#BlackLivesMatter, Y’all

#BlackLivesMatter

It’s been simultaneously fascinating and disturbing to me to watch different people’s reactions to that simple hashtag and the movement it shares a name with. My white conservative friends almost uniformly react with disgust and defensiveness to both the statement and the movement. My white liberal friends almost all claim to support the movement, particularly as long as they approve of the methods employed by the movement and haven’t, to my knowledge, disputed the truth of the statement. 

On the face of it all, #BlackLivesMatter is such a simple statement that it seems as though it should be too obvious to even bother stating let alone disagreeing with. Do #BlackLivesMatter? Well, of course they do! The fact that anyone would dispute the truth in that statement or feel the need to counter it with statements about how #AllLivesMatter is itself a strong *indictment of the racial issues and defensiveness in the US.

Now, I must admit that I’ve completely shied away from using those specific words in the past, in large part because of the strong reaction I’ve seen in response to them. Sure, I’ve tried to be a good white ally in other ways. I’ve been fairly regular about posting articles about systemic racism, talking about race and racism with my children, and calling out racist remarks when I see them. But…. I haven’t used #BlackLivesMatter. 

Why not? I finally asked myself earlier today, but I wasn’t completely sure what the answer was. I don’t particularly like politicized posts or being bombarded day in and day out by extremist posts from any side of the spectrum and I guess the reactions to #BlackLivesMatter have felt to me as though they’re reactions to an extreme perspective. I don’t particularly want to be an extremist who constantly posts links to questionable websites and subsequently gets hidden or ignored by all reasonable people on the Internet. 

But, when looked at rationally and not through the lens of other people’s emotions, is #BlackLivesMatter really that extreme? Is it extreme at all? This is a simple statement of truth. Something so obvious that it shouldn’t even need to be said. Yet many people all but lose their minds with defensiveness when they see it. 

So, I’ve come to the perspective that it is the people who object to #BlackLivesMatter, particularly those who object to the statement itself, who are the extremists. Those I’ve seen who object to others saying something as fundamental as #BlackLivesMatter have not been coming from a place of reasonableness or thoughtfulness, but rather from defensiveness, if not anger, and it’s pretty well accepted that defensiveness intereferes with understanding.

I can’t base my wording decisions on other people’s defensiveness. Sure, it’s often essential to know your audience and to try and present things in a way that are most likely to be understandable to them, but sometimes the defensiveness itself needs to be addressed before a productive discussion can even be had. 

On another note, I’ve seen many liberal friends of mine post about how upsetting it was to them that some protesters from the #BlackLivesMatter movement interrupted Bernie Sanders’ rally in Seattle a couple days ago. This might sound harsh, but truly, it’s not up to white liberals to decide what is or isn’t acceptable for the #BlackLivesMatter movement. 

Marginalized people have historically not been able to access the “socially acceptable” channels in order to have a strong voice in society. Perhaps instead of voicing outrage on the Internet, white liberals might gain more understanding and be able to remain supportive by looking into the reasons why the #BlackLivesMatter protesters at that event felt as though they needed to use tactics that you see as unacceptable. 

Don’t get me wrong, nobody has to completely agree with everything a movement does in order to support it, but standing in judgment of a marginalized people’s movement from a place of privilege is not supportive.

I like Bernie, I think he’s a good guy with good intentions. I don’t agree with him about everything, but he seems genuine and as though he’s really trying to tackle the big issues that other mainstream candidates won’t even bring up. It’s still not my place or any other white person’s place to look from our position of racial privilege at what #BlackLivesMatter did and get all judgy about it. Those aren’t my family members and friends being murdered by the establishment or by overtly racist nutjobs spurred on by systemic racism. You or I might have done the exact same thing if we were in their shoes, there’s no way of knowing. 

For what it’s worth, I grew up in the Seattle area and I 100% agree with the protestors that Seattle is horribly racist. The worst thing about the racism in the PNW is how so many of the white people who live there simply don’t see it or consider it to be an issue. So many people in that area will readily and repeatedly call out racism in the Deep South, but ignore the rampant racism in their own area or in their own words and actions. 

I do know one thing: I’m more upset and concerned about the shootings of unarmed black men and women than I am by the things the #BlackLivesMatter movement has done and said. Even if I was more upset by the #BlackLivesMatter movement, it’s not my place to grumble about it. It’s not about me. 

#BlackLivesMatter, y’all. 

~B.
*We’ve probably all seen the #AllLivesMatter analogy of a fundraiser for cancer treatments where someone stands up and shouts, “But other diseases are bad too!!!” Okay. Yeah, all diseases are bad and everyone’s life matters. Thank you, Captain Obvious, but we’re focusing on this specific problem right here and now for specific reasons. 

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Polarization

I’ve been trying halfheartedly to blog more lately about issues that are important to me. This hasn’t happened for a myriad of reasons including the novel I’m writing, the children I care for, and the husband who ocassionally wants to interact with me. 

The biggest issue, I must admit, is that I’m tired of the Internet. Tired of how polarized things have become — or maybe they’ve always been this polarized and now it’s just more apparent to me. Tired of the gross simplification of serious issues. Tired of talking with people I don’t actually know about important issues that they’ve already made up their minds about. Tired of people who spout memes about everything and egregiously misunderstand nearly everything I type if I don’t completely agree with them about every detail, even though I’m generally trying my best to actually hear and understand what they’re saying.

Because, apparently, in the Internet community, if you don’t completely agree with one or the other of the media-fueled “opposite” sides on hot-button issues, then you’re on the “other side” and are the enemy. To be debated and countered, but never actually listened to or heard. I’ve seen this happen time and time again. I can often pinpoint exactly how two “opposing” sides are talking past each other. It’s fascinating, albeit frustrating, to watch and I know I’m not immune either. It’s always more obvious to me when other people misunderstand each other than when I’m in the thick of it myself and I assume that others have similar experiences.

Anyhow, my truth is that I’ve almost never found the extreme sides, the ones the media seems to delight in perpetuating, to be correct about important issues. Reality is complex. Reality cannot be easily summed up into the memes and pithy soundbites that people online delight in. The reality almost always lies somewhere between the two extreme sides and I generally find myself agreeing at least partially with people on all sides of extremely intense issues.  

We have amazing access to people’s opinions and thoughts, yet it seems as though many people aren’t interested in listening, only in talking. I guess that I also haven’t wanted to participate lately in the cacophany of opinions on the Internet. 

But I also believe that the following is crucial: 

The solutions to the big problems our families/communities/countries/world face cannot be solved as long as we persist in fighting each other at every turn and aren’t actually listening to or hearing the concerns of our fellow human beings. 

I’d like to ask a few simple questions for anyone who reads this (including myself) to think about.

1. Why are only two “sides” presented as being possibilities in almost every single hot-button issue? Why are those sides then pitted against each other and seen as irreconcilable? 

2. Why are so many people stubbornly resistent to seeing issues from another person’s perspective even as we have access to so many other people’s perspectives now?

3. When did agreement and the conversion of people to one’s own way of thinking become more important than building relationships and caring for our neighbors?

Perhaps we could try listening, working together, and trying to find common ground. Instead of getting stuck in the confirmation bias feedback loop. Instead of posting memes or inflammatory articles. Instead of opposing people from the “other side.” Instead of trying to win converts to our way of thinking. 

That would be quite refreshing. 

~B.

Continuing to Learn about America’s Racist History

We don’t often have access to a television because we don’t have one ourselves. We usually watch shows online and don’t need another appliance taking up space in our small home, but occasionally we have access to one and, more occasionally still, the results can be absolutely lovely.

Flipping through the television channels tonight at a hotel, the third channel we hit had a movie (42) about Jackie Robinson. It was towards the beginning of the movie when we found it and the first scene we saw showed segregated entrances to the baseball field.

Immediately, my girls decided that was what they wanted to watch. They have never cared one tiny bit about baseball, but they are fascinated and baffled by the history of racism/segregation in America. They watched that entire movie and erupted in outrage every time they saw blatant racism portrayed. *Edited to add on the evening of 4/30/15: We’ve had a great many amazing discussions since that night about the challenges and hatred Jackie Robinson (and his family and teammates) faced and how it really wasn’t that long ago when he lived*

I hadn’t really known the story of Jackie Robinson before tonight — at least not to where I remembered much of it. I’m sure it was touched on in Ken Burns’ Baseball series, but it’s been so long since I watched it that I must’ve forgotten.

I love (re)discovering history with my children ❤

Breaking the silence surrounding America’s racial history was very difficult at first — I can’t even tell you how difficult it was. Starting to talk about these issues with my children was terrifying to me when I began because I grew up in the “color blind” era when we didn’t ever mention race if we could at all manage it. Despite my initial discomfort, I believe that our discussions have paid off 100% based on the compassion and caring I have seen in them and their interest in learning more whenever the opportunity presents itself.

There’s a secret to talking and learning about racism: The more you talk about it, the easier it gets. The more you want to learn about it, the more your children will  almost certainly want to learn about it.

If you become (com)passionate about this topic then your children will have a good chance of mirroring your (com)passion.

I can’t go out and peacefully protest in solidarity at this point in my life because I have four small children (one extremely small), but I can make sure that they grow up to understand systemic racism, white privilege, and the history that got us to where we are now. I can also teach them the importance of sticking up for downtrodden and marginalized people whenever the opportunity arises.

#dowhatyoucan

#breakthesilence

#fromthemouthsofbabes

#BlackLivesMatter

#WhiteRacialResponsibility

Talking With the Children About Racism

“Racism doesn’t require the presence of malice, only the presence of bias and ignorance, willful or otherwise.” ~Charles M. Blow, The Perfect Victim Pitfall

It’s well past time to discuss the issues of race and racism with our children. Especially for those of us who are white and have largely had the privilege of being able to ignore issues like this for a very long time — possibly even our entire lives. There’s solid research available now about how all of us – even babies – have intrinsic biases against people who are a different race than we are. The recent events in Ferguson, MO; Columbia, SC; Staten Island, NY; Phoenix, AZ; and Cleveland, OH; along with the continued failure of there to be any sort of consequences at all for the white police officers involved in any of these cases are scathing indictments of the way our society, particularly white society, has chosen to handle race by largely ignoring it.

I’ve talked openly with my children about skin color for around a year now. At first it was awkward, even painful, and I had no idea how to even go about doing it, but it has gradually gotten easier the more we’ve talked about it. We were almost done reading our Addy Story Collection book when I asked a good friend of mine, who’s from a very colorful family, to help. She suggested that we use foods to describe skin colors to help even my youngest children better understand skin colors and their differences. I love that idea because there’s not a dichotomy, there’s no opposite to “coffee color,” “almond color,” “sugar cookie color,” “molasses cookie color,” or “cream of wheat color” like there is with black and white.

With that idea to help make the concept of different skin colors more accessible, even to my preschooler, we began to talk more in depth about the history of racism and slavery in America. We had started reading Addy together at the beginning of this year and through our many conversations they have learned that there is still a dichotomy and prejudice in a lot of people’s minds and that there has been a great deal of prejudice in our country’s past as well as our present. Along with that they also know that it’s not as simple as “white” and “black.” Really, to my children, people are food-colored, multi-colored, there are SO many more colors than just two or three or four, and everyone’s skin colors don’t make any difference in anyone’s worth or in anything else that’s inherent. Even within our own family, all white, there are varying shades – some darker than others.

Among all of that, I have wanted to make sure that they understand that skin color *does* make a difference in how people experience life. Someone’s skin color makes a difference in how they are treated and how they may have to react to certain situations in order to stay safe. This year, unfortunately, there has been no shortage of examples about how certain people groups are treated differently in our country than we are. 

We talked at some length a few months ago about several of the #IfTheyGunnedMeDown photos on Twitter and about how the media often chooses to portray people as heroes or villains. When I talked to the two oldest about the events in Ferguson back in August, it was as though lightbulbs went off in their heads, “You mean that some people still treat people differently because of their color?” 

To which I had to reply that, yes. Yes they still do. Why? Because it’s apparently inborn in all of us, but that doesn’t make it right or okay or excuse those biases. The knowledge that biases are present  in everyone’s thinking is vital, in my opinion, because only then can we learn to recognize our biases and to not be bound to the concept of “color-blindness,” which is not only impossible to achieve in the light of those studies, but that mindset also serves to ignore the very real experiences that black people in our society experience in their everyday lives – regardless of their socioeconomic status.

*Side note: For more information about the biases and discrimination black people experience, please see the Twitter hashtag #LivingWhileBlack and really try to listen and hear and understand the experiences posted there. You can also contrast those stories with the stories at #CrimingWhileWhite, if you really want to see a clear dichotomy.

But how did we begin these conversations with the children? How do you even talk to children about these kinds of horrifying current events? I was asked on Facebook a few days ago whether these discussions had come up naturally or whether we had needed to be more purposeful about it and honestly, it was a little of both.

My children had begun verbalizing the fact that they were noticing people’s skin color at some point towards the end of last year. So I had been agonizing about how to go about talking about these issues for a while before we began to read Addy out loud in January of this year. I believe that Addy was a great introduction because it brought up extremely serious issues and opened the door to further discussions about them, but the issues were brought up in what I think was an age-appropriate way. Ever since reading Addy, which was a purposeful – albeit an ultimately child-led – decision by simply having it around and presenting it as an option for a read-aloud, race issues have come up naturally as my children have seen things firsthand and as they have brought up questions of their own. We have also continued our discussions with the oldest two, in particular, about current events and the very real discrimination and racism that people who don’t look like we do still face today.

Ultimately, what these current events and recent scientific studies have taught me personally is that everyone has biases – that’s just human nature – the important thing, in my opinion, is that we recognize that fact – stop denying that these biases exist – and try not to act on our biases, especially where they’re irrational and built on centuries of oppression/privilege and/or where they’re constructed by the media to perpetuate the status quo. But in order to begin recognizing these biases and in order for our children to recognize these biases, we have to talk about it. We have to talk to our children and start conversations within our communities about race and racism and our country’s abysmal history with regards to race. This is not a one-time conversation any more than the “sex talk” should be a one-time conversation. Noticing and checking our biases has to be an ongoing and conscious effort lest we find ourselves slipping into those inborn biases and getting comfortable with our unearned privileges yet again.

Links for parents:  You can’t effectively teach what you aren’t familiar with yourself. Are you poor and not sure how you’re privileged? Check this out: Explaining White Privilege to a Broke White Person Do you prefer comics to articles? White Privilege, Explained in One Simple Comic Worried about what it might mean about you to admit that you’re privileged? My White Privilege Would you like to see a list outlining many of the invisible ways white people are privileged in American society? White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack Do you think that well-to-do black families are immune from the effects of white privilege/black oppression? I taught my black kids that their elite upbringing would protect them from discrimination. I was wrong. Would you like to read about someone else’s journey towards realizing their white privilege? How I Discovered I am White The words we use to describe people and their actions really do matter: Maybe I’m a Racist and I Didn’t Even Know It Do you still think you and others can be “color-blind” successfully? Babies aren’t even “color-blind” according to several studies. Three-month-olds, but not newborns, prefer own-race faces.  Nine-Month Olds Show Racial Bias When Looking at Faces Babies Show a Bias Towards Own Race Do you take exception to the way black people expressed their feelings in the wake of the failure to indict Darren Wilson? On Ferguson Protests, the Destruction of Things, and What Violence Really Is (and Isn’t) For a long, but excellent, read about why we really should consider Reparations to the black community for how they continue to be treated, even today, please check this out: The Case For Reparations

ACOG’s Homebirth Statement

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has just released a new statement on homebirth. It can be found here.

There have been many responses to their rather condescending statement, but my all-time favorite can be found here. Rixa at The True Face of Birth has written “10 Responses to ACOG’s Statement on Homebirth” which are excellently presented and referenced as well. I take great pleasure in sharing them because she has said pretty much what I wanted to say after my initial fury and disbelief had subsided.

Oregon Supreme Court Rules in Circumcision Case

The Oregon Supreme Court has ruled that M – the 12 year old who is caught in the middle of a custody battle as well as a battle for his genital integrity – should have a say in whether or not he is circumcised. M’s father has converted to Judaism and wishes his son to convert as well, which he believes necessitates a circumcision. M’s mother and, according to her, M himself, oppose the circumcision.

Good for the court! If M was in favor of being circumcised, I seriously doubt the case would have made it to to the legal system in the first place. All M had to do was not tell his mother (who presumably doesn’t see her 12-year-old son’s genitals often, if at all) about the planned circumcision once he discovered that she opposed it.

This ruling brings up interesting questions, of course. At what age does a male child have the right to decide whether or not he wishes to have elective cosmetic surgery on his own body? At what age can parents no longer decide that their child’s genitals should be cosmetically altered? If a parent can’t decide for a 12-year old then why should they be allowed to decide for a 12-day old? The 12-day old will someday be a 12-year old or a 24-year old who may not have wished his body to have been modified without his consent.

It will be interesting to see how this case continues to unfold…

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