Archives for posts with tag: racism

Today is International Peace Day. I think a lot about peace and I try hard to cultivate it within myself as well as to be a peaceful participant in the world around me. The degree of success varies but it is rare that a day goes by without my being mindful of my intent.

I have not written as frequently as in the past, in part, because my mind is fragmented. My emotions are fragmented. The world is not making sense. There are many things going on but they are all getting wrapped up literally and metaphorically in our U.S. Presidential election. It is white male heterosexual privilege against everyone else. We have a major presidential candidate with no experience who is viable just because he is white, heterosexual, powerful, and more importantly, an explicit spewer of hate and selfishness. When he cheats, he is savvy. His exploitation of people and resources makes sense because he is the right sex, orientation, and color to dominate others.

Meanwhile, we have a very competent woman running for president with decades of experience who manages to get things done despite the fact that she’s been held to a level of scrutiny that arguably no other candidate has ever faced. Her crime? She’s made mistakes. Women are not allowed to make mistakes. They are allowed to be perfect mothers or to serve men.

Meanwhile, African American people, some children, are being murdered by police. No, this is not new. What is relatively new is that the incidents are now filmed and even when they can be viewed, many white people still come up with reasons why the person, often unarmed, sometimes with their hands-up, deserved to die.

Meanwhile, an African American football player decides to stop standing for the National Anthem at football games. There is strong backlash against this kind of “disrespect” to our country as well as to our military. This is a peaceful protest by a man who belongs to a race that has been owned, systematically oppressed, and clearly shown on video, hunted. It is 2016. This is still happening. We have a major presidential candidate who is whipping up hatred for every “otherized” person. People, what are YOUR PRIORITIES? Respecting the flag or not killing people?

Meanwhile, nearly half of the homeless youth in the U.S. are LGBT. LGBT youth, more generally, are subject to a high incidence of sexual and physical assault, drug/alcohol use, and suicidality. This is all because we believe that not being straight or cisgender somehow threatens our safety.

Meanwhile, immigrants, potential immigrants, or anyone who resembles an immigrant from a non-European country, are being treated like terrorists, despite research evidence pointing to the opposite. Immigrants, by and large, are hard-working people. Their children, on average, engage in significantly less crime and drug use than U.S. born white youth.

Meanwhile, I was at home yesterday when my husband received a text from a friend, who referred to him as “a girl” as a joke. My tolerance for this kind of sexism is low. I told him that it was a misogynist joke. He disagreed and his feelings were hurt. Both men are good and decent men but I was taken aback that my husband defended the joke and acted like I was overreacting. My reaction may have been stronger than usual but that is only because it is exhausting and unhealthy to be in a constant stage of outrage over the insidious and outright violent oppression in our country and world.

I know that I can best advocate for peace, when I have more myself. That does not mean not being angry, afraid, or in grief for some very hateful forces in our world. But it does mean balancing them with the good that exists around me.

In about an hour I am going to the Frye Museum in Seattle where there is a sitting meditation every Wednesday. That will help as will meeting my friend, Nancy, there.

I wish you all peace in your hearts.

 

Last night I attended my daughter’s choir concert. One of the songs they performed was 2014’s, Shut up and dance (with me). It’s a catchy song with multiple messages, both literal and figurative. I’ve been thinking about it since last night. It was part of my meditation during my walk today.

The message I have been meditating upon is, “Get out of your head and engage with me. Engage with my humanity.” Yeah, I know. That’s kind of a stretch. But hey, this is what mindfulness does for me when I examine my thoughts and thread them together with my experiences.  It has meaning and usefulness for me.

There has been a great deal of human engagement weighing heavily on my mind.  It is the engagement that results in stalemate, hatefulness, paralysis, and polarization. It is human engagement without the recognition of humanity. There is violence in my country that is specifically targeted toward underrepresented populations fueled by institutional racism, institutional sexism, xenophobia, and institutional homophobia. There is violence in my country due to suicide. There is violence in my country due to accidental shooting deaths by children who gain access to firearms.

It is also the presidential election season in the U.S.  People choose a candidate. Passions often run high. That is normal for a major election season. But this is not a normal election season. This is a season during which a reality t.v. star is a major presidential candidate and he is running on a platform so filled with hatred that even members of the party he is representing is having trouble coming together to support him. It is an incredibly stressful time for our country as well as the fact that the world is watching, helplessly, contemplating the possibility that an unqualified person who spews hate will be the head of one of the most powerful countries in the world.

I could tune all of this out. I could avoid reading any news. If I did, I would not be living a true life. I would be living in denial. I could also get myself very involved in all of this. Read the news constantly. Ruminate. Argue with people. The latter is what I have been doing and it is also not a true life, because the ball of anxiety, sadness, and anger I feel is making it harder to appreciate and engage in the positive aspects of my world. When I am out of balance either, too much or too little, I am prone to black and white thinking. That is not the world in which I actually live.

I try really hard to engage respectfully with people with whom I disagree about these subjects. It is difficult. I have only two or three friends on social media who engage in discussion and do so in a respectful fashion. I don’t get a lot disrespectful or judgmental comments. When people engage in that type of behavior, I either say something or ignore it, depending on what I judge to be the more effective response at the time. I do, however, find myself in discussions, which although civil, just don’t go anywhere. We just each repeat our position in slightly different words, even after it is clear that each of us has had the opportunity to consider the other viewpoint. When I am most mindful, I recognize this and say something along the lines of, “I’ve had an opportunity to consider your viewpoint. I still don’t agree. Peace.”

Today, I witnessed a rather remarkable exchange between a Facebook friend of mine and someone with whom she had grown up with but not seen for 45 years. One of the things I admire greatly about this friend is that she expresses her viewpoints in a respectful, compassionate, and well informed way. When she disagrees, she is kind but clear. She responded to what many of us would call an Islamiphobic statement with a gentle persistence. The person with whom she was interacting did not sound like he was going to change his position. However, by the end of 2-3 conversational turns, he wrote that she had given him things to think about and that he needed to obtain more information about the subject. They engaged in a way that identified the humanity in each other. It was one of the more heartening experiences I’ve had.

Last night, I was at a Pride Month concert. It was a performance of the LBTGQ/Allies youth choir in which my daughter sings. I used the restroom before the concert. There was a woman at the sinks who looked like she might be transgendered. I know that as a 50 year-old woman, this was likely not the first time I’d shared a bathroom with a transgender woman. However, it is the first time since an outspoken and passionate segment of my country decided that this was a major threat to restroom safety. I was struck by how little it struck me and how normal it felt. I liked her hair and I made a mindful decision to give her a compliment, which was met with appreciation. I wanted her to know that I engaged with her humanity and that I supported her right to be there. Engaging with someone from a standpoint of connection rather than difference can mean so much. Sometimes the mundane can be a peaceful and comforting experience.

Honestly, I need to unplug from political discussion for a bit. But that does not mean that I have to unplug for humanity. I can still engage and I can engage purposefully with people with whom my fearful or judgmental mind categorizes as “other”.  Maybe I can engage in a brief conversation with people who whom I have a knee-jerk reaction to judge even though I think it’s wrong, for example, people in a cranky mood, parents who bring small children to romantic restaurants,  parents who deck their kids out in military style garb, and men who wear t-shirts or hats with “Official Babe Inspector” written on them.  Maybe I can engage with folks with whom I know I have strong political and religious differences about other topics.

It is a platitude, but it is true that people put up walls. It is so true that we have a presidential candidate who is talking about it LITERALLY. The world can get so easily overwhelming. I find myself in fear and great worry myself. I understand why people want to shut it out. I understand why people want to arm themselves against danger. I also understand why people want to yell, hurt, and destroy. I understand why people want to give up. I understand these things because they are part of my own individual human experience.

Fear, anger, shame, selfishness, and sadness are shared parts of our human experience. But so are joy, curiosity, hope, compassion, and charity. Together, we are more than the sum of our parts.

 

 

A lot of teens do not understand their own mortality. That is normative. I was not a normal teen. I was hyper-responsible and tightly wound, in equal measure. Consequently, when I grew old enough to get my driver’s license, I was struck by the enormous responsibility that came with the power and the privilege of driving. I understood that I could really hurt, maybe even accidentally kill someone.

I don’t particularly like driving. Nonetheless, I am a good and responsible driver. Most of the time, I pay very good attention. However, sometimes, I have a lapse in my attention, as everyone does. I forget the power I have in driving a car. Fortunately, these lapses typically do not have negative outcomes except when I notice them and think about what could have happened.

Yesterday, I was walking to my car after work. I was crossing a street when I saw a car in my peripheral vision headed toward the intersection. I stopped because I could tell by her speed that she was not planning to stop. She had not seen me. She still didn’t notice me when she stopped at the stop sign. I was standing less than a foot away from her. I could see her in her car. She didn’t look angry, sad, or anxious. She looked focused on getting to where she wanted to go.

I watched her car as she turned onto another street. I muttered to myself, “Geez, lady you could have run me over.” I was surprised that she still hadn’t noticed me. Without looking on the pavement below me, I started crossing the remainder of the street. I didn’t see that the road was damaged right in front of me. There was a deep rut in it. I stepped right in it, lost my footing, and crashed to the ground onto my left knee and the heel of my left hand. I was sprawled in the middle of the street. I knew that I would be able to walk away but my feet were under me at odd angles, my briefcase and purse were flung across the street, and I was scared. A man on the sidewalk saw me and helped me to my feet. He walked with me for a bit to make sure I was steady on my feet.

The woman in the car was not trying to hurt me but she was not mindful of the power, the privilege, that she had. Having narrowly escaped being seriously hurt or killed, I reacted with fear and distraction. My next action after saving my own life was not one based on good judgement. Seattle streets and sidewalks are notoriously uneven. I have walked thousands of miles on them. It is important to watch where I am going because it is easy, otherwise, to trip on something.

When we are afraid we don’t always make the best judgments. We tend to flee, fight, or freeze up. This is not because we are stupid. It is part of our nervous system’s survival system during which energy is decreased from the more reasonable and sophisticated parts of our brains. That’s why training and protocols are so important for people who work in emergency or dangerous situations. Training buffers against the snap judgments we can make when dealing with threat.

Most people do not intentionally abuse their power against others but there is danger in not being mindful of it. The woman in the car was not aware of her power over me because she wasn’t even looking. She didn’t even know about me. I suspect she would have felt remorseful and given pause had she realized what could have happened.

Sometimes we don’t realize our own power. We don’t realize the privileges we have that others do not. What if that woman had hit me, exclaimed that I couldn’t have been hurt because she had no power over me and further, that I deserved to fall in the street because I had not used good judgment and taken a look where I was going? That, my friends, would be ridiculous.

But we do it, every time we dismiss out of hand the experiences of individuals who have less access to power than do we. And we encounter it daily when we encounter individuals who are so used to their higher status and power that they assume all is as it should be.

A female African American student at Spring Valley High School was subject to what most people would consider excessive force by a European American South Carolina police officer whose job it was to protect students and staff at the school. A portion of the interaction was captured on a fellow student’s smartphone. The video has “gone viral” on social media and the officer has been fired. Further, a federal investigation in underway. I can’t read minds but given the fact that the police department spokesperson felt obligated to note that the conflict, “started with her” coupled with the fact that this particular officer has been investigated for racial discrimination in the past, I wonder if the firing of the officer has more to do with image management than to the police department’s mission to protect and serve.

Police officers are trained to protect the public. They are trained to avoid using more force than is needed to do their job. They are trained to de-escalate situations. This officer was assigned to protect these high school students, including the young woman who was not following his orders and may or may not have struck him before he laid hands on her.

“She should have just done what he said and there wouldn’t have been any problems.”

“She’s a trouble maker, anyway.”

“She should not have hit the officer.”

Why do we focus so much on the actions of the person with minimum power?

The officer had more power than the student due to his sex, race, size, position, and the fact that he was armed. She wasn’t even standing up. She was sitting in one of those one-piece chair and desk combinations that you have to bend yourself in and out of.

Let’s say that the officer was afraid of this slender young unarmed woman who was sitting in her desk/chair combo while he was towering over her with a career full of experience and training for these type of situations. Is that the officer you want on the force?

Since almost everyone has a video camera on their cellphone, we’ve been seeing some startlingly awful and violent exchanges. I am not at war with our police officers. Most of them do a good job, responsibly. But there are far too many people out there abusing their power and privilege only to have a sizable portion of the public blame the victims for it. Remember the video of the  woman who was pulled out of her car and pushed to the ground for failing to turn on her turn signal and ended up dead in jail a few days later? The number of posts to social media that I saw that were victim blaming made me sick.

“She shouldn’t have mouthed off to the cop.”
“I feel sorry for the officer. He’s going to have to live with this the rest of his life.”

As far as I know, acting like an asshole, using poor judgment, mouthing off to an officer, or failing to follow police directions are NOT crimes punishable by death or brutality.

Power is to be shared. When it cannot be shared, it is to be used responsibly and for the good of all.

Privilege is to be earned, not inherited.

Power and privilege are not license to kill.

A beautiful lion was killed in Zimbabwe by a rich American, who paid $55,000 to do so. There has been a great deal of outrage about this. There has been a great deal of compassion expressed toward a rare and beautiful animal who was killed just so that a human being could use his power to kill and dominate.

There have also been people upset by how much compassion and outrage have been spent on this one lion in contrast to relatively less so about violence and racism in our own country especially toward African Americans.

I was upset by all of these events, quite frankly. I actually saw them as being part of the same problem, the problem of using might to make right, the corrupting power of excessive power, and domination for domination sake as it happens at all levels of culture.

I understand why people are angry that violence against oppressed groups of humans is not creating similar outrage. I do wonder, however, if in giving people negative feedback for expressing righteous indignation and compassion is somehow discouraging compassionate action in general.

If I were in a crowd of people and saw a small child in front of me fall down, I would express sympathy and try to help, if needed. I would not scan the crowd to see if there were a person or situation more deserving of kindness and compassion. And I don’t think that by exercising a small act of compassion on perhaps a lesser problem, that I would somehow run out of compassion. I also wonder if these small gestures, to address small problems right in front of our eyes, right now, and with swift action, may buffer in some way against the passivity and inaction that can result with being overwhelmed by the enormity of the BIG PROBLEMS.

I find that acts compassion, offered in the moment, can add a bit of fuel to my emotional gas tank rather than depleting me. There are a lot of messages out there that treat compassion as a rare, easily depleted commodity. Even in the breast cancer community, there is a sense of having to have the worst case situation in order to exercise compassion toward oneself. Meanwhile, we invalidate ourselves and others over and over, like there is no limit.

Compassion doesn’t have to be a big game.

In my work as a psychologist, I work with children and teens who have disorders considered to be primarily genetic in cause. Environmental factors play a role as well, but according to our current understanding, they are mainly factors that maintain or exacerbate symptoms as well as the pervasiveness and persistence of the resulting impairment in carrying out life’s activities and responsibilities.

About 90% of my patients have Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), the primary treatment for which are stimulant medications, which can make an enormous positive difference in an individual who is responsibly diagnosed and treated. However, even with medication, ADHD can make what we typically see as moral and responsible decisions much harder to make. Environmental supports from parents, teachers, and other professionals can help and as children grow into adolescence, individual psychotherapy can also be useful in helping an individual who has trouble internalizing rules that are good in the long run but not salient right now and to use strategies to promote life skills and success. Nonetheless, based on current longitudinal evidence, individuals with ADHD, even treated ADHD, have a much higher rate of high school drop out, only a 5% college completion rate, and a higher rate of accidental death as well as suicidality, among many scary possible outcomes.

This is why these kids, teens, and young adults are the “it takes a village” kind of people. Actually, I believe that we all belong to the village and as social animals, we rely on one another and impact one another for good, for ill, or for nil. But these individuals are particularly vulnerable. They do not tend to be resilient. They need particular parenting and educational strategies that are often inconsistently or not available. They need effective healthcare that is often in short supply.

I consider myself to have been very fortunate for many aspects of my life that just happened to me. I inherited a strong mind, a basically happy personality, grew up in a loving family, went to good schools, and had my basic needs for shelter, food, and belonging more than amply met. I take responsibility for cultivating these gifts very seriously but I don’t for a minute take responsibility for having receiving this gifts in the first place. I got very lucky and have made very good use of what I have.

Consequently, I have a great deal of love and compassion for the individuals I see, even the ones who are honestly, not very likable. Some of them are not even very nice. Sometimes they are very likeable, nice most of the time, but do really impulsive awful things. A common characteristic of many, but not all, individuals is a lack of consistent self-awareness and a very difficult time connecting their actions to negative consequences. This is a neurological issue and it results in difficulties taking responsibility. It is made worse in that when they are aware of short-comings or consequences, they often respond with very harsh judgement of themselves. This lack of self-compassion makes it harder to own up to personal responsibility. All of this is compounded with the fact that medication often makes a big positive difference because it fuels the belief that control is external.

A common way of framing this tension is by saying, “It is understandable that x, y, or z is really hard for you but it is not an excuse. You are still responsible for your decisions and behaviors. We realize it is hard and that is why we are all part of your team to support you. But you are part of the team, too.”

Yesterday, another heinous racist hate crime, an act of terrorism against African Americans was committed in our country. Many of us are angry, grief-stricken, and overwhelmed with sadness and helplessness. We are trying to make sense of this.

I think we need to stop trying to make sense of it, at least in the usual way that we do. The easiest way to explain something horrible is to put it under someone’s control and the easiest way to do that is by laying blame at a particular person. Another easy way to deal with these kind of events is to distance ourselves from them, the “I am not that” approach. Another way we can deal with this is to feel really sad, angry, and anxious for a day or two, or even a week, and then move on to the next horrible news story, further cultivating cynicism and passivity.

It is understandable to feel overwhelmed by this, to be enraged, to feel impotent, to wring our hands in perpetuity. It is even understandable to feel paralyzing and unproductive self-recriminations about the ways that we have acted unkindly to others. It is understandable to criticize the behaviors of others, to join with others in demonizing people we don’t know who have done wrong things; with social media, we join in with the professional media in shaming people in a very intense and protracted way. It has become brutal in a way that makes me fear for our culture. The stockades of the Middle Ages come to mind. Stoning. Throwing acid in a woman’s face.

These are actions that understandably fill our need for agency at times when we can think of nothing else to do. I have participated in these public shame-fests. I have participated in cynicism in the place of effective action. I have participated in judgment that is inconsistent with compassion toward myself or toward others. I have participated in racism, some of which I am aware, and likely some that I have done without self-awareness.

I believe that I am a good person in the way that most people use the term “good person”. That doesn’t mean that I haven’t done harmful things to myself or others. It doesn’t mean that I have not contributed to a hateful culture either through action or inaction, the latter because I was either “busy” or clueless.

As a psychologist, it is understandable for me to see yesterday’s terrorism as a mental puzzle to solve. But none of these understandable beliefs, actions, or conditions are an excuse for not taking my own portion of personal responsibility for being a part of a culture that can be hateful, cynical, passive, selfish, violent, and oppressive.

I am not responsible for the whole problem but I can take responsibility for my contributions to it. These are the steps I have decided to take:

1) I do not consider myself to be a racist person as a trait. However, I accept that as a human being, aggression and dominance are part of me and that I am not immune to the socializing impact of institutional racism. I accept that I can be a good person and person who has done racist things.

2) I accept that I have benefited from institutionalized racism due to the privilege afforded members of a dominant race

3) I will exercise self-compassion despite my moral and ethical failings.

4) I will work to be less judgmental, of people I know and of people I don’t know.  In terms of social media, this means objective criticism of ideas or behaviors but not of people and that said criticism needs to fuel a positive purpose.

5) I will work to help children and families be healthy.

6) I will work to maintain my own mental health.

7) I will work to treat cynicism as understandable, but as being incompatible with compassion and effective change, nonetheless.

8) I will work to promote unity instead of division in my culture.

9) I will work to elect individuals who promote unity and fairness instead of division.

10) I try to listen to others with different viewpoints and life experiences with an open mind.

11) I will accept that complexity is common in the very situations during which I feel the urge to simplify to make myself feel less overwhelmed.

12) I will expect myself, despite my best efforts, to fail from time to time. I will work at these times, to keep trying.

I may be wrong in my arguments, in my beliefs, and my actions. That does not make me a bad person. My imperfection and the limitations of my own mind to understand all of this is understandable. But it doesn’t take me off the hook.

It is understandable but it is not an excuse.

Stop making sense.

Start making change for the better.

George Lakoff

George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society (cnms.berkeley.edu).

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