Category Archives: Life

The “divisiveness” of people of color in white privilege thought

I don’t write about race. It isn’t what I’m compelled to share thoughts about, on the internet anyway. I’ve criticized myself for this, as I feel it shows I’m not taking risks, putting myself out there, adding to the public discourse when we need more people engaged in it. I’m afraid of this conversation, as a white woman. There are many aspects of my white privilege that I feel guilty for and have not taken steps to reconcile; and by reconcile, I mean taking action as to move past the guilt, and not make it the primary motivator of my thoughts concerning racial inequalities and my role within them.

I don’t believe we are in a post-racial society. I don’t believe that the best way to go about addressing race is to be “color-blind”. I don’t believe that white people experience the same struggles as people of color. I believe many, if not all, systems within the US have been formed with and are currently operating from an oppressive agenda that specifically targets people of color. I do think these systems thrive on poverty, both economic and educational – and yes, that does include white people, but I don’t believe this is ever an excuse to shift the conversation into one of class without race.

I write these statements as a reaction to some conversation on Twitter between Black Girl Dangerous and a white woman who identified as a human rights activist. The white woman called BGD’s recent talk at PSU “divisive” because she 1- doesn’t take Q and A from white people in the audience and 2- talks about race (I’m assuming in a way that calls white people to task, but I wasn’t there).  She asked BGD to “humanize all” to promote a collaborative conversation. BGD and her brigade then proceeded to rip this white woman a new one because she had accused BGD of “shutting people out”.

The anger and the attack resonated with me in that it made me uncomfortable. If I had been that white woman at BGD’s talk, there’s a very good chance I would have recoiled the same way. I would have felt “punished” or “shut out” or “attacked”. As a survivor of sexual abuse, or just being a woman, a little voice in my head may have said, “But I’ve experience struggle in similar ways.” I may have wanted to join in the conversation just as much as this white woman did.

As a white person, it’s the defensiveness that indicates I (we) have not interrogated our role of white privilege as thoroughly as we must. When we react and say “Person of Color- you are being divisive!”, we’re really saying, “Stop making us feel so bad about who we are!” I believe this is a false reaction, one that is fueled by our learned need to stay powerful, and stems from our comfort in always being heard. While I have experienced struggle, degradation, oppressive circumstances as a woman, it has not been outside of my white privilege. When I have chosen to speak, I have been listened to. My experiences and my white femaleness have not affected the relevant degree of success or ease with which I can live my life.

Additionally, the need on the part of this white woman for “collaborative conversation” is problematic. What BGD and others like her call for is that white people take responsibility for their own interrogation of white privilege because they can, and because people of color aren’t there for our own edification or examination. It is turning the conversation around, placing the onus on us to figure out our own agenda before thinking we’re ready to enter into authentic dialogue and action about race, inequality and oppression. Much of the time, “collaborative conversation” means the conversation is about us, white people and our feelings about race, white privilege and the like. It again takes away from the dialogue people of color are having and need to continue having in order to build solidarity and strength; in order to fight for space and recognition within a world of white privilege.

I am not brave for writing this, as perhaps people will say and have said to other white people; championing themselves for talking about white privilege, how afraid we are to examine it, and how amazing it is when we finally open our mouths to challenge it. It is not brave; it is our responsibility. This is the conversation we need to be involved in: as listeners, as learners, as supporters. Additionally, my opinions are not new or original about the conversation. This is a baby step in thought and action, that I have to continue to nurture, and call upon others within my circle of white friends, family and colleagues to do the same.

*I don’t tag BGD because I’m not interested in linking for any type of reader-profit. If you want to read more about Mia Mackenzie and the writings of other people of color, please visit blackgirldangerous.org.

laugh mother cry

The product of a writing exercise inspired by the piece “Why I Write” by Terry Tempest Williams, designed and led by the talented teaching artist Alice George:

by Daniel Valentine

by Daniel Valentine

I mother to avoid being a mother

I mother because I fear I will have no children to call my own

I mother to emulate my mother

I mother, filling a hole of giving that is always with me

I mother to keep my heart beating, my soul uplifted

I mother to push away pain

I mother because it’s what I was taught to do and I resent it

I mother so no one feels the pain of abandonment

I mother the hungry, even when their mouths are full

I mother to be a father, sister, brother, auntie, uncle

I mother because I miss my grandmothers and I do not know how to replace them

I mother because I accept the responsibility of other people’s children

I mother to love and feel loved

I mother because I used to work in a place where no mothers existed, fighting the power  that brought children to this place, saying no Fear, no Hopelessness, no Loneliness — these children are mine

Going Home to Dolly

My nonno, my Italian grandfather, passed away this morning. That means I have no more grandparents. Want a grandparent? Don’t ask me! I’m tapped.

Ah, gallow’s humor. Or is it gallows humor? Who is Gallow if it’s his/her/their humor?

My nonno…I won’t lie, he wasn’t this outstanding citizen of the world. He was cranky and miserable; he didn’t treat his children well as they grew up. He always said, “Everyone’s out to get you,” and “Don’t trust nobody!” or “I just want to die,” in this morbid, slightly paranoid way. But I loved him.  When my nonna was alive, they lived only 5 minutes from my parents’ house for the majority of my childhood.  They were my brother and mine’s regular babysitters, always taking us to their home or coming over to visit. My nonno would teach me how to draw and paint; he was a self-taught oil painter who used to make his own brushes out of cloth strips. His oil paintings covered the walls of our house, mostly landscapes and single portraits.  My nonno said he never painted smiling people, because the world wasn’t like that. We would have dinner with them at least a few times a week.  My nonna was a phenomenal cook and would bring over baked ziti, foccaccia, profiteroles, meatloaf…believe me, you’ve never had Italian food like hers, not even at the Olive Garden. And my nonno would call her “Dolly” – “Dahhlly,” he would say — that’s what she has on her gravestone now under her name.

One of nonno's many oil paintings.

One of nonno’s many oil paintings.

Nonno was a captivating storyteller and a jokester. As my nonna was ailing, I started recording both of them telling stories of growing up in Italy, fighting in World War II, raising their kids in a railroad apartment in Brooklyn. Nonno didn’t like Jewish people because he had worked at a garment factory for a Jewish guy who was cheap and mean.  But when I brought home Dan, who’s Jewish, nonno immediately liked him because, “He’s a good guy.  He got a job.” When really, it was the fact that Dan sat and listened to his stories, asked him questions and spent time with him when the rest of the family wanted a break. Nonno would tell me, “that man — he really loves you!” I didn’t want to acknowledge what he saw for a long time, but he was right. He knew a soulmate when he saw one.

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Nonna

After my nonna died, my nonno was revealed in a way. Without her, he said he had nothing to live for, and so was nothing to the world. I know there are statistics regarding long-term relationships about the surviving partner dying usually within a year from their partner’s passing; that’s what was happening to nonno. Even though nonna and nonno fought like crazy, drove each other nuts, they Loved in a big, capitalized way, even into their 80s. It wasn’t the healthiest love, but it gave their lives meaning. Nonna and nonno met in Italy when they were in their early teens; nonna said she knew she was going to marry nonno from that very moment. Nonna was constantly jealous of the older woman who lived across the street from them in their retirement complex. Nonna thought this woman was trying to steal nonno from her, especially when the woman put up a sign in her garden that had an innocuous quote about love on it. My nonna called other women “chickens,” implying that nonno was indeed a rooster, but her rooster only.

I realize that in a way, I loved nonno because of nonna. As an elderly man, it was hard to love nonno because his outlook on life was so bleak.  But with nonna, either alive or in memory, I loved him because she made him a better person. As a child and into adulthood, I could see that they complimented each other in how much they loved their family. We were the center of their universe, and that space overflowed with affection everyday of their lives.

I am sad because my nonno will not be at our wedding. I was really hoping he would make it because I wanted a grandparent there – it just felt important to me as a representation of my life cycle. But also because I wanted something of my nonna there with me; that through his eyes, she’d be able to see her earring that I made into my engagement ring or her wedding picture I’d put up at our ceremony…I miss being able to talk about my wedding planning with her because I know it would have brought her so much joy.  I don’t speak about my wedding in serious or detailed terms with many people, but I would have told her everything, over and over, as much as she wanted to hear it.  Ultimately though, what I want is my nonna and nonno together, when they are their happiest. And that’s how they’ll be at our wedding this summer.

There was a nurse, no doubt of the chicken variety, who was with my nonno when he passed this morning. She said he had a little smile on his face as he stopped breathing. I’m positive it was because he was finally going home to his Dolly.

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