Posts Tagged ‘race’

Sunday Sit-Down #10: Detour

March 21, 2021

Each Sunday, I’m working my way through my experiences with race. I’ll share stories and memories from throughout my life. I know I’ll encounter moments of growth that I wish I could relive. I’ll also have to think back on choices that I wish I could remake. Come join me each week.

This week, I was all set to reflect on my mindset after high school as I prepared to go to college.

This week, I was drafting in my head ways to recount how determination and idealism became my core ideals.

This week, a man killed eight people, six of them of Asian descent.

This week, the world broke open for many people I love and care about.

This week doesn’t mark some new low or new beginning or discovery. We’ve been here for generations. It’s the mark of a chronic and critical disease.

I’ve been carrying these ideas around for a few days, not really doing anything with them. I’m not quite sure where to put them or what to do with them. But I do know this:

I need to be a better set of eyes and ears for my friends, my colleagues, my students and my families.

I need to redouble my efforts to un-“other” others.

Especially my students and their families.

I need to keep reminding them that Diwali and Eid and Lunar New Year bear as much consideration as Easter,

that speaking English with an accent is a badge of honor, of persistence, of sacrifice,

that everyone deserves to have people pronounce their names correctly, and not just their English ones,

that they can write story characters beyond a white default,

that a bitmoji version of themselves doesn’t need to be blond and white to be beautiful,

that they are seen, and valued, and acknowledged, and important.

I’ve got work to do. We’ve got work to do.

Sunday Sit-Down #9: Turning Point

March 14, 2021

Each Sunday, I’m working my way through my experiences with race. I’ll share stories and memories from throughout my life. I know I’ll encounter moments of growth that I wish I could relive. I’ll also have to think back on choices that I wish I could remake. Today also marks Day 14 of the Slice of Life challenge. Join me as I work to write every day in March – and beyond!

Every story has a turning point. There is a moment of truth, a fulcrum on which our seesaw of experience forever rests between “before” and “after.” I’ve had several such moments in my life.

The details are sketchy. There’s a chance I have some of them wrong. There’s also much more complexity to this than I can express in a single blog post, but we all know words have their limitations at times. This is one of those times.

My first moment of racial reckoning occurred in high school. It was my junior or senior year. The high school newspaper just published an issue on slang. In it was an article on Black English.

I remember holding that edition of the paper in my hands, scrolling through the articles, and reading that one with some interest. I remember the article mentioning Black English Vernacular and giving some examples of its structure. I don’t remember much about the content of the article.

I do remember that it wasn’t written by someone Black.
And it didn’t sit well.
And it brought forth a lot of anger.
So much so that the local news covered our news.
LOTS of people were talking about it.

And if you asked me how things eventually turned out, I don’t even think I could tell you.

But I do remember that being a moment of truth for me. This idea I carried in my head, the one that told me racial justice and equality were “done” once Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks took care of things? It was a lie. There was still prejudice and racism and bias and inequality. There were wounds, still seething anger across and within racial groups, and it took a high school newspaper article to puncture that boil.

It was the first time I recognized there was still work to do. That I had work to do. That there was so very much I didn’t know, didn’t understand, hadn’t bothered to see.

That was the truth I had to sit with. That I still sit with. It has shaped me, has driven me. It’s what drove me to seek the experiences I have in college (starting up on that next week!) and beyond.

And…if you’re someone I know who remembers this time, I’d welcome your memories in the comments. I keep trying to put more perspective to these events, and I could use yours.

Sunday Sitdown #7: Taking a Look Around

February 28, 2021

Each Sunday, I’m working my way through my experiences with race. I’ll share stories and memories from throughout my life. I know I’ll encounter moments of growth that I wish I could relive. I’ll also have to think back on choices that I wish I could remake. Come join me each week.

High school.

There is something about it.

Everyone, it seems, is on a quest for identity, for selfhood. It’s what makes everyone both unique and identical. There’s drama. There’s melodrama. There’s angst. There’s a coming of age.

There’s also inner conflict as the self-involvement of youth gives way to the more empathetic views of adulthood. I keenly remember this push-pull and the tension it created.

Translation? High school was the first time I looked around at what was happening with other folks.

I noticed Black kids often sat together in the cafeteria or student lounge.*
I noticed that when they were together, they acted differently than when they were with white peers.

You’d think I would feel uncomfortable with that, or feel left out. But something else was happening for me around the same time. I was also starting to see and understand how others perceived me as a Jew.

High school marked the first time…
…someone directly told me I needed Jesus to save me.
…I received the first probing “ethnic” questions. (“So…what ARE you?)
…Sunday school was canceled because of bomb threats.
…I’d be given a derogatory nickname. (“Oh, look. Lainie the Jew.”)

It became clear to me – more than it ever had – that I was an “other.” There were places I belonged, and places I didn’t. I found that it was comfortable to hang out with other kids who were Jewish. It wasn’t exclusionary. It wasn’t an attempt to be rude.

It was a means of emotional survival. We didn’t even really talk about Jewish stuff, but it just felt good to be with people who had shared experiences. Going to youth group events created a space where we could all just…exhale.

Did I mind that folks separated themselves out?
That they had different, more familiar ways of relating among folks in their own groups without me?

I didn’t mind.
And I still don’t mind.
Yes, we need to integrate.
And yes, we need safety and comfort and support.
And we need it wherever we find it, from whomever it might come.

*All Black kids? nope. Nothing is never “all” or “nothing” (see what I did there?). Of course there was integration among students. But there was also enough separation for a kid to notice.

Sunday Sitdown #5: First Lesson

February 14, 2021

Mrs. Williams was a great first-grade teacher.

She was kind, cheerful and honest.
She always encouraged us with phrases like, “You’re cookin’ with gas!”
She regaled us with stories of her little girl.
She used Girl Scout Thin Mint cookies as prizes when she REALLY wanted to motivate us.
Heck, she put up with ME as a first grader. That’s no easy task.

She was also the first Black teacher I had ever had.* And she was willing to talk about race.

One day, Mrs. Williams decided that she was going to teach us about skin color. Looking back as a teacher, I might guess that wasn’t just a random choice. I might guess that Mrs. Williams was responding to a comment or situation that came up in class. Or maybe there was something going on in the world that my first-grade brain wasn’t quite aware of. Whatever it boiled down to, Mrs. Williams decided that it was time for us to talk.

I’m going to guess that the lesson was longer than I remember, but what captures my memory most is when she held up two crayons: one white, one black.

Mrs. Williams held up the white crayon and said, “When people say they’re white, does their skin look like this color?”
A crowd of giggling first-graders yelled back, “Nooooooo!”
She held up the black crayon and said, “When people say they’re Black, does their skin look like this color?”
We again yelled, “Noooooo!”

And that was at the heart of it. It was the first time I had ever engaged, on-purpose, in a conversation about what being Black or being white really means. About what race means, and what it DOESN’T mean. It was a way to tell a group of six- and seven-year olds that race is complicated. It’s not just what we see. It’s more complex than a label we might wrap around someone.

Thank you, Mrs. Williams. You were cookin’ with gas.

*I’m also beyond grateful to be able to say that Mrs. Williams was just my first Black teacher, and not my only. For all of the shortcomings that may have accompanied my schooling, I am glad that my school district made an effort to hire a diverse range of teaching and instructional staff. It was important for children of color in my community, but I’d say it was also important for me.

Sunday Sit-Down #4: On the Bus

February 7, 2021

At Old Bonhomme School there was always a range of faces different from mine. I took for granted the mix of kids in my classes. As far as I knew, I went to a neighborhood school with neighborhood kids, and we all learned and played and together as one community.

What I didn’t know, and what I didn’t understand, was that the diverse mix of students wasn’t a natural part of living in Olivette. Yes, there was racial diversity within school attendance lines. But.

What I didn’t know, and what I didn’t understand, was that the diverse mix of students was largely due to the fact that I went to elementary school in Saint Louis at the height of school desegregation. That my classmates and I were a part of a grand social experiment.

What I didn’t know, and what I didn’t understand, was that many Black children spent long mornings and long afternoons on the bus to and from the city. That they left behind their own neighborhoods, their own neighbors, their own neighborhood schools to attend school in my district.

What I didn’t know, and what I didn’t understand, were the direct and open ways in which our communities were segregated in the first place.

What I didn’t know, and what I didn’t understand, was that we were all part of a system that, in the name of “quality education,” would separate kids from their communities to send them to other schools, rather than giving them what they needed where they needed it.

What I didn’t know, and what I didn’t understand, was that school desegregation allowed a number of kids to get an education in affluent districts while overlooking city communities. That if we really meant to desegregate schools, we’d improve all schools and bus children in both directions. Or we’d take away racial and economic barriers to housing equality. But we didn’t, and we didn’t. And we didn’t.

Those realizations would come.

Sunday Sitdown #2: And So It Begins

January 24, 2021

Where does my racial story begin?

At my own birth?
At the first moments I can remember?
The very first time I noticed people were different?

Or with
Parents and
With the many ways they interacted with
Others who were different?
(All while they tried hard
So very hard
To become the not-different themselves)

How can I even
To explain my own upbringing without
A long
At how the people who shaped me
Were shaped?

They always had a “girl” –
I best remember Katie,
Grown woman in starched white
Always there to clean
To smile
To say “Yes, ma’am”
Even as she grumbled through the Friday evening dishes
Even though I wondered how someone that old
Could still be a girl

Or Johnny from Westwood,
Starched black and white suit,
Impeccably shined shoes,
Always there to bring
More bread to the table,
The day’s specials
A smile, a laugh, a joke –
I can’t remember, but only hope
He wasn’t called “boy”

This is where I started,
What I was born into
What I carry

I don’t want
To come from there,
Don’t want to own
That piece of me –
But where there is pain
There is love
Where there is honesty
There is vision
Where there is reckoning
There is growth

And I have oh, so far to grow.

Sunday Sitdown #1: Here I Go

January 17, 2021

I’m a member of my school district’s newfound committee on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.*

For our last meeting, we were asked to compose a racial autobiography, to craft a reckoning of our experiences with race and identity. (Check out the Pacific Educational Group to learn about their work!)

There were a LOT of questions. And as someone who’s been thinking about and reflecting on race for a really, REALLY long time, I didn’t know how I could put it all together. I’m a person of words, but I couldn’t imagine the number of words I’d have to summon to do the assignment justice.

So I did whatever I do in situations where I need a direct connection with my thoughts: DOODLE. I grabbed my flair pens and started drawing. Instead of a written document, I came up with this:

As I drew, it occurred to me how very MUCH there is here for me to unpack. There’s a lot more here than pictures can convey. I’m going to HAVE to put words to these ideas. And I’ll have to do it one step at a time.

That’s where you come in. I’d love for you to join me on this exploration.

Each Sunday, I’m going to work my way through this autobiography, one image at a time. I’ll share the stories and memories that connect with each part. I know I’ll encounter moments of growth that I wish I could relive. I’ll also have to think back on choices that I wish I could remake.

Here’s hoping I see you right back here next week!

*Yes, I have some general thoughts about committees for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. And also thoughts about those words needing to be capitalized. We won’t get into that right now. The good news is, I’m hopeful about what our group can accomplish. So there’s that. It’s also led by Regina Armour. So there’s also THAT.