All posts by kwiatekbeth

A white woman interested in changing the conversation, and much more.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN WHEN…?

20200111_081302-2

Dear Another Voice,

     I once wrote, “To be Black or brown in the United States is to live in a world that is less inviting, less responsive, and with a certain kind of pain” I also wrote, “To be white is to be able to walk down the street like you own it.”

     My words were proven true at the 2020 Regional Future City Competition.  It is a competition where middle school students build a city 100 years into the future. Students are expected to implement urban planning and infrastructure ideas, civil engineering skills, geography, and climatology. The final component of the competition is to build a 3-D model city and present it to a panel of judges. The only Buffalo Public School to compete was Marva J. Daniels Futures Academy.  It was the only team that was all African-American. The other teams hailed from the suburbs and were (mostly) all white.  

    What does it mean when a group of young Black faces walk into a suburban school and say, “We don’t belong here”?  What does it mean when those same kids face judges who are all male and white? What does it mean when those Black kids see white kids build cities in The Congo, Morocco, and Zimbabwe?

20200111_093448-2

     The teams that won imagined their cities with skyscrapers made of steel, mono-rails in the sky, jelly-fish water purification systems, micro-chips in citizens, solar panels, and air wells.  One team’s city was visited by Prince Harry. Another made a point: “We kept some huts to maintain the culture.”

     The imagined cities created by these students were filled with scientific wonder and creativity; a future with infinite resources, green infrastructure, and limitless possibility.  Unfortunately, those same cities lacked any historical, political, or environmental reality.  They imagined a future devoid of any past. 

     I do not blame the kids.  I blame the teachers.  When the students suggested microchipping the inhabitants did the teachers not educate the kids about government surveillance or the policing of communities of color? When the students suggested that their African city get a visit from a British royal did they not stop to talk about colonialism?  When the students suggested building high rises in the desert did they not stop to educate their kids about desert climate and local knowledge. (Huts in African desert spaces are made mud, clay, and twigs for scientific and practical purposes.)

    The Future City Competition is a reflection of the difference between a Black and white lived reality.  It is why “Redskins” is a football team.  It is why Colin Kaepernick should just “shut up and play”.  It is why Flint, Michigan still does not have clean drinking water. Experiences don’t change. Pain for some. Comfort for others.

 

Black Lives Matter Poem

            The Sky is Blue.

                                          The grass is green.

                                                                          Black people suffer.

                                                                                                                    

     I wrote this poem in reaction to white people who believe that Black suffering is inevitable and normal. The acceptance and apathy regarding the daily pain of insult and injury experienced by our Black and brown brothers and sisters, daily pain of insult and injury that is caused by white indifference, insensitivity, hostility and rage — all unjust — is mystifying and frightening.

     One need not look at the ugly speak of Mr. Trump: i.e. the invasion of rapists and murderers at the Mexican border; the very fine people that can be found in “Unite the White”.  Or at the numerous threatening behaviors against Black students on college campuses: getting arrested by police at the library; nooses and bananas being hung on dorm doors and building elevators.  Or more violently: the deaths of our Black and Brown brothers by cops who overreact; or white teen boys and men who hate.

      One just needs to read in the paper a story about a white doctor who complained about being treated “like a Black person” when he was arrested at an American Airlines ticket counter at the Orlando International Airport. The good doctor became enraged when he was told he was too late to check in.   When police arrived at the scene he began yelling insults to the officers.  He resisted arrest by falling to a ball on the ground.  Yes, he was pepper-sprayed, but he was given a heads up.   As officers struggled to put him in handcuffs he yelled, “Oh my God, I am being treated like a Black person.”

The indignity is about being “treated like a black person”.  

Not how Black and brown people are treated.

     In Western New York, white players from a hockey team called a seventeen-year-old opposing player who was Black a monkey while making monkey gestures and sounds.  They did so leaning over the boards near his team’s bench.  Not one white person, in that moment, yelled at those kids: not the officials; not their coaches; not their parents; not their teammates. It was recorded, but no other intervention was made.  A Buffalo News editor asked, “Why did these teenagers think it was all right to behave that way?” and, “Where did they learn that?”  Really, sir? You don’t know the answer to those questions?

     Perhaps that news editor should look outside his window at the town and county in which he lives.  Confederate flags can be found hanging from porches.  The Blues Live Matter flag can be found on the bumpers of cars, on t-shirts of gym goers, and even hanging from one Buffalo district police station.  

Unknown

Can you imagine the response and backlash if the Black Lives Matter movement created their own flag: an American flag with a thick black stripe?

     The Blue Lives Matter “movement” is a direct and hostile reaction to the Black Lives Matter movement.  The implied “too” is not even subtle.  That movement was law enforcement’s public response to the BLM movement.  Colin Kaepernick knelt during the national anthem  — kneeling, in and of itself, is a sign of respect — to call attention to the number of Black lives that were lost to police brutality.  A call to action by all citizens was made. But, instead of listening, and accepting the data, and admitting, that “Yes, we have a national problem with police brutality”, the law enforcement community reacted. The thin-blue line embedded within the United States flag is an assertion of police power and authority.  Their assertion, that “we matter too” is defiant.  Because we all know police lives matter. 

 

197629images

 

  Every child growing up in the United States learns that police officers are to be respected and valued.

 

 

 

     

     A police officer’s testimony in the court of law carries more weight than your average citizen’s.  How many of us have donated to the Police Benevolent Association without even questioning where our donation dollars go? We are just happy to get the PBA sticker to put on our windshield in hopes that it will discourage an officer from giving us a traffic ticket. Police troops are represented in our parades. Police officers are invited as honorees to our block parties.  And, now we can even go for a cup of “Coffee With A Cop”.

     It is important the question the creation and embracing of the Blue Lives Matter movement.  It’s very existance dismisses and silences Black suffering.  The importance of the Black Lives Matter movement; a movement to address the numerous social injustices that occur in our deeply, divided, racialized country — where the poles of difference have remained constant: white supremacy and Black subjugation that marks the social bottom — is made insignificant and irrelevant.  

      Even more telling and scary: 

hbs253

 

     The insertion of the thin blue line with in the Confederate flag speaks for itself.  It cannot be denied that the confederate flag is a treasonous flag; a symbol of Black enslavement and Jim Crow.  A symbol embraced by white supremacists and to threaten African-Americans.  The power of privilege allows whites to argue that the Confederate flag is nothing but a symbol of Southern pride; and to argue that symbols (and words, such as Redskins) can be a racial slur, but no always. In other words, to be white is to assert that ugly, insulting and racist slurs and symbols can be separated from their history, definition, or intention. 

The Sky is blue.  The grass is green. Black people suffer.

“The Blackness Project”: Two Years Ago

      On February 9, 2018 the film was screened at The Burchfield-Penny Art Center.  Following the film was a interactive panel discussion on race.  The topic, “Why All the Talk About Race?” There were six panelists, however most prominent were Dr. Henry Louis Taylor, University of Buffalo Professor and Director of The Center for Urban Studies; Mr. Carl Paladino, billionaire businessman, founder and chairman of Ellicott Development Company, and Mr. Larry Quinn, real-estate developer by trade, past managing partner of the Buffalo Sabres, and at-large member of the Buffalo Board of Education.

Blackness-Project1-1260x800

“The main purpose of the film is to spark dialogue and encourage people to talk about things they may be uncomfortable with. Hopefully it will be therapeutic.”

Korey Green

This is what the Buffalo News reported:

https://buffalonews.com/2018/02/09/paladino-has-his-say-on-race-at-forum-then-vows-to-listen/

This is what I reported: which was not published:

     The Buffalo News reported that “Carl Paladino said his piece during a forum on race Friday at the Burchfield-Penny Art Center…  but he choose to listen more.” I was there.  Let me be clear. That did not happen.

     The panel discussion was a follow-up to the screening of “The Blackness Project”, a film directed and co-produced by Korey Green.  Mr. Green made the film in response to the on-line film “The Whiteness Project” created by Whitney Dow.  Dow’s project offers a platform for white people to speak freely about race. Dow said he made the film because “we white people need to deal with our own shit.” Unfortunately, the attempt to engage white people falls dangerously flat as the participants and viewers are never asked to examine the stereotypes and inaccuracies they espouse.  Green’s film is a counter-narrative, and is better.  The participants in his film speak honestly and painfully about their experiences as Black-Americans.  More importantly, Green’s film is charged by interviews with academics, public intellectuals, and political actors.  Their voices bring not only an historical analysis to Black racial oppression, but wisdom, insight and at times, humor.

      The panel discussion titled “Why All The Talk About Race” was very telling and seemed to mirror the two films.  There wasn’t any conversation and there wasn’t any listening by either white panelist, Carl Paladino or Larry Quinn.  That they were invited was confusing. They are capitalists; not critical thinkers.  And, worse, not only has Paladino attacked Black civic leaders, he has made vile, racist, statements about President Barack Obama and Michele Obama. His defense; his comments “were not intended for the public.”  

     When asked what role racism plays in our society, both white panelists did what white people do when taking about race; they looked at their black and brown brothers and sisters in the eye and told them what is and what is not racism. Like the supporters of the Lancaster Redskins telling Seneca Nation representative Al Parker that the term “redskin” is an “honor”, even though Mr. Parker is telling them, “It is not.”

     Larry Quinn actually said, “black people need to get past the idea that there is a force in this country that wants to subjugate you.” Jeff Sessions’ use of the phrase “Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement” was no accident.  The travel ban on Muslims, Trump’s push to build a border wall, FEMA’s abandonment of Puerto Rico, the murder of Black civilians by police, and the disproportionate numbers of Black men incarcerated for crimes white men are not — they all speak to intentional racist practices of law.  To blame and reduce American racist policy, as Quinn said, “to the Southern government up until maybe recently” shows willful ignorance.  

      Carl Paladino was particularly disrespectful during the panel discussion.  He centered the conversation on himself and his past role as a board member of the Buffalo Public Schools.  He spoke over the other panelists (especially when Dr. Henry Taylor was speaking) and when Mr. Jamil Crews spoke of the role that Donald Trump plays in promoting hate, Mr. Paladino rolled his eyes. Paladino questioned the need for Black History Month. He charged Black women educators with racism because “they do not support charter schools”.  He accused Black civic leaders of not caring for children.

     How is that “listening a little more instead of talking?” Had Mr. Paladino been listening he would have learned that Black History Month is not just a celebration of Black America’s achievements and stories, but rather a deliberate political strategy for blacks to be recognized as equal citizens. Without it, Black achievements would not be part of any historical narrative.  Had Mr. Paladino been listening he would have learned that Black Americans are wary of charter schools because of the history of excluding Black children from public schools, and currently, public schools of excellence.  Charter schools are more racially isolated than traditional public schools, they have higher expulsion and suspension rates for Black students, and many are run by evangelical Christian churches which often teach unaccredited curriculum, curriculum which flouts science and historical fact. Had Mr. Paladino been listening to Dr. Taylor, he might have learned about the numerous Black community organizations that have for years and years worked toward Black economic, educational, and political parity. 

     Mr. Paladino and Mr. Quinn did not “participate” in the panel discussion on race. They did what white people do when asked to talk about race. They believe they have a right to speak, to be heard, and to be counted at all times. They believe they can hide behind their ethnicity, gender or poverty to dismiss the voices and experiences of non-whites. They disparage political correctness, deny history, and even distort reality. 

      Throughout the film, Dr. Taylor spoke of a general lack of remorse by most white Americans when it comes to the brutal treatment of African-Americans and other minorities in this country: past and present.  To that I would add a total lack of shame.

Less than a year ago, CBS This Morning did a story on the film “The Blackness Project” directed and co-produced by Korey Green.  The film encourages people to talk about “race-related issues that can be uncomfortable.”

http://theblacknessproject.org/2019/02/09/how-the-blackness-project-is-helping-people-talk-about-race/

 

Black History Month

5613967601_62d4b0573a_b

“White privilete is your history being part of the core curriculum and mine being taught  as an elective or only briefly discussed during Black History Month.”

 Eton Thomas (author, activist, professional athlete)

     Black History Month. We should not need it.   But we do. Is it a conundrum? Yes. “Black History” is not separate from American History. Yet, without a conscious and concrete effort to make visible all the myriad ways that Black History is American History, would those histories be told and be told honestly? What happens when Black History is told by white America? 

     White Americans like their past re-imagined, glorified, and made nostalgic. The cultural and historical references and images are made palatable. African-Americans, Native-Americans, Asian-Americans, Middle and East Indian-Americans, and all other non-white Americans are expected to agree and relate.

     A perfect example of a re-written and re-imagined history can be found in Lexington, Kentucky at the Waveland State Historic Site. Once an Antebellum Plantation, today a “Living History” museum. 

http://parks.ky.gov/parks/historicsites/waveland/

waveland

This beautiful Greek Revival home was built in 1847 by Joseph Bryan, a grandnephew of Daniel Boone. Tours of Waveland focus on the Bryan family and life on a 19th-century Kentucky plantation. Waveland exemplifes plantation life in Kentucky in the 19th- century; from the acres of grain and hemp waving in the breeze (hence the Waveland name), to the raising and racing of blooded trotting horses.”

waveland-parlour

waveland-dining

Living history events include butter churning, doll making, military drills, and period games; even a Valentine’s Day Tea including finger sandwiches and scones served on fine china by costumed “interpreters”.  (Will there be costumed “slaves”?)

waveland-1The kitchen and slave quarters. “Without their labor, Waveland would not have been possible.”

http://www.kentucky.com/news/local/counties/fayette-county/article44364669.html

http://www.kentucky.com/news/local/counties/fayette-county/article44105457.html

     “I would use the the verb “enslaved” rather than the noun “slave” to implicate the inhumane actions of white people. “Enslaved” says more about what happened to black people without unwittingly describing the sum total of who they were.”   

Deborah Gray White, Ph.D. (Distinguished Professor of History)

     What is privileged– made dominant and idealized–  in this white re-telling of Waveland is the architectural and artifactual elements of the plantation, the way of life of the Antebullum slaveholders, the beneficence of the slaveholders towards their slaves, and the legacy of the Bryan’s family enduring contribution to the City of Lexington.  

      What is ignored is the buying and selling of black bodies; the brutality of slavery; the psychological costs of enslavement; child abuse and sexual abuse of enslaved children and women; the tearing apart of families;  the horrific demands of field labor; and the dependence on the caprices of the master.

    The only reason white men were masters and white women were mistresses is because black men and black women and black children were enslaved. 

Payback’s a Bitch

Sally Is Privileged.*

 

     Sally has straight hair. Sally wanted curly hair just like mother’s.  Sally went to the store and bought a curling iron.

 

     “Oh, no!”, exclaimed Sally,  “This curling iron is for Black people”.  Sally looked closely at the box.  Yes, the model on the cover is Black.  Sally went to the store and returned the curling iron.

     She went to the hair care section to look for a curling iron for white people.  “Oh, no!”, exclaimed Sally. There did not seem to be a curling iron for white people.  All the models on all the boxes were Black.  

     Sally did not want to ask the salesperson for help.  She looked at all the boxes.  She read all the directions. She was confused.  Are these curling irons for white people or Black people?  The directions did not say.

 

     Sally did not know what to do.  She decided to buy the curling iron again. She would take the iron out of the box to see if it would work on her hair.     

      When Sally got home she opened the box. This is what Sally discovered:

20190430_181124

Just an ordinary curling iron.  Silly Sally!

Moral of the Story:

     Sally is a silly, stupid, spoiled, white girl who is used to seeing images that reflect her race on each and every product that she wants to purchase.  The “I” is always white. 

*This is based on a true story.

Honky & The Whiteness Project

20190430_133041
   
     This is the perfect book to turn to when one wants to unravel the day-to-day experiences of childhood and adolescence made easier by being white.  Even though Conley grew up in the 1970’s, the subtle and not-so-subtle ways that his life was protected and helped by being white — even being a poor white living in the projects — is still relevant today.
A few good lines from the book:
     
     “In the projects people seemed to come in all colors, shapes, and sizes, and I was not yet aware which ones were the important ones that divided up the world.”
   
      “I wonder what would have happened had my mother not been white? No one questioned her as she rushed around the hallways — but a frantic Black or Hispanic woman might have drawn greater scrutiny.”
 
     “Everyone involved, teachers and students, took it for granted that a Black teacher would never cross the racial line to strike a white student.”
   
     “Not thinking about the fact that the sanitation department should have given us the same pick-up service that Greenwich Village received, I suddenly got angrier at all my neighbors than I had ever been.  It was their fault this place was a mess, I decided.  And then, as if it were the next logical step, I concluded that it was their fault that they were poor.  I decided I would never be poor when I grew up.”
   
     “I grew addicted to purchasing.  I never realized how empowering it felt to spend money.”
   
     “This was the macho prize of being oppressed: the reputation for toughness.”
     
     If you need convincing that Conley’s experiences mirror the daily lives of white people today, listen to Connor from The Whiteness Project: The Intersection of I

“I would be in jail if I was not white.”

Connor

Connor, age 24

Selling Whiteness

20190408_153828

     What is up with the popular resurgence of images from the post World War II and the pre-rights era (civil, women, LGBTQ, American Indian, etc.)  in our country? The desire for this nostalgic throwback in “time”, with it’s almost total absense of people of color, and especially the absence of our violent racial history — a literal and figurative whitewashing — speaks to popular culture’s desire to perpetuate and sell Trump’s mantra of Making America Great Again. These images are everywhere.  And we know is who is buying them: white Americans.

     The creation, production, and reception of images is important. Images become a kind of memory.  They render, imitate, interpret, and preserve. They hold, unchanged.  Image making  functions as the tool for the construction of identities. But, what happens when those images are created by the dominant culture? And, what happens when those images are reproduced ad nauseam?

     They reinforce the “histories”, ideas, values, and perceptions of those who control cultural and political production. 

     Try an experiment.  Google “Retro Images” and see what pops up. White America. Open items on the menu bar: Christmas, Woman, Good Morning, Diner, Party, Baby, Easter, and even Groovy and Cool, and you will immediately find images of white people.  It is as if people of color never existed.   

     Also, what does our culture’s hunger for retro images, items, and products really mean?  There seems to be a white collective belief that “everything old is cool again”.  The 20th Century may have been a time of technical and medical innovations, but it was also a century of race-wars and race politics.  The luxury of being white is the belief that one can step outside of the history of race and racism.  The luxury of being white is to pretend to be “color-blind”: as if one does not notice the color of skin, just the content of character.  The hypervisibility of white culture in retro media and images creates and promotes more than just an aesthetic.  It creates and promotes a history that is absent of race, racism, and racial upheavel. It creates and promotes of culture of whiteness as normal, desirable, and American. And, most importantly, it creates and promotes the idea that  anything and everything that is white is superior. 

 The flood of Retro  games available speaks to a collective desire for the past. But, whose past?

     

Dick-and-Jane-2019-Mini-Wall-Calendar
You read that right! 2019

 

     “When I was in elementary school, this white, owning-class family was presented to me — a southern, semi-rural, poor American Black — as an opportunity to learn to read and at the same time to understand what the typical American family experience was.  Of course, when I was in elementary school, I didn’t know that most white Americans were not living like that — and I think that most of my Black teachers believed in the Dick and Jane story too.”                                                                                  

Clarissa Sligh, Artist

     Retro images that are produced and re-produced do affect our culture. It doesn’t matter if they are tongue-in-cheek spoofs , a Little Treasure or a self-help book sold at Barnes & Noble, or a design concept from Architectural Digest

 

     They perpetuate a false history and narrative of American culture.  They create a cultural climate; they contribute to a culture of whiteness that becomes synonymous with family, love, home, style, wealth, desire, identity, and especially nation. 

     The celebration and glorification of all things white is what lies behind the Make America Great Again movement.  To paraphrase the brilliant historican, activist, and Harvard scholar, Dr. Henry Louis Gates;

“Eight years of a Black president drove a lot of people crazy!”

     Celebrating a white-washed past of a literal raceless America, and longing for a childhood world that did not exist, is much more appetizing to the general white public than joining a white nationalist group. The examination of this popular trend is uncritical and unsophisticated. Critical analysis is reduced to sentimental commentary;  with the worst being; “it is dated” and the best being; “they bring back delightful memories of childhood”. Again, I ask, delightful for whom? Again I write, the “I” is always white. 

 

(And to think I purchased my sticky notes folio at a World Market store in Phoenix.)