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


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?