All posts tagged: Race

Two Old Friends on Growing Up Black and White in Lincoln, Nebraska

(Photo courtesy of Sara Gilliam) A few weeks before the 2016 election, we shared a conversation about race between Sara, a white woman, and Eric, a Black man, who had grown up as neighbors in Lincoln, Nebraska. In light of the many race-related horrors that have transpired since the election, including the present moment, we reached out to Sara and Eric to find out what’s on their minds. Their original conversation follows this update. What’s changed for me since we worked on this interview is that I no longer question my role in the movement. Years ago, I remember asking Eric, “Should I be posting ‘Black Lives Matter’ on social media?” I was afraid of co-opting the fight. I wanted to be respectful of the movement and acknowledge my privilege. I’ve learned a lot in the last few years. I recognize that to deal with the cranked-up racism and xenophobia perpetuated by the Trump presidency (but certainly by no means limited to rhetoric from the White House), we all have a significant role to play …

Sister, Sister: I’m a Black Woman with a White Sister

Penny, right, with her sister, Amy. (Photo courtesy of Penny Wrenn) When people ask if I have brothers and sisters, I don’t know where to begin. Do I say, I’m an only child, the youngest of seven or the seventh of nine? In fact, all these answers are true. I’m my mother’s only child and the youngest of my father’s seven biological children. But if we’re talking the order in which my father’s children entered his life, then I’m not the last. When my parents divorced, my father remarried and I inherited two step-siblings. Still, however I go about answering the “Do you have brothers and sisters?” question, I always get to this part: I am a black woman with a white sister. Her name is Amy. People would come to my old Harlem apartment see her photo on my bookshelf, the one where I’m standing next to her on her wedding day, and they’d ask, “Who’s that?” But I would never just say, “My sister.” I knew that I must follow up with an …

The Loose Ends of Racism

Two months ago, I stood in my kitchen struggling to find the words to discuss the death of Freddie Gray. Another unarmed black man killed at the hands of the police who, in a perfect society, should have and would have protected him. Baltimore is just 45 minutes from my home in Washington, DC and, on that particular day, I was prepared to question why these moments of aggression towards blacks continue to happen with only a sound bite response from our elected officials. Unfortunately, I wound up sidetracked and didn’t write about the death of Freddie Gray, but I will never forget the fear and sadness I felt when I sighed and noted, “It will happen again…I can wait until the next time.” Next time, of course, arrived. This time in Charleston, South Carolina. And I am a black woman struggling with what to say. People finally seem willing to broach the topic of race. They once stood on the sidelines under the guise of “us v. them,” remaining blissfully colorblind. But now, so …

Why I Begged My Mother to Take Me Out of the Gifted Program

I understand what they were trying to do. When my teacher nominated me to be sent to a different classroom for part of each day, a class with older and more advanced learners, it was her way of keeping me interested in the learning process. Our school system was 90 percent black and, according to standardized tests, most of us were performing below grade level. Not me. At nine years old, my reading aptitude test scores were at the college level. My mother was so happy that she took out an ad in the local paper congratulating me for my grade-school accomplishment. She was proud. I was bored. For weeks after the test results came in, my teacher would create separate spelling tests and reading lists just for me to try to keep me engaged and challenged. I understand that was probably an extra burden on her. If I was a third grade teacher and one of my students was reading Romeo & Juliet during silent reading time, I might suggest she needed to join …

Like Crickets to Fireworks: Blogging About Race

(Graphic: Helen Jane Hearn/TueNight.com) My first taste of online publishing, in 2005, was inspired by a now-defunct blog written by a teacher in Chicago. She wrote about her classroom and her students, and even though I hadn’t been there, she brought her surroundings to life in a way that felt so familiar. As a longtime educator myself, I could relate. Eventually, we would meet in person and become good friends. In that time we experienced marriage, a divorce, and children. Her writing opened my world up to freely express myself as a writer. In one post, she wrote in detail about one of her students, a reluctant reader, to try a book that she suggested. She clearly cared about her students and spoke of them in a way not often seen by those outside the profession. It reminded me of how I tried so hard to find something palatable for my students. Within a year, I decided that I wanted to do the same thing, share my own stories in a blog. So, I purchased …

An Outsider on the Inside (Sometimes)

My first swear word was “shit.” I used it in a very specific and, I might add, sophisticated way. I was three years old, sitting in the back seat of a car. My grandmother and another adult were in the front. They were talking about my mom, clearly assuming that a toddler wouldn’t understand. Much to their shock and amusement, I cut off their gossiping with: “Don’t be talking about my momma! Sheeee-it.” Yes, reportedly I delivered it with that precise, very adult, multi-syllabic and sassy intonation: “Sheeee-it.” It was my first time witnessing a conversation that upset my sense of loyalty. It wasn’t my last. As a Mash-Up, I often get an up-close view of bigotry, because people don’t know their bigotry applies to the person standing right next to them — me. People can be completely reprehensible in their attitude towards “others” when they think no one outside the fold is listening. I’m not alone. My mixed friends have heard their own family members say racially or ethnically derogatory things in front of …

Two Friends — One Black, One White — Talk About Ferguson

We break from our regularly scheduled “Camp” theme for this special piece. Given the recent, horrific, bizarre and revealing events in Ferguson Missouri, we asked two of our regular TueNight contributors, both close friends — Heather Barmore and Stacy Morrison — to have a brief online chat. We asked them to talk about Ferguson from their own perspectives, black and white respectively. Here’s what transpired: Let’s do this thing. So, Ferguson.  Yes. As I typed that my stomach turned over. It’s so upsetting. It is, and yet it’s good to see this community finally feel empowered to do something. I agree on that. And to see that complicated and complex conversations starting to happen. People who I don’t normally discuss race are outraged and saying something. But conversations also don’t even feel like enough. I really wanted to get on a plane on Monday. I emailed churches. I reached out to community organizers. I wanted to see A THOUSAND WHITE PEOPLE down there in a line facing the (white) police. I still do. On the one hand …

Policing Outrage: Are We Too Sensitive About Insensitivity?

Folk singer Ani DiFranco is criticized for scheduling a retreat at a Louisiana plantation. Musician and popular DJ Questlove mocks how Japanese speak English by reversing his Ls and Rs. MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry features a panel on her show that makes fun of Mitt Romney’s adopted black grandson. Educator and school reform advocate Grant Wiggins refers to the practice in many schools of separate bathrooms and lunchrooms for teachers and students as “apartheid.” What do all of these incidents have in common? Charges of racial insensitivity, individuals on social media coming together to express varying degrees of disgust and disappointment with the person’s behavior, and, eventually, some sort of “apology” from the actor for any unintended offense. The cycle of outrage and apology for insensitive statements has become all too familiar. But have we become too sensitive about insensitivity? Who has the right to tell another person, “You have no right to be upset about that”? Who has the right to dictate what topics are and are not worthy of someone else’s ire? Online, …