Seventeen days ago, on Saturday May 30th, we watched helicopters circle the neighborhood, heard sirens in the distance and watched, on TV, the protesting, rioting and looting only blocks away from our house. I immediately felt a darkness, anxiousness and an urge but I wasn’t sure what for. Go out? Read? Talk? Reach out? Watch? Write? Sign Up? Give? I started this post and couldn’t go anywhere with it and it quickly became clear that the urge was to sit, to watch, to read, to learn to listen.
Seventeen days ago, on Saturday May 30th, seemingly out of nowhere came a nagging memory of a book I found in 1983, in the Sociology department library I was organizing at William Smith College. It was the last book in the Pulitzer Prize Winning 5 part series called ‘Children in Crisis,’ by child psychiatrist Robert Coles. Book 5 is called “Privileged Ones” (click here for a 1978 NYTimes review of Coles’ work). I remembered reading the stories Coles told of the lives of wealthy children, children whose lives were filled with land and business ownership, multiple houses, maids, butlers, etc., and drawings made by these privileged children as young as 4 that showed how their world views, politics and values were already being shaped to ensure the continuation of that privilege. I remembered Coles’ discussions of narcissism, entitlement, and the complexities of socialization, class and privilege in America. I remembered thinking about the social and familial systems and power structures that created the environments we live within and being overwhelmed by the inequities, injustices and complexity of it all.
By Monday June 2nd, 3 days after thinking about Coles’ work and reflecting on my life experience in and around power and privilege, the social media storm was in full force. Everyone was talking, everyone was posting, DO THIS, SIGN UP HERE, GO OUT, GIVE... In all of this I was drawn to my friend’s posting of this Google Doc, ‘Anti-racism Resources for White People.’ I clicked.
There are 96 links (things to read and watch) in that Google Doc. The first one I felt called to click on was the 2012 TedX talk by Peggy McIntosh, titled “How studying Privilege Systems Can Strengthen Compassion.” This talk was based on her 1988 paper, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” written only 10 years after the publishing of Coles’ "Privileged Ones".
These initial days following the 8min 46 sec spark, set me on a journey of listening with two eyes and two ears and one heart. I don’t know what all the actions will ultimately be, but here is where I started and the current path I’m on:
I found a local SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice) Chapter, AwareLA.
I listened in on the AwareLA/WP4BL Orientation call.
I signed up to be part of a study group based on Layla Saad’s book ‘Me and White Supremacy,’ (and found in the first chapter a discussion of Peggy McIntosh’s work).
I signed up for a book club to read Reni Eddo-Lodge’s book, ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race.”
I’m listening to my Black friends and colleagues.
I’m listening to my kids, my husband, my friends.
There is so much to listen to I don’t think it’ll ever be done, but at least I found a place to start and a place that can better inform my action(s)!
Both Peggy McIntosh who is now 85 years old and Robert Coles who is 90 were educated at Harvard, they are white and privileged and were called to show us what was then and what is still today a world of (white) privilege. I find myself wondering what they are hearing as they listen today to the furor over a reality that they helped give voice to more than 50 years ago. I imagine them thinking, “it’s about time!”.
What are you watching? What are you listening to? What are you hearing?
Whatever it is, I hope you are using your beautifully open mind and heart!
painting by Lynne Harris Bernstein
Big Open Heart, ©2020
acrylic on canvas board, 12x16