something I found and it’s beautiful
Real listening is powered by curiosity. It involves vulnerability—a willingness to be surprised, to let go of assumptions and take in ambiguity. It is never in ‘gotcha’ mode. The generous listener wants to understand the humanity behind the words of others.
from OnBeing, The Civil Conversations Project, Better Conversations: Starter Guide
where I see this in the bible: proverbs 18:2
Fools care nothing for thoughtful discourse; all they do is run off at the mouth.
another place where I see this in the bible that’s a little gentler: james 1:19
My dearest brothers and sisters, take this to heart: Be quick to listen, but slow to speak.
how it relates to the conversation
To be completely transparent, I never thought anyone outside of my nearest and dearest circle of family and friends would read this blog. Truthfully, I never expected any of them to read this blog (and many don’t). I started it because a) I wanted to be sure to write down what I was thinking as things were happening, for my daughter (my daughter at 50 years old and wishing she’d asked me about this or that is my ideal reader); and, b) I’ve always just written because I love collecting words.
I was completely taken off guard when people started to follow, read, and comment. What an amazing and generous gift to be bestowed on small, unknown, little me in this big ole world! So I was really taken off guard when I received my first email from a follower who didn’t even know me. Her name was Julie, and on paper we had nothing—absolutely nothing demographically speaking—in common. Well, we both currently lived in Texas. But there’s Texas and there’s Austin. However, we quickly we found that demographics really don’t tell much about our shared humanity. Turns out that when it came to our outlook and our broken hearts about the world, and our hope that we each could do better, Julie and I had every thing in common.
She has been a generous “listener” as a reader, and I’m thrilled to return the favor and, for a change, listen to and receive her own words.
julie and me: the conversation
My oldest son, Grant, just turned 28. He’s a musician and he works a traditional day job. He was an international business major. And, he’s the one that’s been working on his mom. After he came home from college, he lived at home for a while and we would have these after-dinner conversations. This is kinda the beginnings of me exploring the topic of racism—a lot of different topics—but especially that. That was the beginning for me.
What hope do you have for in this conversation that you and I are about to have?
Well, let me think. I’ve been told that I should have a little bit more understanding. Just having the opportunity to talk to you, a person of color, and being intentional about the conversation, is not an opportunity that I would have in my everyday life—ever. But, I want to be able to have more understanding. Also, maybe this conversation would help some of your other readers, too. That’s what I would hope for.
On the flip of that, what fear do you bring to the conversation. I think my friend Katie said it best when I asked her the same question. She said, “Well, I don’t want to be stupid forever. I don’t want to say something and you post it and I’m stupid forever.”
Well, I can relate to that. I’m afraid I’ll do something or say something stupid or offensive. I wouldn’t want to offend you. So, I do fear that too.
But I think there are worse things other than a misplaced or unintentional offense. To me, silence bound with fear is much more damaging. Things don’t get fixed, assumptions are made and we don’t really progress. I would hope that my friends who are of different ethnic backgrounds than my own would be willing to speak up in order to set me straight. Because I have offended friends who are Hispanic, Latinx, Asian, and I’ve needed them to tell me when I said something or did something that was hurtful or disrespectful—even though I didn’t intentionally set out to offend. Their silence would not have helped me.
We can’t make any progress without that feedback.
Right, right. Exactly. So you have no worries here. It’s safe to trip up, and you might.
Tell me about the racial background of your childhood. What was the racial mix of your church, your school, your town? What was that like growing up? What did you hear your parents and family say or not say about race?
Well, I was born in this Metroplex area where I still live. Its a small suburban area that was almost 100 percent white as I was growing up. And—you won’t believe this—but, I did not go to school with one black person ever in all my 12 years of school. My church, of course, was all white. All my friends were white. I never had the opportunity to have a black friend. Now, there were a few Hispanic kids, but not very many. It’s just really a white world I’ve lived in. It’s just limited my life experience. Let me see how to put this— my family was not really overtly racist. But, when I really think about it, they had that kind of classic nice-white-people persona. I grew up knowing not to say certain things because it was inappropriate. But still I got the impression that black people weren’t bad but that they were “other”, I guess. And, I didn’t really encounter or have opportunities to have any interactions with people of color. It wasn’t my reality. So I didn’t form any of my own opinions. I don’t know what I really thought. I don’t think I really thought about it at all—ignorant, I guess, of the subject. I was just unaware—which is really terrible. I mean it seems so ridiculous. I’m 55 years old, and I’m just now trying to talk about this topic.
It’s funny, Julie, because that’s true of me too. I’m 50—well, I’ll be 50 in August. But I didn’t make the connection that my mom was part of Jim Crow South, and so were my grandparents. They migrated to the Midwest. But it wasn’t really a thought. They never directly talked about it. Even though I was having racial incidents at school and my siblings were too. None of us talked about it, and that feels ridiculous to me too. I know that racially motivated things happened to my grandparents and to my mom. But they just didn’t talk about it to us. Not that I can remember.
So you and I can beat ourselves up all day about where we came from and what we didn’t understand about it. But at the end of the day, you can’t know what you don’t know.
Exactly. We had an incident when I was in high school when a black family did move into town, and someone actually did burn a cross on their front lawn and that family left. I mean, I hate to even recount that story. But, that’s the town that I grew up in. That’s what it was like. That happened and it wasn’t talked about. And I remember thinking, “Well, this is terrible.” But, it was just done and over with. We didn’t talk about it. You would think that that would be just big news.
Yeah you would. But I think that things like that really did happen to my parents and my grandparents and the people they knew but they just didn’t talk about it.
It’s horrifying that it was like, “Well, that is the end of that.”
Yeah. Many people took these kinds of stories to their graves.
After that, it was known that people of color weren’t welcomed in our town. So they just didn’t move here for years. Now it’s just a little bit more diverse. But I was at the grocery store this morning and I stopped and looked around. There weren’t that many people of color in there. So, the town is not really diversified at all.
What are some things about race—not necessarily about black people or white people—but about race as a topic in-and-of itself that has changed for you since these things have come to light for you?
I’ve had this whole new awareness. Before, I wasn’t close-minded—I just didn’t think it was relevant to me. But I’ve had this huge eye-opening experience now where I can see that race is a huge issue and a very important issue. It’s all of our problem. Everyone needs to become more aware and more educated. People of color are being oppressed and discriminated against and abused—violently abused. Before, I was just never really aware of it. That’s what’s changed. My awareness and knowing that something needs to be done has changed.
At first, it was all so shocking to me, and I felt really ashamed. I was ignorant of the topic, and I couldn’t get past that at first. So, I kinda immersed myself in a lot of people on Instagram who were talking about race and listened to things that they had to say. It really overwhelmed me. Some of it felt offensive to me, and I wanted to step back and just write it off as too much. I didn’t know what to do with the information.
I was also really fearful—not for my own self. I had a lot of fear for people of color. I was very fearful for them and I was so overwhelmed. I found your Instagram and I emailed you. You suggested that I read that book by Daniel Hill called White Awake. And that was just life-changing for me. One thing that was just so interesting about his book was the terminology that he used put words to what I was feeling—words like white fragility and tone-policing and privilege.
It felt comforting for me. I felt like this isn’t just me that feels this way. Other people feel this way too and there’s a name for it. This isn’t just me personally. So, I felt comforted—temporarily. But that was just a catalyst for me. Then, I was feeling all this white fragility and I thought: Am I going to just used my white privilege to walk away from it? This is too much for me? It’s somebody’s else’s problem cause I just can’t take this.
You know, my little tender heart—but then I thought: No way! I’m being a stereotypical white person falling into all these categories. Then, I was just angry at myself.
So I thought: I’m not going to do that. What I’m going to do is just be quiet and quit having opinions about this topic that I know nothing about and just learn more.
But are you ever grateful to be white? Are you ever grateful of the privilege? I don’t mean that in a negative way. But have you gotten to a place where you can now lean into your whiteness and say, “Okay I’m in a position to perhaps use my power.”
I asked my white British husband this same question because people always feel comfortable with him and they are excited to have him be on their team. They really listen to him when he speaks—partly the slight accent. So, I asked him if he saw an upside to his white privilege. Though I’ve many white friends say that they don’t feel privileged. They reject that label. They don’t feel like they have power. And I’ve asked them, “Yeah, but do you feel grateful for the access that you have to things just because you were born white?”
Christena Cleveland says we can lend our privilege. For example, many people didn’t know who to vote for in 2016, and she suggested that they lend their privilege by asking an immigrant who couldn’t vote, “Who do you want me to vote for? I’ll lend you my vote.”
I’m not white. But, I’m privileged in other ways in this country. I’m not poor. I don’t struggle to eat. I can read. I have a lovely home. I’m not the victim of a natural disaster. I’m married. I speak English fluently. I have health insurance. I have the right to vote. So, I can lend my vote to someone who perhaps doesn’t have access to those things. Or, I can vote on the behalf of the poor, the oppressed who are living right now in this country, the illiterate, the incarcerated, or other people of color who haven’t had my same opportunities. I can vote for kids whose parents don’t buy books like my parents did for me.
So, do you ever feel empowered by that reality of your privilege rather than defeated by it?
I’ve never really thought about it that way. That’s interesting. I’ve felt more ashamed of being white and being part of that experience. Probably because we’re just living in that privilege but not realizing that we have been granted certain privileges without being aware of them.
Feeling shame, I think, keeps us silent, disconnected, and ultimately blinded to our true power and ability to change.
Filmmaker and activist, Valerie Kaur asked in a speech, “What if this darkness is not the darkness of the tomb but of the womb?” I think what she was asking is, “What if the pain that we’re feeling is laboring pain that’s giving birth to better things?”
What is your perspective of the current state of affairs and do you have a hopeful perspective at all?
Well, I have felt really overwhelmed and not hopeful at all because a lot of this is so new to me and I’ve been following on social media and in the news the actual events that have been happening to people and I’ve just been so shocked. So really, I haven’t been feeling hopeful at all because it doesn’t look like it’s getting better.
But on the other hand, I feel like more people are trying to understand. There are conversations about race happening that I see too. But, I do have a tendency to fall into feeling that this problem is so big and so bad and so overwhelming. How can we ever fix it and why is it taking so long? But one conversation at a time is all that we can do. So, I’m hopeful that we can make a difference. Still, it feels so small.
Like we’re trying to drain an ocean with a teaspoon.
Yes, but opening up to a conversation is a way to start.
after thoughts and etc…
Dear friends, if only you could have the privilege of hearing Julie’s southern-as-sweet-tea drawl!
I confessed to her that when I heard her voice, I imagined being with her in Truvy’s salon in the movie Steel Magnolias. To which she brightly chimed, “Why yes! Everyone says that about my salon because it’s in a 1940’s house that we converted into a salon!”
Oh, be still my heart.
Thank you, Julie. As I was transcribing our conversation, I kept pausing and marveling at your bravery and courage. You only knew me from my written words. You’ve never had a verbal conversation with me—let alone with a black person—about race. I am so grateful for your loveliness, your vulnerability, and your willingness, that are as big as the state of Texas itself.
The Civil Conversations Project: Better Conversations, Starter Guide
Be the Bridge: Whiteness Intensive Training
White Awake by Daniel Hill
Valerie Kaur, “What If This Is Not Darkness of the Tomb?”
Christena Cleveland: Listening Well as a Person of Privilege
May you go into the darkness and speak light. May this light illuminate fields of love, tenderness and peace that have always surrounded you.