“Caught Up”

There’s this sort of internal breathlessness that comes up when I reel through my twitter feed trying to catch as catch can important events, significant reads, personal check-ins all in the space of a few hours a day. I feel like I can’t possibly catch up. Then I  begin to ask myself the weightier question: what it would actually mean to be or feel “caught up?” And that’s when the other meaning hits me: “caught up” as in immersed, drowning in, emotionally involved and preoccupied. Caught up.

So which is it? Which one am I striving for? How much room is there for a both/and proposition? And what if it’s neither?

Ultimately, the answers do not much matter. I will never be fully “caught up” in this steady stream of information, so I can stop trying to be right now. And sometimes, thank God, I have the capacity to become “caught up” in someone’s story or message. My empathy muscles get a workout when I open myself to words, images and thoughts which move me, which extend deep into my feelings and remind me of who I am  in the world and that I am not alone here.

Recently I have been deeply moved by words by women of color in particular. Their messages, their presence, their use of voice, the chosen topics have reached me on deep levels. One poet creates a sacred space for me to contemplate the complexity of self in the hair I wear. An author confirms that I am in fact in my right mind when I experience the fear of not being liked and I persist in telling my story anyway. A speaker illustrates for her audience the prevalence and perniciousness of unconscious bias and reminds me that I have more to share in this life than I or the world may initially give me credit for.

This poem, ‘Invocation’ by Ariana Brown

Or this commencement address by Chimamanda Adichie.

This TED talk by Yassmin Abdel Magied

http://www.ted.com/talks/yassmin_abdel_magied_what_does_my_headscarf_mean_to_you

Each woman in her own way, speaks to me like someone who knows me; like someone who knows of my struggles. Each message reaches me in a place of humility and also pride. I identify and feel personally addressed.

There are many sources from which to draw inspiration and meaning. For now I feel grateful for the willingness to pause long enough to be moved. To repeat the exercise twice or more in order to experience the impact a little differently each time. To hold off before jumping onto the adjacent bandwagon of ideas that will not hold still.  To do this – to stop, take in and gradually digest such works of personal significance takes practice and a certain fortitude. It is not always easy to linger a moment longer because I want to let a feeling last or allow an idea to resonate to its full extent. Our current tools of communication hardly encourage this. They constantly remind us of how much may be passing us by.

I say, let the things pass for they will likely bounce around again and our gaze will not have been missed. If I want to experience resonance that is full, rich and lasting, finding and creating space in myself has to remain a priority. Chasing the latest leads me in the wrong direction. Taking time to experience and appreciate the profound bring me that much closer to being the self who can allow herself to get “caught up” in the most meaningful ways.  The poet, the author, the speaker they all live in me in some mysterious and beautiful way. The highest honor I can offer them is to continue to create space in me where their messages may land and find a home.

It’s Not Only White People Who Need to Learn about Race

I started to write a post about how much I still have to learn about race in the United States and quickly realized that I could not tackle that in under 700 words, nor would I like to try. For me as an African-American woman there are all kinds of assumptions out there about what I should know about race and racism. There is less talk about what I may need to learn.

That said, some recent readings have opened my eyes to the ways in which race plays such a significant role in American society still, even though much of the rhetoric around racial socialization (color-blind, post-racial) would have us believe otherwise.  My encounter with each new text revealed layers of my own misconceptions, false beliefs and fuzzy comprehension.

The first read proved to be a conceptual game-changer:

Reproducing Racism: How Everyday Choices Lock in White Advantage, by Daria Roithmayr, NYU Press 2014. This book blew me away with its sobriety and clarity in describing how current racial disparities in American society may be locked in even if all forms of discrimination were to cease today. Roithmayr’s case is well argued and draws on current research in law, sociology and economics. She writes in the introduction:

Where conventional models focus on intentional discrimination, the lock-in model focuses on self-reinforcing structural processes like social networks and family wealth distribution. The lock-in model emphasizes both the unfairness of early anticompetitive conduct and the need for significant government “antitrust” intervention to dismantle white monopoly on advantage.

Reading this book felt like an odd form of cleansing. At last I understood much more about the world I grew up in and how my family’s history is reflected in her descriptions of the early consolidation of white advantage. Roithmayr explains not just how white advantage became the norm in such areas as political participation, housing, education, and employment, but also how it perpetuates itself even when steps are taken to break the cycle. This text is essential reading for anyone who struggles to understand white privilege and every form of racial gap we can identify in current American society.

Shortly after completing the Lock-In book, this link to Black Women in the United States, 2014,  arrived in my inbox.  The report was published by the Black Women’s Roundtable of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation. Just reading the executive summary, I got chills while recognizing how many significant  struggles remain, particularly in the areas of health care and economic advancement.  And these disparities despite remarkable increases in educational attainment.  Although there are points to celebrate, I was struck by how much ground must still be covered by black women in the US.

Finally, I ran across an article on the National Association of Independent Schools’ website: What White Children Need to Know about Race. At this juncture I had to recognize that in spite of my efforts to make sense of my own racial experiences through targeted reading, reflection and substantial dialogue, I still have much to learn about facilitating and initiating dialogue regarding race with my students, colleagues and even within my family.  This article by Ali Michael and Elenora Bartoli details the reasons why white families are likely to avoid talking explicitly about race with their children, the implications this tends to have for white children’s understanding of race and racism and then outlines specific steps that schools can take to actively support the development of positive racial identities. What I appreciated so much about this article was the authors’ capacity to show what can be done without shaming the reader for not knowing. They conclude with this:  “If we want a racially just world, we need racially aware schools.”

Here’s my lesson: it’s not just white people who need to learn about the dynamics and realities of race in America. It’s me, too. These readings alert me to the fact  that each of us has the opportunity to change and influence racial dynamics for the better, now and in the future. And before I can make a difference, I have to understand difference in many more ways than one. The buck starts here.

And I’m about to go read Ta-Nehisi Coates, “The Case for Reparations.”