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It’s been a crazy time. It continues to be. I saw someone say that it’s like the Spanish Flu and the mass protests of the late 60’s/early 70’s happened during the Great Depression. I also saw a tweet (can’t find it right now) saying that “Not even in my darkest hours of 2016 did I imagine telling my husband that we’d have to eat dinner out of our quarantine rations because I didn’t have a chance to go shopping before the police curfew.” And yet, here we are.
I haven’t posted until now because I wanted to give myself a chance to process my thoughts. That’s still ongoing, but I feel like I can start to express myself. First of all, I want to state that Black Lives Matter. Absolutely. Unequivocally. It should go without saying, but it unfortunately it doesn’t. So it falls on all of us to say it, and believe it, and act on it.
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I can only talk about this from my own experience as a white woman. One who reads a lot and tries to understand and empathize with others, but who has ultimately experienced the world from a position of racial privilege. A lot of the talk about institutionalized racism makes me think of a few things:
- One is Thug Life, which is urban slang coined by 2Pac Shakur. It was also the name of a hip hop group consisting of 2Pac, Stretch, Big Syke, Mopreme, Macadoshis, and The Rated R. The name is an acronym for “The Hate U Gives Little Infants F*cks Everybody.” I have to confess that I’m only familiar with it because it was referenced in a best-selling YA novel The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. I think it’s talking about institutionalized racism. The systems of oppression that we all absorb as we go through life (“the hate we give little infants”) then oppresses the next generation, even the oppressors (“f*cks everybody”).
- One is a song from the musical South Pacific called “You Have To Be Carefully Taught.” As a card carrying theater geek, this is more my musical wheelhouse. Written in 1949 it was of the first songs in a musical to explicitly deal with racism, arguing that it’s not something that we’re born with but rather, something that’s nurtured within us. In it, a man contemplating an interracial relationship talks to a woman contemplating a marriage to a man with two mixed race children from a prior marriage. The lyrics to the song are: “You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear/ you’ve got be taught from year to year/ it’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear/ you’ve got to be carefully taught/ You’ve got to be taught to be afraid / Of people whose eyes are oddly made / Or people whose skin is a different shade / You’ve got to be carefully taught / You’ve got to be taught / Before it’s too late/ Before your are six / Or seven or eight / To hate all the people your relatives hate/ You’ve got to be carefully taught. ” I believe that those lyrics are true, but we are taught racism even if our relatives don’t actually sit there drumming it in our “dear little ear” because systems of racism in our society teaches us and the ways that different races are portrayed (or not portrayed) in media. Therefore, we reach a point where we either take part in that system, either actively or passively, or we can try to tear that system down.
I’m not going to say that I’m not a racist, because that doesn’t accomplish anything. In many ways, I’m luckier than most. I grew up with parents who explicitly taught me that no one was superior to anyone else on the basis of their skin color. They taught me that our merit is determined by our actions not our race, religion, nationality of ethnicity. They read me anti-racist books as a child and made sure that I had exposure to people who were different from me, and that I interacted with people who were different. But I still live in the same world as everyone else. That’s a world that has systems of privilege and oppression built into it. I’ve benefited from those systems more than I deserve because of the color of my skin. I don’t like that, but it’s true nonetheless.
Over the last ten days or so, I’ve done a lot of reflecting about how I can help to rectify a system that’s been broken for hundreds of years. I wish that I had a definite answer, but I don’t. When I’m unsure, I look to books to help me. Fortunately #BlackLivesMatter has an awesome anti-racist reading list (as well as an incredible list of resources to help white people be allies).
I’ve read a few of these, but I hope to read many more. As an educator, I also hope to make use of some of these wonderful books in the future. I believe that reading has taught me empathy. It has taught me compassion. I believe that education can change the world. If we read with an open mind and an open heart we can learn to be better. We can learn how to be effective in changing these systems. And don’t forget to buy your books from Black owned independent bookstores! There’s a pretty comprehensive list here.
I think that there are a lot of people who do want to support this movement, but don’t feel able to, either because they can’t protest or can’t donate. But there are other ways to make your voice heard. One of my favorite resources is 5calls.org. This allows people to call the appropriate legislators about issues that are important to them. Just enter your location. You’ll see a list of issues (at the moment there are a number of issues around police reform listed) . Click on one, and you’ll get the phone number of the legislator or representative to call about a certain issue as well as a suggested phone script (which you can modify as much or as little as you want). It’s quick, it’s easy, and it’s effective. #BlackLivesMatter also has lists of actions that anyone can take from their own home for no money, such as phone calls, letter writing, and petitions. If you can’t go out to protest, or don’t have the money to make donations, there is still important work to be done. Most important of all, we have to VOTE for people who will make the changes that we need a reality. There is NO excuse for not voting.
The last thing that I want to do is add to the noise around this topic without contributing anything meaningful. But I believe that there are meaningful ways for all of us to help create a better world for all. The first step is often reading, thinking and looking inward. But that should be where it starts. The next step is turning it into meaningful action in some way. That way may look different for each of us.
On a related topic:
I know that JK Rowling has come out with some trans-phobic statements of twitter that have hurt a lot of people. I love her work, but I do not support her statements or her opinion. Trans Lives Matter. Trans rights are human rights. If you want to help the Trans community at this time there are a lot of ways to do so.
To learn more about the work that needs to be done, visit the Trans Justice Funding Project, The National Black Trans Advocacy Coalition, The Marsha P. Johnson Institute, The Okra Project, The Trans Women of Color Collective, and more. 5calls.org also has entries that support Trans rights at times, particularly when there is pending legislation about them. Bookmark that site, since it’s so valuable for activism on a regular basis.
If you want to read more about transgender issues and gender identity, great. That’s important work that can to break down bias’ we didn’t even know we had. It can open minds and spur further activism. You can find a number of wonderful lists online for adults here and here, teens and young adults here, and children and teens here and here. You can also find lists for all ages.
It’s sad that JK Rowling chose to use her platform and influence to express harmful idea. But she also gave us a book series that teaches us to stand up for what’s right, that silence equals complicity and that by joining our efforts together we can accomplish great things. Let’s take that lesson and use it.