My First Black History Lesson

I learned about MArian Anderson

It was my second grade class in 1976 and we learned about this remarkable opera singer who fought racial prejudice to sing opera and Carnegie Hall and then for President FDR at the Lincoln Memorial. I don’t have a lot of memories of my school years from when I was 7 years old, but I do remember some of this. Mostly I remember coming home with my lesson paper to show my mother and her smile after looking at it, and that she made a phone call and told me afterwards that we were going to Connecticut that coming weekend to go visit the Fishers. And I remember being very confused until she sat me down to explain.

Mrs. Fisher is Marian Anderson.

Yes, she autographed my schoolwork and my mother saved it.

My mother was friends with this older couple that had a farm in Connecticut and their name was Mr. and Mrs. Fisher. I don’t know how she was friends with them, how she’d met them, but we’d been to visit a few times and I liked to play with the animals. It was a working farm (I think it was a cattle ranch, actually), in Danbury Ct. So when I learned that Mrs. Fisher and Marian Anderson was the same person, I was really surprised! I enjoyed learning, and I enjoyed music, as I was already studying ballet and my whole family was musical but the impact of what she’d done wouldn’t hit me until I was much older. I was a mere child, and she was an old lady. I just wanted to play on the farm, not listen to the grown-ups talk. That is, until the one time, the ONE TIME she treated us to a living room performance after lunch. I was probably one of the few lucky people to get a “command performance” from a living legend, and I didn’t even know it. She sang Ave Maria. To this day, when I hear that aria, I think back to that living room– and the blues and golds of her wallpaper, and her table after lunch, with the dishes still not cleared yet. Her voice bounced off the walls and the dishes and everything rang a bit from the power behind it. I remember that *feeling*.

I’m 52 now, and today is the last day of Black History Month. I don’t need to write about WHO Marian Anderson is. There’s plenty of information on who she was as a performer, or as a role model or even as historical figure. I am writing this not just as a tribute to a person who was part of the struggle to gain equal recognition during the early half of the 20th century but also as someone who was important to my mother, although I don’t remember how or why. I only know that Mrs. Fisher, as I knew her, was a friendly lady with a big voice — and a bunch of chickens that ran around her front yard. And she let me ride her pony sometimes. And I learned about her when I was 7 years old in the 1970s, at a time when black history wasn’t often taught in schools, particularly in the first and second grades (my first and second grade classes were mixed together.)

An Open Letter to My White Friends

Let me start this off by saying that I cherish each and every one of you, whether I’ve just met you recently or have known you for a long time (some since childhood). You wouldn’t be my friend if we didn’t have one thing in common: a respect for life in all its myriad shapes, sizes, and colors. Not just human life, but life in all aspects.

Let me also preface this by saying that while this is addressed to all my white friends, you are all going to read it differently. Some of you are going to take it personally. If you do think I am talking directly to or about you, that is of course your choice, but I ask that you take a moment to think about why your defense mechanisms immediately went up.

Some of you (those that at least pay attention on social media) may have noticed a slight shift in me lately. I’m still the same old me – loving, kind and compassionate. Goofy. Possibly too involved with my dogs. But I’m also not the same. I’m angry, and no longer willing to stand aside when I see injustice done to others, especially to people of color. I’m speaking out, yelling out in fact and I know it’s uncomfortable. I’m facing my own racist tendencies (and all white people have them – don’t deny it – if you’re white, you have benefitted from a racist system and that’s just how it is in this world) and doing what I can do be ANTI-racist. I’m not doing it perfectly, as I’m not a perfect person. I’ve probably pissed a lot of you off in some way or another. But I will not apologize for being on this journey of self-reflection and growth into a better person for ALL people, especially the BIPOC in my life and my community.

Some of you have shown support to me during this journey and I thank you for it. Others, it is obvious you have no clue that it’s even happening. I realize not everyone uses social media the same way – some prefer theirs to be carefully curated to show only the good stuff. I use mine to communicate honestly to my many friends around the world, in full honesty, what’s going on in my life. That again is your choice. It’s also your choice to retreat from it all – to turn off social media or the TV news and pretend like none of the unrest in our country is happening; that black people aren’t being gunned down by police for ridiculous reasons. But BIPOC cannot turn off the color of their skin when they walk out their doors like they can turn off the TV.  You have a privilege that they do not have. You are not literally faced with the choice of going out into the world and possibly not going home that day because of the color of your skin.

My liberal progressive, or liberal moderate friends, so often I wonder – where are you? I know in your hearts you support the movement I’m a part of. I think, “Well…they must! I mean, I’ve seen the ‘Black Lives Matter’ stuff they posted”. I’ve seen you at the safe protests. Where are they? Where’s the outrage at what’s happening in the city they live in? At the police brutalizing young people and teenagers (and their disabled friend – me) during a peaceful protest and protecting white supremacist counter protesters that came from out of town to torment us?  

I recognize that everyone has a different way of managing anxiety. This entire year has been an exercise in learning how to manage your anxiety. I manage mine by funneling it into action. If I see something that causes me anxiety, or anger, I try to DO something to alleviate it, if I can. I turn that bad anxiety into good. Ignoring it doesn’t make it go away because it’s still going to be there the next time I turn on the TV or social media. I can’t ignore what’s going on if I care about the people in my life and community. I realize that not everyone manages their stress and anxiety the same way but hiding from reality isn’t (IMO) helping anyone. I’m not even sure it’s helping you since the cause still exists when you come back to reality. Remember that I am the friend that says the hard things others won’t say to you, not the things you want to hear.

To those white acquaintances that tend to be more of a middle of the road/conservative bent (and I do have a few)…well, I don’t really know what to say to you. I see your posts and cannot for the life of me understand your logic. I can’t understand how you rescue animals, would give the shirt off your back for a dog and yet swallow the propaganda from the right-based media hook, line and sinker. You cry about some boy murdered (and his murderer caught) but kids in cages at the border are somehow ignored.  All lives matter but they won’t matter until Black Lives Matter and the black child in your home KNOWS THAT. They know that, they hear the things you say and they are ingesting the hurtful, hateful things and will be telling it all to their therapist when they grow up. I pray for them.

I was once respectful of police and the difficult job they have but after seeing up close and personal how they cherry pick which laws to enforce, or make them up as they go along, I’m pretty well done with respecting police until the whole system is reformed. Our military troops overseas have more rules of engagement with foreign terrorists and what they can do during a WAR than our police do with our own citizens. I’m finished with excuses. “Stop resisting”, or “just comply” will be met with more resistance. This country, may I remind you, was BUILT on resistance. Resistance of authoritarian regimes is the hallmark of freedom. And police forces engaging in unlawful arrests of peaceful protesters is an authoritarian regime, violation of the First Amendment and I wouldn’t be a good American Citizen if I didn’t RESIST. Change comes from within. There needs to be sweeping change, alleged criminals deserve their day in court, ALIVE.

And as of right now, I am a “criminal”. I have been charged with two misdemeanors.  Me. The honor-roll, Dean’s List, top of the class, never did anything wrong, creator of the longest-running pagan festival on Long Island, had a song written about her, been quoted I-don’t-know-how-many-times-by-how-many-people, helped run a well-respected rescue, goody-two-shoes.

I’ll end this here: Again – we wouldn’t be associating with each other if we didn’t share something in common. Some of you I’ve known my entire life and you’ve known me since I was a goofy kid in pigtails and braces. Some of you grew up with me, watched me grow from a shy Christian kid who loved animals and wanted to be a vet into a rather strange pagan woman who loves animals (some things never change) and is pretty outspoken. Some of you are associates only know through rescue activities or some other thing we’ve done together. If you see yourself in what I’ve written here, good or bad or in between…know that I write this with love in my heart. I am trying to understand myself and my new journey and where I fit in this new world that is building around me. And perhaps, where you fit in that journey with me.

IF YOU’RE TIRED OF WAKING UP AND HEARING NEWS OF PEOPLE BEING SHOT FOR BEING BLACK, IMAGINE HOW THEY FEEL…

…FOR ACTUALLY BEING SHOT. OR LIVING WHILE BLACK.

I’m trying to recognize my privilege while also realizing that I can care, can be an ally, and want to help but also deal with my own anxiety and depression and C-PTSD.

I get overwhelmed. I buckle under. I fall to pieces. And none of it has anything to do with being targeted simply because of the color of my skin.

My life could be one of those movies or novels that you see — matricide, drug abuse, domestic violence, natural disasters…young single motherhood, mental illness and rising above it, blah blah blah. Right? Sounds like a movie Oprah Winfrey would produce.

And yet still, I’ve had access to healthcare, mental health care, resources and assistance that are often denied to BIPOC.

None of this is fair. I suffer from C-PTSD because my life has been a series of hellish experiences foisted upon me by others, none of which I asked for or deserved; most of which were done by folks that were just seriously messed up members of my family that I loved.

But none of it had fuck-all to do with the color of my skin. My story isn’t even all that different than those of many black women, tell the truth. I bet you can find a few black women who have lived my same story … but I did while being a middle-class (ha), college-educated white woman. Therefore, when I tell it, I get applauded for overcoming it all. They still have to deal with their past hurts, and be a target while living their lives. 

I don’t know how to be supportive while wanting or needing to curl under the blankets and hide; when I need to take care of my own mental health needs. I feel so privileged to just say “I need a mental health break” knowing that the BIPOC that I am supporting on the front lines can’t do that. That the protests go on, the violence continues, and that the young men and women putting their bodies and lives on the line for Black Lives Matters cannot stop and go hide under the covers. That even those same people going on about their lives can’t hide because they are targets, and don’t have the same privilege that I do.

I’m not sure how to end this post, since it’s not a post looking for answers — as there really are no answers to this. It’s not looking for sympathy — I don’t need nor want any. None of this is even about me. It’s rambling about a problem I see far too often from white allies, and will sometimes feel myself and then feel guilty, “I’m tired of the bad, sad, distressing, etc., news, I’m taking a break”. Well, since our brothers and sisters of color can’t take a break…why do we white folks think we can get away with it?

Hoover Killed EJ

I’ve been trying without success in getting the media, any media, or…anyone really to pay any attention to the protests happening in Hoover, Alabama. I get it, people are just fucking tired of hearing about Black Lives Matter. Well, you know what? Too fucking bad.

EJ Bradford mattered. He mattered to his family. He mattered to his community. And the protesters that are trying to get the body cam footage released to his family, that will once and for all end the question of whether or not his shooting (three times in the back) by a police officer on Thanksgiving of 2018 was justified or not, think he matters too.

But the Hoover Police Department don’t think that Black Lives Matter, nor do the lives of their allies. If they did, they wouldn’t work so hard to cover up their tracks, to escalate their brutality against the protesters who are exercising their First Amendment rights, or protect ONLY the rights of the counter protesters that show up bearing “Blue Lives Matter” or “All Lives Matter” and “Trump 2020” signs.

Today they arrested 10 CellA65 protesters in the Galleria Mall during their die-in protest. There was no need to pepper spray the protesters after they were in handcuffs, but this is SOP for Hoover PD. There’s no medical care once these protesters are in jail, either. (Ask me how I know….)

FB Live video from Satura, the protest organizer. At the end when the police get to her (she’s at the bottom of the pile of bodies, protected by white allies), they tase and pepper spray her. She has asthma.
Outside POV of the die-in protest.
Top view of the arrests

Also today, during the other part of the protest, there was a credible threat of a shooting after one of our protesters heard the unmistakable sound of a large-caliber gun being locked and loaded in the parking lot. We immediately created a perimeter of OUR OWN BODIES around the people of color to protect them while the police just sat in their cars. Not one of them moved to even check the threat and see if we were safe.

About 4 minutes in, we are notified of the threat and form a human shield.

I have an essay about my experiences at the hands of Hoover PD as a white, middle aged, disabled ally to the BLM movement. I’d hoped that my submission to HuffPo would be accepted but so far I’ve not heard back. I’ll be posting it to my Medium blog on Monday and praying the aggregator picks it up from there because what’s going on in Hoover is despicable. And no one cares. I’m afraid no one will until someone else gets shot. That’s apparently what it takes in today’s media climate. So instead, I’m blogging because that’s all I have left — screaming at the top of my lungs and praying SOMEONE is listening.

And hey…while you’re here… sign the petition to make them release the body cam video.

http://chng.it/22zNhjpWdB

To “Beckywiththepinkhat” from another Becky with a pink hat

There are many viral posts making the rounds from WOC (women of color) or indigenous women that were at the Women’s March on Washington or other cities this past weekend. These posts are admonishments to the white women that have just now decided to rise up and fight for rights that WOC (I am going to use WOC in this post to include all races EXCEPT white for reasons of expediency) have been fighting for generations. Two of these posts I will link here as examples:

https://twitter.com/sydnerain/status/823378710833270786

 

As a white woman, albeit a Latina (Brasilian) of Jewish descent, it’s hard to read those words. My first reaction is, “Hey! I didn’t do that to you! I am intersectional with my feminism. am a first generation American. MY ancestors didn’t oppress anyone – they were the ones oppressed as German/Russian Jews!” etc. And yes…I have been activist in some form or another for most of my life but not quite as activist as I SHOULD have been especially in light of what has been happening in this country. I was focused on other things, what I deemed important to me at the time (in my case, pit bull advocacy and animal welfare. Still important but the human animal is deserving of compassion too — and…I almost went off on a tangent. Nope. Stay focused Jax.)

Lakeshia and Hokte, and others saying the same — I want you to know that I AM LISTENING. WE ARE LISTENING.

Some of us white women are tardy to the party … but we are here now. Educate us.

I know you are frustrated with us; that it took us SO LONG to get here. But please, welcome us now that we’re here. Many of us are trying, please realize that. We’re going to flounder and flub and make stupid mistakes because for many,  it’s our first time as activists.  Educate us. Treat us like the newbies we are — be gentle. We are not used to being trod upon. I know…special little snowflakes are we, we white women of privilege. But that’s the thing here — so many of us (not me specifically) ARE coming from a place of privilege and have JUST NOW realized that it’s all being threatened and we are TERRIFIED and don’t know what to do. We don’t know how to act. I’m willing to bet that many of the women that marched on Washington had never marched before, had never traveled out of their own state or interacted with people outside their own demographic. It may not seem like a lot to you —  WOC who are activists and experienced in fighting for their rights but for some of the women I traveled with from Alabama — it was a GIANT leap of courage to leave their tiny  towns and interact with folks so far from their usual perspective. Acknowledge that.

I know you’ve been angry and oppressed and repressed for most of your lives and look upon so many suburban housewives with their silly pink hats with disdain and think, “what took you so damned long?” I don’t blame you for wanting to call us out. But at the same time, we ARE here NOW. So after admonishing us for being clueless or rude or just plain ignorant — maybe take a moment to also thank us for making the attempt to cross a cultural bridge that has stood for so long and that for many has been more of a wall than a bridge. Many “Beckys” DON’T understand. But they will now. Or maybe it’ll take another week or a month or a year but the fact that so many “Beckys” showed up is a step in the right direction. Acknowledge that.

If you, and we, want to work together then your admonishments need to be followed up with education on HOW we can be better as women. Just women. Not WOC or indigenous or white women or Jewish women or Muslim women or Christian women or how about we include the men of all kinds that joined us in the marches.

We were late. We were ignorant and rude and faltered and didn’t act correctly. But we’re here now and WE ARE LISTENING. We are trying. Help us help ourselves, together.

This is me: My name is Jackie (not Becky). I am a white latina jewish pagan buddhist LGBTQ disabled woman. And I wore a pink pussyhat. And I was there in DC. And I’m pretty sure I wasn’t rude to anyone and if I was: I’m sorry. But it had nothing to do with your skin color or culture, it had to do with the pain I was in and my body breaking down. At that point, you could have been Rutger Hauer *swoon* and I’d have barked at you to get out of my way.

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