Greetings everyone, Just to let you know the Race Story ReWrite Team is conducting a workshop in Tucker, Georgia and March 28, 2015. If you are in the area or know people in the area please encourage them to attend! Also make sure to RSVP.
From the Team
A place for the Race Story ReWrite team to clarify and expand on the project’s core concepts through blog posts by team members, links to articles and interviews, and contributions from guest bloggers. Come back often for updates and share your favorite content with your friends.
Almost two years ago Phyllis, Gene and I, with a lot of help from our friends and family, began the process of developing the Race Story Rewrite concept and project. We realized at that point that the rewrite concept was very simple and yet very profound. In the short time since the passing of Mr. Mandela, we’ve realized it on an even deeper level.
Seeing Heaven in the Face of Black Men (www.heaveninthefaceofblackmen.com) was published on August 28, 2009. That is over four years ago and still, when I hear myself say the title out loud, equating the image of heaven with Black men, something inside me just feels good. I remain excited about the possibilities of this image playing a part in changing the image of Black Men in America, from within and from without, as both are important. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Ik4vx1pUf0) I said in my book that I will know that America has come a long way on the road to racial healing and justice when we expect to, want to and actually see heaven in the face of Black men. I truly believe progress has been made in that regard and I also believe that the remaining hurdles are foreboding.
So my last two blogs (see racestoryrewrite.com) have been about learning to rid myself of negative expectations when interacting across race, particularly with white men. Because of my experiences, that has been my bugaboo over the years. I mentioned my commitment to treat white folks individually rather than based on past experiences. I also mentioned a specific example of a white male filmmaker (Brian Grimm) who wanted to interview me for his new documentary film Racial Taboo and how my commitment was tested before, during and after the interview.
I recently wrote a blog about my transformation of consciousness regarding how I want to treat White men. In short I had determined that I was not going to allow conditioned responses to past negative experiences dictate how I treat White men I meet in my daily life. I am not going to allow those negative experiences to rob me of my humanity and the person I choose to be. I concluded by implying that I am still a work in progress. Fast forward to the day I met Brian, a white filmmaker who wanted to do a film about race. A good friend of mine who was African American suggested I hear him out. So I did.
The example of touching a hot stove and getting burned has been used over and over again to share the impact of conditioning. The idea is that if you get burned once or twice by a hot stove, the next time you are near a stove you won’t touch it for fear of getting burned yet again. I have had good experiences with White men in my life but I have also had that “getting burned” experience with far too many. Consequently, both consciously and subconsciously, I’ve been leery and suspicious of White men upon first meeting them and would often bring resentments from past experience to that interaction. I’ve been reticent to connect with them without first finding ways to fully “vet” them for racial prejudice. Even if I didn’t find prejudice initially, I felt certain that if our relationship continued it would rear its ugly head, sooner or later. So I would simply remain in a sort of holding pattern, waiting for the shoe to drop.
I went to my first race unity dialogue workshop back in the early 90’s, and that’s when I began to get some clarity about racism and how it related to me. The compelling statement I remember was: “Racial prejudice plus power equals racism.” The argument goes: If you’re white, you access power from a system that was created by and for white people, and, if you believe there’s nothing wrong with that, then you are racist. Okay. That’s logical. But, there was another concept, ‘white privilege’, I heard mentioned so frequently in videos and lectures that the message, for me, boiled down to this: Racism is sustained by white privilege. If you’re white, you’re privileged and therefore racist. (This was just my personal interpretation.)
I continue to think about what has to be different if we are all going to write a new story in race relations. I often come back to realizing we need to tap something much deeper in ourselves if we are going to build sustainable and authentic relationships. I refer to that deeper self as our spirituality. In saying that, I realize spirituality has many different connotations so I thought I would share a perspective on how I view spirituality, particularly since it is central to the ReWrite project.
Sometimes I have a hard time shaking nagging feelings. I remember so clearly when Christopher Dorner was in the news and how quickly the story was forgotten. It has been hard for me to forget because there was so much injustice on so many levels yet a major aspect was virtually ignored. Because the part that was ignored represents a dangerous example of institutional racism I felt a need to revisit the story.
I was on a conference call recently, reflecting with several folks on how to best dialogue about issues of race in this country. A friend brought up the point that we need to elevate and shine a spotlight on things that are working. In that moment I didn’t give it a lot of thought beyond agreeing that it made sense.
Shortly thereafter my business partner shared with me the feelings of anguish expressed by several Black men in a Facebook group regarding the grand jury decision in Ferguson. She said they seemed hopeless because they felt things would never change. (You can imagine what they are feeling after the no indictment decision in the Eric Garner case.) She was pondering how she might offer them her support. I suggested she just listen and/or ask questions to better understand their feelings. At the time I was thinking that when emotions are so raw, people often respond in the extreme and with absolutes. I suggested that after some time to heal, these men perhaps would become more hopeful. My response to her immediately nagged at me. I thought more deeply about how I, as a Black man, really feel. Deep down do I really believe that the entrenched patterns of racial injustice in this country will ever change?
Cognitive dissonance: an uncomfortable feeling that comes from holding two conflicting views or beliefs at the same time.
Reconciliation: making it possible for two different views or beliefs to exist or be true at the same time.
I’ve been following two stories over the past few days. The first is the story of Nelson Mandela – the significance and celebration of his life, the events commemorating his passing, and the implications of his example. I have learned more about the history of South Africa in a week than I learned in the previous six decades of my life.
The reason I am sharing the video " A Black Woman's Smile" (See below for You Tube version) is because it offers a powerful perspective and aspect of how Black women have been treated and what they have been made to suffer, while at the same time conveying their strength. I don't believe in dwelling on the negative, but I also don't believe in hiding, what I consider, important elements of truth. In this case, truths that can illuminate understanding and that may not be perceived or known by many. Because the video has some sensitive points, I want to qualify a couple things.
Flash fiction is a literary genre the goal of which is to render an entire story with a limited word count. The word count varies according to literary group preferences. I choose 100 words to be my limit. The following is an effort at flash fiction from 2011.
She had come to the meeting to support the cause – but now everyone was looking at her like she had crashed the party.
It’s because of that black woman, she thought, who had responded to her magnanimous contribution to the discussion with,
“If you don’t see my color, you don’t see me.”
Phyllis and I were on our book tour and had been invited to do a reading at a private residence. This is a setting we enjoy for the intimacy it provides. Among the guests who were gathering in the living room was an African American woman who seemed restless and asked several times when the reading was going to begin. I thought, Great! We’ll have an active contributor to the discussion.
Phyllis introduced us and I read a story from our book. I had barely finished when the woman raised her hand to speak. With a tense but controlled voice she asked what we were doing about institutional racism. I said something about the necessity of forming healthy cross-racial relationships as a prerequisite to… but I was interrupted, and what followed was a torrent of passion that escalated into what felt like an attack. “You can take your book and get out of here,” she finally said. And the reading was over.
I just returned from a trip to the store. On my way home I was stopped for a long time at a red light; on the corner of the busy intersection, a teenage boy with dark brown skin was waving a sign shaped like a huge arrow on which was written something about pizza, I think. It was hard to read because the young man was dancing and spinning and tossing the sign in the air. His dance moves were pretty impressive and he twirled the sign over his head and swung it around his body like a drum major. But the big arrow sign was much less manageable than a baton and kept clunking him on the head, so the overall effect was more comical than graceful.
Behind me at the stoplight was a car with two white men, probably in their 30s.
I remember hearing an African American lecturer state that racial prejudice will be eliminated over the breakfast table. The idea was that we needed to get to know each other, see each other’s humanity and embrace it. Years later I saw this man at another conference. I hurried over to him as he was entering the dinning area, and while he held the door for me, I said, “I remember what you expressed at a conference a while back about racial prejudice being eliminated over the breakfast table, and I just want you to know that since then Phyllis and I have talked to hundreds of folks over the breakfast table – and the lunch table and the dinner table – about the oneness of humanity and the need to eliminate racial prejudice. We’ve found it to be a major part of the work we have to do.”
The jury selection process has begun for the trial of George Zimmerman, the man who shot Trayvon Martin and claims it was self-defense, the man who identifies as Hispanic and claims the incident was not about race. I spent many hours after the shooting commenting on blog posts that others wrote about Zimmerman and his motives. Most of those posts were written by Black men. One of those men – a friend and prolific blogger – wrote a piece entitled “I Am George Zimmerman, Sometimes” in which he admitted that in the past he had occasionally harbored the same kinds of suspicion about Black men as Zimmerman apparently did.
Given the amount of time I’ve spent over the past few months working on the copy for this website, I’m surprised when I find myself talking about anything besides race. The topic has become kind of all-consuming, to tell you the truth. To me, these conversations are always fascinating and revealing, sometimes frustrating or emotional but most often uplifting. I never hesitate to engage in them though, even when passions are running high. Maybe that’s because I’ve been called a racist – more than once – and lived to tell the story.