Change Is Hard

…but change is certain.

Confused, and not even sure why

40 Comments

I’ve been reading books lately that shed some light on the experiences of people of color. For a long time I’ve realized that I was brought up protected and in a very white world.

In 2012, when Travon Martin was killed, and there began to be stories on the news about parents having ‘that talk’ with their black children, particularly sons, about how to interact with police, I was stunned. I’d never heard of that kind of talk and I was more than half a century old back then. And as event after racial profiling event unfolded I became more uncomfortable with being so unaware.

So after George Floyd was killed I started looking for things to read. I’ve read “Evicted,” by Matthew Desmond, a study of how landlords profit renting to those in poverty, “How We Fight for Our Lives,” by Saeed Jones, the memoir of a gay black man growing up in Texas, and “I’m Still Here, Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness,” by Austin Channing Brown.

All three are very readable and each is enlightening in a different way, but that’s not to say I am educated now. In fact it’s possible I am more confused.

Channing’s book is based on her experiences as a black woman leader in her church and at work. It was difficult to read because it made me uncomfortable as she described so many ways that white people put her and other people of color in a subservient place. The little things that are done, perhaps innocently, that hurt, that keep people from reaching the next level on the job or in life.

I wondered, as I read, if I had ever done anything that felt that way to those people, mostly women, of color that had worked in departments I managed. I’d like to think I hadn’t. But I don’t know.

I had just finished her book, and had all sorts of questions running through my head, mostly about how black women can rise into places of power, when I went out to the mailbox yesterday afternoon. There I found two election fliers and one in particular caught my attention.

“Two Democrats are running for County Executive – but which one lives up to our values?” screamed the headline. And next to that headline was a black woman smiling up at me. “Good news,” I thought. “A black woman is running for County Executive!” The flier added, “Turn over to compare the candidates” and I excitedly did.

I was disappointed and confused to realize that the two Democrats running for our county’s highest office were both white men.

I don’t know what the reasoning was to put a strong black female face on the front of the flyer. I know that I felt ticked off at being fooled, though I know that wasn’t the intention. And I’m confused about why I feel irritated. Am I irritated because I felt like a black woman was used? Or am I irritated that the idea of a black woman County Executive is so foreign here?

I’m definitely not finished trying to understand the dynamics of all of this. It’s obvious that there’s a lot more going on then I ever knew, more than I know now. I still live in a world that is very white. I’ve thought about the fact that I don’t have any friends of color here, no one to talk to about this.

And then I remember that one of the themes of Channing’s book is that she resents being the ‘teacher’ to all of the white people in her life. As a student she was often one of a few students of color and every time race issues were brought up she was expected to explain her side of the issue, as education for the others. She’s tired of being the only one of color in meetings at work and looked to for the endless ‘diversity’ discussion. She says that whites use dialogue to stall, to make themselves feel like they’ve done something, when in reality action is the only thing that matters.

She says that having to listen to whites confess to her, after her speaking engagements, all the things they had done wrong in their relations with people of color, made them feel better but transferred the guilt to her shoulders and didn’t resolve anything. Now she turns it back to them, asking them what they are going to do going forward.

So maybe talking to a friend of color isn’t the way to go either.

The reality is, after reading these three books, I don’t know what’s right, exactly, for me to do going forward. An audience member once told Channing that ‘you make me feel guilty for being white.” But that wasn’t what Channing wanted either, to make us feel guilty. I think what she wants is for us to use our power to bring other people along.

She says she won’t see full equality in her lifetime, but that can’t stop her from speaking and trying. She says it’s impossible to expect people in power to hand that power over to people in the margins. I agree. But it’s not impossible to expect people in power to lead in conjunction with those currently in the margins.

I’m not in a place of power anymore. I don’t have the ability to promote someone, or recommend them for a raise. But I can vote. I can vote for people that don’t look like me but who have powerful brains and good hearts and the intellect to lead us toward a more equitable country.

And that’s what I’m going to do going forward. How about you?

Author: dawnkinster

I'm a long time banker having worked in banks since the age of 17. I took a break when I turned 50 and went back to school. I graduated right when the economy took a turn for the worst and after a year of library work found myself unemployed. I was lucky that my previous bank employer wanted me back. So here I am again, a long time banker. Change is hard.

40 thoughts on “Confused, and not even sure why

  1. Same! Very thoughtful post. I have struggled with the same issues you have. However for me, this has been made more complicated because I am Franco-American and belong to a white ethnic group that was treated as second-class citizens by the dominant culture—the Yankees. Where do I fit in? I still don’t know. But I do know that I stand in solidarity with Blacks and with all other groups who are oppressed.

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    • Did you feel oppressed growing up? How did your parents deal with it? I don’t think any of us really know where we fit in, but if we all stand together it won’t matter so much because eventually we’ll all fit together.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, I did, even though I was on the edge of the worst oppression. My parents just kind of kept their heads down and accepted it. And here’s a a couple of odd things. When I was young, I did not think of myself as an American. I thought of myself as French. And, for the longest time, I struggled with whether to label myself as white on forms that ask for ethnicity. Weird, because I certainly am white, but other Francos have told me they have had the same problem. It’s a funny old world we live in, isn’t it?

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  2. WHITE FRAGILITY addresses some of your second thoughts, Dawn. WAKING UP WHITE is another that might be close to your own experience. I think sometimes we learn more easily when we start from where we are, rather than trying to “skip grades,” as it were. But BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME talks about “the talk” in ways impossible to ignore.

    I have thought of three small incidents in my own life and recently re-interpreted them, wishing I could have a do-over with one of them. A second was very positive, the third okay on the surface but one it has taken me years to see on deeper levels. I salute your efforts. We all need to make them.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You speak for many of us when discussing your confusion. I have no answers, nor do I sense that I can, for sure, understand the Black experience. I’ve always voted for a person not a party. I cannot erase the past injustices but I can attempt to limit future ones.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m confused, too, yet I’m uncomfortable admitting it. Instead of focusing on color (or gender or religion or nationality or whatever) and seeing differences, perhaps we should instead see a person and look for similarities. Instead of thinking Democrat or Republican, why can’t we think American (in this country, at least) and start working for the betterment of all? Why can’t we celebrate the differences in each of us while appreciating the sameness? I don’t know. Perhaps that’s why we’ve tucked this topic under the rug for centuries: it just feels too big and we can’t see a fast solution.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I think if we could all work on a project of some sort together we’d find out how alike we all are. Like band, if we were able to make music with people of all different cultures and races we’d see that we’re similar. But my band is almost entirely white. Because, I suppose, my community is pretty white. Still…there must be something we can all do together…

      Liked by 1 person

      • Absolutely!! My bands have only a few people of different races, but as far as I can tell, they’ve never been treated differently from us white folks. I guess I’ve never asked them, either. Sigh. It really is confusing, isn’t it?

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  5. I’m with you in that I have no idea how I can help, but I want to be part of the solution instead of the problem. i don’t want to just listen and nod my head… I think some of this type of awareness post helps, even if just a very small amount. And, yes, VOTE. That is a big one. Vote and get everyone you know to vote. Agree. Anyway, it was a great post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I definitely don’t want to be part of the problem. And I think staying silent IS part of the problem. It’s scary to speak up though. But VOTE, yes, we all need to vote. And be brave and talk about it even if we’re not sure what we’re talking about. And we have to be able to accept criticism, which is hard, when it is warranted, and maybe even when it is not if it helps us to understand someone else’s point of view.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Great post. I wandered here after our exchange on Shelly’s post, and it turns out we have some things in common. I notice that you are connected (via blog or life connections) with people I know. I’m a native Yooper and have past connections to Barb Herveat, the L’Anse/Baraga area, etc. Look forward to reading through your blog posts. Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, Barb was my boss for about 6 years while I lived up there. I saw her last fall when we were visiting Houghton on our way to somewhere else. Did you know that little Emily died this past winter? So sad. I don’t know if they came back from the Southwest this spring or not…actually don’t even know if they went out there this year, but I think so.

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      • You probably worked with my ex, then. 🙂 I haven’t seen Barb in years…just randomly heard a few updates about her from a mutual friend who has since passed away. I didn’t realize she had remarried, so I am really not up to date on anything there.

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  7. I read “Orange is the New Black” a couple of years ago and, although I had done a ton of research in high school about prison conditions for speech and debate that year, and already knew how crappy living conditions in prisons were and how people of colorwere disproportionately represented, that book put a whole new ugly layer under what I already know.
    I never watched any of the TV show, so I don’t know whether that conveyed any of it as well as OITNB.
    12 years ago I bought on a whim and read “I Am the Grand Canyon” about how shittily the existing inhabitants were treated when it was decided to make it a national park. I had no idea about that specifically. Another eye-opener.
    Like you, I’m not sure that I’m in a position day to day to do things to people in my environment. I do contribute regularly to ACLU and occasionally to the Southern Poverty Law Center. I believe that legal activities can have an impact on our culture.
    And I also believe that that’s not enough.
    As a women, I see regularly how much hatred of women exists in this wonderful free and equal country of ours, yet I am also a white woman, and I think the skin-color experience is even worse.
    I keep my eyes open for ways to improve things.

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  8. Great post and well written. I too grew up exactly the same way as you until I went to college. Then in college I made lots of friends and many were of color. And … I did not think of them as different. It also was not a time of turmoil as it is now. I agree with Debbie above. And it’s exactly how I felt in college and still do.
    The best thing I can say… now more then ever… is to get out and VOTE. I am scared for our country now more then ever in my life.

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  9. It’s nice to read your stream of thoughts – you’re not alone in feeling confused. There are plenty of people who say the exact opposite of whatever it is we read or hear. Opinions vary, that’s a constant in our lives. And social media and news reports make it even worse. As Ally said, we can’t erase the past but we can attempt to do better going forward. And, I also agree with Debbie’s comments – why can’t we just see the person regardless of color and political bias? An election year may not be the best year for us to find ways to avoid feeling confused. PS – I’m glad you and Laurel connect via my blog – I could see you two hitting it off!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think the difference now, from when we were growing up (which for me was the late 60s, early 70s) is that we didn’t have it all right on our TV all day every day. And of course there was no social media to skew everything.

      Interesting that Laurel and I connected. I think it’s quite possible we’ve met each other when I lived in the UP…decades ago.

      Liked by 2 people

      • You’re on to something – the TV and social media has definitely added the skew factor to our lives.
        That’s so fun that you and Laurel connected :-)! I’ve so enjoyed her sense of humor and her encouraging comments. Just like yours.
        You’re both treasured blogging friends.

        Liked by 2 people

  10. Hi, Dawn – Thank you for this post. I’ve also been reading books to help shed light on the experiences of people of color. I’ve recently finished ‘Shame on Me’ by Tessa McWatt and ‘This Will Be My Undoing’ by Morgan Jenkins. I will add the books that you’ve mentioned to my list.

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  11. This is a thoughtful post. Like you, I feel more confused the more I read. I guess being a responsible voter is perhaps the best we can do these days…

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  12. There are so many areas in which most of us need more education, it can be overwhelming. I loved Debbie’s comment – if only we could all see each other as people, fallible humans, and make our decisions about them only on their quality as that.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Really good post, Dawn. I have been reading a few books as well and am like you even more confused. I want to learn and while I know I can never know what it is like to be a person of color in this world I can continue to try to educate myself on what their lives are like. I grew up in a very white world but my parents expanded our worlds as much as they could given where we lived. I appreciate that. I also appreciate that my own children are very inclusive in every aspect of their lives and somehow even growing up in many small areas with not much diversity they managed to “get it” and understand the worth of every single human being. Really great post and i am going to look up some of the books you mentioned.

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    • Thank you Beth Ann. For some reason your comment went to the spam file and I just found it! Sorry for the delay! I have more books coming from the library. If some of them seem to fit I’ll let you know.

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  14. I suspect there are similarities between black experiences and lesbian/gay experiences, though they aren’t the same, just similar. I get tired of introducing my lesbian-ness to new straight friends. Without exception, those straight folks then talk with me about lesbian/gay authors they’ve read or poets or political people … as if that means they understand … when they don’t understand, they can’t, because they aren’t lesbian/gay … similarly they aren’t black, and I’m not black either. But I’m really really tired of non-lesbian/gay people trying to convince me that they understand, or that they include me. They don’t have to understand, I don’t expect them to understand, they don’t have to prove anything, please stop trying to prove you understand when you don’t. Just accept. At a church I used to attend, the straight folks made a BIG deal of saying “we” accept lesbian/gay people, as if the straight people still have the power to accept or not. NO! Church members already included lesbian/straight/gay/brown/white/black/whatever people … no one need accpet anyone else, we are ALL accepted. The straight people don’t get to accept “others” and say those “others” are included. We already are included, we already were, before you knew we were here. Should lesbian/gay people make a big deal about saying we accept straight people? Boy would that backfire, because then we would be accused of having an “agenda”. I know we’re all working to understand, me too. A number of your readers talk about accepting black people or being inclusive … that’s racist! Who gives you white folks the right to include or not include? Thanks to you and your readers for all of the book references, Dawn. I’ve ordered several for my own education. This is a discussion and education process that will take some time … thank you and everyone who commented here for continuing that process. We are wonderful!

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    • This was the first comment where a light bulb went off in my head. I was reading it in the middle of the night during a sleepless moment, so I put it down to marinate and went back to sleep. Now I’ve read it again. I’m pretty sure I can’t respond with exactly what is inside my brain because it’s like looking into the sun, I’m sort of blinded. But yes. This is exactly right. No one gives us white, and/or straight people the right to declare inclusiveness. It shouldn’t be a declaration, or an issue to be declared in the first place.

      Maybe the reason I’ve been confused is because I didn’t know this was a thing…this white and/or straight (and probably other groups as well) declaring inclusion, pointing out how accepting they are to all the other groups of people.

      Right now I’m afraid to say I have several gay friends, because that will sound like I’m trying to prove something. Which I’m not. I don’t remember my first meeting with most of them, they’ve been friends for so long. Some of them have been my friend from before they realized they were gay. I have other friends who may be gay, I don’t know. Not my business.

      But I’ve also met people who tell me they are gay right away and I have always been taken aback. Not that they were gay, but that they thought it was important to import that information to me immediately. That confuses me. I don’t walk up to people, shake hands and say “Hi, my name is Dawn and I’m straight.” So I don’t get it.

      But your analogy of the gay/black thing makes perfect sense to me. What I need to do going forward is nothing much different than what I’ve been doing which is accept people that I enjoy into my circle of friends without qualifications or labels. And to listen to all people for their point of view without judgement, looking only for content and clarification.

      You provided that to me today, Ann, and I really appreciate it. Yes indeed, we ARE wonderful.

      And I sure hope this didn’t sound sanctimonious or condescending. I’m still a bit blinded by the light bulb.

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      • Bless you for letting the light bulb shine a little light. I too need light bulbs, we all do as we learn about each other, and learn about ourselves. I am so thankful that we are learning. When we let it be ok to not know something, to be bewildered, to realize there’s something there you or I don’t understand … that’s when the door opens … and that’s when we learn … and the world gets better. Just simple kindness goes such a long way. Ok, and camping … ok, and princess dogs. 🙂

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