It is easy to say that I have "white privilege" because I understand what is meant by the phrase, although I did nothing to earn my skin color, which is actually buff beige according to CoverGirl. I take for granted the freedoms that come with being a middle-class, middle-aged "white" woman. I can walk through my neighborhood without being suspected of anything nefarious. I can shop at local stores (or could if I could afford them!) without being constantly followed. I can drive my own car without anyone thinking I stole it. For the most part, I can walk up anyone's porch and ring the doorbell without fear, or making them feel afraid to answer the door.
Let's pretend now that I am black, or "burnt sienna" if you prefer. While I might be able to walk, shop or drive around in my own neighborhood, would I be equally able to in yours? Why, or why not? What is it about skin color - something that each and every individual has a right to - that earns or loses one privilege?
Being "buff beige" is my right because that is how I was made, through no action or choice of my own. It is my privilege to tan myself golden brown if I want to despite the damaging effects of UVA. Gray hair is my right because I'm in my late 50's; it is my privilege to dye, cut or style it however I choose. Chasing my dream to become an author was my right, but actually becoming one was a privilege. In other words, I have the right to be a middle-aged, white woman with dreams, but I can only become a toned and tanned, stylish author through my actions.
One of the hard lessons we have to teach our children is the difference between "rights" and "privileges". Rights you don't earn, privileges you do. Privileges may be taken away, rights may not. My rights are no greater than yours, yours are no greater than mine.
It is your right to: It is a privilege to:
exist have your needs met
be free live where freedom is recognized as a right
pursue happiness be happy
We often hear people validate a behavior with "I/you earned the right to blank", but what was actually earned was a privilege. One may be deprived access to their inalienable rights, but they are still their rights, ie. all babies have the right to be born, those in bondage still have the right to be free, the downtrodden still have the right to pursue happiness. No one should ever be able to suppress another's rights yet, sadly, it happens all the time.
Case in point: George Floyd. What happened was untenable, horrific. His most basic right - the right to his own life - was stolen from him, and there is no earthly justice for that.
Here is what I am thinking, and I hope you will read the rest of this and sit with it a moment before dismissing it outright: Until we recognize and strive to protect ALL of the most basic rights, for ALL PEOPLE, all of us and our most basic rights will be in jeopardy. If we want to eradicate systemic racism, let's not put a bandage on it, let's cure it at its source! Let's teach - and live! - the belief of EACH one's inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness!
A rash isn't a disease, it's a symptom. Scratching an itch most often leads to increased itchiness, which I know from experience, and is how I view the current protests raging across this country. Racism is the visible irritation, a symptom, scratched with marches and speeches it itches all the more. Riots, looting, other civil disobedience and violence are the clawing that draws blood. If we continue on this course of action we will eventually kill the patient, our civilization - perhaps the whole human race!
What if, instead, we sought the cure? If we not only espoused, but lived like we value all human life equally, from those awaiting their shot at life to those breathing their last? What if we taught our children that they matter from the moment they begin to exist to their final moment, and used our various platforms to promote real healing? What happens to racism then? Does "All Lives Matter" really devalue "Black Lives Matter", or does it get to the root of the problem? I've seen the posts and heard the argument that ALM clouds the issue at hand, but consider this: If racism is one symptom of a larger problem, and everything is interrelated, scratching one itch when the whole body is rashy may focus all the attention, but won't heal it from within.
Wouldn't you rather have a cure than keep treating symptoms?
How can we be outraged at the murder of a black man with a long rap sheet when MILLIONS of innocent black babies have been aborted? White, red and yellow babies, too. Continuing to devalue the most vulnerable lives doesn't help the cause of race relations. Criminals get killed by bad cops, yet more good cops and innocent victims are murdered by criminals than the other way around. School children of all colors have become targets for mass murder. Drive by shootings are on the rise. Suicide rates have skyrocketed. Doctors are pulling the plug on ventilators regardless of patient wishes. People are molested or worse just for being who they are. Human rights are being violated all over the place because we have undervalued the most basic one!
A common phrase in our home is "with privilege comes responsibility". Remaining willfully ignorant as a child is a right, becoming well-informed a privilege, using that knowledge to educate a responsibility. My buff beige, autodidactic self accepts that "white privilege" is something I must use to create awareness and, hopefully, leave the world better for my having been here. Millions have never gotten that chance while others are robbed of it. I support them all. Won't you?
The underlying message of my books has always been that every life matters. Race relations features prominently without being preachy like the above. As a writer of fiction, I prefer the actions of my characters to speak louder than their words. In real life, I try to do the same.
"Are you hanging in there?"
Most of the time.
When people ask how I'm handling social distancing, I usually say I'm just fine. Mostly it is true. But, after seven long weeks of the same ol' same ol', some cracks are beginning to show in my facade. I no longer bother with make-up, even when making YouTube videos for my former art students. I've worn nothing but leggings and baggy shirts, often the same ones, for more days than I care to remember. I am sick and tired of meal planning and preparation, yet have baked - and eaten! - more sweets and goodies in the last two months than I usually do in an entire year. And yeah, binge watching Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime is my new norm.
Welcome to Covid World, where sloth, gluttony, and envy hold sway. Pride, wrath, lust and greed are probably just around the corner, though who needs all seven deadly sins when one is enough?
How am I? I am healthy and well... and feel like a failure.
To have courage for whatever comes in life - everything lies in that.
The feeling remains that God is on the journey, too.
Be gentle to all and stern with yourself. - St. Teresa of Avilla
Am I being too hard on myself? Most certainly; after all, I am doing my best to cut everyone else some slack. Maybe failure is too strong a word. Maybe it is just that I know I am not living up to my potential during this crisis. I keep hearing about the great things other people are doing, creativity that is blooming, generous acts of kindness and bravery, and can't help but think my contribution has been a little sub-par. Perfectionism plagues me. I have struggled throughout my life to live up to expectations - my own, and other people's, too. Even before becoming a Catholic, the bible verse "to whom much is given, much is required" resonated with my can-do spirit. As a writer, I tried to imbue the young heroines of my Emrysia series with that spirit, to show through them that love, self-sacrifice, and the sharing of each one's special giftedness is all that is needed to make the world a better place.
Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.
Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies. -St. Teresa of Calcutta
So, how am I doing in that department right now? Well, not so hot. It has been four years since my last published novel, and it is hard to write in a full house. With school closings came the loss of my art students, and a shuttered church hailed the loss of a congregation to lead in song. What is left for me to share? Preparing meals and cleaning house doesn't exactly utilize my best gifts or leave me feeling very fulfilled, something I have struggled with throughout my stay-at-home mom years, even though I have always done these things to the very best of my ability.
But... maybe it is enough.
Maybe, for now, it is more about what I can give up with love, than what I can do.
“Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.” - St. Theresa of Lisieux
Maybe small things are great things with the right perspective. In small things great comfort can be found: a favorite meal, clean sheets, a helping hand, a hug. Stopping whatever I am doing to look my tween in the eye and really listen as she describes the latest YouTube video she watched, or sympathizing with my college junior about her need for chocolate and Taki without criticizing her messy room, I can offer small consolations with great love.
On my walk this morning, I found joy in small things, too: a friendly chipmunk, the chorus of birds, the crunch and scent of the spring woods. If the God of all creation is concerned with the minute detail of lichen and leaf, who am I to disdain the minutiae of of daily life as it benefits others?
Remember that nothing is small in the eyes of God. Do all that you do with love.
- St. Theresa of Lisieux
Today I am pondering small things, and leaving the big things to those who can do them. It isn't a cop out. It is where I am at. It is what I can do. It is how I can love.
In an attempt to increase my productivity and reduce anxiety, I have gone back to studying scripture first thing in the morning - Stop right there! Some of you reading this have just shut down your receptors, haven't you? Why? Is my meditative practice such a threat? Are you afraid you might read something that conflicts with your belief system? Hear me out then, please.
As an author, I have tried not to offend with my "world view", believing that a good story needs to be shared. I didn't want the world I created to be only for those who think like me, and, trusted that if someone wanted to dive deeper for meanings they could, while those just looking for a little escapism could find that, too - much like C.S. Lewis did with The Chronicles of Narnia.
Lewis lived in a time when good writing was appreciated despite personally held points of view. He, along with Chesterton, Tolkien and other Christians were widely read in their time because of the quality of their work, not because the reader always agreed with their morality, which was openly displayed. Though I don't claim the same intellectual depth or comparable ability to entertain as these greats, I do share Chesterton's and Tolkien's profession of faith. (Lewis made an effort to avoid espousing any particular denomination.) Yet, despite believing, I have rarely shared anything online that acknowledges my religious beliefs, fearing it could turn off a large segment of readers. I do it for you, right? Trying not to offend you.
Why, then, did I feel so convicted this morning when I pulled out my Bible?
Fence sitting has it's downside - kind of like going to college for four years and never declaring a major; who can tell what you actually know?
Even God, it seems, wants to see the proof in the pudding. There is a verse in Matthew's gospel (bear with me, agnostic and atheist friends) that says "Everyone who acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven, but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in Heaven." You may or may not believe in God, as is your prerogative, and if you definitely don't, then that scripture verse shouldn't bother you at all! The fact that I believe He gave you the free will to decide that shouldn't affect my ability to entertain you any more than it affects, say, your choice of a dentist or grocer. Or is it that words are more of a threat than dental drills and produce aisles? Are my "subliminal powers of persuasion" going to keep you from enjoying a romp through enchanted landscapes with fantastical creatures, any more than price markdowns and colorful signage are going to make you switch toothpaste brands, or give up shopping for food? Maybe. Maybe not.
I like to look for what unites, rather than what divides us; that is a major theme in my work. However, I weary of pretending I don't have a system of belief, that I am unerringly neutral. I am tired of sitting on the fence. There is too much polarization in the world we live in today and, yes, I would rather not add to it, though I would like to grow. In order to grow, I first need to acknowledge where, and who, I am. I am a Christian. Not always a very good one, but that goes without saying.
In my mind, we are ALL God's children, naive in our understanding of what is, and what is yet to be...
...and understanding only grows when we are open to growth.