Play A New Game [on DR Thursday]

“To know what is right and not do it is the worst cowardice.” ~ Confucius

When I do not know what to do or say about the state of the world, I draw pictures. That’s been true all of my life. Apparently, when I was very young, I was in a constant state of not knowing what to do or say. I repeatedly drew an imaginary cabin in the woods. It was a place of peace and solitude. I came into this world with a bit of Thoreau imprinted on my soul.

I know things are bad when my drawings lapse into caricature. These sketches might look like nasty-grams to Mitch McConnell but they are, in truth, ruminations on our system. Last night the streets were again alive with protest. Yet another black American was murdered (in her home) and the system turned its head and looked away. A very long trail of tears. I feel like I need to climb to the top of the mountain and scream, “OUR SYSTEM IS DOING WHAT IT WAS DESIGNED TO DO!”

Suppressing black Americans, as designed into our system, is the same action as elevating white Americans. It’s a mechanism, a single action. A seesaw. This is not the first era in which citizens took to the streets to protest the inequities between black and white America. The protests are immediate and necessary but they do not come close to touching the system.

Legislation will not touch it (a system never assaults itself). Police reform will not change it as systems are great shape-shifters; a new form of suppression/elevation will arise. A system has to be acknowledged before it can be addressed and the acknowledgment can’t come from the angry people in the streets – it must come from the people in suits-and-ties who deny systemic racism exists, the ones who fear the loss of their supremacy. [Isn’t it remarkable that leaders in a country founded on slavery, celebrated lynching with picture postcards in a Jim Crow era, while a terrific battle was being fought en route to civil rights legislation were rigging tax codes and redlining and on and on and on, can deny the existence of racism? That IS the system talking].

The system is dancing right in front of our eyes. While the streets are alive with BLM protests demanding justice and equal rule of law, Mitch McConnell, awash in hypocrisy, is doing what he wants to do with no regard to precedent, rule, or ethic. The system is Lindsey Graham and his fellow red senators following their leader without shame. Laws are made of words – so are creeds and constitutions – as are ethics and morality. Words have no meaning when they are so easily discounted.

We’ve built our crumbling castle on a foundation of Manifest Destiny. A chosen people who believe they can do what they want to do to whomever stands in their way. Native Americans will tell you that government treaties were made to be broken. Words mean nothing when winning-at-all-cost is the name of the game. Laws are made of words – so are creeds and constitutions.

Winning at all cost IS the name of the game. It is the system. It is a game that cares not for who is thrust through the meat grinder. To watch Mitch is to see the system.

Winning at all cost is not governance. Undermining elections is not governance. Gerrymandering electoral maps is not governance. Suppressing voters is not governance. Whipping up fantasies about voter fraud is not governance. How is it possible that the people occupying the seats of a representative government do not believe in the democratic process?

It’s not new. It’s the system.

Our constitution and creeds will matter when our words matter, when we can say what we mean and mean what we say. Black lives will matter when the words written into our creeds and constitution guide us rather than disguise us. In the meantime, we will take another step on the road of cowardice, all the while pretending to be righteous.

It’s enough to make me return to drawing pictures of my cabin in the woods.

read Kerri’s blog post about MITCH

See And Speak [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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We were sitting on a concrete wall, taking a break, when he asked the question. I’ve been asked this very question more times than I care to count and I did what I always do: I took a breath. When you facilitate conversations on diversity and culture change, this question is always lurking somewhere in the room, waiting for a break, a side conversation, so it can be given voice without ramification. Truth often steps forward at the water cooler. It was the question that illuminated for me the real problem with race in America and the mountain we need to move. “Don’t you think black people cause their own problems?” he suggested.

Breathe.

No. I don’t. I believe privilege is blind to itself. And, isn’t this the very conversation we need to have happen in the middle of the room and not at the margins? The mark of institutional racism is that it is utterly invisible to the privileged class.

In the United States we hear a lot these days about tribes and information bubbles as if they were a new phenomenon.  They are not new. Our bubbles, like all bubbled history, is meant to cleanse the narrative to justify the indefensible, to hide the ugly behind a noble mask. Here’s a phrase from our history: The ruling class responded [to Bacon’s Rebellion] by hardening the racial caste of slavery in an attempt to divide the two races from subsequent united uprisings with the passage of The Virginia Slave Codes of 1705.

If you are white in America this might not yet have pierced your bubble. Note these phrases relative to the history you learned in school. It might help to understand the system at play in our current historical attempt to change systemic racism: Ruling class. Harden the racial caste of slavery [yes, a created caste system. The system of slavery was erected and black Americans were legally defined as lesser beings]. Divide the two races [black & white]. The point of the black/white division was and is to prevent subsequent uprisings against the ruling class. Ruling class.  The division we wrestle with was intentional, crafted for a specific purpose, and systematized. It serves the same institutional purpose to this day.

Another tidbit worth gnawing on: According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first appearance in print of the adjective white in reference to “a white man, a person of a race distinguished by a light complexion” was in 1671. Colonial charters and other official documents written in the 1600s and early 1700s rarely refer to European colonists as white.

If we are learning anything in these days of fox propaganda and pandemic tales it is the power of people to entrench in their narrative despite data, fact, and personal experience that disputes the narrative. Systematize a narrative and it is nearly impossible to challenge. No see, no hear, no speak. Systems, as I learned in school, are living things – not mechanical – and will fight to the death to keep themselves alive. We are currently watching the fight of a systemic challenge.

The question at the water cooler, “Don’t you think black people create their own problems?” was always asked in earnest. It revealed the successful hardening of racial caste, the power of the mechanism preventing the uniting of the races so as to ensure no possible subsequent uprisings. Us. Them. Bubbles. A vicious cycle.

It’s hard to see a mountain when you are sitting on it. We The People. Ruling class. These two phrases are incompatible but co-exist through the successful creation of division. It’s black and white.

We have a long history and have worked very hard not to see what is right before our eyes. The second rule of systems change: if you know where you are going then it is not change but repetition. Rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

The opportunity for change is, once again, upon us. The conversation needs to move to the center of the communal square and we need to muster the courage to step into unknown territory. Silence and denial are not now nor ever have been valid excuses for perpetuating an ugly system. We betray ourselves.

“When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up. You have to say something. You have to do something.” ~ John Lewis

 

read Kerri’s blog post about SILENCE

 

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Don’t Go Home [on DR Thursday]

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House on Fire. 2004-ish. Watercolor. And, yes, I was all over copying Guernica.

“The continual retreat from the discomfort of authentic racial engagement in a culture infused with racial disparity limits the ability to form authentic connections across racial lines, and results in a perpetual cycle that works to hold racism in place.” ~ Robin DiAngelo, White Fragility

I confess to rewriting this post. What I wrote initially was pedantic and preachy. So, this is a second go-round.

We’ve been hearing this question much in these past days: why don’t things ever change? Here’s an answer I learned in school: a society is a living system and, like all living things, it will fight to the death when threatened with change. Why we can’t seem to “solve” our problem with racial disparity and the dehumanization of black people? It’s built into our system. The system, a complex and living thing, will fight to the death to keep the injustice securely in place.

That’s a heady answer and somewhat hopeless. Its abstraction makes it a safe and somewhat antiseptic response.

I lived in Los Angeles in 1992. My apartment was in the hills so I had a good vantage point to watch the rioting and the city burn. When it felt too unsafe, I fled the city. I had a safe place to go.

A few years later, working with a school district, the head of the Black Student Union asked me to come in and work with her students. MLK day was fast approaching and the students, preparing presentations for the day, were in rebellion. They were mad. They didn’t want to read speeches about peace and justice when those ideals were nowhere on their horizon. I thought it was my job to help them give voice to what they wanted to say. It was my first conscious lesson in my white-blindness. The frightened parents of the students descended. I’ll never forget the mother and father that pulled me aside, saying to me, “You don’t understand. If they say what they want to say they’ll be killed.” Their terror was real. They had to teach their children a lesson that was the opposite of what my parents taught me.

To call it a problem is to reduce it to the level of mechanics. It is to pretend (or hope) that a few changes in the law or better policing will do the trick.  To treat it like a problem guarantees that we’ll recreate it. This is not a problem, this is a pattern. It is a cycle. It is a relationship.

The pattern is currently in our faces. The pattern is not only the death of another black person. The pattern is also what white America chooses to do – or not do-  with the knowledge of it. What is the story we tell ourselves about ourselves that makes it possible to stand in the fire with people of color during the protests but walk-on once the fire subsides? It is simply this: I get to go home. I get to drive out of LA when things feel too unsafe. I have someplace to go. I get to go home when the officer is prosecuted or a law is changed or a commission empaneled, dust off my hands, and say that I did my part.

Why don’t things ever change?

I was stunned when those parents pulled me aside. At first, I couldn’t believe that they were going to silence their children when their children had something so important to say. It made my head spin. And then I went home. And then I realized that they couldn’t go home. There was no place in this “living system” where they were safe. That was what they were trying to tell me. It was what Martin Luther King was trying to tell us. It is what the protesters in the streets today are trying to get us to see/admit/realize. We are watching a living system built on racial division and inequality fight to the death because change is knocking.

What if we realized that we cannot simply go home and forget about it?

 

 

read Kerri’s blog post about HOUSE ON FIRE

 

 

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