Friday, July 22, 2016

The False Immunity of Being White


A few years ago, I got a flu shot. I don't usually get one - no particular reason other than no good reason to get one. But that year, ilana was getting one and I thought, "Why not?"

We didn't have health insurance, so we got it at a pharmacy. I kind of hate getting shots (likely another reason I hadn't gotten them often) and so felt a bit woozy during and after. They had me lie down and rest, and then I could get up and move around. I felt pretty sick for a couple of days - fever and all - when we called the pharmacy they said that can happen. It passed and I didn't get the flu that year, but I don't usually get it. Ironically, I did cancel classes that week due to the severity of my reaction to the innoculation - I did understand that one week sick is better than multiple weeks.

Why do I bring this up?

I've been thinking a lot about white fragility lately, and how easy it is for those of us who are not often exposed to the pain behind racism to get overwhelmed by it. So many good fellow white people I know - dedicated, heartfelt humans and activists, everyday Janes and Joes - are simply unable to endure the log haul, emotionally and physically. Self-care, like in any area of our lives, is crucial, but I also think we whites have to accommodate for our previous lack of exposure (chosen or by-product of privilege) and lower ourselves in slowly, or we wind up leaping in and out and being inconsistent in our support of important movements.

Innoculation a, by design, give us tiny exposures to a disease in order to build our immune systems to better handle them. Racism is a disease, an endemic one, and one that is in the air and water all the time. The thing is, white people, we think we are immune. But it is a false and dangerous immunity. We simply have the privilege to not be forced to be exposed as often, to choose our exposure and its effects on us. We have to choose to breathe common air, to drink common water. Even more accurately, we drink it, we breathe it and get sick - for racism injured us, too - and somehow don't feel the injuries.

Looking at the Flint water crisis is a great
Literal metaphor and example of this. Large numbers of people who are poor, and most often of color, pay the true environmental price of the computers and technologies of the privileges enjoyed by the few. When the few on top - the folks who are predominately white, and sometimes rich - hear about these prices, we are outages for a hot minute, then forget. 

Why? 

Because we can. Because media encourages us to see such things as anamolies and unconnected, as if the flu were called something different each year, instead of being variations on the same strains. Because we are so unaccustomed to, so normally unexposed to just how bad - literally and psychologically metaphorically - the air and water are. Our shock is a symptom - rather than showing our righteousness, it shows our privilege. And our indignant and impatient responses are also a sign of how unaccustomed we are to the real situations.

This is not all bad. When the people on top begin to realize how bad it is for those on bottom, if they work on it and stay sympathetic, they can actually take action to help reverse the trends. If we inoculate ourselves enough (preferably with other white people so folks of color don't have to put up with our constant questions and emotions) we can actually have the benefit of having been protected from the disease, and having realized there is no protection for anyone so long as the disease persists.

The disease of racism can only be truly overcome through obliteration. This is where innoculation as metaphor falls apart. We have to be able to abide it so we can be allies in the race for the cure - to wipe it out. But that will take a long ass time. It just will. So becoming truly immune - not just above exposure but able to abide alongside those who have no choice but to drink and breathe it - helps us to truly see it, feel it, and touch the passion needed to get rid of it.

So if you are white, and curious, expose yourself. Go gently, but persistently. When you feel worn out, take a break but come back. Don't give up. Be inspired by people of color who have written about how to keep up the good fight in the long run.

And don't wait to get your shot like I did. If one wipes you out, then maybe more regular exposure is needed. Rest for a few days and try again. Keep trying.


*My back porch apologies to all the epidemiologists and other scientists I know who may cringe and my using the flu as a metaphor. I claim poet's license here!

Friday, July 15, 2016

The Practice of Returning


Today is the last day of a week-long contemplative writing retreat I've been leading on Washington Island in Door County, Wisconsin. This is the second year we have done this retreat - other than some weekend retreats and occasional four day retreats, this is our main retreat of the year.

It's a trek from Madison - five hours, with a ferry in there. The drive is northeast, far enough north that the sun sets notably later and rises notably earlier in the summer. That final journey, the stretch on the ferry over to the island, is a commitment. One woman didn't attend this year because it's at least three hours, including an emergency ferry ride, to the closest Emergency Room.

The island, in other words, is rural and secluded, surrounded on one side by the Bay of Green Bay and on the other by Lake Michigan.

We go deep. People come to write fiction, non-fiction; about their lives or nothing to do with their lives. But we all come to write - to meditate, to move, to write. And to share. The sharing helps us go deeper, allows us to open gates inside ourselves to others and to ourselves. Listening, giving feedback, holding space.

After diving so deep, it can be hard to return.

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Opening and Closing in Crisis: Alton Sterling and Philando Castle


Buddhism teaches this: when tragedy strikes, there are two ways to go:
We open.
We close.

I am trying to learn to open. Everything in me, all my privilege, all my familial training - all of my protective devices from both being a victim in the past and also having not had to face as much victimhood as a lot of other folks - all of that training says CLOSE. FIND ANSWERS. GET COLD. BE PRECISE.

And all of my Buddhist training says "Soften. Open. Trust. Feel."

I make mistakes when I feel, but I make worse mistakes when I don't.

This week, I am feeling the Alton Sterling killing. Then, the completely overshadowed but far more telling, Philando Castle killing not twenty four hours later. I am trying to stay open.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Love Doesn't Always Make Things Easier


I am humbled to admit that for a long time, I held this against my mother: she struggled to raise me the rest of the way to adulthood alone. 

I have only realized this recently - meaning - I was aware I was angry with her, and upset/disturbed that some things went (on occasion, horribly) wrong in my adolescence. But recently I've come to understand I also associated those feelings with an assumption that somehow she loved me less.

Because if she had loved me more, wouldn't things have gone better?
Wouldn't it have been easier, for both of us if she had loved me more? Enough?
Luckily, just in time for me to see that these beliefs exist, I am able to let them go.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

My Orlando Post


Note: This post is primarily written for a white audience, suggesting better news connections for reading about Orlando and having a sense of "what to do".

I have been very careful with my media consumption this week. My first hit on what happened in Orlando came via Facebook, one of the first things I check when I wake. It came through a trustworthy queer friend, who is discerning about what he consumes. It was a good introduction to the basics, though, already at 7 am CDT, there was talk of Radical Islam behind all of it.

Speculation, side taking and assumptions are par for the course after a national tragedy. It is easier to say "This is the answer," or even, "This is the problem" than it is to reckon with the ultimate fact:
This situation is complex, multifaceted, and not easily addressed.

I mentioned to someone this week that I am thoroughly anti-gun.
Just don't like em.
It's pretty personal, more emotional than logical, though I have my logical reasons.
I never had them around as a kid, other than my brothers using our grandfather's rifle to shoot cans.
I don't feel comfortable around violence, and definitely think semiautomatics are way beyond necessary in any instance, even war.

That having been said, the tendency to jump to anti-gun/pro-gun control rhetoric tires me. So does the knee jerk tendency to jump to allyship for queer folks.
All stances, so sudden, so strong, exhaust me - even the ones I agree with wholeheartedly.

The point is not that I disagree. The point is that taking a tough stance, even if it is just on social media, exhausts me. Speaking only to one aspect - mental health, gun control, islamophobia - discounts the many other aspects (including, but not limited to) the actual presence of anti-gay sentiments in some Muslim communities, the incredible origins of violence and perpetuation of violence against particularly queer people of color in this day and age, and the lack of even an operational mental health system to actually address the core causes and issues of people who struggle with serious challenges.

This is a place where Buddhism comes through for me. When I feel helpless, I do Tonglen or Maitri/Metta to work with my own mind, but that is not even what I am talking about. What I am talking about is responses that respect the whole, like these from well-known Buddhist teachers. And this is also where listening carefully to queer and/or people of color leaders really comes through. I generally - and yes, this is a generalization - find that white thought leaders (and yes, I am white, and don't hate myself for it) don't speak to nuance. We don't have to. We aren't accustomed to it, we aren't sensitized to intersectionality.

So who are some of those folks? My personal favorites - some friends, some thought leaders I follow - by no means an exhaustive list, but a good pinhole into resources from mostly queer and mostly people of color thought leaders I have been following:
Angel Kyodo Williams (who also has an amazing co-authored title out THIS WEEK called Radical Dharma which faces the intersectionality of Buddhism and Race and Liberation with:)
Lama Rod Owens
Zaynab Shahar
Not1story on Twitter
Jay, Brown Menace on Twitter

If you are only following white media, and white thought leaders, please tune in to some of these or other folks who actually meet the demographics of those killed in this horrific tragedy. When people need your help, you need to ask: what help do they want from me? If they are asking for anti-gun legislation, then help support them in that. If they are asking for support in fighting homophobia, go for it - by supporting their causes.

Luckily, quite a bit of mainstream or side-mainstream media is picking up on the issues these folks are pointing to: 
Queer Muslims speak to what they need in these times.
And some more of that - so important - what Queer Muslims need in terms of support.
Undocumented folks have extra concerns post-Orlando.
Noting that the focus should be on Latinx LGBTQ survival for this event.
Forgotten and unmentioned in mainstream media major killing of LGBTQ at a bar years ago.
A queer Muslim writing about what it is like to not be welcome at an anti-racism pro-gay protest.

Diversifying your media input is always, always helpful, but especially in instances like this. 

Side benefit: instead of getting caught up in politicking and slogans and quick reactions of white media, you can relax into the depth of suffering going on. Though that may sound less pleasant, in general queer people of color have known for a long time this is a battle that won't end soon. They are more patient and have more stay power than the fragile whites among us.