Unpacking my invisible knapsack

invisible knapsackDuring the school year, I met with a group of educators regularly during lunch. We started a white cohort to discuss racism. And because we were brought together by the school that was our community, our first natural focus was on our students. We purchased Black Lives Matter t-shirts and pledged to wear them to school on Fridays to show our support. We discussed how we might be able to include more structured anti-bias curriculum. Sometimes we got sidetracked by other kinds of social injustices or just shared personal stories from marches, workshops, and our classrooms that were of interest to us all. But it wasn’t until the end of the year that we realized we hadn’t really talked about our own white privilege.

No doubt you’ve already read Peggy McIntosh’s now-classic piece, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” If you haven’t, you can read it on SEEDS’ web site. Written in 1989, the article came out of McIntosh’s work in feminism and male privilege. She was trying to understand how men could deny the privileges they enjoyed; and it occurred to her that although she did not have the advantages that many males had, she certainly benefited from being white. So she began listing all the things she could think of that she didn’t have to face as a white woman–situations that she didn’t have to think about simply because of her race. And despite her list being 28 years old, a lot of her points are still relevant, unfortunately.

We read (or re-read) McIntosh’s article and assigned ourselves homework: list the contents of our own invisible knapsacks. But I missed the next meeting and never got to share mine with the group. And the end of the school year meant that something special was happening every day at lunch, so there was no time to meet.

And shortly before the last day of school, I decided that I couldn’t afford to return to my wonderful part-time job next year. So I’ve attended my last Whites Against Racism lunch, which I will sincerely miss.

But I made this list, so . . . I thought I’d share it with you. Here is what I came up with as privileges I enjoy as a white person. (I did borrow quite a bit from Ms. McIntosh.)

My Invisible Knapsack

  1. I can be pretty sure that my neighbors will be neutral or pleasant to me.

  2. I can go shopping and be reasonably sure that clerks are not studying my every move, watching for signs that I might be shoplifting.

  3. I can turn on the television, go to a play, or watch a movie and see people of my race widely represented.

  4. I can read history books that recount many positive contributions from people of my race.

  5. I know that in school my child was exposed to positive accomplishments by people of our race.

  6. I can go into a music store and count on finding music by people of my race.

  7. I can go into a supermarket and find foods that I grew up with and fit with my cultural traditions.

  8. I can easily find someone who can cut and style my hair.

  9. When I use checks or credit cards, it is unlikely that my skin color will cause any extra scrutiny as to my financial reliability.

  10. I can easily find public places where I am accepted and comfortable.

  11. I can swear without people labeling me as angry or dangerous.

  12. I can wear a hoodie without being followed in any neighborhood.

  13. I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race.

  14. I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.

  15. If a traffic cop pulls me over, I can be sure I haven’t been singled out because of my race.

  16. If I see a cop, I don’t have to worry that I will be stereotyped as a criminal and fear for my safety.

  17. I can easily buy posters, postcards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, and magazines featuring people of my race.

  18. I can join organizations and be pretty sure that I will be heard and accepted by other members.

  19. I can accept a job offer without having co-workers suspect that I got it because of race.

  20. I can walk into a hotel or store, knowing that people will not stare at me, wondering if I’m supposed to be there.

  21. I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, my race will not work against me.

  22. If I am not treated well by a server, I don’t have to wonder if my race had anything to do with it.

    got privilege button

I’m pretty sure there are many I haven’t thought of, and I plan to add to my list, at least mentally, when I discover more.

What invisible privileges do you benefit from?

Should so much depend on a bath mat?

Its early life, hanging on a towel rack

Some months ago, we were having dinner at a friend’s house. At some point I made use of the facilities. Little did I know that I would fall in love.

It was just hanging on the side of the tub–so pristine and white that it drew my eyes to it. I reached out to touch it, and it was everything I’d imagined and more. I didn’t want to leave the bathroom without it. I felt the need to share the tactile heaven I’d experienced, so I carried it out to the group assembled around the dining table and exclaimed to our host that it was the most exquisite bath mat I’d ever felt. Then I actually offered the other guests the chance to feel it for themselves. (I may have already had a few glasses of wine by this point, but it honestly didn’t feel like odd behavior at the time.)

Our host admitted that it was indeed brand new. He’d just gotten it at Ikea that day. Ikea? I thought it must have come from some high-end bath boutique where the toothbrush holders cost a day’s salary. But if it was from Ikea, it was probably reasonably priced.

But we’ve been on belt-tightening mode for several months now, not purchasing anything but food and the basics in order to pay the mortgage and property taxes (you know, so we can remain in our beloved home). So I didn’t really consider buying a new bath mat, especially since we don’t even need one. Both our bathrooms have somewhat worn but perfectly serviceable rugs in place.

A few months later, Dave had to replace something–I don’t remember what–and he casually asked me if we needed anything from Ikea. The memory of that soft, pebbly fabric washed over me. First I resisted. Then I broke.

“Well, if you happen to see a bath mat like the one Andre has–I mean, if it’s a really good deal. We don’t have to have it, but…”

My unfinished sentence hung in the air like a pitiful wish.

“Okay,” he answered noncommittally.

Despite the lack of its necessity, Dave brought one home. I was beaming when he handed it to me. It was kind of ridiculous how much I loved it.

I love, love, love Ruby. But she has fur to spare.

The next question was where to place it–upstairs where I would get to enjoy its softness on my bare feet every morning and night? Or downstairs where guests could appreciate that luxury under their shoes? Downstairs is also the bathroom where Dave washes our dog Ruby every morning when they return from Point Isabel (where Ruby inevitably goes swimming and rolls around in sand and mud). I started to feel a bit possessive, almost protective of the bath mat. If I put it on the ground, it would get dirty. With people tromping all over it, it would lose its cottony cushy goodness. I decided to hang it on a towel rack until I could find it a good home.

Since then, we decided to rent out a room in our house to help pay the bills. So we moved the office out of the downstairs bedroom into the nook of the master bedroom upstairs, which previously housed all my books, yearbooks, photo albums, and boxes of photos that I’d always planned to put into albums. And of course the downstairs bedroom, though small, is quite a bit larger than the nook where the office was being relocated. Bottom line? We had way more stuff than room to put it in. Our bedroom became stacks of books, boxes, files, and an excess of office furniture. We also had to relinquish use of the closet in the downstairs room in order to rent it out. (Tenants don’t usually like landlords barging into their room to access shipping boxes or out-of-season shirts.) So more stuff had to find a home. And the shed in the back yard is already full of Whereabouts Press inventory since we stopped paying for off-site storage.

Basically, we were living like hoarders, clearing paths in order to travel from our bed to the bathroom. This was not the sort of place that deserved a beautiful new bath mat. And since we’d let our housekeeper go last year, the bathroom is cleaned somewhat irregularly. It would look ridiculous to put down a new, white rug when dog hair was just going to find it anyway. So the bath mat remained clean and perfect on the towel rack.

For weeks, most of our available energy was going toward making the downstairs room attractive and livable for a tenant–painting, cleaning, etc.

Once our tenant moved in, we started to focus on our bedroom. Luckily, 24 years ago I gave birth to a master organizer who lives with us once again. Kylie’s work hours–and let’s face it, OCD tendencies–allowed them the time and talent for projects such as going through all the office supplies and getting rid of items we’ll never use. (Maybe it’s because my dad lived through the Great Depression and raised me to be frugal or maybe it’s because I taught elementary school for so long, but I have a hard time getting rid of perfectly usable containers and extra highlighters.)

In any case, our home is starting to look once again like a home.

      

So I thought it was time. Our house is not perfect, and neither are we; but we deserved to feel that soft, fluffy bath mat beneath our toes. Because life is too short.

And besides, it’s only a bath mat.

I kinda met my challenge?

On Tuesday, March 21, the second day of spring, I undertook a 21-day challenge, inspired by Eddie Moore’s 21-day challenge to create habits for myself (see post from 3/26). I enthusiastically created a social justice action log, giving space for the day/date; four columns for Read, Watch, Connect/Engage, and Act; and a space to note what I had done specifically.

On March 22, I supported my local librarian whistle-blowers by showing up at the library and holding a sign asking to recall the library trustees. And then on the 28th I spoke during the public comment portion of Berkeley’s City Council meeting. And I’m not saying that I influenced anyone, but the council did unseat two of the trustees soon after that…

At first, I was either able to check more than one box or do two or three actions each day. I bemoaned the lack of space I had to write down all that I had read, signed, watched, or accomplished. But after a week, I was usually just checking one box, and there was plenty of space to take notes.

On April 2 as I was in bed ready to go to sleep, I realized I hadn’t done anything, so I got out my cell, hit 50409 and typed in “Resist.” ResistBot sent eleven o’clock fax to Dianne Feinstein to implore her to join her colleagues in a filibuster against Neil Gorsuch becoming our next Supreme Court justice. It was so easy–ResistBot already had my info because it had already sent my senators faxes on my behalf asking them to do what they could keep Trump from axing Planned Parenthood, the NEA, and Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

And I have to say I felt genuinely proud of Dianne when she committed to filibuster along with many of her Democratic colleagues. I’m sure it was my urging that pushed her to do it.

But it didn’t work. Sigh.

I called TIAA-CREF to move my tiny bundle of retirement money to their Social Change option, but now I think I should do some more research on what they consider socially conscious investments.

Then I forgot to do anything on April 3.

But I tried to make up for it on April 4 by going to a special screening of Mirrors of Privilege at Redwood Day School, which was amazing, by the way.

Noam Chomsky

On April 5, I kind of cheated. I was proofreading a Noam Chomsky book for work, so I counted that as my action for the day because of course I was reading it

On Sunday, April 9, I have a check in the Act box, but there isn’t a note by it. So I don’t know what I did, or if I actually did anything.

So Monday, April 10, should have been the last day of the 21 days, but I’d missed two days, so I kept going an extra two days to make up for it.

Today is April 12, and I have spent 21 out of the last 23 days reading articles, attending an Indivisible Berkeley meeting, watching documentaries, holding up a sign at a protest rally, speaking at a city council meeting, and signing lots of online petitions. I learned a lot.

Then I remembered that this was supposed to be a habit-building project, and I hadn’t done it for 21 continuous days. So the question is whether I start over or not. Did it count? I figure if I could forget, then it isn’t really a habit yet. And I admit that I relied heavily on the online petitions toward the end of the challenge. Which are too easy to feel like I’m really doing something, even when I share them on Facebook in an effort to spread the news.

So I’m going to keep going on my action log for the time being, and see how I feel about it after a full month. Maybe I just need to continue keeping a log indefinitely…

I’m taking the 21-day challenge!

Dr. Eddie Moore

Eddie Moore shared with participants at the March 11 SEED Showcase his 21-Day Racial Equity Habit-Building Challenge as a way for us to keep track of our efforts in fighting for racial equity. (The Interdependence Project adapted it and based a Facebook event on it earlier this year.)

I put my own spin on it and created what I’m calling a social justice action log. It definitely includes fighting for racial equity but is more inclusive.

I began on March 21. Each day I write down at least one way that I promoted social justice, even if it’s just reading an article that will help me be more aware of the struggles that I don’t face as a white cisgender person. Because activism starts with oneself, right?
Prompted by Dr. Moore, I’ve tried to vary the types of actions, which so far have included attending a rally to support whistle-blowers (subject for a future blog post); watching 13th, Ava DuVernay’s Oscar-nominated documentary on race in America since the 13th Amendment; reading articles, (e.g., Jenn Jackson’s “Square Peg at a Round Table: On Jessica Williams and Why Black Women Are Not There to Save You”); and signed several online petitions.

As part of my campaign to stay “woke,” I’d already signed up to receive alternative news sources, which made finding material to read easy. I get the Root, “The Daily WTF,” Bitch Media’s “On Our Radar,” Daily Kos, and a list of “Weekly Acts” from Wall-of-Us. Plus, now that I’ve written to so many of my legislators, I’m on their mailing lists—from my district’s representative on Berkeley City Council to my state senators.

Tonight (Day 6 of my challenge) I attend my second Indivisible Berkeley event, “Welcome to Activism,” a two-hour introduction to organized resistance.

I hope that if I can continue to write something down in my social justice action log through Day 21 that I’ll have formed a habit of promoting social justice in my daily life. Then I’ll just need to keep it up until the day I die…

Cross your fingers for me, okay?

A day of resistance and lessons

SEED logoThe SEED (Seeking Educational Equity & Diversity) Showcase: Tools of Resistance is the first educational conference I’ve been to in many years, and I was excited. Since it was held just 20 minutes away at the First Congregational Church in Oakland (affectionately called First Congo by its parishioners), I didn’t have to get up at the crack of dawn to drive there. I found parking right away—because, for once, I was early!—and entered through the blue door as specifically instructed on our pre-conference materials.

Loud rap music was coming over the loudspeakers in the main hall, setting a distinctly different atmosphere from any educational conferences I’d ever been to. I gathered various free materials (a mainstay of any teachers’ workshop), made my way over to get a bagel and coffee (also an important component of any teachers’ workshop), and grabbed a seat in the front row for the whole-group event.

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My paper haul from the conference. I resisted buying the got privilege? T-shirt.

After a brief mindfulness exercise to get us all centered, Dr. Eddie Moore, founder of the White Privilege Conference, took the stage. He began by telling us he was an emotional mess and has been since November. (Nobody in our progressive Bay Area crowd had to ask what he was referring to.) I listened eagerly, expecting to agree with everything he said, and I appreciated his energy and passion. He compared our struggle with racism to the relationship between the dominant lion and the innocent lamb. While I didn’t entirely understand his metaphor, it made for a striking visual.

lion. & lamb
The slide Dr. Moore used to illustrate his Theory of Incapability.

He stirred us up with a rousing call to action, and I found myself nodding a lot. Yes, it is scary knowing that white supremacists have the presidents’ ear. No, we can’t be complacent and accept this as normal. Yes, we must do what we can to resist!

Then he mentioned that even well-meaning white teachers did not see future doctors and lawyers when they saw black boys in their classrooms, and he bemoaned the fact that he had to send his son—a black boy—to kindergarten where his teacher was a white woman.

It was as if a fully saturated roll of paper towels had hit me in the chest. I’m a white woman who has taught black boys, and I sincerely hoped that none of their parents felt that way about me. I know in my heart I never expected less of any of my students based on their race. Don’t I?

I was feeling resistance, but it was not in the way I’d expected. I let that sit with me for a while and consciously worked against my gut reaction. Somewhere in the back of my head I heard my daughter telling me that this was tough work and in order to make progress, I was going to be uncomfortable sometimes.

Then it was time for small-group work. Our name tags were color coded to divide us into groups of ten to twelve. (Go Team Red!) Our leaders went over the procedures for SEED meetings and gave us a question as a writing prompt, after which, we took turns in triads sharing our responses in precisely timed three-minute segments. I went last and finished in under sixty seconds. Although the SEED way is to embrace any silence that occurs before the timer goes off, it is not in my nature to sit quietly. So I just kept adding thoughts until it was time for crosstalk, which is SEED’s term for discussion among the triad members. Then it was time for popcorn (which, as it turns out, did not mean it was snack break.) Apparently popcorn is the term used for the discussion that happens in the small group (bigger than the triad, smaller than the whole group). People shared thoughts and feelings that had come up for them during Dr. Moore’s talk.

And out of nowhere I shared something I had not ever planned to talk about, all in the spirit of being open, I guess. Even as I was blathering, I began to worry that I shouldn’t have mentioned it at all. What would my Team Red colleagues think? Immediately afterward, a kind soul reminded us that this was a safe space and thanked us for being willing to share feelings that might make us uncomfortable. I knew she was thanking me because, as far as I could tell, nobody else had said anything they wouldn’t be perfectly fine announcing to a crowd of strangers. I appreciated that and no longer worried about consequent judgments.

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Dr. Flyswithhawks presents Dr. Moore with a Tsalagi blanket, which he proudly wears.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After a break, we reassembled in the main hall to hear Santa Rosa Junior College psych professor and former co-director of SEED, Dr. Brenda Flyswithhawks. A member of the Tsalagi (Cherokee) tribe, she started her presentation with a mini-lesson on the recent events at Standing Rock. A warm, funny woman who credits her grandmother as being her greatest teacher, Dr. Flyswithhawks shared several personal anecdotes about her experiences with and reactions to racism.

The most incredible story dated back to an incident that happened when she was a child. She remembers her grandmother hurrying all the children to the back of her house one day to hide. And when they emerged, little Brenda went out to the front yard, where she found her uncle hanging dead from a tree, the victim of hooded Klan members, who wanted to show Native people just what they thought of them. Years later, when she working toward her doctorate, she persistently made efforts to sit down with the grand dragon of the KKK. When she finally got a meeting with him, she told him she forgave him and told him about that traumatic day from her childhood. I have no idea what that meant to him, but she explained that the forgiveness was for her, not for him.

I could not relate. I don’t possess that kind of forgiveness, and I was floored to hear of someone who did.

We wrote our evaluations and jotted down questions on cards that were not quite 3 x 5 to submit to our speakers for an end-of-the-day conversation. Although the schedule claimed that the conference closed with a mindfulness exercise, I think that got skipped in favor of letting the Q&A time go longer. Even so, they got around to only a fraction of the questions, so I felt fortunate that both of mine were answered.

boy-cryingI’d asked Dr. Moore how he reconciled leaving his boy in the hands of a white woman every day, knowing he preferred not to. He replied honestly that it wasn’t a matter of reconciling it, that he still has a hard time with it. And I could hear the pain in his voice as he picked up a piece of paper and replied, “Every day, I hand my boy over whole.” Then he ripped the paper into strips, letting them fall to the floor as he said, “And every day, this is what I get back.” He proceeded to piece the strips back together on the ground and added that even after this process, his son was never as whole, that creases remained.

That is when I understood his side of the story. I may do the best job I can do as a white woman, but I could never be the perfect teacher for his son. Of course, there’s no such thing as a perfect teacher, but a parent always wants the best for his or her child. And he was speaking as a parent.

My question for Dr. Flyswithhawks was “How were you able to get to a place where you could forgive the grand dragon of the KKK for the death of your uncle, even understanding that the forgiveness was for you?” Her answer: grace–the grace she has as a spiritual woman, the grace she learned from her grandmother. She was a great believer in prayer, even as she conceded that some of us in that room would be uncomfortable with the concept of prayer.

There was that idea again—being uncomfortable. Here I was, a devout atheist since the age of 11, looking up to a woman of faith and appreciating her for all that she was. This by no means changed my thoughts on God, but I didn’t have that automatic reaction to discount what else she said, as–I admit–I might have before.

So the day was full of lessons: I learned that I could be vulnerable without negative consequences. I learned that I could listen and hold onto ideas that were contrary to my own without having to argue against them. I learned that I could accept wisdom from someone whom I truly admired but wasn’t completely aligned with ideologically.

And I needed to work on being comfortable with silence. That one might be tough.

Depression is not the muse I asked for:

A make-it-up-as-I-go-along survival guide to the Trump era

I used to call myself a writer.

business-card

Not that I made a living from it, but I have spent a significant portion of time in various writing pursuits over the last eight years, at least enough to justify my business card, I think.

 

I still make grocery lists–does that count?

crying-liberty

I didn’t post anything on my blog for a whole month. I did have a fully composed piece ready to send out; but for some reason, I hadn’t published it. So, it was late, but luckily, it wasn’t one of those pieces that is time sensitive. Not like news.

Ah, news. In the last few months, I’ve desperately subscribed to more news sources to try to keep on top of what’s happening to our country. I want to be informed. It strikes me as masochistic, but I crave news more than ever, now that the news is nearly always bad and I feel as if we’re losing ground on a daily basis. One only has to hop onto Facebook or turn on the TV to glimpse basic liberties crumbling beneath our feet.

So despite the increase in reading about current events, I had not heretofore felt compelled to write about them. In fact, I rarely thought about blogging at all, depressed as I was about impending fascism. Like many other like-minded people since the recent presidential election, I’ve felt distraught, overwhelmed, and rather joyless at our immediate prospects in the good old U.S. of A.

But I’ve decided that wallowing in self-pity would mean that they win–they being the cabinet from hell, the Republican wusses who are too cowardly to rein in their party leader, the evil Steve Bannon, and of course, the Cheetoh-in-chief himself.

Last year my goal was to walk all the paths of Berkeley, and I had thought, once upon a time, that I might branch out to Oakland, Albany, and El Cerrito this year on a similar quest. But in January, when I was considering my annual resolution, I didn’t have the heart or energy to embark on such an expedition. I put off setting any goals and kept myself otherwise occupied.

fetal-positionNow I see what I must do to stay sane. Instead of throwing my hands up when I read about immigration bans, I can do a little research and write to my congressperson. Rather than ranting to the dog about how fascism starts with gagging the media, I will write my thoughts on Facebook to provoke conversation. As a more productive alternative to curling into a fetal position over our doomed education system with Betsy DeVos at the head, I can write a short play condemning 45’s cabinet picks. I might as well use my anger to fuel my writing. It’s more productive than sitting behind my desk and seething, right?

I recently happened upon a Robert Frost quote that struck me as a propos at this point in history:

“The best way out is always through.”

Rather than fleeing to Canada or staying in bed until this administration passes, I plan to make it through this presidency. And since I’m non-violent, I will go through it not with fists flying but with fingers flying over my keyboard.

flying-fingers-on-keyboard

Now I have a new path to follow. Won’t you join me?

Mission accomplished–Paths wandered

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I did it. I walked all of Berkeley’s paths in a little over a year.

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Claremont Path

The final leg of my journey was Claremont Path (#130), which is a shortcut between the end of Hillcrest Road and El Camino Real. This path was the one that was furthest from my house and was the shortest as well, basically the length of one house. It has seven steps accompanied by a railing, then smooths out to become an even sidewalk bordered by manicured bushes, a few agapanthus, and a clean white wooden fence. Walking both directions–at a leisurely pace and even stopping to take a few photos–took me about four minutes in all.img_2705

 

The sign that proclaims that Hillcrest Road has ended seemed like a fitting photo for my last post as a Berkeley path wanderer. A festive vestige from December made for a lovely halo.

And now for a rundown of the numbers: Although the paths’ numbers range from 1 to 140, there aren’t actually that many paths. On the official list on the Berkeley Path Wanderers Association website, 25 are listed but labeled as “unbuilt,” such as Keeler Walk (#32), which is supposed to go from Grizzly Peak Blvd. to Creston Road, but it isn’t yet open. Interestingly enough, Rose Glen Alley is one such path, but it’s mostly built; you just can’t reach the very end.

But oddly, a few numbers just don’t show up at all. For instance, listed just below Rock Walk (#33) is Vistamont Trail (#35). There’s no mention of Path #34 at all. Nor is there any evidence of paths numbered 49, 69, 113, 124, 137, 138, or 139. But there are two paths that claim the number 134: Encina Walk and Park Path.

So subtracting out the unbuilt ones and the non-existent ones, and then adding back in the extra #134, plus the mostly built Rose Glen Alley, my calculations tell me that mission-accomplishedBerkeley is home to only 108.75 numbered paths, not 140.

But I still walked them all.