I no longer roll in circles with people who speak wisdom into my life as a matter of divine purpose. I do, however, roll with people who speak a lot of truth into my life in the name of survival. Their words are no less potent, no less encouraging, no less face-wrecking than the ones that were prayed over me since childhood. They are words shared by people who see me and see how I land and where I need to Get It Together.They also see my children and my parenting (for better/worse) and they see my partner– tired eyes and shaking head– and then they go in with love.
When I left the church, I assumed I would no longer be held accountable for my behavior in some kind of spiritually lofty way… I was wrong. Or maybe we just fell into the wrong crowd? I have been thinking about what this looks like and how we buoy and encourage each other while still holding ourselves and others to a high standard of compassion and discourse. And I’ve been thinking that all the best people I know who are able to navigate life in this way– which also requires humbleness and a small amount of self-deprecation– are very curious. Some are curious by nature and some through practice. This curiosity braves discomfort, navigates treacherous dialogue, and claims very little stake in being right. It is a bright light that holds uncomfortable truths without judgement and grasps on to unfamiliar narratives in order to understand the world a bit better. As an in-curious person by nature, I am drawn to this kind of open-endedness and work to practice it. I’m a lousy beginner, though, and try hard not to walk the beam between multiple narratives and high moral standards.
Curiosity is not the same thing as being open-minded, although the two often cross paths. Portland is a breeding ground for The Most Open-Minded People in the World. But try moving people toward a narrative where their comfort is not the highest priority and you will be met with a virtual wall. Or in the case or school boundaries or low income housing or racial equity, sometimes a real life wall. This Right to Comfort is a tool of I’m adept at wielding– because at it’s core, it’s a tool of Whiteness. I’m working on it.
Angela Tucker wrote a wonderful piece on transracial adoption and gentrification. She details the conundrum of white families moving into neighborhoods to provide a cultural mirror for their children of colour while systematically displacing the diverse community they seek. Paul and I moved to our neighborhood 7 years before we adopted August but timing hardly makes a difference as our impact on our part of town has essentially been the same.
What Happens When White Parents Adopt Black Children and Move to Black Neighborhoods
The Summerquists’ Black neighbors teach their children about the historically Black neighborhood in which they now live. Growing up around other Black folks offers their sons firsthand perspectives on micro-aggressions and insights on racism that Brad and Vickie would not be able to provide from their own experiences.
And while they’re grateful they’ve been able to surround their sons with people who mirror them, Brad and Vickie’s pride is complicated by the knowledge of how the Central District is changing, and how the economics of Seattle continue to impoverish Black people—as well as their own role in these changes.
I love the way Ms Tucker neither absolves nor admonishes the choices we’ve made as adoptive parents. She just kind of opens the door to discomfort and welcomes us all in to have a seat. I relish this kind of invitation. We bear responsibility for it all. Besides, Paul and I relinquished our right to privacy, our right to comfort and our right to invisibility-as-family, the moment we signed the papers. Now our job is to somehow mitigate the price our children are asked to pay for our decisions. And within that process, mitigate the damage we’ve caused by participating in a system that rewards Whiteness (see: adoption, housing, employment).
Paul was describing the impact of lack of cultural responsiveness in education on one of our children: “He is unable to perform Whiteness in the same way that his brothers do… and it’s killing him and he’s exhausted by the constant policing. He’s literally stopped being able to take in information because his brain is constantly trying to figure out who is out to get him, real or not”.
I thought about this while I was sitting in a workshop and someone who worked in HR shared out at how their audits consistently show the racial disparities in promotions. “Managers usually talk about communication styles as an excuse for non-promotion… and how people are not ready. It’s glaring and predictable.”
In Defense of Backtalk
When the powerful and privileged insist on politeness as the prerequisite for listening, they gain two advantages: First, they shift the conversations from the content of an issue — the morality of the subject — to one about the forms being used to advance that conversation. Second, the marginalized don’t decide what tone is too forceful; the tastes of the poor don’t determine what’s profane and what’s acceptable. No, the weak never get to dictate terms to the strong. Our models of appropriateness come from those with power: the educated, the privileged, and those emulating them.
This succinct and biting piece by Miguel Clark Mallet stopped me cold when I read it. It is everything I know and everything I choose to ignore in myself.
I’m working on a change of venue for all of this. It’s not ready and I promise that it will not be flashy or face-y (mine). My friends are helping and I hope you’ll follow me there when it’s ready. It’s also March, which means the roses I’m thinking have been cut back, I’m thinking about peas and Track Season Is About to Ruin My Life. So, I’ll keep you posted.