I wrote this six months ago after an intense month working at a midwifery clinic in El Paso where I was graced with and in awe of the power of women of all colors, all races, from all over the world working for… life. Not “pro-life,” just life. It wasn’t about borders, or judgments or criticism or one being better than another. Just women, working together through one of the most primal, personal and passionate acts a human can experience. Women of color, midwives of color, in a sea of passion of bringing forth life, new life, and old issues, blood and sweat and tears and joy and pain and ecstasy and dreams being born and dying and crying…
Birth is intense, but on top of that energy was a melting pot boiling over. Within and around was steaming anger, racism, old wounds, generational wounds, finally bursting from the surface in a fiery rage as in our cities and on our streets we were turning to guns, shooting cops shooting young black men, and life was being taken as quickly as we were delivering.
As one of the few white women in a clinic primarily of and for women of color, I got a well needed update to my education. Not only in birthing, but in the current situation of race relations in our country and along the border. Of course, what was current six months ago is all old news now. Everything has changed.
No wanted to read this then. We still wanted to keep the lid on the boiling pot and hope it would hold. Out of sight, out of mind, right? Wrong. That top is not holding. It’s bursting open. Our safe little place is getting a rough shake up of reality, and it’s not looking that pretty. And maybe, just maybe, that steam needs to let loose in all its wild fury.
What I wrote then may be outdated now. It’s a little too late. We’re well beyond listening. Now it’s time to stand up and… and what? Scream? Cuss? Sing? I don’t know. But I’m open to suggestions.
What’s the answer? I wish I knew. I wish someone could tell me. Is there an answer? As I’m known to often tell my family (“tattoo this on your forehead!”): Nothing is not the answer.
Start with something. Something simple. Listening. Opening. Sharing. Compassion. Remember that we all have a story. We all came from somewhere. We’re all going somewhere. Hopefully. Maybe together. Maybe side by side. Maybe parallel lives on the other side of a… wall.
Are we too late? The eternal optimist within tells me we are never too late.
Look what we have done. All of us. We are all responsible. Each and every one of us.
And each and every one of us CAN make a difference. Please, try. All of us. Please. It’s worth it. My sisters of every color are worth it. My children of every race, religion and creed are worth it. Our environment, the globe, our beautiful planet Earth is worth it. Our dreams and hopes and prayers are worth it.
Nothing is not the answer. Something is. I don’t know what. I’ll talk. I’ll listen. I’ll stand up. I’ll shake hands but not my fist. At least, I’ll try really hard not to do the latter.
Somewhere in all this anger and outrage is the answer. Somewhere in all this crazy talk is thoughtful and intelligent communication. The mindless, selfish, safe rants of social media do not seem to be helping. It seems more filled with disgruntled, spoiled lazy people trying to stir the waters without lifting a hand – people feeling the need to express but not actually DO anything.
If there are two things we each can all learn from this current situation:
- How am I responsible for allowing/creating this to happen?
- What can I do to try to resolve this/make things better?
This is what I hope to focus on. This is the message I hope to share.
My son shares with me:
There are no easy answers. Or even apparent answers… proper communication is key. Even if people have different opinions, somehow fostering productive discussion is valuable for everyone. At the very least, both will walk away thinking, “ok, i can see their side. They’re not unreasonable!”
Now, how you actually do that in this day and age…
Let’s start, my friends. Not tomorrow, but today.
I’ll start by sharing this.
White on White.
I’m a hip white chick.
At least, that’s what I’d like to think.
Yeah, I’ve had dreads, got tats and piercings, been around the world and have friends of all colors. I’m not in the corporate world, drink my fair trade coffee (when I can afford it) and recycle (most of the time).
But I’m still just that. A white chick. Nothing is going to change that. No matter how much time I spend in the sun, my skin is still white. And though I’d like to think this doesn’t matter, I know it does.
I grew up in and around New York City in the 70’s and 80’s in the aftermath of the Civil Rights Movement. I was raised to be color blind, as in, oblivious to color. That’s how we acted, that’s what we strived for, that’s what we thought was the thing to do. It was what we were taught to do and it was socially acceptable. At least by the standards of the circles that taught us.
But we know that’s not how it was. Just because we didn’t see it didn’t mean it wasn’t there. Turning the blind eye, so to say, only means you’re bound to trip and fall. I think that’s what’s happening now. We’re falling flat on our face at times. And maybe it’s not such a bad thing. I mean, of course any injustice, any acts of inhumanity, any violence or death is not okay. I don’t mean to trivialize those things. They matter. They matter a lot. They matter enough to shake us up, wake us up, and open our eyes.
Black lives matter.
Well, for years, I could choose to see everything as okay. There’s no problem, right, if I don’t see it? Right for me. I felt good about it. It was comfortable. For me.
But now it’s in my face. There’s a movement reminding me that our old approach didn’t work. That people of color are still treated unfairly. That fear is still based on a sliding scale relative to the color of a person’s skin. That prejudice does exist.
So maybe being color blind wasn’t the answer. Maybe it’s time to open our eyes. There’s a scary truth out there. Racism exists. And though you and I may not feed into it, pretending it’s not a problem doesn’t make it go away.
If being “color blind” isn’t the answer, what is?
How about looking at reality? How about considering the deeper truths? How about sincerely understanding? How about actively working towards healing?
Uncomfortable as this conversation may be, let’s start by opening the dialogue. Let’s start by asking ourselves these questions. Do you really want things to heal? Or do you just want to get rid of the guilt and shame? Do you really want to make the world a better place for everyone, or do you just want to return to or remain in your place of comfort? Do you want to defend your position or do you want to try to understand another’s position? Do you need to tell me your stories, how it was for you, how it works for you, how it affects you, how you feel… or are you ready to listen?
Listen. Maybe what you’ll hear is this. The truth. That it’s past due time to open our eyes and take a look at what’s been hiding under that band-aid all these years.
Listen. Just listen. And try to understand. Open up the damned wound if you really want it to heal.
So yeah, when the conversation opened up, in my face and uncomfortable, when the shit started to hit the fan, I don’t know about you, but my first reaction was this. Denial and defense. It’s not me. It’s not mine. I’m not the racist. I’m not prejudiced. And it’s not my problem. I could tell my stories. You know, the one of the black guys I dated and the rights I spoke up for and the brown friends I’ve had and the living among brothers and bonding with sisters of color. My colored experiences from my pale face world perspective. Yeah, I was trying to prove myself. Defend myself. Call it what you will, and if you’ve done the same, maybe you’ll come up with a nicer word for it. But here’s the truth. I was proving my racial tendencies in the fact that I could remember these token situations
In retrospect what I’m realizing was this. Being blind was closing our eyes to the truth. If I don’t see it, maybe it doesn’t exist, right? Well, the band-aid we put on the wound hid it from our sight for years. During that time, it’s been festering, but not healing. Now it’s bursting forth in all its ugly reality of the deep dark wound it is. Now it’s time (yeah, it’s over due) to finally open our eyes.
And our ears. And our hearts, minds and souls.
Now it’s time to let the repressed voice speak for a while. Shut up and listen. Let the other guy talk. Stop interrupting and telling your story. I’ve heard your story. Have we heard his?
Can we keep our mouths shut and stop defending ourselves long enough not just to hear but to feel? To truly understand? Maybe then this color crap will finally get fixed. Because playing the blind card obviously didn’t work. So, step one: shut your mouth and open your heart, okay?
The truth comes out.
I’m not going to tell you what it feels like. Because I don’t fully know. I’m trying to listen. I’m trying to understand. It’s going to take me a while. I’m going to stick with it because I care, because it matters, because this time, I’m not going to put on my blinders and turn my back. I’m going to stand there and take it. In my face. Tell me what it’s like. All the real, raw details. I need to know.
I am committing to make a real change, and strive for honest equality. It’s not going to be easy. And it’s not going to change fast. But this much I know. Our ignorance is not helping heal or solve the problem. It is a problem. Generations old. Now we have generational wounds. And these will take generations to heal.
Black lives matter. Say it. Stop telling me all lives matter. We know that. Sure, we are one. So as one we need to open our hearts and minds and clearly step off our soap box and let the colored person step up. It won’t be easy. Not for him to do or for you to allow. He’s been surpassed for a long time. How long? Find out for yourself. You won’t if you want to hold on to your safe white place. Listen. Maybe he’ll tell you himself. Probably a very different answer than what the history books told you.
Our policy of color blindness didn’t work. It didn’t heal, just covered up injustice, prejudice and deep wounds still bleeding. Racial injustice isn’t a thing of the past. It is a reality of the present. Thus the deep wounds aren’t old scars. They are fresh and they are bleeding.
Instead of defending our space, let’s be open to their space. Us and them? Until we create the reality of actual equality, yes, that’s what we got. Us and them – unequally divided.
Don’t think it’s a quick fix and do know that anger will need to be expressed. Allow that. Honor that. Don’t close your eyes, your ears, your mind, your heart. Don’t defend, judge, tell your side, because that’s not what we need to hear right now. What, then, do we need?