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Beloved Community is Our Only Security

shutterstock_106922246community(My daughter’s birth day was Monday, but this post has taken me three days to write.)

Today, July 15, is my daughter’s first birthday. I want to write her a letter filled with tenderness and joy. Instead, as I sit down to write, all I can think of is Trayvon Martin and the verdict announced this weekend.

When I first heard of Travyon Martin’s death, I remembered this poem by Audre Lorde. I’m not shocked and outraged at the verdict. I’m persistently furious and deeply ashamed.

When I presented my thesis last month, I opened by asking: “why does a white girl care about race?”

And I answered, after giving my family history, with this: “Because these crimes (murder/genocide/hatred) were committed in my name and to secure my future, as a white woman, a German, and an American.”

I feel that again today. When an act of racism is committed, it is the responsibility of all white people to take responsibility and respond.

Tim Wise rightly says that our white children cannot be innocent or naive. We, white parents, need to teach our children.

Shelter

There is so much for me to celebrate today: my daughter’s mischievous, intelligent smile, her persistence in distributing the contents of the lower kitchen cabinets, her loud and relentless joy at seeing the kitty cat, her laughter.

A friend recently asked me what I loved most about this, my first year of motherhood. An image immediately sprang to mind: I love the way my daughter buries her face in my neck. (Our daughter has a happy personality and loves meeting people, but on the odd occasion when she is either over tired or afraid, she clings to my body to shelter her.)

Today as I celebrate my daughter, I am thinking of shelter, and all that we need protection from.

I think of the mothers over the centuries who have protected their children with their bodies, their words, their lives. I think of the mothers who have not protected their children. I think of all the children we — all of us, as a community — were unable to save. I think of the ones we — white people — murdered, the ones whose names we forgot (on purpose), the stories we swallowed in silence and denial (“it’s not about race”).

Security

Last week at the Oregon State Hospital, administrators shut down the sweat lodge used by the Native patients and fired the Native American social worker who served the community. The reason they gave? Security. Security.

As I reflect on the Zimmerman trial, what stands out for me is that Zimmerman lived in a gated community. Siege mentality.

White theologian Rebecca Parker talks about growing up isolated, alienated by the false innocence created by her religion regarding race and her culpability in racism.

Parker describes it as a kind of disembodiment. She says whites fear our own violence, and project this fear onto others.

Thinking about racism and white fear this way, I began to see it as a kind of spiritual illness: a projection of our inability to be grounded in our bodies and to treat the bodies of those human beings who do not share our body with utmost respect.

Presence

As I’ve read the furious flurry of online comments on various news articles responding to the verdict, I’ve wondered: Would those people say the same to my face? In my presence? After I called them out, and they could see, in my stance, the hand set firmly on my hip, that I was intolerant of their racism?

And how could I, in the physical presence of Travyon’s family, not weep with grief and shame? How would I not reconsider my quick, defensive words in the presence of their brown bodies, reminding me, with their skin, that it isn’t just about Travyon?

It is about centuries-upon-centuries of the sacrifice of brown bodies to secure a sense of safety for whites. It is the over-incarceration of African-Americans in this country, and the neglect of justice for Native women facing domestic violence and abuse.

Bodies

Throughout my studies in spirituality and religion, I have realized again and again that our bodies matter. They matter deeply.

Our spiritual quests are struggles to discover what it means to be human, and to live deeply and whole-heartedly so that others may live too. We need one another, not only in a metaphysical sense (interconnection) or in an economic sense (global village) but in a deeply physical, heart-beat sense. We need each other the way we need TREES: to breathe. To exist.

What will my daughter learn from me, a white woman, about black men? What will she learn about fear and protection, security and shelter?

I hope to teach my daughter to love her own body fiercely, and to find security in whole-hearted, respectful connection, rather than in fear. And because my daughter is already learning, alert and watchful in her Mommy’s presence, I nurture and name this for myself:

I resist the crimes that have been committed in my name and to secure my safety. I name them evil and denounce them. And I reach out, open-hearted, to claim the beloved community that is my home, my only shelter.

 

 


Raised to be White

While I’m writing about white supremacy in Christianity for school, I’m also caring for our baby daughter (now nearly seven months old). So as I’m reading about how we become white, I can’t help but think of how she is becoming white, even at this young age.

We talk about gender in our house and how we influence that for our daughter Elena, from the proverbial pink and blue blanket dilemma to baby nail polish (not yet), ear piercing (maybe) and fluffy dresses with layers of crinoline (yes!). We’re intentional about ethnicity, from celebrating the German-American traditions of my family to learning Spanish, choosing bilingual toys and embracing Elena’s Latino heritage.

When she’s older, I will teach Elena that race is a socio-political construct, a tool of white supremacy, and not a biological fact. But until she can understand “socio-political construct,” what else am I teaching her? How am I passing on to my daughter MY white superiority in ways I don’t recognize?

I wonder about things like:

  • Entitlement: these are “your toys,” “your kitty,” “your car”, “your house”, “your park”
  • Superiority: “you are the smartest girl ever!”, “you are the cutest in all the world”, “you are the best”
  • Centrality: The children in the book of poems I loved as a child are all pale-skinned, except for one brown boy. We have a book “Baby Colors” that teaches colors and has children with different “colors” of skin. How do these images reinforce race as a “biological fact” and white as “standard”?
  • Borders & Intimacy: We move through the world together, mama and baby. I know Ellie can feel how I relax or tense around strangers, how I am “too friendly” (in the way that white people are) with brown-skinned babies and their parents. All those unconscious ways I am white, I am teaching it all to her, without using words.

Maybe I’m over-thinking it, but my intuition says that I need to ask these questions. I’m aware, too, of the class status that gives me the free time to notice, ponder, and write this while still making it through the day.

I am, of course, concerned with making sure that our daughter sleeps, eats, plays, poops, cuddles, sings, and has all her physical, emotional and spiritual needs met. But one of those spiritual needs (in my world view) is the need to be whole. And I increasingly feel and know that whiteness is soul sickness, and I want my daughter to be healthy and free.

What do you think? Are there ways pale-skinned people can raise our kids to be less white? How do we do that?


Who Determines Racial Identity?

I’ve been away from this blog for  months now, busy being a new mama. Now that my daughter Elena is nearly three months old, we’re settling into a routine that includes nap time aka mama-blog-time. I’m excited about a new campaign by Showing Up for Racial Justice, a non-profit that organizes white people to be visible for racial justice. I downloaded their education toolkit and got ready to snap a pic of me and Ellie being visible for racial justice.

Then I remembered that my daughter isn’t (all) white. She has pale skin, which is to say, she looks white.  My daughter’s racial and ethnic heritage includes a grandfather who is Latino and a great-grandfather who immigrated to this country (undocumented, thank you very much) from Mexico.

When my wife and I adopted Elena, we wanted to honor her birth family and their ongoing presence in Ellie’s life. So Elena has a Spanish surname as part of her name, and this has prompted people — brown people, white people — to ask us: so IS she Mexican?

Recently a friend shared with me the perception by people outside the US that our American obsession with percentages in racial identity (i.e. “half-white”, “25% Black”, etc.) is shocking. “We only talk about racial percentages with animals,” the friend said.

Questions from friends about Elena’s race are hard for me to answer. I can talk about Elena’s great-grandfather, because that is a story which involves revolution and border-crossing and courage. Being an immigrant’s daughter myself, that story rings in my bones. But I don’t know how to answer the question of who Elena is racially.

I know the impetus behind my friends’ questions is to determine how to relate to my daughter. She looks white, and both of her moms are white, so I sense that other people will feel more comfortable if we just live as a white family.

But while we carry pale skin privilege, we aren’t a white family, because Elena isn’t (all) white. Having a close friend who was raised by her adopted parents to be white (just chuck that “other” heritage out the window because we don’t know what to do with it), I flat-out refuse to minimize, obscure or “%” Elena’s indigenous Mexican heritage.

I’m suddenly aware that generations of parents do this for/to their children: they shape how their children see themselves racially. I model for others how to see my daughter’s race, even as the public assumes something based on our skin. Being able to choose what to claim in racial identity is itself part of white privilege.

What if my daughter regrets our insistence on her indigenous Mexican heritage as she gets older? How MUCH heritage do you need to have before you become a person of color, anyway? The “One Drop” rule comes painfully to mind. Is it just skin color? What about language and community? Am I Elizabeth-Warren-ing my daughter?  I don’t know. This is tricky and I’m a sheltered, privileged novice.

I will raise Elena with awareness of her pale skin privilege, because that’s what I do know how to offer. But I also want to give her role models for navigating a racial identity that is complex and multi-layered. So I need you, my allies. I need your stories of passing-for-white, I need your thoughts on how we talk about racial identity, on how we respond to assumptions based on skin color.


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