Sitting Shiva Since the wee hours of last Wednesday morning I have wondered how long I would leave the Clinton/Kaine sign up in my yard. Over the weekend, my cousin in California, parked in their driveway within sight of their Clinton/Kaine sign, had a car window smashed. Someone with a Trump/Pence sticker on their car leaned on their horn and sped past me last Thursday afternoon outside Atlanta. Violence and rudeness (never mind safety on an interstate road with cars driving at 65+ mph) don’t win any points for Trump/Pence supporters.
With the announcement that Steve Bannon, a candidate for the Mr Anti-Semitic Lifetime Achievement Award, to serve as Trump’s chief strategist, I decided to Sit Shiva with my yard sign, as many Jewish people do following a death (although, to be clear, last week’s election outcome was not a death sentence for diversity and greater equality, but instead a wake-up call). The sign will be put away tomorrow, a full seven days after the election, even though Clinton/Kaine did receive more votes.
Jehovah Witnesses wearing safety pins This morning I heard someone knock on our front door, and since we are “come to the back door” folks, I knew a stranger must be knocking. I stepped outside to keep the dogs from making a racket, and was greeted by two black women, one maybe in her mid-late 50s and another in her 60s. They were holding Bibles and Jehovah Witness’s pamphlets, dressed in skirts and shoes intended for walking most of the day.
Before I could say anything I realized this was a chance to practice some patience and tolerance, which is in short supply in our country. We all said hello, and then I asked them as politely as possible, to not come back, and that I have asked others who came before them to strike us from their list. They said they were new here, our house wasn’t marked to be skipped, they repeated the house number, said they would take care of it.
The older of the two women had a safety pin on her scarf, and I said, “I see your safety pin, and I forgot to put mine on. We’re Quakers here, and you are always welcome if you need to find a bathroom or want a glass of water, but we’re fine.”
The younger woman said, “We all want peace.” They made note again of the house number, we all smiled, and I came back inside feeling a little better about where we can be if we are willing to try. It isn’t about wearing a safety pin; it is about being ready to do my part.
Our country withstood the resignation of a President, and nine judges holding the fate of an election in their hands. Kentucky’s Governor, Matt Bevin, calls for violence if voters choose Hillary Clinton as the next President.
This is not ok. Ever. Jay Bookman spells it out in his column today.
Deafening Silence: White Silence and Alton Sterling
Ryan Williams Virden, Form Follows Function
I want to start by being very specific about who I am talking to; this post is meant for people who look like me, those of us with white skin.
Many of you woke up this morning and heard the news about Alton Sterling, the 37 year old man who was shot and killed by the police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The sickening feeling in your stomach probably hit you hard as you watched the cell phone footage of a police officer charging and tackling Sterling to the ground. You knew what was coming next. And, within seconds you saw it: the police officer mounts Sterling like a UFC fighter. There is no confrontation. No struggle. Sterling is subdued and then another officer yells “Gun. Gun.” The officer on top of Sterling pulls his gun and within seconds fires multiple rounds killing Alton Sterling.
This morning my Facebook feed is full of yet another hashtag, #AltonSterling. So many of the Black and Brown people I’m connected to have no need to see the video. They say as much. They already know what happened, and, sadly, how this will play out. There is outrage; there is disgust; there will be calls for patience and to let the system work; what there won’t be is justice. And this is where I find myself this morning. Pondering my role in justice. What I’ve come to is overwhelming in its simplicity and crushing in it’s complexity. We are responsible for justice.
I don’t mean we in the vague and generalized sense that it is often used. I mean we, me and you, people with white skin. The reason this genocide against people of color continues is because far too many of us remain complicit in our silence. I thought about not writing this this morning. I thought about just retreating in my feelings of disgust, outrage, and grief. But that is not my job. Every time I, or anyone of you, retreats into silence we breath life into the killing machine. Every time we urge restraint or make apologies, or rationalize this brutality we are degrading our own spirit. And make no mistake this is a spiritual endeavor. Our souls are being crushed under the weight of whiteness. How much longer can we take it? How much longer can we acknowledge how broken our world is and ignore the weapon used to break it?
I also don’t mean justice as in jail time for the police. Though that would be something, I think. I mean justice as in creating a world that truly values the lives of Black, Brown, Asian, and Native people. I mean a justice that leaves no need for an Ethnic studies curriculum because truth-telling is already the curriculum. I mean a world where #BlackLivesMatter and Native Lives and Latinx Lives and Asian Lives. I mean a world where Donald Trump would be embarrassed to show his face, and my students wouldn’t chuckle at the idea of not having to struggle. I mean that kind of justice. We are responsible for ushering that world into existence.
The first step to creating this justice is to understand how it was sidelined in the first place. We must understand the way that whiteness — fitting into the Anglo-Saxon archetype –has been valued historically via formal avenues such as legislation and school curriculum as well as informal ones such as social customs,traditions and practices. Because much of this is passed down through generations, or happens away from public scrutiny, or is largely implicit it is necessary to learn and then unlearn this sordid history and way of being. Once we can come to grips with the ways whiteness keeps us from our own humanity and strangles our souls there is no other choice then to struggle for this justice. We won’t struggle because we are trying to help anyone else, or feel bad for them; we will struggle because our own freedom, our own humanity, is tied up with everyone else’s. As we continue to bear witness to whiteness destroying communities of color while cannibalistically devouring those of us with white skin this unlearning is the only choice we have if we ever hope for peace.
This last week a petition went around calling for the firing of Jesse Williams because his speech at the BET Awards was “racist.” When Shonda Rhimes heard about it she shut it down quickly, this is positional power, and it’s a real thing. Well, white folks have positional power in society. Once we have unlearned whiteness (and even before that) we need to be using this power not to simply name our privilege and then cower behind guilt, that is about as weak as weak gets; we need to use it to stand up and demand fundamental, radical, structural changes. To fail to do this is to betray humanity, it is to betray ourselves. There must be no compromise here. There is no compromise with the humanity of our brethren. This is especially true on days like today, days when whiteness has taken another life. Left another family fatherless. Left another community in mourning trying to survive loss. These are the days when our voices need to be the loudest, they must be clarion voices calling for the dismantling of whiteness.
The silence is deafening and it must be broken. Lives, ours included, depend on it.
This was originally posted last year on September 11. We continue to be a badly broken country in too many ways. No photo today.
How we have failed since September 11, 2001
Tonight President Obama will address the nation about ISIS and any actions that we may take in response to the horrific murders of Americans and innocent civilians at the hands of terrorists.
Tomorrow there will be an observance in my community, and many others, to honor the thousands of lives lost to hate and terrorism, and to support the families and friends who knew someone they loved would never return home again.
Since September 11, 2001 we as a country have talked a lot about being kinder to one another and being a better country. Yet 13 years later this is what consumes us as a country:
fighting about allowing two consenting adults of the same-sex to legally marry each
failing to take care of the thousands of veterans who have defended our country, many of whom returned with horrible wounds from the Middle East since September 2001
allowing private corporations to decided which forms of legal birth control they will cover for employees through company based health insurance because some corporations should have the same privileges as churches
granting corporations the same rights as citizens so businesses can pour money into elections and our representatives’ pockets
making it harder for citizens to exercise their right to vote
subsidizing corporations with huge tax breaks while their employees working full-time never earn enough to break the poverty barrier
denying the hard facts of science because profits should come before cleaning up the mess we’ve made of the entire planet
complaining about failing schools while slashing teacher pay and testing our children to death
sitting by silently while racism and sexism are displayed proudly
being sure we can take our assault rifles into the grocery store
we pay for and support violence on playing fields, in the movies we watch, video games we buy, music we listen to, and television shows we watch, but we react with horror when students are sprayed with bullets in their classrooms, women are drug from elevators by their hair, students are bullied, children and women are raped as well as being forced into prostitution
too many among us are convinced that their brand of faith should be followed above all others, and if necessary the rights of other citizens should be denied because they choose to worship differently, or not at all
We absolutely should remember and honor the victims of September 11th’s violence. I’m just not convinced we are a country that is a better reflection of the democratic values and freedoms which terrorists intended to destroy 13 years ago.