I don't believe in miracles - I rely on them

I don't believe in miracles - I rely on them

Yogi Bhajan


You found my blog and as I am experimenting with the weird and wonderful world of cyber publishing, let me explain what
a gunna is: it's a word for all things desirable, something that makes us happy and warm and comforts us when we feel tired or sad or lonely. a gunna is the best gadget in the world! it was leah s first word for all things she wanted. Or you might also know it as: dummy, schnulli, pacifier binky, schnuller...... and so on. So this is for my beautiful


Monday, November 11, 2013

Between a rock and a soft place

As I am trying to summarise what our last dialogue meeting brought up - I can't seem to get a grip on the "one thing" to start with. So much happened on so many levels.

Most present in my mind is the shift that occurred this time, when we got together: the crossing over from every day mundane functioning to a deep mutual and caring connection where we were able to speak and confront and listen and be silent together.  This could of course be just a temporary glitch (the cynic in me is alive and well) a glance at what is possible between us,  but in the moment it felt like a true quantum leap towards our continuous effort to listen with no judgement and speak from our truths -

whatever it was, it was magical!

Listening to everybody's journey over the last 18 or so months, what stood out for me was how this process has profoundly changed us as individuals and as a group. We started out as a random bunch of women with very different agendas coming together to deconstruct race and racism and all the multifaceted issues around this "hot mess" - and in essence none of us really knew what we were in for - or at least I didn't.

Today, we still haven't changed the world, but in our many different ways, we have become each other's hope. We have created a unique space, a parallel universe to our often insane reality, which holds and absorbs our worst and our best, our fears and our hopes - and many moments of hilarity in between.

For me, this has become the space where somebody's outrage can touch my heart without making me fearful or raising my de-fences. It also means that I can leave the solid ground of my socialised responses and dig deeper to confront what is underneath - my deeply ingrained fear of the "other", my doubts, my ignorance, my limitations and my boundaries. I am getting to know parts of myself I was never able to look at before with the constant reassurance of being connected to an "us" that I never even  knew was a possibility.

As I am taking on the challenge to bring our work into my social circles of  work, school and other friendships, I also realise how much more there is. To do. To learn.  How my need to be liked gets in the way of my truth - still. How my fear to stand out in a crowd pushes my mute button where I know I should have a voice. Where my conditioning fuels my doubts, where my doubts cloud my perception, where I sometimes wish myself back into my bubble of ignorant pre-dialogue bliss. But quickly I realise this bubble did not have any of you in it - and most importantly, it would not be able to hold my children.

So once again, it comes down to our heart connections. Our fear of one another, our assumptions, our prejudices and judgements are only ever truly suspended in a space of - dare I say it - l o v e. Without love or heart connection it all simply becomes an exercise in "political correctness" where we say and maybe even do the "right things" but nothing penetrates our being or translates into our "real life".

We can see this in institutionally "prescribed" diversity work, where a  group of students sits together on a project around racism and simply don't connect to one another. Where at the end of the project one of the black students who asks for connection, even asks to be invited into a (white) fellow students house gets bluntly rejected with the words: what do you want from me, you can't force friendship...

This is my struggle today - the rock hard reality of "what do you want from me" set off against the seemingly elusive, soft heart- space, where all true connection takes place  - and where we are at our most vulnerable.

Friday, August 30, 2013

White supremacy, white privilege and why is it all my fault?

Reading the open letter to white anti-racists, which was the article we chose for last weeks dialogue session, my first instinctive response was:

Surely it's not my fault that I am born white!

I had to read the article again to overcome my initial defence mechanisms and open my heart and mind to look a little deeper. What I am beginning to understand with the help of my fellow dialoguers is that it is not my fault that I am born white...
...but (and here comes a big BUT, which is a separate issue altogether from Miley's scrawny, twerking behind by the way ;-))
once I am waking up to certain privileges and advantages that come along with being born into the "right" skin - I can no longer hide behind the "it's not my fault" excuse and have to take accountability for my continuing to rely on these privileges and advantages.

At the same time I can't be an anti racist activist:  it's not my place to represent somebody who has not asked to be represented by me - (or would you take on your white neighbours problems and march outside their front lawn proclaiming that you are "on their side" and "understand where they are coming from"... absurd, right?). It is clear to me now that most black people don't want us to take on their causes to wear them like our liberal caring cloaks when it is clear that after the march or speech or gathering we can all go back to our white privilege and feel better about ourselves in the process. And even though as a mother of black children I find myself often identifying with black mothers, I have not and will never be able to feel black.  As a white person I simply don't have the same experience growing up and living in a white washed world. I perceive this as a disadvantage when it comes to being a mother as I can never have or share the experience of being a black woman with my children - in my role as a parent this shows up my limitations, which I have learned to accept. But as I am increasingly able to recognise those limitations and work with them as far as  my awareness allows by connecting to the experience of blackness through dialogue and - as corny as this sounds - love and friendship, I feel like I can be part of a beginning of some sort and find a new yet untested role in this "hot mess" (:-))

I am by default also part of and thus supporting structural white supremacy, which has woven it's threads into the very fabric of our lives in such a way that it can't be removed without tearing the whole thing apart. It starts with how we interpret humanity according to our "normative rule", in that a white person is naturally perceived as human whereas a black person has to first be "humanised". Black people's suffering is not causing the same outrage, does not make for headline news and simply does not get the same emotional responses as a white tragedy. The "poor starving children in Africa" was a black cause my grandmother used frequently throughout  my childhood without any emotional attachment simply to make me eat her dreaded pea-soup. But a white child starving to death in the attic of  abusive relatives was good for days of horror and outrage at the suffering of that poor child. Recently, we only have to look at our very own local happenings, where a white man shooting his white girlfriend creates a media frenzy, whereas countless similar incidents of domestic violence in our not white (still struggling for language here....) communities are only reported as a by-line in the latest crime statistics(and yes, the fact that somebody famous was involved is certainly a factor here, but that doesn't take away from the point I am trying to make).

So the question is - what to do? Most black activists feel very strongly about us whites standing back and wait to do what is asked from us in order to abolish white supremacy - be it resources, giving up our privileges or simply engage our fellow white people in making them aware of the issues.

Where I understand the principle and also agree with the part where whites can't take over black causes - the attempt to separate us further by ruling that we have to remain in our own circles of white and black, does not (in my view) offer us any way forward to solve the problem - it simply dictates change from the outside. I am not saying that change can't happen from the outside, and that it is not necessary to sometimes dictate it by law (affirmative and other reparative actions are absolutely necessary and can only be enforced by laws) but this can't be the only way, as we have to truly understand the need for and initiate change from the inside.

With a growing trend (hopeful me) towards diverse professional and social relationships as well as "inter-racial" families it will become more and more difficult to maintain this black and white outlook on race, colour and privilege. If we stick to appearances as a people divider, to determine who is qualified to talk or act and who is not, we are never going to have true cooperation and understanding amongst each other. The ultimate change has to happen within each of us,  we have to be prepared to truly examine our reality, racial bias and social standing in the context of our environment. In my view this can only happen in true dialogue with each other, black and white. An intrinsic motivation for white people to change the status-quo has to come from their own conscience, which is ultimately dependant on their degree of awareness. This is where I agree again with the statement that we have a responsibility to start with our fellow white friends and neighbours, school parents and work colleagues and initiate conversations around race and white privilege that ultimately lead to connection and communication across the racial divide.

In summing our session up (from what I got out of it), black people will have to do the activist work and determine the general route on this journey forward and us whites have to stand back more, learn to listen and carry the issues into our respective worlds of white privilege. But it is together that we can learn to engage in meaningful exchange and thus find heart connections and build trust, which is the only foundation on which to build a future where we can surmount race and racism one day.

And maybe I am being over-optimistic. Maybe only us eight or so women sitting around a table on my heated couch won't solve the world's problems of structural white supremacy after all - but hey -

.... we have to start somewhere.
Yours in dialogue

Monday, August 26, 2013

Lesson learned....?

As  my struggles continue to find a new perspective, or at the very least the lesson behind the experience, there slowly but surely seems to be a shift happening in the perceptions around me. 

While there are those stubbornly defending social conventions, reverting to the default setting from generations back, where children's bodies are not their own when it comes to adults demanding hugs or kisses from them, there is at the same time a growing awareness amongst mothers and fathers that this is the symptom of dis-ease rather than a sign of appropriate social conditioning. Other mothers are coming forward, publicly demanding that people  Stop Asking My Daughter for Kisses as they finally find a voice for the unease that has been sitting with them unacknowledged for too long. This particular mother regrets that she  has become a silent witness to her daughter's private space being invaded by relatives, friends, even strangers and how social conventions dictate that we stand by while our children are being manipulated or ordered into ignoring their own physical boundaries.

It doesn't take a clinical psychologist to understand that children who are not in control of when and with whom they are affectionate, will learn to override their natural instincts when it comes to emotional and physical boundaries. And while we all like to believe that we equip our children with the necessary tools to fend off abusers by repeatedly giving them the  "my body is my own" and  "private parts are private" speeches, we ignore the fact that statistically abusers are hardly ever scary lunatics or even friendly strangers but mostly trusted friends and relatives, the very same people we tell them to hug and kiss on a daily basis. Our words mean nothing when  at the same time we disregard our children's basic human right to bodily integrity in the name of social conventions.

I now know first hand how alienating and humiliating it can be to represent the voice that shouts "no more" into the friendly, unassuming faces of  those around me. How almost everybody agrees on a theoretical level with what I am saying, but as soon as it becomes concrete, as in personal, people feel the need to take sides and often gather around the self proclaimed adult victims and their hurt egos, rather than develop language and dialogue as mothers, fathers, friends and relatives of the children, whose experience should be the only one of any importance here.

Then again, this reactive model makes total sense, as it is almost "textbook guide" to enabling and supporting abuse: Instead of making our actions, motivations and ("innocent") mistakes transparent by talking about the issues in a manner that is open to a child's perspective, we perceive or interpret what is being said as a threat to the adults involved and hide behind extensive drama, thus avoiding any further probing into what is actually happening here. If we were more willing to engage in self examination and open conversation, it would no longer be a given that an abuser can hide behind a predictable social mechanism, which is silencing the no and enabling the abuse. Which makes for one scary truth: If we continue to silence the no's until we have proof that something truly sinister is happening, it will be too late - but if we don't silence the no's we allow for the (even tiniest) possibility that something truly sinister is happening, which is too scary (and socially unacceptable). So the silence continues...

The only way to break this cycle and to isolate the abusers from the "innocent" enablers is by truly examining and allowing dialogue around our own interactions with children - other people's and our own. This of course means we have to go to the dark places, where our own childhood and thus far unchallenged and unspoken rules might have to be questioned, where our need to fit in and to be liked might be an obstacle to acting in the best interest of our children, which ultimately is of course in our best interest. We have to be able to accept and admit that we can be "wrong" in the eyes of our children, that we can apologise for and re-evaluate our behaviour towards them and others. And most importantly demonstrate that we can have honest conversations about "It" all without shame or guilt and without losing each other in the process as friends and family. This more than anything we say will help our children recognize where boundaries are breached and empower them to talk about their discomfort - and ultimately protect them from becoming victims.

So my most important lesson in it all might be that often our children's voices get drowned in all the  adult ego-drama.  I was lucky that when my child voiced her discomfort I happened to be in a space where I could hear her and take action. I hope that I will always be so lucky. I also hope that - should the shoe ever be on the other foot, and I find myself in a position where a friend questions my or my partner's interaction with a child - I will have learned from this experience to be genuinely concerned and listen rather than become defensive and revengeful or cut them out of my life all together.

So instead of protecting our somewhat vague status as "the adult" - how about we develop and mirror strength of character to our children by allowing ourselves and each other to be imperfect human beings, too often remote controlled by unchallenged notions and rules from our childhood but willing and increasingly able to change our perspective in order to stand and learn together as friends and parents?

A lesson worth learning?

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Where to from here?

Working through this  subject feels like clawing my way out of a sewage pipe - Now that the first shock is over - I am left somewhat stunned trying to understand how I got myself into this mess.

I am reminded on a daily basis of the friendships that are lost in the wave of anger and resentment washing over me after I "did that bad thing" - which was to first speak and then even publicly write about my experience and my feelings instead of just keeping quiet. 

As I am learning to stand exposed in my truth, working hard on my attitude of non judgement and open mindedness, the most difficult part is to not constantly defend myself and my actions, to stop doubting my own perceptions and to continuously make my way back to my place of truth.
I realise that being in defense mode - mostly in the early hours of the morning,  when I wake myself up reasoning with the people who tell me I am wrong - means I am quickly losing my truth by getting caught up in mind games and semantics.

It is a painful and frustrating process for me to let go of my wish to be understood by everyone and get rehabilitated into a circle of people who have turned away from me, a process that is not linear but random and repetitive until I am able once again to focus on what deep down and beyond  all my ego noises, I know is my truth.

Writing has always been my way of making sense of a world that often seems alien and deeply confusing; to write privately for only myself has been in the past like talking to a wise friend, who is never judging and always kind, helping me find clarity within myself.  Writing in public has been my attempt to bring this friend out into the world, to stop hiding behind an image and expose myself in my truth. I am fully aware that my truth can not be everyones truth and ultimately might be somebody else's worst trigger. Coming to this place of conflict is really just a logical step on a journey that I have embarked on since I wrote my first post.

I am not writing to expose other people's mistakes. I am not striving to find the universal "one truth" or  to "be right". I write in order to learn  more about my truth and the issues that touch, confuse and matter to me.

So many of us are struggling with the same questions, feelings and confusions - yet there is no sensible, sane and constructive platform for us as parents to engage. If something supposedly "bad" happens involving our children, people turn inwards and away. At most they talk in small groups about the "others" who might be causing the issue on the surface, but generally things are kept quiet and secret and people are retiring to their own backyards, growing suspicions, opinions and judgements like weed.Until eventually somewhere a bomb goes off, leaving in its wake  broken down relationships and a lot of hurt - all too often involving the most vulnerable people - the children we all want to protect.

So now I question. When a fellow parent recently said to me, that her 8 year old daughter is not allowed to sleep over at our house, I invited her over and asked her to explain her reasons. Was there maybe something about us that made her feel uncomfortable? Something I needed to be made aware of? It turned out that a classmate of her daughter had been at a sleep over where it was subsequently rumoured the children had been exposed to porn. At first I did feel uncomfortable being cast into the wider circle of parents who might expose her child to porn. Until I realised that this was not what this conversation should be about: Whether or not I might feel hurt by implications she might or might not have made, was totally irrelevant. What I should respect as a fellow mother and a friend is that she feels she can not take a risk with her child. I can only honor her feelings and her need to protect her daughter and we can look at the bigger picture together.  I am  glad and grateful she told me.

At the same time there are more and more people, fathers mostly, increasingly uncomfortable around other people's children as the subject of child abuse washes over us in tidal waves until it subsides again for a while only to come back with renewed force.  They don't know anymore if talking to somebody else's child on a playground will make them look suspicious; or if it is OK to help a child who fell in front of them, when the mother might react hostile to a stranger approaching her daughter.

Where do we start to unravel this tangled mess of suspicions, vulnerabilities, shame, guilt, misunderstanding and miscommunication? How do we even begin to find a language that does not offend but helps us bridge the void? We clearly need to start somewhere. Why not in our own circle of friends and family. So instead of sitting with this feeling of unease when your child does not want to hug or kiss a family friend - start by talking about it. Tell your friend about this uncle who harassed you for kisses when you were a child and who makes you feel uncomfortable to this day. Tell them how you feel a similar discomfort when you see your child struggle with demands for affection - ask them about their experiences or what it means to them to get a hug/kiss from your child. Open up the lines of communication. With any luck, your friends will engage and be open and grateful for your trust in them. If not, maybe you owe it to your child to re-evaluate these friendships and set firm boundaries....

Just a thought.
There is more....

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Can of worms

 A friend said to me " you know that you've got to keep on writing until it feels OK again"....
It doesn't by a long stretch -

This can of worms has been sitting unopened for far too long - and now that it finally exploded  in my face -  it is probably not surprising that emotions fly around like shrapnel.

Everything about this subject feels raw and painful, people respond with their own stories, their own agendas, their own fears. It feels like the epicenter of an earthquake, where everything around me shatters, yet in the midst of it all is a stillness; the clarity that it was inevitable somehow. I didn't choose the moment, the event or even the subject. It found me and I am doing what I need to do in order to get to the moment when it feels OK again...

There is nothing brave about it.
There is nothing evil about it.

As much as all the messages and phone calls of support and love have warmed my heart and helped me through the 4 o clock wake up calls of nauseating, tearful and headachey attacks of directionless thoughts, fears and worst-case-scenarios....
as much as I felt emotionally assaulted by "friends" calling me "shameless" and "selfish" and compared what I had unleashed on "these poor people" to something "worse than cancer"...
as much as this is a highly private and personal story, this can not be about me.
It also should not be about "him" or "them".

There is no "me" and "him" or "them" - there is only an "us". We create situations as a society, a community or a family that teach our children the wrong lessons. Instead of creating a discourse we confine uncomfortable thoughts to the darkest corners of our consciousness, ignoring our own feelings, ignoring other peoples feelings and most of all ignoring our children's confusion when they are trying to make sense of our adult world.

What we are telling them is to speak out, when something makes them feel uncomfortable.
What we are teaching them is to keep quiet.  I have never felt so vulnerable and exposed as I have since I made the decision to speak out.

Speaking out does not mean, throwing accusations around or needing to to find "proof" for whatever it is I am feeling.

Speaking out means  telling my story from my perspective only and sharing with another human being that " I am uncomfortable with what you are saying, doing or not doing". It only shows that I am aware, that I care enough for my children and my friends to step in and give them the gift of my personal truth. I am not judging them.

My truth is that I saw my child distressed and confused by something I didn't understand at first. My truth is that, when my child told me her story, I chose to believe her. With that truth and with a sufficient level of trust in the safety of a friendship I decided to talk about "it".

How is it possible that this gets build up into something "evil" or "brave" instead of being just "normal". How can we make this about the adults, when it should only be about our children and how to raise them responsibly and with awareness?

It could have been that simple: If you ask my child  for a kiss,  that's fine, she can say no. If you ask her for a kiss and imply that if she doesn't comply,  she can't have something she really wants - my child is being manipulated.  And this is the first step on a road that one day might lead straight into the hell of abuse. It does not mean it was done with intention. Not at any point in my story do I accuse, imply or mean to imply anybody as an abuser. I would be careless and stupid to throw around accusations based on a feeling of discomfort.

Whether I believe my child when she tells me she was asked for " a kiss on the lips" in return for playtime with a phone or whether I believe the people who imply that she made that up, is not even essential. I don't question my child's truth, I question the need of the adults involved to discredit a 4 year old. The fact that she told that story should be enough for us to believe that she was made to feel uncomfortable. Here is the moment  at which we respectfully and truthfully talk about how we can avoid this in future.

This is it for now - I am still processing and will continue to do so in this space...

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Too polite to speak my mind - are we setting our children up as future victims?

So this is a little off track - or maybe not, as it is about my children - but nothing to do with adoption or race for once: Instead this is a subject that touches my very own old stuff,  creeping it's way back into my life, as horrifyingly confusing as the first time round but - and this is my hope - with a new clarity and a different outcome.

This is about the big uncomfortable silence where we should be talking, but our social conditioning tells us not to "go there". This is about the pitfalls we as parents blindly stumble into or negotiate on instinct and good luck alone. Or we choose to ignore the issue all together as it only ever happens to "other people". But where our society seems to prescribe collective blindness, the facts are painting a scary picture: Statistically every 4th child gets sexually abused in some way before turning the corner into adolescence and the vast majority of abusers are the very people they know and trust.

This is about how we might be unwittingly setting our children up as victims. This is about my own recent wake up call,  how it impacted on my life, my friendships and my-self.  This is not about casting suspicion on somebody and starting a campaign to find your nearest sex-offender  - this is about pulling together as a community of parents and friends, about  finding our voices in whatever makes us feel uncomfortable and learn to really listen to each other with our hearts, with an open mind and without judgement...

This is about my 4 year old gender-non-confirming child, who takes her time getting to know people and then changes his mind about them as she goes along, for reasons only known to him. She stands her ground when it comes to her personal space. He does not hug or kiss or even smile if she does not feel like it.   And people asking for kisses or hugs as a form of greeting mostly get a brush off or the occasional kick, which (in my own book) puts me in the categories of "mums who fail to convey basic rules of social engagement".  But having a childhood history with adults overstepping my  boundaries - I silently admire her for standing his ground.  The big reward with Kala seems always just around the corner, whenever she makes these glorious exceptions giving his affection freely and from her heart. My silent support I was hoping would be enough to make him strong and confident to always trust in her feelings... but sadly this was not the case.

A couple of weeks ago on an evening out I saw Kala making her way towards one of our friends, visiting from overseas with his wife and daughters, all of whom she knows quite well, but does not see very often. There was something in the way she approached him that alerted me. She seemed a little awkward,  almost embarrassed - and not her usual determined self. She made quite a production of climbing onto his chair, putting her arms around his neck and  pecking him on the cheek before asking him: Can I have your phone now?  (he had brought with him the latest I-Phone with quite a few funky apps for his kids).
To which he replied: No you can't. It's too late now.
Her face crumbled with emotions: sadness, disappointment, confusion, outrage.... she clearly had worked herself up to this display of "affection" and was not getting out of it what she had expected.  As my child argued to no avail and eventually ran off to play with her friends, switching to happy play-mode in a second - and people all around me were having a good time,  I was left feeling that something was not right. Yet, I had no words for "it".

Until "it" came up again the next morning when I was making tea and Kala was playing with her dolls in the kitchen, asking me: please mama can you buy me a phone like .... he has.
So I asked her:
- what happened yesterday with the phone?-
immediately that indignant, disappointed look again.
-mama - she wailed -  that was SO unfair"
-what was unfair?- I asked
-He said, I could have his phone if I kissed him on the lips. But I didn't want to kiss him on the lips-
but mama I did kiss him and he did not give me his phone-

I suddenly understood what had made me feel so uncomfortable about that scene the previous evening: it was not the fact that she had kissed somebody because she might have thought that would get her what she wanted. What  raised all my alarm bells was the manipulation of my 4 year old child by "punishing" her (it's too late now) for not complying with whatever demands were put to her in exchange for the phone-reward. Whether or not this was intentional or totally oblivious and innocent - did not even matter. The fact that an adult, a friend, a fellow parent interacted with my child in this way was not OK.

I also asked myself how the mantra I keep telling my children that they should never kiss or touch anybody or allow anybody to touch them if it makes them feel uncomfortable - could be so totally ignored or misunderstood by my 4 year old powerhouse...

I tried talking to her about these boundaries - again.


I said to her that friends sometimes make mistakes and this was a mistake and he will not do this again. She said:

I ran out of words.  Watching my child struggle to make sense of a world where she has to "trade" her integrity for something she really wants,  where she feels she has to ignore her boundaries because somebody who holds all the power promises her a reward.... made me feel sick. If I had not witnessed this exchange, what would she be learning for future encounters with him or anybody else, an unaware friend or a friendly predator? The underlying message in her mind- no matter what I said - was that she has to override her feelings,  because the person who asks her to do so is my friend and she really wants what he offers as a reward.

I realised that talking to my child was not enough. We had to talk to him too. Well, Alan had to. Part of me was still feeling "unreasonable", "over-reacting" , "hysterical", "crazy"-  feelings that are only too familiar to so many of us. While there was this deep inner clarity that my instincts were absolutely spot on and I would do whatever needed to be done to protect my child against becoming a future victim,  I was at the same time questioning myself: Was it my own messed up history getting in the way, was I blowing things way out of proportion?  I was about to break the big taboo - you don't imply somebody you know and socialise with is - even unwittingly - setting your child up for abuse. This is the  social void - we have learned to stay away from in our  circles of friends and acquaintances.

 Only in this case I did not have a choice as this was not about me anymore but about my children and my responsibility to prevent history from repeating itself.

I played out scenarios in my head  how I would take it if a friend came to me pointing out something they didn't agree with in the way I interacted with their children. I spoke them through with Alan. We decided, it would be OK. It might not be comfortable, but as parents we all want our children to be safe - so we would get through this as friends and fellow parents.

Alan took the leap.  He spoke to our friend privately. He explained how we felt. How we did not want to raise our children thinking it was acceptable for people to ask them for any form of physical contact as a trade-off for something they might really want. How we wanted to instill in them an unbreakable trust in their own feelings and boundaries. How we hoped he  would understand and respect our wishes not to trade kisses or hugs or any physical contact with our children when they want stuff from him.  The conversation stayed civil and calm. Both sides expressed concern about hurting the other one's feelings. Both said they were sorry.

A week later I was told by his wife, they  no longer want any contact with us.

After my initial shock, I do see how they might feel uncomfortable by what might or might not have been implied.  Despite our best intentions, they clearly felt they were accused rather than made aware of something . As far as our friendship goes - there was clearly no room for setting simple boundaries and finding common ground.

As sad as this makes me now, we will move on from here, with other friends - or at least with those who feel they don't have to pick a side ...

Weeks later, I am still struggling with the consequences. Knowing deep down that this was my only way forward I still get attacked by bouts of guilt, shame, anger and sadness. I feel relieved and liberated and also isolated and excluded from a circle of friends that has been part of my life for many years. I wake up at night thinking if and  how  to explain to my children why so and so  will not come to visit us anymore... why they won't see some of their friends anymore...

I felt and still feel a great deal of confusion in my clarity. Writing about it helps me make sense of what happened.

I don't think this is an isolated incident. As a community of parents and friends we don't talk enough about our behaviour towards our children. We don't have language to describe what makes us uncomfortable, worries or disturbs us. We hide behind polite conventions and don't allow room for discomfort, we don't challenge each other enough. It starts with keeping silent when we witness behaviour towards children that is borderline abusive. When somebody hits their child in a supermarket, we look the other way as it is "none of our business". When a friend tells me she disciplines her 4 year old, who still wets her pants by locking her in her room in her soaked clothes,  I silently disagree with her on so many levels, but I don't challenge her or even dare to inquire further.  We keep quiet as we are told it is not our place to interfere.... We don't speak out of politeness, out of fear of rocking the boat, because we might not be close enough, because it is not the time or place.  No matter the reason, we are too afraid to speak up.

The unspoken rule is: "you don't interfere with somebody else's parenting". Today I ask myself: should our friendships not be strong enough to hold us safely in our disagreements? Should our collective responsibility towards our children not be more important than being polite? Would I not benefit from somebody pointing out to me where I am potentially going wrong, so I can say: Oh crap, this didn't even occur to me - I will give it some thought...

So much of my behaviour towards my children is subconsciously motivated by old issues arising from my own childhood creating the many blind spots that are my parenting theme. We all have a subconscious parenting theme sometimes overriding our consciously chosen parenting style (my theme is: total control is important at all times...not pretty when it comes out!) Why not invite others, (who better than friends?) to - kindly and lovingly - help us unveil our blind spots?

By not keeping quiet anymore, I am not implying that my way of thinking is the ultimate truth. I am looking to challenge, to be challenged, to understand further and to be understood a little better. If at the end we agree to disagree but get our points across and respect each other's opinions - we can shift towards a better space, in which our children are more important than our unspoken rules. Where our children learn that it is OK to talk about things that make us feel uncomfortable, that we don't always have to agree in order to be friends, that we are allowed to question and challenge each other and sometimes change our minds and rules in the process. That we are all learning together. That we are no victims.

I don't want to alienate and judge people. I want to start a dialogue between friends and fellow parents in order to open up taboos and question outdated rules that have been put in place to serve adult agendas. If that means that some friendships come to an end, I will learn to live with that.
So here's a big sigh of letting go of the old and welcoming in the new - a sigh of sadness for what I have lost and a smile of gratitude for what I have. Good instincts, great friends,  a wonderful man in my corner of the world and the best children in the universe...

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The inherent racism in employing domestic workers

So here I am again - in the middle of a "race" dialogue on whiteness - this time there are eight of us - luckily I am with a (black) friend - cause groups still make me feel uncomfortable, especially when I don't know anybody; and yes, it does matter that she is the only black woman in this setup, with one black man and one Indian woman(I am assuming that they would both identify with this description - but of course I can't be sure)  - the rest of us: white.

The more I am part of conversations about race/ism the more I feel confused and unsure about - everything. The only certainty is that the issue in itself is a minefield and there are as many different feelings, assumptions, opinions flying around as there are people in the room. As my somewhat simplistic assumptions about white Afrikaans people and their racially challenged attitudes get torn to pieces by somebody who so clearly doesn't fit this roster, my opinions have to stand back once more and my emotions scatter about ...

I notice my defensiveness kicking in, when somebody brings up the issue of black domestic workers and  the exploitative and demeaning nature of the work they have to do. This is said in the context of apartheid and slavery and ...
I understand.

Yet, I am defensive of my privilege to leave my children in the capable hands of a woman I trust completely, to be able to do what I want to do instead of looking after them myself.

I am defensive of my privilege to not have to spend the morning cleaning up after myself and my family and go to work for my business or study instead -  leaving somebody else in charge of my house and my belongings.

I notice how I am formulating arguments in my head defending these privileges.

This is my life. This is important to me.

Can I let go of these privileges? Could I stay home to clean my own house and look after my children 24/7? Would I continue paying my domestic worker and my au pair and ask them not to come to work anymore and do something else with their life instead .... could I? would I?  (it is questionable though that I would have the money to pay them if I am not working anymore - hah! defensive!)  but the simple point is I don't want to and I won't.

Yet I agree with the argument that in the context of  social inequality stemming from a history of oppression any situation where old patterns and stereotypes of inhumane social interaction get repeated is as such demeaning and exploitative. I really do.  As a result any environment where privileged white people employ black people with less privilege can only be defined as exploitative and demeaning.

How can I still employ black people in my home and even in my business?  I could tell you the story of my being a student in Berlin, working in a lawyers office as a secretary half days so I could afford somebody (somebody white from eastern Europe) cleaning my house once a week - because I am domestically challenged in a big way. Or I could point out the many "lowly" jobs I did in my lifetime to pay for my tuition or be able to live the way I wanted to. 


I could ask the question as to what are the criteria and who decides what defines a job as demeaning and exploitative in one context and a career choice or a means to an end in another. Maybe the matter of choice is the defining point? But do most people really have a choice when it comes to making a living these days? Does demeaning and exploitative only relate to black domestic workers employed by white people or generally to everybody  (not white) who cleans up after us in hospitals, offices or homes. Does it include the people who drive our garbage away and clean the roads? Is it just exploitative to have a black nanny in the house or does that criteria extend to nursery staff and school teachers? Are all these jobs demeaning in a certain context but not when it comes to being a security guard, aupair or personal assistant to the rich and famous? Do people who drive other people around for a living, who protect rich peoples properties, who serve food in restaurants - all do demeaning and exploitative jobs?

Is this being defensive? Probably!

There are likely as many people out there who would call these points defensive as they are those who think along similar lines. Who is right and who is in the wrong here? Is there even one ultimate right or wrong answer?

I do have a point with all this - other than just confusing everybody, including myself and shaking up some assumptions and opinions. My point is, that the picture can be painted in many different colors and from many different perspectives with each one having solid arguments and opinionated followers - and all of them missing the real, underlying issue once again: our basic humanity and connection to self and others.

 I can defensively claim and make a convincing point of how I am not part of the exploitative system and just as many people will condemn me as will believe me. Most of them will have their own agenda and might even use my points in furthering their own arguments.  Being defensive only serves one goal - to defend my position in the eyes of somebody else. Being defensive is always directed at an-other. It has at the chore a lack of self-awareness and substance and a need to define myself against that other-ness.

What is apparent to all of us - I assume - is the futility of a constant need to be "right" in the eyes of others. We all know it is not only a statistical impossibility but also energy draining and in the end not very rewarding: We will never find  love or true connection (and isn't that what we ultimately all in search of?) by being right. So why is it so tricky to truly embody our perfectly flawed authentic self?  If I simply look inside and find my connection with myself and as such my connection with (my) humanity - I will find the one solution that is right for me. I have more capacity for real listening and true learning when I am in sync with myself instead of trying to project or defend an image to an-other.

The tricky part is that this space or moment of true connection is not linear/intellectual but randomly shifting and mainly intuitive. We can not find it once and remain there, safely ignoring everything else as it requires constant awareness and interaction with all that is around and within us.  I can adjust my actions according to what I am learning on a daily basis by listening to others in the same way I should be listening to my children, my partner, my family. Here and now I can understand my responsibility for the ones that depend on me and honor and respect them as my extended family.

This is  the only way I can make sense of this world I find myself in. This is my perspective. It is not one that fits all and certainly not one that always comes easy to me. I make mistakes every day, miss important messages, mess up relationships, fall back into old patterns, exasperate myself (and others I am sure), and start again. Every day is a challenge and an adventure.

What I took out of this dialogue is our connection as family over our separateness as "other" in every life situation. In my life today it makes sense to employ people - and I hope to be able to sustain this attitude and extend it into respectful and caring interactions with everyone - this is my intention and my goal post.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Get over "it" and move on? A dialogue that exposes my impatient side...

So. Our last dialogue meeting was about a week ago - I am still processing and coming to terms with my own open and hidden reactions. As we are getting to know each other a little better each time, there has been a noticable shift from polite and somewhat distant attention to emotional, sometimes disturbed and even confrontational listening.
I like that. A lot.

What I realised more than anything though was my own lack of patience and tolerance when it comes to fellow white people being (unintentionally) dismissive of our black or multi-racial counterparts experiences of racism. Be it by too hastily comparing those traumatic and humiliating events with episodes in their own lives, where they might have felt victimised, implying: "I know exactly how you feel, and it is actually no different being victimised for being fat from being at the receiving end of racism." Or be it by insisting they don't even notice somebody's skin color (my favourite: green/pink or brown I don't care, we are all human.... yaaaaaawn) - which immediately puts them in the safe space of never ever having to dig deeper into their own racial bias, which none of us white folk are immune against. Since having become aware of the pitfalls of my white cushioned upbringing - oftentimes through my children and the reactions we provoke - I have had many ignorant,  confused and even shameful moments, in which I came face to face with my own ingrained perceptions and assumptions. Sometimes it is as simple and immediate as assuming that a black woman in a friends kitchen must be the house keeper, when in fact she is the owner of the house preparing supper for us. Sometimes it is more complicated than that and requires more complex thought processes. And this is what I get from this group: a chance to unravel my assumptions and find out more about what connects us and what is different in an enriching, inspiring and exciting process!

To that end, I am listening with an open mind and heart when some of us feel safe enough to contribute with their frustrating, depressing, annoying or sad stories around racism experienced on a daily basis. It humbles me and makes me feel immensely grateful to be allowed into that space where I see my role solely as  listener and witness. I am not here to validate or dismiss somebody else's experience. I am not contributing anything useful to the dialogue if I immediately pull out a "similar" story from my own bag of  sad experiences and thereby override somebody else's story. My role is not to voice (or feel pity) -  as the women in our group are incredibly strong and confident - and don't want or need anybodys "aach shame".

 It is awareness and understanding we need for what racism does to us: To us white folk as we grew up with distorted pictures, stereotypes and  prejudices relayed by media, society or relatives,  and are now faced with the challenge of owning up to our assumptions and early conditioning, to admit to what we might have (unintentionally) contributed and disect with courage and honesty what beliefs we are still - unknowingly - holding onto.

 To our not-white fellow human beings, who are at the receiving and of open, hidden, institutional and daily racism, which affects people in almost every aspect of their lives. As one of us said: What frustrates me most is that I have to take every single critisism or comment and pick it apart as to whether it is a racist remark. The resulting inability to process constructive critisism in a positive manner is one of the direct results of racism and a solely white privilege - one that I was certainly never aware of  and am only now learning to appreciate.

And no, I don't think we should get "over it  and move on to solutions". How can we find solutions for something that we don't even acknowlege as a society, leave alone understand?  I think listening is part of the solution as we will likely never solve the problems of a racist world, but can only begin to change our own group (and I hope  it will grow into more groups) by firstly understanding on a deeply personal level the implications of racist experiences in our lives. This we can achieve through learning about these experiences. In factual detail. In emotional depth. In acknowledging and creating awareness for these experiences in a culture where they are mostly being dismissed as "the issue of a black person who simply can't move on". We need to create more safe spaces where people who experience racism can share with other people who have never been on the receiving end of a racist remark in their lives. I think it is important that these spaces are diverse and contain both witnessing and telling of stories, so that we can move on from complaining to explaining, from denial to understanding.  I believe that there are more people like us out there - and would love to invite them to join our FB dialogue.... maybe that's a topic we will discuss next time.

There is of course the valid point that by talking alone, we won't change things. So of course we can also stand together and make a point of doing something, anything to make a difference. We can start a website where we continuously expose racism, we can out racist institutions, we can support each other in racist situations..... There were already great ideas emerging at our meeting and I felt a surge of energy from all of us at the thought of being part of change!

So how about we combine  Listening and Acting - with emphasis on respectful, open minded and open hearted listening in order to enable us to act in a way that is mind-ful, purpose-ful and effective. And lets not forget joy-ful - which is the part where we dance together and invite each other round for dinner ;-) - That reminds me:  on the 14th of February we dance at the NIA Studio in Obs for "One Billion Rising" - it would be great if our group could be represented in some way! Love to you all