Write On Grrrl

Voice of Empowerment. Not reason.

Filtering by Category: Social Issues

Another Rant On Racism

As a white (tall, blonde) woman, I've been looked at many different ways:  Dismissively. Appreciatively. Not at all. On the sly. Disrespectfully. Up, down, up, down and back up again.

But, before last weekend, I've never experienced a look of complete and sheer terror. The kind normally reserved for lunging lions. Or realizing that you've woken up inside a burning building. The kind fueled by sheer adrenaline and gut instinct, far beyond any calming grasp of logic. 

The kind that black people, like André, my husband of fifteen years, deal with way too often.

The kind that gets black people killed for no other reason than the ignorant narrative of hate in someone else's head.

The kind that white people never get to experience, because if they did, maybe they'd get it. And maybe they'd speak up. And maybe this would finally have a chance of ending in my lifetime.

I'm not holding out hope.

Last Friday. Date night. Boston. 2014. Fifty years past the Civil Rights Act of 1964. A half century since we've had any meaningful dialogue in this country about race or racism, because, just like polio, didn't we cure that back in the day? And, really, what do 'they' want anyway?

We are a country of cowards without empathy or understanding.

Our evening started underground in a garage on Boyston, near historic Fenway. The garage was new. And well lit. And apparently safe enough for the cast of Top Chef Boston, who lived in the expensive digs above during the taping. But on this rainy night, only one other car drove by.

"This place is kinda creepy," said André--uttering the most ironic line of the night.

By the time André and I rounded the corner for the elevator, another couple, also on date night, were waiting in the glass enclosed space. They were in an embrace. Relaxed. Her head tucked on his chest. And then the white man spied André, coming directly towards him. 

In his eyes? I saw sheer terror.

And it wasn't even directed towards me. Tunnel vision had kicked in. His focus was entirely on André and the danger that a dark-skinned brother in a black puffer coat, represented to him. Within milliseconds, he transformed my kind husband, known to take in PBS documentaries on wild turkeys, into a violent thug, ready to rob, rape, break both his legs and beat him with them. 

White dude, and his limited brain, had entered into a fight for his life. 

Only it was all by himself.

As André opened the door for me, white dude immediately went into action, frantically patting himself down, in places that he didn't even have pockets. The dude's complete panic would have been humorous if it wasn't so sad. He said to his date he left the ticket in the car. 

He might as well have said the gun.

And he was off. Flight. Leaving his girlfriend, whose only fault was her taste in men, behind. She was polite. She spoke to us directly, telling us to go ahead when the elevator finally came. She treated both of us like human beings. Clearly, her dude could learn a thing or two from her.

If he ever came back from his car.

I can't stop thinking about this. In a sick way, I'm grateful to this asshole, for showing me,as a white person, something that not only has never happened to me, but something that would be really hard for me to imagine, even with my understanding of André's experience in this world.

But really, it just leaves me with more questions.

Like how do we end racism when it comes from a place so deep in someone's soul, that it's a defining characteristic, like eye color--that never gets acknowledge, nevermind challenged? How do we end racism when simply seeing a person of color invokes such an intense, primal response, that certain people decide their only option is to kill before they are killed?

Damned if I know. 

I just continue to believe that I'm in this unique place for a reason. So I'll just keep talking.

Black Friday Shopping? Please. Get A Life.

This year I almost bit (it). 

And I'm kinda embarrassed. 

Thanksgiving is a day I like to spend reflecting on what I am grateful for in my life -- a whole lot--and, duh, eating. Instead, I came outstandingly close to gobbling my dinner, leaving the dishes piled up in the sink and hightailing it to the nearest Connecticut big box, to wait outside for hours, like a loser, in a Black Friday line. 

At 6pm on Thanksgiving Thursday. 

'Cause all of that just really screams me.

Trust. I'm not in need of holiday gifts. I've already said, thanks, but no thanks, to the sad hyped up machine o' consumerism that brings Christmas to a retail outlet near you 'round September. I was in need of something way bigger. 

A new TV.

Our current viewing situation? Literally, a 'tube'. Stop laughing. We had the outstanding good fortune of replacing our hardware just as prices came down on HD units. Remember the days when they used to cost close to a grand? Me too. 

But now we're ten years out. With a 27 incher that refuses to bite the big one. Truth be told, we'd probably continue to suck it up, if involuntary picture cropping hadn't become part of our reality. Never witnessed this phenomenon? Few have been so lucky.

The skinny: Apparently, since 2009, the 16:9 aspect ratio has reigned supreme as the measurement of choice around the world for HDTV programming. Our boob tube? Not exactly wide screen friendly. Consequently, we're clearly missing some info with our viewing. How much? No one knows for sure. And that joke has gotten old. 

So when I heard, recently, that Black Friday circulars were available on-line for my browsing pleasure, nearly two weeks before the big event, I decided to check out the options. You know. Research and all.

And, indeed, there I saw it. A 32-inch HDTV advertised for less than a Benjamin. Granted, I had never heard of the name brand. Ever. But with a price so low that we could even pay cash, I thought about going to check that bad boy out in person.

Until I abruptly returned to my senses. 

It was the actual Black Friday theme song on the site that irritated me first. (Seriously AC/DC? Did you really just sell out like this.) And then I methodically started the calculations: How many hours would I have to stand outside? In the Northeast chill? I estimated four. Which, depending on the weather could quickly feel like eight (teen).

What time would I have to eat dinner? Around noon. Or 8 PM, if I still had an appetite. 

And the big one: Why in the hell was I doing this to myself? 

I'm a shopper. A good one. I know the actual price of things, as well as the value. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the real key. So I started investigating the specs of this TV to even see if it was really worth it. That'd be a negative. The resolution wasn't up to par, nor was it a Smart TV. I browse on.

The truth of the matter? No matter what lies you're telling to yourself, I don't think Black Friday is about shopping at all. The internet provides amazing opportunities, with coupon codes AND free shipping. No one stands out in the cold, or gets trampled, and you can save a huge amount of cake. 

In fact, I'd go as far to argue that Black Friday is all about frantic fake anticipation--best served to the millions of people who don't have any means to generate excitement in their daily lives--by big business. A Sisterhood of Shopping if you will, that every single year, millions of already cash strapped people fall for.

Hate on me if you want, but I know Black Friday is all about living on the edge, for those who never take the opportunity in their everyday lives. It's about doing something crazy, like waiting in line while it's still dark and rest of the world is asleep. It's about the adrenaline that comes from rushing inside after the doors are unlocked. Like a way sadder Running With The Bulls--only the prize is an overloaded bin of $1 fleece scarves. 

I don't want any part of that. Ever, but especially this year, as Black Friday blurs into Turkey Thursday and more givens, like the once simple concept that everyone, even minimum waged retail workers, could enjoy a whole day of rest with their families, get eroded by greed. 

This Thanksgiving, I am outstandingly thankful to live in Rhode Island, where our blue laws restrict retail store openings on Thanksgiving and Christmas. (Yay to you Massachusetts and Maine for also continuing the tradition.) Because these so called bargains? They're costing all of us way way more than you even realize.

Trayvon Who? Or More Tales From Racist America 2013

Last Friday, my husband Andre, and a couple of buddies, took the two and a half hour ride from Providence to the northwest corner of Connecticut, to see Soulive, his all time favorite band. 

Norfolk, CT, not to be confused with Norwalk, is a small rural place near the foothills of the Berkshires. Population: 1,709. According to the 2010 US Census, the racial breakdown is: 1659 White, 12 African American, 11 Asian, 2 American Indian, 7 Other and 18 Identified by two or more races.

In other words: 97 percent of the population is white.

In other, other words:  Andre, a black man, is probably gonna stick out a bit.

No biggie. 

One of the many beautiful things about my husband is, even after living forty-eight years in his dark hued body, that he doesn't look at life with the weight of some angry chip on his shoulder, expecting folks to react in a certain way. 

Andre is ALWAYS just Andre. Mellow. Accepting. Nonjudgmental. A quality cat.

His only expectation? That you'll treat him the same.

Friday night was no exception. After dinner at the restaurant downstairs, he started to lead his two friends, tickets in hand, upstairs to the concert venue. The ushers at the top of the stairs, the only official people in sight, were Andre's target. 

But apparently, because he'd never been there before, Andre misstepped protocol--and clearly the safety measures that had been put into place to avoid gate crashers.

Even though the place only holds 300 people. 

Even though these Three Amigos, one towering way over six feet, would have been pretty easy to spot in the half sold crowd of 150 people, should their intent be to slip past the first checkpoint, a woman who clearly wasn't manning her station. 

"Hey! Where are you guys going?" called the woman from off to the side. 

"I saw you talking over there," said Andre.

Translation: I didn't think you were working here.

"Yeah, well I thought I was going to have to wrestle you," said the woman.

"I get that a lot," said Andre.

And then? The 'oh, no you didn't moment.' The kind that stops time, where the speaker realizes what she said and the participants wait to see how each other will react.

To Andre, a black man, the white woman said, "Watch it, boy." 

Really, lady. What were you thinking?

Sure. I can pause and give her the benefit of the doubt for a (milli)second. What if she was just trying to be flirty? Or show my husband that she was 'down with him'. Sorry. Doesn't matter or work here. There's just certain things you don't do in life, whatever your intent: Say hijack in an airport. Yell fire in a theatre. 

And, especially if you're a white person, call a black man, 'boy'. 

Way too racially charged. Way too much history. Way too much context.

And truly, what's up with the timing here? Her sorry outburst came just hours after the President's speech on race. It came just days after the George Zimmerman verdict. Maybe its me--and apparently it is-- but is it crazy to think those situations would cause other people to not only reflect about their beliefs, but be a bit more thoughtful about their interactions with one another?

Luckily for her, Andre had that introspection piece covered for both of them.

No doubt, timing is everything. If she had uttered those words to anyone other than my husband, she may have gotten a hugely different reaction. Conversely, if any of this went down prior to the Trayvon Martin case , and his own deep reflections, Andre may have reacted differently. Truthfully, he probably would have opted to say nothing, silently steaming about this ignorant woman.

She would have become part of his negative history.

But instead, because of this Zimmerman verdict. Because of his anger over the senseless killing of a black teen who was much like him. Because of his recent experience developing and teaching a workshop on cultural and race relations, Andre did something a whole lot more powerful.

He looked her in the face and said, very calmly, "That's not very culturally competent."

Andre spoke the truth.

And for a moment, at least, it worked.


Why White America Blew the George Zimmerman Verdict

I could say the George Zimmerman verdict surprised me.

I'd be lying.

I'm generally optimistic. But when I heard the jury make-up: six women, five whites and one unidentified minority, in my head it was all a done deal.

Not guilty.

Here's the thing. I'm white. I've been partnered up with this amazing black dude for almost half of my life. I'm sympathetically aware of the bullshit challenges he sometimes experiences. Occasionally, if I'm outstandingly lucky, I even get to share in joint racial profiling. But, as a white woman, I can never fully experience his discrimination.

And neither could these jurors.

To prove the crime of Manslaughter in Florida, the State must prove that Trayvon Martin is dead. Check. And that Zimmerman intentionally committed an act or acts that caused the death of Trayvon Martin. Double check.

So what's the issue? Could the reasonable doubt have come into play because these women, the majority of them white, have absolutely no understanding of the hardcore profiling that black men and teens deal with every single day. And trust, even with a black president, we still live in an outstandingly racist society. 

Lately, I can't stop thinking about how many people don't want to accept their part in the ugly. Indeed. That would be you Mr. Zimmerman, last week's pariah Ms. Paula Deen, as well as all all of their supporters, including the peeps claiming no one's racist here.

Who exactly are you lying to?

Clearly, if we're living in a colorblind society, as so many people falsely believe, then my husband, Trayvon Martin, and millions of other people of color, who have similar stories to tell, should be able to go about their business without a second glance. 

Sorry. The numbers just don't match up.

The greater truth? No one wants to be labeled as racist. But if you've blissfully managed to live in self-segregation and avoid putting yourself into a situation, any situation, where your beliefs about race can be challenged, either good or bad, then you cannot, I repeat, cannot claim you're not racist.

Racism is not some sort of abstract idea. It's concrete. It's ugly. And how you react in front of a real live person, who looks, on the surface, perhaps a bit different than you, particularly during a time of stress is the true test of character, and in my opinion, the only way you can discover where your racial prejudices really lie.

Zimmerman failed this miserably. 

Tim Wise, an antiracist essayist, author and educator said in this recent piece: "Which is to say, Trayvon Martin is dead because he is black and because George Zimmerman can’t differentiate — and didn’t see the need to — between criminal and non-criminal black people. Which is to say, George Zimmerman is a racist. Because if you cannot differentiate between black criminals and just plain kids, and don’t even see the need to try, apparently, you are a racist…"

Sure, George Zimmerman can claim that he's not a racist. He's got a Peruvian mom after all. But his true test came when he met up with a dark skinned youth, wearing a hoodie, who had the balls to walk through his neighborhood. Did Zimmerman see Trayvon as an individual just passing through. Nope. Trayvon was called out by Zimmerman, three days after the shooting during an interrogation with the police, as yet another of those "fucking punks". 


The other piece of the whole mess that really disgusts me is this concept that persons of color have no right to defend themselves, during an attack. Especially during an attack that they didn't start. Indeed, Trayvon may have contributed to those wounds on Zimmerman's head--as self-defense during an fight. But I guess the protections awarded by the Florida Stand Your Ground Law don't apply to dead teenagers. 

Again, I defer to Mr. Wise: "They are saying that black people who fight back against someone they think is creepy and who is following them, and might intend to harm them, are more responsible for their deaths than those who ultimately kill them. What they have said, and make no mistake about it, is that any white person who wants to kill a black person can follow one, confront them, maybe even provoke them; and as soon as that black person perhaps takes a swing at them, or lunges at them, the white pursuer can pull their weapon, fire, and reasonably assume that they will get away with this act. I can start drama, and if you respond to the drama I created, you are to blame, not me."

Let that sink in for a second.

And can we be real for a second Zimmerman? When you pulled your gun on Trayvon, it's highly doubtful that he said, "You got me", as you claimed in the Hollywood western playing out in your mind. Do you really believe your story? I'm guessing that Trayvon said, in complete shock and disbelief, "You shot me."

Which you did. 

So, I wonder, do you still think he deserved it? I don't remember you apologizing. Even now that you're off the criminal hook.

My very wise girlfriend told me recently, about the perspective of one of her African American studies professors, a white man, who said black people are not going to end discrimination. The task lies with white people, the only ones with power to change the system. But to do that, injustices not only have to be seen, but acknowledged as such, even if you can't relate to them in the exact same way.

So to you, the five white jurors, who a real opportunity to leave your mark on history, you just blew it.