Oblivious by design or choice … ??

Yep. See that cranky ‘WTF’ look on that bird’s face? Pretty much captures my feelings about the first six months of 2020. The year was not anything like what I was planning. My “2020 Vision” was to head into what is realistically the ‘last quarter’ of my life checking things off my bucket list. I had eagerly got the ball rolling last September by reducing my work hours and booking some once in a lifetime travels. Things were shaping up so beautifully, but then … there was Covid-19.  And then … as if a pandemic was not enough … there was June 2020.

I am not a particularly contentious person. As a counsellor/therapist, I am deeply committed to honoring people’s perspectives. I am usually pretty good at it … but … June 2020 was a real challenge for me. I should share that I have been schooled through the Faculties of Social Work for both my undergraduate and graduate level studies. And yes, I am proud to be a social worker … to the deepest core of my being. In my post secondary education, I realized that although we may believe we are well-informed and well-educated humans, but there is so much we don’t know that we don’t know about our humanity and those who experience life differently than those of us in the dominant mainstream. My studies invited me to take a deep dive into exploring the “isms” (racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, ableism, capitalism, colonialism – to name a few) that were strategically ‘left out’ of our academic curriculums. I really began to understand the horrific oppression experienced by ‘others’ as a result of their marginalization.

Yes. Just like the fish doesn’t see the water it is swimming in, I felt ashamed to learn that I didn’t know a darn thing about the unseen advantages and unearned privileges I had unwittingly enjoyed for decades. Yes. I came to see very clearly that  as a heterosexual, middle-class, well-educated, employed, married white woman, I landed fairly comfortably within the center of the mainstream, dominant majority. There were a few things that nudged me a little closer to the margins, but for the most part, I got a free pass.

I did not have a Hallmark life by any stretch of the imagination so please don’t misunderstand what I mean when I acknowledge my ‘privilege’. In no way am I dismissing or disregarding the challenges and traumatic overwhelm I experienced as a child. Collectively recognizing our White privilege does not mean we have lived charmed lives. It merely means we recognize that our skin color has not generated any extra hardships, hurdles or challenges for us.

And so, somehow, through my evolution and growth, I became deeply committed to social justice. And, as my understanding grew regarding the challenges Black, Indigenous and People of Color [BIPOC] faced on a regular basis, I became more invested in disrupting all the systems and structures that relegated  some folks to the margins and kept certain demographics of people oppressed and ‘othered.’ In fact, it might be fair to say that nothing gets me triggered more quickly than acts of oppression and social injustice. I am not sure what happens within me, but I am not able willing to keep my mouth shut. And, it invariably gets me into really hot water.

One of the first times I took a strong stand was early in my career. I speak more about it in another blog entitled Better Because you Were Not the Least Bit Nice. It was the very first time I took on the ‘bully’ and, although it built deep strength in my ethics and convictions to disrupt oppression, it was unequivocally the hardest challenge I had tackled up to that point in my life. 

My commitment to anti-oppressive practices also got me into some serious contention with my supervisor in my Masters Practicum in a clinical social work setting. I spent eight months immersed in a mainstream, medical-model of mental health counselling/therapy.  Much of what I was witnessing was bumping into my anti-oppressive teachings and contrary to a more trauma-informed approach to health and healing. I almost requested a transfer … but … eventually found my way to the end of it.  It was also one of the darkest rides of my life. 

My commitment to social justice also inspired me to take a firm stand and report a colleague who I came to recognize was causing harm. They countered by threatening to sue me for defamation of character unless I provided a formal apology or substantiated my claims. I opted for the latter. After appraising my position, the individual decided to ‘retire’. 

I also opted to take a stance with my employer recently regarding a number of concerns that I addressed in a 25 page grievance which I submitted to the Executive Director. Although, ethically, I would argue that the Board of Directors should have been privy to weighing out the concerns expressed in my grievance before I was handed my Record of Employment and hefty severance cheque … things don’t always happen as they should.  It cost me $9000.00 in legal fees to confirm that I did, in fact, have a case for wrongful dismissal. I had two years from the date of my departure to decide whether or not I want to invest any more of the precious moments of my ‘final quarter’ engaged in the ugly energy of litigation. While I remain committed to ethics and integrity … I realized that I would never want my job back … not given the direction that the agency was headed. And, I had to concede that you can’t force insight.  So, I made the decision to opt for peace over principle. I expanded my private practice and have never been happier in my career.

I share all of this because I am not sure what comes over me when I am in the presence of something that seems unethical or unjust, but I feel driven to take a stand. And so, on May 25, 2020, as the news of the murder of George Floyd by a police officer was broadcast, I became deeply disturbed. Because the video of the murder was leaked online … there was no way to deny what had actually happened.

George Floyd was pleading with the officer to take his knee of his neck saying “I can’t breathe” and calling out for his deceased mother. These deeply disturbing reports motivated many, many meaningful “Black Lives Matter” protests which morphed into some destructive riots … and ultimately … generated highly opinionated and heated exchanges on all platforms of social media. Here is one of the worst ones that I felt compelled to address:

Seriously? Protestors are all unilaterally deemed terrorists?? I attended a protest. Does this make me a terrorist? I cannot begin to fathom what ‘rights’ White Americans were losing as protests tried to bring attention to the perpetual challenges, inequities and injustices experienced by those who are Black. But … Americans can’t breathe?? Oh my … I tried my best to be tactful in my response:

I struggle with posts like this because it seems to me that generalizing and defining all the protests by the actions of some is as unjust and misguided as judging and defining all police officers by the actions of some. I am not sure I understand how generating more ‘us’ versus ‘them’ by using inflammatory name calling is likely to foster a peaceful answer either.

The Black Lives Matter protests were quickly met with counter claims that “All Lives Matter” and “Rioting is wrong” and “Not all cops are bad.” I saw a great commentary speaking to this backlash written by one person but “stolen” from someone else. It’s another pet peeve of mine when people don’t credit the source of the sentiments they are sharing on social media. I realize that sometimes the source is entirely unknown … but would it not be far more respectful to simply give credit where credit is due rather than to ‘borrow’ or ‘steal’ from someone else? Anyway, I digress. Here is something that I found worthy of consideration regarding all the competing opinions.

It might be a bit of a stretch to presume it makes them feel like a good person … but, I would agree that it allows people permission to discredit the expressed concerns of ‘others’. It also occurred to me that another way of looking at it is in terms of being a landlord with several rental units.

If one of my tenants calls to inform me of a problem with their water line … pleading with me by saying “I need water.” Would it be helpful for me to respond by saying “all my tenants need water?” Although it might be technically true that all my tenants need water, it would intentionally dismiss the problem. 

Would it be helpful for me to counter with “Hmmm, no one else is complaining about their water lines.” This also might be a very true statement … but … is not the least bit helpful for the tenant who isn’t getting water.

No. If I am a decent landlord, I am going to listen to their very real and specific problems and then focus my attention to correct the problems they are experiencing. My focus in their direction does not diminish my concern for my other tenants. Rather … it ensures that each and every one of my tenants have equal access to water.

And oh my, oh my, oh my.  People were highly charged by all the talk about racism. And, their ‘opinions’ were liberally plastered on every social media site possible. The opinions were not necessarily founded upon facts. I would agree with the following, but … that didn’t stop people from exercising their right to elevating their ‘opinion’ and deliberately discounting the experience of other people.

And, as the days turned into weeks in June, my heart struggled with it all. Although, as I said, I am usually able to hold a variety of perspectives side by each, but as the days turned to weeks, I became more and more outraged by what I was seeing online. I got into a few debates on social media myself. I took a few stands when it seemed that my silence was making me complicit with oppressive energy.

I did, however, get myself unfriended. The most egregious evidence of the “latch onto some minor inconsequential statement to discredit the whole thing in their heads” logic was displayed in a meme that I saw on on one of my friends Facebook profile. This was the one that tipped me right over the edge. The creator of this post went so far as to scoff at the suffering .. and … suggest very clearly that no one wanted to be bothered to hear any more about the injustices BIPOC have been experiencing for centuries.

I must admit that I lost my usual decorum and responded from an outraged place. While this meme may seem humorous at first glance … if we peel back the layers of what is not being said in the actual words … there is no denying that some racist attitudes are unequivocally visible in this message. From where I am looking, the people “copying and pasting” this sentiment are giving themselves permission to effortlessly elevate the damage sustained to corporate ‘material things’ as something far more grievous and worthy of their attention than caring the least bit about whether or not equality and justice is being served to each every part of our collective humanity.  

I concede that I should have waited until I was less heated before I responded. I am not proud of the way I handled my frustration in that moment.  I think my position was solid, but I could certainly could have made my point with less bite. I regret that. I trust they did not see what I saw in that posting because I cannot understand how seemingly decent people would deliberately choose to malevolently mock and callously dismiss the reason people are protesting in the first place!  Sadly, with a bit of grammatically incorrect quick wit, the entire intent of the 2020 civil rights upheaval was being hijacked by mainstream, dominant-centered thinking that globally dismisses experiences that they cannot relate to personally.  And, in doing so, unequivocally renders visible the racist attitudes that are being challenged by the protests.  

In my humble opinion, the folks who are chuckling while posting and re-posting this statement affirm and reify the entire root of the problem. And, sadly, it seems that as they self-righteously scoff … they obviate their absolute apathy, denigrating dismissal and utter disregard for the plight of others with their clever quip. Had the centuries of peaceful pleas persistently presented by BIPOC been held, heeded and honored rather than historically ignored, we might not have seen the looting and vandalism that emerged as a last ditch effort to get the public’s attention.

Where is the compassion for people who have had enough? While I am not condoning the looting/vandalism, I really do wonder how many of us can say we have never been mad enough to break something in our lives? How many of us have ever felt so helpless, hopeless and powerless that we lost our regard for the value of material things?

Unless and until our opinions of ‘others’ are informed and tempered by compassion, we will unwittingly continue to perpetuate the problems and erroneously believe we had nothing to do with it.

I’ve been watching myself with compassionate curiosity.  For the most part, when I see something on Facebook that I don’t agree with … I can simply scroll on by it. Somehow, though, as I have shared … I am not able to do that when it comes to social injustice. So, I have continued to speak up some more. I have stood in considerable discomfort. I have engaged in some really tough conversations.

As I shared, I attended one of the protests in a city nearby where I live. Even though we were in a pandemic, I donned a mask and headed out to stand in solidarity. From where I am looking … the potential for risk that I consciously took to attend was an essential and necessary risk to help mediate the persistent and certain risk faced every day (not just during Covid-19) by BIPOC. While many of us are getting our first taste of having our personal liberties compromised by the pandemic, many folks have endured a lack of liberation over the entire course of their lives.

It struck me that we might be wise to let our experience of reduced freedoms during Covid-19 inform and fuel our compassion for those who persistently must live without even the most basic liberties in life.  Not everyone saw it that way though.  Many people took exception to the fact that people were “allowed” to protest, but not allowed to visit their family members, attend weddings or honor their loved one’s passing at funerals. For me, the decision came down to deciding that violations of human rights must take precedence over concerns regarding application of public policy. That said, I was really relieved to hear that our Chief Medical Officer of Health here in Alberta  confirmed in a recent update that no cases of Covid-19 can be traced to protest activities in our province.

Not everyone is convinced that racism is a problem though. And, it seems that White people are particularly averse to thinking that they might be considered racist. Other bodies of thought contend that we are all racist. And … we can participate in anti-racist work even though we are working on our own implicit racist tendencies. There was a really good placard suggesting we treat racism like Covid-19.

However, most folks have trouble with the whole notion. It seems to evoke a black versus white thing instead of an opportunity to come together to eradicate the inequalities and injustices experienced by others.

Well at least it should be! Since my eyes were opened in post secondary education, I have never presumed that my education was adequate, so in response to this recent uprising, I started reading “Me and White Supremacy” by Layla F. Saad. For us white folk, it’s a necessary but very humbling read.

I also discovered, in June 2020, that despite my five years of social work education, I had no knowledge of all the inhumane “Indian Hospitals” that unapologetically existed in addition to the atrocious Residential Schools throughout Canada. I wanted to learn more about why our understanding of those hospitals was nationally hushed, so I ordered “Medicine Unbundled.” It was not until reading that book that I became informed about how Indigenous people were used in very inhumane but government sanctioned medical experiments. The more I learned the more disheartened I became. I sometimes wished I didn’t care so much. I have wondered why I couldn’t just turn my attention away from it all …

But … the conversation about White Privilege was too much for many people. Oh my gosh … the backlash.  People responded quite indignantly that they had hard lives too! What they do not understand is that by acknowledging our privilege, we are not saying we have had an ‘easy’ life. The term ‘privilege’ speaks to the reality that skin color has never complicated a white person’s life in any way! In fact, it is typically an advantage … despite any other challenges white folk may be required to endure.  Well … except for the risk of sunburn. Yes. My pale, white freckled skin leaves me very vulnerable to sunburn … but that is it.

As we learn more, we can come to realize that our privilege affords us the power to effect the changes that the Black community has been beseeching and pleading to the masses for – for years.  I saw this placard when I attended the protest in Lethbridge …

The reason it resonated so deeply with me is because the oppressed don’t have sufficient power to effect the change that is so desperately needed. They need the mainstream majority to use their power and privilege to enact the changes.

My internal drive to advocate for social justice also inspired me to join a local equality alliance in our community several years ago. I marched with them in my first PRIDE parade in 2016.  June has been decreed as PRIDE month. It is usually marked by celebrations honoring the LGBTQI2S+ community.  And then, also in June of 2020, I sensed that my ally-ship was being discredited.  Ouch. Double ouch. I am assuming it was speculated to be “performative” (i.e. offered only to make myself look good). I spoke up on my own behalf, and could have belabored the discussion, but I decided not to invest my energy trying to shift perspectives in this regard. People will believe what they want to believe. It is really frustrating to be misunderstood. I am just going to keep doing what I am doing. 

That really pinched, but June wasn’t even near done yet. Forgive me in this paragraph where my privilege speaks loud and clear. Turns out that the old boy and I had to cancel the indulgent and idyllic ‘last-quarter’ trip overseas to cruise behind the Iron Curtain. We had booked it almost a year before and were supposed to be enjoying in September 2020. My Bestie and I also had to cancel our eagerly anticipated 100km walk along the Camino de Santiago in Spain.  We also had a trip to Salt Spring Island cancelled in July 2020 because interprovincial travel was not yet recommended because of Covid-19. Yes. All the power and privilege I have  gained by being positioned comfortably in the mainstream got revoked. My skin color couldn’t get me on that boat … nor … could it buy me a pass to wander the Camino. 

Oh and because I attended the BLM protest in June…. I followed the recommendation of our Chief Medical Officer for all those who attended a protest. I didn’t have any symptoms and although the test  came back negative, it was interesting to experience the sense of shame that accompanied the whole situation. I hoped no one saw my car in the ‘testing line’ because I felt like I was somehow tainted as the Public Health Nurse approached me wearing all the layers of PPE possible. She was wonderful, but the process was definitely stigmatizing. All in all, it was such a humbling experience. 

And then, one night our phones started screaming with highly alarming alerts warning of a tornado from a storm that delivered hail stones the size of golf balls near here and the size of baseballs and grapefruits in neighboring communities. Good grief … 2020 seemed to stop at nothing to make us tremble in our boots. And, if that wasn’t enough for marking us half way through 2020 … it looks like some people were still committed to re-electing Trump in November.

Yes. June 2020 was a real head shaker. I share my comments about Trump’s supporters, because June 2020 really taught me a lot about ‘opinions’ …and … how unshakeable and how unreasonable some of our opinions prove to be. Pluto does a great job explaining:

And, it has been my experience that people, for the most part, don’t have the conversations suggested by Pluto. Nope. Seems people are exceptionally committed to their opinions … even if evidence to the contrary invites them to stretch their perspectives. All one has to do is spend a little bit of time online to see that people are quick inject their own beliefs into a situation without any obvious connection to the real meaning of the discussion.

Here is another example of people avoiding the deeper issues with police brutality and instead trying to turn the tables on the ones who have been assaulted. It’s really interesting to me because how many of us actually KNOW for sure … beyond the depictions we see on TV … how the police interact with minorities. Most of us have very little interaction with police. And so … we take our limited experience … and come to the conclusion that brutality wouldn’t happen if people didn’t get into trouble?? Seriously. Lots of people thought this logic made perfect sense.

Unfortunately, what people don’t know is that in the United States, the Thirteenth Amendment was established to forbid slavery, except where the condition is imposed on an individual as punishment for a crime!! And so, after the 13th amendment was passed, slavery was just resurrected in a new form. As confirmed in the data, the police were urged to charge as many Black men as they could in order to assure free labor continued. And so, contrary to the notion held by White people suggesting that people are being apprehended for lacking common sense, Black people were/are stopped for all manner of ridiculous reasons. Mass incarceration is an indisputable fact that White people have no idea about. It is, in fact, one of the reasons for the protests.

Oh my gosh. There are so many layers and complexities to consider in all of this. Unfortunately, it seems that many folk are either unable or unwilling to consider the possibility that their perspective is not entirely inclusive. I also came across another post on a Facebook group that I could not scroll past either.

One of the groups I enjoy invites people to post pictures of their travels! And, especially during Covid-19, it has been a real delight to experience the world through the lens of other people. That said, however, I came across this haunting picture of Auschwitz.

It took my breath away because it reminded me of our own visit there many years ago.  Of course we had heard about the unforgiveable atrocities that were committed upon Jewish people during WWII … but … to get a ‘felt sense’ of the place took my empathy and understanding of the heinous actions to a whole new level of understanding. Anyway, one of the comments under this post caught my eye:

I saw a number of responses suggesting that by removing evidence of the suffering and sanitizing these atrocious historical events and places, we risked allowing horrific things like this to happen again.  Valerie remained committed to her position and responded to another person’s suggestion that these moments in time must be honored, rather than rendered into something more palatable and “nice”.  

And well … at this point, the social worker in me was unable to simply keep scrolling.  For all of my life, I had understood empathy to be an act of feeling our way into another person’s experience … taking a walk in their shoes to embrace a deeper sense of how they must have been feeling.  It struck me that Valerie’s refusal to let the suffering of others into her awareness was the antithesis of empathy. Her stance was one of self protection. She could not bear to see it. 

But please don’t get me wrong. My issue with Valerie was not the sensitivity of her nervous system. I, too, can relate to being overwhelmed by external influences. I even quit watching the news because it triggered my arousal system so deeply that I needed to protect myself.  No. I recognize that there are times when we need to protect ourselves from the the stressors around us. That said, there are times when protecting ourselves from the ‘felt sense’ of experience of others can be very divisive and lead us to a lack of real empathy! 

For example, I vividly remembered feeling something similar to Valerie many, many years ago when I went to see the movie Born on the 4th of July. When the character played by Tom Cruise was paralyzed and forced to live in a horrid hospital setting … it was so sickeningly horrific to watch … I wanted to get up and leave the theatre. I felt like I couldn’t bear to see it anymore. I could actually hear myself thinking, “I can’t stand to see this … I’ve got to get out of here”.

And then … another voice within me firmly contested: “Those people, in that circumstance, didn’t have the privilege of leaving that horrendous space. They were trapped there for days, weeks, months!!  And, now, this is too much for YOU to bear … so YOU are going to bolt?? If they could LIVE through it for that long, you can sit through the truth of it for a few more minutes!!” 

Gah. So, I stayed. I sat in that seat and let myself really feel into the egregious circumstances that people endured during that war. And, I would argue that it was by actually facing the discomfort of another’s pain that I found a deeper sense of empathy for their circumstance.

So, as much as I could completely understand Valerie’s desire to look away … I took issue with her notion that by not looking into the truth of another’s experience that we were honoring them??  I took issue with her notion that no one should have an opportunity to get a felt sense of that horrific atrocity simply because ‘her’ personal experience of it was untenable?  From where I am looking, it is often our inability to relate to other’s experience that impedes our capacity for compassion. And so, I responded to Valerie:

I can see now that I might have wrapped my comments in a bit more context. My intention was to invite some awareness of how lucky most of us have been to escape the brutal life experiences that other people had no choice but to endure. Valerie did not accept my invitation to see it as ‘privilege’. In fact, as I shared before, that word is a real trigger for many folks  … and well … Valerie sure let me have it!!

Whattt??? As I pulled the daggers out of my chest, I double checked her comments to ensure I had not erroneously taken her out of context. Nope.  I had not. And I was once again reminded of how quick people choose to hurl insults at others when they don’t like what they are hearing. And maybe I should have simply ignored her comments, but I hoped I might be able to clear up any misconceptions … and … stretch her to seeing where I was coming from.

And so … it wasn’t long before the owners of the Page deleted the picture and all the comments. And, I completely understand why they did so. The unfavorable energy generated by my comments was not in keeping with the vision or intent of the Page.  And, I regret that my voice added to the anger and vitriol that was spewed about as a result.

Nonetheless, I believe my point was well taken. And I am sharing it here in order to expand upon the concept of privilege and choice. It does not escape me that I have sufficient privilege to escape many unfavorable discomforts that are part of BIPOC’s everyday realities.

And, so as we enter 2021 … I wish I could say that the challenges between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ has landed in a place of mutual understanding. Not so. I find myself questioning whether we are oblivious to the challenges of others ‘by design’ or simply ‘by choice’ … or maybe … it is a complex combination of both.

This past week, a whole new type of protest happened.

  • On Capitol Hill.
  • Incited by the 45th President of the United States.

Donald Trump and many of the 75 million who voted for him were still contesting the results of the November 2020 election the deemed Joe Biden would be inaugurated as the 46th President of the United States of America. The news reports have acknowledged that the perpetrators of this attempted coup … which is now being touted as “domestic terrorism” … were emboldened by the racist attitudes that have been seemingly normalized by Donald Trump over the last four years.

Media is also rendering visible how different the global response might have been were it BIPOC who stormed the Capitol. It is outrageous to think that people could gain access to these premises as easily as they did … and … the suspicion that their skin color aided and abetted them in their endeavors must certainly be considered.

This cabinet seat was arrogantly appropriated by one of the protestors.
Adam Christian Johnson smiled and waved as he was carrying Nancy Pelosi’s podium through the U.S. Capitol Building with other rioters. It is reported that he is 36, married with 5 children and has reportedly disparaged the Black Lives Matter movement.

So, as of January 9, 2021, there have been 55 arrests associated with the insurrection that claimed the lives of five people, including a police officer who was allegedly bludgeoned to death with a fire extinguisher. I find it somewhat curious to notice that the pages of Facebook have not been littered with criticism of the “terrorists” who led this march? The general public, at least the memes being circulated on social media, are comparatively quiet about this protest. How come??

It is very interesting to note, however, that Twitter, Facebook and Instagram have chosen to ban Donald Trump from any further posting.

Gah. What am I missing here?? How is it permissible for this PROTEST to be instigated by Trump and carried out by his “Make America Great Again” [MAGA] supporters, but the protests honoring the Black Lives Matters movements were vehemently dismissed by MAGA … disregarded entirely as unsubstantiated claims of a non-existent racism. How is all of this possible?? My queries were confirmed by the ladies on The View.

I suspect part of the problem is because we have not been educated to see beyond our own personal experiences. The mainstream, dominant majority effectively projects their own experiences upon everyone else … and … readily dismisses any narratives that do no align nicely with their own. We create silos filled with people who share the same thinking as our own and we do not stray beyond that much. We do not embrace opportunities to entertain notions that don’t fit our own story lines about life. Therefore, I would say that to some degree, we are oblivious by choice.

And, further to that, we are simply not invited by our educational curricula to see (with any compassion or empathy) into the lives of those who do not look like, walk like, talk like the mainstream dominant do. No. The voices of mainstream power and White privilege are amplified in our education systems and fail to adequately instruct us (in thoughtful and meaningful ways) about those who are different from the normative standard that has been elevated before us … i.e. White, male, heterosexual, able-bodied, middle-class, English-speaking Christians. Therefore, I would suggest, we are oblivious by the sheer design of our academic institutions. Jane Elliott speaks to this issue very emphatically … in ways that many of us have before been invited to consider.

And, while I would hope that we would be open to learning from each other beyond the walls of our educational systems and religious organizations … I am not seeing a whole lot of that on social media platforms right now. But I certainly hope we can continue to have these hard conversations. I hope we will make room for discussions that make us reflect a bit more … that make us a bit uncomfortable … that invite us to check our privilege … that give us eyes of compassion … and ultimately … stretch our perspectives so that we might bridge the divide currently exists between us. 

With both hope and humility, 🧡 Karen 🧡

Well, I Sure Got Told, Didn’t I … ?!?

Black - White Photo

Yep. That was the outraged response I received to a response I posted on Facebook after the following post appeared on my news feed.  I tend to get myself involved in a few tangles every now and again on social media. I can’t help myself from responding, though … when I see stuff like the following show up!  Here’s where it started. One of my friends had posted this on their newsfeed:

Race Card

I wanted to be delicate, because I didn’t want to shame my friend, but … I could not simply step over the problem I saw with this post. So this is what I said in response that prompted the tongue-lashing I received:

“Oh my. I swallow hard when I read this. I thought about simply not responding but my heart won’t let me stay silent. In theory, of course “all lives matter” … but when we snarl, scoff and generalize in this way, we allow ourselves (i.e. the mainstream dominant majority) to step over all the ways, places and spaces that this theory does NOT match the reality. When we do that, we give ourselves permission to dismiss, diminish, and deny the horrific injustices that people of color have experienced historically … and … we can then fail to acknowledge how these inequalities are currently being perpetuated. I truly believe we need to give extra careful attention to learning about the experience of the marginalized … to highlight the extent of the oppression that continues covertly … to help us collectively see how we are NOT actualizing that altruistic theory. With heartfelt respect, I humbly suggest we have much to learn from the ‘race card’ … and … I really hope that it keeps getting played until we actually sit up and listen, until we actually do something in order to see justice for all … beyond simply theoretical rhetoric.”

Well … this fellow was sure determined to set me clear and straight. I can’t quite comprehend how he’s qualified to accurately assess my level of intelligence because I don’t even know the guy. Maybe he’s just very comfortable with name calling? I’m not sure, but I’m guessing his scathing criticism says more about him than me.  I have no problem holding space for a respectful debate or difference of opinion. In fact, I welcome those discussions because that is how we stretch and grow and learn from each other. In this case though, his attack on my character does little to validate his position. By the same token, I would also suggest that the implicit snarl and condescending nature of the Facebook post (“get over yourself”,”put your race card away” and “grow up”) smacks of unnecessary vitriol as well.  Maybe it is just me, but as a counselor, my ears have also been trained to listen for what is not being said.  With that particular choice of wording,  I am sensing a somewhat covert but patronizing lack of respect for diverse racial experiences.

I understand, though, that what we see depends upon the eyes we are looking through.  Our opinions are fortified and framed by what we learn from our own lived experiences … and … by what we are taught (both formally and informally) in our families, cultures and schools.  I’ve come to believe that, without specific schooling, much of what we as White people really need to know, understand and recognize about race issues is simply not taught to us.  And so, although this guy’s approach was questionable, I can’t fault him for defending his perceptions. He just doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. I’m not being critical here. None of us do. How could we? The problem is not that we don’t know … the problem is that we think we do.

It wasn’t until I spent five years specifically immersed in social work and anti-oppressive practice (during both my undergraduate and graduate studies) that I began to understand how much I did not know.  I was dumbfounded to learn how much we have not been taught. It was deeply humbling and forever changed how I view things.  As White people we don’t recognize the unearned power and privilege that we are so generously afforded in our society.  It’s not possible for us to truly understand the complexities of these issues  … 1)because they are beyond the realm of our own experience and 2) because we are only exposed to some particulars about it. We are taught just enough to make us feel informed, but not enough to give us a truly comprehensive understanding of the complexities.  Unfortunately, the gaps in our awareness can skew our perceptions and derail our very best intentions.

I will give this guy two things though:

1.) There probably aren’t any black people alive who were “involved in the slave times.”  However, I would argue that the prejudice and bigotry that condoned and sustained the slave trade did not cease just because slavery was finally abolished. You can mandate changes in legislation but you can’t mandate changes in attitude. The legacy of such racism continues whether we like to admit to it or not.  One doesn’t have to look further than the 2016 U.S. Presidential campaign to see that bigotry and discrimination is not only alive and well in America … but is now being proudly perpetuated and cavalierly brandished by Donald Trump. And most disturbingly, it’s being loudly applauded by a staggering number of American people … who, by the way, would vehemently contend they are not racist in any way.

2.) It’s true that life can be a bitch.  I would contend, however, that life is more of a bitch for some of us than for others. I doubt if my critic would honestly be happy to surrender the unearned power and privilege that he lives with in exchange for being treated the same as Black men often are in our society.  He can call me dumb again, but I’m not sure very many of us who live in the mainstream dominant culture would make that trade willingly.  In a mere 45 seconds, Jane Elliott clearly illuminates this point:

Although my Facebook critic contends that if people like me would just quit bringing up the past, there would be no problem.  He believes the mistreatment of Black people was only in “the slave times.” This video shows, however, that at some level we DO collectively recognize that what is currently happening to black people (however covertly) is not desirable!  We wouldn’t want that kind of treatment for ourselves, but we are comfortable allowing it to continue to happen to them.

And, that is why the slogan “BLACK LIVES MATTER” emerged.  If we are ever going to make a significant shift, it is essential for us to narrow our focus and point our gaze directly towards this longstanding and deeply systemic issue. When we generalize that “All Lives Matter” we take our eyes off the problem and focus instead upon a theoretical concept that may very well  be true … but that fact does nothing to solve the problem.  The following metaphor speaks to this issue very well:

Bob

Of course, all lives matter.  But, philosophical truths and altruistic rhetoric don’t feed Bob.  When we neglect to honor the specific needs/deficits experienced by specific individuals (or groups of individuals), we are failing to ensure compassionate and humane treatment for ALL.  And that is just not okay with me.

I am posting this blog in hopes that we will continue this conversation … over and over again.  We really need to talk about this.  It really matters to our shared humanity.  But, for the most part, as White people, we have the luxury of being bored, disinterested or maybe even annoyed by ‘the race card’ … and so … we don’t talk about it. And like my critic … we might do our best to simply shush anyone who brings it up.

During my social work studies, however, we did talk about it.  In depth.  I remember wondering why these lessons were not mandatory in our grade schools.  I was introduced to the pain that marginalized groups of people were feeling …  and … how as a White person, I benefit from racism by default. And once it was pointed out to me, I could see it very, very clearly. And now, I can’t not see it.

I came to understand that I don’t even have to do anything obviously “racist” to benefit from the way the system is set up in our society.  I enjoy ‘favor’  because of the way racism makes one part of our humanity count for less than another.  As my eyes were opened to more and more and more, I could no longer deny or dismiss the advantages of having white skin. I never had to worry about whether people would rent accommodations to me. I don’t have to worry about whether someone is willing to sit beside me at a public function. I never had to worry about my children experiencing racial slurs at school. I don’t have people making fun of the way I talk.  I don’t have to worry about being snubbed if I ask for help in a department store. I don’t have to worry that the job will have “just been filled” as I arrive for the interview. I am more likely to be considered for ‘prestigious’ jobs because I have the right ‘qualifications’ (white skin). I could go on and on and on …

But here is the real kicker!!  As White people, we don’t typically ‘see’ the extra power and extra privilege we are gifted because our society is set up to benefit us and not them. AND … it is exactly because of that unearned advantage that we have the luxury of dismissing and/or ignoring conversations about racism.  And, it is also due to our privileged place in society that we can also afford to remain ‘silent’ on the topic. I have done it myself. I would suggest that we are often more committed to protecting our own feelings and/or not making other White people uncomfortable than we are to gaining a deeper understanding of the challenges beyond the margins of our own experience.  We are far more likely to ignore, dismiss or deny those struggles than to honor and investigate them.

It would be such a different world if we find it in our hearts to heed the wisdom of Glennon Doyle Melton

“Today: let’s be curious instead of defensive.

When someone says: I’m hurting.

Let’s say: “Tell me more” instead of: “No, you’re not.”

I think the difference between curiosity and defensiveness might be the difference between war and peace.”

We have so very much to learn. I just wish we were more interested.  But because we think we already know … we aren’t always open to looking or learning more. I was both stretched and humbled, though, by the many potent teachings and pivotal moments  over the course of my studies.  And perhaps one of the most critical is this: I now know there is so much I don’t know.  I am still learning.  Two sources of the most poignant and powerful lessons I received included these:

Now, I don’t expect that my critic would bother to take the time to look at any of these, but if you’ve stuck with me this far, I sure hope you will!  Especially the “Blue Eye/Brown Eye Experiment” .  Gather the whole family, make some popcorn and pull this 45 minutes video up onto your smart TV or your computer and watch it together.  And then, I hope you’ll have a conversation with your family about it. And I really hope you’ll pop back and add your thoughts in the comments section  … so we can continue to deepen this very important discussion.

There are also lots of more recent publications, videos and resources on the subject that highlight considerations that often escape our mainstream dominant attention. Here is a smattering of some thoughtful and thought-provoking ones I have come across thus far.  I hope at you will check them out. AND, if you can suggest any other resources, please post them in the comments section of this blog.  I am always eager to learn more … and will add them to the list:

From where I am looking, the altruistic truth that ‘all lives matter’ won’t really be actualized UNTIL we ensure that ‘black lives matter’.  And Aboriginal lives … and Latino lives … and Middle East Lives … and … and … and …

But then again, as “the dumbest person … ever seen” – it may not be wise to give much merit to my perspective … Karen

 

 

 

 

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“KNOWING is the booby prize …”

embrace your inner idiot

With deepest gratitude to “frogandthewell.com” for this graphic.

Ever notice that when you think you already know something, you have no room to hear anything different?  Our tolerance for being wrong is hotly contested and fiercely limited by our fragile human egos.  As a result, in the space of evidence contrary to what we think we know, we quickly and effectively (often without conscious awareness) disqualify any differing proof  in order to stay ‘right’.  For example, if we have decided someone is a “liar”, we tend to scrutinize their every thought, word and deed seeking to confirm our unfavorable perceptions.  Likewise, if we have determined someone is a “loser” … then when they do the ‘right’ thing, we chalk it up to an unlikely exception.   As well, the beliefs we hold about ourselves are equally insidious.  If we believe we are “stupid” or “not good enough” , then any smart or worthy moments are often minimized, dismissed or overlooked.  This kind of discounting has the capacity to derail any dreams/visions that are not consistent with our self-limiting perceptions.  Sadly, when you think you already know …  you are no longer open to learning or seeing anything new or different.

One of the greatest blessings of my post secondary studies in anti-oppressive practice was that we were invited to critically assess how we were thinking about things rather than being taught what to think.  We were invited to unpack the things we thought we already knew.  We got to  embrace our inner idiots and UN-learn so much of what we had involuntarily come to accept as ‘the’ truth rather than simply ‘a’ truth..  This powerful exercise in critical thinking rendered visible the beliefs that were simply socialized into me  … by those who raised me, schooled me and befriended me.  Their opinions became my truths because I never thought to question them … or  … learned it was not OK for me to question them.

Learning to embrace my inner idiot took me to places I had no idea I needed to go.  I will spare you all the details but what I learned is this:

  • unlearning can be painful.  (What does it mean about me and my perceptions if I am wrong about this, that or next thing?)
  • unlearning can be deeply humbling(It hits you right between the eyes when you recognize that the culprits you have been judging harshly  might also need to include YOU.)

Let me offer one example of my unlearning.  As a well-intended, socially conscious, educated white woman, I have always contended that I do NOT condone racism’. I blushed with a deep sense of shame when I learned, instead, that I don’t even have to do anything obviously “racist” to condone racism … I benefit from it by sheer defaultSadly,  we live in a socially constructed system where one part of our humanity counts for more than the ‘others‘ … and … having white skin puts me on the ‘favorite’ team in a world that plays favorites.  As a result, I get all kinds of unseen, unearned perks:

  • I don’t have to worry about whether people will rent accommodations to me
  • I don’t have to worry that the job will have “just been filled” as I arrive for the interview.
  • I don’t have to worry about whether someone will sit beside me on public transportation
  • I don’t have to worry about my children being stereotyped at school
  • I don’t have to worry about being followed in a department store
  • I don’t have to worry that my speech patterns, body type or food and dress will be mocked and/or ridiculed

Guess what my skin color gives me the unmitigated privilege of worrying about?  Sunburn.  Yep … that’s it.  If only a slather of SPF30  could so easily protect people from prejudice, marginalization and oppression.  As White people, we typically author the educational curricula and, therefore, we have not been taught how we are complicit in perpetuating racism given the advantages we reap from it.  You might be tempted to leave this blog right now … but I hope you won’t.  I hope you will be willing to consider that if we are not actively and persistently resisting racism, we are silently condoning it.  I am not suggesting I have figured out how to best use the power and privilege attached to my White skin to counter racism … but increasing mainstream awareness is certainly the first step.

If what I am saying is making you squirm, you are ripe for a moment of unlearning and embracing your inner idiot.  I hope you will be brave enough stay with me here because the struggle to comprehend a ‘truth’ outside our comfort zone is a point of real awakening.  We can’t be expected to know what we don’t know …  until we do.  And, once you do know … you can’t pretend you don’t.   And when we are  open to the profound power of unlearning  … we begin to realize that the more we know … the more we know we don’t know! 

From that humble space,  I become aware that  my mainstream sexual orientation does not preclude people’s comfort with me being around their children.  The folks in the GLBT community are not so fortunate.  I also notice that I managed well in a traditional school setting because it favored my left-brained, sequential kind of thinking.  The right-brained, kinesthetic learners have not been so lucky.  My  married, double income status earns public respect and has afforded my children many advantages.  Single parents endure public censure and many luxuries are beyond their reach. My able body means I get to go places without worrying about access. My office is located in a ‘public health unit’ that has a ramp but no button to pull open the door! Argh!  Some how this all continues to be tolerated in our society.

When I embrace my inner idiot, I have to seriously question everything I think I already know.  I must also consciously consider whether my personal and professional  ‘successes’ have truly been  earned by me … or  … if I simply got a head start and an extra advantage over ‘others’ because they are outside the margins of the ‘favorite’ global team.  I now know that the essential unlearning of what we think we already know is the critical portal from which true compassion and empathy can emerge … not just for ‘others’ but also for myself!  It takes a whole lot of courage to unpack our own misunderstandings and misconceptions.

I have learned that by allowing myself to see what I was unable, unwilling or unprepared to see … I have opened  the door to a world of  miraculous shifts in perspective. Much to my pleasant surprise, it is from a place of not knowing that I have been humbly granted the capacity to see what might have been there all along … even when I thought I already knew.

Let’s continue to embrace our inner idiots, because as my amazing mentor Debbie Ford always told us “Knowing is the booby prize

Still unlearning, Karen

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