Living My Questions: What does it mean to “do the work on yourself” first, as a White, Privileged Female in a Racist World?

Microagression image

The Day the protests began, I’d already felt helpless. I didn’t know enough about the Black Lives Matter movement. I didn’t know how to help. I didn’t even know how to talk about it. And, if I’m honest, I had very few people in my racially insulated northern Minnesota pillowed life to talk to about it with a listening ear. Most people are ready to defend their views. Much of what I was reading on social media urged White people to “do the work” themselves to make a difference in racial injustice advocacy.

But, what does, “Do the work?” actually mean?

As always, I reach for books first – books about racial injustice, racism, and the history of white supremacy in our country. The first read was a book by Beverly Daniel Tatum called, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race.

With a pen, book and notebook in hand, I carried two chairs and a small table out into my yard by the flowering crab apple tree. A perfect location to bask in the aroma of the tree blossoms and soak in the sun. I needed one chair to sit on, the other to rest my feet upon with knees bent to use as a table for my notebook. This is an important part of the story. Pay attention. The chairs were kinda heavy. I had to make two trips. After I was set up, I made a third trip and balanced my coffee on a small table, bringing it out to set beside my chairs. I could stretch this part of the story out, but this is just a blog post, not a book and this is enough to give you a picture of my effort in this matter of setting up to read.

Each chapter in this book, demands a close read. There is so much to digest, unpack, and make sense of: systemic racism, microaggressions, Real Estate Laws, redlining, the New Jim Crow, Government Policies, incarceration statistics, discriminatory voting laws, intersectionality, overt white nationalism and internalized oppression. These are only some of the factors that contribute to a society of racism. I’d read for a bit, then write a few sentences in my notebook, connecting the ideas to prior knowledge or experiences.

My only issue was:

I didn’t have enough experiences.

My husband eventually ventured out to the yard with his coffee cup.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“Reading – writing,” I replied. He must tire of this response and wonder if I ever get anywhere with the reading and writing that I do.

He set his coffee mug on my table and with both hands on the sides of the chair I had my feet on, began to move it.

“What are you doing?” I asked, jolted.

“I’m going to sit in this chair,” he said.

“But I’m using that chair for my feet,” I said. (I know. This sounds so selfish. But, don’t forget how much work it took me to get set up!)

“Do you really need two chairs?” he asked.

“Yes, I do,” I replied. “There are more chairs up by the house if you want to bring one out.”

He was calm and not upset. Rolled his eyes inside his head, I’m sure. He took his coffee cup and decided to go sit up by the porch.

Now, you may be thinking I am an inconsiderate wife. Or, you may be thinking my husband is inconsiderate. Whatever you are thinking, park that thought for a moment, because it’s beside the point I want to make with this episode. Just play along with me here.

Instead, imagine you are a Black college student, male or female, it does not matter,  sitting in the Union studying alone. You pulled a heavy chair from against the wall over to rest your feet upon to set your laptop on.

Then imagine, a White male comes and attempts to grab the chair your feet are resting on to bring over to sit at another section of the Union with his buddies. He does not ask. There are other chairs available. He wants this one.

How do you feel?

Imagine it. Maybe it’s actually happened to you – or something like it.

That’s how I felt.

I happened to be reading Tatum’s chapter on microaggressions.

Tatum uses psychologist, Derald Wing Sue’s definition of racial microaggressions as “the brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, and environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial, gender, sexual-orientation, and religious slights and insults to the target person or group.”

I imagined the act of taking my chair as a behavioral, unintentional indignity. Indignity is a sharp word that encompasses shame, embarrassment and insult. I didn’t have shame or embarrassment, nor was I insulted, but had I been surrounded by others? maybe. . .

After my husband went back to the porch, I presumed he was perfectly content, drinking his coffee and reading. He doesn’t dwell on these kinds of things. He respects my solitude and I respect his. I can rationalize this.

However, I was left, energetically, in a different place, than when he arrived. I internalized the small act of inconsideration towards me and I could feel it in my body. It had to go somewhere. I blew this up in my mind, for “the experience” of “the micro-aggression”.

Keep playing with me here. . .

Did he feel entitled to the chair? Did he feel he had power over me? He was not emotionally effected. I was. What was that???? Call me crazy.

Back to being the imaginary Black student in the union. Do you say something? If you do, what do you risk? Is it worth it? Who would be the one to start the argument? What authorities get called over? Whose voice would get heard? Certainly, no one NEEDS two chairs.

Now imagine 10 – 20 microaggressions a week. These – just the “smallest” acts of racism.

Beverly Daniel Tatum writes, “Social science research has demonstrated that the cumulative effect of microaggressions ‘assail the self-esteem of recipients, produce anger and frustration, deplete psychic energy, lower feelings of subjective well-being and worthiness, produce physical health problems, and shorten life expectancy. . .'”   Psychologist Derald Wing Sue “the brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, and environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial, gender, sexual-orientation, and religious slights and insults to the target person or group.”

It’s a constant perpetual drip of stress.

I imagined a life time of these acts towards me – in which I had no power to reject or stand up against, for fear of what might happen. Then, I imagined generations of these acts – for hundreds of years. How much gets stored in the body with nowhere to go? Passed down from generation to generation. At some point, you don’t even know why you are angry – you can’t name it. It lives in you.

But then. Something happens.

Like a Black man being killed on video for the world to see.

And, you are cracked open.

I made these discoveries in my notebook as I documented what was happening, my emotions, connections to ideas from the book and my imagination.  I needed the “chair stealing” experience with my husband as the missing piece to “the work” I needed to do.

Gratefully, our relationships can prompt for experiences that can be starting points to imagine racial injustice. It is here that we gain understanding and develop empathy for those who are oppressed.

I’m not sure how others do “the work”, but this is where I’m starting until I learn more. I know I still have “work” to do on my own unconscious racist ways of being, thinking and behaving. I know that I’m not sure if I will do this “work” right. But, I’m willing to just start, lean into the discomfort, get messy trying figure it out.

“The work” continues . . .

 

 

 

 

 

Game #1 ~ SOL #3 ~ 2020

“Are you ready yet, hon?” my husband has asked me for the third time.

I have promised him that tonight I would play our first game of Cribbage. I don’t know how to play Cribbage, so my loving partner of 31 years has so kindly offered to teach me.

“Not yet!” I holler from the living room, “I still have one chapter left to read in my book!” Reading requires brain power. I’m thinking that when I’ve mustered up all of my thinking for the day, we can play games.

He walks over to me and pleads, “Now?” like a little boy wanting to open his Christmas presents.

“Oh. . . kay. . . . “ I sigh.

He brings over the Cribbage board with cards and places them on the large ottoman in front of my chair. He gets comfortable in the adjacent couch.  I take deep breaths and set my books aside.

“Now, here are the procedures,” he begins. “We each cut the deck, low card deals. The dealer passes out six cards each and we need to discard two we don’t want. Those cards go in the kitty. The dealer gets the kitty.”

He continues with more procedures. Then, how you get points, “You want to try and get cards that equal 15 because they are worth 2 points, runs are worth 3, unless it’s a double run – they are worth 8 because 3 and 3 and then you add 2 for the pair.”

And, then he gives directions on how to peg for points. More procedures. And new words: pegging, double runs, fifteen-two, fifteen-four, flush, nobs, a Go, thirty-one for two. . .

“Are you ready?” he finally asks.

I am a little girl sitting in math class asked by the teacher to count backwards by 7’s from the number 3574. Tears stood in my eyes. There was a tightness in my chest. My hands rise to my cheeks because they are burning.

“I don’t know what the —- you are talking about,” I calmly tell him.

He pauses, smiles tenderly and says softly, “We’ll play for a few days with open hands, so I can help you,” recognizing my pain. “Don’t worry, hon, you’ll get it.”

I almost say no, I can’t do this. But, I need him to walk me back from the end of the plank. I signed my name on the back of that board. Relationship building. . . I kept whispering to myself.

I win the first game, with open hands. He praises me for my resilience.

Exhausted, I shuffle off to bed.

In the night, gazing out the window at the moon, residue from our game lace my thoughts . . . dread that I was going to have to do this again tomorrow.

Worse yet . . .

I had visions of the hundreds of students I’ve had in my classrooms over the last 30 years and I ached with remorse for all of times I probably put them through this.

I just lay there, whispering, “I’m sorry.”

And, the last line of Robert Frost’s poem, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Day” came to me like a prayer. . .

“I have miles to go before I sleep.”

Cribbage: A Relationship Builder? SOL #2~2020

I’ve never liked playing cards. When I was young, my father would urge us kids to play cards, trying to convince us that learning how to play cards was a non-negotiable skill that all human beings should be adept at. I’m not sure if my four siblings recall this same experience, although, I think they probably played cards and liked it. Perhaps I was the black sheep of card playing. I’ll have to ask them.

My husband is a card player. He taught our four children how to play cards when they were very young. I resisted joining in, letting this be his territory. I stuck to Candyland. Now, our children are all adults and when at family gatherings,  the night often ends with a game of Hearts and cocktails. There is laughter, joking, lots of snacks, shouting and cheering in these card matches. I sit on the sidelines, taking notes, or I sneak off to bed.

In our mid-fifties, my husband and I are now empty nesters. The winter evenings are long.

“You should learn how to play Cribbage, hon,” my husband urges me one late winter afternoon, as we were both reading by the fireplace. “I’ll teach you. It would be fun for us to play Cribbage games in the evening.”

“But, I don’t like cards,” I reminded him. “I just don’t.”

“But, Cribbage isn’t a card game, it’s a relationship builder,” he tries to convince me. “Please, it will be fun.”

I felt a wee bit sorry for him for several reasons. First, because he has to adapt to a wife who does not play games. Competitiveness was a gene that I was missing. Second, because he has no one else to play with. Except Ella. But, she only likes dog games.

After much banter, I sighed and said, “Okay.”

He jumped up from his chair in triumph. “We’ll have to go to Fleet and buy a new Cribbage board,” he says, “I know just the one.”

“Don’t we already have a Cribbage board?” I asked.

“Oh, this one is going to be special. We need one to commemorate the beginning of this new journey in our relationship.”

“How much is it going to cost?” I asked.

“It’s 40.00, but I have a 20.00 coupon. C’mon, let’s go.”

Off we drove to Fleet Farm to pick out a Cribbage board. Already, I was regretting my decision. This felt like too much of a commitment. What if I seriously did not like this game? Then there will be a new unused Cribbage board to remind me that I quit. What will it do to the relationship if he feels so strongly about it being a relationship builder?

We brought it home, chose a location in the house for it to hang (alongside the fireplace), wrote the date on the back with a permanent black marker and signed our names. It felt big. . . like we got married again.

“Tomorrow we’ll play game number one,” he announced.

For the love of Pete. What have I done?

I’m participating in twowritingteachers March 2020 Slice of Life Challenge of writing a blog post every day for the month of March. 🙂 To read the posts of other Slicers, please go here.

 

Sometimes Doodling is a Better Way~ SOL#19~Day#3

 

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Sometimes, I can capture a moment with more specificity by drawing doodles than in writing a descriptive micro-memoir. Speech and thought bubbles lend to inferences that can portray my characters more than I could in describing them in words. And, it’s quicker.

It can become a curse, however, as you start to see everything as a graphic novel, visualizing a scene or overheard dialogue as cartoon snippets. You can’t get down things fast enough as once you start, you’ve activated the launching sequence. Then, you begin asking yourself what becomes “story-catching worthy”. I’ve come to believe that everything is “story-catching worthy”, and if we don’t capture it, it’s gone forever, and sometimes we don’t know a story’s worth until years later.

Being an introvert, I can quietly observe my extrovert family members and their witty conversations. They don’t realize I’m taking it all in. Actually, my husband does. He sometimes says, “Did you get that, hon? Can you put that in your notebook?”

His life is much more “story-catching worthy” than mine.

But, perhaps that’s why we were partnered.

lumberjack doodles

Shari 🙂

Honey, I Do Really Need You ~ SOL # 8~2017

“Honey, did you look at my tire?” I questioned my husband last night.

“Yup. Fixed it,” he mumbled, as he was trying to watch a hockey game and do some research on his tablet.

“What? What did you do?”

“I fixed it,” he repeated.

“Well, I mean, did you just air it up, was there a hole in it or did you replace it with my spare? What?”

“Don’t worry, hon.  It’s fixed.”

“Well, I need to know if I need to keep airing it up or if I should get my tire replaced.”

“It will be fine.  It’s as good as new.”

My husband likes to play this game.  Sometimes I don’t think he wants me to know his secrets.   This way, too, I can maintain an image of my husband as the “man who can fix anything and I don’t know how he does it.” For perhaps, if I know what he did exactly, I could repeat it and fix it myself, or worse yet, have someone else do it.

Yup. That has to be it.

Men do like to save a damsel in distress.  It’s good for their egos.

It wasn’t always this way.

I am a pretty self-sufficient woman.  I was raised on a farm.  Farm girls drive dump trucks at 13 years old. . . tractors. . . combines.  I’ve built an outside jungle gym, laid tile and installed a sump pump. I have my own Harley (well. . . if he’s going to have one).

It really isn’t my fault.

My mother was German. And Polish.  My dad was Irish. There was nothing she could not do.

For Pete’s Sake.

This independence in a wife might be something a husband brags about from time to time. But, deep down, if I really were to dig, I wonder how much damage I’ve done.

My husband has confessed before that really, he didn’t think that I needed him.

“Oh honey,” I’d reply, “Of course, I do!” in my don’t-be-silly voice.

“For what?” he’d probe, seriously.

“Well, um, I need you to change those yard light bulbs when they burn out.  There is no way I could ever do that!”

That really was not what he was looking for in a list of things I needed him for.

In my attempts to do all and be all, whether trying to pad my own ego or prove my worth, I’m pretty sure that I’ve squelched some of the “saving” that a husband sometimes needs to do in order to feel his own self-worth.  I don’t regret my efforts, but. . . I do regret not giving my husband more opportunities to feel like he was needed more.

So, I’ve softened a bit.

There is a sweet space in between being an independent, self-sufficient woman and honey-I-need-you- 24/7.

Finding the essence of this place has been a difficult journey for me.

But, I’m learning.

Now excuse me, my husband needs me.  He’s burning hamburgers. . .

Shari 🙂

I’m participating in twowritingteachers March Challenge of posting a blog post every day for the month of March.  To check out other writers, visit here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pie Story #sol16

I don’t like to admit it, but we are pie snobs at my house.  It’s not our fault.  I blame my mother-in-law (or should I say credit?).

Before I even married my husband, I knew that making pie from scratch was going to be an art that I wanted to master.  His mother, you see, had the gift of creating these masterpieces and at the end of many Sunday meals, they would be presented, savored, and devoured.

I was there.  A mere 16-year-old girlfriend.

I saw the look on my husband’s eyes when the pie came out.

I saw the look on my father-in-law’s eyes when the pie came out.

I also saw the family in my husband’s house melt into a blissful state upon tasting that first bite.

And, I saw the love that radiated around the table.

I learned then and there that I would need to figure this pie thing out.  As a new bride, my pies were a sad disappointment. Crust making was torture.  My husband persevered, never criticizing my attempts.  Perhaps he knew he still had his mother’s pies as a default.  Or, maybe he was praying that eventually I would get there.  Really, I think he was just grateful that I was trying.

It’s taken years, and my pie making art is one of the few things I will openly say that I’m pretty good at.  There are days that no matter what, a crust won’t take shape and I’ll throw it in the garbage and start over (or decide to make a box cake instead).  There are days when I can’t find my rolling-pin cover and I have to cut off the toes of a sock to stretch over the pin.  And, there are days when I overcook the apples turning them to applesauce.

But, on those good pie days. . .

oh man. . .

my husband is like putty in my hands.

Shari 🙂

The Snooze Button ~ #sol16

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5:30am

The first reminder that the day is new comes from the tune of an alarm alongside my bed.

“Ugh,” I muffle, as I burrow deeper into my bedding.  My husband still sound asleep.

Snooze #1.

A snooze is 9 minutes.  Precisely.  A few snoozes are in store for this morning as the night before brought parent/teacher conferences until 8:00 pm.  It seemed I just left school and here my alarm was blaring that I needed to go back.

“No worries,” I calm myself, as I begin planning my outfit in my mind.  A black pair of pants hang in my closet and a sweater on my shelf, both, I know are clean.  They might not even require ironing.  Ten minutes is saved right there.  Dreamland calls me back to paradise.

5:39 am

Already.  I thought I’d just hit that snooze.  Geez.  I’m not getting up yet. There’s plenty of time.  I don’t need to be at school at 7:00 am today.  I’m giving myself a break.  I’m pretty convincing to myself.

Snooze #2.

Rolling over, my husband stirs, unshaken by the alarms and my snoozes.  I wrap my arm around him and dig underneath his fleece army blanket that he prefers to sleep beneath.  My own coverings of quilts I push off.  Each of us have contrasting preferences for nighttime blankets.  I need heaviness and he, light.

“You are wrapped up in there like Fort Knox,” he teases at night when I get ready for bed.

School dreams take me away this time.  My third graders are at gym and I can’t find the way there.

5:48am

Again.  Is there any way I can stretch the snoozes to be longer?

“Why don’t you just set your alarm for later?” my husband frequently asks, trying to remedy my problem.

“Because.  I like to have some warnings,” I profess.  “Snoozes give me a chance to feel like I get extra sleep.”

The snooze button is tapped again.  I snuggle back up to my husband, who is cool to the touch.

“Aren’t you cold?  You need more covers,” I mother him.

He ignores me and continues to slumber.  His scent of clorine from swimming takes me back to high school, he on the swim team and I, his girl friend.

Snooze #3.

6:24am

The alarm frustrated by now.  The spring sky growing lighter.

“I have to get up,” I whisper to my husband.

“What? Just five more minutes,” as he rolls over to wrap his arm around me.

Easily swayed,  “I guess I don’t need to wash my hair today.  I washed it yesterday,” I remind myself .  A benefit of long hair.

Snooze #9.  Seriously.

6:33am

Oh for Pete’s Sake.

“I have to go,” I urge my husband.

“Just one more snooze,” he begs.

I smile.

He really has no idea what time it is and how many snoozes have gone by,  not needing to be at work until 8:00.

Gone are the years of babies and night time feedings, waking children for daycare or dressing and feeding kids for school.  No longer are teenagers blaring music at night or sneaking in the door in the early morning hours.  Empty nesters, we play this game now.  Who can stay in bed the longest and still get to work?  (Still following our rule that if you are not there early, you’re late.)

This place.

I am grateful we made it to this place in our marriage.  The “children years” test every aspect of a marriage and when the offspring take wing,  a couple is weary and sometimes decide to trail off on their separate paths.  We persevered.

This place.

The morning snuggles with legs intertwined and rhythmic breathing.  I’m sure this is what heaven is like.  I whisper to God, thanking Him for mornings. . . and my husband. . . and his love.

And snooze buttons.