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A Prayer for this Sunday

Yesterday I marched with people whose heads had just been bowed in prayer. Who said Amen to the words of an imam, and a pastor, and a rabbi. We marched peacefully for love and justice.

A marcher at Raleigh’s February 11th Moral March. Photo by Lyn Fairchild Hawks

We own the words freedom, America, and patriot like anyone else. God, too. God is ours.

Many Americans are rising up to take back our faith in all these things in the public sphere. Privately, we have worshipped and sung and believed in all these beautiful words. But for many years, we’ve let those who act out of fear and hate to hijack these words.

No more.

God bless America that rises up to protect the people. God bless America that seeks liberty and justice for all.

 

 

What It Means to Stay Awake

What It Means to Stay Awake

As a white girl riding on a whole lot of privilege, I sometimes come late to the party of awareness. I get some curiosity, learn something, then try to join the mission. One that might not be mine and may have been a Movement long before I decided to head to Washington last Saturday.

#StayWoke has been around a while but I just happened to notice it last year. #StayWoke wasn’t my hashtag in 2008 when Erykah Badu said it first. It wasn’t mine when Black Lives Matter spread it in 2013. Nor is it part of my sarcastic repartee with others when some people use it now for mundane moments. Check out Charles’ Pulliam’s history of the term.

So I don’t think I can start using it today in 2017 and somehow be hip, be with it, join the crowd I think might find me a little bit more of a member for knowing it.

Seen at the Women’s March. Photo by Lyn Fairchild Hawks.

This is not political correctness but just basic respect. Who said it first? Why’d they say it? How’s it said now? Know the history.

Years ago I spent a week of my teacher summer in Jackson, Mississippi, learning about The Movement and how to teach civil rights history. I learned so much. And one of the first messages was “Um, the Movement was a round a long time before Rosa sat down and Martin stood up.”

Ask. Learn. My new habit of mind for 2017 is Fill my daily life with questions. About people’s interests, actions, days. About the issues and events around me. Read and ask. Then read some more.

 Tell me more about that thing you love.

Tell me how you came to believe that.

What is the source? How do you know?

What are several other sources saying?

How can I help?

How was your day?

The other habits of mind will flow from this behavior. If you ask, and then you know, you might just act. With some wisdom about which actions might actually get results.

Just because I heard it/saw it/now you know it doesn’t mean it’s mine. Step carefully. Listen. To what others have to say. And instead of chattering, act on the sentiment. I can let the heart speak through the action.

Actions like these.

It’s not lost on me that “stay woke” sounds so much better than stay awake. Rhythm and cadence; speech that punches and stays. It’s why America adores black culture. Then borrows, co-opts, appropriates, plagiarizes, steals so much of it with an airy blitheness, blindness, and greed that can’t be denied.

Even up to the work of the First Lady. I’m waiting for the new one to steal “When they go low, we go high” for her anti-bullying campaign.

The time is gone for saying “Obama’s got this” and ignoring the hate and harm that Republicans like Mitch McConnell have perpetrated on this country with their blockades, their denials, their destruction. All the while Obama fought, I stayed quiet and restful, sleeping my days away. McConnell and Ryan and their compatriots, the You Lie Boys of Joe Wilson ilk, they’ve now been given all the keys to the kingdom, and it is white privilege at its worst.

Curiosity, research, awareness. New daily practice. For everyone I encounter. This goes for Trump supporters, too, by the way. They aren’t monolithic. Even as some of them—not all of them—but some of them treat others as subhuman, we must remember this. Because they, some of who claim to follow Christ, are not representing Christ well. Jesus listened. Jesus hung with everybody. Jesus said, Love everyone. #notalternativefacts

The new America I must awaken to help build has space for everyone, someone. Unless you belong to what Aziz Ansari calls “the lower case kkk.” That will be not be tolerated.

The walk of empathy is part of the decision to wake up white every morning to my privilege. To wake up middle class. To wake up healthy and physically able, with health care. To wake up educated. To wake up supported by a network of family and friends.

Rest when you can for the next four years. But stay awake, Lyn. Stay awake.

 

Why I Will March

Sometimes you have to find a way to get in the way…or get in trouble…good trouble…necessary trouble.
—John Lewis

“Tell me why you are marching,” a friend said.

My heart is full of so many reasons. Crafting a poster is hard.

Diane Nash and C.T. Vivian lead a demonstration in Nashville. Credit: The Nashville Tennessean.

Black leaders march down Jefferson Street at the head of a group of 3000 demonstrators and heading toward City Hall to protesting the Z. Alexander Looby bombing. Leaders are Rev. C.T. Vivian, front row left, Diane Nash of Fisk, Bernard Lafayette of American Baptist seminary, Curtis Murphy of Tennessee A&I, back row center, and Rodney Powell of Meharry. (Jack Corn / The Tennessean) 4/19/1960. Image found here.

I have carried these reasons with me for a while.

This Saturday I will march

  • For survivors of sexual assault silenced by misogyny
  • For my Muslim brothers and sisters who worry for their safety
  • For the Black Lives Matter movement
  • For Diane Nash and John Lewis and their repeated, courageous ACTIONS
  • For my Latina sisters and their families who are immigrants and those who have been here forever, all of us making this country great every day
  • For my friends and family with pre-existing conditions, i.e., health concerns and challenges that shape their daily lives
  • For my LGBTIQA friends and family whose wonderful selves, voices, and expressions must be seen and heard
  • To say yes to the beautiful diversity of this country
  • To say yes to the respect, civility, and grace that the Obama family embodies
  • To say no to the FearMongerer in Chief
  • To say no to the Republican majority, who are repealing health care and are abandoning our citizens once again
  • To say no to propaganda and fake news that destroyed one of our first female candidates for President and that infects our public discourse
  • For journalists out there doing the right thing every day
  • Because facts matter
  • Because words matter
  • For democracy

For integrity, eloquence, and inspiration, please see the Women’s March Guiding Vision and Definition of Principles.

#WhyWeMarch

Racism Is Over…Right?

What bothered me a bit with the world building was I just felt like the school Wendy attended was racism central. I know that racism is a huge problem is some places, but it just felt a bit over the top in the beginning of the book. Luckily, about a third of the book in, the over the top racism thing stops, and the world building becomes more believable.

— from a review of my novel, How Wendy Redbird Dancing Survived the Dark Ages of Nought.

How well did my novel capture race relations in a North Carolina high school? An author can fail at making a setting real or at making readers care about a character’s situation. The reviewer didn’t buy my portrayal of a world where white girls at Wendy’s school would say:

“This place has gone goth, ghetto, and Mexican.”

“I don’t see race. I think the people who always talk about it are the racists.”

Also unbelievable to the reviewer is an English class that would debate whether the n-word should be censored from a Huck Finn text—or debate whether the school itself is racist.DSCF1143

Perhaps the issue is characters talking about race too much. Maybe the reviewer’s point is that racism can be seen and heard but not necessarily discussed with the frankness or detail my novel uses.

Perhaps the issue is subtlety. The argument this reviewer makes against my fictional school, “racism central,” is that I should have captured the more subtle ways racism plays out.

But is it subtle if it’s your race that feels the discrimination? I’ve had few experiences with prejudice, and 99% of the time, it’s not been because I’m white.

Read Chapter 2 of my novel and see what you think.

Then ask yourself: What was the racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic composition of honors classes at your high school? What happened in your class when you talked about any literature where race relations were depicted? Which authors did you read in English class?

Who got suspended at your high school? Was it a mix of genders, races, and economic classes, or did it tend to be certain groups?

I wonder where this reviewer grew up and the demographics of the community. I wonder if there are any schools in the area that are desegregated but not integrated, where “separate but equal” lives on in its 2014 manifestation. Many schools are no longer Little Rock’s Central High School of the 1950s, but listen to today’s Central High students speak on the lack of integration:

Nearly Six Decades Later, Integration Remains a Work in Progress

A black side and white side of the cafeteria. If we aren’t truly integrated yet, what is the work left to be done?

When I read a book that touches on race, I might find my critique saying, Dear Author, Racism is still a real issue. Please render it more believably. I’m less likely to say, Racism is over. Please let’s talk about something else.

I see racism every day. Any racism is “over the top” to me. And as easily as we want to wish away a book’s portrayal of social injustice, I also wish it could stop so easily in real life.

Obama’s election didn’t solve racial hatred or resentment. It didn’t stop the fact that your grandparents survived Jim Crow or your grandparents helped keep it alive. It doesn’t change the fact that some institutions, run by certain cultures and genders, keep certain myths and prejudices alive. I’ve seen racism in my workplaces—white people confusing black people with one another, faces I can’t imagine could ever be confused. I’ve heard patronizing statements or questions asked about the education and competency of people of color, despite an excellent track record of performance. I’ve seen people make decisions–I’ve helped make decisions–that are ignorant of certain constituencies needs because I assume every grew up and thought like middle-class, white me.

Even last night’s playoff footage–the interview between black Richard Sherman and white Erin Andrews–can’t be seen without the racial lens all Americans bring. Why else would Twitter go wild with such racially-laden language that Erin Andrews had to step up and tone things down? Perhaps we could talk about football and sportsmanship only…but we can’t, because this is America, and we have a racial history in all things. I like how blogger Tommy Tomlinson takes a wider, athletic view of the landscape as he discusses the behavior–and context–of Richard Sherman, my fellow Stanford grad.

These small stresses every day—what is the long-term impact of these judgments and barriers on people reminded daily they wake up black or brown or yellow, not white? Does it become “over the top” after years of facing different treatment? I can look at the rate of heart disease in some communities and wonder how those trends happen. Is it purely genetics? 

The point is to ask.

Acknowledging white privilege is not about browbeating whites or white people’s self-flagellation. It’s not about lumping all whites into one box. As a grandchild of immigrants who struggled hard to survive in the United States, who escaped war and privation to reinvent themselves here, I have some opportunity for sympathy, to better understand stories of those families who had fewer choices or life-and-death choices. (You can read about Katherine Schlegel Fuoco, my grandmother, here.) I don’t empathize with enslavement, but I can try to imagine. Acknowledging both the points of commonality and the points of difference is where I can begin. I can face facts of my ancestral privilege and wonder why.

A white person’s job isn’t to sound the gong of how horrible whites are. My job is to resist prejudicial habits and grow sensitivity and empathy. It’s my job to examine the tape of judgment playing in my head when I recoil at something, feel superior to anyone with what King called “the drum major instinct,” or want to separate people into categories. Ask why, right away, and wonder if my judgments are sound. Ask if I would treat someone of a different gender or race or sexual orientation differently in this same case. Ask. Think. That’s a start.

Racism is over, right?

Racism is over? Right on. Thank you, Dr. King, for articulating so well that dream we pray one day shall come to be, this dream that needs time, love, and labor still.

See my other posts on the topic of race relations in America.

Thoughts on Seeing Dr. King’s Memorial

My Grandma is a Racist?

How The Help Helps

 

 

 

 

How Could I Not Be Aware?

It’s April 30 and I just learned yesterday that April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month

I’m troubled that I didn’t know, considering the book I’ve just written. How Wendy Redbird Dancing Survived the Dark Ages of Nought is about many things–race, family, identity, and religion–but its basic story is that of a young woman who survives the trauma of sexual violence. My book is part of awareness because I have met so many survivors over the years whose stories made me cry, wonder, and pray. Out of the unanswerable questions about human evil and horror we perpetrate on one another, a story emerged that I had no choice but to tell.SAAM logo

Talk early, talk often. Prevent Sexual Violence. SAAM’s slogan resonates because I just wrote a portrait of a noncommittal and wandering mother who never broaches such subjects with her daughter. The greatest sin of omission we can commit as parents, guardians, and educators is not talking about these issues. If we don’t discuss with our children and teens their rights to their own bodies and ways to keep themselves safe, then they will flounder at best and risk trauma on their own. And what child or teen knows how to deter a sexual predator or an assaultive partner?

Though talk won’t guarantee 100% safety, it will shine the light on a subject that thrives in the dark. It will force perpetrators to stop, one by one. Let’s try talking

It was about the time that certain U.S. congressmen started rationalizing rape or explaining it away that I knew How Wendy Redbird Dancing Survived the Dark Ages of Nought had something timely to say. It’s an old, old story, the threat of sexual violence, the ignorance about why it happens, and the hatred of the victims. We must stop blaming or ignoring those who seek help or speak later rather than sooner.  We must stop getting squeamish or offended that someone wants to raise something so “awful” or “ugly” or “inappropriate.” What’s more inappropriate–the discomfort of this discussion, or rape? What’s more unpleasant–allowing a secret to be said, or living day and night with the terror of it? 

When Wendy finally finds someone who will listen to her, her first thought is to blame herself. She says, “I am supposedly a smart girl, an old soul. Smart girls know better.” Is it any wonder, when certain legislators running this country would tell her the same lie? It’s your fault someone raped you. You brought this on yourself. 

There are college women unwelcome on their campuses who are now fighting back. There are military personnel who are saying, Enough. And everywhere we turn, in every community great or small, there is a child or a teen who is looking for someone to ask him or her the right question so the words may finally flow. 

Talk early, often, and now. It may be the last day of April, but the awareness can grow anytime, anywhere, no matter what the season. 

Writing Prompts

  1. What is preventing me from having a conversation with someone who needs to know how to be safe?
  2. What have I read, whether fiction or nonfiction, that might pave the way to a conversation about respecting one’s body, the bodies of others, and keeping oneself safe? 
  3. What responsibility do educators have to talk about these subjects? What is the right time and place for these conversations, and who should lead them? To Kill a Mockingbird, for example, addresses incest and rape. 
  4. How would I answer these questions if I were reading a work that shared scenes of sexual violence? How might I adapt these discussion questions–designed for Mayella Ewell and Wendy Redbird Dancing–to another work of literature or nonfiction?
    1. Why doesn’t the survivor tell the truth about her trauma?
    2. When she speaks, what does she say? Why?
    3. What does the setting of the story tell you about why the survivor doesn’t tell the full details of her story?
    4. Does the community have a responsibility to the survivor?
    5. Place yourself in the shoes of the survivor or someone else in the community and explain what you might do and why.

Solving Each Problem As it Arises

“IT CAN BE SUBJECT MATTER OF A RELIGIOUS NATURE. A SCENE IN A FOREIGN COUNTRY. WHATEVER THE SUBJECT, THE PROFESSIONAL ARTIST MAKES EXHAUSTIVE STUDIES OF IT…”

Solving Each Problem as It Arises, 1966-1968. John Baldessari. Yale University Art Gallery.

A few weeks ago at the Yale University Art Gallery, I was taken with this acrylic on canvas by John Baldessari. I love the stoic font, all caps, marching across the page in time to indomitable logic. Art = solution to problems. Get it, people. Get it! We only stop for hyphens as unstoppable reason storms forth.

Art = reason? Art as solution to each problem as it arises? The first thing that strikes me about this artistic statement is how it runs contrary to the artist mythology: that art is all muse, all inspiration, all the time.

Then I read Malcolm Gladwell’s scathing and ever-incisive review of social networking when compared to face-to-face civil rights activism of the fifties and sixties. I agree with him that status updates and tweets aren’t the true stuff of revolution, and that led me to think how my efforts larger than 140 or 420 characters were weak and apolitical, too. Sitting alone in my office spinning yarns does not feed the poor or challenge systems. There is no way that art matters the way hard-core, in-the-streets activism matters. No problems are solved. That’s what I said to myself.

“Human nature is the problem, Wendy.” That’s what one character tells another in my novel. He’s explaining that so much evil in the world can be explained by the twisted desires of human hearts and not by big, inhumane systems. He believes he’s pointed out the root of the problem, and through him, through Wendy, I investigate the source of evil and how people survive it.

When I finished the first draft of the novel, it wasn’t anywhere near perfect, but I did say to myself, “I’ve ‘interpreted the subject to the extent of (my) capabilities…I may have a one-(wo)man exhibition whose theme is the solution of the problem.” (I take liberties with Baldessari’s own words here.)

Some think art is useless, just another form of wallpaper or furniture, and maybe with some art forms and certain artists, they are right. Is the solo work of a mind, fashioned in clay or pulp or ink or paint, worth considering? Even if a solution isn’t found?

I found the postcard of the painting for purchase as I left, but I had already copied down the message. This will haunt me for a while.