Prickly Privilege

Two handmade crochet fairy dolls, one black and one white.

If the word Privilege causes you to prickle, especially when combined with the word “white” here are a few things you may want to think about.

This year all three of our boys had spring break during a different week. I only took off work for one of them. I drove 425 miles with my son to see his new baby cousin and to hang out with the bigger cousins.

He had hours of alone time with mom, which he rarely gets.

…several fast food meals, which he rarely gets.

…a trip to the aquarium.

…countless basketball games with his cousin.

…late night TV with his uncle to watch his favorite team play.

His brothers had to fend for themselves over their spring breaks. No special treatment for them.

He realized it was a special.

He was grateful for it.

He did nothing more than his brothers to deserve this trip.

He didn’t rub it in their faces.

This is privilege. If his brothers would have pointed out to him that he had a week of privileges, he probably would have simply agreed with them. He wouldn’t have felt that they were insulting him or that something was wrong with him. He would have owned it.

Here are some ways I see I am privileged:

  • I can set my cruise to 9 miles over the speed limit and not worry too much about being pulled over.
  • I can take my nieces and nephew into a museum on my sister-in-law’s pass and not be asked for id or bag check.
  • I can trace my ancestry back to the shores of other countries.
  • I can walk into the movies or any store with a very large purse and not once am asked to open it for inspection, not once am I followed around.
  • I own 51% of a small business in a country where white women still make less than white men and women of color make even less. See more here.
  • I had an educational opportunity to complete high school in 3 years.
  • I have incredible credit rates and was able to take out a mortgage during a time we had virtually no income.

These are just a few examples of ways I have come to realize I am privileged. I didn’t earn them. I’m not a bad person for having them. I see, though, that the playing ground is not level and many others do not have these same privileges.

Michael Harriot breaks it down as not being an insult nor an accusation but rather a measurable gap. You can read his article here.

I own my privileges. I am very grateful for them. And where possible, I will use my privileges to work towards leveling the playing ground for all.

The Home of the Brave

The world feels heavy as the sky drops tears that drip and pool around my feet as if there is no end to the grief, no place large enough to hold it, so it sits and waits. I, too, sit and wait, grieving for seventeen lives gone too soon. All around me, I hear voices rising, arguing over the why and the what needs to happen next. What if everyone were a little bit right? What if the heart of the matter goes so much deeper? What if it’s really a heart matter that more guns, officers, and concerned citizens cannot change?

We show that we are a fragile people when we insist on more protection and build bigger walls to keep out those we see as a threat to our own happiness and security. But, what if the very actions we take to protect ourselves actually help to grow terrorists within our midst? What if by forgetting to be brave and loving to those who are “other”, we are actually giving tools to the next generation to hate those who are different from us? What if the answer to hate and fear was not walls or more guns but being brave? To be brave is to walk into fear because of love for something so much greater than being safe. Brave doesn’t make refugees sit in camps for 26 years when we have more than enough resources to create a home for them. Brave sits next to LGBTQ individuals and listens to their stories. Brave buys sandwiches and coffee instead of guns, shares blankets and coats instead of hate mail. Brave admits that we have a problem, that we collectively  benefit from an economy built on cruelty – first to the 10+ Million who walked this land long before we set foot here, taking their homes and their lives. Secondly to the sons and daughters of Africa, ripped from home, beaten, raped, and worked to death: treated as disposable people to build a thriving empire of cotton, sugar, tobacco and railways. Brave teaches what the history books omit – the horror of the Jim Crow South after the Civil War, the Great Migration and all that came thereafter.

Brave does not panic and shoot unarmed people of color. It does not relegate First Nations people to tiny corners of this wide land and strip them of dignity. Brave does not sit in a neighborhood where everyone looks the same, has the same income level and drives the same kind of cars.

Brave does not play it safe. It goes to where love is needed the most. It cannot help it because love is the magnet that pulls brave forward.

Perhaps the problem is that we forgot what it means to be brave. Perhaps we forgot those outrageous ancient words that whisper still through time and space.

If you live by a weapon, you will die by a weapon.

What if we taught the next generation to be brave by walking bravely ourselves? What if we had the courage to cross racial, religious, economic and any of those other lines we ourselves have invented?

What if we built bridges instead of walls and led the next generation across them?

What if we were that brave?

 

Love and Ashes

Today is both Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday. We’re in the middle of Black History Month.  Rohingya refugees are still streaming across the border from Myanmar to an already-crowded Bangladesh, now totaling 900,000.  Love and bravery, death and injustice, all wrapped up in the cold and dark of winter.

For me though, it is Ash Wednesday that ties it all together.

Ashes rubbed in the shape of a cross saying:

You are dust and to dust you will return”.

Sometimes it takes the crumbling remains of death to remind me of the greatest of all loves. A love whose whisper penetrates through time and space,

The only thing I ask of you is to love me with all you have, and to love your neighbor as much as you love yourself.” 

If we did that, love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves, it wouldn’t be a lonely day for anyone. We wouldn’t have only a month of Black History because our history books would speak truth each day of the year. We would not have 1.19 million refugees in need of a home. According to UNHCR, less than 6% of these found home last year. I did the math and it is heart wrenching.

So my gift to you, on this day of love and ashes, during this month of remembering, is to share with you a beautiful glimpse of humanity in the moving picture Human Flow. Created by Ai Weiwei, a Chinese artist and activist, who spent his childhood in refugee camp, The Human Flow beautifully documents the refugee crisis and it’s impact on the world. Ai Weiwei says:

“The refugee crisis is not about refugees, rather, it is about us. Our prioritisation of financial gain over people’s struggle for the necessities of life is the primary cause of much of this crisis.”

You can read more of his story here, as well as watch the trailer for the movie. For those of you with Amazon Prime, The Human Flow will be released on Prime on February 16.

 

 

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.

Pro Life?

Standing among friends and strangers at a rally in the town of my birth, I wore my heart on my sign. I thought long and hard about what I wanted to say. How do you fit a journey of the heart into a tiny sign? After a night of little sleep and unsettling dreams, this is what came to me.

Pro Life? Then stand with those who fear for theirs.

Something fundamental is lost when a pro life stance is only pro birth. If I only care about preserving the life of a wee babe until it is pushed out from the safety and comfort of the womb, then I care nothing about that wee babe, only about making sure that someone else is keeping the letter of the law.

There is a pretty big difference between being anti-abortion and being pro-life. Anti-abortion will do anything to make abortion illegal. It is a political stance that hopes to influence policies, without personally needing to put in any of the work needed to serve those wee babes or their mothers.

I carried this sign because I wanted people to reflect on the idea that being pro-life should change the way you do life. Living eight years in a country where abortion was illegal showed me that laws do very little to change things. Abortions happened frequently there and they were only more dangerous to the mother because of the ways in which they were done. It got me thinking a lot.

Can we say we are pro-life if we marginalize and demonize the woman who has had an abortion instead of seeking to restore her to community? Can we say we are pro-life if, when that babe is hungry and her mom can’t make it on minimum wages and applies for food stamps, we judge her and call her lazy or entitled?  What about when the babe grows up and can’t get health care because of a preexisting condition and he dies? Are we pro-life when another babe grows up and spends days running through the jungle from a genocide in her country and we close our borders because she might be a terrorist? When the babe of one skin tone grows up and ends up having his blood splattered on the sidewalk though he was unarmed and was not threatening anyone but the one who took his life walks away scot-free, whose life are we really for? What about the babe who grows up and embraces his culture and decides to kneel during the national anthem as a way to signal to the rest of us that there is a group of people who fear for their lives because of events that keep happening throughout our country?

Pro-life is for life on either side of the womb. It gets to know the moms contemplating abortion and does life with them helping to carry their load. It shares food with the hungry. It works tirelessly to ensure that lives of all races are treated with dignity and it speaks out against injustice. Pro-life does not discriminate. It listens to people of other races, socioeconomic levels, religions and beliefs. It loves. It serves. It is never only pro (rich white American) life. It is for all life.

I also wanted to signal to those who are living in fear for their lives that they are not alone. Their voices are heard. Their pain matters.  Their life has value. I’m adding my voice to the cry, putting my body on the sidewalk with them and for them.

Pro life. It’s not a political or religious stance.  It’s a way of living.

 

Silent Too Long

Perhaps the greatest evil in our country today is the silence of the larger crowd. I think of the communities I grew up in, the line of people I come from, the hard working salt-of-the-earth folk who came here because they were tired of being hunted down like animals. People who wanted to own land and live and pray in peace and thrive. People who stayed out of politics and voted on their knees.

While I am proud of my heritage, I am so ashamed in times like these of the color of my skin. As a white American, I know I am lumped into the same box as those who are trying to stir the country to radical hatred. Take it from a girl who has traveled the globe – the rest of the world views America as a Christian nation. While you and I both know that’s not the reality, it is very much the way we are perceived. The hatred, the headlines in the news and the scandals portrayed by Hollywood; these things have defined who we are to the rest of the world and the bad name we have made for ourselves is getting worse by the day.

White people of faith, the time for our silence if over. The expiration date on this silence is so ancient the toxic effects will kill us if we continue to sip from it. Have we forgotten that if one part of our body suffers, our whole body suffers?

The events in Charlottesville have crushed all of us because they have crushed a precious part of us. Our refusal personally and as a community to speak out against hate is a silent endorsement of the deeds done.

Even if we live in a white rural community that feels peaceful,  we cannot assume these things do not affect us. There is someone near us who is shaking in fear, old scars ripped wide open while our pastors speak from their pulpits as if nothing has happened and the blood of the One we say we follow, lies fresh on the sidewalk. We speed down the road in a rush to get to the next place without fear of being pulled over.  We dig in our purses for our phone as we enter a store, never thinking that if our skin were a different color we would be profiled and either followed the entire time or questioned. We feel only comfort, not fear when we pull on a hoodie to ward off the evening chill. We do so many things every day that many in our country can never do without fear of what will happen if they do.

It is time for us to speak up, speak out, and speak to. And I’m not talking about social media, though that has its place. In our safe white circles, we must speak up. Love is not silent, it is not safe. Find the oppressed in your area and speak to them, welcoming gently. And then listen. Have the heart to seek out the strangers and sit with them until they become your friends, your family. If we already have these friends, we could ask them how the events of the weekend in Charlottesville are affecting them. Ask them if they feel safe. Ask them what we can do. If they feel pain, we would be foolish to tell them that our lives matter too. This is not our moment. This is not the kind of speaking out that shushes people or assumes that we have the answers. It is a speaking out that listens…and learns.

If we do not speak, we are in danger of becoming part of the monster of hatred consuming and dividing this beautiful land…a body much different than the one that we claim to be a part of.

We must speak.

Lives depend on it.

 

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.

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.