Yes I am racist, and* …

Not an easy sentence to think, let alone type where you intend others to read it.

Yes I am racist and I am Jewish.

Yes I am racist and the parent of 2 Black children.

Yes I am racist and one of my best friends is indeed Black.

Yes I am racist and I go out of my way to be kind to, smile at, chat with, the people of color I encounter in day to day life.

Yes I am racist and so is Paula Deen** and so is Kelly Osbourne, and so my dear White reader, are you.

Really.  It’s okay to admit it. The word won’t brand you or consign you to hell.  It’s just a word.  It’s not poison.  It’s not acid.  It need not destroy you on contact.  It needn’t make you irredeemable or a pariah.

Admitting that I do have racist responses to the world I live in and the people I encounter – no matter how subtle those responses are – is the only way I can fully take ownership of who I am in the world.  I must take responsibility for my involuntary thoughts and fleeting emotions that betray centuries of ingrained programming.  Else I am not choosing freely who I am.

How do I know I’m racist? Well I’ve never “clutched my purse tighter when a black man got on an elevator”, but I have:

  • Locked my car doors when driving through neighborhoods in DC where Black people lived.
  • Had the thought, upon noticing more Black and Brown families shopping in L—berg, that the economics of the area must be in a down turn.
  • Felt uncomfortable being the only patron in my nail salon when the Vietnamese nail techs begin to talk to one another.
  • Had to check my reactions to MY OWN DAUGHTER, because the stony face and cocked neck she has when she’s angry at me triggers the image of a [and yes I am going to confess my sin for real] uppity Black girl.  Yes. I have had that thought about my own daughter.

Do I consciously embrace racist beliefs? No.  Of course not.  Would I proudly and consciously behave in a racist manner or make judgments and act on them on the basis of racist reactions and beliefs?  No.  Of course not.  This is the difference between being racist — having unexamined racist thoughts, beliefs, and reactions — and being A RACIST, consciously embracing a racist belief system or ideology.

It’s not an insult when someone – especially a person of color – identifies something you do or say as racist.  It’s NOT an insult.  Let me say it one more time: it’s not an insult.  White people have to stop taking it personally.  We need to stop being defensive.  We cannot learn and grow and develop if we can’t take constructive criticism.  And America will never realize some post-racial [whatever that means] nirvana unless ALL of us are aware of and accountable for the ways in which perceptions about race impact who we are in the world.

The next time someone tells you that a joke is racist.  Don’t argue.  Shut up and listen. They are not telling you that YOU are INTENTIONALLY being A RACIST. They are saying that you told a joke that perpetuates assumptions and thinking and beliefs and feelings that are racist.  Which means you said something or did something which upholds and affirms the whole, mostly unconscious, thought structure that creates a reality in which serious racial disparities of well being continue to exist.   If someone tells you that what you’ve said or done is racist and you get angry about that, this is a very clear sign that there is something more for you to learn.

I keep seeing Paula Deen, rich, successful in business and family, famous, beloved, trembling and teary and barely coherent as she tries to apologize again and again.   “In my heart…” she says, hands held on her chest, struggling to convey the kindness and impartiality she feels about all peoples. It’s hard to think of another word that would have brought her to her knees like this.  “Racist”.  Paula Deen is racist.  What if she had said, “Yes.  Yes I am racist.  And I am sorry. And I am ashamed. And I want to learn to be better, because in my heart I know it’s wrong.”   And then! And then, imagine if she did!  Imagine if she didn’t recoil from the accusation, but took it as a call to learn and do better in the world.  And to address the real systemic racial barriers in her own business empire to the advancement of people of color.  And used the practices of her own business as a model for the hundreds and thousands of others operating with the same racial imbalances.

So I say:  Yes, I am racist, and ask me about the ways I am teaching myself not to be.  Yes I am racist and ask me what I read to educate myself about racism.  Yes I am racist and I make a point of listening to people of color when they speak.  Yes I am racist and I choose to stand in the Target checkout line where the cashier is a young Black man so I can be friendly and respectful to him.  Yes I am racist but it doesn’t define how I choose to behave in the world.   I get to choose what kind of person I want to be.  And what kind of town, state, country, and world I want to live in and my children to grow up in.  And that requires me to wrestle with these challenging, triggering issues not just personally, myself or within my home, but more publicly as well.

*with gratitude to @FeministGriote for her comments on a draft of this post.  But mostly with gratitude for her fierce, honest and important presence on-line which I’ve been fortunate enough to find and witness and read.

** This post was originally written on July 6th, 2013 when Paula Deen was being held publicly accountable for having admitted using the “n” word in the past.

 

this morning’s draft poem

untitled

 

cop to your weaknesses. 

reveal the thin brittle places that can be broken

with the careless edge of the wrong word –

or the arctic lack of the right one. 

lift your palms filled with tears,

eyes frozen, shielded by blurred focus and detachment. 

paint your pain – diluted with drugs, and disbelief –

and send a message, coded in binary, in the conflicted hope

that someone may receive and understand.

that somewhere there is a word, or gesture that can loom large

as the universe of memory,

swallowing the dark matter and

sweeping the black holes, seen and believed,

back into the basement

and sealed with steel

and fierce, righteous love.

poets are a dime a dozen so here’s your .83 cent worth …

so for whatever reason [and i have some theories] poem like things are pouring out of me at quite the clip.  i don’t think they are marvels of literary achievement but they are helping me think and feel some things that i need to be thinking and feeling.  i think a few of them have the potential to be, shall we say, worthy of being read but i know they need serious fine tuning and wrassling to get there.

I’m going to start sharing these rough drafts of poem-like-things on the blog and tagging them “poems.”   if you read them and have ANY kind of feedback at all, kind or cutting, I would be sincerely grateful if you shared your thoughts with me.  I  want to improve them and I can’t do so in a vacuum.

Anyway, here’s the little brain bubble that I just bore witness to:

Untitled

You had better wash your hands,

she said.

Toads carry salmonella.

But only human hands would close

tight to crush a toad or disassemble 

a fly.

Or stroke a secret spot with a strain so indelible that it seeps

from cell to cell,

rewiring the code of life,

until the soul grows crooked, and the

heart is purple and the mind is

cracked with the effort of keeping love

a four letter word.

after Robin

funny. i’m usually the first to jump in with unasked for candor on the topic of mental health.   my long history with depression is no secret.  at the moment, however, i am struck dumb.   i know the flash flood of PSAs about depression and getting help are, overall, a good thing so I’ve refrained from saying more now.  g-d forbid the sharing of my own experience ever disheartens someone else.  but i need to speak my truth:  I know how he felt. 

As a veteran of depression for decades [like myself] Robin knew there was help.  He knew there was respite and he knew he was not alone.  I’m sure of it.   Even in the depths of it, part of him knew he had lived through this before.

i just feel like i know how he felt.

“fuck. not again.  63 fucking years old and i have to deal with this fucking shit again? not this time.”

i can too well imagine that desperation, that exhaustion, the utter defeat if it.

i’ve felt similar at 40 something.

g-d help me at 60 something.

in the last 24 hours, I’ve spent time thinking what I could hold on to next time.  Cause as much as it fucking sucks, for me there is likely to be a next time.

Sometimes the prospect of life is not enough.  Even knowing you’ve survived 12 rounds with self-hatred before – and probably can again – is not enough. 

For me therapy and medication are not enough.   Sometimes my children were the only reason I chose to stay.

In the last 24 hours I’ve been thinking of what I could hold on to next time.  Because sometimes the prospect of having to do this again and again is not enough.

I have an active imagination.

In the last 24 hours I’ve used it to imagine my death. 

I’ve done this before of course.   In order to avoid making this more triggering than it already is, I’ll refrain from sharing those scenarios.

This time I imagined a bedroom with big windows and sun light streaming in.  I was in the bed.  And I was old.  My skin is loose tissue paper and my hair is brittle and white.   There is a cat at my side and people I love milling in and out.  I’m tired.  I’m happy.   I am about to die and I know it.

I’ve decided to hold this image close to me, to sweeten it and sharpen it over time.   Invite myself to live it in advance so that I can feel the wanting of it.  So that it is a glorious achievement to be desired.   Something to strive for.  A prize to earn.

I can’t yet find the words for what a profound shift this is.  To see reward in my death and not only in my life.   It is subtle but significant.  And, to me, I think it will make a difference.

Restless

Restless is dangerous

Restless is nowhere to set your eyes, your thoughts, your desire.

Restless is a roving mind, a roving eye, a warm moist pulse waked below.

Restless is a leg that dances to a tempo too fast.

Restless and responsibility circle each other warily.  Restless snarls and shows a little leg.  Responsibility whimpers and slips into the corner awaiting a cue.

Having taken the interior, restless peers through suspect eyes scanning space to find opportunity.

The comforts of a 40-something’s family offer no temptation, no release.

Restless wants to play, but is loathe to wreck.

However.

Restless will have her due.

And so responsibility must play the part of pimp, matching desire to acceptable outlet.

Methadone at least won’t burn the house.

Sometimes a placebo will not do.  Restless roars and flexes muscles responsibility will not own.

Responsibility rouses.  Retains the services of pharmacy.   The Seroquel and benzodiazepines will lull the birthing goddess back to sleep.

Too far down and agency will disappear. The pulse toward movement stilled.

Not deep enough and dangerous dreams hang on.  Clamoring to be carried to the light.