Tuesday, July 19, 2016

cracking white open

I had a Come to Jesus Meeting the other day. It was one of those stop-dead-in-my-tracks kind of epiphanies that felt more like a gut-punch than an, "oh, now I get it," revelation. Sobering, humbling, disturbing, convicting. 

It began the day after five police officers were shot in Dallas, which in turn followed the shootings of Philando Castile in Minnesota, and Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I am essentially without television these days, so social media (Facebook) is my exposure to what is happening in the world, and in turn my exposure to the reactions to those events as they appear in my news feed.  Rest assured it's not just memes. I follow or read the shared links by others to news sources that I trust to report accurately, and other posts that help me read more widely and probe more deeply.

The political views of my friends and acquaintances on fb cover the spectrum from waayyy to the left, to waayyy to the right. I read the outcry from BLM communities and supporters, and see the Blue Lives Matter posts, too. Related to the latter, I was also seeing posts the day after the Dallas shootings depicting an outpouring of support to law enforcement: pizzas and cookies, hugs and selfies with local police officers, stories of compassion and more about our men and women in blue. I got it. Celebrate the good they do and acknowledge the sacrifices they make. Show the love. We've got your six. What was missing from my feed was any sort of demonstrated support to people of color. 

I was roused from my reflection about this by the sound of a crowd chanting nearby in the neighborhood. I wondered if it was a protest march, since we're not far from the state capitol. It soon became apparent, however, that the gathering was stationery, and I decided to go take a look. 

I went out the front door, noting a couple of police cars parked across from the house and a handful of uniformed officers standing on the sidewalk. I then ventured down the street to the corner where I could see, across the street and up about half a block, a group of people marching in a circle, carrying signs, and being rallied by someone with a bull horn. The words on the signs seemed to indicate an issue related to health care. I wondered about the presence of the police, but imagined that it was related to safety after the events of the week. I turned to head back to the house, and just as I was about to pivot up the steps leading to the house, I felt compelled to go speak to the policemen across the way. Black lives matter to me, and so do blue ones. 

I approached them with a smile and said hello, acknowledged that it had been a tough week, and let them know I was thinking of them. They appreciated the thought. We chatted briefly about the gathering drawing our attention, and I learned that the group was in violation of a noise ordinance. Bullhorn. A little bit of small talk followed, then I waved a farewell and returned to the house. 

While I had been talking to the policemen a woman who lives up the street passed by on the sidewalk. She was Black. I felt awkward. I wondered how she perceived what she saw, and the absence of support to the Black community in my Facebook feed gnawed at me. It's easy to show up to the local precinct with a plate of cookies, but where do you show up for the Black community? I could bake cookies for the kids who play in the park every day, and who get excited when Juliet comes through on her walk. Seriously, though. Cookies? To say I'm sorry for and lament the racism that plagues your life and runs like a toxic stream through our society? Cookies?

For the next few days I stewed about this, feeling utterly helpless to make a difference in stemming and reversing the tide of racism. As more and more of my Facebook page pushed back against the increasing presence of the BLM movement in communities across the country, denying white privilege and asserting All Lives Matter in retort, the truth of my own racism sank like a stone into the depth of my being. It isn't enough to understand how racism permeates our institutions and perpetuates prejudice and injustice. It isn't enough to see the statistics about minority crime and incarceration and know that the context for interpreting them is absent from public discourse. It isn't enough to live in neighborhood where whites are a minority.  My open mind and inclusive heart aren't enough, and the reality that I am part of the problem cuts through me like a knife. I thought I knew about white privilege. Instead I am the face of it.

I feel powerless in the face of this overwhelming sin from which I benefit, and as difficult as it is, it is nothing compared to the powerlessness that people of color feel and face every day. Because of my privilege, I stand a chance to rise above the feeling of powerlessness with relative ease. It's one of the ways that the system can work for me to help dismantle the system that works against others. That is how it starts. Use the tools available to me. Work with what I've got. Step in and do my part. And grasp the reality that my brothers and sisters of color know a whole lot more than I do about the meaning and power of love, forgiveness, and grace. 

I've come to Jesus. I've got such a long way to go.

This post on another blog also addresses this topic in a way that might be helpful if you are struggling with this same issue.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

those were the days

I had dinner the other night with an old high school friend. Connected intermittently through the faith community of our childhood, our paths intersected again in high school, where we developed a deeper bond of friendship our sophomore year. In spite of being thick as thieves in high school we lost touch after I went to college out of state, and where I continued to live for a couple of years more before moving back home.  Meeting up again now, 40 +/- years later, we returned easily to conversation and that magical place of knowing that is an undefinable quality of friendship.

Through Marilyn I met the guy who would become my first boyfriend, and I landed my first job, as a sales clerk at Mayron's Bakery. Mayron's was a bit of a fixture in the local Jewish community, and Mayron himself staked a larger claim to fame by creating the birthday cake for President Kennedy's 44th birthday celebration, an occasion that required closing the bakery for two weeks while the equivalent of five layers of pound cakes were baked and assembled before being shipped off to Washington in an armored car. To be accurate, it wasn't Mayron who did all the work--it was his baker, but Mayron gets the credit. You know how that goes...

In many ways it was the best. job. ever. Mayron's offered a typical range of baked goods: breads, bagels and rolls, danish and coffee cakes, cakes, cookies, and other sweets. There were, additionally, more typically Jewish foods, like challah (the best bread in the world), hamantaschen, rugelach, and a rolled pastry loaf whose name I can't recall.  Our store was one of three or four owned by Mayron, tucked into a strip mall anchored at one end by a grocery store, and the other by Sears. It was open seven days a week, because people like their bread to be fresh.

Marilyn and her sister Martha worked at Mayron's, which is how I found my way there. The shop was managed by a woman named Stella, who at 60+ years of age wore a wig of gray hair more befitting her age than the jet black hair that continued to grow from her head. At least that is what she always told us. Stella loved her soap operas. Her day began at 6 so that she was there when the delivery truck arrived with its load of fresh baked yumminess, then she was gone at 1:00 so she could get home to watch her stories. Her husband had died some years previously, and though she had a regular guy in her life who treated her like a queen, she wouldn't marry him because The Church had taught her that you only marry once in life. That was her story, and she was sticking to it. At the time it seemed a rather sweet, if narrow interpretation of What The Church Says, but upon more recent reflection I think she knew exactly what she was doing by remaining single.

Stella's daughter, Marianne, also worked at Mayron's, and I remember her lovely blond hair swept back away from her face and pinned up in the back to stay out of the way of bakery chores. Two other employees rounded out the crew: Maura, a Nice Catholic Girl (her own description), and Joan, a free spirit Jewish girl who was so short that she was always trying out the latest platform heels as a way to ease into the stratosphere of taller people. I can still hear her laugh, and picture her dancing behind the counter to the radio when there weren't any customers in the store. She called Mayron "Ruby," because he had dyed his hair red, and she was fond of being irreverent about our ultimate boss, who was about as short as she was.  On pay day "Ruby" would come to the store, take cash out of the register, and divide it into manila envelopes with each of our names written on the outside with the amount owed to us contained within. The envelopes then went into a safe, and Stella would deliver each one to its intended recipient. I'll bet Mayron's bookkeeper loved this method of disbursing payroll. Not!

I had great relationships with my co-workers, and adored them tremendously. Though working part time, we found time to share our lives, our struggles, our hopes and our dreams between waiting on customers, consolidating trays of food as the inventory sold and the volume reduced, and keeping the store clean and presentable. We wore blue smocks, a uniform that identified us as employees, and kept our clothes clean from the likes of frosting from cakes and brownies, and the powdered sugar that was kept on hand for the donuts. Jelly and some cake donuts came to the store plain, and if a customer wanted them powdered, we popped them into a bag, added some powdered sugar, folded the top of the bag over a few times and shook with all our might. Voila! I'll be you never thought about how powdered donuts got that way. Now you know! I also learned that the secret to writing on a cake is to do so while it is frozen. We kept several cakes in a freezer at the shop, offering choices of cake (yellow, chocolate, or marble), and colors of flowers and piping on the top. When a customer purchased one we took it out of the freezer, wrote the greeting in the corresponding color, boxed it up and sent it on its way. Cakes thaw in a relatively short period of time, though usually orders were called in ahead of time so that we could ensure a thawed cake, or the main bakery would send one with the particulars already inscribed.

Mayron's was a wonderful introduction to the responsibilities of being a paid employee. At the end of a shift we took turns sweeping the floor, cleaning the glass of the food cabinets and the door into the shop, and washing the food trays that had collected bits of jam, frosting, or crumbs in the course of their utilitiy. We took turns calling special orders into the main store, and notifying customers that their order was ready for pickup. We prepared boxes of food specially ordered so that when a customer came in their order was ready and their needs were met. We assembled boxes so that cakes, coffee cakes, and larger orders could be added to them and secured to be sent home. It wasn't a demanding job, but it required attention, and we had each other for support and laughter, and occasionally, tears.

It was the best of times. And in spite of snacking on brownies and such whenever I wanted, I managed to lose weight. Ah, the metabolism of a teenager. It was a great way to launch into the "real world." It was the best.
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