Archive for the ‘Racism’ Category

Two middle-class white liberals react to the Zimmerman verdict

Monday, July 15th, 2013


One half of a middle-class white liberal couple checks his smartphone.

Matt: Hey, the verdict must be in because Twitter is blowing up.  Adrian Peterson is pretty upset….uh oh.  That can’t be right…..wait a minute… holy shit….

Shannon: Oh no.

Matt: Zimmerman got off.

Shannon: WHAT?!!

Matt: He did.  He really did.

The other half of the couple looks up the New York Times online, not because she doesn’t trust the future Hall of Fame running back for the Minnesota Vikings, but because she is so shocked she needs the Grey Lady’s corroboration.

Shannon: OH MY GOD.

The astonished couple self-medicates with the items pictured below.

Shannon: I feel sick.

Matt: Me too.

Shannon: You should see some of the posts on my Facebook wall.  It’s hard enough thinking about Trayvon Martin’s mother.  Reading the reactions from my friends of color is one punch to the gut after another.

Matt: I can’t imagine.

The couple pauses.  They are white; they really can’t imagine.  

Matt: I wonder if there will be rioting.

Shannon: Fox News hopes there will be.

Matt: Please don’t mention them right now.  I already feel like throwing up.

Shannon: I know there will be more hoodie demonstrations and events that we probably should go to, but I dunno…..  as middle-class white people we could wear hoodies made of bullets and cocaine and still not get shot on the streets of Florida.  I’m not sure we’re the ones who should be speaking right now.

The couple pauses.  They are sorry they ate all the ice cream.  They wonder: is there more tequila?  

Matt: If anything good comes out of this, it’s that those Stand Your Ground laws will be repealed.  This case shows what a joke they are.  Things have to get really bad before they get better, don’t they?

Shannon:  Rodney King got the crap beaten out of him over twenty years ago–did anything change then?  And what about Newtown?  If anything would change the gun control debate in this country, you’d think it would be a lunatic walking into a school and murdering children!  CHILDREN!  But it didn’t.  How can we expect anything to change now?

Matt: Newtown!  Jesus!  I can’t talk about this anymore.  I have to read and go to sleep, sorry.

The couple stops talking about it.  One half of the couple reads the book pictured below.


The other half of the couple wrings her hands and thinks about writing a blog post that will express her grief, offer a few resources for her readers, but won’t change anything.  

She is awake for hours, but to her credit she does not revisit the tequila.



The Trayvon Martin Foundation

Petition to the Department of Justice: Open a Civil Rights Case Against George Zimmerman

#HoodiesUp for Trayvon Martin Rally, Minneapolis






Friday, August 3rd, 2012

On August 1, the women of Crunk Feminist Collective wrote a perfect response to the whitewashing of the USA women’s gymnastics coverage that I cannot improve upon here, so I won’t try.  The post is called “UPDATE: Gabby Douglas leads Team USA to the gold” and very much deserving of your time and attention.  In this space, however, I would like to share what Gabby Douglas means to my daughter–my white, blonde, blue-eyed daughter.

Now, it shouldn’t matter that my daughter and Gabby don’t look alike, but this is America, and it does.  Not to Miriam, of course, and probably not to Gabby herself–but it seems to matter a hell of a lot to the people at NBC, who built their women’s gymnastics coverage around 2011 world champion Jordyn Weiber, a pale-skinned brunette.  Even when Weiber choked in the qualification rounds, NBC seemed determined that the story of Olympic gymnastics would be hers: would Weiber achieve her dream with the team gold? how does it feel for Weiber to see her dream go down in flames? et cetera.

Miriam, on the other hand, saw in Gabby Douglas a lovely, charming, and massively talented young woman and fell in love.

I am not some goopy hippie stereotype who likes to coo “my daughter doesn’t see color.”  My daughter sees color.  She’s not stupid.  She sees color with the literal eye of a young child who refers to her own skin as pink and Gabby’s as brown.

And as a child, she sees Gabby Douglas as a whole person, not a marketing gimmick.  This must be why the mainstream media has been so slow to catch on to what children of all colors understood the instant Gabby entered North Greenwich Arena.

Will that change now that Gabby is the all-around gold medalist?  Hey, everybody loves a winner.  I try to teach my kids to be gracious in victory as well as defeat, but I think if I were Natalie Hawkins I’d give my golden girl permission to say to NBC:





Racism in your own backyard

Friday, July 13th, 2012


Minnesota Public Radio News recently published an essay of mine called “Racism in the neighborhood.” I began work on the piece in October 2011, just after the community event that I mention in the first paragraph.  Like a lot of things in my life, it languished as my fall careened towards disaster and my winter proved no better.  And my spring?  Meh. Now I’m not suggesting that I’m in the midst of what Camus would call an invincible summer, but I’m starting to get a few things back on track.  I certainly aim to post here more often, gentle readers.  I appreciate your patience.

Below is the complete text of the essay, accompanied by a photo of Miriam and Megan playing in the backyard of Michele Norris’s house.  The Grace of Silence is a wonderful read, and I highly recommend it.  Elliott promises me that he will get started on it soon–after he finishes memorizing every character in The Halo Encyclopedia, of course.



Last fall, I attended an event sponsored by Building Bridges, a community organization that, according to its mission statement, “seeks to understand how race and racism impact our communities and to build the future of our neighborhoods together.” The group’s name reflects the yawning gap exposed when south Minneapolis neighbors clashed over a proposal to create an off-leash dog area in a park named for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. It’s also a literal reference to the east-west divide created when Interstate Hwy. 35W was built in the 1950s.

Held in Minneapolis’ Field neighborhood, the event featured remarks from Minneapolis native Michele Norris, former co-host of NPR’s All Things Considered and author of the 2010 memoir The Grace of Silence. Norris grew up in a two-story Tudor on a corner lot only three blocks away from where we feted her, and her book describes not only her Minneapolis childhood but also the painful legacy of racism in the silence and secrets carried by members of her family and, by extension, members of her hometown and nation.

Here in Field our discussions over the book are personal, indeed — Norris spent her childhood on the same street where my children Elliott and Miriam are spending theirs. The corner house where Norris lived with her parents Belvin and Betty is where my kids and their friends alight from the bus every afternoon.

My kids were thrilled when they learned that “the lady on the radio” once lived on the block. But their joy turned to confusion when I shared that Norris’ white neighbors put their homes up for sale as soon as the block’s first black family moved in. Next door, Norris wrote, “the forlorn For Sale sign sat in front of the house for weeks. At one point, someone attached a flyer that read BEWARE NEGRO NEIGHBORS.”

When he heard that, Elliott looked stricken, as if he’d bit into an apple and tasted a worm. To a young white child in the Midwest of the 21st century, racism is not unfamiliar, but it is too easily categorized as the distant past, or something that occurred in the South. His school did a terrific job teaching about the horrors of the Middle Passage as part of a unit on colonial history, and the work of Dr. King is recalled throughout the year, not just around his birthday. But racism, here? In this bucolic backyard, where friends of many different colors like to play with one another?

His reaction was immediate: “that’s awful,” he said, adding quickly: “We can’t tell Kelcy and Megan about this.” Like the Norris sisters, these two dear friends are African-American.

“Why? I asked.

He looked at me like I was insane. “It would hurt them,” he said.

I couldn’t blame Elliott for automatically defaulting to silence. As Norris writes, “the mere mention of the word race can make some people apopleptic or pious or frozen by anxiety, only to beat a hasty retreat to their comfort zone: grim taciturnity.” Norris acknowledged that even she and her husband struggle with how much they care to expose their own kids to what she writes is “a four-hundred-year-old cancerous social disease.”

Though the discussion that evening was fascinating, heartfelt and honest, I had to admit later that I had attended in hopes it would immediately thaw my own anxiety about discussing the thorny issues of race with my children and their friends. It’s melting, but like most parents, I am impatient; I want to fix ugliness for them now.

On June 26, 2012, 5-year-old Nizzel George was killed when gang members fired into the north Minneapolis home where he slept. We heard the story reported on public radio as we drove to summer swimming lessons.

“Could that happen to me?” Elliott asked anxiously.

“No,” I replied.

Nizzel may have lived in the same city, but he inhabited a different world. The north side might as well be on another planet, racked by poverty, unemployment, violence and the painful legacy of racial quarantining — the same separate but unequal attitudes that confronted the Norrises when they were among the first to integrate the south side. How could I begin to untangle all this for a confused 12-year-old, a kid who wanted answers now?

Our human response to discomfort is fight or flight, anger or withdrawal, seething or silence. Rarely do we allow ourselves the opportunity to grapple with nuance, yet this is where the real transformations occur. Building Bridges and The Grace of Silence are essential tools as we tread that middle path — and I’m happy to say that the book is now on my son’s nightstand.




Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

This white, Midwestern mom has her hoodie on.  Do you?

As you can see, there is no danger of my being racially profiled.  None whatsoever.

But today, on the United Nations’ International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, I wear my hoodie in solidarity with those who are.

On February 26, the anniversary of the day I became a mother, another mom lost her boy forever–a 17-year-old named Trayvon Martin.

I’m a white, Midwestern mom, and my heart aches for Sybrina Fulton.  It aches for all mothers who lose their children to stupid, senseless, preventable violence.

I wear hoodies pretty frequently, but I don’t always challenge myself to think outside my own narrowly defined box.  In a show about the case that aired on NPR, I heard a caller say that the Martin killing is every African-American parent’s deepest, most terrifying anxiety about their child.

Me?  I wouldn’t think twice about allowing my 17-year-old son go out for a bag of Skittles and iced tea.  Before he left, though, I might encourage him to buy diet Coke and a granola bar instead.  Or I’d ask him to bring home a carton of milk.  I would never, ever imagine that some gun-toting FBI wannabe would have a paranoid freakout and shoot him.

And that, my friends, is what we mean when we talk about white privilege.  Freedom of movement is a privilege.  It ought to be a right, but in a racist, armed-to-the-teeth America, it’s not.

Mull on that while you put your own hoodie up.


To join the Million Hoodie March in NYC, visit


Thinking about racism (and getting a headache)

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

A funny thing happened at SlutWalk NYC last weekend–a white woman was photographed carrying this sign:

Yes ouch can you believe it I know oh my god.  Wow.  It hurts my brain.  It makes me feel terrible.  It makes me want to hit this fellow PWW* for making me look like an asshole by association.

Racialicious posted a discussion about it, featuring comment from the woman herself, but if you’re in a hurry all you need to read is this summation by the site’s editor Latoya Peterson:

Slutwalk is one of the many long, long conversations about relationships between feminism, racism, class, nation-states, colonization, and power… some people don’t want to understand why women of color would be angry at that phrase, and they don’t care why John Lennon isn’t the best representative on race issues.  

Ironically, I’m working on a piece today that’s NOT about SlutWalk (or at least it wasn’t a minute ago), but about a very heartfelt and thought-provoking discussion on racism that occurred in my neighborhood last week.  It was sponsored by Building Bridges, a new south Minneapolis organization that “seeks to understand how race and racism impact our communities and to build the future of our neighborhoods together.”  The group brought local-girl-made-good Michele Norris to town to discuss her memoir The Grace of Silence, selected as the first book in the city-wide One Minneapolis One Read.  Turtle Bread on 48th & Chicago was packed to the rafters with people of all colors who wanted to talk honestly about the history of racism in our community.  It was exactly the kind of nuanced discussion that, in my humble PWW opinion, has the power to make the transformative change that we claim we wish to see in the world.

And this photo turns up on Facebook.  Ugh.

In her book, Norris writes:

All the talk of postracial America betrays an all too glib eagerness to put in remission a 400 year old cancerous social disease.  We can’t put it to rest until we attend to its symptoms in ourselves and others.

I agree….but I need to take a handful of Advil first.


*privileged white woman