“You see the light that comes inside of people in other communities that are like, “I’m going to stand on the side of black lives.” You see people literally transforming. And that’s a different type of work. And for me, that is a spiritual work. It’s a healing work. And human to human, if you take a moment to be with somebody, to understand the pains they’re going through, you get to transform yourself.” –Patrisse Cullors (Artist, co-founder Black Lives Matter)
I don’t know about you, but it’s been a real struggle for me to understand how we got to where we are in this current historical moment in our Country. I feel like my own awakening has unfolded like a mosaic these past 3 years, putting together bits and pieces that tell a story vastly different than anything I was told or taught growing up.
I’m not feeling great with words lately. We’re still finding our way as a family of 4 and part of that transition includes establishing a different rhythm, reconnecting as moms and a lot of reflecting. I wanted to take a moment to say a few words here, however, and to share some resources that I’ve bookmarked over the last few years which may be useful to our White followers, some of whom we know are quietly working to understand their relationship with their own Whiteness. And many of whom have mentioned feeling helpless and stuck in this moment.
I’ll begin by saying that my thoughts continue to drift back to my Midwestern roots –Michigan born and raised; back to Minnesota; back to Philando Castile’s mother and sister talking about how his only tattoo was of the city he loved; the city that took his life; the city that sanctioned, once again, the taking of the breath and life from one more Black human being. A man who memorized the names of the 500 children he served lunch to every day — along with their food allergies, at a Montessori Magnet school in St. Paul, Minnesota.
I’ll add here, that I knew my journey to being the best version of myself as a parent would be an awakening of sorts. I could not have known just how tough or transformative. I could not have known that becoming a parent would coincide with the galvanizing of the Black Lives Matter movement. Or that we would go from fostering children on an emergency basis to adopting Black baby brothers. Or that building the foundation of our little family would coincide with the transition from the greatest president in our lifetime to the worst along with an uprise in visibility of our country’s biggest strengths and deepest race-based fears. What a moment in time we live in. What an opportunity.
I spend a fair amount of time reading threads and absorbing perspectives different than mine in various Facebook groups and fan pages geared toward exploring the intersections of race, transracial adoption, foster care, feminism and queer parenting. I am more observer than active participant as I consider myself still very much in the early stages of my own awakening. Several months back, I was struck by the 600th comment on one of Luvvie’s facebook posts. The post is gone now, but I copied & pasted the comment into my notes so I could marinate on it. A young Black man said this:
“I’m going to share a thought my white homegirl shared with me re: activism. Whenever she posts a thread about BLM issues, she receives commentary from folks telling her to mind her business. Said friend believes that this is an uncomfortable reality that she MUST deal with in order to TRULY be a part of this movement. So she does the WORK on herself so that she CAN endure those comments. She doesn’t use them as an excuse to run, or hide in the house. We don’t owe white people anything and I wish more of them felt this way and had the courage to fight through that fragility.”
I read this repeatedly and found myself seeking out the post and its ensuing lengthy and heated debate until I realized I just needed to internalize it. This was a moment of clarity for me in an otherwise sea of ongoing tumult, as it has been a challenge to find our rhythm as a family both publicly and privately. Choosing to adopt transracially has wholly shifted my understanding of the work I must do on myself, as I tackle my relationship to my own Whiteness. Raising our boys to be kind, confident, nurturing & aware kids, teens & eventually Black men is something we think about and act on every day. We are never not going about the business of doing expansive work on ourselves to parent the kids we have in the world which we’re raising them. It’s transformative work. Painful, remarkable, profound. And totally necessary.
What that means, is that we move through stages of our own awakening at our own pace, which has resulted in a tighter circle and the loss of the support of people in our life who are not ready or willing or feel it necessary to make change. For me, embracing the change that comes along with doing the work means that I’ve actively disengaged with many of my Midwestern biological family. Many of whom hold deep personal and religious belief systems and continue to be homophobic and racist. As much as I’d like to think that the sharing of my work on myself might impact or ignite change for them, I’ve come to recognize and learn to work through the deep loss I feel in knowing I can’t become the parent I need to be for my boys, for future foster kids, for my partner, if I’m sending so much of my energy into a void.
Where to begin
I’m no expert here and I couldn’t label for you the stages of your own awakening but I can tell you about some of mine. Many of the things I’ve heard our White followers express after another incident where an innocent Black person is killed by a police officer and the killer is found not guilty are many of the same sentiments that used to bubble to the surface for me:
“Heartbroken. Sickening. Distraught. I can’t even. Terrified for my Black son. Today is the saddest of days. How did this happen? How is this even possible? This is despicable. I don’t know what to say. How is this our country?”
I recall feeling frozen. Afraid of saying the wrong thing. Unsure of what was the right thing to say or do. How to interact with my Black friends besides apologizing. I felt trite and useless and overall, as if my own Whiteness made me part of the problem. And then I started reading. And listening. And googling. And I realized quickly that my being White did not make me part of the problem as much as my own lack of awareness of the privileges I’d been afforded as a White person all my life did.
My second biggest barrier to raising my own consciousness around these issues was a lack of understanding what it means to live in and benefit from an exploitative system that built global capitalism through the theft, kidnapping, torture and prison labor of millions of Africans; slavery.
Once I started to understand that, it became clear to me that the systems put in place at the founding of our country are still very much alive today. Our government institutions –educational, medical, housing, banking, criminal justice – are designed exclusively to benefit White people while dehumanizing and oppressing everyone else. When people euphemistically question “how did we get here,” my response now is that we never left here.
Our reality as a nation is that we are fundamentally unable to envision Black life. We are desensitized. Complicit in a system we are so overwhelmed by, the best many of us think we can offer is a sad-face or broken-heart emoji. A system where a police officer can be live broadcasted ending a human life and not be held accountable. Again & again. Year after year. We are programmed to think of Black people as less-than, we are conditioned to envision Black Death. But we are better than this and capable of impacting real change and progress in the lives of our Black brothers and sisters.
We are crippled by not knowing where to start to unpack any of it. But we can unpack it. We must unpack it to understand the social forces that create racists and what our role is in unlearning and undoing.
It begins with wanting to
We all learn in different ways and at different paces. For some of us that transformation takes place quietly, over several years and in the privacy of our homes with books and journals. For others, we are voyeurs or participants on the internet, in online groups or glued to newsfeeds. We talk things through with our partners & friends. For many, this process involves our first phone calls to our representatives and elected officials, donating time or money to those doing the work on the front lines. Listening to audiobooks, podcasts, binging on Netflix, coming together with our communities, our churches, organizing or participating in marches and rallies that are pro-Black Life and anti-Black racism. I’ve discovered that the learning lies in the listening, growth from the reflecting, change from the applying, healing from the joining.
Whatever this looks like for you, or wherever you are in your own process, I hope you own the hell out of it. The narrative, and thus the very future we hand over to our kids, is dependent on the work we are willing to do now.
In solidarity, Artist Mom
The following is a non-exhaustive list of resources that have impacted me greatly, many of which I’ve watched or listened to over and over. I find the audio (podcasts and books) and visual (hello, documentaries!) easiest to consume as a busy parent. This list is intended to be a jumpstart of opportunities, not an attempt to supplement real life relationships. Nor is it an attempt to craft your journey. This is simply a place to start, alphabetized by medium.
One last note. I believe fully that it is my responsibility to do this work and recognize and honor the emotional labor so many Black men and women continue to pour into some of the following resources so that White people may benefit and grow. Please consider financially supporting their work.
Audio books: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (read by the author)
Documentaries/Films: 13th, I Am Not Your Negro, What Happened Ms. Simone, 12 Years a Slave, The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross, 10 Must Watch Black History Documentaries, The Kalief Browder Story, The House I live in
Google: Middle Passage, Desegregation, The Tuskegee Study, Red-lining, African Americans + GI Bill
This American Life:
Cops See It Differently, Part One There are so many cops who look at the killing of Eric Garner or Mike Brown and say race didn't play a factor. And there are tons of black people who say that's insane. There's a division between people who distrust the police — even fear them — and people who see cops as a force for good. Stories of people living on both sides of that divide, and people trying to bridge it.
Cops See It Differently, Part Two Our second hour of stories about policing and race. We hear about one city where relations between police and black residents went terribly, and another city where they seem to be improving remarkably. And one of our producers asks: Why aren't police chiefs talking about race after incidents where unarmed black men are wrongly killed by officers?
Is This Working? Stories of schools struggling with what to do with misbehaving kids. There's no general agreement about what teachers should do to discipline kids. And there's evidence that some of the most popular punishments actually may harm kids.
The Problem We All Live With Right now, all sorts of people are trying to rethink and reinvent education, to get poor minority kids performing as well as white kids. But there's one thing nobody tries anymore, despite lots of evidence that it works: desegregation. Nikole Hannah-Jones looks at a district that, not long ago, accidentally launched a desegregation program.
It’ll Make Sense When You’re Older At first, it’s super annoying, getting told it’ll make sense when you’re older. Then, when you’re a teenager, hard lessons are learned, despite your best efforts to be too cool to care. By the time you’re actually old, you know a bunch of stuff— and you’re desperate to hold onto it. You might even wonder HOW you know all the things you know. Hosted by Chana Joffe-Walt and featuring SNL’s Sasheer Zamata.
I Thought I Knew You Host Ira Glass talks with Adam Mansbach about what happened when he went looking for an apartment and was mistaken for someone else. Adam is the author of the book Go The F*** To Sleep.
Harold A parable of politics and race in America. The story of Chicago's first black mayor, Harold Washington, told two decades after his death. Washington died on November 25, 1987.
Tell Me I’m Fat Obesity in America affects a higher percentage of black people than white people. Roxane Gay talks about being black and being fat with host Ira Glass. Gay is the author of Bad Feminist.
- MacArthur Foundation Poor Black Women are Evicted at Alarming Rates, Setting off a Chain of Hardships
- The Journal of Pediatrics Influence of Race and Socioeconomic Status on the Diagnosis of Child Abuse: A Randomized Study
- Annie E. Casey Foundation African American Children in Foster Care
- American Psychological Association Black Boys Viewed as Older, Less Innocent Than Whites, Research Finds
- PBS’ First Person Plural: Adoption History