A racist’s confession and challenge

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

I couldn’t have been more than 17 when, grasping the white supremacist flyer, my friend and I drove up to the gas station, pulled in and made our way to the pay phone. We didn’t have mobile phones in those days and besides, it was a higher call rate number. We brought out the flyer and dialed the number carefully, holding the phone between our ears. Some guy got on the line going on about the purity of the white race, yadda yadda yadda. We were titillated.

My yearbook from that year isn’t one I’d readily pull out to show off yet look at myself. The same friend and I somehow ended up privately sharing views on white supremacy, tagging SWP and other neo-nazi jargon onto each other’s pages. We each had friends who were not white and would have never seen them as lesser than ourselves, but for some reason we started entertaining the hatred, minus any specific face to associate it with. Perhaps it was because we’d both dated a guy before we knew each other who was all about the white power. He was also the only guy who ever hit me and was verbally abusive and, for shame, I dated him twice. But I think really for me, it was because I was angry at the world and at those black guys who wouldn’t listen to the word STOP, causing my friends and I to have to physically defend ourselves. We could have just as easily hated on student journalists, which they were, or high school boys, which they also were, but we chose black.

Let my 39 year old self be clear: There is no excuse for having SWP and 88 written proudly in your high school yearbook, surrounded by innocent messages of ‘Have a great summer, keep in touch!’ If I could have a do-over…

This isn’t something I talk about, ever. I was reminded of it when discussing the election with a friend who commented that his actions and those all too familiar words against women were in the past, and we shouldn’t hold it against him. I am steering clear of discussing Trump here, so won’t comment further on that, but I will say it gave me a moment’s pause, remembering my adolescent stupidity. And truthfully, as much as I try not to hold any prejudices against anyone now, I am still human and prone to doing so, but I am only too aware of this.

But seeing these reports and videos of the increase in racist attacks in the states, hearing people’s fears of being harmed, witnessing public figures both in Trump’s crew and those riding his coat tails say things undoubtedly reeking of racism, I have to let you know this about me. Because this behaviour cannot be ignored. For the sake of your vulnerable, impressionable teenagers and children and of course, for those who it would cause physical and emotional harm. You cannot pass someone up who is publicly declaring white power and that this is what will make America great again. Don’t assume they’ll go away. Let your children see you stand up and say this is not right, not acceptable, not what you voted for. Get out from behind your ballot (or lack thereof) and stand for something in your community with your whole self. Challenge racism (and all the other isms) as if your life depended on it.

 

 

A racist’s confession and challenge

Hope, in Spite of: American Evangelicalism, Trump ‘change’ and a cruise ship of self-righteousness (let me welcome you aboard)*

Wednesday: I woke up ahead of my 4am alarm, fully expecting to see the first woman President-elect be announced. I was greeted instead with electoral college numbers that didn’t look like they ‘should have.’ Immediately I started sobbing, for the first time in my life, over an election.

I was raised in a fully red-blooded family and my first act of political rebellion was to register as Independent. I held mostly Republican values but refused labels (not realising that Independent was an actual political party, rather than a fancy word for ‘other’). It wasn’t until going to Bible College where students were encouraged to register to vote locally that I switched to Republican thanks to what I felt was a hard guilt trip that being anything else made me less Christian, as did my tattoos and wearing a Santa hat at Christmas. Seriously, that happened.

Living abroad since 2004, you could say Europe has liberalized me, and that may be true to a degree, but ultimately life has made me a more liberally minded person, seeing beyond the individual’s rights across what I feel to be a more holistic vantage point of what matters (more than just one or two issues, or personal liberty, that is). You may hear that as arrogant and judgemental, which is something I’ve been most of my life regardless of my political persuasion. It’s a personality flaw and I am working on it. What I am trying to say is that living outside of the USA has made me more self aware and it has also made me a better person which has influenced my political outlook (that sentence is only about me, not about you if you feel slammed by it).

I struggle to identify with any political party, but I knew that once Trump won the Republican party nomination there was one party I was wholly against this Presidential election. Part of me wants to say that what he has done and said in his past is unforgivable, but that is totally out of line with my belief that everyone is worthy of love, acceptance and redemption. What I think I really believe is that his ongoing comments, deceit and inexcusable positions have left me convinced that his character is not one which I trust to hold the highest position of office in the states and I believe he will put lives at risk globally on a scale we haven’t seen – not even in Bush’s time when I felt completely threatened as an American living abroad.

Does that mean I trust Hillary? Not entirely, no. I don’t trust politicians any further than I’d hope to be able to throw them (boy would I like to try) and she is not the exception. But to me, her presidency would be another in the course of politics as usual, not more dangerous, not more controversial, but under-girded by a lot of experience, good and bad. With the exception that I would be able to say that she is a woman. And I like that. Women should have the same opportunity to be as corrupt as the rest of them – so, I voted for her (and I do lean more towards her platform these days, with some policy exceptions).

So there I sat, looking at these numbers, knowing full well that people want change, and I believe that to be good… but Trump? You can keep your Trump change. The changes he has built his platform on are not the types of changes anybody that I know who bleeds red really want. I can’t believe that of them. These are people I love and trust. I can’t label these folks the way I would label Trump. So my heart broke because this guy espousing these horrific things is the top choice over a bog standard politician who happens to be a woman. I cried, and then I got angry. I’m still vacillating between the two.

In the vein of this righteous/self-righteous anger, I shared an image on social media to stir the pot. It was an illustration of Trump grabbing the crotch of lady liberty. It was so vulgar, so offensive, and it speaks to me loudly that this is what people have voted for. Not only for the violation of women (among many other people groups) but for the violation of liberty. Empowering a hateful thug. I knew it would offend my Christian network before anyone else. And that’s precisely why I shared it- to call out the hypocrisy that it could be okay to vote for someone who has committed heinous actions, uttered disgusting and mocking words and called for terrible things to happen to a variety of people groups and individuals. He has incited hate and that is NEVER a Christian value.

How could this image be more offensive and a worse Christian witness than giving such power to someone who actually does this stuff in real life?

Christians may believe that this is the course the nation needs to take in order to change, and fair enough, I’ve had a gut feeling that Trump would win and it would take America down the path it has reaped. Do I believe that God has ordained that someone with such heinous views against God’s own creation should lead the nation? Not the God I know. God is permissive, not controlling. Besides (and without getting into a theological discussion here), even if God said ‘hey this is gonna happen’, it does not mean that we have to get on board with violating every principle of Biblical ethics and Christ-likeness to validate such a course. What will be will be. Popular belief on the antichrist is that Christians should not follow or receive the seal of this individual, yet it will come to pass. And that’s why I believe the wool has been pulled over American Evangelical Christians’ eyes politically. It is at odds with God.

In riding this out a few days before writing a heated diatribe, I can also see that some may feel the same about my vote for Hillary. Perhaps her ethics are so at odds with some Christian’s understanding of God that I sit in the same boat as those who voted for Trump, according to my critique. I humbly accept this. I’m not entirely sure I believe it, but I accept it is possible that I too am floating on this sinking ship.

And this is where I’ve come to have even more respect for conscientious abstainers – those who refused to vote for either candidate rather than settle for something anti-Christ. I’ve seen red-blooded Republican family refuse to throw their hat in with Trump and certainly refuse to lump in with Hillary, and so possibly for the first time in their lives they refused to vote on the Presidential ticket. I’ve also seen anarchist friends, many Christian, who have said this is not their system and they refuse to lend it credibility. And I believe these two groups that didn’t swallow the blue pill are the ones who have taken the high road. I wonder how many of the 40%+ who didn’t vote this cycle fit into that box, not being apathetic by any means, and why aren’t their voices being sought out? How can we hear from them, the truly silent minority?

I am angry and I am sad. But I do have hope. Not hope for a Trump presidency but hope IN SPITE OF a Trump presidency. We, the people, together for the better of one another – not for a system or a party or a President. Trump will never make America great again. I’m not entirely sure what that even looks like to begin with, but by listening to our neighbour (different and similar) and throwing our weight behind them to see them succeed, we will all succeed wildly.

*Please note that I have written this post primarily to my Christian readers. There are relevant ideas for everyone, but please don’t let my language put you off if you don’t fit that description

Comments welcome, but if they get rude or inflammatory I will not approve them.

Hope, in Spite of: American Evangelicalism, Trump ‘change’ and a cruise ship of self-righteousness (let me welcome you aboard)*

In Praise of… Multiculturalism

London is said to be one of the most multicultural cities in the world. This may be in part thanks to Colonialism’s insidious reign, but fortunately it would be one of the positive things to work out of that grim history. The years have seen London in a consistent state of flux as new waves of immigrants of various shades, beliefs and experiences embrace the capital city as home. I live in one of the most diverse boroughs in London at present: Hackney, though, sadly that seems to be changing gradually.

I hail from Southern California, a town that a taxi-driver in Tijuana once referred to as ‘Little Mexico’ owing to the large numbers of Mexican farm labourers in particular. I grew up with friends of all backgrounds, ethnicity, income. As a child, it just wasn’t a thing to label people. We Californians pride ourselves on being different – and on not being known for our racism. However it does exist… boy, does it. I went through a spell as a teenager of racial hatred and white supremacy. As people we tend to identify someone to hang our hardships on and in my case I directed certain feelings towards certain people. If I could travel back in time I would give myself an extraordinary backhand.

But as a recovering racist* living in London now for almost a decade, its beauty in shades of skin, language landscape and tolerance for beliefs, it’s got to be one of the things at the top of my list about this place. Living here has further broken the back of my racist self, it’s challenged me to question my own beliefs, particularly where these beliefs put my back up against anyone else’s. Tolerance isn’t such a bad word in my book. Possibly not the best word, but not a bad one.

My fellow country-folk are in jeopardy of losing the benefit of such a multicultural stance on life: the way it changes you if you allow it to. It’s frightening to be vulnerable like that, to feel that your own culture and ways may be threatened. But if these ways are to be, they will remain unchanged, at least where they’re most truthfully and sincerely held. But with an openhandedness rather than a closed-off-ness. Or a balled up fist.

At any rate and having cast my absentee ballot today in favour of the other guy (not the one with the rage and bad toupee), I also cast my ballot (metaphorically speaking) in favour of a city that just welcomed its first Muslim mayor. Sorry to pigeonhole you, Sadiq but I’m hopeful you understand that I’m not trying to limit you to just that, but to help others see that it really doesn’t matter or that a bit of difference helps us all.

*Some other guy came up with this recovering racist thing on FB. Admittedly I didn’t watch his video or read his blog or whatever, but I think I get it. Racism is so ingrained in us it’s hard to ever really be free of it. I can only hope my fear or hatred of the other dies more with each passing day.

In Praise of… Multiculturalism

In Praise of… being a (parent of a) toddler in London

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The Stonehenge of Hackney – Middlesex Filter Beds

Having spent three months in the states with a toddler, my husband and I were shocked at the lack of things we could find to do with her that were free or low cost. Perhaps it was down to us not being familiar with the area, but from what we could see, the parks were fantastic, but the library story sessions were pretty pathetic and everything else costed a fortune in memberships and subscriptions. Coming from our London context where immediately we were directed to free and low cost activities to while away the time on maternity leave and beyond, it was frightening to feel left with nothing.

Let’s zero in on Hackney & East London where we’re resident, since for all I know there is next to nothing on offer in West London.

Friends, Health Visitors and others were quick to suggest various play groups held at the local children’s centres within walking distance. We benefited from free-of-charge access to baby massage, stay and play sessions, baby sign classes, messy play and music groups. The providers were mostly very hands-on, remembering each child by name from week to week, enquiring about parents’ well being, and creatively crafting sessions enjoyable by both carers/parents and children. To say I admire these people who spend their hours caring for new parents and children would be an understatement.

With maternity leave stretching to 11 months for me (another post to come yet very relevant to the availability of provision for non-newborns in the states) there was a lot of time and many stages of my child’s and my own development to fill. Particularly in the winter months it was a real safety net to be able to get out to a place nearby that you didn’t have to afford, where you could look as disheveled as the next person, and just be. I think these places are tax money very well spent.

Another incredible pro to such offerings made available by local authorities (and some churches) is that it’s inclusive. It doesn’t end up being a posse of ‘yummy mummies’ who tick the same boxes in life, but you find yourself in the mix of people from a variety of backgrounds, professions or none, and children can no doubt only benefit from such an environment when it comes to relating to humans in a multicultural place like London. The longer my daughter can go without noticing someone can be labelled differently to her, the better.

So, that covers children’s centres and such. We’ve also got incredible museums in London – for the most part all free of entry charge. See mummies, dinosaurs, incredible artwork, ships and a sampling of childhood toys gone for the cost of getting there. Most museums have child-friendly experiences like soft play areas, activity packs to take around, and sensory areas. Even the occasional museum or space charging admission is normally quite reasonable such as the Discover Centre which charges a low one-time or membership fee, or the Transport Museum where one admission lasts an entire year.  Arguably, however, these memberships may be less than affordable for people on a very hand-to-mouth existence.

Even in grey England, one of the things we’ve most benefited from is time outdoors spent in the abundance of public parks and open spaces in London, and specifically in Hackney. We live near the marshes which are well managed open spaces to see wildlife and to catch a glimpse of the horizon (rare in London). There are woodlands to traipse through (investing in a good pair of wellies and waterproofs, words that didn’t appear in my vocab until I moved here) and rivers and canals to follow along. There’s a movement of natural play areas rather than simply plastic and metal playgrounds. One such play area takes place in Adventure Playgrounds, an American lawyer’s fantasy. These areas are frequently built in an area reclaimed from bomb damage with crazy climbing frames, gutted black cabs, fire pits, etc, all to let kids be wild and learn risks rather than aversion.  Again, tax dollars happily spent.

Finally, there are a couple movements we’ve seen that we love: Forest Kids and Play Streets. Play Streets are an initiative whereby a neighbourhood street can be closed down, stewarded, and set up for the enjoyment of local kids to cycle, hoop, draw with chalk, etc. all over the streets. It brings neighbours together and brings kids out who might not have parental support to get out to parks as much as they should. Vitamin D is a real deficiency here (as in most of the office-based world) as I have learned, now chowing down tablets every day and dosing our daughter with the (free) vitamin drops we get from the chemist, so any extra time spent outside is a winner.

Forest Kids (and Forest School) is a movement that began, I think, as an alternative to the indoor activities of children’s centres, nurseries and even schools. It’s being adapted now increasingly by service providers themselves and our childrne’s centre takes kids out in all weather to climb trees, dig in the mud and run free for hours at a time. We have a local group that meets up on Monday mornings to go to one of our woodland or marsh areas to explore. It’s good for vitamin-D deficient mommas like me and for the kids as well.

While it is, no doubt, challenging to bring up a child in London, these things make it possible for a child to thrive here in ways that you have to make a very concentrated effort to do so in the states (from what I can observe as an outsider in this regard). It’s given me insight into helping people become stronger, more connected, more broadly exposed and cultured people from the very get-go. No matter what their financial status might be.

In Praise of… being a (parent of a) toddler in London

In Praise Of… leaving home

There are many ways in which I’ve changed in the span of 13 years of living in the United Kingdom. In part it’s down to the life changes I’ve gone through of maturing from a mid-20-something, of marrying and becoming a mother. But also it’s due to the course of my life and the decisions I’ve made and those who I’ve surrounded myself with. It’s come down to jubilations and crises.

I think if there was any piece of wisdom I, in my 38 years, could offer to anybody willing to listen, it would be to travel*. Get out of your place of comfort, away from the people you feel safe with, and let life beat you up, polish you up and change you utterly – away from home. In order for this to happen you have to spend a good while away though, not just a long vacation, not just a ‘mission trip’. But truly imbibe the new culture to which you’ve relocated, however temporarily. Don’t pine for the place you’ve left, don’t solely partake of the offerings given from your native place, whether through entertainment or reading. And given our new globally connected reality, this is easier said than done. Don’t surround yourself with only nationals of your own place who have also relocated. Become one of the locals, let it get into your bones. Talk differently. Even if you do sound like an ass to begin with.

I remember that at Bible College, before being sent to a foreign nation, the message was grafted into us, don’t become one of them, wherever you go. Always come back to the states yearly so that you don’t ‘go native’. I call bullshit. Go native. Be brave enough to let yourself become conflicted in your identity. After all, your identity shouldn’t be first and foremost as a national of any nation. But as a human, and if you subscribe to such ideology, as a child of God. Go native as a child of the universe, and smash the lenses you’ve been nurtured to wear. In less kind language I could say, the lenses you’ve been brainwashed to look through. But that’s just culture, it’s how we are, it’s what we do.

I have changed politically. I have changed in my relationship to food. My relationship to transport has changed. I garden and don’t always kill things. My faith has changed drastically. My understanding of God has increased wonderfully, even if it’s left me more puzzled overall. I have met people in this multicultural society I never would have encountered deeply – I’ve seen all continents from this place. I’ve made friends, lost friends and seen friends die. I’ve met new souls in the shape of babes. It has been rich. I am incredibly wealthy as a result.

I hope that I can share some of my impressions of living in Europe via a series of blog posts, In Praise of…

These things might exist quite obviously elsewhere, but in my journey they’ve been found here, in the United Kingdom. They’re things I’ll forever carry with me, unless my next cultural experience challenges them and allows these things to morph as well.

*As a caveat here, I realise, not everyone has the privilege to travel, not for indeterminate periods of time at least. It’s my hope that in writing this series and making suggestions about how to take advantage of our globally connected world, that wherever we find ourselves, in whatever situation, we might be able to challenge our conceptions, to live more expansively and to get out of our comfort zones, even if just by discussing a talk by a foreign speaker or reading a book by someone with an opposing view to our own. Life’s too rich not to explore.

In Praise Of… leaving home

Privilege

Yes, privilege is a real buzz word these days. Normally I shy away from trends (I refused to watch Friends until around 2000, my convictions were so strong), yet this is one that while I feel tremendously uncomfortable with it, owing to my own privilege which I am increasingly becoming aware of, I feel responsible for forcing myself to face it.

I was riding on the train this morning, for some reason thinking about being an ex-patriot. I have left my home, not due to difficulties or dangers, but because opportunity showed up and I had the resources available, either of my own possession or via contacts who had them. I have lived in the UK for nearly twelve years and in London for almost nine. London is an inhospitable place for anyone, so I am very alert to the fact that I have exceeded many people’s capacity to remain, and that mostly due to the love and support of others who have provided for our work to continue.

But I’ve always had a place to return to if it doesn’t work out. I have credit cards to fall back on if I can’t even afford a flight or place to rest my head. I have family with space to spare.

Through no work of my own I have started life out on a better platform with regards to material resources and education. I am privileged. My skin is white, my faith is Christian, my nationality is American.

There was a time during my first years here, during the Iraq war, that being an American was anything but good internationally. American travelers were advised to put Canadian patches on their backpacks. I remember being scared witless by an activist who came into our internet cafe at the community centre, and this is before my days becoming an activist myself, who was looking at graphic pictures of casualties caused by American troops. He looked at webpages that spoke out against Americans in a way that made me very uncomfortable. I heard people talking disdainfully about Americans on the bus and I kept my mouth shut, fearing for my own safety (or possibly just my own comfort). I stumbled on a rally in Trafalgar Square where people held placards decrying Bush as a murderer. It was an intense period as an American ex-pat who was vastly more conservative.

But at any time I could have retreated to a ‘safe’ place.

Now, when people query my accent, a warm California glow spreads across their face when they learn of my ‘home’. In their estimation, quite often, I rise in value and interest just based on my birthplace, though they think I am absolutely mad for ever leaving.

I question if my accent was different, if my skin was darker, if my trajectory was East to West instead, would I be so well received. Would I be labelled differently?

Ex-pats.

Migrants.

Refugees.

Asylum-seekers.

In reality, the humans who are making journeys across dangerous waters, across lands whose people will not accept them, they are Ex-pats just like me. We have different reasons for our migrations, but I reckon that theirs is more valid if we need to make comparison or judge merit. Yet my privilege ups my credit score in terms of my humanity, my trustworthiness, what I have to offer. This may be utter bullshit but it is the case.

I may have had to jump through hoops to get where I am and to remain here, to proudly wear the label of ex-pat, but others have been prohibited from access to those very hoops. All based on fear. Fear of differences. Privilege.

I could offer to strip off the badge of ‘ex-pat’ in exchange for that of ‘migrant’, but even that is a privilege I’m afforded. At this point, writing this is becoming an unfolding discourse in my own mind and one not destined to get very far on its own. I suppose as a woman I can see that a man cannot disavow himself of his privilege by exchanging labels, and doing so will not further my status in life. His working to ensure that the privilege he possesses goes towards creating more equal power structures perhaps is the only answer I can imagine. Ensuring others are equally educated, equally rich, equally given opportunities. Working to change the minds and prejudices of people, privileged or otherwise, will take a very long time. But we’ve got to keep trying to win incremental battles.

How you deal with your own privilege? And to those who find themselves less privileged in various ways, how can people best change the world without seeming like patronising fools?

Privilege

Book Review: Your Vocational Credo

your vocational credoMy dear friend Deborah Koehn Loyd has come out with her first book, Your Vocational Credo: Practical Steps to Discover Your Unique Purpose (IVP). While I’m very proud of her and the things she’s accomplished over the last few years, Deborah has mostly inspired and challenged me, both personally and through this book. If you’ve read my blog once or twice you may have read that I struggle with my sense of calling and purpose, mostly floundering between projects and finding it difficult to identify the common themes that make me ME. I’ve had a few conversations with Deborah about this (and can recommend her for vocational counselling!) and this book has just taken those discussions further and given me the time to process through her insights.

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Visiting Deborah & husband Ken in 2010

To be perfectly honest, I’ve not made my way through the book entirely as I’ve encountered some reasons that I have struggled to identify my strengths, weaknesses, emotions and calling, so these need working through in parallel. But the book speaks for itself with its insights and stories from Deborah’s own vocational trajectory and that of others generous enough to share their journeys through her book. Deborah uses humour, compassion and issues challenges through these stories and pointed reflective questions at the end of each chapter.

 

I particularly have identified with her labelling of ‘toxic skills’ as I have settled into many jobs I should excel at due to my skill-set but which have robbed me of life and fulfillment. Knowing that this is what I’m experiencing and not just my own struggles with bucking the system or laziness is like a paradigm shift. I look forward to pressing into her questions in due course but thought it would be good to get word out while it’s hot off the press.

You can get this gem via Amazon (US or UK). Please do write a review when you’ve read it!

Book Review: Your Vocational Credo