Talking about Talking

Q: Why do progressives have such long meetings?
A: Because our respect for the right of each individual and group to articulate the terms by which they and their experience are referred to and the metaconversation we need to have about who is “centered” and/or privileged in and by our language means that we value precision and alternative narratives in groups composed of members who may not share experiences, meaning, values, or levels of socioeconomic power rooted in structural and historical patterns…..

You get the idea.

All this language we need to talk about is dynamic. Harry Belafonte is reported to have said “When I was born, I was colored. I soon became a Negro. Not long after that I was black. Most recently I was African-American.”  This dynamic nature is not just across time (dating back to the Reconstruction), but also within it: Different people want to be referred to in different ways for a combination of personal, social, and historic reasons. And who is doing the talking and who they are talking to and where they are talking makes a huge difference. In my world, white folk don’t get to use the n-word unless they are talking about how to disable the cruel history carried within it, and even that permission is highly contextual. In my world, “Politically  Correct” is just another way to say that we should talk to and about people in the way they want. If that takes a little extra work, I’m okay with that.

Race isn’t the only complicated subject requiring nuanced language, but it’s a good one to explore because it’s not real. Anthony Appiah and many others make a solid case that race doesn’t hold up as a measurable thing. What does hold up is the concept of racial identities, which are based on social and psychological labels. As I see it, this concept provides the language we need in order to resist the negative power of those labels. It makes sense these conversations would be complicated, because they aim to break down collective misconceptions. (Insert Matrix reference here.)

I promised a friend I’d try to keep these posts short(er) so I’ll stop here, even though I didn’t get to “centering” “privilege”, “marginalization”, “colonialization” or “People of Color”.  Are there any you wonder about?

(She also suggested pictures.)



In my last post I had a list of racist organizations Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) lists as being active in New Hampshire. Today I ran across a reference to one of those groups as being one of the “most violent U.S. racist organizations”[i]. These words sent a chill across my skin. These words made me want to edit my last post.

I have known for a long time that one of the hallmarks of privilege is that we get to decide when take advantage of it. So far, that’s mostly meant deciding if I want to speak at a meeting if I know that I’m using stolen airtime, or if I really want to be one of a handful of people on a street corner saying that Black Lives Matter. It turns out to have a very different feel when I choose to name groups who use physical violence to resist values I espouse. Most of the risks asked of the privileged are social or emotional. Physical risk is a whole other thing. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t scurry back into that protective privilege, if only for a moment, when I realized these people could now learn about me, find me, and hurt me.

I get it that listing a racist group in a tiny blog doesn’t get me anywhere near the level of risk experienced by members of our marginalized communities for simply existing. This does not mean, however, that I want to ignore that shot of fear and my panicked initial reaction.

Better, I think, to notice what made me want to cut and run. I’m not the only person with some sort of privilege to decline it until the moment it will protect me or people I love. This is why I don’t take it personally when members of marginalized communities are skeptical of my commitment to addressing their concerns. I think a prerequisite for being an effective ally or accomplice is to know that these moments will happen and that sometimes we may fail to live up to our values. What matters more is what we do next.

In my case, I’ll leave in place my blog that names scary groups, and maybe even try to get my butt to the next BLM event. Do you have a story about when you were startled back into privilege by your fear, and what you did next? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.


White People Losing It (part one of ?)

I can’t say I have delved deep into an understanding of the white supremacist mindset. As far as I can tell, it’s swampy, illogical, and disturbing and not a place I want to hang out. That said, I do attend to it when it pops up in my world, as it did this morning in my FB feed from D.L. Hughley about these folks losing their, um, cool over Netflix’s promotion of the series, Dear White People, based on the 2014 movie of the same name.

Their concern is that this show promotes White Genocide. By this they mean genocide of White People because, you know, giving Black People space to do themselves without being hassled or hurt is the thin edge of the wedge to White People being wiped out because of their race. It’s possible that they have an alt-dictionary for the term in which genocide means we’ll intermarry more and have a smaller portion of White People down the road, but this is part of the swamp I’ve not gone into yet.

It’s easy to ridicule this and decide to ignore them for silly wrongheadedness, but the four cases of racist school graffiti I’ve heard about here in the last few weeks have had the same message, that “Diversity is code for White genocide”. I’m thinking this is a message these people are coalescing around. I’m thinking the words (as vile as they are) aren’t their only plans. This suggests some push back is needed.

The article I link to above observes that their boycott is unlikely to ding Netflix’s bottom line, but I’d like to show the series some love anyway. Counteracting the trolls by looking for #NoNetflix or thanking Netflix through some channel would offer some satisfaction. While you’re at it, though, you could also give a few bucks to, because they do great work and today asked for help training Black student activists to protect free, quality education. It’s an intersectional world we live in… I figure saving decent education is a pretty good way of resisting swampy, illogical and disturbing thinking.

Who is Missing, and Why?

I spend a lot of my time thinking about how to live with integrity as a white person inside a racist system. I read about it, watch movies and TV about it, write about it, teach about it, talk about it, and try to give people (especially other white people) chances to learn, think and talk about it. This is a part of my work-work, but more important is that I let it change me as part of my how-to-be-human work.

This material has been on my mind for going on 30 years. It was one of the reasons I didn’t want to move to New Hampshire when the idea first came up 20 years ago: How could I do racial justice work if I lived around mostly white people?  The demographics have changed a little since then, giving me more opportunities to work for and with people of color in a few nearby cities[i], but the truth is that most of the places I go have a lot more white people than anyone else.

When we moved here I assumed most of my work would be with white people about their unearned privilege—that it exists, how it manifests, how to notice it, how to resist it, and how to follow the advice of the self-described black, lesbian, mother, warrior, and poet Audre Lourde, who told us that  

To acknowledge privilege is the first step in making it available for wider use.  Each of us is blessed in some particular way, whether we recognize our blessings or not.  And each of us, somewhere in our lives, must clear a space within that blessing where she can call upon whatever resources are available to her in the name of something that must be done.[1]

And I have found such opportunities. The twin shock waves of the murders of men, women, and children of color hitting our twitter feeds and (more recently) the election of someone who openly sanctions hate rocked many of us out of complacency, leaving us shaking the fuzz from our heads and asking “Now what?”  The process of answering this question starts with reading, thinking, and talking so I get to be useful in this way from time to time.


(Okay, I have to say here that an uncomfortable part of this work is the routine discovery that you have been missing something obvious … Something people without your privilege know and have been trying to tell you. Here’s my most recent one.)

… if there aren’t a lot of People of Color around here it ISN’T because none of them wants to be.

 Southern New Hampshire is a great place to live. It is beautiful, with forests, fields, ocean (18 whole miles of it!), and mountains all within a few hours drive. The cost of living is relatively sane, city culture is kind of close, it’s easy to make a difference in one’s community and state, and unemployment is among the lowest in the country.

This raises the question: What pressures are keeping away people of color who would like to live here?

Some of it I know about. The local NPR station and the Carsey Institute (a public policy group with the University of New Hampshire) put a study out last year about racial disparities in the state’s criminal justice system[ii]. The short story is that “black and Hispanic people are arrested and incarcerated at higher rates than whites are, and at more disproportionate rates than black and Hispanics nationwide (emphasis added).” Blacks and Hispanics account for 9% of the state’s arrests, though they are less than 5% of the population.  They are 2.8 times more likely to be arrested than whites. In the county with the two largest cities and most diverse populations[iii], a black person is 5 time more likely to be incarcerated while waiting for a trial (with the rolling, awful consequences of not being able to get to one’s job and take care of one’s kids). I don’t have the stats on being stopped for Driving While Black, getting hired, and finding decent housing, but I’m going to assume here that these are also issues. The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that Crew 38 (racist skinheads), the National Socialist Movement, the KKK, and the Eastern Hammerskins (racist skinheads) are all active here[iv]. I know of four incidents of racist graffiti recently at local schools, all saying that “Diversity is code for white genocide”[v].

What pressures are keeping people away who would like to live here? Enough that it isn’t enough to simply help white people see barriers set up against others but not them. It’s time, I think, to turn my attention to taking those barriers down.


p.s. Better thinkers than I have gone before me down this road. One I follow closely is BlackGirlinMaine (in my Websites I Follow list over there è). What I am trying to clear my vision to see, she has lived. Always listen to the ones who have lived it first. And support her blog if you have the resources. We need her voice.


Poetry which heals me

Out of respect for the labor of artists, I’m not copying the poem here, but The Art of Blessing the Day by Marge Piercy sooths my soul in some essential way. I value Piercy’s love for the power of attention to the small riches of life and her injunction that

What we want to change we curse and then
pick up a tool. Bless whatever you can
with eyes and hands and tongue. If you
can’t bless it, get ready to make it new.

I thought it might ease you a little as well.



What a long strange week it’s been


I am growing weary of the drip drip drip of reading (scanning) and posting the information we are sharing to support each other and figure out how to navigate this unnerving new situation . This post is my experiment in a new way of processing the information: I’ll keep consuming what comes to me, and “like” the ones that make me smile, think, or appreciate someone’s vulnerability, but I’m setting aside the ones I want to send on. These I will revisit to see if the interest held and look for patterns. What follows is what I noticed the first time I tried this. (Material from 1/23 – 1/27)

Most of what interested me this time relates to our shared post-election life. For the most part, I’m assuming the things I refer to are general knowledge or easy to find. Let me know if you want sources. The general categories are:

Evidence of the problems:

·         Replacing “Equality and Social Progress” with “Law and Order” on the WH website. More people are going to be killed by those paid to protect them (and others), and more of them will be People of Color.

·         Repression: Bannon telling the Press to “shut up”. (Does he know what’s in the constitution?) and shutting down reporting of government funded climate science. (To be fair, I haven’t check that this isn’t normal procedure… I just don’t think EPA, NPS, and NASA rogue twitter accounts suggest everything is fine.)

·         Gaslighting: Others were more important, but the No, It Was Sunny example floors me for the simple, straightforward, ignore-the-evidence-of-everyone’s senses gall of it. We have made progress… a few weeks ago NPR was coyly referring to itself as “fact based news”, now mainstream publications are calling, um, misrepresentations lies, or at least “disproven”.

·         All the grownups left the State Department. What could possibly go wrong? (Note ironic tone.)

·         Bringing his own cheering squad to press briefing (?) and the CIA, then smiling like the applause was such a pleasant surprise.

·         All those folders at his press conference full of all that paper he had to sign to “not run” his companies…Reporters were not allowed to look inside them, and I read/heard that they never actually got filed with the appropriate office but haven’t been able to find that source again.

·         All those Republican governors doing their Republican thing: Did you know that Michigan is banning the banning of plastic bags? (I’ll wait here while you read that again.) And Voting Rights. And restricting access to abortion (Want a bad day, look up Indiana). And repression of peaceful protest (again, just ignore that pesky constitution.)

·         Not gone into here, but on the radar: Threat to cut LOTS of regulations, health insurance, the desire to reinstate torture (though Mad Dog said that can’t happen), education, Russia, ethics, preparing to sell off our public lands, immigration, climate change, sexual assault prevention, geopolitics, Tax returns anyone?…. I’m sure I’ve left something out.

How people are responding:

·         My hands down favorite was the unfurling of the RESIST banner over the White House. Honor and delight to the Greenpeace activists who thought of it, planned it, and executed it. Their website doesn’t say anything about arrests, but hard to imagine there won’t be financial consequences for them. I’d love to have seen his face when he learned of it.

·         I am also delighted that marching on Washington seems to be becoming an industry: (climate change) on April 29,  Scientists on March 4 (get your brain hat knitting pattern here:, and I thought I heard something about a transgendered rights march, but that may have been wishful thinking.

·         Al Gore replacing the funding cancelled by The Naked Emperor (TNE) for a climate change summit

·         Of course, The March. I was at a smallish one in Concord NH, but it was amazing to be part of that global eruption of “hell no!”. That is true along with paying attention to the ways we are imperfect (e.g. not all the way up to speed on the mattering of non-white lives), and the need to use it as fuel for a movement rather than blowing off steam before returning to commentary-as-activism. Rinku Sen at Colorlines helped my check myself about my responses (

·         Spike in sales of 1984 reminding us that literature serves essential functions. (I’m a little afraid to reread Handmaid’s Tale.)

Things that still matter but are having a hard time cutting through the new noise:

·         DAPL is still being attacked on the ground as well as through policy.

·         Animals are still being hurt for human entertainment and profit.

·         Mental health is still woefully underfunded, especially for kids.

·         Again, I am sure I am missing many.

How we know what we know:

·         Sources I trust to get the basic facts of a story right include NYT, Washington Post, The Guardian, NPR, and CNN (since TNE woke them up by going after Jake Tepper at the press conference).

·         Sources I trust to be compatible with my bias toward compassionate, equitable justice as a good way to run things and data as a good way to know how to do that include Robert Reich, Bill Moyers, Yes Magazine, and Rinku Sen at Colorlines. Happily, this is not a complete list.

·         I subscribe to or support four of the above, as well as having a gift subscription to Vanity Fair.

·         I’ve come up with a new classification in my head: Investigate Before Outrage (IBO). An example of this is the recent ruling in an Oklahoma court that forcible oral sex doesn’t count as rape if the victim was unconscious from drinking. A close reading of the article clarifies that the laws were changed to call forced anal or vaginal sex rape if the victim was unconscious, but oral was left out, and the judge had to rule on the law as written. There is a lot we don’t know (like if anyone is writing an improvement to the law to fix the omission), but it’s not like the judges who let guys off easy because they “don’t want to ruin their lives.” I’m not always going to bother checking, but I am trying to remember that the headline alone isn’t giving me the whole story. (

So this is what happens when I try to consolidate all the things I wanted to SHARE when I read them. Maybe I’ll do it again sometime.


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