My dad was a dark-skinned man, ethnically Portuguese, but in the New Hampshire in the summer nobody knew exactly what he was and they all wanted to define him.
“What are you? Italian? Mexican?” People would ask.
He built a jewelry store for members of a mafia family. They insisted he was Italian. He’d shrug when my mom got annoyed about this.
“You work like a Mexican. You’re Mexican, right?” Some guy said to him once.
“You? What are you? Native? You a Cherokee or something?” People would ask because all First Nation people are somehow Cherokee even in New Hampshire.
Decades before I was born, he gave up trying to explain who he was. People had already labeled him. And relabeled him. And labeled him again.
One time, we were out fishing and some young white guys came up and freaked out because I was pretty pale compared to my dad and they decided that he’d abducted me. Or something.
They called him the n-word. They threatened him. He just took it and took it and took it silently. I eventually yelled for them to leave my daddy alone. I was pretty young and scared. All I really understood was that they were mean and that they were mean because they were being racist.
When we were driving back home, I asked him why he didn’t tell them that he wasn’t black. I asked him why he didn’t fight back. And I’m sure there were a lot of reasons he didn’t articulate and some that he probably did, but the one that I remember is this:
“I am lucky enough to be born a white man. What we had to deal with out there, I’m sorry that you had to see it, baby, but what black men and women deal with all the time? It’s so much worse.”
For my dad that was a long speech.
What was special about him was that he noticed other people’s situations, the things that they had to deal with. He never prioritized his experienced because he was “one piece of humanity.” Not all of it.
IN ORDER TO BE UNIFIED YOU HAVE TO NOTICE OTHERS; YOU CAN’T HELP OTHERS IF YOU EXIST IN YOUR OWN BUBBLE
Last Monday I talked about women’s anger and this week, I’m talking about unity. Sort of.
Audre Lorde wrote in Eye to Eye, “Sometimes exploring our differences feels like marching out into war.”
But sometimes just noticing each other seems almost impossible. You would think in the world of social media that we would come into more contact with difference, but that’s not always the case.
Divides are not new. The divide between parties or political ideologies, between races or genders or class or religion or ways of loving, is old and it morphs. Us humans seem to like ‘sides’ and ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ and teams. There are some really interesting studies by the Pew Research Center that talk about political polarization.
But the divide doesn’t have to be all that happens. Unity doesn’t mean that we all have to think/be/do the same things. Unity doesn’t have to be forced homogeneity. Neither does love.
But that can’t happen if we only live in polarities.
And it can’t happen if we only know about people who fit our own demographics and psychographics. It can’t happen when we only know what’s going on with people who look/think/live like us.
We have to notice and respect other people’s experiences.
THE FACEBOOK POST
Yesterday, a post went around Facebook asking women to black out their photos for a specific reason.
Tomorrow, female blackout from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Its a movement to show what the world might be like without women. Your profile photo should just be a black square so that men wonder where the women are. Pass it only to women … It’s for a project against domestic abuse. It is no joke. Share it
Typos are not mine for a change. 🙂
The originators wanted everyone to be silent and to make their profile pictures a black box, like the one above. According to Forbes, the chain message actually began in 2017. It’s surfaced a few times and picked up steam last weekend. Since yesterday, I’ve seen a lot of my friends shift their profile picture to a square and then switch back. I’ve seen blog posts and status updates about how this is actually silencing us as women and silencing our voices and how we should be roaring instead of silent.
I appreciate that.
But there was a bit more going on yesterday, too.
MARCHES FOR BLACK WOMEN
Yesterday was also part of a weekend full of Marches for Black Women. Here’s a post about it from Bustle. According to the website, “The physical, financial, and social enrichment of the nation-state at the expense of Black bodies and at the expense of Black lives is too old a strategy, and Black women will not allow for it.”
These marches are happening on an important date in U.S. history. It’s the anniversary of the Elaine Massacres where it’s estimated that over 200 were killed as a response to unionizing, which white landowners found threatening.
And the thing is that I know that my white friends who were upset about domestic violence and I know that my liberal friends who are upset about the Kavanaugh hearings wouldn’t want to be complicit in not amplifying black voices let alone ignoring them. But I don’t think they knew about the marches this weekend. I bet many of us don’t know about the Elaine Massacres. Our ignorance might not be intentional, but it’s there. And what message does it give to WOC when we’re saying, “Hey, let’s all be quiet on this day that you chose to march, to shout out your needs, to put yourself front and center.”
It sends a really strong message even when it’s unintentional.
LOOKING OUTSIDE OUR BUBBLES
And we need to do better. We need to educate ourselves and look outside our bubbles. We need to be outraged not just about white women, but about the treatment of all women. We need to hear voices that come from backgrounds that are not our own and from needs that are not our own. Even when it’s hard.
“Mainstream Communication does not want women, particularly white women, responding to racism. It wants racism to be accepted as an immutable given in the fabric of your existence, living evening time or the common cold.”—Audre Lorde. “The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism” Sister Outsider. Crossing Press Berkley. 1984. Originally published as the keynote presentation at the National Women’s Studies Association Conference, Storrs, Connecticut, June 1981
Racism should not be a given, not in our culture, not in our own selves.
My dad was right about a lot of things, but especially about being an ally and recognizing that your experience isn’t everyone else’s.
In this age of social media, it’s so important to remember that, and to be aware that there are other voices out there, many ways to be disenfranchised, and caring about those other voices doesn’t mean you aren’t taking care of yourself. It means we raise each other up as we all attempt to rise up to greater heights and understandings and a better world for everyone.
But don’t be silent or call for silence. Because it doesn’t make us stronger. It makes us unheard.
Obviously, there is a time for silence – when you are listening to other people, to the disenfranchised and not pushing your words and agenda into their space. But that’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about choosing group silence as the disenfranchised/oppressed group while those in power still talk, write, and are heard.
Some really good stories about America’s First Black Women’s Club are here
If you are interested in reading more kid lit with Black voices, check out the Brown Bookshelf.
If you’d like to read some really good speeches, check out here (Mary Church Terrell).
And finally, for more about Audre Lorde, check out the Audre Lorde Project.
The last TIME STOPPERS BOOK is out and I love it. You should buy it because it’s empowering and about friendship and bias and magic. Plus, dragons and elves.
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