When I launched Transracial Parenting, I wasn’t clear where I was headed, but more than anything I wanted to provoke a conversation rather than arrive at “the” answer. Luckily, as soon as I took the first step, people showed up to guide me along my path – a friend suggested I seek out Lee Mun Wah because he had broken a lot of ground on issues of racism and healing in this country.
And so I called Lee Mun Wah and asked if I could interview him because he was coming to New Orleans and I wanted to get his thoughts about our young (mostly Black) men dying daily here. And I signed up for a five-day intensive workshop on facilitating conversations about racism at his place in Berkeley.
I’ve just returned from that workshop and from meeting daily with eighteen people who came together to explore the issues of racism and its future. Lee Mun Wah is want to say that we always seek out what we have in common but rarely notice our differences. That is a microcosm of what happens on a daily basis, where in order to connect with people who don’t look like ourselves, we try to find what we have in common so we might ignore the differences.
So likewise, when the group came together we all sat in our chairs, exchanged pleasantries, and smiled warmly at the others in the room – in the end we were mostly thinking we are all the same, right? Over the course of the next forty hours our perception changed; we began to see the tall white man and how he crowded the room, and we saw the Black man’s furrowed brow, we heard the hurt of racism bubble up and explode like Vesuvius from the heart of a Black woman, we heard the anger of a young Black woman who has to be constantly on, constantly proving herself worthy to a disbelieving audience of white people, we heard a biracial woman, who excels in her job of teaching multiculturalism to white students, denied a promotion by an all white administration – we heard her struggle because she couldn’t accept she had done anything wrong; we heard the white partner of a Hmong man tell of the hatred she has witnessed first hand; we heard a Korean adoptee talk about how her white community had been complicit in helping her hide her identity as adopted and Korean; and throughout the five days, we heard Lee Mun Wah’s multileveled stories of adversity and diversity.
By the end of the workshop, the beautiful African American woman who told me she had shaved her head during the days of the Black Power movement stood out like a three-dimensional painting, the African American man’s countenance – his quiet and pensive brow now revealed an ocean of thought yet to be expressed; I knew the tide of the woman’s tears that flowed like a deluge had only just tapped a deep well; and the Hmong man, a healer and a reader of faces, (he saw stubbornness in mine) had at first asked the question “how do words heal?” now used his fluidly; and the white people – me among them (even while I stubbornly refuse to accept my white-ness) – all realized the difference between us and people of color:
People of color work on racism every day of their lives whether they want to or not. They have been doing this work for so long it has worn them down, and yet, they pick themselves up and carry on every hour of every day for themselves, for their children, for their ancestors, for their friends, for their community, and for us.
White people have a tendency to get stuck on step one, accepting whiteness (ahem), acknowledging the privilege whiteness confers, and then having a vision to do something about it.
My fortune cookie in San Francisco on the day I left said, “Have a vision. Be demanding.”
My being white will open doors for me to speak about racism.
My being white means racist housecleaning must be a 24/7 undertaking.
My being white means my perception is skewed, but can be altered.
My being white means I must be aware of my own privilege.
My being half Spanish means I know some of this work innately.
My being Jewish means my experience in this country has been different.
My being part of the LGBTQ community means I empathize with marginalization.
My being a woman means I am all too familiar with accommodation.
My being a writer means I have a gift to use.
My being a journalist means I have been trained to listen.
My being the baby of six and the sister of four brothers means I know how to get noticed.
My being a woman over fifty, the mother of an African American boy, means I have something to say.
Confucius say: a woman who goes on journey, comes home changed.