education

Covid City 8: Be Gentle, Please

March 23, 2020 7:30 am

My calendar tells me it’s Monday. This matters when it comes to my job, but as a parent here in Covid City where going out is not an option, there is no such thing as a weekend.

Case in point: M woke up at 6 am Saturday morning. L stumbled out of bed a couple of hours later and asked when we’d be starting circle time. After having spent the past week experimenting with various homeschool arrangements, Dave and I needed a break. “Today is a Saturday, sweetie,” I said.

“Oh right, it’s a home day,” L replied.

“Well, I guess every day is these days. But it’s up to you. Do you want homeschool today?”

L thought for a moment and decided no. But then, only minutes later, he launched into project time and from there proceeded to lead us through the full homeschool schedule: outside exercises, center time, lunch, quiet time, meditation, dance party, more project time. It actually all went very well; Dave and I were even able to get the laundry and cooking done. So what was the magic secret? Why had this day gone so much better than the others? And how could we make it happen again?

Later that night, Dave and I analyzed all the different options we had tried thus far and came to some excellent conclusions. Even though L had melted down when we’d let him take the lead earlier in the week, he seemed to love it on Saturday. Perhaps now that he had processed things a bit more, letting him lead would be the best move. We went through all the details and felt confident in our plans to replicate Saturday’s success going forward.

Sunday started out quite lovely. L led us through some project time while Dave selected a fun assortment of records. But then, out of nowhere (though it’s never truly out of nowhere), L freaked out and screamed so loudly he woke the baby up from nap. Dave reprimanded L, but I preferred a gentler approach and so interrupted him mid-sentence. This is definitely not the “united front” philosophy we have agreed upon. Dave was, of course, pissed off and left the room, which pissed me off. It took a while to calm L down, then Dave and I had to calm each other down. Meanwhile, the baby was still screaming from his crib.

And that’s when it hit me: we can plan, analyze, and schedule all night long, but the truth is, four people on lockdown in a small apartment are going to get mad at each other. We’re going to yell at each other. We’re going to laugh with each other, too. And in the end, we’re going to get through it with each other.

Homeschool with Dave = setting up a mini-recording studio in the living room.

Saturday worked because it worked. Who knows exactly why. What I do know is that I cannot make everyone happy and I cannot make every day go well even under normal conditions, much less in Covid City. Some days will be good. Others will not. That’s life, with or without the coronavirus.

Of course I’m going to try to create conditions that will foster happiness, creativity, and positivity during our days here at home together. Our child craves structure; when left to his own devices, he enforces it himself. But no matter what happens, I have to stop wasting so much of my brain space on trying to make every day as good as it can possibly be. Parenting in Covid City is weird and emotional and messy. Getting through the day is good enough.

P.S. My morning meditation self-care goal today is to drink more water. I am used to have bottle after bottle while I work in the office, but here at home, I am all discombobulated. Plus, the three of us keep leaving our glasses all over the apartment and then when the baby wakes up, we frantically stash them in weird, high-up places out of his reach, which are also out of our sight and thus out of mind. So today, I’m bringing back up the water bottle.

 

Covid City 6: Embracing Change

March 18, 2020, 8 am

As it tu­rns out, it is not possible to take care of a 9-month-old, homeschool a preschooler, and also work full-time all from inside the same apartment. Especially when that apartment has only four rooms. Add to this the monumental task of explaining things to a sensitive, smart, anxious four-year-old and then helping him navigate his emotional reaction to it all. Life here in Covid City is intense.

Like many parents, Dave and I went from having 75 hours a week of childcare (L at school 8:15-5:30/6 five days a week, the baby with my in-laws from 9-6 three days a week) to having no back-up at all. M is completely off-the-hook, requiring someone on him every waking moment; literally, if you turn away for a second, he tries to kill himself. I somehow managed to work from our makeshift bedroom office on Monday while Dave kept both kids alive, and poor L was bored, sad, and emotional all day. By mid-afternoon, he broke down crying and demanded my attention (“I need more hugs,” he later said to Dave).

He needs more of a lot of things right now. To make matters harder, the only time Dave and I can plan, prep, and work through how to best provide this support is once L is asleep, which isn’t happening until 9:30/10:00 pm nowadays. And, let’s be honest, whoever is doing bedtime usually falls asleep in L’s bed before we get the chance to talk; L has been having nightmares, M has been teething, and so Dave and I are maybe getting four hours of broken sleep a night. These two kiddos are exhausting.

Shockingly, I did get some work done on Monday. And you know what? It felt completely irrelevant. Why was I writing a biweekly report instead of writing homeschool plans or emails to my loved ones? Why was I confirming advisement calls when we have no idea what next semester will even look like? Another COVID-19 season will arrive before a vaccine has been properly tested and put into place. Society as we know is only going to keep changing.

CUNY, and all other employers, need a long-term plan here, not just some weird attempt to move old routines and expectations from offices into homes. Too many people, higher-ups in particular, are clinging to a model that has quickly become ridiculous. It doesn’t make sense to keep working as usual right now.

I’m personally lucky enough to have some PTO to use for the rest of this week, but even that phrase, “PTO to use,” feels absurd. Hundreds of thousands of people have lost their jobs, to the point that the unemployment website crashed when Dave tried to access it last night (now they’re doing a staggered schedule based on last name, so Dave’s assigned time slot to apply is Thursday morning). Our entire global economy is ready to collapse. Healthcare facilities are overwhelmed as confirmed cases continue to rise. Right now, what matters most to me is not clocking in work hours. Instead I need to focus on taking proper care of these kids, staying connected to my people, and squeezing in self-care as I can, which means writing and meditating because that is how I stay sane.

Also how I stay sane: pointing out the positives, no matter how small they are. Here are some of my positives for you:

  • It is wonderful to not rush around every morning, racing to get everyone dressed, fed, and dropped off so that I can get to the office on time.
  • It is equally wonderful to forgo the mad dash from the office to the subway to L’s school for pick-up by 6 pm.
  • Homeschool is actually fun. I mean, I studied Early Childhood Education and taught preschool for years so that helps. And L is super into learning. But even if those things weren’t true, there’s something special about doing this together.
  • M is nine months old today! And he is trying to talk! Cannot wait to hear what his first word is.
  • These kids eat SO MUCH food. It’s impressive. But also my kitchen is a disaster. But also, that’s okay.
  • The pets are thrilled. They are quite therapeutic, and it’s super sweet to watch them bond with the baby. I love how oblivious those three are.
  • Signs of spring are everywhere. When L spots a dandelion during a dog walk, he gleefully squeals and runs over to pick this weed of a flower then show it off to me with reverence. Adults have strayed way too far from the things that matter.


As crazy as it is to be a parent under quarantine in Covid City, it’s also fun; my adorable little life-suckers provide quite a bit of welcome levity, and they do an excellent job of distracting me from the news. That being said, I don’t think yesterday would have gone as well if we hadn’t implemented a new schedule with multiple activities. I know not every family and kid needs that kind of structure, but if you’re like us, I pasted our adjusted schedule and new ideas for you below. Keep in mind that we don’t intend to do this every day. In fact, L is watching Moana right now.

Parents, whether you’re homeschooling, doing art projects, or watching shows and eating Cheetos all day, you’re a freaking badass. Stay strong.


New Schedule, Adjusted After Homeschool Experiment Day 1, and Very Loosely Interpreted on Day 2
9:00     Family Circle Time: Good morning / Day & Date / Feelings Check-in / Book
9:30     Independent work at dining table (details below)
10:00   Center time: Creative, Science, Math, Library, Music, Computer, or just TV (more below)
10:45   Snack
10:55   Meditation/breathing exercise
11:00   Project Time –“animal of the week” (see below) or a one-off
11:30   Clean Up
11:35   Dance party
11:45   Reading on the couch (L reads a book or sight-word cards)
12:00   Adult does lunch prep while L watched Doodles with Mo Willems (this is great, L likes it)
12:15   Lunch
12:45   Quiet/alone time in room
1:30     Family exercises (see below)
1:45     Nature walk with Basil or watch TV or Center Time Rd 2 (same centers as Rd 1)
2:45     Snack
3:00     Chores
3:30     Meditation/breathing exercise
3:35     Family meeting
3:45     Homeschool ends, turn the TV on and bring me a margarita immediately

Independent Work: High Five puzzle book, math sheets from the web, writing letters in a notebook

Center Ideas & Locations:
-Creative on coffee table: coloring pages, paper and crayons, stickers, cutting things out
-Science on balcony: nature box, planting and watering seeds, dissecting my dead garden, digging in a planter full of dirt, using a magnifying glass to inspect the random things out there
-Math on dining table: addition/subtraction puzzle, counting & sorting items, toy abacus
-Library on couch: Lots of cozy pillows with books and sight-word cards
-Music in living room: play instruments, sing karaoke, pick a record and discuss what instruments you hear

Animal of the week: Choose an animal and throughout the week, watch Nat Geo and Animal Planet videos, makes notes of facts about it, do art projects, listen to songs, “dance” like the animal, discuss what it eats, look at map to see where it lives

This week for us is the octopus: Nat Geo Doc (4 mins), Nat Geo Pics & Facts Slideshow, “Octopus’s Garden” by the Beatles, making octopus tentacles with tissue paper leftover from Xmas, acting like an octopus, finding sets of 8 things around the apartment

Family Exercises: Go Noodle has a lot of options we haven’t explored yet. Yesterday we did this intense video but were terrible at it and laughed a lot, so that was fun.

Covid City 5: Slow Down

March 16, 2020 7:15 am967550910_203cea191b_o
Today is not the day to launch that ambitious homeschool plan. Today is not the day to clock in eight hours from your makeshift bedroom office. Today is not the day to refresh the news every minute and worry over what will happen next.

It has happened. School is canceled. Concerts are canceled. Bars are canceled. Offices are canceled. Normal life as we know it is canceled.

But you know what’s not canceled? Nature, friendship, walks, exercise, meditation, art, books, dancing, singing, loving.

For today, let’s try to process and breathe, to let ourselves settle a little. We’ll figure things out as we go. Perhaps the plans we make will work for us. Perhaps they won’t. But right now, for today, let’s try to relax.

I went on a run yesterday and was reminded of how simple yet powerful running can be. It’s been awhile since I was a regular runner, but last night, I slipped on my old trusty sneakers and ran out the door. At first my thoughts raced in circles, winding through all the disruptions of the past few days, my daunting to-do list, the plethora of unknowns that remain, but the beautiful thing about running is that it eventually takes over. The pounding of my feet, the depth of my breath, the pace of my heart. Every time I run, my body finds its own rhythm that pulls me away from my mind and shuts off my thoughts. Afterwards, I am always refreshed (if also exhausted and sore).

If you can, get outside today (in a safe, socially-distant way, obviously). I have to work most of the day, but at a certain point, I do plan to shut off my computer and phone and go to the beach with my family. We need these escapes, these breaks, these resets. Everything has changed so quickly; it’s time for a collective slow down – of both the virus and ourselves.

To those of you who are differently abled, sick, living alone, or for another reason unable to walk, exercise, get outside, or physically be with your people, I hope you can find other ways to connect. Perhaps sitting by a window to birdwatch will help, or Facetiming with a friend. But to matter what you decide to do, please know I am sending big love.

Because ultimately, that’s what today (dare I say every day?) is all about: love.

Covid City 4: Homeschooling + Talking to Kids + Parents Unite

March 15, 2020 9:05 pmScreen Shot 2020-03-15 at 7.11.35 PM
“But mommy, if you go to work you’ll get sick.”

When L, my four-almost-five-year-old, said this to me on Friday morning, I knew it was the last day I’d be going in to the office no matter what the mayor and governor decided. My baby was scared; he needed his mom. But even without the fear, he was right – none of us should have gone to work or school on Friday, especially those of us who rode the subway.

“It’s okay, there aren’t large groups of people at my work and so it’s different from Daddy’s work,” I said.

I continued to explain things from the public-health approach: “In order to make sure everyone stays healthy, we have to stop gathering big groups of people together for awhile. We’re washing our hands a lot, too, right? Everyone is doing the same thing. We’re all working together to keep everyone healthy.” He had a million questions. We muddled through.

6E6E31C4-7CAB-4575-8500-4E0AD302207DAnd now it’s official: NYC schools are closed. In as cheery a voice as possible, I said to L, “Guess what? Remember how Daddy’s work was closed and you said that your school and my work should close, too? Well, you were right. Everything is closing to make sure that we can all do our best to stay home and keep each other healthy.”

He thought this meant one endless weekend. Dave and I had to backpedal a bit and go over the homeschool idea, how we’re going to follow a schedule, how Mommy and Daddy are also going to be his teacher now, too.

“What do you think about that?” I asked.

“Fun!” L replied. Then he launched into a whole imaginative game in which he was the teacher, ordering us around.

“Hon, it’s okay to play this game right now, but starting tomorrow, we’re your teachers for real. Got it?”

“Got it, Mommy. We’re the fun makers, ya?”

Oh. My. God. Dave and I are supposed to homeschool our big kid while our nine-month-old baby crawls around – our off-the-chains, bonkers baby who unplugs appliances and tries to lick the prongs of the connector, who gleefully eats tape and dog fur, who climbs on top of tables and bounces, somehow in a matter of seconds. Practically speaking, the only surface in the entire apartment tall enough to do school work out of the baby’s reach is the dining table. Where we eat. Plus, I’m supposed to also work 35 hours a week from inside the same Brooklyn apartment. This place is gonna be trashed.

I guess the silver lining to Dave’s sudden availability is that he can now take over with the kids. There are already tons of resources out there. Plenty of people have homeschooled before us. But those people chose to do this; here in Covid City, we do what we have to do.

IMG_3818Sometimes this whole thing feels like a wild experiment a group of aliens is performing on us, like how the earth was created in The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy because the intergalactic space team needed a new computer. But this is not a sci-fi novel. This is reality, and it’s only going to get more intense. Good thing we’ve been stockpiling snacks and liquor!

Y’all, this school-closure thing is likely to last the remainder of the semester. We have to stay connected, to share schedules, plans, ideas, resources, tips for staying sane. I’m going to start an email list for parents; leave a comment if you want to be added.

And if you need a place to start, I pasted my homeschool schedule-in-progress below, as well as a list of ideas that a few parent friends have contributed to; I tried to model our plans after L’s Pre-K class to provide some consistency (hence things like “Center Time”). Best of luck to those of you with older kids!

And, as always, don’t forget to BREATHE. We’re okay. Even when locked up in our apartments away from each other, we still have each other. We will get through this together.

Very (Probably Overly) Ambitious Homeschool Schedule Draft
Note: This plan is created with my family’s personalities in mind; every family has its own unique needs. 

9:00 Family Circle Time: Good morning / Day & Date / Feelings Check-in / Song and dance
9:15 Independent worksheets (math or penmanship) – M goes down for 1st nap
9:30 Center time: Art, Kitchen, Music, Computer, and/or Science
10:00 Clean Up
10:10 Nature walk with Basil (our dog)
10:45 Snack
11:00 Project time
11:15 Dance break
11:20 Center time: Art, Kitchen, Music, Computer, and/or Science
11:45 Reading (L reads aloud then an adult reads aloud)
12:00 Cooking/Lunch prep (L free play if easier)
12:15 Lunch
12:45 Quiet/alone time
1:30 Family exercises – Go Noodle
1:45 Snack
2:00 Nature walk with Basil
2:30 Project time
3:00 Center time: Art, Music, Computer, and/or Science
3:30 Facetime or call friend/fam
3:45 Homeschool ends, from here it’s free

For those of you looking for a less structured or busy schedule, here’s another template*:

Project-Time and Center-Time Ideas
– drawing pics for friends/family and emailing them
– boiling and dyeing eggs
– finger-painting in the tub
– cooking projects
– exploring our musical instruments
– online karaoke/learning a song
– baking bread or cookies
– planting seeds (a project to monitor)
– baking-soda volcano
– making a paper kite
– making play dough
– coloring on coffee filters with markers then dipping them in water and watching it run
– rain cloud in a jar (shaving cream, water, food coloring)
– walking water rainbow (water, food coloring, paper towels, jars)
– making and decorating a gingerbread house
– Google-ing items we discover on nature walks
– giving presentations or making books about our discoveries
– creating a nature box
– bird watching (praise be we have a balcony!)
– reading through field guides and nature books
– choosing an animal a week to focus on (research, art projects, pretend play, etc)
– lots and lots of dance parties
making bubbles
PBS Kids
Learning Lift Off: 20 Best Homeschooling Websites & Resources

 

*This post was updated on 3/16/20 to include the second template.

Covid City 2: Diaries of a New York During the Coronavirus

3/14/2020 12:05 pm


It’s hitting me now: COVID-19 took my husband’s job! Like everyone else in the entertainment industry, we knew it was coming. And, like everyone else, we also know there’s very little to do about it. Dave and I have some savings. We’re experienced budgeters. I have a reliable job. We’ll be okay. It feels like I shouldn’t be complaining given how much worse it is for others. Still, an indefinite future of two kids on one income feels intense.

Meanwhile, CUNY finally rolled out a remote-work option for us staffers but then decided it doesn’t go into effect until March 18th. All day yesterday upper management and HR kept insisting that we have to show up Monday and Tuesday while they process our at-home proposals. They seem more concerned about our output, about feeling 100% sure that we’re actually going to get our work done, than they are about our own safety. 

Or maybe they actually believe this response is appropriate? I was in a meeting yesterday where a manager said that we should still host events for up to 25 people. Others were scheduling in-person meetings and interviews (interviews!) for Monday. I was like, “Nope, I’m packing up, my husband’s picking me and all my stuff up in the car, I’ll check in from home on Monday at nine, see you maybe next month?”


The worst part – today we received an email from the dean stating that there’s a confirmed coronavirus case on the 15th floor of the building our school is located in. We work on the 10th, 18th, and 19th floors, sharing elevators and lobbies with everyone who works across all 22 floors. As a school focused on strengthening the labor movement and supporting worker’s rights, guess what our dean’s response was? That there will be a deep cleaning over the weekend and we are all expected to report on Monday morning. I am not joking. It seems as if my school is leading a revolution for everyone except those who work for the school itself.

Across the board, America has botched all aspects of containing this thing. So many don’t seem to understand the severity of it, which is baffling considering the amount of time we’ve had to prepare. Did people think America was immune? Or maybe they weren’t following the news. Or maybe they were but it was the wrong news. Years ago, back under Obama’s first term, I did an experiment where I compared the New York Times’s reporting to The Guardian’s reporting on the same issues, and I was blown away. Now, I only read The Guardian.

On my end, having an anxiety disorder has finally paid off: for three weeks now, I’ve been making quarantine plans and stockpiling goods. Hell, I even bought crafting supplies! That being said, I got nervous yesterday that three cans of formula won’t be enough for my nine month old, and so I went to Whole Foods on my lunch break, the one by Bryant Park that’s always packed, and I gotta admit, I was a little disturbed by how deserted it was (see above).

This is serious, y’all. And very, very weird. The surreality of it makes it hard to accept. I think that’s probably why management scheduled interviews for Monday and expects us to take the subway into the office midst a confirmed case in the building. These actions feel normal in a very not normal time. Denial is easier for some.

But seriously, screw them. Last night I came home to a husband––pissed off as he may be––cooking pancakes for dinner. To a chunky baby with huge toothless grin reserved just for me. To a four year old running around the living room, arms spread wide as he flew like a dragon. To a dog wagging his tail so hard it thumped against his body. To a cat meowing from her roost on the couch. 

We are so full over here. I could get lost in fear over how we’ll provide for all of these creatures, how we’ll keep them healthy, how we’ll keep ourselves healthy enough to be what they need us to be. Or I could get lost in the love, the joy, the life of it all.

Right now, I’m choosing the love.


***

Check back this evening for a post about ways to stay positive plus fun things to do at home. My post about talking to and meditating with older kids will come tomorrow.

Covid City: Diaries of a New Yorker During the Coronavirus

subway rush hour3/13/2020, 9:05 am

I am on a morning rush-hour train in which half the seats are empty when normally there is standing room only. I love how CUNY is chugging through, how this behemoth institution will continue serving the community of New York City no matter what, but it’s ludicrous to require the entire staff to take public transportation to an office (mine in Midtown!) when most of us can work from home. I can’t imagine this policy will last through the weekend. Even if it does, I am not returning next week; my makeshift bedroom office is ready to go.

Still, there’s an energy on campus like one I’ve never felt before. People are not standing in hallways talking the day away. It’s amazing to see my coworkers rally like this. Teachers turning entire curricula into online lessons in just a few days. IT guys working around the clock, setting up complicated systems, running training sessions every hour. Advisors rushing around, ensuring all students have access to computers, internet, food. Union members talking on the phone until 11 pm, hashing out protections for hourly employees, writing demands for our long-term safety.

As the train approaches Manhattan, seats do fill up a bit more but not fully. Only one person is wearing a mask today; I think the message that they’re useless has sunk in. It’s impossible to keep the recommended 1-2 meters of distance from one another, and so we smile as we lean away. We are all in this together.

I’m fascinated by the juxtaposition of how quarantining, social distancing, and all these cancellations feel anti-community but are actually measures to protect the community. While we isolate ourselves in our apartments, we can no longer pretend that I the individual is more important than the we the group.

Of course it’s terrifying for those who are homeless, food insecure, sick, or working low-paid jobs in one of the many industries currently crashing. There are so many reasons why we’ve been out in the streets protesting, long before Trump took office. Our system was built on a broken foundation. And now that we need the system’s services more than ever, it has crumbled, leaving those who need the most with nothing. 

No surprises there.

That being said, I’m impressed by the systems that are still working. Chug on, CUNY! While the slow response to creating a remote-work plan for staff has been frustrating, I am so grateful for my job, especially now that the governor banned gatherings of over 500 (as he should have), leaving my husband, an audio engineer, unemployed.  

What will happen to our economy? To our upcoming elections, especially considering the fact that COVID-19 will return next flu season before a vaccination is in place? What about our school system, which I’m sure will be closed by next week, leaving millions of people stranded at home?

covid-19-image-1

The thing is, we need each other right now, and so we have to be proactive about setting up ways to continue our community. I’m in the process of scheduling regular video chats and phone check-ins with my people. It’s been recommended to start and/or join online groups and forums; I spend too much time on Instagram already so I’m good there. What I’m most excited about is the fun plans I’ve made with my immediate family – we stocked up on art supplies for a crafting idea L came up with, and now that Dave has all this free time, he’ll be turning part of our living room into an at-home recording studio.

All that being said, I know it will be challenging to get work done in a small apartment with two kids and a disillusioned husband all on lockdown together. That’s why positivity and connection is more crucial right now than ever.

***

Check back this weekend for my next entry on how we’ve been talking to L (my anxious and perceptive four year old) and how I’ve used meditation to keep us all sane. 

A Message to White Progressives

We call ourselves progressive, but what are we actually doing to progress our society toward a more just and equal future?


Too many children across our country open their history textbooks to a page like the one pictured above. I understand that most parents want to protect their children’s innocence for as long as possible, but when we use language like “brought millions of workers” to teach our kids about this country’s history – about the way white people kidnapped people of color, stole them from their homes and forced them to work in brutal conditions for masters who committed horrible atrocities against them – we are not protecting our children’s innocence. We are not making them safer. We are not helping them. Instead, this language – this lie – is protecting, saving, and helping white supremacy. And in teaching these lies over and over, we have created generations of adults who don’t understand how our history connects to our present, how the fact that our country was established on the idea that white people are inherently better than everyone else means that our black and brown neighbors are still being systematically oppressed and murdered.

I’m not saying we need to share every gruesome detail with our eight-year-old kids. But we do need to tell them the truth in terms that they can process. Let’s start with “enslaved people” instead of “workers,” for example, and “stole” instead of “brought.” I understand the desire to present our children with a world full of peace and love, but instead of pretending like that’s true, let’s make it true. Right now, eight-year-old children of color are being forcefully separated from their parents. They are starving in cells where they’re held without reason. They are witnessing the violent shootings of their fathers and uncles, often committed by police officers who are supposed to be protecting them. Compared to this reality, using words like “enslaved people” and “stolen” when talking to young white children is nothing.

The fact that we recently elected such a diverse Congress filled with various races, ethnicities, religions, genders, and sexual orientations is thrilling to me. Representation matters, and voting for these candidates was huge. I do believe our children will benefit positively from growing up with this. But y’all, we have so much more to do! Voting in diverse people was step one. Now we need to demand legislation to end gerrymandering and reform our election processes – two ways in which the U.S. government currently operates against BIPOC (Black and Indigenous People of Color). We need to call the principals at our kids’ schools and review the way slavery and race relations is taught. We need to write emails to textbook publishers and explain why pages like the one above are not acceptable. In an age where so many of us are always on our phones, there’s no excuse for not regularly calling, emailing, or posting on social media about these issues.

equalrightst-shirt.jpg

Original t-shirt available now at Black on Black.

We also need to recognize that while these actions are important, altering our system from within isn’t enough. In order to be true allies, we need to put our bodies and our money where our tweets are. We need to show up at Black Lives Matter protests, patron local businesses run by BIPOC, donate to their organizations, read their books, visit their art exhibits, buy their music. Don’t think of these efforts as a one-and-done situation, but rather plan out how you can incorporate this into your regular routine. Maybe Sunday brunch can be at a local, black-owned restaurant like Daleview Biscuits and Beer. Or maybe all your friends can get birthday presents from a company like Black on Black. Or maybe instead of going to the same club every Saturday, you can try a new place featuring DJs of color. Taking action doesn’t have to feel like work.

But you know what does, and probably should, feel like work? The self-analyzation that needs to come along with these external acts. Healing our country requires that we white people look honestly inside ourselves, that we dig deep to figure out what’s buried in there from our own childhoods. A good starting point is to think back to what you were taught about the discovery of our country, our founding fathers, slavery, Jim Crow, lynching, and/or the Great Migration. What did your textbooks say? Hell, I wasn’t taught about Jim Crow or the Great Migration in school, but when I think back to my elementary social studies classes, lessons on slavery were definitely brief and always ended with how Abraham Lincoln, a white man, was a savior. Lessons on our founding fathers similarly focused on their positive traits, how they were strong, smart, and brave. And the pilgrims were to be heralded as the bravest of all because they fled persecution in their homeland, found a new home, fought for it, and flourished.

Now, let’s reframe these lessons using more honest words. For example, the pilgrims didn’t just fight for their new home, they actually committed genocide, or, “the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political, or cultural group” – i.e., the Native Americans. And our founding fathers may have been strong, smart, and brave in some ways, but they were also terrorists, as in, they “advocated and practiced the systematic use of terror, especially as a means of coercion.” Diving further into Merriam Webster, terror is defined as, “violent and destructive acts committed by groups in order to intimidate a population or government into granting their demands.” What was slavery if not violent and destructive acts – beatings, lynchings, rapes – committed by groups of white people in order to intimidate a population of black people into granting their demands to work the fields, cook dinner, clean the house, have sex, etc?

For many of us, this process feels wrong. It goes against everything we’ve been taught, and it feels blasphemous to think this way about George Washington, our great American hero. But we can’t let our discomfort keep us from doing the work – remember, BIPOC are still being systematically murdered because we white people don’t want to feel uncomfortable about the reality of our country’s history. Instead of running from or explaining away our feelings, we need to be in and examine them. No one is saying you owned slaves or committed genocide. We so easily get defensive and start tossing around blame instead of being in our own emotions. The wrong-doing here isn’t the act of applying the word “terrorist” to our founding fathers. What’s wrong is that we’ve been taught to worship these white men while ignoring the rest of history. We as a country have never implemented a collective practice to reconcile our past with our present, to decolonize our society, to dismantle white supremacy. In fact, we celebrate it! And because we’ve never truly addressed what our white forefathers did to the African Americans and indigenous people, much less tried to amend it, we are incapable of fully addressing and amending what is currently being done to these populations.

NiaWilson

Eighteen-year-old Nia Wilson died on July 22, 2018 after her throat was slashed in a hate crime.

Sure, we’ve outlawed slavery (except in prisons, which are disproportionately filled with black people working for little to no pay), we’ve granted people of color the right to vote (then created tons of obstructions to purposefully block them), we’ve passed the Civil Rights act (then did not enforce it), but these amendments have been treated as an end rather than a beginning – a measly beginning, at that. And now here we are, feeling defensive and claiming “not me,” or “I’m one of the good ones,” or “It’s not fair to lump all white people into the same category,” basically refusing to get past our own egos, insisting that our immediate reaction is more important than whatever anyone else may feel, thus blocking ourselves from truly examining how we benefit from and even contribute to white supremacy, no matter how unintentional it may be. And because so many of us white people keep getting stuck here, people of color keep getting murdered. No, I am not the one who shot Maurice E. Stallard and Vickie Lee Jones in a Kroger store while yelling racist slurs, nor am I the one who stabbed Nia Wilson to death in her car. But I am a part of a society that allows this to happen. I am a part of the race that perpetrates it. And as long as so many of us continue to deny our role, nothing will change.

It’s okay to be ignorant. It’s okay to not understand. But it’s not okay to stay like that. Our kids are watching us – all of us, including those who aren’t parents. We have the resources and the power to change things, so please, let’s do the work and make some real progress toward a better future.

Resources for Learning More and Taking Action:


Instagram Accounts to Follow:

There’s an inspiring and educational dialogue happening on Instagram about race relations, art, music, gender identity, American history, and how this all intersects. Do not follow these accounts if you have not already started on your own work. It is not okay to go into their spaces and be disrespectful or to center the discussion around yourself. This is a wonderful opportunity to listen to and learn from others. Don’t waste it.

 

Images:
1. McGraw Hill textbook via Diversity Inc.
2. Black on Black original design.
3. Nia Wilson via CNN.

Writer’s note: A previous version of this post used the word “slaves” instead of “enslaved people.” I have since learned about the phrase “enslaved people” and prefer it to “slaves,” as it demonstrates the idea that slavery was done to a person rather than the idea that a person’s identify was being a slave. However, others feel that “enslaved people” is too polished, and that it glosses over the dehumanizing experience of slavery. Yet another testament to the importance of language.