What Do You Think?
I’ve been asked that question a fair number of times over the last few weeks by people I know. I believe what they are asking me is what I think about what is going on here in America with people rising up over the effects of racism. I believe what is happening is exactly what I talked about in a couple of blogs I wrote in 2016 called “What’s going on?” (https://www.klontzconsulting.com/post/2016/09/13/whats-going-on-part-i-of-ii) and https://www.klontzconsulting.com/post/2017/03/17/whats-going-on-ii). They are also asking what I am doing about what is going on.
Here is what I am telling them. I recognize that I have little to no ability to influence anyone or anything, or to cause anything to change in any meaningful way. I don’t pretend to have any solutions for anyone except myself. And, there is no possible way to understand what it is like, really, to experience a world so unlike mine. All I can speak from is my experience.
(The things I am about to mention are a few of my experiences. They have occurred a HANDFUL of times. For many, I realize these kinds of things and many more threatening, dangerous and pervasive experiences, are an EVERYDAY occurrence. I believe it is simply because of the shade of my skin, my gender and my economic advantage that I have less of these experiences. I have privilege that others do not have.)
So, this is what I am doing. First, I recall those experiences where circumstances:
Caused me to be concerned about my teen-aged children’s safety because I was aware that there were those who could and would prey on them.
Required me to try to repair the damage created when my kids were scapegoated because of who their father was.
Made me the victim of people in authority positions over me, used me and abused their power at my expense for their benefit, and I had no recourse.
Resulted in my being hassled and threatened by police for being guilty of standing on a street corner at 11:00 p.m. talking to two friends on our way home from a baseball game, before going our separate ways.
Found me in places with people who made it very clear, sometimes subtly and silently; other times very loudly, strongly, violently, menacingly, and mockingly that I was not welcome; that I did not belong.
Where I told the truth and wasn’t believed and was victimized by someone’s lies.
Found me walking down a sidewalk, and if I had not stepped aside, I would have collided with the person coming towards me, with no acknowledgement on their part that I even existed.
Where I was not given the benefit of the doubt.
Where I have been asked to leave a meeting because I was not one of “them”.
Where I was so angry and hurt that I “lost it” and destroyed things.
When I have driven through parts of a town, afraid because it was obvious, I didn’t belong there.
The second thing I am doing is reminding myself of how it felt to be in those situations. I allow those feelings to be the basis of how I listen. How I interpret what I am seeing. As I watch what is happening and I listen to what I am hearing, those feelings automatically bring up in me an acute level of empathy and compassion. I can relate, from my own experience. That becomes the place that I listen, (especially listen), comment, judge, and evaluate what I think.
The third thing I am doing began a couple of years ago. I wrote about it in a blog entitled “Coaches” (https://www.klontzconsulting.com/post/2019/04/26/coaches). In that blog I mentioned I had hired a racism coach. What’s a racism coach? I didn’t know. Never heard of one. But I knew I wanted and needed one after spending three days in London, being afraid because I was in a section of town that was not predominantly WASPish.
I asked a gentleman who I had met, if he would be willing to help. He told me that no one had ever asked him to do this, but he was game. I wanted someone who could help me understand how my racism (that I desperately don’t want to have) exhibits itself in how I see, talk, hear, think, and act (or don’t, which can be just as bad) towards others.
During that process, I also ran into my other “isms.” Sexism, genderism, ageism, religionism, etc. His name is Tony Scruggs. If you are interested in learning about how your “ism’s” might be affecting your life and that of others, look him up: https://theempathyguy.com/. He has gently and lovingly taught me many things. I am sharing a few nuggets of what I have learned.
Language is everything. For example, he identifies himself as an American of African heritage. Notice that? First, he is identifying himself as an American. How about instead of “Police Force”, we call those whom we’ve hired to protect us the “Police Service”? Those words feel different. Better to me.
We are all the same race. “Race” is an artificial construct designed to justify privilege and provide advantage to some and keep it from others.
Tony redefines the word “privilege” as us all having certain “passports”. Such passports allow or prevent us entry into certain conversations, situations, places, and activities. Such passports give us a “pass” on things we don’t have to worry about, while others without such a pass, do. Some of us have “Superpassports” allowing us to go pretty much anywhere, anytime, while others have much more constricted ones.
I have also asked other friends who, because of their physical appearance are not among those “Superpassport” holders to teach me what it is like to live in a country where they are among the restricted. Some have been willing to tell me what their everyday life is and has been in their (and my) country. Others have told me it is not their job to teach me anything, and they are tired of people like me asking them, and they are right, it is not their job.
Those who are willing, tell me that they, NATIVE BORN AMERICANS of Asian, African, Jewish, and Indigenous ancestry have experienced the very same things I have experienced, AND MORE, MUCH, MUCH MORE!!! The difference is the frequency and intensity. The difference is the compounding effect of generational and historical trauma. Those things I mentioned in my list that I have experienced from time to time, over my lifetime, are a DAILY experience for them. DAILY, EVERYDAY. They speak of things that are a part of their everyday lives that I can barely comprehend.
So, to sum things up, here is how I answer the “What do you think” question:
I remember my own painful experiences, some of which I listed.
I feel into them, remember the pain and fear and carry that sense of understanding, the little bit I can understand anyway.
I continue to learn how I continue to contribute to my friends’ pain by my racist words, thoughts, and behaviors.
And perhaps, more important than anything, when they are willing to tell me, I believe them.
For example, one way to learn, If you would like to measure your level of implicit bias, is to go to https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html. That is especially valuable to those of us who don’t understand just how much implicit (which means subconscious) bias we carry. Such biases fuel the “isms”. Whether it be racism, sexism, genderism, etc. There are tests associated with this study that will give you a pretty good idea of your bias DNA. Especially important for those of you who don’t want to carry on the legacy that we are now living with.
Remembering and feeling into my pain creates an internalized, intrinsic sense of empathy. When I interact with my world then, whether talking, listening, sitting with, writing, marching, etc., with whoever, without trying, without effort, to some degree without my own conscious awareness, I am giving the gift of empathy and, which according to research featured by Trzeciak and Mazzarelli’s book, Compassionomics, is one of the most important “things” I can do. It costs nothing. It requires me to go inward before I act outwardly. It can mean everything. I know firsthand. I have had those moments given to me. Many of them. I try to pass them on.
James Baldwin said, “I am an American citizen, and the crimes of this Republic, whether or not I am guilty of them, I am responsible for them.” I sign on for that.
I have more than once wondered what I would have done back when…..women were being burned at the stake here in America, during the abolitionist movement, when women were fighting for the right to vote, the civil war was happening, the German Holocaust, the U.S.A’s (on-going) holocaust of America’s native peoples, etc.
One of my teachers, one of those from America’s non-dominant populations said to me:
“Who you are now and what you are doing or not doing right now, is exactly who you would have been, and your rationale would be exactly as it is now. The past does not change who you are now.”
I would ask you, “What do you think?