I will raise white allies

Being “speechless,” though a tempting option, seems wimpy today. I’m afraid to stick my head out from under my awning and into the storm.

Facebook is ripe with “I am a white ally” status updates. Why am I (secretly) judging it? If racism is everywhere, won’t any expression of solidarity help?

I am the mother of three boys that are five generations out from Civil War soldiers who fought to end slavery, four generations after World War II soldiers who fought against the Nazis, and two generations past Civil Rights Movement protestors. Generations of bloodshed.

Yet today, I’m watching Lesley McSpadden weep for the lack of justice shown to her son. And not only that, for the fear it sounds like she lived with for years that this very thing would happen to her son.

And here I am, standing under my awning, irritated, and trying to make sense of myself.

I can repost the news reports and editorials. I will attend a meeting on the Cradle to Prison Pipeline. I don’t mind calling my Congressperson. I can go to more workshops on Race. Protest. I can give money, vote for black leaders, get behind the right Legislation, stand in the street and raise my arms up, criticize the news and expand my media outlets. That is easy —  in fact, its trending among pro athletes and rock stars and editorialists and politicians and bloggers.

So what the hell is bothering me?

We will watch this trend die too, just like the generations of slaves and soldiers and black boys with Doritos in their pockets and frightening looks on their faces.

We talk about black people living up to their stereotypes and how they should change that. We don’t talk much about how white men are living up to their reputations of killing unarmed black boys, and how they should probably change that. Until someone dies. Or burns down a mall. Then its all over Facebook.

We’ve tried War, protest, movement and law: big, broad and bloody gestures at change that appear to take steps forward while incessantly falling backward. Instead, we begrudgingly progress over the generations, evolving at the molecular level. So I find myself irritated by our minuscule attempts at change today that will quietly go away when the stars move on.

Then again…racism and protest and anger and rage and disgust are trending today.

And, let’s face it, the broad and obvious steps have not delivered on change.

Perhaps taking the tiny step of posting about how we feel about it on Facebook is a catalyst for change at the molecular level: where change has always been occurring, though depressingly invisible to the naked eye. Isn’t this also where racism is stuck? Under the flesh? In the cells? In the places we can’t see except under the microscope, of say, a murder trial?

Perhaps if we can change ourselves molecule by molecule, we will evolve as a Family.

Once I saw a young, new teacher call out a black child in my son’s class for the exact same behavior my white child had just exhibited. She saw them both act. She chose one child to punish. I don’t know if it was racism that drove her, but probably, neither did she. I ignored it.

When my child brought home happy stories of Martin Luther King and said, “We’re celebrating because the dream he had came true,” I applauded his learning.

When the black college student said at my conference insisted, “as a white organization, partnering with black organizations does not increase your diversity–its racist,” I didn’t ask questions.

I can ally better. I can ask “Why?” “What about now?” And, “Then what do we do?” And I will keep doing it when the stars go back to rocking out, and the microscopes are turned off.

As a mother raising 3 boys, I need a reason to keep my head out from under my awning (its white), step into the storm and risk saying the wrong things. Be honest; we of white privilege need to find our reasons from within. Here is mine:

flagMy three boy’s lives were once threatened by an assailant that was never identified. For about a year, I lived in fear. Weeks of relocation, months of self-defense classes, years of therapy, private investigators, forensic psychologists, alarm systems, supportive neighbors, sheltering friends, a gun in our closet and an escape route planned, we started to feel better. I still wake up every morning afraid and have to remind myself we are ok. Our health changed. Our family changed. Everything changed. I do not remember most of the two years afterward. I imagine living like that everyday of my life, and at the same time fearing the very force weaponized to protect us, and I cannot call that LIFE. I would be angry. I would have a frightening look on my face. I would teach my children to run from police. I would pass down my anger.

If this is all we can offer the mothers of black boys, we are still at War, with unarmed soldiers, and a powerful resistance.

I will raise white allies.

What’s in your heart today?

photo-18In a 1963, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. asked his congregation, “what is in your heart today?”  He explained first “I am like all of you; I am a sinner. But I want to be a good man. So I ask myself, ‘what is in your heart today; what is in your heart?'” On Dr. King’s birthday I asked my kids the same question at dinner. Wilder, 4, quickly responded; “Wuv. And care. Mother Earth.” Tennyson said, “equality.” Although I recognized these noble answers from conversations they have been having at their schools, I wanted to know their own thoughts. I told them the question itself asks for honesty and self-reflection; “everyone has a different answer to this question. What is so important to you that you can feel it in your heart this very minute?” Tennyson found, “my family is in my heart.” “Being fair” was Wilder’s new answer. I loved watching their miniature processes of looking inward and hearing something; anything! Call it an inner voice, or intuition, Self or Ego, they listened to their hearts and no matter their answers today, honing that skill will add so much to their lives. I would have been happy to hear “pancakes” or “trains.”

At my oldest son’s prenatal ultrasound around 18 weeks gestation I found it spectacular to see him inside and out; the full reveal was awe-inspiring. I remember thinking at his last ultrasound at 36 weeks gestation that I was seeing more of his heart that day than I was likely to ever again; more of his brain, his femurs, his metatarsals. But as he’s grown and stamped out a place for himself on this earth, the core of his being is revealed to me in little ways I never anticipated. All of my sons, perhaps all of our collective young sons, are still so honest; so pure in thought in their appropriately youthful, boastful and egotistical ways. My boys are perfectly happy on most occasions to fully reveal themselves (and I do mean that in every sense of the phrase). I assume it won’t always be this easy. I wonder if I will know when our final ultrasound-like moment is happening again; when he is perfectly exposed to me for the last time before entering a new, more private stage in his life? Or will a teenager suddenly walk in that resembles my oldest son except for a sulky pallor on his lovely flawless face and a draped veil over his previously exposed heart? I think its smart to assume that this is it; this is my time with him with his heart exposed before me with high enough frequency for us to explore together its inner workings and rhythms in absolute comfort. This is my time with him to lay the groundwork for trust, safety, openness and honesty in our future, and their future relationships.

This is not where I had planned to go with our Dr. King conversation today. I thought we were going to talk about the man, the hero, the icon of a leap forward in our national character. But I got stuck on two things. One, society or school or my husband and I have clearly already communicated to our kids there are RIGHT answers to some questions. They changed their answers when I reminded them I really wanted to know what was in their hearts. Two, in asking his question, I realized Dr. King understood–preached–rather, that in order for us to advance, we had to be honest about what was in our hearts. Even if we looked inside and found a sinner, or found answers unfit for our mothers’ ears, the truth is the best place, perhaps the only place, to start to develop one’s character. Case in point, when we legislated the end of slavery, racism continued. When we look into our hearts and reveal ourselves, real change starts.

And the kitchen table is where it can start. It’s where honesty is honored and hearts are revealed and values are learned. We teach kids values through how we act and what we choose. And sometimes, like us, they have thoughts no one likes to hear. But we need to talk about the incongruencies in life, the mistakes we make, the thoughts we produce and the feelings we grapple. If there is one thing I would like to succeed at as a parent, friend, aunt, sister, daughter, neighbor and professional…I would like to make a safe place at my table. That’s why Dr. King reminded his congregation that he was a sinner. He took the shame out of thinking and feeling and being real. He said, tell me, and I will not judge you. Look in, see yourself and be free to be who you WANT to be. Say “pancakes!” Say “trains!” Say “sadness.” Say “fear.” Say “anger.” Say “love.” And my this table, we will talk about feelings. At this table, we will gather courage. In these arms, we will face fear. In our home, we will listen to each other.

Two little blonds just wandered in as I was writing. I asked them again, “What is in your heart today?” The little one said “the Titanic.” The big one said “whipped cream.” “Wilder,” I investigated, “aren’t you awfully little to have that big ship in your heart?” He said, “I was just thinking about all the poor people that died. Ten million died and only three of them are still alive.” “Wow, buddy, that is really sad. Do you have room for all of that sadness in your heart?” “Nope,” Wilder said, “that’s why I am sharing it with you.”

I couldn’t say it better. It only takes hearing a baby’s borning cry to know they arrive with full grown feelings in their tiny bodies. So here stands Wilder, 4 years, 3 feet, 40 pounds, trying to carry the Titanic in his heart, alone. It’s not possible; this ship will sink. He needs to share his burden. For that matter, Tenny seemed pretty delighted to share thoughts on the wonder that is whipped cream. We are practicing for when his answer is harder to express and takes more discussion, like “bully” or “date” or “failure.” In my own way, I hope I am doing my part to shape America’s character. I am doing it by asking my three boys and anyone who else who will come to my table, “what is in your heart today?”