What’s a Mother to do? The Days After Mother’s Day

Happy belated Mother’s Day one and all!  Because even if we have not given birth, we are all some kind of mother (put the accent where you will), we are all mother’s of invention.

I recently read a blog by a friend of mine, and she got me thinking about this question: What would YOU do to save your son or daughter in a moment when he or she might be putting herself/himself in harms way?

Far too many of our sons and daughters are subject to random acts of violence and senseless acts of cruelty.  There are not enough random acts of kindness nor senseless acts of beauty to balance the scales of any act of violence or cruelty and there have been far too many acts of violence and cruelty of late. My friend Rosi is right when she says we need to change the social structures. We need to build families, churches, governments, workplaces, media, social welfare systems that foster human dignity, growth and potential, that enable people to empower themselves. And I think we also, concurrently, need to change hearts, minds and actions on the interpersonal, ordinary day level so that the building of those new social structures is conceived in love, dignity and compassion.  And, I think Mother’s Love is just a fine foundation upon which to build all of that.

Here is the blog that spurred my thinking. It comes to us from

CHARLEENALDERFER familygram’s blog https://charleenalderfer.wordpress.com/2015/05/06/whats-a-mother-to-do/.

She posted it on May 6, 2015. I thought it would be appropriate to share it today, the day after Mother’s Day.

Thank You Charleen!

WHAT’S A MOTHER TO DO?

A tall, young black male enters the frame.  He wears a hoodie and jeans and carries the ubiquitous backpack.  He turns occasionally and looks back toward the camera.  In the background is a large gathering of people.  He seems to be headed in their direction. Suddenly, a woman dressed in yellow appears in the frame.  She is moving quickly in the direction of the young man.  While clearly older than he is, she is both matronly and attractive.  Intuitively, one knows she is his mother.  As she closes the distance between them, he continues at his same pace still turning to look toward her.  When she is close enough, she grabs his hoodie and he pulls away.  It is evident that he does not want to do what she is asking.  He reaches out and she grabs his arm with one hand and with other hits him on the head.  Now, we think, he will pull free and run.  But he does not run,.  He continues to resist.  The tug of war goes on and then, slowly, he goes with her.

This street in Baltimore has been in the news for the last few weeks.  It has been the scene of protests, both peaceful a violent. This young man was going to join the protestors in a setting which had turned toward violence. His mother saw him while watching the activity on TV.  She acted on her emotion and her instinct and ran after him to bring him home.  “Violence breeds violence” has been another kind criticism.  Hitting him just perpetuates violence. As a family therapist, I believe this is true if it is persistent and becomes a way of life.  We don’t know if this is the case for this mother and son.

If that were my son, I would do whatever it takes to get him.  My first thought would be that he might become Freddie Gray –   arrested and fatally injured in a police van.  My next thought would be to get him away from angry protesters who could convince him to join them.  I would want him home and safe.  What would a mother do to make that happen?  A slap on the side of the head got his attention.  The truth is that he didn’t resist that much.  He didn’t fight back, he didn’t try to run and he didn’t hit his mother. He could have done any of those things; he could even have pushed her down.  he was bigger, stronger, younger. Instead, he went with her.  Think about it.  What you do to save your son in that moment?

 

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We who believe in Freedom Cannot Rest

I first heard those lyrics as they were sung by Bernice Johnson Reagon. Dr. Reagon is the founding mother of Sweet Honey in the Rock, an a Capella African American Women’s group. The lyrics are from Ella’s Song, which was composed by Dr. Reagon.  The chorus of the song says, “We who believe in freedom cannot rest; We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.” And the first verse continues, “Until the killing of Black men, Black mothers’ sons Is as important as the killing of White men, White mothers’ sons  . . .” Sadly the song is as apt today as it was when it was written. I know that we must all speak and act for the dignity of Black mothers’ sons, for the dignity of all mothers’ sons and daughters. And I also know that I am a white woman who grew up in a culturally isolated town, and that I live in relative ease and privilege. I suspect that the power and clarity of my vision and voice are constrained by my experiences. So, today, I want to share with you a speech by U. S. District Judge Carlton W. Reeves, a man whose vision and voice resonate with power and clarity.  The speech is a bit long, but I promise you it is worth reading all the way through. It is worth reading a couple of times. And then I do believe that it requires that we stand up and act, because we who believe in freedom cannot rest.

 

 

A Black Mississippi Judge’s Breathtaking Speech To 3 White Murderers

FEBRUARY 13, 201512:54 PM ET

NPR STAFF

 

U.S. District Judge Carlton W. Reeves, for the Southern District of Mississippi.

Courtesy of cleoinc.org

Here’s an astonishing speech by U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves, who in 2010 became the second African-American appointed as federal judge in Mississippi. He read it to three young white men before sentencing them for the death of a 48-year-old black man named James Craig Anderson in a parking lot in Jackson, Miss., one night in 2011. They were part of a group that beat Anderson and then killed him by running over his body with a truck, yelling “white power” as they drove off.

The speech is long; Reeves asked the young men to sit down while he read it aloud in the courtroom. And it’s breathtaking, in both the moral force of its arguments and the palpable sadness with which they are delivered. We have decided to publish the speech, which we got from the blog Breach of Peace, in its entirety below. A warning to readers: He uses the word “nigger” 11 times.

One of my former history professors, Dennis Mitchell, recently released a history book entitled, A New History of Mississippi. “Mississippi,” he says, “is a place and a state of mind. The name evokes strong reactions from those who live here and from those who do not, but who think they know something about its people and their past.” Because of its past, as described by Anthony Walton in his book, Mississippi: An American Journey, Mississippi “can be considered one of the most prominent scars on the map” of these United States. Walton goes on to explain that “there is something different about Mississippi; something almost unspeakably primal and vicious; something savage unleashed there that has yet to come to rest.” To prove his point, he notes that, “[o]f the 40 martyrs whose names are inscribed in the national Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, AL, 19 were killed in Mississippi.” “How was it,” Walton asks, “that half who died did so in one state?” — my Mississippi, your Mississippi and our Mississippi.

Mississippi has expressed its savagery in a number of ways throughout its history — slavery being the cruelest example, but a close second being Mississippi’s infatuation with lynchings. Lynchings were prevalent, prominent and participatory. A lynching was a public ritual — even carnival-like — within many states in our great nation. While other states engaged in these atrocities, those in the Deep South took a leadership role, especially that scar on the map of America — those 82 counties between the Tennessee line and the Gulf of Mexico and bordered by Louisiana, Arkansas and Alabama.

Vivid accounts of brutal and terrifying lynchings in Mississippi are chronicled in various sources: Ralph Ginzburg’s 100 Years of Lynching and Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America, just to name two. But I note that today, the Equal Justice Initiative released Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror; apparently, it too is a must-read.

In Without Sanctuary, historian Leon Litwack writes that between 1882 and 1968 an estimated 4,742 blacks met their deaths at the hands of lynch mobs. The impact this campaign of terror had on black families is impossible to explain so many years later. That number contrasts with the 1,401 prisoners who have been executed legally in the United States since 1976. In modern terms, that number represents more than those killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom and more than twice the number of American casualties in Operation Enduring Freedom — the Afghanistan conflict. Turning to home, this number also represents 1,700 more than who were killed on Sept. 11. Those who died at the hands of mobs, Litwack notes, some were the victims of “legal” lynchings — having been accused of a crime, subjected to a “speedy” trial and even speedier execution. Some were victims of private white violence and some were merely the victims of “nigger hunts” — murdered by a variety of means in isolated rural sections and dumped into rivers and creeks. “Back in those days,” according to black Mississippians describing the violence of the 1930s, “to kill a Negro wasn’t nothing. It was like killing a chicken or killing a snake. The whites would say, ‘niggers jest supposed to die, ain’t no damn good anyway — so jest go an’ kill ’em.’ … They had to have a license to kill anything but a nigger. We was always in season.” Said one white Mississippian, “A white man ain’t a-going to be able to live in this country if we let niggers start getting biggity.” And, even when lynchings had decreased in and around Oxford, one white resident told a visitor of the reaffirming quality of lynchings: “It’s about time to have another [one],” he explained, “[w]hen the niggers get so that they are afraid of being lynched, it is time to put the fear in them.”

How could hate, fear or whatever it was transform genteel, God-fearing, God-loving Mississippians into mindless murderers and sadistic torturers? I ask that same question about the events which bring us together on this day. Those crimes of the past, as well as these, have so damaged the psyche and reputation of this great state.

Mississippi soil has been stained with the blood of folk whose names have become synonymous with the civil rights movement like Emmett Till, Willie McGee, James Cheney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, Vernon Dahmer, George W. Lee, Medgar Evers and Mack Charles Parker. But the blood of the lesser-known people like Luther Holbert and his wife, Elmo Curl, Lloyd Clay, John Hartfield, Nelse Patton, Lamar Smith, Clinton Melton, Ben Chester White, Wharlest Jackson and countless others, saturates these 48,434 square miles of Mississippi soil. On June 26, 2011, four days short of his 49th birthday, the blood of James Anderson was added to Mississippi’s soil.

The common denominator of the deaths of these individuals was not their race. It was not that they all were engaged in freedom fighting. It was not that they had been engaged in criminal activity, trumped up or otherwise. No, the common denominator was that the last thing that each of these individuals saw was the inhumanity of racism. The last thing that each felt was the audacity and agony of hate, senseless hate: crippling, maiming them and finally taking away their lives.

Mississippi has a tortured past, and it has struggled mightily to reinvent itself and become a New Mississippi. New generations have attempted to pull Mississippi from the abyss of moral depravity in which it once so proudly floundered in. Despite much progress and the efforts of the new generations, these three defendants are before me today: Deryl Paul Dedmon, Dylan Wade Butler and John Aaron Rice. They and their co-conspirators ripped off the scab of the healing scars of Mississippi … causing her (our Mississippi) to bleed again.

Hate comes in all shapes, sizes, colors, and from this case, we know it comes in different sexes and ages. A toxic mix of alcohol, foolishness and unadulterated hatred caused these young people to resurrect the nightmarish specter of lynchings and lynch mobs from the Mississippi we long to forget. Like the marauders of ages past, these young folk conspired, planned, and coordinated a plan of attack on certain neighborhoods in the city of Jackson for the sole purpose of harassing, terrorizing, physically assaulting and causing bodily injury to black folk. They punched and kicked them about their bodies — their heads, their faces. They prowled. They came ready to hurt. They used dangerous weapons; they targeted the weak; they recruited and encouraged others to join in the coordinated chaos; and they boasted about their shameful activity. This was a 2011 version of the nigger hunts.

Though the media and the public attention of these crimes have been focused almost exclusively on the early morning hours of June 26, 2011, the defendants’ terror campaign is not limited to this one incident. There were many scenes and many actors in this sordid tale which played out over days, weeks and months. There are unknown victims like the John Doe at the golf course who begged for his life and the John Doe at the service station. Like a lynching, for these young folk going out to “Jafrica” was like a carnival outing. It was funny to them — an excursion which culminated in the death of innocent, African-American James Craig Anderson. On June 26, 2011, the fun ended.

But even after Anderson’s murder, the conspiracy continued … And, only because of a video, which told a different story from that which had been concocted by these defendants, and the investigation of law enforcement — state and federal law enforcement working together — was the truth uncovered.

What is so disturbing … so shocking … so numbing … is that these nigger hunts were perpetrated by our children … students who live among us … educated in our public schools … in our private academies … students who played football lined up on the same side of scrimmage line with black teammates … average students and honor students. Kids who worked during school and in the summers; kids who now had full-time jobs and some of whom were even unemployed. Some were pursuing higher education and the Court believes they each had dreams to pursue. These children were from two-parent homes and some of whom were the children of divorced parents, and yes some even raised by a single parent. No doubt, they all had loving parents and loving families.

In letters received on his behalf, Dylan Butler, whose outing on the night of June 26 was not his first, has been described as “a fine young man,” “a caring person,” “a well mannered man” who is truly remorseful and wants to move on with his life … a very respectful … a good man … a good person … a lovable, kindhearted teddy bear who stands in front of bullies … and who is now ashamed of what he did. Butler’s family is a mixed-race family: For the last 15 years, it has consisted of an African-American stepfather and stepsister, plus his mother and two sisters. The family, according to the stepfather, understandably is “saddened and heartbroken.”

These were everyday students like John Aaron Rice, who got out of his truck, struck James Anderson in the face and kept him occupied until others arrived. … Rice was involved in multiple excursions to so-called “Jafrica”, but he, for some time, according to him and his mother, and an African-American friend shared his home address.

And, sadly, Deryl Dedmon, who straddled James Anderson and struck him repeatedly in the face and head with his closed fists. He too was a “normal” young man indistinguishable in so many ways from his peers. Not completely satisfied with the punishment to which he subjected James Anderson, he “deliberately used his vehicle to run over James Anderson — killing him.” Dedmon now acknowledges he was filled with anger.

I asked the question earlier, but what could transform these young adults into the violent creatures their victims saw? It was nothing the victims did … they were not championing any cause … political … social … economic … nothing they did … not a wolf whistle … not a supposed crime … nothing they did. There is absolutely no doubt that in the view of the court the victims were targeted because of their race.

The simple fact is that what turned these children into criminal defendants was their joint decision to act on racial hatred. In the eyes of these defendants (and their co-conspirators) the victims were doomed at birth. … Their genetic makeup made them targets.

In the name of White Power, these young folk went to “Jafrica” to “fuck with some niggers!” — echoes of Mississippi’s past. White Power! Nigger! According to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, that word, nigger, is the “universally recognized opprobrium, stigmatizing African-Americans because of their race.” It’s the nuclear bomb of racial epithets — as Farai Chideya has described the term. With their words, with their actions — “I just ran that nigger over” — there is no doubt that these crimes were motivated by the race of the victims. And from his own pen, Dedmon, sadly and regretfully wrote that he did it out of “hatred and bigotry.”

The court must respond to one letter it received from one identified as a youth leader in Dylan Butler’s church — a mentor, he says — and who describes Dylan as “a good person.” The point that “[t]here are plenty of criminals that deserve to be incarcerated,” is well taken. Your point that Dylan is not one of them — not a criminal … is belied by the facts and the law. Dylan was an active participant in this activity, and he deserves to be incarcerated under the law. What these defendants did was ugly … it was painful … it is sad … and it is indeed criminal.

In the Mississippi we have tried to bury, when there was a jury verdict for those who perpetrated crimes and committed lynchings in the name of White Power … that verdict typically said that the victim died at the hands of persons unknown. The legal and criminal justice system operated with ruthless efficiency in upholding what these defendants would call White Power.

Today, though, the criminal justice system (state and federal) has proceeded methodically, patiently and deliberately seeking justice. Today we learned the identities of the persons unknown … they stand here publicly today. The sadness of this day also has an element of irony to it: Each defendant was escorted into court by agents of an African-American United States Marshal, having been prosecuted by a team of lawyers which includes an African-American AUSA from an office headed by an African-American U.S. attorney — all under the direction of an African-American attorney general, for sentencing before a judge who is African-American, whose final act will be to turn over the care and custody of these individuals to the BOP [Federal Bureau of Prisons] — an agency headed by an African-American.

Today we take another step away from Mississippi’s tortured past … we move farther away from the abyss. Indeed, Mississippi is a place and a state of mind. And those who think they know about her people and her past will also understand that her story has not been completely written. Mississippi has a present and a future. That present and future has promise. As demonstrated by the work of the officers within these state and federal agencies — black and white, male and female, in this Mississippi they work together to advance the rule of law. Having learned from Mississippi’s inglorious past, these officials know that in advancing the rule of law, the criminal justice system must operate without regard to race, creed or color. This is the strongest way Mississippi can reject those notions — those ideas which brought us here today.

At their guilty plea hearings, Deryl Paul Dedmon, Dylan Wade Butler and John Aaron Rice told the world exactly what their roles were … it is ugly … it is painful … it is sad … it is criminal.

The court now sentences the defendants as follows: [The specific sentences are not part of the judge’s prepared remarks.]

The court has considered the advisory guidelines computations and the sentencing factors under 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a). The court has considered the defendants’ history and characteristics. The court has also considered unusual circumstances — the extraordinary circumstances — and the peculiar seriousness and gravity of those offenses. I have paid special attention to the plea agreements and the recommendations of the United States. I have read the letters received on behalf of the defendants. I believe these sentences provide just punishment to each of these defendants and equally important, I believe they serve as adequate deterrence to others and I hope that these sentences will discourage others from heading down a similar life-altering path. I have considered the sentencing guidelines and the policy statements and the law. These sentences are the result of much thought and deliberation.

These sentences will not bring back James Craig Anderson nor will they restore the lives they enjoyed prior to 2011. The court knows that James Anderson’s mother, who is now 89 years old, lived through the horrors of the Old Mississippi, and the court hopes that she and her family can find peace in knowing that with these sentences, in the New Mississippi, justice is truly blind. Justice, however, will not be complete unless these defendants use the remainder of their lives to learn from this experience and fully commit to making a positive difference in the New Mississippi. And, finally, the court wishes that the defendants also can find peace.

Reeves is a U.S. District Court judge for the Southern District of Mississippi. He made waves last November when he ruled Mississippi’s same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional. That case is currently under appeal in the Fifth Circuit Court.

 

Rosa Parks: sit, walk, run and fly for freedom, dignity and justice

Rosa Parks was born on February 4, 1913, in Tuskegee, AL. She died on October 24, 2005, in Detroit, MI.  Looking at her life from the outside, I want to say that she lived a rich and full life during her 92 years. But what do I know about her and her life, really? What can anyone know about another person’s life? Probably not all that much. But there are stories worth telling and retelling about her life. …

Rosa Parks came into national public awareness in December 1955 when she was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger on a Montgomery, Alabama city bus.  Her refusal is credited with sparking the Montgomery bus boycott – a 13 month struggle to desegregate the city buses that ultimately led to a U. S. Supreme Court ruling that public bus segregation is unconstitutional.

And so many stories are nested within that one story.

One story says that Mrs. Parks refused to move because she was feeling too old and too tired.

But, in her biography she said of that day: People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn’t true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.

Another story portrays Mrs. Parks as an individual pioneer, the first to conceive of the notion of planting herself in a seat reserved for whites, acting on her own whim of frustration.

But historical records show that in March of 1955, 15-year-old Claudette Colvin had in October 1955, 18-year-old Mary Louise Smith were each arrested for refusing to give up their seats to white passengers. But Rosa Parks was not a teenager. Rosa Parks was also not an isolationist. She had been a member of the NAACP since 1943.  By 1949 she was the NAACP Youth Council Advisor.  In 1954 Mrs. Parks participated in the Highlander Research and Education Center’s social justice leadership training school where Septima Clark became her friend and mentor.  By the time of her arrest in 1955, Rosa Parks was well known within her community. She was not only well connected with key community organizations, she was an active member of the Voters League and the secretary of the Montgomery Chapter of the NAACP.

On December 1, 1955 Rosa Parks boarded a city bus in Montgomery Alabama. She sat in the section designated for “colored.” As the bus continued along its route, the white section filled.  While Montgomery law indicated that no passenger would be required to move or give up a seat and stand if the bus was crowded and no seat were available, the custom and practice was that bus driver would move the sign indicating the white only section requiring black individuals to move when there were no white-only seats.  This was not Mrs. Parks first encounter with discrimination in the face of this law. On other days she had seen buses pass her by. On one day she boarded the bus, paid her fare and the driver told her to enter the bus again from the back door. She exited the bus, but before she could gain access to the rear door the driver drove off, leaving her to walk home in the rain. On December 1, Mrs. Parks boarded the bus, paid her fare, and sat in the colored section. The bus filled, the driver moved the sign. Three other Black passengers got up and moved. Mrs. Parks sat, refused to move or to give up her seat. 

When she was interviewed about  the incident for Eyes on the Prize, a 1987 public television series on the Civil Rights Movement, Mrs. Parks said, “When he saw me still sitting, he asked if I was going to stand up, and I said, ‘No, I’m not.’ And he said, ‘Well, if you don’t stand up, I’m going to have to call the police and have you arrested.’ I said, ‘You may do that.’ She was arrested.  The next evening she was bailed out of jail. Friends from the NAACP and the Women’s Political Council consulted and began to distribute handbills announcing a bus boycott. On Sunday December 4, 1955 plans for the Montgomery Bus Boycott were announced in Black churches in the area and in an article in the Montgomery Advertiser.

On December 5 Mrs. Parks was convicted of disorderly conduct, fined $10 plus $4 in court costs. She appealed her conviction and formally challenged the legality of racial segregation. That day the Women’s Political Council distributed 35,000 copies of the handbill calling for a Bus Boycott. In part the handbill read, “We are…asking every Negro to stay off the buses Monday in protest of the arrest and trial … You can afford to stay out of school for one day. If you work, take a cab, or walk. But please, children and grown-ups, don’t ride the bus at all on Monday. Please stay off the buses Monday.”

It rained that Monday. And the Black community pressed on with the boycott. Some carpooled, some took cabs, most of the 40,000 black commuters walked, some as far as 20 miles. After the success of the one day boycott a group met to discuss further strategies. The Montgomery Improvement Association was formed. At the same time other leaders gathered together with Mrs. Parks to plan their strategies for appealing her case.

The boycott continued for 381 days. The US Supreme Court ruled that segregation on public buses was unconstitutional. Montgomery repealed it law after the Supreme Court decision.

In 1958 in his book Stride Toward Freedom, Martin Luther King Jr. described Rosa Park’s action as the catalyst rather than the cause of the protest. He said: “The cause lay deep in the record of similar injustices . . . Actually, no one can understand the action of Mrs. Parks unless he realizes that eventually the cup of endurance runs over, and the human personality cries out, ‘I can take it no longer.'”

After the boycott was ended and the segregation law was repealed, Mrs. Parks continued to be harassed within her home town. She ultimately moved to Detroit to find better work opportunities. Even when victory is won, the struggle is not over. Mrs. Parks continued to work for civil rights until her death in October 2005.

“Rosa sat so Martin could walk. Martin walked so Obama could run. Obama ran so our children could fly.”

And now it remains to us to sit, walk, run and to fly in the footsteps and on the shoulders of the giants who walked together in community before us. Together we too must sit, walk, run and fly in communities for freedom, dignity and justice.

Tonto and the Lone Ranger, Where we see wisdom

Once upon a time, when I was but a child, there was a most wonderful television show called the Lone Ranger. The show featured a rather hapless cowboy, who was the star of the show, and his inventive, ingenious side kick, a Native American Indian called Tonto. In my youth I had no conception of the inequity embodied in this relationship. I also had no clue that ‘Tonto’ translates from Spanish as ‘stupid’ or ‘silly’. Ugh. Nice way to insult your friend. And yes, this is just a fine example of how some of my earliest pleasure and role modeling for friendship was grounded in racism. We have a very long way to go to build a world where all relationships are grounded in respect for human dignity. (And even further to go so that ALL relationships – relationships between and among humans and with other sentient and with non-sentient beings are grounded in respect.)

So, when I came across this little story, I have to confess that it brought a smile to my face, a twinkle to my eye, and hope to my heart.  I hope you enjoy it too.

The Lone Ranger and Tonto went camping in the desert. After they got their tent all set up, both men fell sound asleep. Some hours later, Tonto woke the ranger and said,
“Kemo sabi, look towards sky, what you see?”

The ranger replied, I see millions of stars.”

“What does that tell you?” asked Tonto.

The ranger pondered for a minute then said, Astronomically speaking, it tells me there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, it tells me that Saturn is in Leo. Time wise, it appears to be approximately a quarter past three in the morning. Theologically, Mother Nature is all-powerful and we are small and insignificant. Meteorologically, it seems we will have a beautiful day tomorrow.

“What’s’ it tell you, Tonto?”

Tonto says,“Kemo Sabi, you dumber than buffalo shit. It means somebody stole the tent.” 

Wisdom is not always were you expect to find it. Yes, I very much agree with Thich Nhat Hanh that we should look deeply into the roots of events and experiences to fully understand the experience and the people involved. But, sometimes it is important to see what is (or is not) right in front of our faces. And always it is important to not take ourselves too seriously!

 

On the day we acknowledge Dr. King & toward the day we acknowledge human dignity

Today, January 21, 2013 is the day that the United States has deemed to remember the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  We remember him in recognition of his work to end – well to challenge – racism within the United States of America.  That is a work in progress for sure.  In lots of places you will find his “I have a dream” speech.  It is an important speech. You should go read it.

Here, today, I wanted to share with you two of my favorites for thinking about and challenging racism. One is a poem by Pat Parker… it names and plays with stereotypes that so many white people hold about people of color. It plays with the struggles white people manufacture when we finally try to get over ourselves and open to developing relationships with people of color – as if that is the great gift all people of color have been waiting for all their lives (maybe, just maybe no so much!).

The second excerpt is the White Privilege Inventory that has been developed from Peggy McIntosh’s essay on Unpacking White Privilege.  … Because so many white people still think it is an even playing field.

So, read the poem, please. Think about it with an open heart. … of course she’s angry. And she is also laughing, I think.  Then fill in the inventory. Just how many privileges do you enjoy?  And, then … take one little step outside of your comfort zone. Do some little thing to make this world of ours a bit more fair, a bit more respectful of the dignity of ALL sentient beings, a bit more compassionate?

Pat Parker poem – ” For the White Person Who Wants to Know How to Be My Friend”?
The first thing you do is to forget that i’m Black.
Second, you must never forget that i’m Black.

You should be able to dig Aretha,
but don’t play her every time i come over.
And if you decide to play Beethoven–don’t tell
me his life story. They made us take music
appreciation too.

Eat soul food if you like it, but don’t expect me
to locate your restaurants
or cook it for you.

And if some Black person insults you,
mugs you, rapes your sister, rapes you,
rips your house, or is just being an ***–
please, do not apologize to me
for wanting to do them bodily harm.
It makes me wonder if you’re foolish.

And even if you really believe Blacks are better
lovers than whites–don’t tell me. I start thinking
of charging stud fees.

In other words, if you really want to be my
friend–don’t make a labor of it. I’m lazy.
Remember.

RACIAL INVENTORY

Score 5 if statement is always true for you

Score 3 if the statement is sometimes true for you

Score 0 if the statement is seldom true for you

Because of my race or color …

1. _____ I can be in the company of people of my race most of the time.

2. _____ If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area in which I would want to live and which I can afford.

3. _____ I can turn on the television or open the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely and positively represented.

4. _____ When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that my people made it what it is.

5. _____ I can be sure that curricular materials will testify to the existence of my race.

6. _____ I can go into most supermarkets and find the staple foods that fit with my cultural traditions.

7. _____ I can go into any hairdresser’s shop and find someone who can cut my hair.

8. _____ Whether I use checks, credit cards or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of financial reliability.

9. _____ I can swear, dress in second hand clothes, or not answer letters, without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, poverty or illiteracy of my race.

10. _____ I can do well in challenging situations without being called a credit to my race.

11. _____ I am never asked to speak for people of my race.

12. _____ I can criticize our government and talk about how much I fear its policies and behavior without being seen as a cultural outsider.

13. _____ I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to the “person in charge,” I will be facing a person of my race.

14. _____ I can conveniently buy posters, postcards, picture books, greeting cards and children’s magazines featuring people of my race

15. _____ If a traffic cop pulls me over, I can be sure I haven’t been singled out because of my race.

16. _____  I can go home from most meetings of the organizations I belong to feeling tied in rather than isolated, out of place, outnumbered, unheard, feared, or hated.

17. _____ I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having co-workers on the job suspect that I got it because of race.

18. _____ I can choose public accommodation without fearing that people of my race cannot get in or will be mistreated in the places I have chosen.

19. _____ I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, my race will not work against me.

20. _____ If my week or year is going badly, I need not wonder if each negative episode or situation has racial overtones.

21. _____ I can comfortably avoid, ignore or minimize the impact of racism on my life.

22. _____ I can speak in public to a powerful group without putting my race on trial.

23. _____ I can choose blemish cover bandages in “flesh” color and have them more or less match my skin.

_____  TOTAL

adapted from Peggy McIntosh “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”