My Black Children’s Lives Matter

I am a white woman with two grown black children, and I am genuinely afraid for their lives.

The death, violence, and hatred that we have all witnessed this week should concern us all.  As President Obama stated with such great emotional restraint last Wednesday, “These are not isolated incidents. They are symptomatic of a broader set of racial disparities that exist in our criminal justice system.”   The events of this week of violence in America concerns me deeply.  More deeply than I have ever acknowledged before.  And, as Obama said, these events should concern and trouble us all.

No mother or father (black, brown or white) should have to have “the conversation” with their black son to “be careful when (not if, but WHEN!) you’re stopped by the police.  Why?  Because you’re a black man in America.”  [This “conversation” has been happening for several generations.  Watch this emotional video.]  My heart is broken and I am weary of the racial injustice that is woven into the fabric of this nation.  As I stated in an earlier piece:

[As a nation and as a people] we have learned precious little.  Not only do we still nurture hatred, suspicion, and bigotry in our children, we also continue to support and sanction state sponsored violence and oppression against targeted groups and minorities.  What the hell are we afraid of?

I will not counter the #BlackLivesMatter movement with that petty, insensitive and ignorant retort uttered by so many white people who feel uncomfortable discussing racism in the shadow of yet another murdered black man.  Feel the discomfort.  Be appalled and horrified by the violence our nation continues to suffer because of poverty, bigotry, and oppression.  And please, I beg you, stop contributing to it with hateful, inflammatory speech and insensitive remarks based on nothing but fear and ignorance.

This world seems to be going to hell in a hand-basket and I am feeling ashamed to be a part of a race that causes so much division, fear, bigotry, racism, and poverty in our world.  I am embarrassed by all of the ignorant comments on social media that clearly come from the narrow perspective of white privilege.  If you have the courage, I invite you to stop and consider what it is like to be a minority in America.  Everyday of your life.  Everywhere you go.  With nowhere to hide from those who fear you based solely on the color of your skin.  I have tried to imagine this and have fallen short, even though I have heard and experienced the hatred and prejudice of white people while out in public with my black children.  It hurts.  A lot.  Imagine being hurt every day of your life for no other reason except that you are black, and devalued by society.

I cannot speak to pain of racism and oppression in this country as my own children surely can.  I cannot speak to the feelings of cultural duplicity that they must feel or the tension of having one foot in one world and one foot in another.  I cannot possibly imagine what it is like to be a black man or a black woman in this country.  Or can I?  I am, after all, a member of the human race, am I not?  My ability to empathize with someone else’s pain is not limited by the color of my skin.  When I read reports and commentary on racism, or when I watch the news in horror, do I not feel a deep frustration at the unjust system that fuels hatred and fear, and targets black men in this country?  Of course I do, and so should every other human being.

But they don’t.

The deaths/murders of two more innocent black men at the hands of white police officers this week has left me feeling inconsolable.  The ambush on police officers in Dallas leaves me feeling hopeless.  The relentless violence that engulfs our nation leaves me feeling deeply troubled, sad and weary.  If we continue to meet violence with more violence, and hate with more hate (MLK speech on “Loving Your Enemies.”), then is it any wonder that this country remains racially polarized so many generations after the end of slavery?  As Gandhi said, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”

The whole issue of racism in this country has me questioning everything.  Again.  After all these years I still do not understand it.  I do not understand how civilized people can continue to cling to a system that is complicit with racism and bigotry in an age that is groaning toward a more progressive and egalitarian society that embraces and celebrates diversity in all of its forms.

I just don’t understand anymore, and I’m afraid for our children and their future.

Grant us peace, Lord, for we are in desperate need.

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A Profile of Racism In Our World

 

I began this draft back in February of 2016 when I first read Kristian Davis Bailey’s account of his horrifying experience in Israel and the West Bank.  I’ve visited this draft several times since, but was never satisfied with it overall.  That is until I awoke this morning to the news of yet another mass shooting/killing in Orlando, Florida, in the “good ol’ us of a.”  Again, I am without words to describe my horror, sadness and grief.  And, saying the obvious, “my thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families” sounds hollow and small.

How can I relate?  How can anyone relate?  Only those who have lost loved ones to hatred, violence, abuse, and death can relate.  I only know that today I cried tears of compassion and solidarity with the many who mourn the loss of their loved ones, their ideals, their innocence, their joy, and their belief in a world where peace and love always conquer violence, hatred and fear.  I still believe in these values and truths, but today…. I’m a bit shaken.

 

At the risk of offending just about everyone I know, I want to talk about the evils of racism {and, after today’s terror in Orlando, we can add to racism:  intolerance, hatred, homophobia, and bigotry in all its forms}.  Not as a white woman, or as a white woman with children of color, or as any label I may be stuck with, but simply as a member of humanity.  Quite honestly I have always been a bit naïve and/or idealistic when it comes to relationships, so I’ve never understood how societies continue to justify racist and unjust laws, racial profiling, and blatantly racist and ignorant speech.  What disturbs me even more is how these advanced and so-called “civilized” countries turn a blind eye to the poverty and violence such racist behavior perpetuates upon targeted groups.

Again, given the tragic events in Orlando today, I am horrified at the numbers.  The US leads the world in the number of mass shootings.  We have more guns in circulation than any other country, and there are about 40 million more guns than people in America.  Appalling!  I do not, nor will I ever, own a gun.  That means that most gun owners in the US must own more than quite a few guns one gun.  Personally, I do not feel “safe.”
Back in February I read an article on Color Lines by activist and journalist Kristian Davis Bailey.  He was on his way to a conference in the West Bank where he was one of the featured speakers on Palestinian and Black solidarity.  Of course he was racially and politically profiled and treated so horribly and unjustly that I simply have no words to add to his own detailed report on the events that followed.  SeriouslyClick the link and read the article. In Kristian’s own words he has “no illusion about what occurred” to him at the hands of Israeli border agents, nor do I.

I am baffled and deeply saddened by the obvious take-away here:  In the last 100 years (and more!) we have learned precious little.  Not only do we still nurture hatred, suspicion, and bigotry in our children, we also continue to support and sanction state sponsored violence and repression against targeted groups and minorities.  What the hell are we afraid of?  Peace?  Love?  The possibility of authentic joy?

I know that poverty is at the very heart of the violence and hatred we see all across the globe, but I’m naïve & idealistic.  I believe that there is more than just one person in every nook and cranny of the world that has had enough.  I want to believe that we can change this culture of violence & hatred into a culture of peace & love.  I want to believe this with all my heart, but today…  I am shaken.  I am truly shaken.

Summer Break? Not for the Oppressed. Not for Victims of Violence.

Summer break for students and teachers means quality down-time, and this teacher looks forward to summer break even more so than my students. My childhood memories of summer are full of trips to the shore, the neighborhood public pool, bike riding, my dad’s garden, my mom’s freezing & canning assembly line in the kitchen, and just hanging out with friends and family (usually outside). This year’s summer break for me has included swimming, gardening, reading, drawing, and a visit from my daughter who lives very far away. I have been blessed by visits from her once a year since she moved, so when she said she wanted to go to the Keys with my mother and me we made it happen.  Despite the rainy afternoons & evenings we enjoyed our “girl-time” together.  Yesterday my son and daughter and I spent the day at the Rapids Water Park in Florida; my first time at a water park & the first time I’ve been to an “amusement” park in 15 years.  I know!  Shameful!!!  Again, we enjoyed this family time together in spite of the two “storm-delays” that disrupted our pursuit of water-based-thrills.  Rain when we want sunshine is truly a “first world problem” when put in proper perspective.

Summer break for most Americans means some kind of break from the “usual.”  It is a time when we can plan a family vacation, relax, and do things that are enjoyable and, yes, peaceful.  Amidst the news out of Gaza, Libya, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine…. (you name a place of conflict, violence, and fear), it’s hard to enjoy such fun and relaxation when you know so much of the world is living in a constant state of violence, terror, anxiety, grief, and oppression.  At least I have a hard time enjoying such tranquility.  As a Justice & Peace Promoter for my community (Adrian Dominican Sisters and Associates), it’s become impossible for me to do anything without considering the environmental and human consequences of my actions, inaction, &/or consumption habits.

By the time we returned from our mini-vacation in Key Largo I learned about the tragedy of the Malaysian flight that was shot down in Ukraine, and the escalating violence in Gaza.  I consider it both a blessing and a curse that I empathize so deeply with the victims of such horrific violence.  I cannot hear about such things without shutting down; it’s difficult for me not to feel depressed, powerless, and hopeless.  If just hearing about the horrors of war has this effect on me, I can’t imagine how millions of people the world over endure this kind of existence day after day, year after year.  I have learned how to allow myself the luxury of depression and tears for a day or two, but then I turn to those emotions I call positive anger and outrage.  I believe that when anger’s energy is harnessed to create change or an end to an injustice, then anger can be a highly useful emotion.  Unfortunately for those who live with violence and oppression with no end in sight, they don’t have access to such luxuries as vacations, breaks, or just a day to mourn.

The ongoing oppression in Gaza is most distressing to me, so I began searching for organizations that promote peace and coexistence in Gaza, otherwise known as the world’s largest open-air prison. I have been struck by just how many groups are out there that have been working for peace for years, and how many new ones are being created since this latest crisis between Israel and Hamas erupted.  Many of these groups were created by Jews in America (Jewish Voice for Peace and Jews Say No!), Jews in Israel, and (my favorite partnership) Jews and Palestinians working together for reconciliation, an end to violence, occupation, and oppression in Gaza.  Thank you, Sweden and the Middle East Views for the heads-up on a new Facebook page.  The two groups The Jewish Voice of Peace, and Jews Say No! were again in the news for occupying the NY based offices of the Friends of Israel Defense Force (FIDF).  They sang songs, handed out leaflets, and read the names of the 600 innocent Palestinians who have been killed by Israeli bombs in the past two weeks (as of this date, 7-28-14, the number of civilian deaths in Gaza has risen to over 1,000!).  Several of the activists refused to vacate the premises and were then arrested. Just last night about 7,000 people gathered in Tel Aviv to protest Israel’s aggression in Gaza.  Pax Christi shared an article posted in The Plough, written by Izzeldin Abuelaish.  Abuelaish is a Palestinian doctor who lost 3 of his daughters and a niece when their apartment building was shelled by an Israeli tank in 2009.  What courage in the face of such pain and loss!  I often tell my art students, “You are only limited by your imagination.”  Imagine what kind of a peaceful world is possible if we could all be more dedicated to peace and love rather than violence and hatred.

When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict it is absolutely essential to know the history of the conflict in order to understand the current situation and the violence that continues to spin out of control.  In my understanding of the conflict there hasn’t been a “summer break” in Gaza or the West Bank in more than 60 years, and it’s long overdue.  So many Israeli’s and Palestinians, as well as citizens across the globe, are calling for peace, a two-state solution, and a return of stolen lands to the Palestinian people.  How is it the so-called leaders of nations and the UN can’t seem to make this happen?

And now the latest cease fire has collapsed into more violence, death, and destruction on both sides; although each side blames the other.  As always in cases of occupier vs. oppressed, Israel wants Hamas to give up their weapons while the IDF retains theirs.  When will this insanity end?  When will this conflict be peacefully resolved so that we can all enjoy a summer break that lasts a lifetime?

“Culture of Death” is Not a Culture I Want To Be a Part Of

It usually takes me a day or more (or several) to absorb, contemplate, and respond to the kind of violence we in the US have experienced yet again with the horrific and overwhelming massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. The mandatory Facebook rants, reTweets, and petitions for immediate action have all been read and responded to, or ignored. Of course the customary & predictable political statements continue to be featured in the news, and now the NRA has finally made its incredibly senseless statement in response to the Sandy Hook tragedy. Personally I have run the gambit of emotions this week & I’m drained. For years we’ve all heard the term “culture of death” thrown around, but what does it really mean & how do we respond to it? As a woman of faith and a woman of art I can honestly say that this so-called “culture of death & violence” is not culture at all & I want no part of it!

Lately I find that people in “advanced” western society are more concerned with their “rights” and “privileges” than with something as primitive & common as “culture.” What do these words really mean? How do we define “rights”, and what is “culture”. I’m very fond of the dictionary. As my college Philosophy Professor John Ellsworth Winter, III used to say, “the dictionary is your toolbox”, and as Hawkeye Pierce once said, “If marooned on a desert island, the one book I would want is the dictionary. I figure all the other books are in it.” With that in mind, I opened up my toolbox looking for a bit of culture, and this is what I found: “The training, development, and refinement of mind, morals, and taste.” And (my favorite!): “6. Anthropol. The sum total of the attainments and learned behavior patterns of any specific period, race, or people, regarded as expressing a traditional way of life subject to gradual but continuous modification by succeeding generations.” Well, there you have it!

What I continue to see in our society is a pattern of accelerated regression of our minds, our morals, and our taste in art and expression. For the most part, the very things that help to define culture are not being improved upon; music, art, academia, social norms, government, and basic human rights. Where is our “advanced” sensibility when Hollywood, the arts, and the media glamorize violence? What makes our government so great when our laws show the world that we care more about “gun rights” than we do about “human rights”, our nation’s children, or the healthcare and safety of our citizens? If this is our culture, then I want no part of it.

The definition of “rights” is quite telling as well. The dictionary mentions justice, morals, standards, and truth. Pope Paul VI is quoted as having said “If you want peace, work for justice.” I believe this to be true, for without justice, there is no peace. Just ask any parent who has lost a child to gun violence. Ask anyone who has ever experienced helplessness, fear, anxiety, or anger. This “culture of death” society has made death & violence sexy. This creates a sub-standard, amoral, unjust society. And that’s the sad truth. Again: No culture here.

The United Nations “Declaration of Human Rights” uses words like “freedom, justice, and peace” in the first line of its Preamble. Throughout the 30 Articles of this document I am reminded of just how much more work we have yet to accomplish if we, all of Humanity, want to continue to modify in a positive way this thing we call Culture. Articles 29 & 30 are worth reading as they proclaim that we all have duties or responsibilities to the community, and in exercising our rights and freedoms we do not disregard the rights and general welfare of others. Although Article 3 is familiar to most US citizens (life, liberty, and security of person), I seriously doubt that our nation’s founding father’s or those who drafted this UN document had automatic weapons in mind when speaking about a person’s security.

I want to be a part of a culture of life and joy, and so do many people I know. To change our patterns of behavior we all have a responsibility to work for peace and justice every day. Like so many others I’ve talked to or listened to, I don’t have any answers. I only know that I am deeply saddened by the deadly violence that occurred in Connecticut last week, and I am troubled by all violence, war, and injustice. I will continue doing whatever I can to promote peace and justice, and I will continue to hope & pray that one day we will again be a society where our culture reflects our love & respect for all life.