Reasons to Vote

Weary, so weary. Stories of injustice clog my ears. My tears turn to lead as I hang my head and wonder how we got here, to a place where beautiful souls are gunned down in a place of worship, where cries of greatness have turned into building walls and ripping children from parents. A place where protecting the life of the unborn is more important than caring for those who already breathe in the air we share, where we incarcerate African Americans at a much higher rate than “white” Americans for the same offense. Where thousands in my city are not registered to vote, convinced that their voice would not make a difference. Where women are squashed like unwanted bugs and choose to stay silent because they are not believed, where abusers are protected and victims are shamed.

So I am not going to vote in hopes that some greatness will find us. The greatness is already here; we have just shut it down and hidden it in a box or a cage or a cell. The greatness we seek is best seen in the least of these. So I am going to vote for the sake of these –

  • For the woman on the other side of the wall who ran to keep her children safe from gang-lords. For the boy who works the night shift then goes to school all day to care for his family because of what ICE has done in my city. For the families in hiding, though for years have been trying to be legal like me, whose hard working tax dollars benefit everyone but themselves and now they wonder where their next meal will come from.
  • For the families in my district who cannot own homes or borrow a dime to improve their spaces. This ensures that property values and taxes stay low, so low that not enough goes to fund the schools and their children are fought instead of taught by teachers who exhausted and under-equipped.
  • For the African Americans unjustly incarcerated who line the cells of private prisons while the owners line their pockets with billions. For the black bodies laying on the ground through no fault of their own, silently screaming for us to take note. For the daughters of the woman who remembers her uncle being tarred and feathered and hung from a tree for just being who he was. For the same woman whose last words to her daughters were, “Don’t ever stop.”

I will not stop. I will remember these and I will vote for their sake.

 

In Memory

 

Today is Memorial Day in the United States. Banks, schools and government offices are closed. Parades have marched the streets of our cities. Families gather for a picnic or meet at the cemetery to leave flowers on the graves of loved ones.  For many, it is a day of honoring those who gave their lives for this country. For others, it’s just a day to sleep in and hang out with friends over juicy burgers and potato salad.

As a young girl in a long line of Conscientious Objectors who refused to pick up weapons in times of war, I  personally knew no one who had died in the line of duty. It was pretty much a day of picnics for me. As an adult, however, I’ve come to realize that today is not a picnic.

May 30, 1868 was the first official Memorial Day. It was originally called Decoration Day, and was set aside as a time to decorate the graves of those who had died in the war with flowers.

Three years after the end of the Civil War, we decided to decorate the graves of those who died in the war between us. The war between the North and the South. The war that threatened the collapse of an empire. The war that turned brother against brother, that was really about keeping the South in the Union and protecting an economy built on the backs of slaves than it was about freeing those slaves. This did not begin as a day to honor soldiers who died “over there” but, rather, the ones who died here.

But there is another version, an unofficial version, of how Memorial Day started. David W. Blight, a Yale historian, has found a list of commemorations initiated by freed Black Americans. The largest took place on May 1,1865, less than a month after the end of the war, when more than 10,000 of them gathered to dig up a mass grave of what had been hundreds of Union prisoners. These Black Americans dug up the bones that represented their freedom and lovingly gave them each a proper burial and built a fence around the new cemetery. Then they marched, lamented, honored, and sang with crosses, flowers, wreaths and anthems.

Later, the South hushed the voices of the Black Community and made the day about the reconciliation and sacrifices of White America, completely leaving out the voices of Black America. Mississippi,  South Carolina, and Alabama each have their own days to celebrate Confederate Memorial Day as State Holidays, in addition to the National Memorial Day.

153 years after the end of the Civil War and we are still fighting each other, still shushing the voices of Black America, still making things about us.

I’m going to fire up my grill soon and throw on the burgers. Then I’m going to sit my boys down and tell them about some pretty brave folks who dug up a mass grave, and honored the bones of those who had suffered for their freedom.

Isn’t it time we stop making everything about us?

Isn’t it time we stop telling Black America what patriotism looks like?

 

 

The White Moderate

Like a laboring woman who rests momentarily between contractions, the heavy sky pauses briefly outside my window. It rests from pushing out a howling wind and gasping raindrops, taking in deep breaths of cold, cold air to turn these drops into fluffy flakes. Soon, they predict, ice and snow will fall on this city and white will cover up the gray and the mud.

Isn’t that what we want – a fresh clean layer of something sparkly to cover up the muck of a thawed out January? Anything to help us forget the long hours of darkness and the ick underneath. The kids are happy to have yet another snow day, fingers curled around the remote, reports and books forgotten while parents everywhere hurry through the grocery aisles, stocking up for who knows how long, hoping to get home safely before it hits. Yet, for now, it’s still muck and mud.

Funny how much faith we put in the weather report, how quickly entire schedules are swept aside so we can be safe, yet pay precious little attention to certain other voices that have been telling us about their own un-safety for a long, long time now. If we aren’t stuck in the muck ourselves, why is it so hard to hear those who tell us they are?

This morning I came across some of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s quotes that the media won’t cite. They were fascinating. The quote that struck me the most concerned King’s disappointment with the White Moderate. He says,

“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

He wrote these words in a Letter from a Birmingham Jail to the clergymen of Birmingham. It is a long, letter but well worth the read and I find myself a little more in awe of this man who was willing to sit in a jail cell to prove a point.

While some things have changed in this country since then, there’s still a deep layer of muck and mud that some of us choose not to see because we still love order (for ourselves) more than justice (for all people) and the absence of tension (in our own lives) to the presence of justice (for all people). I’ve spend my share of time in White Moderate communities where we are taught to love all people but not make waves. How can this even be a thing? Moderation is held high and radicalism frowned upon. And “tension”, forget about it. In these places I’ve called home, it has always been better to sweep things under the rug than to disagree or expose a conflict. I’m speaking about entire communities committed to keeping a calm, perfect face, of striving to maintain “peace” (AKA lack of tension), looking good at all costs.

Edmond Burke said “All that is necessary for evil to succeed is that good men do nothing.”

My point is that there are a whole lot of us that feel okay about ourselves because we aren’t out there committing acts of violence. We are nice to those we meet. We do not cheat our customers or hurl racial slurs. We don’t go anywhere that would be too uncomfortable but we still do our share of kind things for others. We hear whispers of injustice but we aren’t creating the injustice so we feel okay remaining where we are at. But, being good and moderate and remaining quiet is the very thing that lets injustice continue. If we are okay allowing injustice to continue, how are we different from those who perpetrate acts of injustice?

Outside the wind is again picking up speed, throwing bits of snow and ice at anyone who dares venture out. In my warm, safe home, I ponder and pray.

May I have courage to always speak up when I see injustice.

May I have the humility to listen to the voices telling me stories so different from my own reality. May I sit in the discomfort and truly learn to listen and to weep with those who weep rather than shushing them.

May I become a radical who dares make waves because I love so deeply, across racial, gender and socioeconomic lines. May I be stubborn enough to reject labels and boxes, to see each person as reflective of the Divine.

May I be wise enough to inspire my sons and all of this next generation to be radicals who will never look at injustice and say, “It’s not my problem”. Who will uncurl their fingers readily from the remote and wrap their arms around the broken instead.

May I be bold enough to yank the rug out from under feet, to expose the lies that lay beneath. The world does not need my silence any more. My “doing nothing” only creates more souls who feel like nothing.

May I love deeply enough to stop spending my time and my money, but to change the currency and spend myself.

And may I never, ever, ever, stand in the way of justice or be a stumbling block in someone’s journey to freedom. Let me, instead, be the one clearing the road so they can run to freedom.

Leaving “Whitopia” Behind

 

During a recent trade show, one of our buyers stopped by our booth to put an order together and told me how much she appreciated the cover model we had chosen for our catalog this year. The customers that walk through her door love the Pebble Pixie Rattles, whose variety of skin tones mirror their own. She told me that America isn’t a white country anymore, and she’s right. In fact, 2042 is said to be the year when whites will be a minority in this country. The landscape of us is changing.

Does that scare you or excite you?

As a descendant of immigrants who came here to escape terrible discrimination and death because of their faith, (read more from that post here) I dream of this land being a place where people of all backgrounds can find sanctuary and freedom.

My ancestors were of Western European descent (“white”). They boarded a ship and found sanctuary in this country during the time when Africans were forced to board the slave ships and live out a hellish existence in this country.

I struggle to wrap my mind around it. The disparity of the two experiences epitomizes white privilege.

I thought, in my naive, sheltered, rural “white girl” reality, that when slavery was abolished in 1865, it and all of the injustices associated with it truly ended. I understand now, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

One of my earliest waking moments was when I participated in a Privilege Walk done by Mennonite Central Committee. As a stay-at-home mom with no college degree, I was not surprised to be near the back of the room when the exercise ended. What shocked me was that behind me was a black mom, who worked full time and had a college degree. I was crying by the end of it, shaken out of my comfortable white bubble, while she matter-of-factly said, “This is how it has always been.”

Nearly a decade later, I’m still listening, learning and re-educating myself on the painful realities that make up the history of this land and contribute more than we can imagine to current realities.

Books like The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson are teaching me about the migration of nearly 6 million people from 1915 to 1970, fleeing slave-like conditions and unspeakable brutality in the south, who made their way north and west to begin new lives. Yet, even in these new places, they struggled dearly, often forced to do the most menial work for a fraction of what their white counterparts made, forced to live in segregated and over-crowded sections of the cities where they had to pay double for half the space. As a result, both parents had to work, leaving the children to fend for themselves.

Today people of color are often blamed for the drug and crime problems of these cities. But what if their ancestors had been treated with equality from the start? What if they had had fair and equal pay? What if they could have lived anywhere and done anything within their skill power? What if they could have afforded one parent to stay home and care for the kids? What if equal access to education had been made available?
I listened to a Ted Talk today on Whitopia, by Rich Benjamin on his journey as a black man through the whitest towns in America. A couple of quotes stood out to me.

It’s possible for people to be in Whitopia, not for racist reasons, though it has racist outcomes.

America is as residentially and educationally segregated today as it was in 1970.

This hits me hard.

I look at the beautiful face of Kahiniwalla’s 2017 Catalog cover model, and I get all soft inside. I see what will become a strong woman of color who is not left in the back of the room, but is leading the way to a new era. We can choose to embrace 2042 today.

If we treat minorities the way we wish to be treated, we will have nothing to fear when we become the minority.

Honoring the Mother of our Nation

Like a moth is drawn to the light, I flutter as near as I can. Quiet soul that I am, I struggle to find the words to tell her what I see. History is wrapped in her ebony skin and in the map of her face I see that she is the daughter of a noble people. Through no fault of her own she was kidnapped, beaten, sold as property, raped again and again by white men who said they followed God. Stripped of her clothing and put on display, dignity in shreds, she stands. Forced to bear children only to have them wrenched from her, she is treated like an animal for 200+ years. Her life not her own. Hunger, exhaustion and shame her only constants.

When I see her today, I see the horror of her history and I weep. Like a sack of rocks she continues to carry it – not because she wants to but because we, the children of a not-so-noble people continue to treat her as less-than…but she is strong and brave. This country was built on her back. She cut the cane to satisfy our sweet tooth. She cleaned up the messes that no one else would. Her fingers plucked the cotton that built our economy and her womb birthed greatness. She nursed the children of her “owner”. She, more than anyone, is the mother of our nation.

Today I honor her, the unsung hero who paid a price that we were so very wrong to demand of her.

To her daughters today, wrapped in beautiful shades of ebony, cinnamon, butterscotch and caramel, I say you are not less-than. You are more-than for you have endured. You are strong and brave and beautiful.

I look in your eyes and I see your nobility still. I am not worthy to say it…that I am sorry for all you endured. Thanking you for your service to this country seems paltry and lacking but I want to honor you. So, when I see you, I see your skin and I honor you by acknowledging the story it brings with it…painful as it is.

I dream of the day when the last rock will be removed from your bag and you can walk with your head high as the equal you are without fear or discrimination. In the meantime, I won’t hold back when talking to my sons and those near me about the history of our nation, hoping to help fashion a future that is different from but doesn’t gloss over our past.

To Be or Not To Be (Color Blind)

Black and White Ballerina Dolls by Pebble

I used to imagine that I was color blind. Not literally, of course. I know a few people who are color blind and it is difficult for me to imagine seeing the world in only a handful of colors. I’m speaking figuratively of the idea that I could or should be “color blind” to racial differences. I thought this was a good thing. Don’t get me wrong, racial color blindness is meant to be a good thing but the more I thought about it, the more derogatory the term sounded to me. Rather than sharing my thoughts on the matter, I decided to listen to some of my black friends, to see how it felt for them when a white person says that they are color blind.

Here is what I heard from them.

“It feels dismissive. You’re blind to my color.”

“Doesn’t make sense – how can you say you don’t see something that is so much a part of who I am. Are you ashamed of my color?”

“Being blind means you don’t SEE me”

“It would be like being gender-blind. I don’t see gender. I treat everyone the same.To some people they would be just fine with that BUT the majority of people would say NO, see ME as a woman. See my unique beauty and strength. See how different I am from men but yet how I can do just as many things and succeed because I am a woman.

“A world devoid of color is what color? White. I am not white, and I am. My color is not invisible.”

It’s like saying ‘I see you, just not that part of you, you know that part that makes us different, that makes me uncomfortable maybe?'”

“White people talk about THEIR color all the time and obsess over it. Who’s pale, whole tan, how long they have to lay out to get darker. Who can’t lay out because they’re just getting red…and yet somehow can tell me, they’re colorblind”.

While we mean to say we don’t judge people based on their skin color, what they hear is that they don’t exist. That we are ashamed of them. That we are afraid of their color. That they are invisible.

When I look at the breadth of color in the world around me, I can’t help but believe that we are meant to notice color and take it in with every breath. Color is not meant to be ignored.

As one of my friends eloquently said, “May we be color-brave, not color-blind”.

Brave enough to see color and not judge.

Brave enough to celebrate differences and not label people.

Brave enough to say, “I see you and you matter to me.”

* For a scholarly discussion on the pros and cons of “color blindness” as it relates to race check out this article in the Atlantic.

 

Loss and Restitution

White demonstrator at a Canton, Ohio Black Lives Matter Protest

White demonstrator at a Canton, Ohio Black Lives Matter Protest

As this new wave of violence sweeps across our nation, I find myself caught somewhere between anger, grief and disbelief. Nearly every day another shooting incident becomes news headlines and I think, “Oh my God, the world has gone mad!”

Walking along the park trail this morning, taking in the lush green of summer and the gentle rippling of the stream, while the smell of a dead animal hung heavy in the air, I thought to myself, “this is life.” Good, bad, beautiful, ugly. Life and death dancing in circles around us, each calling out to us to join in their dance.

I don’t know about you, but I have had enough of this violence and death. I am unashamedly a pacifist because I choose to literally follow Jesus’ words to love our enemies and that those who live by the sword will die by the sword. I struggle to find one incident in either current day events or history, where violence has truly solved anything. I beg you to show me because I’m not seeing it.

My son tells me that World War II began as a result of the shame the Germans endured during World War I. More than 50 million lives were lost that second time around.

Consider the Civil War in our own country. Yes, it ended slavery in our nation . . . sort of . . . yet it did little to change hearts. Today the descendants of slaves still struggle to thrive in a world where they don’t feel wanted or equal. Those who ruled them still exercise their white privilege yet wash their hands of the current mess we are in.

Dignity was stolen from an entire color of people. When I study the words of God, I find that when something is stolen, to make restitution, we are to repay two to seven times the amount that was stolen. After the war, instead of being given equal dignity, blacks still had to ride in the back of the bus, drink from separate fountains, eat in different restaurants, and pretty much live as second-class citizens with limited opportunities. All this, in a land where we claim that all are created equal.

While outwardly those specific circumstances have changed, the dignity of equality still remains a missing ingredient.

In his letter to the next president, Marc H. Morial the CEO of the National Urban League aptly points out that: “Since 2006, the United States has spent nearly $50 billion rebuilding Afghanistan through the Afghanistan Infrastructure Rehabilitation Program. The Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2008, infused the nation’s faltering financial institutions with investments of more than $400 billion. Whether we call it “recovery,” “rehabilitation” or “relief,” it is time for America to demonstrate that very same commitment to our own struggling urban families and communities. The necessity is as powerful and compelling as it was for Europe, Afghanistan or Wall Street.” I wholeheartedly agree with Morial that it is a bit duplicitous of us not to right the wrongs at home before we start “saving” the rest of the world.

About a year ago, I read the book River Rising by Athol Dickson. It drew gut-wrenching sobs out of me as my heart began to really see what had been lost, and is still being lost today.

How can we begin to pay back that minimum of double what was stolen? Can we have the decency to stop being offended when our black brothers and sisters demonstrate to us that there is still a problem?

Paying back double is the least that we as a nation could do, but first we have to acknowledge the depth and breadth of their loss.

 

A Nation of Immigrants

Group-Pixie

 

Her beautiful brown-skinned arm reached out from the surging crowd to grab mine. Startled, my eyes looked up into her deep brown ones as she began to stroke my arm. “Clean” she said, referring to my color of skin. Then she held up her arm and declared it dirty and began to rub it as if there was actually dirt that could be wiped away. I nearly choked in indignation and astonishment, trying my best in broken Bangla to convince her otherwise. I wanted to grab her by the shoulders, shake her and say, “I am the same as you! It’s just color pigments and you happen to have more than me and you are so gorgeous!” But in that moment there was nothing I could say or do to convince her otherwise.

Nearly two decades later, I’m still overwhelmed by the issue. Some days I want to grab the whole world by the shoulders and say, “We are the same. It’s just pigmentation!”

The gut-wrenching truth of the matter is that it is not just about pigmentation anymore. We have made it into something much, much more. I look at our beautiful world of color, the shades and depths of humanity around the world, and my heart wants to stop beating for all its beauty, and yet we have turned this beautiful medley into something ugly and hierarchical. Those of you who come from families of color or from other nations know exactly what I am talking about. I don’t need to explain it to you. You’ve felt it. You live with it. And for this I am so, so sorry.

These words are really for the rest of you who, like me, have lighter skin. We think we live in a nation of equality, with liberty and justice for all. Yet we have no idea how hard it is to be in this nation as a person of color or as an immigrant.

The Emancipation Proclamation failed to change the underlying heart attitude of our nation. Some of us still see ourselves as a white nation. Some of us still think that this is our land. That our way of doing things is the normal way. And anything “other” makes us afraid.

We are not a white nation. This is not our land. We stole this land from those who were here before us, brutally driving them into tiny little pieces of this wide beautiful land while we control the rest of it.

I remember one 4th of July, sitting with family in a park that was full of all shades of beautiful color, where white was the minority. Watching the fireworks dance under a clear Texas sky, I realized that this is who we are, a nation of immigrants. At what point do we have the moral right to say, “This is mine. No more of you can come here now.”

What nation has collapsed because it was generous? Show me a nation that has fallen apart because it has sheltered the poor and the broken.

Instead, we have chosen to narrow our gates and send our soldiers running to the “aid” of other countries to stop the terror in them, while we perpetuate a quiet terror in our own country every day.

We are not the savior. People of my color (or lack of color), for centuries have tried to dictate to the rest of the world how to live. Not only that, we currently use the rest of the world to slave away for us so that we can enjoy more stuff, for less money. But what is the true cost?

There is a growing awareness of modern day slavery, racial issues and much more, but unless we level the playing field of our hearts, not much will change. Like that arm of a different color reaching out for mine – all because decades before white people had come into her land and taken over, and those with light skin enjoyed privileges the rest did not – it’s time for us to reach out our arms to peoples of different colors. It’s time to ask them what it has been like. The time for pretending to be the world’s hero is over. We need to be quiet and listen to people’s stories. Whether they have been here for decades because our forefathers enslaved their forefathers, or they are newly arrived to escape horrors beyond our imagination, it is time for us to open our doors and our hearts. To be the ones who serve. To be the ones who listen. To be the ones who weep.