Hindsight is 2020: learn from your mistakes. The year is certainly living up to its name, huh?
With three major crises gripping the globe – racial tensions preceded by an ongoing pandemic and the resulting economic fallout – and a fourth lurking – the climate crisis – you’re forgiven for feeling overwhelmed on where to start breaking it all down. Here’s a quick distillation of some recent discoveries I’ve made while following my own advice to Listen and Learn:
On white privilege: I’ve had a number of discussions with friends and family about this term, which is best understood by knowing what it’s NOT. Cory Collins writes in “What Is White Privilege, Really?”, “White privilege is not the suggestion that white people have never struggled.” Collins groups his observations under the following:
“Power of Normal”
*flesh-coloured band-aids in the first aid kit
*a small “ethnic hair product” section in the pharmacy
*a grocery store stocked with white choices
*TV shows and books predominantly portraying whites
“Power of the Benefit of the Doubt”
*whites are less likely to be followed, questioned or searched by law enforcement
*white skin does not cause distrust for credit, financial responsibility
*whites are less likely to be presumed guilty of a crime if accused, less likely to be sentenced to death and more likely to be portrayed in a fair manner by media
*faults by whites are less likely to deny opportunity later
“Power of Accumulated Power”
This encompasses everything from wage gaps to medical care to job, education, and housing opportunities which all result in opportunities for families to pass along their wealth.
An understanding of white privilege helps us see how “systemic racism” is built right into our societies and consequently, how to focus efforts to eradicate it.
On BVE (Black Vernacular English), also known as AAVE (African American Vernacular English): I had no idea these terms existed until my daughter recently got chewed out on social media for posting a picture of herself on a SUP (stand-up paddle board) with the caption “SUP bro”. Trying to be light amid all the heaviness, she got heaviness heaped on her. I guess the complainant, a white woman, took issue with her use of the term “bro”, suggesting it was a term white people should not use. I looked it up, it’s obviously short for “brother”, and although it started out referring to African-American men? According to The Atlantic, “Today, it’s a term that refers to beer-chugging frat boys.” In feminuity.com Anisha Phillips lists some BVE sayings: lit, sis, slay, hella, straight up, on fleek, I feel you, turn up. Since I’ve no clue what “on fleek” means, I’ll pass on it, but I do say “sis”. One of my granddaughters sometimes calls her sister “sissy”, has been doing so for a long time and I think it’s the sweetest so I copy it. I’m not going to stop. Let’s agree that Black people can use the N-word, white people absolutely can’t. And if there’s a term I absentmindedly use that’s offensive to a Black person? Perhaps a Black person could let me know?
On Blackface and Jim Crow: I learned how these two are connected by listening to the podcast 1619, which I highly recommend. So it was the third installment, “The Birth of American Music”, which I thought would be just a nice light listen. American journalist and film critic Wesley Morris details how in the early 1800s, white actor Thomas D Rice overheard a Black man tending to his master’s horse: the way he sang, the way he moved. Rice slapped some black paint on his face for his next show, imagined what it would be like to be Black, sang a song about “Jumpin’ Jim Crow”, earned 12 standing ovations and . . . the minstrel show was born. Minstrel shows made fun of Blacks, made them out to be lazy and stupid, yet, possibly due to white people’s guilt over slavery? They endured for over a hundred years. And those Jim Crow laws that brutally enforced racial segregation in the Southern US in the late 19th and early to mid 20th centuries? Well, if you didn’t already know? Now you know where they got their name and why Blackface is so very offensive.
On white supremacy being about power: thinking about this got me thinking about the opposite of power, which is a lot of negative words – inability, incapacity, weakness, impotence. While no one wants to be seen as weak, is it necessary to have ultimate power over others? And over your environment, which is what many of my white ancestors seemed to desire. Here’s a couple of other suggestions for the opposite of power: gentleness, kindness. It’s beyond time.
On being over it: it’s not over us. The WHO reported the highest single-day global rise in cases so far on Father’s Day.
On masks: Vanity Fair headline – “If 80% of Americans Wore Masks, COVID-19 Infections Would Plummet”
On transmission: The New York Times says, “We know that being outdoors is lower risk for coronavirus transmission than being indoors.”
On wishing the US President* would just go away already: While being appalled at his Tulsa rally speech, I don’t feel the rush of pleasure I expected to feel while observing the glaring failure of the event, and his obvious disappointment over the mere 6,200 attendees. I guess that makes me . . . empathetic.
On the human negativity bias: Author Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche reminded me of this on the podcast Ten Percent Happier, referring to it as 10-finger perception. So, say we have nine qualities within us that are positive and one negative. What do we tend to focus on? The negative one, of course. It’s the same with the news, which is abundant lately with scary, negative reports. While you should know what’s going on, with the virus, the protests, and the economy, balance it out with the numerous good qualities of life – like sitting on a patio – that can still be enjoyed despite the ongoing pandemic.