Daymaker - a person who performs acts of kindness with the intention of making the world a better place.
~ David Wagner
, author of Life as a Daymaker; how to change the world by making someone's day ~

DayMaker - any thought, word, or deed that spreads happiness, compassion, or fruitful ideas.
~ Annis Cassells ~

Monday, September 21, 2015

Conversations about Race: A Book and Real Life

Last month I learned of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s powerful book, Between the World and Me. My friend Cristina spoke about it as we began our Conversations about Race. This was my first introduction to the Atlantic national correspondent.

Part memoir, part history lesson, Coates writes a book-sized letter to his teen-aged son about being a Black boy and surviving growing up to become a Black man in America. It’s a reminder and warning to his son and other young Black men to be vigilant. Jeopardy is close at hand, eminent, in the form of racism.
“Racism dislodges brains, blocks airways, extracts organs, cracks bones, breaks teeth. You must never look away from this.”

The incident that occurred last week with the 16-year old Black boy being taken down in Stockton, California, illustrates Coates’s words. According to the article I read, the teenager had been jaywalking and when told to get on the sidewalk by a policeman, he did not comply and used “obscene language.”

The ensuing “scuffle” resulted in the boy being held against a tree with his knees up, the officer pinning the boy’s ankles tight to his body by pressing his baton against them. The teen tried to move the baton away, and the office told him stop resisting and then struck boy about the head, twice, with the baton. Soon, nine other officers arrived on the scene, four of whom grabbed the slender kid and pushed him to the ground. The teen was handcuffed and taken into police custody.

There are those who will say he should have done as instructed, shouldn’t have mouthed off, shouldn’t have resisted, shouldn’t have been jaywalking in the first place. Maybe so, but do those actions warrant the harsh treatment this kid, hardly more than a child, received? 

As any parent or teacher of adolescents knows, these behaviors and attitudes are typical during the teen years. They also know that to achieve teens’ compliance, situations must be dealt with by means other than physical force. I recognize that police officers have a formidable and dangerous job to do and most do it well. But I can't help but think their training should include child and adolescent development and strategies for working with difficult teens.

Regarding  Coates’s account and the Stockton incident, an observation from another friend and writer, Charlotte, came to mind: “There was a culture of superiority among the Whites that hung on from the beginning of slavery in this country… And it hasn't changed. Maybe, outwardly, since, except for the police, we don't go around killing and enslaving Blacks. But it still festers in their gut. How can it not be that today's Black has a terrifying chip on his shoulder?”

A “chip” and an unwillingness to continue to surrender, a need to protect his body. A young Black man must understand, as Coates relates, that “In America, it is traditional to destroy the Black body -- it is Heritage.” Coates wants his son to realize, “You are a Black boy, and you must be responsible for your body in a way that other boys cannot know.”

For all the cautionary words and myriad examples of racism, Between the World and Me is also an anthem to the strength, resilience, and struggle of Blacks. Coates declares, “They made us into a race. We made ourselves into a people.”

It’s a revelation, an honest entrance into his world and life experience. It’s a way that anyone, Blacks and Whites, can place themselves in his context.

In her assessment of the book, my friend Cristina said, “What I appreciated and respected so much about Coates’s Between the World and Me was his courage in looking at himself and then turning that "truth lens" on racism in our society. As he said : "Race is the child of racism, not the father." I have never read a book which is as honest and truthful as this one.”

What good book that explores questions and observations and provides insight about race can you recommend?
~ xoA ~

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Conversations about Race: TalkBack #2

Folks are talking about race. Facebook and blog comments, personal emails, and face-to-face discussions pop up daily. Today’s TalkBack shares a few responses.


A recent message came from my friend Cristina as she reflected on her behavior and feelings. Her words prompted conversations between our family members about “double consciousness.”

“When I interact with a person who seems of African background, I tend to have this heightened sense of "double consciousness". I'm monitoring myself and also wondering what that person of color is
thinking/feeling about me and the situation as we interact. I sense the other person may be doing the same. Tellingly, this only happens to me in America.”

“Double consciousness” is the phrase that struck Judy and me. Judy remarked on her own double consciousness. She pays attention to her words, tone, and body language, attempting to ensure they come across to show she’s receptive and friendly. “I think a large percentage of white people, namely those who are sensitive to race issues, feel this way too,” she said.

Cristina considered the reasons for her heightened awareness and monitoring, “Part of it has to do with the past slavery and continuing segregation/prejudice in America and my feelings of shame and guilt and anger over this. Part of it has to do with trying to imagine myself and my ancestors living in slavery and segregation. And who knows what else?”

When I shared the gist of Cristina’s post with my brother, Thomas, he related it to his job transporting disabled and elderly folks. He told of the sensitivity training bus drivers must complete and how he checks clients out to see how they might be taking his words and attempts to provide assistance.

Though we may not be conscious of it, I think most people monitor themselves and others in any conversation where the folks they are talking with matter to them. We do it with our family members, employees, friends, and strangers we want to get to know. So, when dealing with someone of a different ethnic group, if we want to be open to becoming acquainted, or developing a relationship, we exercise consciousness.

We all notice differences.  How individuals, groups, communities, or countries view those differences influences how they accept or treat people.

I am sure the people who claim to be "colorblind" have the same ability to see race that we all have. I am guessing what they mean is color doesn't matter to them in terms of accepting people as equal, friends, whatever,” friend and colleague Joan Kerr said. (See the blog comments for Joan’s full text.)

My poet friend Halia Pushkar shared, “I see this partly from a Canadian point of view, where history has been different, but prejudice there has also thrived, against immigrants, against religions, against native people, against differentness.”

Another friend, Sandy Burris, consciously chose her path. (See Sandy’s full text in the blog comments.) “Having grown up very racially isolated, I determined to provide my daughter with a DIFFERENT experience. It's been easy . . . my particular hobbies (especially dance) surround me with such a variety of very cool people--who come in all colors, sizes, shapes, ages, and sexual preferences. I think really, it's not colorblindness we seek, but simply openness to different ways of being.”

Some of us welcome differences. Others experience fear, either because of the unknown and/or imagined possibilities or because of misinformation and stories.

It seems to me, two things are a beginning toward improving race relations: 1) our willingness to experience and embrace differences and 2) taking a look at our interactions and noticing how we’re being received and responded to.

What do you think?

~ xoA ~

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Conversations about Race: Colorblindness

Teachers shift their eyes left and upward as they mentally go along the rows or seating groups, counting on their fingers when asked how many Black or Latino students are in their class. In our teaching mode, we notice who seems to be understanding, who looks puzzled, who is not paying attention. We look at the whole, see our class as one entity, but when working with individuals, we often need to pay attention to their ethnic and cultural variations.

A generation or two ago in America, we heard people -- mostly White people -- say, “I’m colorblind.” They meant a person’s skin color didn’t matter to them. Peace. Love. Brotherhood.

Today, Black folks flinch when they hear that phrase. Some view it as a sign of disrespect. Others see it as racist.

I’m not colorblind. I notice other people of color -- on the street, in a hallway, in a store, at a highway rest stop. But, I don’t think, “Oh, there’s a White person.” when I see one. That is, unless I am traveling in Africa. When in Mexico or South America and I see a White person, I wonder, “Do they speak English?”

I’m not colorblind. I notice whether a newly-met person is Black, White, Asian, or Latino. For one thing, I’m human, curious, interested in people and who they are. As a writer, I observe physical features, voices, accents, and mannerisms. On observation, I may speculate about people’s historical background and what they might have experienced in their lifetime.

Regardless of a person’s ethnicity, I look for ways we can connect. I see them, but my decision to interact with them or to become friends is not based on skin color or cultural group. It’s about our commonalities, whether we have similar interests, values, or upbringing.

Do we automatically become friends? No. But we have a starting place and a good chance. How they treat me and others, whether we can laugh together, our ability to listen to and respect each others’ point of view when our beliefs and experiences are not in harmony, the truth of our words, and the trust we build. These factors nurture friendship.

How comfortable do you feel in stepping outside your own group to make new friends? Has doing so affected your outlook and thinking? And, how do you think being your friend has affected them?
~ xo A ~