Lessons i will teach my white daughter

I am seeing a lot about how white folks need to accept responsibility for our privilege and our role in the maintenance of white supremacy in the wake of the continued police sanctioned murder of black men, women and children. And it’s true. As i’ve said before, we need to teach our white children how NOT to be racist, how to see and call out racism, how to recognize the ways we benefit from and contribute to white supremacy, how NOT to be killer cops or trigger happy vigilantes.

There is a whole heck of a lot we need to be teaching our white kids. But as I read pieces by white mother’s grappling with their white privilege, I feel they come up just short of what we, as white parents of white children, need to be digging into

White female tears

White female tears

with each other. The action steps, the how to’s, the words we can use to talk with our children about something that saturates our world as completely as white supremacy.

I want to offer my messy and incomplete thoughts into the realm of strategy sharing. To start a conversation about how exactly we raise white children to make different choices about how to live with and use their white privilege. This post focuses specifically on my white daughter and it is incomplete, but i want to do similar posts for my white son and to expand on this one in the near future. I really am hoping this will be a conversation.

Lesson one: i will tell my white daughter that every man that has ever hurt me deeply was a white man. it was a white man that raped me. it was a white man that emotionally abused me. it was a white man who stole a lot of money from me, lied about it and then tried to wheedle his way back into my life. media, friends, teachers and other family members may try to convince her that black men are somehow scarier than white men. but they will be wrong and i will work to remind her that white female fear of black male bodies is a powerful tool of white supremacy. and i will teach her not to wield it.

Lesson two: i will teach her that as white women we are white supremacy’s darling. we are the antithesis of black male bodies. we are what white american terrorism is made for. from the lynching of emmett till, to the kkk, to the school to prison pipeline, to the ongoing open season on black bodies. all of that institutional violence, at it’s core, is all for us. all for white women. we are the battle cry of our white brothers. we are something to fight for and protect. while non white bodies, male and female alike, will be seen with suspicion by law enforcement and will be charged and imprisoned with enthusiasm by our justice system, she will be seen as innocent. she will be protected. at the very least she will be given the dignity of being treated innocent until proven guilty.

my daughter will know the names and stories of shanesha taylor and kari engholm. shanesha taylor is a black mother who left her two young children in her car with the windows cracked and the fan running while she went to a job interview. immediately upon returning to her car, ms. taylor was charged with two counts of child abuse, faced up to 8 years in jail and had her bail set unnecessarily high. her children were fine. keri engholm left her infant daughter in her minivan and then rushed off to meetings. tragically the little girl died but iowa officials were hesitant to charge mrs. engholm at all and it took them awhile to do so. my little girl will know that justice looks different when you’re a white woman. and that that is all kinds of fucked.

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White women: doing the work of white supremacy every. damn. day.

Lesson three: i will teach her that her white female body is used as a weapon of white supremacy against non white women. that while, yes, we face certain violences as a result of our female bodies, we also face less because of our skin color. and that her skin, hair and eye color are the trifecta of perfect beauty. that it is our bodies that have colonized beauty standards worldwide. that women all around the world have been taught to hate their own bodies because they are not light enough, their hair not straight enough. and that all over the world there are women that change themselves to look more like us. it pays to be the darling.

Lesson four: i will teach her that our dominion as the ultimate woman goes beyond beauty standards. that it permeates our psyche and that we let it be our truth. i will teach her the real history of the white female heroines she will learn about in school. she will know that when it mattered, during the women’s suffrage movement, white women were willing to throw black freedoms under the bus. that they were pitted against black male suffrage and instead of uniting made it clear they would not work with black men but fight on their own. i will teach her that margaret sanger, hailed as i champion for female reproductive choice, used her development of the birth control pill to serve the agenda of forced sterilization of black women. my white daughter will understand the legacy of our white foremothers and know how it continues to impact white feminists’ erasure of women of color.

There is endlessly more to teach her. There are whole lessons on avoiding the white savior complex. About tokenization, white woman’s tears, white guilt, how to step back shut up and cede some of our power. I just needed to start somewhere. And open the conversation with other white parents of white children about HOW exactly we teach our children NOT to use their lives as a pillar of white supremacy. Comments, reactions and feedback desired.

being the body

i love my body.  love it.  its softness, its solidness, its roundness.  the way the muscles pull and move under my skin.  the way i feel as i walk through the world with all the contained power and potential that is my body.  just this morning misty read us aloud an eduardo galleano quote that goes, “the church says: the body is a sin. science says: the body is a machine.  advertising says: the body is a business.  the body says: i am a fiesta.”  all day i’ve been affirming that my body is a fiesta.  and not just any fiesta, it is the kind of fiesta you want to be invited to.  and i want to be worshipping, nurturing and celebrating my body.  i want to be taking care of it.  but one day i will also want to risk it.

because my body is also political.  historically my body has been a protected body.  it is white, female, heteronormative (mostly).  it is the kind of body cops ache to protect; it is the kind of body they were made to protect.  men have been said to go to war for my body.  i am the antithesis of the brown male body, and still a far cry from the brown female body, the non gender conforming body.  those bodies have to be violently suppressed.  i am meant to fear those bodies, distance them from myself, remain pure and worthy of the protection i am given.  i am a body deified.  our culture sets the standard for beauty by my body.  i have all the power and privilege of my white female body.  and one day i will use that when i am ready.

last night i was sitting around talking with some friends.  talking about the sorts of community organizing i want to be doing in charlottesville, about the kind of work i want to be committing myself to.  and it’s clear to me that one day, in my future, i will be organizing things that are much too threatening to the systems and structures we live in and under.  because i want everything about my life to threaten and undermine the way we’re taught we have to live.  i want to be breaking this shit down and creating pathways to different worlds.  i want us to get back to the joy of living and let go of this struggle for survival that is capitalist culture.

and when what i’m doing is too much, when it gets to the point that the cops or whoever need to confront me and the other people i’m working with, i want my body to be in the middle.  i want it to be the first body that’s attacked.  because for centuries worth of history, all manner of bodies have been under attack, have been brutalized and terrorized by the police and others.  but not mine.  and i know in my gut, that part of my body that knows things before every other part, that i want to be in the way.  i want to be the body they have to get through first.

veronica talked some with me about the difference between being the voice and being the body.  how they both have their strengths and how you can really only be one or the other.  because being the body requires you to give up access to the voice.  because being the body is a different way of communicating and engaging altogether.

for now i’m happy to be a voice.  i like using my voice.  but i know that i am only being the voice now so that one day i can be the body.  and that knowledge sits heavy in my gut for now, hovers a bit around my heart, making it flutter from time to time and is beginning to permeate my whole self.  i feel grounded in it.  not particularly excited, but almost ready.

no justice, no peace

i haven’t written much lately, not for lack of content, but for lack of time to sit and tell my stories.  or maybe for lack of something else.  and this is a piece i’ve been musing on for many months as i grow more honest with myself.  the first time this common rallying cry caught my attention and started to unsettle me was at the march for trayvon martin here in charlottesville some many months ago.  i simultaneously love and hate this chant.  hate is a strong word, maybe more accurately the words both thrill and frustrate me.  i started to gripe about it then.  and i get that most people are working to figure out what they’re willing to do to try to change this fucked up world and most people will not be where i’m at, but it seems fair that if you’re not actually willing to constantly disrupt the peace, you shouldn’t shout this chant.  because–unless youre one of these racist ghouls that thinks his death was his justice–trayvon martin and his family haven’t seen any sort of justice since he was murdered by george zimmerman.  but we arent in the streets.  we aren’t making it impossible for the george zimmermans of the world to kill the trayvon martins; we aren’t threatening the power structures that exist in such a way that they must be held accountable to us.  well at least not enough of us are.

the definition of justice seems important too.  we’ve been taught to seek justice through legal means, the proper channels for our frustration are paved with enough paperwork to bludgeon an elephant with.  and all along the way we’re convinced to relinquish our freedom and self determination.  will it be enough if george zimmerman is tried and found guilty of trayvon martins death?  can we claim justice for trayvon if more and more brown and black men and women are still being killed by racist cops and vigilantes alike?  i tend to believe that justice for trayvon martin is much bigger than a life sentence in prison.  i think it looks more like a total dismantling of the criminal injustice system in this country, a removal of armed cops from poor communities of color, and maybe a complete removal of cops altogether.  i think it looks like a total destruction of the culture that trains us to view brown and black skin as something suspect, that teaches young men and women of color that they can only be so many things in our culture, most of which are “criminal.”  and if that sounds like the kind of justice we want to be seeking, what do we have to do threaten the peace enough to kick start this change?

out in anaheim they are not letting the deaths of their young men go unquestioned, for days they’ve been marching and making it clear to the police that they are not welcome in their community.  i want this to be happening in more places, i want to be creating police free zones.  i want to be doing more to fight back against the normalcy of killing young people of color.  i want to do more than chant.

there was also, recently, a hunger strike at red onion state prison–a super max prison in southwest virginia–where inmates tell a terrifying tale of inhumane treatment and widespread physical and psychological abuse.  prisoners made a list of demands that seem pretty reasonable and outsiders were offered ways to take action.  as i was reading through the updates and stories of prisoners, again this common chant started vibrating through my spine, shaking my body.  and i was distraught by the limited possibilities offered to outsiders who wanted to “take action” and stand in solidarity.  its very unclear what continues to happen at ROSP.  officials said the hunger strike was over long before inmates said it was, officials made no mention of the intimidation tactics and cruel punishment meted out to strikers.  and theres been silence for nearly two months.  it seems pretty clear that nothing resembling justice happened at ROSP and again the question of what justice looks like is curious.  is it a regime change that brings little difference to the daily lives of prisoners?  i’d rather be breaking the prison industrial complex.  i in no way believe that imprisonment does anything to address “criminality,” fuck i dont really believe in “criminality.”  i think our culture creates criminals and creates the real people destroying lives as heroes of capitalism and despotism.  i dont want to sit by and make phone calls as men are tortured and left to die slowly in dark spaces.  i want to do more.

i am making this chant my mantra and my challenge.  i’m tired of playing along at being powerless and i am eager to find others interested in taking this chant at face value.  and i absolutely understand that complementary to destroying the structures and systems i oppose i have to be creating and building new containers, new ways to support, care for and build community with each other.  i am excited about doing both.

riot for trayvon martin

i first read the story of trayvon martin on the crunk feminist collective blog, which everyone should be reading.  and then i heard it had made it into the mainstream news.  and then today i heard the 911 calls play on democracy now.  three yells for help, clearly from 17 year old trayvon, then two gunshots, then silence, then other news.

i couldnt hear anything else that was playing for awhile; couldnt follow the other stories at all.  until the sound of lamenting white men came across the radio waves and broke through the wall of horror i’d built up around myself.  73 OWS demonstrators were arrested last night or some night or something and a white male voice was speaking the horrors.  and while it was horrible, something in his sheltered experience of horror made me angrier than anything else i’d heard earlier in the program.  then not much later i heard george clooney speaking about how he’s just asking the sudanese government to stop killing, raping and starving its citizens.  i wanted to laugh in that maniacal way of someone who’s had enough, or really too much.  instead i went spinning again, full of a rage that made me want to punch and break things and scream.

it made me think of all the people who called the tottenham riots senseless.  it made me think of my falling out with occupy charlottesville.  it made me think of this picture i’ve kept on my computer for awhile, calling for riots for oscar grant, another black man killed, simply because he was black.  today, in 2012, in the united states of america a white man who has a record to prove he cant be trusted to act reasonably when on his neighborhood watch duties, is free after killing a 17 year old black boy who had nothing suspicious on him unless you consider skittles and iced tea threatening.  police are using a flimsy ass “self defense” argument to justify their inaction even though an eye witness stated that trayvon was the one calling for help and despite the fact that the 911 dispatcher told george zimmerman NOT to pursue trayvon on his own.  and then the motherfucker did anyways.  but i’m sure he’s innocent, i’m sure he only acted in self defense.

we talk like we live in a world that can be reformed into justice.  we talk like we’ve made leaps and bounds since we were lynching black people in trees in this country.  we talk like we dont have to face issues of racism, classism, sexism, etc. because its divisive.  when will well meaning white folks wake up and realize that our issues arent at the core of what is really wrong in this world?  when will we stop and realize that actually there are people living every day in a war zone they call home.  where their sons and brothers and daughters and mothers are constantly under attack, where they arent safe, where they experience economic violence, police violence, racial violence and all manner of other violences every fucking day.

i am furious tonight.  furious that anyone who comes from a place of privilege has the audacity to tell young men and women that their fierce anger about living in constant fear of being considered “suspicious” because they are not white skinned, and that they could be killed for being “suspicious” is senseless.  furious that even our american version of revolution is lost in the hands of
reform minded white folk who consider addressing our own deep rooted and well internalized oppressions a strategy of division meant to side track any real work from happening.  furious that we are still letting men and women of color die entirely as a result of their skin color.  furious that there is no accessible form of recourse against these gun toting vigilantes.  furious that more people arent furious.

let me add some names to rest alongside trayvon martin and oscar grant.  1) brian fillmore, 2) danroy “dj” henry jr (the cop who killed dj was later given the “cop of the year” award), 3) luis mendonca (beaten into coma WHILE handcuffed), 4) jesus manzo, 5) deaunta farrow (12 years old-shot to death), 6) clarence beard, 7) kwende williams (shot three times, kicked and called a n***** by cops after shot, paralyzed), 8) billey joe johnson, 9) reginald doucet, 10) raymond robair, 11) connell lindsey, 12) bryan jones, 13) danny rodriguez, 14) henry glover, 15) john t williams, 16) carlos la madrid, 17) jermaine williams (tasered to death), 18) sylvester villasana, 19) emmanuel o okutuga, 20) audrecas davis (tasered to death), 21) david arnulfo lopez, 22) decarlos moore.  this is not an exhaustive list.

are you still reading??  are you angry yet??  did you know that someone could be tasered to death??  did you see that a 12 year old had been shot to death??  we cannot reform this world into justice.  we have to destroy whole systems while creating new ones, we have to untangle our own internalized and institutionalized oppressions, we have to stand up and riot.  riot for trayvon, whose 17 year old, scared voice will haunt my dreams tonight.  riot for clarence beard.  riot for danny rodriguez, riot for jermaine williams.  riot for the men and women who havent died yet but will.  because cops have guns and more often than not immunity.  because the whole system is standing behind a “self defense” argument and we dont know who’s going to die next.  rioting because men and women are being killed for being black and brown and their murderers are going free is not senseless.  sitting back and letting this system kill those men and women is more than senseless.  it’s complicity.  it’s violent.

the bastardization of anger

i’ve been having lots of the chicken or the egg conversations about anger lately.  my theory is that the demonization of anger in white, middle class culture has become so ingrained in our society that we cannot even see through that veil.  hell, we dont even know its there.  in addition to being demonized in dominant white culture, anger has been coupled with guilt.  anger means we’re blaming someone else, you cannot express anger without someone else taking on guilt.  and we know how much white people hate their guilt.

growing up in the thick of that middle class white socialization, this meant that my experiences with anger were almost always passive aggressive or explosive.  we so undermined our ability to feel and express anger honestly that, after trying to stuff it through our constricted little passive aggressive pathways, we exploded and over-responded to our anger.  no wonder i’ve always been so afraid of the stuff.

but in the last month i have been getting angrier and angrier.  and who knew, but there are a lot of things to get hot and angry about. that’s another layer of the white listing of anger (lets be honest, when somethings being “black” listed it’s usually the white hands scribbling it into the ledger): the things people get angry about usually implicate the comfort of our privilege.  and who wants to face that?  better to make anyone expressing anger a stereotype and undermine the expression than to look underneath the anger at what someone is reacting to.  that’s just asking for trouble.  that means we have to take responsibility for something we’d rather ignore.

saturday night i spent several hours with two women who are wildly important to me trying to coax anger out of one of them.  she’d had her trust violated, she’d been lied to, manipulated, silenced.  and still she was stuck in her compassion, stuck in her self messaging that this is just what she’s worth.  the two of us coaxing her were angry enough for all of us and we growled and reflected back the shittiness of what had been done to her until she found her anger, too.  and her anger was not an expression of blame towards the person who’d done this to her, but an ecstatically waved flag of her own self-respect.  she is worth defending, she is worth getting angry over, she is worth so much more.  then i was entrusted with that fury and that pain and that self recognition, as i prepared to go see the person who’d hurt her.

and this is where my recent conversations have gotten hairy.  i went out into the night and prepared myself to express that anger to someone who might be inclined to take on guilt associated.  this is where i try to make an argument for clean anger, for an expression of honest anger that doesnt supersede compassion, but coexists with it.  i wanted to communicate that one of the impacts of what he’d done was anger, that there was definitely something to be angry about in this whole mess, but that i also was there sitting with him because i care about him and wanted to hear him.  i think it went well.  though i think i could have been even a little angrier.

what happens in a society that silences anger?  we undercut the validity of the expression, we bastardize anger and turn it into something ugly and mean, we deny there is anything to be angry about, we take away the power of those expressing it, we prioritize comfort over taking responsibility and being honest with ourselves and each other, we vilify all cultures that dont share our aversion to anger.

one of my favorite experiences with anger comes out of a disastrous burning man adventure.  the morning after a harrowing night in which two of our camp members were arrested, the lover of one of the men arrested, the only black woman in our camp, walked into the main tent clearly agitated and scared and started calling everyone in camp a racist.  she was furious and refusing anything that looked like white people trying to take care of her by calming her down, shutting down that voice.  nobody really knew how to respond.  i went outside the main tent with her and let her yell at me for nearly 20 minutes straight.  it was directed at me but i didnt take it on, instead i searched her anger for all of the puzzle pieces that made it up:  her fear, her pain, her genuine upset.  and i received that anger.  i let it course through me and heat up the blood in my veins.  afterwards we hugged and made plans to get her to her fiancee.

anger is not scary.  or rather, it does not have to be.  i want to start creating safe spaces for the expression of anger.  when used honestly, anger can be such a powerful tool for healing.  it can remind us that we are worth defending, it can reclaim a voice that was silenced when someone hurt us, it can shine light onto injustice and tease apart the structures of comfort bulwarked by our privilege.  anger can do lots of incredible things for us if we let it burn through us and be expressed.  i want to challenge our culture to examine it’s bastardization of anger and reclaim anger as a real, honest, valuable expression.

our dirty little secret: white female privilege

much of my life these days is defined by doing all manner of messy work: supporting friends, dismantling white privilege, challenging patriarchy, embracing anger, calling bullshit out when i see it.  and i am doing it all with people i really love and care about.  but there’s this nagging undercurrent to many of the conversations i’m having these days, especially as we approach the intersection of white privilege and sexism.  i have built alliances with other white women in this work, women i trust and appreciate, but when we get to that intersection, so often i hear the phrase “white male privilege” used as a shield, as something to hide behind.  it is used a lot in this way and i get angrier every time i hear it.

i want us to come clean.  white male privilege exists, yes, but so does white female privilege, and i think it’s time we acknowledge that and challenge it, instead of pretending it away so that it can go unchecked and wreak havoc in our communities.  we, white women, derive privilege from our skin just like white men do.  some examples might include:

  • white women are the beauty standard, which means we can challenge the beauty standard because we define it–for me this means that i can wear my chin hair out with a less extreme penalty.  in fact i am often appreciated for my courage, but that courage rests on the backs of women of color who put my white beauty on a pedestal.
  • we are the purity standard, the feminine standard, the standard for all things consider woman and wonderful, really.  which, like being the beauty standard gives us the power to define what it means to be woman.  and we do, every day, whether in our shockingly white feminism or in our media dominance.
  • we can be emotionally expressive all along the spectrum: from anger to vulnerability, without much repercussion.  sure, i’ve been made to feel crazy because i was screaming at a man, but even then other people circled around me to support me.  i have seen the exact opposite response from the same community when it was a woman of color expressing her anger.

    notice that these are ALL white women. but we wont complain about that part. nope.

  • we are deemed worthy of protection.  white women, because we are the ultimate feminine, are defended and given more institutionalized protection than women of color.  you’ve heard it before, someone dismiss a woman of colors fears, saying she can take care of herself.  i’ve heard about it happening in my supposedly “radical” occupy community.  that is bullshit.
  • we get media images and histories of people that look like us reminding us that we are the makers of history, the paramount in worth and value.
  • the list goes on.

hell, we have the privilege of pursuing social activism.  and still we cannot admit that we harbor an oppressor inside each of us.  it’s so much easier to say that we are the oppressed, that we are struggling alongside our sisters of color without distinction.  it’s so much easier to ignore the role we play in upholding white supremacy.  trigger words, trigger words.  are you getting defensive yet?

ok, let’s take a breath.  i get that it’s painful to admit that we, too, uphold racism.  especially painful for white women who think they are part of the solution.  who think they are sisters in solidarity.  but we do more damage by ignoring our white female privilege than we undo in all of our cool anti-racist work.  so let’s step up and check our privilege.  we do not get to stay comfortable at the expense of the struggles of other women.  we do not get to pretend we are exactly the same as women of color, that we do not directly support the oppression of those women.

no, white boys, this doesn’t mean you’re off the hook.

reclaiming my room

i’ve always hated that word.  usually when its used something that should be sacred or safe or unharmed has already been violated.  they use it to talk about what they do after mountain top removal, they use it to talk about taking back words, they use it to talk about taking back land that should never need to be taken back.  reclaiming has always felt like an insult to the memory of whatever it is youre “reclaiming.”  it always seems to gloss over and sanitize the fact that something terrible, awful, violent happened and someone thought it was okay to do it.  i think we need a new word, something that recognizes the anger and horror of the act and the process.  but until we have it, i’ll settle on reclaiming.

saturday morning i discovered that someone close to me, someone who i’d believed cared about me, stole nearly 600$ out of my room.    it’s been a rough several days since then, coping with the emotional impact: the violation of my space, the violation of my trust, the pain of having every memory of my relationship with this person demeaned and shattered.  then, to exacerbate that process, the low level, constant financial anxiety i am now carrying around with me.

i am only now feeling comfortable again in my room.  the first few days i couldnt come in here without getting nauseous, and it was only because i was all but forced back into the space on monday that i am able to sit in it now.  it was loud downstairs with the brush burner spitting hot air into the house and kaya and i needed somewhere warm and quiet to play.  as we walked up the stairs to my room, she looked back at me with the anxious look of bit lips and said, “but you dont feel safe in here.”  it was true and her pause and concern made it okay to walk in again together, to try at least.  i walked in and was hit by wall of nausea; i remember being even more anxious to bring kaya into that space.  it was the intersection of feeling violated in my room and that re-triggering sexual violences and i wanted to scream and get kaya out of there.  i didnt want her to be exposed to any of the trauma of feeling violated in such core ways; i didnt want to invite her into that space and thus into that experience that is all too common for women in our culture.  but she wasn’t where i was in that moment, and she tugged me forward into the room.

i dont really remember what we did those first few moments.  eventually we burned sage, made little booties for one of my teddy bears that kaya has fallen in love with.  and then at some point we were watching a music video and kaya’s head was resting on my thigh and i could feel my anxiety meet her calm, i could feel her help me ground.  and i felt a little better, i felt myself fall into the reclamation process.

i still haven’t been able to sleep here yet.  the combination of the dark and the vulnerability of sleep have made me too anxious to consider it.  but we’re having a party here at woodfolk on friday and i think i’ll invite folks i am excited about to have a chill party space up in my room, so i can fill it again with good energy.  and then hopefully i’ll be able to convince someone to sleep over with me.  because while many people are offering me spaces to sleep, it is a bit exhausting sleeping somewhere else every night.

and that’s really the amazing part of all this, the response of my new and old communities.  the day i found out i had so many people validating my upset, my pain, my sense of violation.  i had houses and arms open to me.  i had shoulders to cry on and to hold me up.  in the moment that i realized that one person that i’d trusted didn’t care about me, i was reminded of the many many more who do.  and i mean really do.  thanks to everyone who’s been helping me through this process.  mad love.

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