I am my brother’s keeper, Part 2

Story Interrupted by Tragedy

I was about to push “send” on part 2 of a blog planned to honor my Native American grandmother, on today, her birthday. While a tribute to her, the message was twofold: Native peoples have been marginalized almost to the point of annihilation and we must all speak up when we see injustice. That message is important and will still be posted. But, how could I post that message without first acknowledging the most recent horrors against black people.

George Floyd and Christian Cooper.

There has been a flood of outrage at the murder of George Floyd and the malicious behavior directed against Christian Cooper. Through immediate actions and words, many are living out the expression, “my brother’s keeper.” That is good.  But once again, racism — power and privilege — was at the core.  Regardless of the fact that George Floyd was on the ground, handcuffed, saying he couldn’t breathe, and that the officer knew the incident was being recorded, that yet-to-be-named Minneapolis police officer knelt on Floyd’s neck for at least five minutes until he was dead. Regardless of the fact that Christian Cooper was only asking Amy Cooper (no relation) to leash her dog so he could bird watch, with forethought and calculation, she called the police, positioning herself as the proverbial (white) damsel-in-distress threatened by a black man. Both the white police officer and the white dog walker instinctively understood and acted on their power, their societal position, their white privilege.

We are our brothers’ keepers. We must take responsibility and transform our world into candle and curtainwhat it should be. The officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck and those who stood by and watched have been fired. Will they now be charged with murder? The dog walker has been fired from her job. Now what?  Justice for George Floyd and Christian Cooper will be just that, justice for Floyd and Cooper, vitally important, but still only justice in two isolated, specific incidents.

Racial justice will occur when we look at, and change, the systems that create the police officers who seem not to fear killing an unarmed man or the bias that shone proudly as Amy Cooper told Christian Cooper what she would say on her call to the police. Racism and bias are fundamental in America. They are the foundation that gives structure to America — our (in)justice system, education system, health care system, the list goes on.  And the bias is so embedded in all that we see and do – our culture – that we have to work at catching ourselves and others as those often far-too-subtle words and actions are revealed.

Systemic/structural racism and implicit bias are real. George Floyd’s murderer and Amy Cooper are just the most recent ones to pull back the curtain.

 

 

 

 

I am my brother’s keeper. What about you? Part 1

“With enough butter, anything is good,” said noted chef Julia Child. I agree, in moderation that is. Throughout my lifetime, Land O’Lakes has been my family’s preferred brand of butter. If that hadn’t been the case, I might have missed the recent tweet from land o lakes butterEdgar Villanueva, lauding the company for removing what he called a “racist Native American image.” That bright yellow packaging caught my eye in my Twitter feed.

Edgar Villanueva is a member of the Lumbee tribe of North Carolina. I point that out because unless you are a member of the affronted group, it is sometimes difficult to see racial offenses. The young Native woman who, until February, was centered on the Land O’Lakes package, offended him. Even within the oppressed group, the stereotype is sometimes missed. Think how many times you have read about Natives saying that the Indian-related names of sports teams are not slurs. I suspect, that like many, they have internalized their own oppression, a condition in which marginalized groups accept what the dominant society believes about them, like Stockholm Syndrome. They live and breathe the same media messages as everyone else.  Sometimes they don’t even see the racism, at least not immediately. It often takes someone to point out the stereotypes and their impact — an Edgar Villanueva, for example.

A few years ago, at the height of the conversation about the name of the football team in my city, Washington, DC, I attended a seminar at the National Museum of the American Indian. “From Tarzan to Tonto” explored stereotypes as distinct and ubiquitous as the savage Indian warrior to the beautiful—and submissive—Indian maiden (the logo of Land O’Lakes). The images are everywhere, most of us just don’t see them. And when wetarzan-flyer-final1-840x531 do, we think many are benign. But as I know, and you do too probably, any image that reinforces negative characteristics, particularly without a counterweight of accurate depictions, is not benevolent.

If you are of a certain age, you probably grew up watching Western movies or Western-themed television shows. The Indian was either attacking the white settlers or was the humble, and often monosyllabic, sidekick to the white star. All these images planted in you… specific thoughts and ‘truths’ about Native peoples.

Never did you routinely see images portraying the viciousness of white settlers as they took over the land of the Natives. Or the inhumanity of the U.S. government forcing Indian children into residential schools with the explicit purpose: ‘kill the Indian in him and save the man.’

Today, without the periodic attention given to the names of sports teams, I suspect most rarely think about Native populations. American Indians are perceived as historical, a people of the past. And, largely, they almost are — they were separated, their land taken, their cultural dances and religious ceremonies prohibited by law. Their sense of self almost obliterated by a country intent on their annihilation or certainly their full assimilation. Without the somewhat recent convening of multiple tribes to protest the Keystone pipeline, many people may not have thought about Native populations in any sense of the present. I am thinking about Native peoples … now. It’s recent though, a new reality for me.

Sticks and stones—the weight of them over generations—not only hurt our bones, they hurt our souls. And a picture, negative to race or creed —whether intentionally or inadvertently — does have power greater than a thousand words. Be the change you want to see in the world.

NOTE: Part 2 of this post focused on American Natives will be live on May 27, 2020, my maternal grandmother’s birthday.

White people, step it up

Picture this.  The coronavirus is over. Scientists have given the “all clear”.  One million white people have gathered on the Mall in Washington, DC with signs  that read “Black People protestingLives Matter” “I am marching for Armaud Arbrey”  “I march for Trayvon Martin” “I march for the thousands of black men and women imprisoned who simply can’t pay bail to get out”  “I march for clean water in Flint”  “I march for quality grocery stores in black and brown neighborhoods.” “I march for the black people who white leaders don’t listen to.”

Can you see it? Can you see one million white people marching for black lives, for black bodies?

I appreciate all my white friends who have posted their outrage on social media about armaud arbreythe killing of Armaud Arbrey. I value your allyship and your sense of humanity. I also value your public statements. Many think the thoughts, but then don’t write the words where one of their friends, or family, or colleagues might see them. “You know,” they say, “I have to pick the right moment.”

White people, as Nikole Hannah-Jones wrote in her 1619 essay, “Our democracy’s founding ideals were false when they were written. Black Americans have fought to make them true.” I’m not saying that white people didn’t participate in the Montgomery Bus Boycott or Selma or the March on Washington or in countless other protests to make America’s promise true. You have. But, I need you to step it up.   America needs you to step it up.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Black people’s voices have been, and continue to be, powerful in enabling our own liberation, 400 years ago, 200 years ago and today. But to paraphrase racial justice advocate, Dr. Robin DiAngelo, “Could women have gotten the vote without the leadership of men?  No.” Black people can march, and will march, until the soles of our feet are raw. We will protest until our voices are strained to a whisper, but white people, we need you to step it up.

In large measure, your people run Congress … your people lead states … your people run business, the Fortune 500 companies … your people control the media. You run America.  Raise your voices. Step it up.

 

Equity—Not Equality—In a Post-Coronavirus America

“It’s just not fair.”

You don’t hear that only from your kids. It comes from adult friends and family, too. We all seem committed to a level of fairness that, well, just isn’t fair… not really.

I write this Daughters of the Dream blog as my way of revealing racial truths, at least racial realities, as I see them. These “truths,” like the myth of fairness, might be overlooked if not pointed out.

The current situation with coronavirus offers many stark examples of these “truths” covered by a veneer of fairness. I will look at just two: health care and economic viability. Just a 4 minute read. Then let me know — any “aha” moments or did reading it prompt a different/expanded perspective?

Many have said that COVID-19 shows no preference for race, gender, or income status. All—any of us—can get it. Well, that’s true, and by that measure, it is fair. However, we now see that susceptibility to the disease and treatment for the disease really is not.

Headlines reveal that race-specific data isn’t always collected. But when it is, it shows more African Americans are dying from the disease. Race-based treatment of African-Americans in the health care system and more deadly outcomes isn’t new. Stories from slavery reveal experimentation on humans that rivals Josef Mengele in Nazi prison camps. In the 1930s, African-American men in Alabama thought they were part of a research project to determine the impact of different treatments for syphilis. But their disease went untreated, and the test continued for decades. Most will know the name of Henrietta Lacks, whose cells, taken without her permission in the 1950s, form the basis of many medical breakthroughs and treatments today. But few will know the name of Sterling Matthews. A 60-year-old diabetic, cancer survivor, told in late March 2020 he had pneumonia and sent home by a suburban hospital in my hometown, Richmond, VA. He died a few days later after finally being diagnosed with coronavirus.

Our pain thresholds are perceived as higher, and the value of our lives seems to be lower. This isn’t just historical. It’s not in the past, it’s ongoing. This is now. Is it fair? No.

The perception is the disease affects all equally, but that isn’t true. African-Americans are more susceptible because of a higher incidence than their white counterparts of asthma, hypertension/heart disease, and diabetes, the main conditions that the World Health Organization state place a person at highest risk for coronavirus.

It’s. Just. Not. Fair.

Stimulus checks. Everyone with an individual income of less than $75,000 will get $1200 in the next few weeks. On the surface, this appears fair, right? Everyone is getting the same amount. No money to the rich. Good. This makes sense.

EqualityEquityIf you have a regular job with the State of Virginia, your paycheck has continued during this crisis. Now you are also getting $1200. Fair? What if you are a self-employed hairstylist paid based on customers coming into that now-closed shop? Or a restaurant wait-staff employee who must survive from tips no longer coming in? All making less than $75,000/year. Fair?

According to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), there is a considerable racial distinction in who earns what they call poverty wages, hourly wages that would place a person below the federal poverty line if he/she were the sole wage earner for the family. 2017 data shows that African American workers are 1.5 times more likely to be earning what EPI refers to as poverty wages than their white counterparts. LatinX workers are 1.8 times more likely than whites to be earning poverty wages.

So, is the blanket provision of $1200 to all with incomes under $75,000 fair? No, it is equal.

It’s. Just. Not. Fair.

According to many surveys of American values, equality is second only to individualism as what defines us as Americans. That needs to change. Equity, not equality, must become the new watchword for America. We must realize that we aren’t all starting in the same place. One size does not—and never has—fit all.

We now have the opportunity to reshape our country in so many ways. Coronavirus has placed us on pause. What can we do in the post-COVID-19 America that will help to address some of the inequities that exist?

I wish I had answers and not just some insights and a few questions. I know the individualism that America celebrates, that pull yourself up by your bootstraps mentality, isn’t true. Everyone who has achieved a level of success has had help. Sometimes for a single generation, but it is often multi-generational support that has bolstered a family. America must become more focused on helping those who haven’t had the opportunities or who haven’t been able to avail themselves of those opportunities. The solutions are out there. Probably—hopefully—developing in the minds of those with a much higher pay grade than mine. It will take the collective thinking of economists, educators, social scientists, community organizers, and working folks to define the problems and the barriers fully and then craft a new America. It can be done.

The. Time. Is. Now.