The White Mamas

Middle aged, middle class, white woman from the midwest. Biggest demographic group around, right? Right.

Except for one thing.

No one in my world understands what it is like to be white and have children who are not white, not really, no one but other white mamas of brown babies.

When my husband finally stopped running hard and fast from his identity as a transracially adopted Asian man it was the loneliest I’ve ever been. My story was such a tiny slice of life, no one else had gone through standing on the sidelines while their spouse stormed and railed like a banshee against all he had been taught and all he knew.

Until I found a comment on an old blog; someone else who had been through this. She gave her email address and invited other spouses of Asian adoptees to reach out to her. By the time I did, her marriage had ended. But we’ve remained Facebook friends for years now. When something comes up for me, she’s on it. No one else would understand what his business trip to Japan would mean for me, but she does. Still. Long since re-married and moved on in her own world, she gets it. She’s the mama of a Hapa kid, trying to do the very best she can.

I’ve met other white mamas of children of color over the years, and when the Trump team and their explicit racism claimed the presidency, I needed the other mamas more than ever. We started a group and a Facebook page. It’s a whole thing. But it sure wasn’t the start.

Years and years ago, I met one stalwart mama of mixed race kids.  I think it was through a blog she had about raising mixed race kids; curly kidz. She was a fierce powerhouse. I can’t remember if she commented on my blog or I commented on hers. I do remember we were frustrated with the big systems in our shared faith, Unitarian Universalism, around kids who are mixed race.

It must have been not long after my son was given the option to sit in the circle of white folks or the circle of people of color and my boy, a proud Asian son of his proud Asian father who listed himself as Corean (with a C, there’s a story there….) on his Myspace profile, caucused with the white folks. I didn’t know what to think or do or how to react. It seemed like something was very wrong, but of course I wasn’t THERE, I just heard about it later.

I think I wrote a blog about wondering if they’d take the queer kids and tell them to choose gay or straight and if they weren’t able to pick a circle, would then tell them to sit in the group that society sees them in. Yeah. Not a lot of nuance there from me. But she got it. Mama instinct is powerful. She understood.

This was the start of a nice white-mama-of-kids-of-color Facebook friendship. I watched her kids grow. I watched her fight like hell for justice and against white supremacy, white privilege and racism. I watched her kids break her heart and drink all the milk in the fridge.

On Sunday I learned that she’d been hit by a car while riding her bike. And died.

Funny how you can know someone only online but their loss feels really real. If you know Cyndi Whitmore, or you are a Unitarian Universalist or you are the white parent of your own children of color, or you know if you’re just a human–say a little “thank you” prayer that this woman lived, once. And maybe, if you’re so moved, join me in chipping in to help her very young adult son manage this next stage of family life.

May we remember how blessed we are to live in such a time of connection and to remember how short life can be.

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Fighting About the Bleeding

I admit it. Black Lives Matter was a hard sell for me. The lives I love the most in this world are the lives of my kids and my husband. Those are Asian lives. Watching pop culture racist jokes hurled by Black celebrities at Asian people just made me angrier. Chris Rock can go suck an egg.  Faith (1).png

“Why the hell do you get to go first?”

I am also a long time unofficial “keeper of the secrets” for my profession. I have heard years of story after story about powerful ministers who use their status in a gender and power bias dogfight against the religious educators over whom they hold authority: they call in a woman for a meeting and then slide her “pre-written” letter of resignation across the table with a warning to sign or they will ruin her good name; they threaten that a job might “be in jeopardy” if a particular social justice program is enacted; or they just go ahead and order all the supplies for the latest curriculum trend, even though the religious educator has clearly said it’s not the best course for their program, because they are the boss. I have heard from these people who call with tears in their eyes and sometimes a drink in their hand: “What can I do? I have to submit to my minister, I need this job.”

Sexism. Misogyny. Patriarchy. And it’s BAD.

But, I think I get the why behind Black Lives Matter and the need to focus here first, why sometimes we have to focus on a central issue. I get it.

It’s freakin’ triage. It’s the core of it all.

Say you are drinking coffee at your local coffee shop and a bus plows into the building across the street. You run across the street into the carnage of fellow humans who are shaped in unholy angles and bleeding bright red blood. Do you say “well, now, all of these lives matter and so I’m going to serve each equally in turn.”

No. Nope. You don’t. You assess who is in the greatest need. That’s who you help first. Those in the greatest danger of death.  You fix the most broken things first. Not that you ignore the other folks, no, you do that too. But priorities, please.

So we focus on #BlackLivesMatter not to the exclusion of other things. We learn about the way we are ALL taught, not just White people, to center whiteness. It’s insidious. We focus on the voices of people who are not the most privileged. Not choosing the one voice that agrees with us over the chorus of voices that don’t, but listening, listening, listening. We try to have compassion for those who feel newly oppressed because losing the center of focus can feel like oppression, but you know what? If they don’t learn to see what’s up, then they gotta go somewhere else. Move on.

We remind ourselves of what my former colleague, Lena Gardner, writes: “…fixing the centrality of white supremacy specifically against Black folks will help lift all boats and is deeply interwoven with other forms of oppression.”

We know that we’ve got to start here. Yes, my Asian family members face discrimination and oppression. Yes, my beloved colleagues face discrimination and oppression. No one is saying this isn’t part of the story.

It is.

But there is work to be done, and we need to stop standing on the sidewalk, arms crossed in anger, fighting about who is bleeding. Time to get in and fight for justice or…get the hell out.

Never, Ever, Ever, Ever, Never Read the Comments

I read the comments. I know I’m not supposed to. I know that proper mental health hygiene calls for never reading the comments. I think this advice applies to not only press articles online but also on the “stand up and have your say” commentary that people post these days on social media.

Because of my job and well, life, I have a lot of ministers who are friends on Facebook. There have been a LOT of “stand up” posts lately. My gosh. I almost have to set a filter for “preach” or something. No offense, some of them are really good. But my gosh, it can get exhausting!

Today I followed one of the comment threads. It was about using the term “white supremacy” and it went round and round with different people from many different walks of life. I read some of it outloud to my husband, who is, so it happens NOT white.

“So, why don’t people just use a different phrase if this is too much. I mean, move on.”

This brings me to the point where, as a White person trying to follow the lead of people of color want to throw things.

What?

I know I know, it’s not simple, easy or straight forward. And here’s the thing. There are many paths forward.

I, myself, believe that using the term “white supremacy” to mean something other than lynchings and the clan allows us to not just talk about THOSE people. It allows me to really examine the ways that I am complicit in holding up the systems oppression as part of the continuum of behavior. And if we are going to work to dismantle these systems the most important place to start is here, in my own being.

I hear the argument that the folks doing the most harm and the most damage are those on the side of overt white supremacy. And we should come together to fight them.

But I am not so sure. I mean, I can see those people wearing hats and carrying flags, making their beliefs known. Yes, they are dangerous, but they are not hidden. The 2nd Reich flags and hate speech at a recent “Make America Great Again” rally right here in my sunny beach town were a pretty clear sign that some evil people were there. Are here.

But what about my congressman, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, who says he “loves Mexicans” and it’s ridiculous to say he’s racist. And yet, he was willing to speak standing right in front of people holding an anti-semitic sign. 

Isn’t he more dangerous? april 28, 2019 • 8-00 pmcarlos' pub & grill201 w 57th st., new yorkhosted by oliver (828.291.3018) (1).png

Are those of us refusing to examine our own beliefs not part of the problem? Because that’s what I see in the comment threads when people don’t want to use the term “white supremacy.” They want to fight the bad guys. They want to fight the racists. They want to do the right thing, and make the world a better place by working against the racists. The racist people over there.

Those people.

When the really hard work begins right here, within us.

Within me.

Oh, no. Hate Mail.

Happy Mother’s Day, mom! (2).pngI got my first hate mail today. It’s 2017 so it was hate email. And it was really only a little hate-y.

It’s not bothering me. I have been taught that the discomfort that I feel as a White person when I am confronted with the hard truth about the prizes and kickbacks I get in this world for having the heritage of a well-traveled Viking ancestor is nothing compared with the discomfort of having the very worth and dignity of your being assaulted on a regular basis when you are a person of color in this world.

That is to say, I have learned that the feeling of needing to defend myself around race is a sign that I need to stop and pay attention to which internal biases are running in the background like a slew of cookies from a clickbait site.

I’m not sure this person has learned that the defensive feeling = pay attention yet. That’s OK. We all gotta get in when we can. If we don’t start speaking out until we are fully “woke” there is no hope of fixing white supremacy.

We have to start where we are. All of us. Each one of us.

This email came to me at my work address. The organization I serve recently backed a Teach In about white supremacy. Well, this woman was not happy at all with me about that choice of phrase: white supremacy. She found it to be angry and not showing interest in dialogue.

Damn right.

This is not about a dialogue where one side talks and then the other side talks. This is a calling in of White folks. We are letting this happen, this continuing practice that all Whiteness is standard and anything else is inferior, abnormal, aberrant. We white folks need to stop it. We don’t need dialogue. We need action. Action! Like a teach in.

I didn’t tell her that.

I’m just a lackey, anyway. I serve a board who makes decisions. I don’t even get a vote on what goes out. (I DO get to actually send the emails/tweets/fb posts and stick things all over the website though….)

What I did tell her was that while I am just staff, I wholeheartedly endorse their decision to support this white supremacy teach in. And then I told her that I had looked her up on Facebook, and we had a mutual friend, so I told her I was going to invite her to be my Facebook friend and I hoped that she would keep an open heart and join with me in a dialogue about this important issue.

Because I’m not “woke” I’m not even out of REM sleep, I think. But I’d like to talk with my hate-mailer about this: that it’s OK to be ANGRY about how the culture of your world devalues you as a human, it’s OK to work against that, that it’s OK to use words and phrases that make the people who hold the power uncomfortable and while I would like to tell her that sometimes dialogue isn’t the right answer, but listening is, that’s maybe too much to lead with.

I hope she accepts my invitation to be friends. We all have a lot to learn. Me, too. Probably you, too–although maybe not about this. Maybe about macrame. Or the literature of Scandinavia.

Whatever.

May we learn and grow and get better at this being human thing. May it be so.

 

 

Doing it Wrong

Bridge (1).pngSo how do I, a White person, work on fighting white supremacy without, you know, trying to smear my white privilege all over and muck it up?

I get a little frozen here, sometimes. OK, all the time.

Because I don’t want to do it wrong. I don’t want to do something to make more trouble, more whiteness centered over the need to stop centering whiteness.

The recent Huffington Post piece about the invasion of racial justice spaces by White people hits right at the core of this fear. This is what I don’t want to do, can’t imagine how not to do, am frozen in fear about. I don’t expect to turn to leaders who are people of color to hold my hand or tell me what to do, but I don’t want to look to people like me, either.

I am certain that I am getting this wrong, but I will keep trying until maybe I learn how to get it less wrong. For now I am working the hardest on myself in my own white space in my head and my heart.

Then, when I feel OK there for a minute, I am trying to stay low the ground, crouching along and not being led by my ego or my privilege and working on stepping beyond myself, to be what I think we need in our greater culture: a person who behaves in public discourse like a fair minded anti-racist, anti-white supremacist person.

My husband tells me that sometimes I’m a bridge. I know a little about how things are on both shores, and I can move ideas from one side to the other. Maybe he’s right.

I know that I understand Whiteness better from Robin DiAngelo than from places that just take me hard and fast to shame where I find myself just wanting to jump off a bridge instead of trying again to learn and grow and do better. I know that I am supposed to work toward feeling worse and not being able to sleep at night and that’s how I’ll know I’m not occupying racial justice spaces. But I am the kind of person who gains 10 pounds when I put a “motivational” picture on the fridge. Guilt and shame make me depressed and I don’t mean sad. I mean depressed. Big D.

I don’t want to pat myself on the back for being a “woke” White person. I’m not “woke.” I’m not even kind of woke.

I want to move toward being a whole and authentic person who works for the world to be a place where that’s possible for all of us, to be whole and authentic, and able to be who we are and maybe be respected for just that.

Not because it feeds my ego, although maybe that is what drives me, but I think I work for this because it’s the most basic human right of all; to have the right to be our true selves.

 

 

 

Now. The time is now.

I am part of a happy little liberal faith. We sing. We donate to good causes. We fight injustice. Simple, right?

Yeah. Nope.

We have recently gone thru a crisis. And I really mean it. A full-on crisis. My friend saw injustice and in looking closer, she smelled a rat and then she brought that rat out for all of us to look at.

We are Unitarian Universalists. Church of the open mind The loving heart and the helping hands. Inclusion. Radical acceptance. Proactive structures that prevent biased hiring.

Not the church of the all white staff. Who is again, with a new hire, now debuting an all white staff.

What is true is not that we are open and proactive and moving forward. What is true is that we are apparently looking for the right “fit” when we hire. We do not live this thing that we talk about and wear t-shirts about and hang signs on our church proclaiming. Not enough, not always, not in the way we white folks think we are…..

And I will admit. What made me scrub my kitchen floor with a little blood and a lot of tears and probably too much bleach was the statement from the president of the UUA that religious educators don’t have enough management experience to be hired as staff leaders.

I know that’s wrong. I know my people, the ones who can pull off miracles of staffing/programs and finance sometimes from thin air are the ones who make this faith tick. I know it. I DID it.

I see it every day when I go to work. I serve these people in one of the most humble repeated daily rituals of my life. It’s my job. They cry with families, cook food for a whole homeless teen feed on their own, they whip up worship and fire crappy staffers and make ministry of even a middle school class. EVEN A MIDDLE SCHOOL CLASS, do you know how hard that can be? If, perhaps, some staff groups in existence now had this kind of resourcefulness in house, we would be a better faith for it. We would have grown more. We would not have so many meetings or so much travel, but instead, would be DOING things that matter.

And. And and and. That is not the crux of this. The issue at the center of our crisis is that this stoic old faith is still, clearly, holding strong to the belief that white is normal. White is the starting point. White is the core of who we are.

This faith is holding on to white supremacy. Our faith is holding onto patriarchy. We are not who we can be. We default to centering whiteness. Yes. Me, too. Yes, likely, you too. And no we are not talking about the Aryan nation, or the KKK. Centering whiteness, believing that white is the baseline that white is normal is also holding this.

And so, I, as a white person and a Unitarian Universalist insist that hiring practices in the UUA must change. That congregations must change, that we white folks must change. Let us commit to hiring more people of color. Let us examine the way we hire leaders, and let us examine our definition of “management experience” to conform with the best practices in our living congregations.

Let us see a 25% increase in people of color in leadership at the UUA and across our movement by 2019 and let us see non-ordained religious professionals as an increased cohort of respected colleagues on regional staff teams.

Together we white people can examine our inherent biases. Together we can make amends to our siblings in the movement. Together we can build a new path toward justice and love. Together we can find a way.

And who is in the lead, knocking down barriers and old ways of doing things? Who are our leaders?

Religious Educators. Let us not lose sight of who is making things happen in this good faith. It is our fierce and fearless religious educators leading the way.

#BuildingNewWay #25percentIncreaseBy2019 #UUA

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