Race & Class

Living in Non-White Whiteness or White Non-Whiteness or ...

Kathleen's 6th Birthday

"What do you like about being white?"

The anti-racism training facilitator chose me to go first. My view of myself as multicultural Latinx, with indigenous heritage and light skinned privilege, was discounted a room full of other participants. Every struggle of not being white enough, or Latina enough flew up to my throat into a knot. I could not get past the word "multicultural," because the facilitator, an African American man, kept interrupting, insisting I was white. I thought my story about my grandparents and great grandparents had explained who I was the day before. The Latina facilitator said in a stage whisper, "She's Latina." The white facilitator said in a stage whisper to the Latina, She's white!" Whispering ensued between them. The facilitator who asked the question more than once said, "Fine, let's move on. We'll get back to you." I sat in shock. The next white individual, somewhat understandably, did not want to claim he was white either.

When I had gone to a people of color retreat last summer, the speaker, Zenju Earthlin Manuel had brought up an example that made sense. In 2013, Black Girl Dangerous blogger, Janani, published, "What's wrong with the term 'person of color?'" In it, they wrote about an exercise about race in an anti-oppression youth camp in the South, in which they, along with two other Asian attendees, were put in the white group rather than the black group. Janani wrote,

I want to return to that moment of racial ambivalence, and why it happened. That moment was unsettling precisely because even if Black and Asian kids had a common experience of being racialized, we didn’t have a common racialized experience.

It seems as if it should be obvious, but upon hearing it the first time, my heart opened with more compassion for we of whom are not of the dominant culture. In our workshop, every single person had been racialized as a consequence of living in the United States. Each one is racialized based on their geography in the country, in addition to the relationships to friends, relatives, loved ones, institutions and society. Not one person's early soul tenderness was battered by racism the same way. I have no claim to the experience of being black, but navigating La Frontera, the borderlands as explained by Gloria E. Anzaldúa, is its own experience. I grew up occupying that liminal space of in between, not pale enough to be white, but without the Spanish language, unable to navigate in the Latinx sphere either. How you were treated could turn on a dime. Especially, if your name changed from European to Hispanic or back. I was punished a whole school year for a surname change and return. My mother experienced it, and my sister, who has fairer skin than mine with dark hair and eyes, experienced it.

As the daughter of a Mexican American mother with the black hair and beautiful brown skin of her father, I was the first of sixteen grandchildren with the black hair and dark brown eyes that favored him. Unfortunately, he died before the year before. As the daughter of my Irish, Scandinavian, Northern European father, I'd never quite fit in. The McGregor family loved me anyway, often pointing out how smart I was, or tall I was, even though my build was more solid, and I tended to be chubby and darker. My heart and self-esteem suffered each time others were disparaged for gaining weight by the weight and look obsessed white women in the family, or how "Mexicans" or worse, "wetbacks" were disparaged by my new German stepfamily, most often by my stepmother.

If I had been asked a different question, the rest of the workshop might have gone differently. Instead, I became the female example of white denial. The trainer said to the group, "We people of color see you as white. You are not fooling us." My shutting down served as another sign of whiteness. In truth, I was in shock. Every misgiving about not being a person of color enough, was laid bare. I did not speak out about myself, nor with anyone else, the rest of the workshop. So, was he right? In a way, yes. And in a way, no.

I have much baggage: growing up in colonialized geography, feeling less than, being a widow of a small, dark, non-gender conforming, Filipina, a raw recent falling out with a relative, being enraged by my late beloved's treatment in the world, the traumatic death and aftermath, being an outcast accused of being unfeeling because I was white, and as such, had no culture, a coopted memorial. To say anything would have sounded like an excuse, or worse, as if I was trying to divert the discomfort, to make the conversation about my feelings, or separate myself from other whites by claiming I had suffered more, or that I had my own oppression, and therefore understood people of color's experience. Diversionary tactics are not new, and I've witnessed each one more than once.

For the evening and the next day, memories of scenes in the hospital, the funeral, and the aftermath haunted me. PTSD is real. When the other facilitator discussed what ends up lost to whites for opting to participate in whiteness the next day, I still could not trust myself to speak. When she blamed herself, her white privilege and ignorance, for the early loss of her own spouse, I just felt ill. I'd just managed to work past the survivor's guilt, stopped finding reasons to blame myself for my beloved's early death.

Going in to anti-racism work the decade before, I needed to be clear in my identity. I considered myself one of the mestizaje, on the border. After much discussion with my minister of color, I took on "person of color" identity as a political statement. That meant the battles are mine. Every single day, I choose not to walk away. My liberation is inextricably woven into the fabric of all people of color. Although there are days I hate the injustice too much to be healthy, I am committed. I'm committed to being open, learning, and to defer to the leadership of those people of color most affected by the intersecting issue at hand. I'm committed for all the multiracial children who do not quite fit into either family, and do not understand why race is such a big deal. I'm committed for gender nonconforming people of color, who are the most vulnerable, the most in danger, in our society. I'm committed for queer people of color, who are nearly as vulnerable. I am especially committed now for queer and gender nonconforming immigrants .

I'm grateful to have recently married, to a partner who works with me and learns with me. Still, I have married back into white privilege. So, what do I like about being white? I like that in passing, I can use the privilege I do have to speak out, protest, agitate, and put my body on the line for those who cannot. I like that in passing, I see and hear white people for who they are with each other. I like that in passing, my privilege can be used for the common good, rather than to get ahead in the capitalist white cultural narrative.

Beatitudes and Black Lives Matter . . .

Union of Black Episcopalians Fourth Lenten Service

There is something about Episcopalian services, or black church, or good music. Once a decade or two I experience that je ne sais quoi that puts me over the edge. Perhaps it is just my own intensely spiritual experiences have been in the Catholic and Episcopal churches.

Sunday, I went to a Lenten service held by the Union of Black Episcopalians. This service was held in the late afternoon in Inglewood, CA, once morning duties had been completed. This was a gathering of black clergy and a black choir at one of my great favorite social justice priest and fellow alum, Francisco Garcia's, Holy Faith Church. The theme of this service was Beatitudes, #Blacklivesmatter, and the Jesus Movement. An intimate number of folks showed up to participate. There were enough though, that two Caribbean dignitaries slipped in in cognito enough to be acknowledged at the end of the service once their presence was realized.

The second hymn was Kumbya. I'm thinking okay, Kumbya. This is probably not going to be my campfire Kumbya. The rendition is incredible, and I'm good until the lyrics "somebody's in despair, somebody thinks that no one cares," and we repeat it and repeat it like in the YouTube link below. Not only did my neck hairs stand up, the star spangled banner can do that, but my hair stood on end, every last one on the top of my head. Unbidden tears just streamed tears down my face. The last time that happened as a spiritual experience was at All Saints Episcopal Church, sometime in the mid 1990s. (Tears streamed down my face as I walked to the communion rail at that church, more than once.)

https://m.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=S-a9Fk1PAu4

There are too many hurting out there. I have much brokenness inside that rarely gets activated at that deep spiritual level unless it is in a church space I feel safe in and the music is not from a short list of acceptable Protestant composers, arrangers, or songwriters. I was an Episcopalian for a few years before I decided they were not liberal enough, theologically or politically, and moved further left to Unitarian Universalism. That does not mean I do not love still the churches and services. At the time, my heart and mind wrestled weekly with the Nicene Creed in the service. There is something to worshipping body and spirit, however.

One thing I will say is that the outpouring emotion during Kumbaya was not about my grief, truly a first in recent memory. Of course the service was Black Lives Matters, but any sadness in recent memory would automatically tap grief. This was not about my fears and anxieties. The outpouring of emotion was not about me at all, but tapped into that dark place of despair and losing one's way. I have been there, but I am on the other side now. The community holding the lament, and the sense of the community's faith was strong, based on way too much experience, and tradition. The community carries the broken until they can move forward. That is something that is missing in so many white churches. They want to skip the pain, the lament, to happy, or at least numb.

The rest of the service was amazing. We invoked the ancestors. The Episcopal Chorale was beautifully directed. There was a lot of music, contemplative, mournful and uplifting, covering different styles of the diaspora. We remembered the lives stolen. What upset me was except for a few, Travon, Tamir, Freddy Gray, Sandra Bland, the Charlston Nine, I cannot keep track of the names, or the circumstances of so many dead. There are too.many.dead. This is a lament. No one person can keep track of so many names.

The collection plate was taken for the families of the man and woman, Marquintin Shandlin and Kisha Michael, who were shot dead by police just a few weeks ago right there in Inglewood. The couple was asleep or unconscious in the car. The policeman felt threatened. Between the two single parents out on a date, they left seven children. The church generously matched the collection.

The world is broken. For just a little while, in a loving strong cohesive faith community, can one feel whole again. Hopefully, those in pain will find some comfort. Perhaps there are those of us who found respite before we go back out with the foolishness we prayed for to think we can make a difference.

I was Gobsmacked #BlackLivesMatter. It was beautiful.

Image credit Brooke Anderson/KQED

I got it. I finally got it, and I had not yet written to help others understand. It is now time.

Black Lives Matter was important to me from the beginning. The city of Pasadena has our own young black man, shot dead by police, reports delayed and heavily redacted, and no indictment. He has a name: Kendric McDade. I went to a vigil for him after #BlackLivesMatter was established, and he was mourned in the context of men and women across the country being killed by police. I mourned with fellow citizens and members at the First AME church when nine people were murdered in cold blood in Charleston, South Carolina. The examples above, plus black person, after black person, after black person dying at the hands, or guns, of those sworn to “protect and serve” cemented my support for #BlackLivesMatter. To put myself in context, I walk the border, la frontera, between white and black as a queer multicultural, or mestizaje, Unitarian Universalist graduate of a Methodist seminary who believes showing up is an important part of ministry, and for those who do not show up, educating. So at this point in a blog, a typical progressive could write something like “I support them, but…,” or, “I supported them, but they…” Mine is more like, “I support you. Oh! (Face palm!) Of course!” With about a year between “you.” and “Oh!”

As for the tactics #BlackLivesMatter employ, I admire the courage it takes to shut down business as usual. This country’s citizenry is entirely too comfortable to have compassion for the true suffering of others, unless it directly affects their social circle. It is not until the pursuit of the dollar or the spending of that dollar gets interrupted that the bubble of comfortable ignorance is burst. Oh, and interrupting their driving will get most of their attention. Brilliant move.

Fellow liberals complained that emergency vehicles could not get through when roads were blocked. Although this was was untrue, fair weather liberals said they could not support #BlackLivesMatter as a consequence. People dying in the streets had their lives interrupted. Permanently. The families and friends of those victims had their lives interrupted by profound grief. Then the families had their lives interrupted by something utterly unfathomable when the justice system failed them not only by not indicting the perpetrator, but by blaming their loved one for their own death. Will not interrupting your ride cause you stop, think, have any kind of empathy or compassion?

The interruptions of Bernie Sanders’ campaign speeches were another tactic that even more older white liberals used to stop supporting #BlackLivesMatter. Yet, there was progress, too. Conversations began. The establishment opened a tiny bit to listen. Supportive liberal white people who continued started conversations with their friends, their families, their churches. Places of worship who supported all along became more overt by putting out signs. The women #who started #BlackLivesMatter started a chapter program so that there would be a unified voice, and those with other agendas would be less able to hijack local groups.

My only question was why #BlackLivesMatter did not work more with the leaders from the civil rights era. As I am not a black person, I cannot, nor will not presume to know better. Occasionally, I’d been dropping in on a Saturday workshop held at a church in Los Angeles on nonviolent resistance, with examples coming from from the Civil Rights Era. The tactics were adapted from Ghandi in India. It all sounded good. The bus boycott and the lunch counters were issues chosen by women, and worked on equally, we attendees were told. The workshop facilitator did not think #BlackLivesMatter would work because of the tactics, and that the appeal is not broad enough, that is to young and old alike, which is code for respectability politics. Yet the tactics chosen in the late fifties and early sixties were radical enough to shake the status quo, in that context.

To the North, Neighborhood UU Church in Pasadena, strengthens its commitment to racial equity with numerous events and meetings. At a film and panel held there, I was fortunate to see one of the founding members of #BlackLivesMatters, Ms. Patrisse Cullors on a panel. Without asking, my question was answered. Respectability politics. Again. I get respectability politics: the elders know from experience that the oppressed must approach those in power in an approved way in order not to offend them. Tone policing goes with that, modulating one’s voices as not to frighten or offend the one in power. I could understand why Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton were refused when they swooped in to Ferguson. Sometimes one just does not need that kind of help. I had read certain words over and over related to #BlackLivesMatter. Once I heard the words: women, queer, Trans, agenda, from Ms. Cullors mouth in the context of being held back from talking in Church did I understand. I was gobsmacked! Of course! These are women leading. There are queer and Trans women leading. These women are about far from what the church civil rights leaders can handle.

Black Lives Matter is radically inclusive. I kept hearing Trans and queer but it did not register deeply until I, in my inner vision, saw the women of Black Lives Matter asking to speak, and being barred from talking in church about people dying in the streets because of their “queer agenda.” My heart hurt every time I learned yet another Trans woman was murdered this past year. Black Trans women, although a tiny minority, are the most vulnerable of black adults. Queer black women are not far behind. Black Lives Matter is based on the profound truth that all black lives matter, even queer and Trans black women, because they are the marginalized of the marginalized.

The older generation of Civil Rights and/or leaders still reduce the embodiment of the radical love of Christ to an “agenda.” In the wake of yet another Martin Luther King Jr. day the straight church civil rights leaders are being left behind in that journey towards restoring equity, civil rights, and sometimes basic human dignity to all those who are marginalized in this country.

Identity, Heritage, and Allyship

Thinking about Pope Francis' apology on Thursday for the Catholic Church's offenses against indigenous peoples, contrasted with the expectation that the pontiff will canonize Junipero Serra when he visits the US this September. The other big story in the news today is of course that South Carolina is removing the Confederate flag from its State House, but not before a long, heated debate in which defenders of the flag appealed to history and heritage. Gov Jindal of Louisiana supposedly even weighed in, claiming the Confederate flag as part of his own heritage (but it turns out the story is not true).

Many on the Left, including some friends, jeered Jindal for those supposed remarks. Likely they saw it as another example of him trying to erase his color and pass as white. Given other things he's done and said, I can understand why folks felt that way (and why so many of us believed the story), but I also thought I understood the sentiment.  While my parents are from China, I grew up in California and identify as a Californian - Californian heritage is part of my heritage.  So while Jindal's parents are from India, I could see him feeling that Southern heritage is part of his heritage.  Just because Jindal is of South Asian descent doesn't mean that he can't identify as a Southerner – to argue otherwise is to argue that Asians cannot truly be “American” even if we grew up here; it's to suggest that we are perpetually “foreign.” I invite my left-leaning friends who ridiculed the supposed remark to think about that.

Why am I talking about this in connection with the Pope and what the Catholic Church has done to indigenous peoples? Because as a Californian, I grew up being taught to revere Junipero Serra, the founder of the 21 Spanish missions that run up the length of our coast. We learned about him in history class. There is a prominent roadway named after him that my family frequently uses. He remains one of two Californians honored in the US Capitol Building. For better and for worse, the state that I love is in large part the result of his actions. So the first time I heard indigenous activists protest the beatification of Junipero Serra, I was deeply torn. Two parts of my identity were in conflict with each other. It isn't that I supported the enslavement and genocide of Native Americans under Serra - it's that I perceived him to be part of the heritage of my state, and thus part of my identity.

The knee-jerk reaction would have been to defend “Father Serra” (as I'd grown up hearing him called), to make excuses for him. Thankfully, I did not go with the knee-jerk reaction, and instead bit my tongue and sat with the internal conflict.  Faithful ally to Native Americans versus proud Californian.  I wanted to be both.

Of course, the world does not revolve around what I want.  While Gov Jindal may not have actually claimed the Confederate flag as part of his heritage, many people have done so this week. They wanted to maintain a symbol of their identity despite the pain that it causes others. And to them, SC Rep Jenny Hornes had this response:

"I’m sorry. I have heard enough about heritage. I have a heritage. I am a lifelong South Carolinian. I am a descendant of Jefferson Davis, okay? But that does not matter. It’s not about Jenny Horne. It’s about the people of South Carolina who have demanded that this symbol of hate come off the statehouse grounds."

Being an ally means recognizing that it's not just about you and what you want. 

When confronted with the horrors of history – whether that of state, region, or country - one approach adopted by many progressives is to try to completely disavow themselves of the history/heritage. To say, “That's not my history.  I had nothing to do with that.” This is particularly easy for those of us who are not white to do, especially if our families came to America more recently. But it strikes me as overly simplistic and not entirely honest.  Unless all your ancestors are indigenous to this land, you are here because of that history. (I recognize that many ancestors were forced to come to this land.) My ancestors did not participate in the enslavement and genocide that built this country, but they could not have immigrated here without it. If Junipero Serra had not done what he did, it is highly unlikely that my family would own a home in San Francisco right now. Highly unlikely. I don't think being a good ally to Native Americans means pretending that we don't have the privileges that we clearly do have.  So... I can't control what others do, but to me it feels disingenuous to simply say that California history is not my history. It is.

And of course, one doesn't have to actually choose between being a good ally for racial justice and being a Californian (or USAmerican).  I bet that at least some of the Native Americans protesting Serra's canonization also identify as Californians.  What was required was that I rethink the story inherited from school and our state culture. I didn't have to accept the story that I inherited – painting Junipero Serra in rosy, fatherly light - in order to be a Californian. There are other, more multi-faceted ways to tell our state story. Ways that honor all our voices and experiences. We can recognize that Junipero Serra was integral to the history of what is California and at the same time recognize that he is not who we want to lift up as an example for others to follow.  He is not the best of who we can be.  And after all, isn't that what a saint is supposed to be?

When I read this morning that Pope Francis apologized for things the Catholic Church had done against indigenous peoples, my first reaction was to think, “If he's sincere, then he won't canonize Junipero Serra.”  And I am still a proud Californian.

 

Color-Blind

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Below are the reflections I shared with First Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco for MLK Sunday service, 2015.  As worship associate, it was my task to speak (about race) from personal experience, not to preach about systemic injustices perpetuated against others.  So that's what I did. (Image from empathyeducates.org.)

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When I was a teenager, I was much smarter than I am now, judging by how much I thought I knew. All the social problems that grownups seemed unable to remedy... I thought I knew the solutions. One of those seemingly intractable problems was racism. Racism, or so I thought, was treating people badly based on inherited differences in physical traits, the color of their skin, the texture of their hair, the shape of their eyes... So the solution seemed obvious to me. Encourage people to be color-blind, to not see race. Eventually, we'd all interbreed, race would disappear, and so would racism. Problem solved.

I should mention that I grew up here in San Francisco. And while I had a few experiences of being verbally and even physically harassed over race, in general, I grew up relatively sheltered, which is what my parents had worked hard for. As I moved into academia in young adulthood, that degree of shelter only increased. In grad school at Caltech where half of the graduate students were foreign born and people tended to be pretty liberal, it was so rare to experience overt bigotry that on the few occasions that it happened I could brush it off as personal ignorance, which it is. My friends (who were mainly white) treated me just like them, which is what I wanted. Or so I thought.

But every now and then, something would happen that would disturb the cocoon around me. I remember when Michael Chang came on the scene as a professional tennis player. I was so excited, until one of my classmates chided me for celebrating Chang's success because of his race. After all, if we're colorblind, I'm not supposed to have noticed that as I was growing up there had been no one who looked like me succeeding in sports. There was the time I tried to explain to my boyfriend how my parents would argue with friends over who would “get to pay” the restaurant bill, except the argument was scripted and they would take turns “losing.” He incredulously accused my parents of being dishonest because they didn't mean what they actually said. I knew he was being unfair but couldn't explain why. After all, if we're color-blind, then everyone should conform to the same cultural norms, “our norms”, and white American culture values direct communication. And I remember the night a distressed friend confided in me about the argument he'd just had with his girlfriend. He'd been detained by police who were looking for a robbery suspect, the only feature they shared being they were both young Black men. His girlfriend thought he was making a big deal over nothing, and my friend, who'd immersed himself in white liberal circles just as I had, needed to know that someone else saw things his way. I did, but again couldn't explain why. And neither could he.  So we sat confused together. After all, if we're “color-blind,” then the only racism we can recognize is overt racial bigotry. We can't point to social patterns based on race since we're not supposed to be looking for them.  (And if you do point to them, you get accused of being racist.)

Yet even if we're not looking for patterns, our minds notice them anyway, IF we directly experience them.

In my sheltered world, the incidents of overt racial bigotry were few and far between, but I (and folks like me) were continually hurt nonetheless, not by bigots but by our friends. People who espouse liberal values and sincerely try to treat all people the same. I finally had to admit that the color-blind approach, frankly, sucks. Instead of solving racism, it perpetuates it, because it takes away the ability recognize diversity, and privilege.

The theme for this month is reconciliation, and in honor of Dr. King, the focus this week is on racial reconciliation. Usually, when we speak of reconciliation, we think of a positive outcome. But as I thought and thought about what I might share with y'all today, I could think of no happy ending with respect to race. Of course there has been progress, and I believe as Rev. King did that our universe ultimately bends towards justice. But with prisons and morgues full of black and brown bodies put there by our “justice” system, the only racial reconciliation that I can genuinely speak to is internal, between me and race itself. I once was blind but now I see.

Penniless, not Destitute or Indigent

Being penniless has not been as bad as the nightmare my imagination conjured. I choose the word penniless over words like destitute, or indigent, because those two words also mean without resources. For years I volunteered and donated to the local homeless shelter knowing, "There but for the Grace of God."

The Affordable Care Act aka "Obamacare" is a godsend. This year it made me eligible for Medi-Cal, which had been limited to Social Security recipients, and children. Upon becoming eligible for Medi-Cal, Kaiser Permanente re-enrolled me  on the smallest of technicalities. I had Kaiser the first three weeks of 2012, which were my last three weeks of seminary. This enabled me to go to the doctor today to get prescriptions refilled, and while I was there, a flu shot. No charge. On the county insurance for the indigent, my prescriptions were no cost, but it took getting a lawyer to go after the homeowners insurance of where I fell to get the necessary care for my back and neck. Prior to the last year of seminary, the cost of COBRA plus medication was astronomical.

Although I loathe asking for help, my circumstances have forced me to ask, learn, and be subject to the capriciousness of public assistance. My second year of CalFresh, food stamps in the old parlance, started without interruption in spite of my turning in the wrong paperwork. The worker and I went back and forth until we realized that we were talking about two different packets. Food stamps are great, except any goods that are not food, are not eligible. Soap, shampoo, toilet paper, laundry detergent, pet food, and any other non-food items in the store are ineligible.

My post earlier this spring, touched on all of this. I overcame my shame and applied for cash aid this time last year. Through a clerical error, it was taken away early this year. I neglected to follow up that post, which detailed some of the trouble. The aid was reinstated in April. That lasted until the end of June. In July, a representative from another program that I had been  limbo for told me an answer would take two months. I was expecting an answer in September. I preached a few times for small stipends during the summer. Knowing the cash aid would have been stopped for earning the stipends anyway, I let it go. Either were to have held me through August, which they did.

September came and went. So, too, October. Mid-November brought the realization that taking the other program at its word, even with diligent follow-up, was not in my best interest. I returned to the county office to reapply for cash aid, only to learn that the reason it ended in June was another clerical error.  The past few months have been exceedingly difficult. If not for the graciousness of the woman who has allowed me to stay, things would be  much, much worse. Now that autumn, or winter, has finally arrived I am even more grateful.

In the days leading up to  Thanksgiving, I was struggling. I spent too much early in the month on groceries; I was going into yet another holiday season without enough to buy raw materials to make gifts in time; Here was another season of being unable to donate; Here was one more season of not supporting my faith community to which I'm still unable to drive. Nonetheless, Thanksgiving did remind to be grateful, despite indigenous history. My list of complaints is a list of first world problems. I have healthcare that includes mental health, a place to sleep, bathe, and keep my laundry clean and inside. I regularly have access to a car. I have food and clean water, not only to eat and drink, but a place to keep and prepare the food. I have good weather the vast majority of the time. I had a few weeks in July in which I did not worry about the future. I have a dog who thinks it's the best day ever every single time she returns from her walk to find me home. I have a neighbor who walks her daily and keeps her when I'm not there so that the dog does not have to be kenneled too much.

I have faith communities that regularly invite and/or welcome me to their midst: the Pasadena Mennonites, a supper club, a new Buddhist sangha, Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace, the newly interfaith Peace and Justice Academy. I am grateful for dear friends and my parents who have been generous and encouraging. Kimberly, too. Recently, I posted someone's meme with Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. It was the normal pyramid, but underneath, two new layers were added with a digital pen. The first meme added wi-fi. The humor was that it was under the very basic needs, implying that it was most important, the foundation. Next, someone added second layer below wi-fi. Bicycle became the foundation for the most basic need to be met. Therefore, in addition to the things I am grateful for listed above, I still have a bicycle and access to wi-fi. Life is, dare I say it, good.

It seems too much to ask, then, to stop being in limbo so that I can begin to move forward. I am going to house-sit over the holidays, but it is time to find another place to live. In the meantime, I take pleasure in the little things and stay focused and present each day. Most of all, I am not alone. I do have resources. My imagination conjured much worse. I am reminded of another quote I read often. "The misfortunes hardest to bear are those which never happen." -James Russell Lowell

Emptiness and Social Policy

The last time I was in DC, my friend Michael Roehm observed to me that UUs spend a lot of time talking about interdependency, but we don't spend much time thinking about emptiness (both are concepts in Buddhism, and related to each other, kinda like infinity and zero). I have been reminded repeatedly of the truth of his words ever since then, including today. 

This afternoon I was listening to NPR about the disproportionate expulsions of Black and Latino students from schools, and the (misguided) reasoning behind it being that if you remove the "bad" kids, that will make it easier for the "good" kids to learn.  (The article used those words, "bad" and "good," so I am using them too.)  Obviously racism is the primary driving force; how else to explain why black and brown students are thought of as "bad" for committing the same kind of infractions as white students.  But in along side the racism is this belief that people are inherently something.  Inherently good.  Inherently bad... Our social policies are based on this belief.  Hence, we focus on getting rid of the "bad" people, whether by expelling students or locking up prisoners with no attempt at rehabilitation.  (And we let "good" people off the hook with no accountability even when they do decidedly bad things, because, well, they are inherently "good" so the fact that they did something bad was just a temporary glitch, an exceptional circumstance.)  If, instead of thinking of people as inherently "good" or "bad," we focused on emptiness, then we'd see that people reflect back what they experience.  In that case, our social policy would change from that of trying to separate out and eliminate the "bad" to that of trying to create the conditions and causes that lead people to behave in more beneficial ways. 

UU on the Ropes: The Frayed Safety Net

I keep finding myself unable to blog. It is not that I cannot find something to write about. There are plenty of things that are important to me, not the least of which is living out my Unitarian Universalist faith in the green and the LGBTQ communities. I write the posts in my head, but am bogged down by the thoughts of more immediate concern. If one were to look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, I have hit bottom. A catastrophic fall a year ago means that I do not have an income. Through the generosity of my girlfriend Kimberly, and the co-owners of her house, I have been staying rent free. Going through the public health system to recover from my accident, meant being bounced back and forth between the county hospital and the county clinic for months, with no movement to actually fix discs pressing on my spinal cord in two places was its own punishment. Believe it or not, mental health through the county is remarkably better. That, too, has its own story.

Although I was very embarrassed to have hit so low, I finally applied for food stamps late last fall. The rhetoric against people on food stamps plus a healthy dose of denial and shame kept me from applying sooner. I was too embarrassed to apply for cash aid at the same time. Since I did have no income, nor disability, I finally for cash aid from the county a few weeks later. I had to see a county contracted doctor, first. I was awarded the cash aid, General Relief or GR, in December.

This past Christmas was my leanest yet. My mother and father each sent a bit of money. Since I had to provide bank statements I just knew that they would figure out if I deposited money in the bank.

Mistake number one: I misplaced a report that I received at the end of December, which I was to fill out and declare income including gifts. I was notified that my cash aid would end because I had not turned in the report. So I turned it in at the county office before the threatened day at the end of January.

Mistake number two: Being honest, I declared the small bit of money. I then needed documentation about the money I received for Christmas. I had to as my mother and father each to write a letter declaring that they gave me money for Christmas, and that it was a one time deal. Now, we are after the January 31 deadline. I went down to the county office, and turned it in. The worker was so nice. She said that she would put the paperwork in right away.

A few days later, I received three letters. One that they county overpaid me, and that they would be reducing the aid over the next several months to recover the loss. The overpayment was more than the amount one of my parents gave me. I suspect that it was the February money that was deposited on the 10th. The second letter said that my cash aid had been reinstated. The third letter said that it was discontinued.

By this time I am seriously confused. I did what they asked. It came to my attention that I would also need an outside referral from the county office. I called for more information and was told that I needed go down to the county office to fix the general relief before I could use the outside referral. I made an appointment, saw another worker. He said the GR should have been fixed, and gave the name of the worker in charge of facilitating the outside other service. He seemed convinced that the GR issue would be straightened out.

I made an appointment to see the referral worker, with stipulation that the GR be fixed, later that week. She told me to call her before the appointment to verify it had been restored. I called on the appointment day, and it had not been restored. So we made an appointment for the following week. We are now in the month of March.

Thankfully, I saw the worker for the outside referral even though the cash aid situation was not fixed the following week. After the appointment, I stood in the customer service line at the county office again so that they could tell me what I needed to do next. Apparently, they lost the copy of my ID. Now since I applied for the food stamps separately, they did have a copy of my ID scanned into the system. The kind young man printed it out, and submitted it for me.

March tenth, the day that the money becomes available, I took that card to make a withdrawal. I’ve been really stressing at this point with no cash, and no money in my bank accounts. It had the $5 balance from last month.

I waited for another week to call again. This time I called the main number. The worker told me that the GR continued to be cancelled, and not only that, due to the foul up, my food stamps, as well. Up until this point, the food stamps had been working.

Several days later, I called the main number again. This worker told me that I would have to go in to the county office again. I asked if it was better to just go straight in, or to make an appointment. He told me to make an appointment, so I made an appointment for the following day, March 17.

I got in line to check in. I was relieved that it was still in time for the appointment when I started to check in. The worker put in my information and told me my case was closed. She told me that if I came in the day before, I could have fixed it. No exceptions.

I went to the application line to start the process over. I sat down and the tears came running down. The pain, the paperwork, the frustration, the money anxiety, all got to me. I heard my name called relatively quickly, after 30 minutes or so. I went to the window, but the person was not there. The woman at that front of that line got testy as she thought I was cutting in. I waited a few minutes with the woman glaring at me. I went to the customer service window to see if my name had been called. On the first day that I applied, the fingerprinting worker garbled my name so badly, I had no idea it was me. It was not until the last call announcement, that I realized that they were calling me. So, the customer service guy called me up. I showed him my papers and asked if I’d been called. He told me, no. He noted that I’d been there only 45 minutes and the process takes at least 2 hours.

I went back to my seat, weeping profusely. I heard my name called again. I went in to see the worker. I just could not stop crying. I tried to explain what was going on. He went away, and came back after discussing my case with a supervisor. It should not have been closed. He also made me fill out a depression questionnaire and was going to make me see that worker. I assured him that I did not need to see them. He told me he was denying the current application, but that I should call back in 4 days. I started bawling at this point, and exasperated, he told me that the supervisor will fix the old case so that I could start receiving the cash aid as of March 1. Mollified, I went home.

I called him on the following Thursday. As it had not yet been reinstated, he gave me the name and number of a supervisor. He told me that he’d look into it and call back. He gave me the name of another supervisor. That supervisor looked into it, and said he’d call back. I’ve called him three times since. As of today, April 4, the case is not resolved. He told me today that it is not my fault and he is continuing to monitor it. He actually tried to call in a favor. I asked him to check on the status of the food stamps as I had not been shopping.

Thankfully, since I did apply food stamps and GR separately, the food stamps are intact. Welfare is a punitive system. The workers are harried from the sheer number of applications, but ultimately they are doing the best that they can, and they are kind. The worse part of this is all of the man hours by the county for just under $200 per month. I will have to be fingerprinted again.

The food and shelter are okay for now. I’m boiling up a pot of beans as I finish this up. This is just the tip of the iceberg. My multiple identities are all intact, but battered. I am still at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy. I’ve just been unable to do higher ordered thinking. The best I can do is pin pretty pictures that inspire me, and hope to inspire others that way.

Update 4/15/2014

After being the squeaky wheel, and then giving some time for the supervisor to track things down, he called me back this past Tuesday. The case was back on track, and I’d need to come in to get fingerprinted again. Five hours waiting, and a panic that I would not make my next appointment, and I gave my fingerprints and another photo on Thursday. There was no money in the account again.

I called the supervisor today. He told me my case must be jinxed. This saga was due to clerical error. Although my fingerprint request was marked urgent by another supervisor on Thursday, the fingerprints were still not attached to my file.

He asked for my number again, and said he’d call me back. As he did before, I’m going to trust that he will call back. In the meantime, I found this tidbit about SNAP, which could be said for cash benefits as well:

"Two-thirds of all SNAP payment errors are a result of caseworker error. Nearly one-fifth are underpayments, which occur when eligible participants receive less in benefits than they are eligible to receive." Feeding America.org

Update 4/17/2014 Mr. Frykholm came through. I am so grateful for his perseverance and referral to other supervisors to help when I came in. It was not perfect, as there are humans at every level. Still, that one person cared enough, or was conscientious enough to see this through. I will not be missing anymore deadlines.

Economic Justice and Moral Injury

Author: 
Suzi Spangenberg

By Suzi Spangenberg

Delivered at The Church of the Fellowship for All Peoples (Fellowship Church), San Francisco, CA

On May 26th, 2013

 

The screaming. 
That's what shook me. 
The fear and terror held in those screams. 
And then the images. 
People panicking...Running...Trampling each other. 

Children separated from parents,
being pushed down...as adults,
stepping on whoever was in the way,
stretched out their arms and flung themselves forward...
not to help their children, but in an attempt to grab hold of what they believed would bring them some happiness.

As I recently re-watched the many videos which depicted the  violence that happened inside Walmart stores across the nation during last November's Black Friday sales, I was stunned that so many people were willing to camp out overnight and then get violent, trading their souls for cheap material goods. 

People who chose to ignore the Walmart workers - bravely standing outside the stores protesting for a fair living wage -  workers they had to pass in order to get inside to begin their feeding frenzy.

Wal-Mart employs more people than any other company in the United States outside of the Federal
 government, yet the majority of its employees with children live below the poverty line.

"Buy American" banners are prominently placed throughout its stores; however, the majority of its goods are made outside the U.S. and often in sweatshops such as the one that recently collapsed in Bangladesh that resulted in the deaths of over 1,000 people.

Walmart has the largest percentage of workers on food stamps and medicaid of any other company in the United States. Workers cannot survive on the wages they are paid and so must rely on government aid to survive.

And while it's easy to point a finger at Walmart, the fact is, their business model is emulated and held up as a success by Wall Street. 

When did we begin to care more about stuff and less about people? 
When did greed become not only acceptable, but celebrated? 
Is this really who we are? 
What are the root causes of that emptiness? 



Theologian Howard Thurman states: "The need for love is so related to the structure of the personality that when this need is not met,
the personality is stunted
and pushed or twisted out of shape."  

I believe many of us have forgotten our interconnectedness and that the absence of love, of deep relationship, creates a void that a person instinctively tries to fill.  

As we feel less and less connected to one another, we feel more and more alone.  That emptiness, that aloneness, that need for love is what we are trying to eliminate with material things, which we hope will mask the pain of feeling this deepest kind of loneliness.  

Something is acquired, a person has feelings of momentary happiness, and then, like a drug, when those feelings wear off, there is a need to go out and get more to feel the same way again. 

People, other people,
are mere obstacles in the way of temporarily easing this empty, yet very deep need.  Unfortunately, the one thing that can fill the hole,
love,
which illuminates our interconnection,
is not something that can be bought. 

I've been thinking about other people who have struggled with feelings of being disconnected. 

Specifically, I've especially been thinking about my dad... a lot.  He was a member of the 10th Mountain Division ski troops during WWII.
He was one of the very few in his regiment to come home alive.
He returned highly decorated with a Silver Star, a Purple Heart, and a broken soul. He became a life long advocate for peace.

He also never spoke about his experiences during the war.

He'd tell funny stories about training at Camp Hale, located in the heart of the Rocky Mountains. 
How the men, already elite skiers,
were taught mountain climbing and snow survival skills.
How they burned so many calories during training that they were each given half a pie for dessert.
They were also given free cigarettes and since my father didn't smoke, he'd trade his for more pie.

He said one night he ate 3 whole pies and he was still hungry. I believe it.

One of the few photographs I have of him from that time shows a very handsome, lean man standing on the side of a snow covered mountain with his wooden skis slung over one shoulder. He was smiling widely and looked relaxed and carefree. The photograph was made at Camp Hale before he shipped out.

Once these men arrived in Northern Italy, they did things I have difficulty imagining.
Scaling the 2,000 foot tall vertical sides of Riva Ridge in the Apennines mountains in the darkest part of night with no light to guide them,
all while carrying 85 pound packs, skis, and guns with only strap on metal crampons attached to their boots.

I learned that from an old 10th Mountain Division newsletter. I didn't learn it from my dad because my dad couldn't talk about the war.

Once, when I told him I was going to an anti-war protest in 2003 prior to the beginning of the Iraq War, he quietly said - "that's a really good thing you all are doing. If only everyone understood that war is the hardest on women and children..." his voice trailed off and when I asked what he meant - he quickly changed the subject.

The men of WWII were in a tough place when they came home. They were heroes of "the Good War" and culturally conditioned not to talk about feelings.
So they kept them inside.
They didn't talk about PTSD then. There wasn't a lot of information available about coping with the horrors of war when they returned home.

So they stayed silent and in my father's case, busy. He threw himself into his work and his hobbies. He didn't allow himself time to reflect or remember.  By the time he met my mom, he had gotten pretty good at doing the things that society said a man must do. He had a good job. He drove a nice car. He even got his pilot's license.

He also came home from the war with a temper and you never knew what would set it off.

He was obsessive about security when we were home alone without him. He installed many locks and would get very upset if he came home and discovered we had missed one. I remember one time I overheard him yell at my mom "You don't have any idea what they could do to you and Suzi do you?!?"

I didn't really know what he meant, but it scared me - I could tell whatever it was, it was very bad.

I knew something was wrong with my dad, I just never really knew what it was.

Now I do.

My dad was suffering from moral injury.

What is moral injury? Dr. Gabriella Lettini and Dr. Rita Nakashima Brock, authors of the recently released book "Soul Repair: Recovering from Moral Injury after War" define moral injury as "a negative self-judgment based on having transgressed core moral beliefs and values or on feeling betrayed by authorities. It is reflected in the destruction of a moral identity and loss of meaning. Its symptoms may include shame, survivor guilt, depression, despair, addiction, distrust, anger, a need to make amends and the loss of a desire to live."

My father, like many men who came home from WWII, didn't talk to anyone. His unrecognized injury destroyed my parent's marriage.
They divorced when I was 4.

When I was 6, my father married my beloved step-mom Cynthia. For the first time in my life, I saw glimpses of the man my dad must have been before the war. They were never apart from the time they got married until her death many years later. Even so, with the exception of Cynthia, he was still emotionally distant and even though we would do things together, I always felt like there was a barrier between my dad and the rest of the world.

Decades later, when Cynthia was in hospice, we were able to share many deep conversations.

One day I finally got up the courage to ask her about my dad- why he was distant. She grew quiet and then said "First, you need to know your dad loves you very much. When we met, we were both carrying heavy burdens. We were able to share them with each other. He knows I love and see ALL of him. I know he loves and sees ALL of me." She then told me that the war had come close to completely breaking my dad and before they met, only his incredible strength of will kept him together.

After Cynthia died, my dad and I spent a lot of time together. He still didn't talk about the war.

When he was 90 I went to visit him and he suddenly started to cry. I had only seen my dad cry once before-- when Cynthia died. I just held him and he finally cried out "I'm so glad you do what you do. I wish I'd had the courage to go throw my medals in Bush's face!"
That was all he said. But it was in that moment that I realized just how much the war had cost him.

We all can count the number of people who have died as the result of war. We can also count the injured. We can calculate the many MANY dollars spent.

But I wonder if we have ever calculated all that has been lost among the living?

How many men (and now women) return with parts of them missing - invisible parts that they cannot file a claim for?

How many people like my father lose their connection with those they love and the rest of society?

How many families never get to welcome home the person that left?

Never get to see their parent care free and smiling?

These are some of the costs of moral injury. A deeper and more final cost is that many of those suffering from moral injury ultimately commit suicide.

In thinking about my dad, and the cost of moral injury of war, I have found myself returning again and again to the definition: "a negative self-judgment based on having transgressed core moral beliefs and values or on feeling betrayed by authorities." 

Is it possible that this widespread emptiness exhibited by our out of control materialism is a form of national moral injury?

We are taught that to succeed, we must put ourselves first.   Instead of helping each other so we all can do well, of coming from a place of love in our interactions with others,
we instead are taught that we must compete to be first,
to have the most,
and if we have to step over, or on, people to get there, so be it. 

We want better cars, better homes, better schools for our kids...even when we know there are people living on the street, and schools in poor neighborhoods, such as those in Chicago and Oakland, are being permanently closed.

And the more selfishly we behave, the more disconnected we become.
Deep down, we can sense this is wrong but we push those feelings aside.

We turn away from things that remind us of how far we have strayed from honoring our interconnectedness.

and as people become obstacles to "winning" or obtaining more stuff
we step right over them...or on them...
and see them as nothing more than collateral damage as we do what we need to do to fill that internal hole.

We may feel a moments triumph as we score a "great deal" at Walmart, but soon after, that internal "hole" becomes larger and we need to keep seeking more and more to fill it, causing us to become even further disconnected.

It's a horribly cycle and one that exacts a heavy price.

Vets commit suicide, and as a society, some may argue that we do as well - whether actively or passively as the stress of living in such a disconnected way takes it's toll on us physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

I am grateful that my dad did not choose this path.
I am grateful he had moments free from anguish thanks to Cynthia's wisdom and love.

And most especially on this Memorial Day weekend,
I recognize that many do not have those anguish free moments and my heart aches for them...
and my heart aches for all the families of veterans who will never again know their loved ones without injured souls...
and for all the families who grasp for things over people,
and everyone who suffers as a result. 

So, what can we do to address this issue?  is it possible for us to even reach those in the 1%, like the CEO's of Walmart, whose decisions are negatively affecting the lives of so many? 

Is it possible to come from a place of love when experiencing people as callous and unfeeling?

I would answer, "Do we have any other choice?" 

Tich Nhat Hanh, in his book "Reconciliation" talks about the need to look deeply at those we perceive as being the cause of our suffering. 

He explains that we are interconnected, so if we hate them, we hate ourselves. 
The only solution is to expand our heart.

He also offers a healing practice that I have found, after some initial resistance and struggle, to be extraordinarily helpful.  
I recognize that this may be a challenging exercise  for some of you, so do what you can--it's a starting place.

I invite you to place yourselves in a comfortable position and as you are able, allow yourself to really focus and contemplate on his words:

<<RING BELL>>

"In understanding and compassion, I bow down to reconcile myself with all those who have made me suffer. 

I open my heart and send forth my energy of love and understanding to everyone who has made me suffer,

to those who have destroyed much of my life and the lives of those I love. 

I know now that these people have themselves undergone a lot of suffering and their hearts are overloaded with pain, anger and hatred. 

I pray that they are transformed to experience the joy of living, so that they will not continue to make themselves and others suffer. 

I see their suffering and do not want to hold any feelings of hatred and anger in myself toward them. 

I channel my energy of love and understanding to them and ask all my ancestors to help them." 

<<LONG PAUSE>>  <<RING BELL>>




My deepest hope is that we can all learn to recognize our interconnectedness...

and as we channel that love, we are able to inspire others to do the same...

that we fill that emptiness more fully and perfectly than any material thing ever could. 

May it be so.
Namaste. 
Blessed be.

What is in a Twitter Name?

What goes into choosing a Twitter name? My name is Kathleen Michelle McGregor. I have been Kathleen since the day I was born. Not Kate, Kay or Katie, nor Kathy or Kat, Kathleen is my name. As I was named after my great-grandmother, my family would not have it otherwise. Secretly, I wanted to use a shortened name. As an adult, I began to like Katydid. Never mind that it is a bug. I liked the way it looked in print. On the Internet, Katydid added an aura of mystery. What did Katy do?

Each of my names have eight letters. This made for long email addresses so in the early days of the web, I made up a nickname: kadymac. Kady stood in for katydid, and Mac because I loved Mac computers, and as a nod to my last name. Almost everyone started adding an "a" to my last name after that: MacGregor. Oops.

In 2009, I realized that I could post all of the mostly social justice or green oriented articles that I read without being compelled to email them to my beleaguered friends and family. I hoped someone might find the articles of interest. Plus, I found so many more articles of interest on Twitter. My initial handle was @kadymac.

I have a friend who has a name very similar to mine. His last name starts with Mc, and his mother is Mexican as well. He called us green beans (Irish/Mexican). I already had a strong interest in the environment, so that added a layer to the green part. After SB 1070 was passed in Arizona, I was incensed. Actually, it was closer to a word not used in polite company, but I digress. I changed my twitter name in response.

Beaner is a pejorative word used by whites for those of Mexican descent. Around the time SB 1070 was passed, anti-immigrant fervor was especially high. I wanted to embrace my Mexican roots in the midst of the hate and thus chose to use greenbeaner as a twitter handle. Someone had beaten me to it, so @uugreenbeaner it was. 

Unitarian Universalists affirm and promote the principle that every single human being has worth and dignity. For too long, people and churches who call themselves Christian spread hate and intolerance. Using  the name of Christ ugly words, gestures, and violence are used against those who are not white, not straight, not male, not rich, and not Christian. UUGreenBeaner allowed me to post injustices, and as they became available, tools for advocacy, change, and hope. UUKady functioned as a spiritual anchor for myself. What started as blind posting evolved into a little ministry, simply with a name change.

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