An Epiphany for the U.S.A.

Wednesday’s coup attempt happened on the day of Epiphany, when Jesus, the Light of the world is made known. On this same Epiphany day, more white Americans had an epiphany–a sudden and powerful manifestation of the truth, power, and ugliness of our white supremacist foundation.

On an Instagram post about some antiracist books I had been reading, my cousin commented about racism and white supremacy, with these words: “The world has a lot of problems, but I feel like this particular problem [racism] is at the root of all others.

This was two years ago, and prior to her comment I had not considered the fact that it affected everything. Now, every time something else happens I think back to her comment and believe it even more. We saw it again yesterday.

The ridiculously unprepared police force at the U.S. Capitol and how these mostly white domestic terrorists were treated starkly contrasts with this summer’s police brutality against Black Lives Matter protestors (mostly black).

The only good thing we can say about the trump years is that we have had five years of the racism pot at a rolling boil, spilling and burning the whole country. The simmering under the surface had been harder to pay attention to.

Here’s another metaphor: Instead of living decade after decade in a country marked by general malaise about race relations, we have to acknowledge the five years we have lived with projectile vomiting and explosive diarrhea. White people can’t ignore the symptoms anymore, can no longer say it’s just a stomach ache, suck it up. White supremacy has reared its ugly head and we have seen it.

Wednesday was Epiphany, the day in the Christian church when we celebrate the revelation, the unveiling to the world of Christ’s deity, the light of the world. It is the commemoration of the magi arriving to worship Jesus. Yes, they came from afar, fell down and worshipped, giving valuable gifts, all to Jesus, a toddler.

So perhaps it is fitting that the whole world received a divine epiphany on Wednesday, a sudden and powerful manifestation of the truth and power of our white supremacist foundation in the U.S. On Epiphany, at his rally trump supporters were encouraged to go to trial by combat and mob the U.S. Capitol. Later after the violence, looting, pillaging and desecration the mob was told by trump, “You are loved. You’re all very special.”

Thursday, a day late, I celebrated Epiphany and the Light of the world, Jesus. I decided to have an Epiphany tree for awhile. Today I am grateful that many white people may have received a clear epiphany for the first time. They have seen unquestionably that white supremacy affects everything and we must all work to dismantle it. May God give us strength to keep fighting.

I decided to have an Epiphany tree after taking down the Christmas tree.

Memorable Messages

Today is Thursday, Day 114 in Bahrain’s stay-at-home time, day 79 of The Isolation Journals with Suleika Jaouad. The prompt is by Angela Cooke-Jackson, “Think about the memorable messages—either positive or negative—you received during your formative years about sharing your intimate feelings and grief with others. Where did the messages come from, and what made them memorable?…”

One of my memorable messages came from my co-dependent family. We were always good in my family. We didn’t often express ourselves. After my alcoholic father died when I was very young, the message stayed with us. Denial and dishonesty, suppressing emotions, and compulsive behavior with food were ways it manifested for me.

I’ve gotten better and healthier, but sharing intimate feelings and grief is still not easy for me. This unprecedented time, however, is helping me face the grief.

Today, Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners, wrote about this time we are in, when Black Lives Matter is a movement supported by the majority of Americans. He explains it as a kairos moment–“a propitious moment for decision or action…when things come to a head.” I want to be part of keeping this kairos moment alive. And that means owning my only feelings and grief, but also attempting to make a way to let those who are oppressed in this country carry their grief, loss and feelings.

But this past month has shown me that this time feels different. I pray that this time is different. If there is not a different response to what is clearly a kairos time, there could be devastating consequences for the soul and safety of the nation. It is time — time for all of us to embrace and act upon this kairos moment.

Here was the most beautiful thing I saw today. It’s a six-minute video of a watch night speech by Valarie Kaur called “Breathe and Push.” It was given on New Year’s Eve 2016. And I just watched it today.

Watch Night Speech: Breathe and Push

Another message that came out of my childhood was “Be nice.” It was born out of dysfunction, but it is certainly not a bad message in itself. Now, I’ve learned that a better message is “Be Kind.” Kindness is the true fruit of the Spirit that I want to emulate. Kindness doesn’t always look nice, but it is always just and right. It doesn’t deny and suppress emotions. Sometimes it isn’t easy to be kind. I am proud to say that my daughter has helped me develop that message. She works for Special Olympics and has been instrumental in their @prsnfrst initiative that promotes kindness, inclusion and Person First Language.

I feel like this man today. I don’t know why it took me so long, but I’m not turning back.

 

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The Recommencement of America

The unanimous Declaration
of the fifty United States of America
and the five U.S. territories,
When in the Course of human events,
it becomes necessary for one people

Black Live Matter

We hold these truths to be self-evident,
that all people are created equal,
that they are endowed by their Creator
with certain unalienable Rights,
that among these are
Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Black Live Matter

That to secure these rights,
To which Laws of Nature
and of Nature’s God entitle them
Governments derive their just powers
from the consent of the governed,

Black Lives Matter

That whenever any Form of Government
becomes destructive of these ends,
it is the Right of the People
to alter or to abolish it,
in such form,
as to them shall seem most likely
to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Hate Crimes Prevention Act
Breonna’s Law
Michael Brown Law
Oh, yeah, that one didn’t pass
Police still don’t have to wear body cams
Black Lives Matter

But when there is a long train
of abuses and usurpations,
it is their right,
it is their duty,
to abolish the forms
to which they are accustomed,
to throw off such Government,
and to provide new Guards
for their future security,

Black Lives Matter

In every stage of these Oppressions
Black Bodies have Petitioned for Redress
in the most humble terms:
Black People’s repeated Petitions
have been answered only by repeated injury.

Black Lives Matter

Appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world
for the rectitude of our intentions,
of Right ought to be Free and Independent;
And for the support of this Declaration,

Black Lives Matter

With a firm reliance on the protection
of divine Providence,
we mutually pledge to each other
our Lives,
our Fortunes and
our sacred Honor.

Black Lives Matter

America, let us recommence.

Taken from the Declaration of Independence

Today is Sunday, Day 110 in Bahrain, day 75 of The Isolation Journals with Suleika Jaouad. The prompt is by recent high school graduate, Lincoln Debenham: “Write your own commencement speech for whoever needs it—whether it’s your own graduate, family, or community. Your change making could start here, with your own words.”

To My Great Grandbaby

Dear sweet little baby joy,

There is nothing like a new baby to bring hope into the world. I know there are those who already loved you when you were barely a timorous, yet tickling and intoxicating thought in the minds of your parents.

Welcome to the world, my dear. I missed your birth, but I just wanted to say how much I would have loved you if I were still alive. Your grandma was my baby once upon a time, so I know the joy you have brought to your family.

First and foremost, I would like to apologize to you that I didn’t spend more of my life fighting to dismantle white supremacy.

After we had our first African American president, Barack Obama, a segment of our country rejoiced that we were becoming post-racial, whatever that meant. Another segment went into survival mode. The racists came out of hiding, raising up their repugnant heads. The powerful (who were powerful because they had white skin) were scared. They called it things like tea parties and conservatism instead of what it really was, fear of losing their ill-gotten and undeserved power.

There was only one silver lining in the debacle of the 46-1 presidency that you will read about in your history books. It made lots of people like me aware of the awful condition of our country–there is no such thing as post-racial. Racism is at the heart of everything wrong with our country. It is the foundation we are built on.

After hundreds of years of killing and displacing indigenous people and stealing, killing, and enslaving black people from Africa, we spent close to two more centuries clinging to white power, continuing to displace and kill people with abandon and impunity. But when that one was “elected,” I figured it would be temporary–I gave him less than 100 days.


But the country fell for the con.

Not really. The country was the con. The vile and vicious underbelly–the truth of systemic racism–was exposed in all its ugliness. It was flaunted and shouted from the mountaintops. People in power shoved their fingers into their ears and shouted lalalalalalalalalala to drown out the din of the circus in the Executive Branch and closed their eyes to pretend not to see the 40% of Americans embracing and celebrating the blatant racism he espoused. There were even whole media outlets committed to continuing the con.

Even though there was a very mentally ill man in the White House, the leaders would neither invoke the 25th Amendment nor would they remove him from office when he had been justly impeached. They had to pretend all was normal. Because if they didn’t, their power would collapse.

But you know the end of that story. The 46th president won by the largest landslide in the history of the country. She won all 50 states. The former president and most of his cronies spent years in prison, and at least blatant racism crawled back under the rock. However, not before a great majority finally acknowledged it, and finally became accomplices with our brothers and sisters of all colors to fight systemic racism.

Now, my sweet great grandbaby, you get to join this fight because, no matter how much we fight it, it’s still not gone completely. Don’t let your guard down. We have to keep up the fight for equal justice for all.

I love you and will watch you run your race with perseverance. I’ll be the one on my feet cheering you on from the grandstands (Hebrews 12:1).

Love,

Your Nana

P.S. I’m afraid this is much more difficult than I make it sound. People of color put up with the oppression of white people like me every single day. If it’s not 2050, and anyone is still reading this, I listened to a podcast today that helps white people know how to fight the right battles. Check it out here by Myisha T. Hill, Lettie Shumate and Weeze Doran.

Day 87 in Bahrain. This is Day 52 of The Isolation Journals with Suleika Jaouad. Today’s prompt was written by Carvell Wallace.

Silent No More

Her name was Gwen and she was 8 years old, a year younger than me. She knew exactly what she was doing when she snatched that wallet from the ground, ripped out the few dollars, and dropped the incriminating wallet into the nearest garbage can. Within moments, I saw another little girl crying, flanked by an adult who was helping her look for her dropped wallet.

Looking back after all these decades, I remember that scene as clearly as if it happened yesterday. I was paralyzed with sadness for the little girl crying without the money she needed for opening day at the ball field. I watched in disbelief that Gwen could ruthlessly take her money. I was dumbfounded–literally found dumb–I did not say a word. To anyone. Until now. It wasn’t that I was unable to speak; I was unwilling to speak. I also remember that I was sad for Gwen, and I was angry that she could so effortlessly carry out that bad idea. Had I found the wallet, I believe I would have happily turned it over to the crying girl, “Look, I found this! Is this what you’re looking for?”

Well, by God’s constant grace, I grew up to be mostly the I-found-this-how-can-I-help-you person, rather than the take-the-money-and-run person at the ballpark. However, I also grew up to be mostly not angry enough to speak up about injustices. The silent person who watched Gwen take that girl’s money without so much as uttering a peep was not sad and angry enough. Whatever I feared about speaking up was stronger than my sadness and anger over the injustice.

Today that story came to my memory. It reminded me of my complicity in white supremacy.

When I was born, Jim Crow was in full swing. Even in suburban L.A., we still did plenty of racist things–the words we used, the costumes we wore, the jokes we told, the fears we nursed, the near complete segregation of ball fields, schools, shops, neighborhoods, churches and everything else I frequented.

As laws were passed to give civil rights to people of color, my family slowly began to change. I tried to become one of the ‘good’ white people. I didn’t do blatantly racist things any more. I didn’t use racist words. I made friends with people who were bused into my school in 1974. (Finally…two decades after Brown v. Board of Education!) I tried to be the good and nice person who wouldn’t take a little girl’s wallet. The person who wouldn’t be racist. The person who would never be a white supremacist.

However, even as I tried to not to be racist, I knew deep down that me being a good person would never solve society’s problem.

I rejoiced with the country when Obama was elected. I was a 30-year independent voter who temporarily became a Democrat so I could caucus for Obama in Iowa. I didn’t pay too much attention to the hatred and vitriol with which some people viewed his election and presidency. I thought they were a racist minority that was gradually getting snuffed out and sent into the crevices of society.

Then the unthinkable happened and I finally noticed. The racist vitriol, among other factors and entities, elected trump to the presidency. OK. Then I began to get it. An individual’s “goodness” or “niceness” is really not enough. This was more urgent than I had ever realized.

Thanks to the writings of Layla Saad, I now have names for what I was doing as a ‘good’ white person.

White silence.
White exceptionalism.
White apathy.

“Here are a few examples of White Apathy in action:
• White Apathy shows up as laziness, tiredness, fear, boredom, numbness, perfectionism, turning away from the news, and other apathetic feelings and actions when it comes to engaging in anti-racism practice.
• White Apathy shows up when people have done very little anti-racism work, so they don’t understand just how urgent this work is.
• It shows up as White Silence, White Exceptionalism and inaction because of your attachment to the idea that you are a ‘good white person’.”

Me and White Supremacy Workbook, page 87, by Layla Saad

White privilege.

“I think whites are carefully taught not to recognize white privilege, as males are taught not to recognize male privilege. So I have begun in an untutored way to ask what it is like to have white privilege. I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was ‘meant’ to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, assurances, tools, maps, guides, codebooks, passports, visas, clothes, compass, emergency gear, and blank checks.”

From “White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming To See Correspondences through Work in Women’s Studies” (1988), by Peggy McIntosh (You can read an excerpt by McIntosh, which includes 50 bits of daily privilege that people like me have for no reason except our skin color.)

White people, we are all complicit in keeping racism and white supremacy as strong as ever in our country.

Our institutional, systemic, toxic, and endemic racism needs dismantling.

It’s going to take education. This is black history month. Let’s get educated. We all need to stop justifying and start listening.

I don’t want to be silent anymore.