “You go even if you don’t have to.”

First book with chapters: Sweet Valley High. Which one, all the same. Skin dry, skin slick, so pretty before but realized it too late, that’s always the story. She borrows makeup from a friend, color off. Friend is a generous term. They had been small enough to fit on the same block.  Once.  Adults now, those girls, dulled but also steady.  Selective memory to fill gaps.

New shoes she didn’t buy. Two quarters and a dime, a pack of gum gone soft, the name of the baby they took or she gave, who remembers. The recipe for making him stay, the back of a stained receipt, a language she learned to whisper but never to speak. Paycheck stub, proof of value, plastic troll with hair, once blue.

(more…)

Read Full Post »

flying bike

On bike, top of hill, foot down.  Red light.  It was green as I was climbing but turned yellow before I could get through.  It’s a quiet Saturday, holiday weekend.  A few cars cross in front of me, no one behind me.  The rotation complete, my turn next, I step on the pedals and inch out.  The light stays red, though.  It is red as oncoming traffic starts to enter and turn left.  Because no drivers had joined me on my side of the intersection, the signal never kicked to green.  I could wait here all day at a red light that stays red.  Instead, I press through.  The oncoming drivers pause for two extra beats to wait for me before turning left across the empty lane.

A man jams his body halfway out of his driver’s side window.  His head, arm, torso look like they’re about to climb out after me.  He screams across the road, “Why don’t you obey the law, you fucking idiot!”

I catch my breath and keep riding.

Through my head race all the answers I would say if his were a real question.  Louder than my imagined response is the clang clang clang of his fury: “You fucking idiot, you fucking idiot, you. . .”  For the next mile at least, I tense at every approaching engine, sure he’s whipped around to come after me.  Will my helmet work when he clips me and I flip onto the side of the road?  It’s a quiet, leafy neighborhood.  People are out.  Surely someone will see it and call 911.

You fucking idiot, you fucking. . . (more…)

Read Full Post »

creaturehood

As I shift, so does my son.  I invite him to “special time,” a goofy name for a powerful connection, and he first rolls his eyes. “I’m not doing that.”  The idea of playing just with me for 30 minutes is near the bottom of his list.

“You get to be in charge,” I explain.  “It just has to be between here and the park.”  Also, no screens, and no one’s hurting anyone else.  Other than that, we can do anything he wants.

“Anything?”

“Anything.”

“Can I throw pillows at you?”  His eyes have stopped rolling and now they’re fixed on me.

“Sure, as long as you’re not hurting me.”

“Can we go outside and play a tag game?”

I laugh “Of course.”  Tag is the one thing that I almost always resist when he suggests it.  Chase  my son endlessly around the neighborhood?   I’d rather stay in and clean hair out of the bathtub drain.  As it turns out, it’s not tag or pillows.  “Pirate ship!” he shouts, and runs into the living room to start moving furniture.  We pull out the ladder for scaffolding, king-sized sheets for the mast.  Bug creates turrets using plastic wine goblets.  He also creates something called a “maker” which is a kind of on-deck factory that turns raw materials into weapons.

If someone asked me to describe my son with naked honesty, I might say obstinate, aggressive, bright and powerful.  Curious but easily frustrated.  Sometimes cold and snubs emotional connection.  The boy hates to lose.  He’s an Eeyore on steroids.

If that same someone were to walk into our house during our first shot at Special Time, they’d see an entirely different boy.  Here is a child who is eager and spunky.  He’s creating an elaborate game with unclear structure, and he’s persevering with enthusiasm.  As he turns the form of Minecraft into a real-life activity, he’s engaging me in fizzy conversation.  He’s cracking jokes.

The visitor in our house would meet a boy who is close to his mom, sharing and cooperating, confident enough to be fine with uncertainty.  Here is a Piglet who is ready for anything.

So which boy is he?

We like to think of personality as fixed.  That person in our life is a certain set of characteristics:  maybe kind, a little introverted has good follow-through on commitments but fumbles in front of crowds. This is the person we know, and because we know she’s this way, we have a sense of predictability in our friendship, workplace, or marriage.  If people are changeable, how could we function in our roles?

Indeed, we haven’t needed to ask this question much because most of the common (if mistaken) personality theory that dominates our lives reinforces the notion of consistency.  It’s how we end up with ENFJs in workplace training with ISTPs, figuring out how to cooperate on a team.  Nevertheless, as anyone who has taken the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) knows, the test has its flaws.  A question comes up:  “As a rule, you proceed only when you have a clear and detailed plan.”  The test-taker then has to think, In a project meeting with my co-worker?  When coaching my kid’s basketball team?  Cleaning my closets?   Working out at the gym?

Which rule for “as a rule”?  The trainer is little help.  She’ll say, “pick one area of your life and stick with that.”  This test is supposed to map a person’s defining characteristics yet allows the random selection of context and perspective?  A little skepticism is fitting.

The fact that organizational leadership and development professionals still rely heavily on the MBTI is not confirmation of its reliability.  Indeed, there is no replicable research to back it up, and the science is flimsy at best.  The lack of connection to any empirical evidence about “personality type” should gut its foundation and release its hold on us.

“What concerns me is the cultlike devotion of many consultants and practitioners to it without the examination of the evidence,” says Adam Grant, a professor of industrial psychology at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.


– Lillian Cunningham, “Myers-Briggs: Does it Pay to Know your Type?” in The Washington Post, December 14, 2012.

Corporate training is a $50 billion a year industry.  Its influence is one reason we still believe so firmly in fixed personality traits.  Another is based in the theory that we simply see what we want to see, that we seek out examples of certain traits and fix them to people.  Personality, then, is an illusion.

Yet another curious idea is that personality, while unfixed and changeable overall, is consistent in a particular context.

Lee Ross, a psychologist at Stanford University, has another intriguing idea. . . He thinks we actually are seeing consistency in human behavior, but we’re getting the reason for it wrong. “We see consistency in everyday life because of the power of the situation,” he says.  Most of us are usually living in situations that are pretty much the same from day to day, Ross says. And since the circumstances are consistent, our behavior is, too.”


– Alix Spiegel, “Is Your Personality Fixed, Or Can You Change Who You Are?” from Invisibilia on NPR.

Every so often, I look up exes to see where they’ve wandered.  It’s a rare indulgence — rare enough that when I find them again, they have crossed oceans of life.  One fellow was all braggadocio masking incompetence and sloth.  He was stuck in debt and working a customer-service job he hated.  Now runs his own business.  His company lead tours in the mountains and edu-tains high school groups in the nation’s capital.  The contrast is startling.  It’s a marvel that he’s so completely not who I thought he was. . . or rather, that the man he was at that time and place was only one slice of a much larger, evolving person.

Traits may not be as inherent as we assume.  Change the context, and the person himself can change.

If I want to become someone different (as indeed I do, with regard to how I approach my career and family), it’s not going to work for me to do so in the current stage-set of my life.  If an environment rewards mediocrity, how can a person develop drive?

Shifting the situation invites a reworking of the self.

Taking on a project in a volunteer setting, or stepping into a leadership role in the kiddo’s school, or diving into HOA budget management, or committing to a regular childcare exchange with other parents in the community. . . these are just a few of the ways to “become” someone different.  A new role in a new context allows for the cultivation of qualities not yet fully formed in the familiar self.

My son and I are not “who we are,” despite the inane it is what it is trope that comforts our dissonance and excuses our inertia.  If we aim to invite a fuller version of ourselves, then we must change what we do, and where, and when, and how.


 Image:  Micah Bazant from the Trans Life & Liberation Art Series

 

 

Read Full Post »

SURJ note

In February 2015, Natasha McKenna, a 37-year old neighbor and mother, called 911.  The help she expected was not what showed up.  Instead, she was herself arrested on an outstanding warrant.  In custody, she suffered a mental health crisis.  She was restrained while naked and put into leg shackles and handcuffs.  Six Fairfax County police officers in hazmat suits put a bag over her face and tazed her four times.  She stopped breathing.  Natasha McKenna died a few days later.  The deputies responsible for her death faced no charges and continue to work in law enforcement.

Today, SURJ Northern Virginia gathered at the Fairfax County courthouse in front of the detention center where Natasha McKenna was held and brutalized.  The protest found its way to Route 123, a narrow and busy corridor through downtown Fairfax.  At 9:00am right during rush hour, we stepped out into the street and stopped traffic.  Coverage of the story is here and here and here.

The primary objective of this action was to focus enough attention to Natasha McKenna’s case that county Sheriff Stacey Kincaid will bring charges against the six officers.   The protest is also part of a larger goal: to stand with Black Lives Matter.  We need our neighbors and leaders to hear that racism and brutality are not problems somewhere out there, in Memphis or St. Louis or Ferguson.  They exist right here in our own community.

As a white person at her first racial justice action since protesting the death sentence of Mumia Abu Jamal at the 1995 governor’s convention (that’s 21 years ago, people!), I’ve got some catching up to do.

This work is about Natasha McKenna.  It is about changing structures of law enforcement and governance that dehumanize and destroy People of Color.  This work is decidedly not about me.  Yet when stepping out today, I woke up to a few things — food for thought for other allies who are considering their involvement? — about being white while working for racial justice.

Like how stark the difference between our treatment today and that of Black protestors using the same tactics in other cities.  The police who came on the scene took their time to congregate.  They kept a safe distance.  They gave us three clear warnings and articulated exactly what would happen if we refused to move.  No one touched a weapon.  No one hid under helmets or riot gear.  When they handcuffed the folks who blocked traffic, they asked if the cuffs were comfortable.  The ones under arrest were booked and released in less than an hour.  Everyone had time to get to work.

White privilege at a racial justice action means knowing that my job is safe even if I show up late, or show up on TV.  I can take personal leave or just stay after 5:00 to make up the lost hours.  Many of my co-workers, my supervisor, and even the students I serve will be supportive of my involvement in political protest.  My livelihood is secure.  I have no criminal record and I’m not on probation for any of the thousand tiny infractions that can land a Black person in jail.  Even if I get arrested, even if my name is in the news, the consequences are negligible.

White privilege at a racial justice action means I can choose whether or not to be arrested.   Both the cops and the activists know the script and the parts they play in it.  We move through the choreography.  The certainty is near total:  I’ll block traffic at 8:00 a.m. and be heading to the office by 10:00.

Being white at a racial justice action means that I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the armored truck trying to turn right into me is not going to run me over.  I can plant the giant image of Natasha McKenna in front of me.  I can refuse to budge.  The driver is welcome to be as pissed off as he wants.  He can rev his engine, nudge up to me, come within 10 inches of my body, and I’m going to be safe.  The cops standing there will not let him hurt me.  There are laws in this country that protect me.  And I’m secure in the knowledge that those laws will do exactly that.

And guess what?  The Loomis truck driver growled and cussed, then backed up and shot an illegal U-turn to find an alternate way around us.

Being white at a racial justice action means that when the gal with the bullhorn clicks off the mic to confer with the cops and everyone is standing there waiting for guidance, I get to hide.  It’s a white sort of hiding.  I can stand there silent and anonymous and surrounded by 20 other silent white folks in front of double lines of cars stretching a mile in either direction.  My privilege — and the expectation of decorum and conformity — allow me to gaze off vaguely and wait until our leader is done.

Awareness of white privilege at a racial justice action is something altogether different.  It means reaffirming the commitments that brought me out.  It means calling to mind the simultaneous actions going on around the country, and remembering that the People of Color leading this work are tired.  They are always the ones on the front lines or in the line of fire.  Arrest is no joke.  Law applies differently or not at all.  They don’t have time for my timidity, my uncertainty, my need for a perfect plan.

They are why I showed up.

Ending the racism that permits the white privilege that keeps our little group of protestors safe — and its dehumanizing corollary for everyone else — means that I get to check myself.  Confusion and embarrassment are thick veins running right through the heart of the white culture I carry, particularly in the affluent, educated whiteness that is my native land.   This need to know what I’m doing before I do it, this fear of looking stupid or screwing things up, these are all part of a crippling anxiety that has no part to play in the work of liberation.

So I say to myself, you know what, Smirk?  No one knows what the hell to do. No ONE. 

No one knows how to build this thing.  No ONE. 

But you are not one today.  You are many, you are a force, you are part of an improvisation and a collaboration and a movement.

Go.

Being white at a racial justice action means stepping through the silence, opening up my  out-of-practice voice, and shouting out the call:

Black Lives Matter.  Black Lives Matter.

Black women matter.  Black women matter.

Say her name.  Natasha McKenna.

Say her name.  Natasha McKenna.

No justice.  No peace.

No racist.  Police.

Black Lives Matter.  Black Lives Matter.

Say her name.  Natasha McKenna.

A final note:  Putting down my sign at 10:00 and heading to the office, I realize with stunning clarity how goddamned much I have to learn.  Becoming more skilled, knowledgeable, and effective will take some work.  For this, I take the lead from activists and authors of color on all these fronts.  This week, I dive into this excellent Black Lives Matter reading list which curates and categorizes a number of recent pieces from folks working on racial justice.  It and others are available on Longreads.


Image:  Note from a morning commuter sent to the SURJ organizers today.

 

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »