Filled with PRIDE …

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Marching with the Taber Equality Alliance PRIDE FEST PARADE 2016  Lethbridge

I marched, for the very first time, in the 2016 PRIDE FEST PARADE in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada  … the largest city nearby where I live in rural Southern Alberta.  I feel badly that it took me so long to do so, because as a social worker, I made a professional commitment to resist social injustice by advocating for those who are relegated to the margins of the dominant mainstream majority. As it states in the final line of my social worker declaration:

“I will act to effect social change for the overall benefit of humanity.” 

And honestly … I not only see sociopolitical activism as my professional responsibility, but as a result of my extensive studies in anti-oppression, it has also become a personal passion to ensure that each and every one of us feels a sense of respect, love and acceptance in our lives … despite any perceived differences between us.  We certainly don’t have to agree on things and/or walk the same paths to be kind and compassionate with one another.

As an ally, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived to march in the parade … but I can tell you that being a part of the incredible PRIDE movement was deeply meaningful to me.  It touched me in ways that I could never have anticipated … and … that are exceptionally hard to describe with these words. You might get a wee sense of the sublime joy stirring in my soul from the smile showing on my face in the picture. My enthusiasm reflects the honor and pride I felt in waving the rainbow flag … both as an act of resistance to ‘othering’ and as an allied voice for inclusion.

It’s difficult to describe the energy of acceptance, joy, love and connection that was both particularly potent and entirely palpable during this event. It struck me that it didn’t really matter who you were … straight, queer, gay, lesbian, trans, bi-sexual, older, younger, married, single, white, black, brown, red, able-bodied or differently-abled.  There was such a rich and deep sense of appreciation for all of our humanity … in all its diverse expressions and equally divine incarnations. I sensed that each and every person in attendance was marinating in this undeniably warm, accepting and welcoming atmosphere.  It was clearly a safe place for folks to stand tall in the fullest expression of who they know themselves to be.

No apologies nor concessions were required in order to feel approved of … and/or … to be valued and recognized and acknowledged and appreciated. I can’t honestly remember being in any other social situation where I sensed such a complete lack of judgment. It seemed so unusual because, quite frankly, although unconditional love is loudly lauded in our culture … in reality … it seems relatively rare for one to actually experience it.  In fact, it strikes me that it can be quite challenging to find a space where people simply connect soul to soul … where hierarchies are suspended, differences are duly honored and each individual gets to feel unequivocally respected as an equally significant member of our human family.

The reality is that because I am a straight, married, white, middle-class, able-bodied, well-educated professional woman I can wander about my life enjoying an ample allowance of cultural acceptance simply because I visibly fit so comfortably into the dominant mainstream.  Not everyone is afforded this unearned grace. I reside in a very small rural town (about 8400 people) boasting a fairly homogeneous heterosexual, white, patriarchal, hard-working, family oriented and conservative Christian majority.  There is nothing problematic about that … unless you don’t happen to visibly ‘fit’ within that demographic majority … because it’s really hard to be anonymous here … unless you are good at hiding.  And, my heart aches because I know there are folks ‘hiding’ out in our little town because, in some way, they do not reflect dominant mainstream cultural norms.  Sadly, I’m aware that those who identify within the LGBTQ+ (i.e. lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, plus more) demographic may feel obligated to trade their personal ‘authenticity’ for the safety of small town cultural ‘approval’.  Yes. It can feel like one or the other for many folks. Many may feel pressured to hide the truth of their differences in exchange for a semblance of acceptance.

In fact, even speaking up so publicly in support of the LGBTQ+ community makes me feel somewhat vulnerable because I risk losing some of the safety and acceptance I currently garner from Taberites who perceive me to be solidly aligned with the dominant, mainstream beliefs of the Christian majority.  But I have to admit that, I too, have been hiding a bit.  I have been relatively silent in the public domain about my own sociopolitical convictions for far too long. It is time, however, as a constructivist, feminist, social worker that I stand in solidarity with those whose voices have been muted and marginalized.

From what I have come to understand, June is recognized as LGBTQ Pride Month due to a rally that took place in 1969 which was touted as the first major demonstration for gay rights.  And so, much to my own chagrin, here I am … finally joining those who have been speaking up for almost 40 years in support of the LGBTQ+ cause.

Yes.  At this point, my relative silence is starting to feel like a betrayal of human rights in general. It feels both essential and necessary to utilize some of my mainstream power and privilege to publicly support those don’t feel safe enough in our community to come out of hiding.  I sense it is important to do so, because it is common for our town locals to believe that we don’t have any members of the LGBTQ+ community living here.  They assume that the LGBTQ+ population resides only in the bigger centers.  And while it is entirely possible that many members of the LGBTQ+ community do, in fact, move away in order to live more honestly and authentically … the Forum Research Poll from 2012 estimates that approximately 5% of adults aged 18 – 59 in Alberta identify within the LGBTQ+ community.  That means, that of the 8428 people residing here … 421 may not identify as heterosexual or cisgender. And, as also noted in the Taber Times (our local newspaper) on April 5, 2017   … “of those numbers, some 194 could be students or youth (based upon a population of school age children and youth of 3, 879)”  And so, if we are not ‘seeing’ obvious evidence of this diversity in our town, then we can assume these adults, youth and children are working hard at ‘hiding’ their differences.

A couple of years  ago, I was super excited to learn that a local group had been started (in our small, rural town) called The Taber Equality Alliance (TEA).  The mission of this coalition is to create a safe space in our community for sexual and gender identity minorities and their allies.  This alliance is focused upon building a more welcoming and inclusive community through engagement, partnerships, social groups and advocacy.  I instinctively knew this initiative was something I wanted to be a part of.  We meet on a monthly basis and are slowly growing in both allies and those who identify as LGBTQ+.  Our membership hit 135 people in May of 2017!  And … we are committed to gaining more visibility in our small rural community. A while back we gained some good press coverage when we acquired our ‘Society Status’.

After participating in the Pride Parade in Lethbridge Alberta, we determined that it would serve our cause well to raise our visibility in our little town.  Our first event was a fundraiser and silent auction.  It was a great evening for LGBTQ+ members and their allies to come out and connect.  And then … we got even braver and decided to put a ‘float’ into our own little community parade.  I wasn’t able to attend but our members donned their new white TEA shirts … and then … we also competed in the Chili Competition at our infamous Taber Cornfest Celebration in August of 2016.

And even though the clouds rained on our parade … the downpour never dampened our spirits!!

Recently, we determined that we should host our own PRIDE event … right here in our own little neck of the woods.  Our delegation of 22 people entered the officious Council Chambers of the Town of Taber to request that the PRIDE flag be raised on June 12th and then allowed to fly until June 30th.  This time frame represents five percent of the year to symbolically  honor the five percent of the community that identify as  part of the LGBTQ+ community.  Two of our delegates were seated up front to provide our presentation to the seven Town of Taber Councillors.  One of our members who identifies as transgender spoke candidly about the pain she experienced:

“The first time I attempted suicide, I was 10 years old.  I had been led to believe that how I felt was wrong and sinful.  I felt a great deal of shame for feeling things I did not understand or control. If I could not be a girl, then I didn’t want to live at all. I hated myself for how I felt, and the fact that I could not be normal. I went into the kitchen and pulled the biggest knife I could find from the drawer.  I held it to my chest and struggled with myself. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t take my own life.  I placed the knife back in the drawer and went to my room.  I couldn’t end my suffering.  I felt completely and utterly trapped in this wretched life.

This wasn’t the only time I attempted. Every day I think about killing myself. It has taken a long time, but I have now finally been able to learn to love and accept myself.  Not as a boy or as a girl but as a being.  I’m now okay with being transgender and wear it as a badge of honor.  My hope is that through the efforts of TEA, we are able to help prevent someone else from going through the same misery that I have felt.”

I have to admit I was a bit dumbfounded to witness these two beautiful souls courageously expressing such achingly hard truths …  from the bottom of their hearts straight to to the tops of the Councillors down-turned heads. Although two of the politicians were visibly engaged and consistently sustained eye contact with our delegates, the majority of them were focusing their attention on the documents on their desks. Perhaps they had not yet read the package we had forwarded to them well in advance of the meeting? Perhaps this is common practice in the political arena? Perhaps I am just too old school …?  I have no idea, but I really struggled to make sense of what I was observing.  In this culture, from the time we are children, we are socialized to look at people when they are talking to you. It is perceived as a sign of respect.  It just doesn’t feel like people are really listening … nor interested in hearing you … when you don’t have their eyes.

It took a couple of motions before they agreed (by a very slim margin of 4-3) to permit us to raise the rainbow flag on a pole behind the Town Office. We had petitioned to raise it in front of the office where it would get more visibility on one of our main streets. It was suggested by one of the politicians that TEA should be “accepting” of their decision. It struck me as kind of ironic that we, the minority, were the ones being admonished to be ‘accepting’. It’s entirely paradoxical because the central issue perpetually facing marginalized groups and minorities (over time and across history) is that they have been silenced by the those in positions of power. And therefore, for the most part, they have had little option but to ‘accept’ the will of majority.

In the final analysis, however, we choose to see this as a small victory and, ultimately, a step in the right direction.  And … we will persist.

Margaret Mead

For some reason, it also seems germane to mention that prior to the meeting, I had noticed that one of the town Councillors had a sign posted in his front yard saying “Protect pre-birth rights.”  It was tempting to hope this meant he might be equally committed to also protecting ‘post’ birth rights … but he voted against both motions … adding verbally, with a slightly perceptible shake of his head, that he could not support this initiative. I do understand that the objections around supporting the human rights of the LGBTQ+ community are often founded upon religious convictions. That said, it is certainly not my intention, here in this blog, to take issue with people’s fundamental rights to stand behind their own tenets of faith. I completely respect every individual’s right to their own opinion.  And so, if the content of this blog offends your sensibilities, please accept my sincerest respect for our differences. It’s just that, from a my own spiritual perspective, I might interpret things a bit differently.   From where I am looking … I am guessing that if Jesus was still physically present among us, he would have joined us for the flag raising … inspiring a spirit of compassion and acceptance for one and all.

I trust that we truly are a small town with big hearts!  I expect that there are many folks in our small town who are also interested in supporting post-birth human rights.  And so, if you feel inclined to help raise the vibration of inclusion in Taber and create more safety and comfort for members of our LGBTQ+ community, please plan to gather with us at our first ever PRIDE event  on June 12th, 2017!  I hope we can come together (both allies and those who identify as LGBTQ+) … have a hot dog, enjoy the entertainment and stand in solidarity so that this sector of our humanity can visibly ‘see’ and ‘feel’ the support that is available within our little town.

With deepest reverence for our human differences and much enthusiasm for all that is possible when we bring our hearts together … Karen

 

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Focus ≠ Exclusion. Ever.

Focus does not equal exclusion

Lately, our social media has been ablaze with competing American campaigns about whose lives matter. Is it the black ones? The police ones?  All of them?  It saddens me to see all these accurate assertions reduced to a public debate.  In doing so, we are creating unnecessary divisions between our hearts, and consequently, we are diluting our collective capacity to affect some significant shifts towards a more harmonious future … for everyone … on all sides.  I spoke to much of this in a prior post,  but I believe there are some additional perspectives that might be helpful to consider as we move forward:

  • We must refrain from assuming an implied “only” exists in front of these slogans.
  • We must not neglect the history and context in which these campaigns have been generated.
  • We must step out of our “Soldier” mindsets and into our “Scout” mindsets. (More about this concept later.)

Focus does not mean exclusion. There have been countless campaigns in the past that have intentionally invited extra attention to one thing, but we understood that this amplified focus did not imply that that other things were not also equally important.  For example:

  • “Feed the children” Don’t feed the adults.
  • “Save the Whales” ≠   Sacrifice the Seals
  • “Help prevent forest fires” ≠ Don’t concern yourself with grass fires.
  • “Join the Army” ≠ Don’t even consider the Navy
  • “Pray for Paris” ≠  We don’t care about Rome.
  • “Travel Alberta” ≠  There is nothing worth seeing in British Columbia.

These various social campaigns emerged for good reason and with just cause.  They were attempting to raise awareness in a particular direction for a specific reason. We didn’t interpret them offensively nor did we create counter movements … because we comprehended the context in which they emerged. In fact, one of the most popular and historically revered Christian campaigns in American society was“Love thy neighbor.” And, we would never mistake it’s earnest intention by assuming it meant that you shouldn’t love people unless they live near you. We would never presume that this meaningful adage was covertly conspiring to ensure all traces of love are withheld from strangers. Nope. No. Nada.  That wouldn’t even enter our minds.

And yet, there is no denying that the Black Lives Matter campaign has certainly touched a national nerve. And, as I was trying to make sense of the public push back, I was most grateful to a follower of my blog, Sue Dreamwalker, who authors a very meaningful and deeply inspiring blog, for kindly nudging me in the direction of a a very short but highly potent Ted Talk that may very effectively explain the contention has been sparked during this particular campaign. In roughly 10 quick but juicy minutes, Julia Galef raises the concept of “Motivated Reasoning” which very logically explains when and why we will feel “the drive to attack or defend ideas.”

Galef identifies two necessary and equally important mindsets than can land us in separate camps and on seemingly different sides of the coin.  It’s a fascinating perspective and it makes so much sense to me. She discusses the benefits/challenges of both the “Soldier Mindset” which reflexively triggers one’s internal defense system and is “rooted in a desire to protect your side” and the more curious “Scout Mindset” which is when we are “trying to get an accurate picture of reality, even when that is unpleasant or inconvenient.”  Each of these mindsets serves very critical but distinct purposes.

And so, we can see how these two mindsets can be activated and may or may not be beneficial in our lives, depending upon the context.  With this in mind, as White people reflecting upon the Black Lives Matter campaign, (and if we are willing to quiet our more defensive internal “Soldier” and make room to embody our more curious inner “Scout”), we can see that our own lived experience has poorly prepared us to see things from the side of African American people.  This is not because we are insensitive or stupid.  It is typically because we have been taught only one side of the story … our side. Traditional grade school American history books were written from the side of white, middle class, male academics who had the power to unilaterally decide what was important to include and what could be left out.  While this bias in our mainstream education most definitely needs to be changed … most of us have never even considered that our curriculum offers us a White-washed version of the history and context of Black lives.  It may be entirely unsettling for many of us to recognize that we have been sold a version of history that tends to dismiss and downplay the magnitude of social injustices experienced by African Americans.

Our solider mind may resist making room for us to see this, but our scout mind certainly does not.  Even though we have been distanced from truly understanding the African American side of things, it is difficult to deny that many, many innocent black people have been mistreated and killed … rendered inexcusably vulnerable simply because of the color of their skin. And recently, we could see their reflexive soldier mindset horrifically played out during the protests in Dallas.  And, with that, innocent police officers were mistreated and killed … rendered inexcusably vulnerable simply for doing their jobs.  And we can also see how the soldier mindset sparked the subsequent emergence of the Police Lives Matter campaign.  And then, in the space of competing interests, social media invites us to choose sides.  Really??  To me, it is all just entirely heartbreaking.

Instead of choosing sides, I would like to suggest that if we are going to successfully find the solutions to stop all the senseless suffering and loss we are seeing, we must be willing to temper our own soldier mindsets and round out our reasoning with our scout mindsets. The incomparable Marianne Williamson  invites the mainstream, dominant culture to do exactly that with an exquisite and exceptional prayer which compassionately highlights and sincerely honors the history and context surrounding African American lives that White people have been privileged enough to step over:

Prayer of Apology to African Americans

From where I am looking, this apology is so very long overdue.  I interpret the Black Lives Matter campaign as a sincere attempt to tell their side of the story … to help raise awareness and/or to generate support and to foster enough collective energy to shift and transform the unjust context in which they have been forced to abide.  And, I can also see that the Police Lives Matter campaign is a genuine attempt to honor their unique and particular side of the story.   How do we make space in our hearts for the voices on each side of these social movements without dismissing and diminishing the other?

I humbly suggest that we need to allow ourselves some focus.  As the old adage goes, the eagle knows that if it chases two rabbits, it will lose them both.  There are times when we must channel our focus in one direction because without that additional, sustained and fixed focus we will lose our power to effect the changes that sparked the campaigns in the first place. But once again, focus does not mean exclusion.  Our focus upon one thing typically means that there is something special, important and worthy of extra attention and/or consideration at a particular time for a particular reason.  We can choose to focus our gaze in one particular direction for a period of time to help address a pressing concern that needs extra public support and attention. And once we have affected sufficient support to alleviate the problem, we can turn our attention back to other important issues of concern.  It’s a triage of sorts …

And this is an example of the context where our soldier mindset can be counterproductive.  It seems to me that unless and until we engage our scout mindsets to gather enough history to adequately understand the context in which social movements arise we will remain subject to all manner of misinterpretation.  And then, instead of coming together to collectively honor, acknowledge and address the special interests that are being highlighted within the campaigns, we may be reduced to bickering with each other.  I fear that if we, the mainstream dominant culture, steadfastly stand in our soldier minds (i.e. intent on defending only our own side of the story), the marginalized parts of our humanity are once again pitted against those with more power and social clout … and then … we all remain angrily divided and helplessly distracted from pursuing a more unified humanitarian goal.  And, with the competing interests, the group with the least volume in their voice then loses any leverage they may have gained during the social movement and the status quo is very nicely maintained.

Sadly, when we allow oursevles to be pitted against each other, we are missing the sacred and divine opportunity we have to join forces in a caring, conscious, collective, conscientious and concerted effort to ensure, in fact, that ALL lives DO matter.

Right Vision

Hmmmm … my scout mind is inviting me to be very transparent here.  I must openly admit that it has crossed the suspicious and cynical part of my mind that this controversy (pitting ‘lives’ against each other on social media) certainly serves to maintain the status quo.  And … it cannot be denied that, all though “all lives matter’,  the status quo definitely privileges some lives over others.  Our soldier mind doesn’t like to believe it, but our scout mind knows it to be true.

And, it strikes me that the bickering between camps benefits the soldier mindsets/agendas of those in high places … those with the most power and privilege to lose if, in fact, we actually achieved a successful shift in the direction of a higher vision and landed in that miraculous space where we can unequivocally see the empirical evidence that All Lives Matter.  Arghhh . I really don’t like the sound of that unflattering perspective.  And honestly … given this particular social context, I’d sooner be wrong than right.  Honestly and truly … from the bottom of my heart. I would much prefer to believe that we were investing our collective energy into ensuring Marianne’s inspiring vision becomes a reality.

Yes, please … let’s make a concerted effort to do that, Karen

P.S. I’ve added even more extra-ordinary resources to the list in my prior post that will appeal to our scout mindset. 🙂

 

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Well, I Sure Got Told, Didn’t I … ?!?

Black - White Photo

Yep. That was the outraged response I received to a comment I made on Facebook after the following post appeared on my news feed.

Race Card

I commented on my Facebook news feed and then followed this post back to the original source and pasted my response there too. Here is what I posted:

“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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An Un-Lived Life …

An unlived life

Grrrr. Boooo. Hiss. Pffft. Arghhh …

A little while ago, I experienced a particularly troubling week … one in which my emotions got really ramped up.  I don’t tend to get triggered all that easily anymore, but two days in a row, right back to back, I endured distinctly different scenarios that both wreaked havoc with my heart and left me fumbling my way through the fountain of unfavorable feelings that arose in the face of those formidable frustrations.  And so … as I often do … I took pen to page to help me find the message that those muddled moments may be holding for me.

I remain so deeply discouraged by the inherent powerlessness of marginalization … both feeling it myself during that particularly woeful week and observing it for others – far, far too often. There are some things that are beyond my control. Important things. Or, perhaps it would be fairer to say, things that are important to me.  And important to some others …. but, for the most part, they are things that the vast majority doesn’t experience as a problem.  And, sadly, unless or until an issue affects people personally, many will not acknowledge, recognize  or even give much attention to such things.

Perhaps it is truer to say that in our dominant cultural majority, we have the exquisite privilege of not needing to understand the particular problems of  those who are unlike us … of those whose issues lie beyond the margins of our own lived experience. And, regrettably, we live in a world where assuming an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ stance is often glamorized as a desirable patriotic position and/or a reflection of our religious devotion. Sadly though, this sets up an ‘either/or‘ mentality rather than a ‘both/and‘ mindset.  And as a result, a very well intended desire to take care of our own often means that the issues of others get subjugated and dismissed. Or, even worse … ridiculed. Yes. Ridiculed. We get to be oblivious about the issues that affect them, because the obstacles they may be facing are just not at all apparent upon our own paths.

Source Unknown but deeply appreciated.

Source Unknown but deeply appreciated.

When you are NOT the one being oppressed, you have the luxury of not even noticing the prickles and perils on the path that ‘others’ are experiencing.  And, you don’t even know what you don’t know because the ‘others’ are grappling with issues that have never even hit your radar.  It’s not that you don’t care.  You do care.  And you may very earnestly believe in equality … and … you might even think that because things are purported to be equal, that all people have the same rights and opportunities as you do.  Some may even think, if they don’t take advantage of the options in front of them, well … that is not my problem.  They could get it together, if they just tried or if they were really committed to helping themselves.

But ‘equal’ does not mean ‘equitable’.

Source Unknown but deeply appreciated.

Adapted from original source: Craig Froehle

And so, those with the most power and advantage can unwittingly continue to step over the unmet needs of others.  Not because they are heartless.  No. Not at all … but because they really don’t see the problem.  And, they honestly don’t.  It is simply not an issue that registers in the framework of their experience, and so they have trouble understanding how it could be a problem  for others.  From where they are looking, they see lots of  options that could be accessed … they see solutions that are not being actualized.  But, they cannot see how their own alignment with the majority affords them an unfair advantage … a fast track to ‘solutions’ that seem simple and obvious to them, but in reality, are not accessible to all. Many, in fact, will speak about their privileged standpoint as though it were a merit they somehow earned.

And yet, there are some places where we get that it is not a matter of choice.  We understand that we must collectively seek to disrupt the inequitable disparity among us.  Golfers get it.  They honor differences and foster equity by offering handicaps in order to level the playing field in terms of skill sets.  And somewhere along the way, we realized that the racers on the outside lane on an oval track have further to go, so we stagger the starting line to offset the advantages on the inner lanes. There are many places in the arena of athletics when/where we do acknowledge inequities and seek to rectify them.

But, it’s entirely exasperating to attempt to address a social issue with people on the inner lanes that don’t see the problem for those on the outside lanes.  Even those with ample power to changes things, may feel no sense of responsibility to rectify the issues others are be facing. Arghhhh.

Source Uknown

Source Uknown

And so, with that recognition, it is so tempting to simply give up … to allow myself to be silenced … to succumb in weary resignation and benignly accept the mainstream majority’s perceptions of what is ‘right’ for this world and/or adopt their narrowed notions about which minorities might deservedly merit some accommodations … and … which do not.

But … to do so … would leave my life un-lived.  To do so, would leave my days un-inhabited by the very things that steal my heart and kindle my inner flame.  To fail to show up for the ‘truths’ in my own soul would be to suffocate my spirit.  And, I sense deeply that this is no way for me to fully embrace my days.

As Dawn Markova points out: I must risk the falling … I must risk catching fire … I must allow my living to crack me wide open.  I must pursue my own particular passions and plant the seeds … in hopes of enjoying the blossoms … and … trusting in the fruits of my efforts, even if I never get to taste them myself.

I remember my red-faced recognition of my own complicity in the marginalization of others. I was taking a class in social work. I remember learning things I did not know.  I remember questioning why these important things were not taught to us in our mainstream curriculum.  I remember wanting to hide.  I remember wanting to blame others.  I remember my sense of shame  … and  … I remember ultimately recognizing that if I was not part of the solution, than I was part of the problem … by default.  

And so, I feel both obligated and compelled to inhabit my days more fully invested; with my eyes fixed beyond my own lived experience, using my voice to stretch awareness and disrupt the oppressive influences that I become aware of … despite risking my connection to my mainstream comforts – despite risking connection with the family/friends who can make me feel safe in my own comfort zone … because as Ben Franklin so wisely recognized:

justice - 1

And so, with a tremble and a tear, I make this pledge to myself.  I humbly choose to risk my significance. I cannot comfortably inhabit the polarized dualism of us versus them.  I cannot keep my gaze reduced to my own lane.  I cannot step over the injurious conjecture or contemptuous confabulations coming from those who don’t see or erroneously dismiss the complexities of an issue  … even though I have an understanding of some of the fears that perpetuate the problem.  I do recognize that we may personally pay a price when we make room for ‘others.’ And, I realize that when you are accustomed to living with privilege, a movement towards inclusion and equity can feel threatening … it can even seem like reverse oppression.  I get that. I just can’t continue to condone it with my silence.

So, I do expect some push back. But I am also sensing that many in the mainstream majority will want to meet me on the margins.  Many will want to gain a better understanding of what it is that we have not lived …  so we might learn what it is that we don’t yet know. Ultimately, for me, I am realizing that I have to keep stretching myself because it just doesn’t feel right for me to continue to dwell silently in those privileged spaces …without further investigation about who is paying the price for my comforts …and/or … who does not have access to the same.

I think its because I cannot fully live there … Karen

P.S. I believe that talking about power and privilege is not about imposing guilt on the mainstream. It is not about blaming and shaming any of us.  From where I am looking it is more like talking about air.  Please click here if you are interested in that conversation.

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Talking about POWER is like talking about AIR …

check your privilege

PRIVILEGE can be defined as the unearned access to social POWER based upon membership in a dominant social group.  In my opinion, talking about social POWER is like talking about AIR. We all know it is there and we all use it, but we have the luxury of ignoring/denying its critical significance until we are somehow deprived of it.  It’s somewhat insidious because although the element itself is not visually perceptible, the substantive effects of its relative presence or absence are highly tangible.

Without it, the personal distress becomes grave and quite palpable. For this reason, I think it is incumbent upon all of humanity (but particularly those of us who work in the human service disciplines) to be highly diligent in seeking out and acknowledging areas in peoples lives where, metaphorically speaking, the air is thin. I believe an integral part of that inquiry involves us becoming aware of the covert ways in which we, as professionals (from our oxygen rich standpoint in the mainstream majority) can unwittingly suffocate ‘others’ … or … view their shallow breathing as personal deficiency needing individual remediation rather than seeing their lack of oxygen as a reflection of a collective issue requiring systemic respiration.

When I check the list … I can see that I dwell in a very privileged space. I can’t check all the boxes, but nonetheless … I enjoy a whole schwack of benefits and social power that I didn’t actually earn. I can breathe pretty darn easily in this culture.

And so, in the presence of that knowledge, I have a choice.  I can use the power inherent in my social standpoint and professional position to disrupt any impediments to universal and equitable access to air … or … I can allow myself to be richly oxygenated by my privilege and assume no responsibility for the shallowed breathing of others. And if I choose the latter, I might be tempted to assuage my guilt by blaming the labored breathing on the gasping individual themselves – admonishing them for not inhaling deeply enough … instead of faulting a biased ventilation system that privileges some while it asphyxiates others.

In every moment … in every interaction … with every thought, word and deed … I am always making a choice.  I am either sharing the oxygen mask I have been gifted or  I am saving it for myself.  There is no neutral ground here.  Whether we like to admit it or not, those of us with the most privilege are responsible for the air quality. Yes. We. Are.  Because, we are the only ones holding the power to oxygenate it equitably for all.

So, each and every one of us has to decide whether we are going to be part of the problem or part of the solution. And, I have learned that I must keep a very close eye on myself … because it is so darned easy to take my power and privilege for granted. From my oxygen rich place in the dominant social majority, it is easy for me to take a nice deep nourishing inhale … and then obliviously … neglect to notice that so many others are woefully wheezing on the margins of my awareness.

May my personal and professional interactions with others be a breath of fresh air,  Karen

 

Please note that WordPress.com may place advertisements on my blog sites. The presence of these ads does not constitute my endorsement of the information, services, or products found in them.

Are We Misunderstanding Muslims …?

 

When we are afraid we can be quick to judge, hate and blame … BUT … from where I am looking, one kind of generalized hate and bigotry is no more noble or justified than the other.  While it may be tempting and easy to paint everyone with the same brush, it is certainly not wise nor well-informed. I hope you will take a moment to watch this provocative seven minute exchange … it may shift your perspective in a meaningful way.

May we all endeavor to be part of the solution … rather than a mirror reflection of the problem, Karen

iO Tillett Wright: 50 Shades of Gay …

A profoundly uncommon conversation …

You may think you can’t  find/spare the 18 minutes it will take to watch this.  I would like to suggest that you might not want to rob yourself of viewing this short clip because you might not be able to find a better way to INVEST 18 minutes of your life … whether you are interested in the conversation of sexual orientation or not. THIS is a most unique and remarkable invitation to dwell in the spaciousness of love.  I hope you’ll accept the invite because … our humanity needs it.

I’d love to hear where this compelling and uncommon conversation takes your mind and your heart …  Karen

Video

[Guest Post]: Shhh!!!

[GUEST POST]:  This humorous and brilliantly written blog serves as such a vital and important reminder that we must take care of each other … that we must not stand silently by while people hurt one another. We must say something … rather than stepping over uncomfortable moments in the hopes that someone else will do something about it.

As Gandhi suggests:

“We must be the change we wish to see in the world”

Thank you BonneVivanteLife for being just that … !

BonneVivanteLife

images

I have officially become the crazy old lady who barks at strangers. I used to be the crazy young woman who yelled at passers-by, but that was when I was a College Student at Happy Hour. I’m surprised the “old lady” version has occurred so early in my life–I figured I’d be 80 before I started to wave my cane at strangers. Today I didn’t have a cane, but I had a stern talking-to with four young men in the library. I may or may not have even wagged a finger.

The young men were middle-school aged boys, probably in the 6th grade. One was clearly the ring leader, one was his deputy, and the other two were clear followers. They were hanging out in the library after school before their parents came home from work, trying so desperately to look cool. They rough-housed and wrestled a bit, joked loudly…

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[Guest Post]: Between the Silences …

Between the Silences

Diane Buchanan (2005) Frontenac House

“It happens between the silences, amid
whispers, flipping papers, coughs and
bows.

It happens, they say, after previous
consultation, and with due
consideration.

It happens on paper in assessments,
reports and addendums.

It happens between lawyers, social
workers, judges.

Between the silences it happens; families
are split, children discarded,

fathers and mothers appear and
disappear, the director becomes the
parent.

It happens with grown-up words like:
custody, guardianship, father unknown,
or absent,

mother served or signed release,
supervision order, child in care, status
extended.

It happens while children play in the
courthouse hallways.

A child’s future determined in the time
it takes to say:

So ordered.”

I felt compelled to share Diane Buchanan’s (2005) haunting and heartbreaking reflection of the shattering experiences of those involved with Child Protection Services.  While our systems and structures are fueled by good intentions,  we often step over the wounded souls who are painfully, perilously and powerlessly caught between the silences.

May we all hold a little more compassion … and … extend a little more grace,  Karen

Clucking or Oinking … ?

When I read this quote I was about to give myself a wee little pat on the back because I thought I had actually been doing more of this over the past few years … BUT then …  the word committed got me second-guessing myself.  Some wise soul once said:

When it comes to making bacon and eggs … the chicken is ‘involved’ but the pig is ‘committed’.

The distinction between ‘clucking’ and ‘oinking’ gave me serious pause.  Both chicken and pig are essential contributions to this vision of creating a scrumptious ‘breakfast’ … but they certainly do not reflect the same level of investment.  Those who are ‘committed’ are willing to risk it all in passionate pursuit of their dreams and goals. It could certainly be argued that the most remarkable and necessary social changes in history were oinked into being … at great personal cost to the souls whose ‘commitment’ ran deeper their ‘fear.’

I so deeply admire folks like this.  I think we all do.  Ordinary folks often capture our attention and become the ‘famous’ heroes in history whose stories of self-sacrifice are so inspiring that we remake them into Hollywood movies, captivating biographies and/or historical exhibits.  I vividly remember acquainting myself with some of the lesser known souls in an electronic book exhibit at Schindler’s Factory in Berlin, Germany.  One of the books cited courageous tales of the German ‘heroes’ of World War II who were so passionately ‘committed’ to their vision that they even sacrificed the security and safety of their own loved ones/children in order to save Jewish families and their children from extinction.  The other book revealed stories about the German people who didn’t dare resist Hitler’s powerful force and were viewed as ‘informants’ … perhaps because their fears for the safety of their loved ones/children prevailed and/or trumped their faith in any chance of  derailing the prevailing powers of that time.  I was utterly silenced  and soberly shuttered at the magnitude of daily ‘choices’ that these ordinary souls were faced with …

I remember standing there, warily wondering – wondering clear down to the deepest part of my soul – which book I would have ended up in had I endured that horrific time in history. I stood there, hoping against hope that I would have ended up in the book that told stories of courage and sacrifice but, in all honesty, I am not sure I would have.  I know I can be brave … sometimes.  I know I have strong convictions … about some things.  I know I feel tremendous empathy for the marginalized and oppressed.  I know I have always been passionate about alleviating  the suffering of humanity … but seriously … if push came to shove, could I really risk my own comforts and/or my family security to help others?

Although my altruistic convictions have propelled me into the field of social work whereby I have professionally ‘committed’ myself to the pursuit of social justice … my involvement has not yet required that I truly sacrifice myself or the safety of my loved ones.  In fact, as I reflect back on what my ‘commitment’ has meant thus far, I mostly see a lot of eggs.  I am very proud of my eggs … but … let’s be candid here, I can see far more clucking than oinking in my benevolent pursuit of social justice. And, please, don’t get me wrong. I am not subordinating the value of the chicken over the pig here. Both eggs and bacon are equally essential contributions to a successful outcome.  I am just noticing my own tendencies.

There is no denying that I’m willing to invest myself in a noble cause … and I do.  BUT … it’s so much easier to believe you’d be the bacon when you’re not actually making breakfast.  I share this because  not too long ago I was faced with a situation where I had to decide  how much I was prepared to risk (in order to advocate on behalf of others).  It sparked some deep soul searching … and … brought up all kinds of feelings.  I knew that I had nothing personal to gain, so in this instance, it would have been so much easier to simply offer up an egg and call it good … BUT … for some reason I just couldn’t.  In this particular case, I really was more committed to my vision than my fear.

So, I find myself questioning what prompted my swine-like ‘commitment’ in this particular situation.  I can’t quite put my finger on it but I just knew that I feared the consequences of not taking a stand more than I feared the price I might pay in doing so.  I knew I wouldn’t sleep if I tried to step over it.  In fact, I don’t feel like I chose it … I honestly feel like it chose me.  Perhaps the most passionate of our pursuits or ‘visions’ are not self-decided callings but, rather,  are placed inside us by something greater than ourselves?

I don’t know for sure what inspires someone to oink versus cluck, but my musings about it have left me seriously pondering Helen Keller’s bold declaration that: “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing”.   I find myself wondering if this insight speaks to a niggling truth inside all of us.  Perhaps there is a unique and particular ‘vision’ silently seeded within each of us that will simply not be stilled by fear once it’s been brought to light. Perhaps it is different for each and every one of us …

Perhaps life represents a series of invitations for us to contribute a brave and daring oink … and/or …  to invest a safe cluck-cluck here and a secure cluck-cluck there?  What would be the rewards of living such a daring and ‘committed’ life?  What would be the risks?  What are the gains ‘involved’ in clucking?  What are the costs? Maybe there is a time for clucking and a time for oinking?

And so …this reflection begs the ultimate question: what if I dared to oink more than I cluck?  Perhaps it doesn’t have to be either-or?  Maybe the juiciest lives are a compelling mix of both?  I can’t say for sure, but I can feel that this conversation resonates very uncomfortably within me …  bumping between my anxious preference for safety and my compassionate vision to live a life that is bigger than my fears.

I wonder what my answer to the next call will be.

With deepening reverence for all the oinkers and heartfelt gratitude for all the cluckers. No scrumptious breakfast nor amazing vision happens without both,  Karen

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