Archives for posts with tag: racism

If we look beyond the barriers, there’s more that binds us than what separates us.

I was criticized today for responding to a Facebook post with the common expression, “You go, girl.” The commenter’s perspective was that, as a white woman, I don’t own the right to use that phrase, especially to a woman of color. I reject that premise.

Language is a great unifier. The expression, “You go, girl,” says more about a commonality, a sisterhood of women than any ‘white’ expression I could summon. It’s an expression that I use frequently, after having lived in America’s most integrated city for twenty-eight years, because, in three short words, it encapsulates admiration, support, and solidarity with the recipient. I am all for borrowing language when it best expresses a particular point and is not used in any derogatory way.

We have a long way to go on race issues.

During my time in Oakland, I worked a variety of jobs, janitor, waitress, cashier, law clerk, school teacher, adult literacy coordinator and lawyer. I’m an odd duck, and never socialized much with lawyers. For the most part I didn’t share their values, but more specifically, most lawyers were unable to relate to someone who spoke their language but didn’t embrace an upwardly mobile consumption based lifestyle. At best, I was the odd duck, at worst, a subversive.

In Oakland, lawyers were supposed to live in the hills. I lived in the flats. Lawyers hired landscapers and gardeners. I ‘farmed’ my little urban yard. Lawyers golfed or played tennis, ‘at the Club.’ I volunteered for environmental causes and believed that golf courses were dangerous, chemically loaded, monocultures–both environmentally and socially. Basically, I didn’t blend well.

I worked in shared legal office space, and generally got on better with support staff than with the partner types. But even in Oakland, there were color lines. Looking back, my errors in racial harmony were often sins of omission, and missed opportunities. I am friendly to everyone, but I do not push. Sometimes, I should push.

In one shared office there was a young, brilliant, African-American paralegal, Alicia, who had taken a dislike to me. She was elegant and poised, in a way that I could never be. I admired her; even under casual observation, she was clearly competent, efficient and had leadership potential. It was odd, to admire who she was, when she was so obviously dismissive of me. I didn’t push. Her business is her business. But I remained cordial to her, and friendly with everyone else in the office, which was an even racial mix. I was a good friend to Deb, her best friend in the office. Deb was always trying to patch us together, “You two have so much in common…” but it never took.

At the time, my personal office had an eclectic decor. Most lawyers posted their various diplomas and certificates, impeccably framed and impressive. How boring. I mean, really, if they’re sitting across the desk from you, the clients already know you went to school. My office had paintings, antiques, fossils and, nearly always, flowers. I spent most of my waking hours in that room, I wanted to like it. On one wall, I hung a small collection of vintage, mesh handbags. Those who knew me always commented on the incongruity of my collection. Why would a woman, more comfortable in the garden than in the halls of fashion make such a choice? The answer didn’t come out, until I was packing up to leave.

After several years there, the firm from which I sublet was expanding. They needed their office space back. So I was packing up to make the move. It was heavy work, so I took a break at lunch for a solid meal in the lunch room. Deb joined me, bemoaning how much she was going to miss me in the office. Alicia was collating documents at another table. Deb finally got up the courage to ask me about the handbag collection. I paused and tried to explain.

The mesh handbags are remnants of a time where women lacked their own agency.  If lucky, they (the women) were decor on the arm of a successful man. The mesh handbags reflected that, they were delicate and small. They could only carry a woman’s barest necessities–a powder compact, some small change, and perhaps a small pencil and printed cards for society messages. They reflected a time and values that I completely reject, and yet, they were beautiful, and had endured some seventy years. There was a message in that for me–and the collection reflected my struggle to reconcile that history with my present.

When I looked up, Alicia had joined us at the table. For the first time, she looked at me without derision. She confessed that she collected vintage Barbie dolls, for similar reasons. Barbie represented a dominant culture to which she was not invited, only because of the color of her skin. But, she was a little girl and she longed for them–though Barbies were financially beyond her family’s reach. Throughout her childhood, the messages to young girls were all in the Barbie mode–much like the handbags were to women in the 1920s. Now, an adult, she could literally ‘own’ that discrepancy, by owning the very vintage dolls that eluded her in childhood. Her collection was her secret indulgence. The handbags were mine. We both scoured Ebay for our finds.

We looked at each other with fresh eyes, and laughed. The curtain drawn back, we shared our stories. There were more similarities than differences. Both of us had been the first in our families to complete college. We had both worked through college, paying our own way–coming from families that had to stretch the dollars to make life work. She was shocked, having assumed that I’d been born to the kind of family that paved one’s way to success. That had been the source of her distance. She shook her head and apologized. But I shared the guilt. After all, I explained, I’d long admired her–but having been rebuffed I’d backed away! My instincts told me that she was a kindred spirit–but I let the barrier stand. We’d both paid the price in lost opportunities. And here I was, moving away!

I’m ready to unpack some of my keepsakes from Oakland. I’ve scaled back the collection, but some of the best handbags will now go up on my wall. They’re now nearly a hundred years old and I haven’t yet fully unraveled why they appeal to me, while, in the same breath, they embrace everything about gender that I reject. But now they carry extra layers of personal meaning.

We are all more similar than we are different and our failure to recognize that is the source of the biggest of lost opportunities–the chance to connect with one another.

And So It Starts…

A.V. Walters–

This past weekend, in nearby Traverse City, a local off-duty police officer showed up to an anti-racist rally, in a pick-up truck decorated with what is commonly called the Confederate flag. He pulled into a no-parking zone, stepped out of his vehicle and proceeded to down a beer (openly, in a public place) while heckling the protesters.

Naturally, complaints were filed and the Police Department initiated an investigation. It wasn’t his first flag incident. The officer, an eighteen-year member of the force, resigned. The investigation continues. I read the story and did some of my own research.


Last night, as I came out of the grocery store, I passed a large man standing next to his pick-up truck, also adorned with a “Confederate” flag. A man was engaged in a quiet conversation with him; I caught the drift.

“It’s a symbol of racial hatred,” the smaller man was saying.

“No it’s not!” The flag-bearer puffed out his chest and then loudly proclaimed, “It’s about my heritage.” Shoppers averted their eyes and scurried off to their vehicles.

I put my groceries in the car and returned to join in the discussion, “I agree with this gentleman,” I said calmly, nodding in the man’s direction, “It is about racial hatred.”

“No,” the flag-bearer bellowed, “It’s about my proud heritage.”

“Then you’ve got the wrong flag.” I responded. The other man confronting him turned to me and mouthed the words, “Thank you.”

The “son-of-the-south” turned to me in a way that was only slightly menacing. “No, this is the right flag, alright. My ancestors died for this flag.” I wondered if I was going to get myself assaulted, for this.

“No, I don’t think so.” I answered.

“You calling me a liar?” (Often the refuge of a man short on facts.)

“I think that you are misinformed. Did any of your ancestors fight under Robert E. Lee?”

He looked a little stunned. “I doubt that, we’re from Texas.”

“Then you’ve got the wrong flag. That flag,” I said, pointing at his truck, “Was never the flag of the Confederacy.”

“Huh? Well, sure it was. It’s the Confederate flag.” A few people stopped to listen.

“No it’s not. That flag was the battle flag—sort of the regimental colors—for troops fighting under Robert E. Lee. It wasn’t the flag of the Confederacy. There were a number of different flags adopted by the Confederacy during the war, but that flag wasn’t one of them.”

He looked confused. “But… my people died for that flag.”

“I’m not questioning your heritage, but you’ve got your flags wrong. The flag you’re displaying didn’t become popular until the 1950s, when racists started to use it to oppose the Civil Rights movement and the Brown vs. Board of Education case that integrated the schools. That flag,” and again I pointed, “Was never the flag of the Confederacy and was used specifically to show racial hatred and intolerance.”

“Well, I don’t know anything about those other flags.” Now, he wouldn’t even look at me.

“I can’t help you, there. But, the one you’re flying is a symbol of racial hate and intolerance, not the flag of the Confederacy.” Some of the people around us were nodding, almost imperceptibly.

The other gentleman in the conversation added, “That’s what I was trying to tell him.”

The flag-bearer wouldn’t look at any of us. He turned and stalked away. The small crowd began to disperse without a word. My co-conspirator and I looked at each other, and nodded, before going our separate ways.


And that is the danger of having a bigoted bully as President. It emboldens ignorance and hatred. It normalizes bad behavior in ways that make violence and social unrest more and more likely. If we want to live in a civilized society, the rest of us need to step up and stop it, nip it in the bud, whenever we see it. This is going to be an exhausting presidential term.









A Long, Dark Winter–

A.V. Walters

Long time, no blog.

It’s not all dark. We had a wonderful Thanksgiving, up in Copper Harbor, driving into, and then, back out of winter. We enjoyed an initial, if unseasonable, winter blast early in November. I would have blogged about it, but then the news and photos came in from Buffalo. Really, we couldn’t compete with that. How could I even complain that the season had caught us unawares, when southeast of us the Lake Effect had dumped five feet of snow in two days? Then, it rained, taking all of our snow with it. We went to bed the evening of November 24th, with no snow in sight. We woke to five inches on the ground, and a long, white drive (over the river and through the woods) up to visit my mother for the holiday. The further north we drove, the deeper the snow. It was lovely, but then I wasn’t the driver.

After about a week of visits and goodies, we retraced our steps home, to a cold, but nearly snowless landscape. It’s been a roller coaster of a winter.

We’re losing our light as we tiptoe up to the solstice. But the real darkness in our lives lately has been the news. 2014 has brought repeated waves of senseless tragedies, the lather, rinse, repeat, of police violence against unarmed, young black men. And, even children.

I’ve always made a conscious effort to keep politics (other than about food issues) out of this blog. But, the last thing this country needs, right now, is for its citizens to go silent, to go dark.

I’ve always had a fierce belief in the Rule of Law, and so the recurring failure of the legal system to deliver a fair and reasoned response has been heart-rending. From my safe, middle-aged, white, woman’s perspective, I cannot even imagine how betrayed our African-American communities must feel. The Grand Jury system has been rigged, not only in its failure to deliver justice, but in the fact that its lack of transparency has repeatedly pre-empted our constitutional guarantee of an open trial by jury. We fail to deliver justice to the victims of these assaults and, in so doing, we compound the historical injustices to disadvantaged and minority communities. Even worse, it’s been done in secret. This is a clear abuse of the Grand Jury system—District Attorneys have a clear conflict of interest when they choose to use the Grand Jury process to investigate police abuses. It’s difficult to hold my head high. I am ashamed of the American Lie of fairness and (color) blind justice, in our legal system. The racist, Old-Boy network of mutual back scratching and “justice” with a wink and a nod remains. I feel sick about it. And the news has been full of revelations of deeply ingrained racism in our institutions of justice and public safety, not to mention the bias and propaganda we are seeing in the main-steam press. There is no “post-racial.”

Just when I wanted to throw up my hands in disgust, I read that a group of young people from the Ferguson community were working with the Department of Justice to find constructive solutions—a six point plan that, if implemented, would begin to restore faith in the system. I read of the flyers that Ferguson protesters tucked onto the windshields in the areas of the marches—reasoned, honorable statements against racial bias, seeking to step beyond the tragedies to solutions. And I saw huge crowds of peaceful protesters, people of all races, stepping up to bear witness that this, this is not our way. I am humbled that my angered paralysis was not as strong or as wise a response as those from the affected community who are reaching across to their tormentors to seek peace and fairness.

It gives me hope, even as the bodies line up and the scales of justice tilt wildly, the wrong way. This evil must not keep us from being our best selves. We cannot afford to be discouraged. Our dignity, our very humanity, is in the balance. We certainly cannot give up and turn away as small minds, full of hate, decide what kind of world we’ll live in.

Join protests. Write letters. Talk about it. Turn to it and face it, not away from it. Racism is our underground disease and collective shame. Our founders capitulated to it—and our worst war was fought over it. In the scrutiny of the light of day, its ugliness becomes increasingly apparent and perhaps that is our best hope to overcome it. It may be that we will never be free of racism. If constant vigilance is the price of a just society, I have to be willing to do my part.

The solstice is only a fortnight away. Two short weeks and we’ll begin to turn the tide of darkness. The promise of spring will lift my heart. Maybe the hope I see in the dreams of young people, earnestly opposing injustice, will bring peace to my anguished heart and to this troubled nation.