Contest winners

Here are the winners of my contest, two fresh author/illustrator faces who won free tuition for the Illinois SCBWI conference, Prairie Writers and Illustrators Day,  Nabeeh Bilal and Jill Kuanfung.

JillNabeeh_Bilal-photo

Both will be my guests at this year’s conference.

 

Congratulations to everyone who entered.

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Sharing or Things that should be learned in kindergarten

I’m an outlier, a black female who swims. There are a few of us, you know. I grew up on the south side of Chicago. There were no public pools back then, but out school found a way. We were required to take swimming, and being on your period was an excuse that went only so far. I did not become proficient then.  I just have the most vivid memory of jumping in the deep end my senior year and holding onto the edge of the pool wall for dear life.  I was one of the few who actually went into the deep end. I remember feeling slightly suicidal that day.  But I didn’t drown.

On to the University of Wisconsin.  There I not only actually learned to swim, I learned to like swimming. Crawl, backstroke, sidestroke (not a competitive stroke, but I swear it’s a lifesaver, one I can do even if exhausted). I only regret I never learned  the dolphin kick or butterfly. At college, I was not only one of the few black people in the swimming class, I was still one of the few on the entire campus. We always spoke when we met each other. You had to, it was such a rarity.  I also learned to dive. To prove how active my suicidal thoughts were, I actually dived off the platform. After watching a kid, probably a faculty members child, climb that ladder and jump off, repeatedly.  Me, college student, decided if a skinny kid could, so could I. I joined the line waiting for their turn, climbed to the platform, looked over the side, and bam, heart attack city. (Did I mention I am terrified of heights)

I was too big a coward to  go to the line of people on the ladder and ask them to move aside to let me climb back down.  Especially because the kid was right there on the ladder waiting for her turn to go again. So, with one final prayer to the Almighty,  I dove off the end. And then I hit the water, and I was still alive. And it had all been…fun.

That was almost forty years ago. I no longer do much diving, but I still like to swim.

Which brings me back to the point.

These days I’m no longer seeking out a public swimming pool in Chicago’s south side, or walking into ice cold Lake Michigan water. I live in a predominantly white suburb and pay monthly dues to a club with a pool. Actually, two pools, one with five lanes for lap swimming, another warm water pool for therapy and exercises.  Plus a sauna.

swim3

It’s the kind of club I didn’t even dream of belonging to when I was a kid.   My monthly dues means I should have no trouble swimming year round.  When there are swimmers, we double up.  Two people two a lane. In extremely busy times there may be three people “circle swimming”. I hate that one, I was never a fast swimmer, and over the years my speed has declined.  Inevitably I end up with two speed demons.

Equally inevitably, I am the only black person I have ever encountered in the pool.  And I do draw stares. Some obvious, most covert.

But today there was only one person in each lane. So I climbed in to lane number one and waited for a swimmer who was just as slow to arrive so I could tell her I would be sharing the lane with her. I didn’t have to sat anything, but it felt like common courtesy.

No, she informed me. She didn’t share. I needed to go to a different lane.

WTF?

Or I could wait. She claimed she only needed five more minutes of swimming. Alone.

I’m not going to say this was racial. She might have done this to anyone. Doesn’t matter, she would still have been wrong.

One of the lessons we should get out of Kindergarten is how to play well with others. How to share. The fact that this woman did not get the message changes nothing. I was not going to stand around and wait because my time was valuable too. and I was not about to move to another lane because I saw no need to. Her presence did not bother me. If she did not want to share, she knew what she could do.   In the meantime, I started swimming, carefully keeping myself to half the lane.

When I completed the lap, I stopped, stood, and looked back. She was still standing there. Thanks to being nearsighted, I could not see her expression. I did a second lap, stood, and saw her climbing from the pool.

I guess her five minutes were up.

There are lessons we all need to learn.  One big one is that you can’t always get what you want. You can’t just push other people aside because it’s convenient for you. You can’t expect people who have the same right as you to let you dominate them.

As for me, my lesson was that I have my rights, and I get to voice them. Ten years ago, even five, I would have stepped back. Fumed in silence.  Allowed her to have her way.

Now I have swimming to do. Anytime I want.

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A second Illinois SCBWI member has stepped up to join in the effort to help diverse authors and illustrators attend the annual conference on Nov 5. Children’s book author Urania Smith has also stepped up to sponsor an attendee.  We have a wide definition of diverse author/illustrator.

Diversity mapSo if you are in or near the Chicago area, or can arrange transportation to Harper College in Palatine Illinois on Nov 5, 2016, consider applying for the scholarship. We are actively seeking applicants interested in creating children’s literature.

Just check out the information on the scholarship and fill in the application form by clicking here: Scholarship information page

Winners will be notified August 30, in time to register for the conference.

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Illinois Writers and Illustrators conference scholarship

On November 5, the Illinois chapter of the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) is having its annual conference, Prairie Writer’s and Illustrator’s Day. The one-day conference is held at the Wojcik Conference Center, at Harper College in Palatine, Illinois.

This conference contains valuable information for people who craft children’s books, with information about everything from picture book creators to middle grade and young adult. I was especially pleased to see that this year the conference includes a diverse group of faculty – agents, editors, writers and illustrators. Details on the faculty are available here: https://illinois.scbwi.org/event-pwid2016/test-faculty/

You can find out more about PWID at https://illinois.scbwi.org/events/pwid2016/

I think it is important that more diverse authors and illustrators attend these kinds of conference. Therefore, I have decided to mark this event and the sterling faculty by offering to pay the base conference tuition for a diverse author or illustrator to allow them to attend the conference.  This is an opportunity to meet and greet with publishing professionals, learn from other writers and illustrators, and to have  manuscripts and/or art portfolios seen by editors and agents, bypassing the slush pile.

The scholarship is available to first time attendees and will pay tuition. You do not have to be an SCBWI member to win or to attend PWID.

If you would like to attend Prairie Writer’s and Illustrator’s Day on November 5, but cannot do so due to economic constraints, fill in the form below to be considered for this scholarship. Applications must be submitted by Saturday, August 27, 2016.

The scholarship winner will be notified by August 30.

PWID registration opens on Sept 1 at noon.

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I Am An Anomaly

I volunteer at my town’s Senior Citizen’s center a few times a week, working in the compDaily Heralduter lab associated with our public library.  There I perform crowd control when things get busy, and answer questions about using the computer, printing, and various websites. I get paid with a free cup of coffee (when I remember to go get it).

In many ways I am an anomaly. I am one of barely a thousand black people in a town whose population is over Seventy-six thousand. Except when I go to the supermarket or the main library I am pretty much the only black face I see, and I have to go to the mirror to see me.  So I definitely can’t ever afford to be colorblind.  And yes, my town is a Republican stronghold. When I asked for a Democratic ballot at the primary this spring I was one of only a handful, next to the giant stack of Republican ballots.  (But at least I had to ask, they did not simply assume that Black == Democrat).

Not so yesterday. I was in the computer room, and a gentleman came in who had never been there before. He had questions about how his phone works and about some of our classes (we offer free classes to the public). I answered, and thought we built a small rapport. He was smiling as he started for the door.  We had said absolutely nothing about politics.

He stopped before leaving, as if something suddenly struck him. Had I seen the movie about Hillary’s America, he asked.

Nope. Hadn’t seen it, don’t intend to, I don’t do propaganda.

Oh right, he said with a resigned look. You’re a democrat.

Now I happen to consider myself an independent. Yes, I voted Democrat in this last primary, which he couldn’t know, but mostly I like to pick and chose who I vote for up and down the ticket. But I’m black and I did not want to waste my time viewing propaganda, so I had to be a Democrat. And to him, that immediately turned me from helpful volunteer to the enemy.

He then proceeded to regale me with a list of things the movie “reveals” about Hillary. If I would only watch it, it would make me change my mind. I told him I actually like doing my own research (I am a researcher by trade, with a masters degree in Biochemistry and a second masters in Computer Science. I like looking things up for myself and not accepting other people’s opinions.)

He proclaimed me stubborn like a rock, being blindly led around by the democrats and bad Hillary, and that my mind was made up and I was a sheep. I could have said the same about him. He was adamant that Trump was real, as was every detail he saw in that movie. It had to be real, it confirmed everything he heard on Fox.

I saw immediately there was no point in trying to convince him of anything, not even that I was grown enough to check the facts for myself. He was right about one thing. As soon as Trump was confirmed as the Republican nominee my mind was made up about the Presidential race. I could not vote for someone who actively encourages his supporters to exercise their racism and bigotry on people like me. I am neither blind, nor a sheep, and certainly not suicidal. I have done my homework, I may not know what either candidate, and that includes the Green Party candidate, thinks in their hearts. But I know what they say and do and how one extorts his followers to violence.

The truth is, I’m not an automatic Democrat because I am black. Nor will I vote for Hillary just because I don’t like Trump. My problem is that so many so-called ordinary people are so quick to use him as an excuse to unleash their hatred and bigotry. Someone tried to tell me there was no such thing as a lesser of two evils. I disagree. Sometimes the choices we make really do matter.

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I’m fighting racism, one step at a time

Yesterday after reading an article on Facebook about police dismissing the protests of a young black male because…well, because he was a young black male and therefore what he said didn’t matter, (click here to see the article that started the discussion) an acquaintance on Facebook commented that she supported #blacklivesmatter but recognizes that racism does not stop with black people.

True, that!

She went on to state that in her mind, all lives matter meant that “all people of color matter” including Indian, Native, Asian, Latino etc. She asked, if it was racist to be mindful and inclusive of other non-white groups. So she asked, why was it wrong to say all lives matter.

Because she sounded like she wanted an honest answer, saying she wanted her eyes to be open if there was a problem in her reasoning, I responded.

First, I thanked her for caring and for wanting more knowledge. And that she was right, that all lives do matter. Or at least they should. And that racism, and other -isms go beyond just the way the majority culture in the US today treats black people.

If that was what all lives matter meant, that all people of color had lives that were valuable, I could wholeheartedly agree with the term.  Unfortunately, that hashtag was invented, and is primarily used, to silence POC. It started only after we as black Americans protested the actions of police and other authorities who treat us as if we don’t in fact matter.

I am well aware of issues with brown lives,  Asian lives, and especially native lives. I try to keep aware of issues facing all POC with regard to the legal system. I work to keep the information circulating. None of that should be lost or forgotten.  That includes white victims of police excess and brutality, like the white fifth grader whose dog was killed during his birthday party by an Oklahoma police officer coming to serve a warrant at the wrong house Click to see NY Daily News article

Abuse by those in power is a major concern, and the reality is all lives SHOULD matter equally, but like in Animal Farm, some do more than others. We should all care. Because POC are functioning like the old system where miners took birds down into mines with them because they were sensitive to air quality and reacted first, giving minors time to escape if the atmosphere went bad.  Or maybe its more like the words of Martin Niemöller poem, “First they came for the socialists and I did nothing…” The one that ends, “…Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me. ” (See more about Pastor and the full text of his poem at Wikipedia or the Holocaust museum

I do believe that each and every single human life matters. I would love to tackle every problem POC face with law enforcement. But I know my limits. That means it’s best for me to concentrate on one area at a time and for me that primary focus is Black Lives Matter. That doesn’t mean I lose track of the big picture. I know that many groups are treated as if they too don’t count. But if I break an huge problem down into small bits it ceases to feel overwhelming. I can see the possibility of fixing one of those bits. Then I can look into expanding and extending that solution.

Here’s an example. I am a former biochemist and researcher and I know something about medical research. If I walked into a lab working on a cancer cure and asked the technicians there what kind of cancer they were looking at, they better not tell me all kinds. That would mean they don’t know what they’re doing and are just wasting time and money. Different kinds of cancer need different approaches.  That doesn’t mean a cure for breast cancer might not have some future ramifications for curing colon cancer or a glioblastoma as well. It just means the research efforts will actually have a chance of success if the workers focus on a specific time instead of pulling up a shotgun and firing wildly. All cancers do matter, but in any given lab there should be only one focus.

It is good to be mindful of all injustice. Disabled lives matter too, which is why think the Florida police union needs to be slapped for thinking citizens would be fine about the four year police veteran intending to shoot an autistic gentleman (and then missing and shooting the black guy who then then handcuffed, apparently for his own protection or something).

It’s just that the term all lives matter does not convey concern for any life. It is too often used to say, “shut up black people and go back to your corner.” So I can’t use those words.

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Writing cross-culturally

I am currently (July 2016) teaching a class of authors about writing diverse characters, my Spice of Diversity class. I received a student question that I’ve chosen to answer here, because I think it deserves a wide, thoughtful, answer.

I was asked,

…when I wanted to write a Spanish hero, another writer with a Hispanic last name answered one of my questions on the list, saying that if I have to ask, I shouldn’t bother or risk getting it wrong because I can’t relate.  I have to say this was kind of discouraging

Discouraging?

I don’t want to jump on this student or anyone else who genuinely wants to write more broadly. Instead I ask her, and others in her position, to try to understand why this person might say something like this.

The easy answer: because “they” don’t like white authors. Easy, and mostly incorrect. Comments like these often come from a place of pain.

Since these are authors, I’ll use a writing example to try to illustrate. Pretend you are writing a story about a character who was abused in her past. Father, brother, husband…all said they loved her while abusing her either physically or sexually or both. Readers accept that she is justifiably afraid that men lie and are cruel, maybe not all, but certainly the ones who surround her. We have total empathy with her difficulty in trusting yet another men who claims he loves her.

The hero has to decide to either go through the considerable effort involved in proving that he is trustworthy, or being discouraged and giving up on her. He has to go above and beyond to demonstrate that he really intends to be different from every man in her past experience. He can’t just tell her once or twice that he’s different and expect her to then embrace him and believe him unconditionally. Readers would find her sudden belief in him unrealistic in light of her backstory if she did.

Because of her past pain, people excuse her for needing extra assurances and questioning his true intentions. Because he is a real hero, and sincere, he is willing to go slow and careful, understanding her concern. Not even the story’s black moment discourages him from continuing to prove he really cares.

Replace this imaginary heroine with real-life members of marginalized groups. People who have been battered since earliest childhood. Many have seen themselves portrayed poorly, in the guise of thinly disguised stereotypes and caricatures, all their lives. Worse still, we have seen these portrayals lauded by editors, agents and reviewers, while authentic portrayals are ignored. As a result, many of us truly fear seeing yet another painful portrayal.  Because asking a few questions does not enable an author to effectively write cross-culturally.

The way to handle comments like the one this student received is not to feel discouraged, not if you really are different. Like the hero, it means you will need to work longer and harder to show that you really do intend to do a good job. It means listening to criticism, respecting the points of view of marginalized readers, and responding with continued care and concern.

Like other members of marginalized communities, I have seen some truly great portrayals bypassed by editors, agents, and reviewers who claimed they could not relate to the stories. At the same time I have seen poor portrayals by mainstream authors praised because they met the expectations of mainstream readers.

Reality, feeling, and cultural truths, have to matter. Writing about other cultures is not like writing about other jobs. Writing about a serial killer will not hurt other serial killers if you get something wrong. But real cultures, real marginalized groups, have real people who are, or have been, hurt by portrayals from white writers on TV, movies and books who think all they need is the answer to a few questions. Marginalized people have an entirely reasonable fear they will be hurt again.

To me, that’s what the “writer with a Hispanic last name” was concerned with. It’s certainly what concerns me. I ask my students to care about all their readers, and be willing to go the distance to prove their intentions.

Posted in character, Class, diversity, Multicultural | Comments Off on Writing cross-culturally

Empathy – Diversity class

Today I’m blogging about the E-word.

Empathy.

You know, that ability to see things from another point of view. To understand and at least temporarily share someone else’s feelings, even if that someone else is outwardly very different from yourself. A lot has happened recently. Parents jerked through social media because a mother dared to be less than perfect at the Cincinnati zoo. A convicted rapist earning a six-month sentence in spite of the impassioned statement from his victim. And many people still unwilling to put even the slightest restrictions on guns in spite of the massacre of 49 innocents in Orlando (which some people who have dared to call themselves Christian ministers have actually celebrated) and the most recent accidental shooting death of a child by his sibling.

When people can’t feel empathy they too often end up pouring on the blame. Because if a victim is somehow to blame for what happened, if it isn’t random or otherwise completely undeserved, then they are safe. Nothing like that will ever happen to them. Empathy involves compassion and caring and the realization that “there but for the grace of God…”

I have a quote from Purple Heart recipient Charlene Lauderdale, a retired master sergeant in the United States Air Force. She was also born with both female and male anatomy. After living most of her life as a man, she is now legally a woman faced with all the challenges the transition represents. Instead of the walk a mile in someone else’s shoes cliche, I will use her words:

You never know until you step up to the plate and swing at the ball coming at you.

See, it’s not about feeling sympathy or approval. It’s about understanding.

Last year at one of my adult Sunday School class sessions, the subject of Ferguson Missouri and the Michael Brown came up. One member of the group made a statement saying he could never understand how anyone could ever try to hit a police officer for any reason.
Never understand.

I’m not going to pretend I know the right or wrong or the final truth about thing that have happened or are happening around the United States, or the world for that matter.   But I know that anyone content to sit in a comfortable chair, drink coffee and say “I’ll never understand” and let that be the end of things, lacks something. They don’t have the ability–or the desire–to consider the possibility that other individuals might look at the world and see something different, even hostile and fearsome.

Then I saw a call from a teacher looking for books to use with her elementary classes, books specifically designed to help teach kids  empathy. I told her that all she needed was to get any book written by someone who is different from them about people different from them. Anyone who lives in a different social class, race, ethnicity, religion, ability level or even physical location. Hand them books that show these characters facing all kinds of life challenges. Let the kids step through the book like they would open a door and feel the character’s motives, issues, thoughts, goals and emotions. Experience their sorrows and triumphs. Become someone different from themselves.

A good book can be the perfect empathy training ground.  Cognitive psychologist Keith Oatley has said:

…reading more fiction enables you to understand other people better.  Fiction is about exploring a range of circumstances and interactions and characters you’re likely to meet.  Fiction is not a description of ordinary life; it’s a simulation. …fiction tells us what can happen, which can stretch our moral imaginations…

Fiction allows our minds to occupy another space, another body. Unfortunately, too many of us waste the opportunity and only read books about people who are like ourselves.  We take a big, diverse world and make it small with book after book about people who are basically the same: white, middle class or wealthy, primarily suburban. Little or no empathy for someone outside your current circle of knowledge is required or promoted and opportunities are lost.

I believe that books featuring Heroes or Heroines from all places and walks of life can have stories that bring something to enrich us all. That characters who are neither rich nor middle class can share their form of the universal story with readers, and in the process, enhance the readers’ lives. Those books can teach readers they do not have to condone an individual’s actions, but that understanding is the path toward a better future.

If you don’t think representation is important to kids, just look at this video:

That’s why I write diverse books, and put my heart and soul into the effort to create both a sympathetic and accurate depiction of characters from various cultures and backgrounds.  It’s also why I teach a class for writers who want to write about characters that are different from themselves.

It’s not an easy task. If done wrong, an author can do immeasurable harm to readers of all backgrounds and may promote stereotypes. Their words can the concept of empathy if their readers end up feeling, “Everyone knows that’s what those people are like.”  And people from the group can feel victimized when seeing themselves portrayed as a caricature.

My class is for authors who want to do the work needed to do a good job understanding and portraying someone else. And, in the process, developing more than a little empathy themselves.

I want to thank you for reading this long-winded blog post.

If you can handle more, consider taking my online class,  Adding The Spice Of Diversity To Your Writing class being held in July 2016.

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Even if no one paid me

I laughingly call writing my sub-minimum wage job. Counting the time involved in coming up with an idea, writing the first draft, revising, editing and creating a dozen or more successive drafts, gnawing at my fingernails, sleep-walking and dreaming the story, the ROI is nothing to write home about.

And then there’s all the time and energy spent on promotion. Especially energy. I happen to be a raving Introvert. No amount of money could adequately compensate for the strain on my nervous system alone. But  I do this job anyway. Because for me, writing is that mythical job I would do even if no one paid me.

That includes writing for this blog. You’re getting this post because I literally had nothing on the monthly subject. Nada. I was going to try writing about romances between older women and younger men, mostly because I am one of those good ole girls and I like reading books that help me dream large. However, not even that thought brought any ideas to my head, and frankly this gig doesn’t pay at all and I found myself wondering why I felt the urgent need to come up with something for the readers.

And then, serendipity struck and suddenly I knew exactly why this was so important, why it had to matter to me. Because it matters to readers.

I saw an article in the Chicago Tribune (yes, some of us do still read newspapers) about work making our lives better. “The notion that people labor only to make money is wrong,” the sub-caption read.

And I said, “Exactly.”

Barry Schwartz has written a book “Why We Work” I found myself nodding at everything the article and the psychology professor, said.

My pre-retirement job paid well. I mean really well. I did not take early retirement over pay issues. There was a point in time I loved my job. A time when at the end of the day I could lean back in my chair, sigh and feel a glow realizing my efforts had made someone else’s life better. Life, and work, was hard, but really good and I wouldn’t have traded that job for anything.

But times changed. Work became more rote and my activities were divorced from other people inside the company and outside. The glow dimmed. I was making more money (I did say they paid me well), a promotion, nicer title, but less…feeling. The job was actually easier because I had been around so long I knew things inside out. But I no longer wanted to do the job.

I no longer had the feeling of worth, that I was helping someone else. The bigger paycheck did not compensate for the straight-jacket wrapped around me. Things became so tedious that I don’t think I would have stayed if they had doubled my salary. (Okay, I admit that’s an exaggeration, if they doubled my salary I would probably have stayed for another year, I mean two years pay for the price of one, I’m not a total idiot.) But they didn’t and I grabbed early retirement.

I left a lucrative and fairly easy position to do a job that, in the early years, paid negative money. Many of you who are also writers know about those “lots of green going out and nothing coming in” startup days. There is a reason I tell new writers they should wait before quitting their day jobs.
Chicago_streetBut the rewards began coming quickly. In my very first fan letter a kid whose teacher termed him a reluctant reader told me my book “was better than cable.” That is high praise from a teen boy and his teacher said he wanted more time to read. Another reader, a Windy City ex-pat, told me he could see, hear and smell Chicago streets in my words. Most of my stories are set in my home city.  And the mother of a bipolar child sent me a handwritten note telling me how my story about a family with a child like hers left her feeling a little less alone.

I won’t lie. My writing is finally bringing in a little money (enough to cause me extra sweat during tax time). My middle grade debut was recently acquired by Harper Collins, and my agent is shopping my newest YA manuscript. If it is selected by a publisher that will mean more time spent revising plus more time and effort this raving introvert will have to spend in promotion.

It will also mean more kids will find a story that will make them smile.

My readers provide my real paycheck.

Posted in A writer's life, Multicultural, Novel Writing | Comments Off on Even if no one paid me

Removing The Masks

Earlier today fellow author Gabrielle Luthy  asked me a question about a post showing a bunch of women at a Trump rally wearing t-shirts saying – Make America White Again. This turned out to be a bigger question than I first realized, so it’s getting a bigger answer. Sorry, but I decided to get on a soapbox for once.

First, I acknowledge that the picture was apparently doctored. But many people acknowledge that that is indeed the subtext of his Make America Great Again slogan.  Whether the picture was true or not, it does represent what far too many people think. This includes people who live and work around me.  I don’t always know who. But often enough there’s a look, a gesture, an expression. I’ve know it for years, even as I listened to people swear, “I’m not a racist, but…” because it’s the words after the but that tell what they really think. People who say they shouldn’t have to be PC. Those who think cultural appropriation isn’t real, much less that they should think before they act on someone else’s history, culture or sacred beliefs.

For a lot of people it is probably easier if that stuff stays hidden. That does make it easier to pretend it isn’t there. And when something does happen, when a person of color loses out on a position they deserved or is mistreated, when little girls are manhandled by huge cops and told they should have just been submissive, when people of color protest they get called thugs while white rioters are considered simply overenthusiastic, white people get to not notice and remain happy.

Many of us already knew the code words. We knew that all those people at gun shows to arm themselves were thinking they had to protect themselves from us. “I’m not racist, but…I have to keep my family safe, from THEM.” And people who look like me get to be them. That means I get to look at the houses up and down the block in my predominantly white neighborhood and wonder which ones have guns they might someday use on me. After thirty years, I am more afraid of my neighborhood and neighbors than I was when I moved in, and I came here during the 1980’s when people of color were finding burning crosses on their laws if they dared moved into a white neighborhood..

So, you asked if there is a benefit of having this come out in the open. I do. The post-racial society thing let too many people pretend, not see, and condemn those who did try to tell them about reality. I know not everyone will agree with me, I understand that. But I would rather the truth be out there. We can’t have authentic conversations when one side is wearing blinders and refusing to look in mirrors.

I realize I am often the only black person my neighbors and customers see.  A couple of months ago my white boss was talking with me about a problem they had with a customer the day before and how angry the woman became. I laughingly said “Thank heavens I wasn’t here that day or she’d have found a way to blame me.” My boss agreed, noting how often people complained about me, admitting she knew it was mostly because I was the only black person there.  But she still began   trying to talk me into agreeing that life is better for black people in the United States today. And going on and on expecting me to agree with her. This continued over a period of days, my white boss cornering me to continue the discussion and let her convince me of her truth.

Several of my white “colorblind” acquaintances actually chastised me for even noticing that for the fourth year in a row we had no representatives of color among our speakers for our children’s annual writing conference – in this day and age of we need diverse books and the concept that all children need windows and mirrors.  I was literally told I should be ashamed for noticing because color shouldn’t matter. I told her children aren’t the only ones who could use an occasional mirror. While I don’t really think she is part of any “Make America White Again” crowd (at least I hope not), I do say she’s part of the I’m too blind to notice there’s even a problem group. And that sounds a lot like the excuses heard after World War II in Nazi Germany, we didn’t know.

Maybe this particular item was false. But the guy at the Trump rally who sucker punched a black man wasn’t. Not then, and not when he threatened to kill the man. Neither were the young women who used their shirt to spell out N.I.*.*.E.R in Instagram pictures. Or the men who violently pushed and shoved a black girl out of yet another Trump rally. Or the white high school kids yelling Trump, Trump, Trump at a team of Hispanic youth. For them, a great America has no room for people of color.

It’s not good that the climate of my country has grown to the point where so many people feel emboldened to display their racism and hostility. But it is good that things are sparking debate and even action. Trump has cancelled his talk in Chicago because of police and University safety concerns. Maybe having bigots remove their camouflage will spark more discussion. Some the people who want to call themselves colorblind will see what’s going on around them and actually take off their white-colored glasses. If the crowd that doesn’t feel the need to be PC (polite and caring) and that have no empathy see themselves in some of these newly revealed bigots, that could lead t o positive dialog and change.

And maybe, if more people do decide to talk about these issues, the talk won’t begin with whites trying to convince people of color that things are so much better for them.  Maybe it can start with a “Tell me how it feels to live your life. I really want to understand.”

Maybe we can actually learn and share.

Stepping down from my soapbox now.

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