Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘race’

Gaea Cleans House

518hlTbe79L30 by Arthur Butt. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

What a great opening line. “The day the human race died started typically enough.” Thus, begins 30. A perfect short story with a powerful punch. Mr. Butt has crafted an excellent end-of-the-world scenario, with an unexpected character, and unanticipated ending.

The tale is told in the first person by Artie, who discovers that nobody else is on the Long Island expressway, as he’s making his way to work. No one accept a lone hitchhiker. Artie picks her up, and learns that her name is Gaea (Greek Goddess for earth).

The story reminds me somewhat of a play I wrote a few years back, which was produced and performed in New York. It is called The Goddess of Cancer. The play has a variety of women with cancer, who meet her (cancer) in person and discuss their predicament.

30 doesn’t take long to read, but it will leave you thinking. How did everybody die? What are we doing to the planet? If we call this globe “Mother Earth”, why don’t we treat her like one? Arthur Butt has created a memorable short we should all digest and ponder.

My Mother Was Murdered

Excerpt featuring Lee Mun Wah. From Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call.

lee-mun-wah“Your mother’s been murdered!” The woman who gave you birth is dead. Her life intentionally ended by another man. This was the cold reality Mr. Lee had to face in 1985. Feelings of fear, anger, rage and revenge soon replaced the numbed existence of shock. Instead of letting these intense, understandable reactions control his life, Mr. Lee searched for answers. He began to reach out, to confront and explore the ingrained, unconscious attitudes that lead to hate and violence, and discovered a way to shift the imbalances of power, heal the wounds and open our hearts.

As a seminar leader, speaker and filmmaker, Mr. Lee’s work has been highly visible, effective and utilized throughout the nation. His first film Stolen Ground, about racism towards Asian-Americans, won special merit at the San Francisco International Film Festival. His second video, of a weekend encounter group for men, The Color of Fear, won the 1995 National Education Media Award for best social studies documentary and has been used in thousands of organizations and businesses to deal with and discuss prejudice, bias and race. 

LEE MUN WAH:

I was born in Oakland, California at a time when people were living in mixed neighborhoods. I had a real glimpse of what a community could look like with all different ethnicities. My parents were very poor, though as a child I didn’t know that. Some of the distinct things I remember were that there were very few Asians in my classes and very few or almost no Asian-American or African-American teachers. When I noticed this consciously it became a real loss.

I was born into a very alive, dynamic family. I always thought that all Chinese families were like this. It wasn’t until later that I realized my father was a very unique man who really believed in going out in the world and creating what you wanted. He influenced me greatly in that way. My mother was very warm and personable; very intimate and in that way created my sense of family, of being close to people.

A lot of these life experiences prepared me, without my knowing, for the type of work I do now, when I talk about the country having a national relationship. It’s about how a family treats each other. I don’t think it’s just a sense of family, it’s also part of our Asian, Chinese culture . . . that we’re there for one other . . . that we respect and honor each others needs . . . the warmth, security and safety of a family . . . being up front and honest . . . trying to be a good person in the world and with those you meet. A number of people have that in there culture as well, but I don’t think many have made the connection of family into a larger community, in a global or workplace perspective and I think that is the missing link.

The American thing is often, “Me, me, me!” Business is first and task oriented and not loyal to workers. When business is down or they’re “restructuring” and they lay you off, they’re actually saying, “You are no longer needed, the company is more important.” It isn’t about taking care of the people who work for you but about having them compete with each other. I don’t run my family or workplace that way. And when I go out into the world that’s something I work for, to change that paradigm.

I don’t think you can legislate an end to racism. You have to have a change of heart. That’s why I talk about a relationship. It’s the only real connection we have. Often, we don’t act until there’s a crisis. What we need to realize is that the crisis is happening every single day and there’s always something you can do to address it.

We’ve never understood culture in this country. We think it’s the food, the costume or the holiday, but we don’t touch what it really means to us on a spiritual, emotional, ancestral way. When the American Indian tells us that it’s not enough to pass the sage around the room but to really understand where that comes from. To understand the relationships and the way we treat each other; that it’s really expressed in our movements, in what we don’t say, the way we hold each other, the way we wait for and acknowledge one other. We don’t take the time to really look, to really experience. Americans want everything fast . . tangible. The American Indian is right when they say, “You want my customs, my rituals and my land, but you don’t want me.” What we do is we use people and cultures. We use them when it’s convenient, for a service, for artifacts. Rarely do we take the time to understand how we relate to each other.

We don’t look into the realm of what we don’t know. I think that’s the part I’m talking about. When I do workshops I have people look around the room, listen to silence; listen to what’s not being said, to bodies that are talking all the time. We usually don’t listen to the nonverbal, to the energy in a room, to the impact of our ancestors that have brought us to this place. We are very present and future oriented but don’t pay enough homage or respect to the past. When are we open to learn from other cultures . . . to integrate values from other cultures? When companies say they’re multi-cultural or multi-racial I ask them to name one cultural factor they’ve integrated, that they see as practical, as useful, that they use every single day.

The turning point for me (after my mother was murdered) was when I wrote a play in which I acted out facing my Mom’s murderer. It also helped to look at the context from where it came. I tried to find and talk to the man who killed my mother, to no avail. On the day we finished The Color of Fear he was sentenced to life in prison. He’d killed four or five other women in addition to my Mom. Before that I had continued trying to contact his family. It turns out that some of his relatives lived in a home we’d been renting. It was really shocking. I talked to the woman who lived there and she said a cousin of hers had killed someone as well. When she went to his trial she had to leave because all she could see was “The little boy I’d grown up with”. She told me, “You may never know why he did it.”

Had my mother not been murdered, I’d never had made the film (The Color of Fear). I began to really see and sense that perhaps there was a meaning to this. It serves my healing and in many ways it’s healing for this country as well, because surely if I can go through this then others can open their hearts and have compassion as well. I’m not so sure hatred or guns or bars do any good . . . it only makes fear larger. Fear is not something you can protect yourself from, you have to walk through it.

More inspiring stories at Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call

The Vital Ingredient

One mother, two mothers, three mothers or four – we can never have enough love and care for our children. One father, two fathers or more – we can never provide too much love and care for our children. Raised by a grandparent, a brother or and aunt – there is never too much love to go around. One mother and a father, a stepfather and/or a stepmother – there is never too much support, stability and loving presence for our children.

If children are our most precious resource (which is repeatedly mouthed by politicians and religious leaders), what difference does it make if their parent(s) and/or those willing to adopt them, are gay, heterosexual, bisexual, asexual, black, white or brown? The arguments against adoption by gay or different colored parents become increasingly ludicrous, unsubstantiated and unsupportable.

Everyone, who knows or is a gay parent, understands that sexuality has nothing to do with one’s ability to care for children. Every significant study of children raised by gay or different colored parents over the last two decades has shown there is no difference (other than a slightly safer home environment in lesbian households than in heterosexual ones) in how well-adjusted, successful and happy their children are as adults. Nor is there any significant difference in the percentage of children that become adults and identify themselves as heterosexual or gay, than in those raised in households with a heterosexual mother and father.

Our family has experienced almost every kind of parenting. From a previous marriage I have two amazing children. As a single father I adopted a wonderful son. After re-marrying we became foster parents to an incredible daughter and my wife birthed a beautiful little boy. The only kind of parenting I haven’t experienced is that of being a gay parent and/or a different color then our children, but many friends have had that experience and continue to provide their children the love and support we all need growing up.

I’ll never forget the birth of our friend’s daughter almost twenty-five years ago. She was a bright joyous addition to our world and is now a delightful, intelligent young woman, secure in herself and her own sexuality. She grew up with two moms and had as much or more love and opportunity than most.

Another friend adopted a boy and a girl who are both well adjusted, happy adults who fondly visit their parents and call them both Dad.

One of my foster sisters adopted an incredible little girl with multiple physical problems as a baby and continues to raise her, as a single, gay mom and is helping her grow into a healthy assured teen.

Even though my wife and I both identify our selves as heterosexual, one of my sons and one of our daughters are gay. They will make wonderful parents, not because of their sexuality or gender, but because they are good, caring, respectful human beings.

Common sense and human decency shows us the advantages of providing permanent safe homes for our children. Being part of a responsible, nurturing family with boundaries, limits and an ongoing container of love are the vital ingredients of a good home, not the color of the parents or guardians skin or their sexual orientation.

If some people, acting out of their own religious or political beliefs, choose to make or support ignorance and outdated laws that separate, divide and/or condemn others because of their race or sexuality, that is their sad right. On the other hand, if they really want to support “the family” and wish to make a lasting difference in the health of our nation, they can open their eyes and hearts and lend a hand to those who have taken on one of the toughest, most frustrating and satisfying jobs in the world – parenting.

Choosing To See Color

I grew up in the segregated North, in Redding California. Redding was mostly a lumber mill town when I was a child; a place people only saw on there way to somewhere else. My father worked in the lumber mill for over 40 years. Besides the Native American family from the Hoopa Tribe that lived across the street, white faces surrounded us, including our own when we looked in the mirror.

We played frequently with the “Indian Kids” as people called them and often heard our “good” neighbors’ accusations and insinuations about “those kids” father having a “drinking problem”. “He is Indian after all,” they would say, as if that explained everything. As a child, I didn’t understand the bigotry or stereotyping that was occurring. All I knew was that their father was rarely home and if he was we had to be very quiet.

In the late fifties and early sixties, from the age of about six to nine, my mother started working part time and hired a woman named Alberta to watch my sister and I at her home. Alberta was black and her husband, Lemual, was a Baptist Minister. They had two children, Albert and Brenda. They were probably the first black people we had ever met in person, let alone seen. They lived in a small dilapidated home in a run down part of town. Later, as a teenager, I became aware that most of the black people in Redding lived in a poor section of town, literally on the other side of the railroad tracks.

Alberta was a big, dark brown woman whose loud strong voice could stop us in our tracks. If Candace (my sister), Albert and Brenda and I were outside playing tag or hide-an-seek and Alberta called for us to come in, we didn’t linger, but headed in as fast as our legs could carry us. She was strict, but caring. I remember her giving us big warm hugs that enveloped our little bodies, until it felt like we had disappeared.

Occasionally, Alberta would take us all to her husband’s church and we would play outside while she attended choir practice. We would all moan, along with the other black kids hanging around, about how boring it was and wondered when they would be done.

Albert and Brenda fought off and on, like brothers and sisters do, but never picked on Candace and I. It was in Brenda’s bedroom that I first heard soul music. I think it was The Supremes, The Miracles and “Little” Stevie Wonder. We would dance and sing and laugh at all our dancing and clowning around, until Alberta told us to “Quiet down in there!”.

After three or four years, when my mother had divorced and remarried, our family moved to a bigger home, farther out from town and we stopped going over to Alberta’s. Mom said they kept in touch with Alberta and her family for awhile, but they eventually moved out of the area and she hasn’t heard from them in decades.

In the late sixties, I “went with” a girl who was black in high school. It only lasted a few weeks. At first I just followed her around until she noticed me, then we talked on and off and held hands once or twice. She was easy to spot, because she had a gigantic Afro and was one of only four black kids at the entire school. At the time, I was doing everything I could think of “against the establishment” and this was simply another way to proclaim my independence and spit in the face of convention. It didn’t really mean much to her nor I and I doubt if she would even remember it today.

What strikes me about all these experiences of childhood, adolescents and as an adult, is that I, as a white man, have always had the choice of when and how I chose to interact with or befriend people of color or deal with race. Sometimes I have done so when it fulfills a need, is convenient, gives me a sense of having “helped” someone or fits my self-image of being an excepting, understanding person. It was for my benefit and I had control of if and when.

When I interviewed Lee Mun Wah, a well-known facilitator and videographer, for my book on transforming grief for social good, he said, “We don’t take the time to really look, to really experience. The American Indian is right when they say, ‘You want my customs, my rituals and my land, but you don’t want me.’ What we do is, we use people and cultures. We use them when it’s convenient, for a service, for artifacts. Rarely do we take the time to understand how we relate to each other.”

At times, I too, have not really looked or listened. I have put people in boxes and preconceived easily digestible categories that make life comfortable and lead me to believe that “everything is so much better nowadays than it used to be.” And it is, in some respects, but it shouldn’t stop me from looking honestly at myself and not minimizing or candy-coating another persons experience out of my own need for security.

In Notes of a Native Son (1953) James Baldwin wrote, “The black man insists that the white man cease to regard him as an exotic rarity and recognize him as a human being. This is a very charged and difficult moment, for there is a great deal of will power involved in the white man’s naivete. Most people are not naturally reflective any more than they are naturally malicious, and the white man prefers to keep the black man at a certain human remove because it is easier for him thus to preserve his simplicity.”

I wish things were simple. I wish just talking about race and prejudice was simple. I wish everybody was treated equally and had the same opportunities, but we’re not. The best I can do is not be afraid to look at myself and the person in front of me through rose-colored glasses and tell the truth as I see it, inside and out. Nowadays, my friends who are black or brown are my friends because they are simply my friends and the same is true for our children and their friends. I don’t try to pretend however, to my self or others, that everyone is now treated equally.

In our society (and most around the world), the color of your skin still matters. I’m not going to turn away from this reality and act like the privilege’s I have as a white man in America don’t exist. I’m choosing to look at this reality face to face and call other white men and women on it when they act as if everything has changed and they say things like “We’re all equal. It doesn’t matter what color someone is.”. Race matters. If you don’t think so, try walking around in brown or black skin for awhile and see how you’re treated.

We have to acknowledge and respect our differences and take off the blinders, before we can move beyond difference and see that there is only one of us here.

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