“Only in the darkness can you see the stars.” ~ Martin Luther King Jr.

We’ve come far, but we have so much farther to go.

Sometimes I get mad about how far we are from equality, but I can’t recognize that truth without also recognizing that the ability to see racism, injustice and inequality is something learned…and that being able to see how far we are from true equality is a gift.  A terrible, but important gift…one that we’ve been given by past generations who struggled to create the history we now have the privilege and pain to learn from.

It’s hard to write about something as serious and difficult as injustice, and harder still to have conversations which often end with hurt and raw emotions so I’m not asking you to speak, or comment, or anything else.  Just to do one thing today.  Look at your life and think to yourself, “Could I do one thing better?  Could I do one thing today to help?”  And if so, do that one thing.

Maybe it’s forgiveness, maybe it’s listening to something that makes you uncomfortable but needs to be heard, maybe it’s just allowing yourself to realize that everyone in the world has prejudices but that we can’t truly grow until we see them and confront them.  Maybe it’s reading To Kill a Mockingbird or Brown Girl Dreaming to your child, as you try to find a way to show them life that exists beyond themselves.

Maybe it’s writing and rewriting a few awkward sentences on a blog that isn’t built for this sort of heaviness.

One step at a time.


thetimeis alwaysright

65 thoughts on ““Only in the darkness can you see the stars.” ~ Martin Luther King Jr.

Read comments below or add one.

  1. I think we can learn a lot from this specific quote: “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” – Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.

  2. ” I can’t recognize that truth without also recognizing that the ability to see racism, injustice and inequality is something learned…and that being able to see how far we are from true equality is a gift. A terrible, but important gift”

    Yes, yes – a thousand times yes.

    You have neatly summed up why I continue to have conversations with a particular conservative friend of mine. He’s every bit the stereotypical conservative – middle-aged white guy who had a great start at life. A couple times I have tried to show him that, for example, a male-female wage gap exists. He simply shakes his head in disbelief because since HE would never discriminate (“it just doesn’t make sense! Why wouldn’t I want the best person for the job? Why would I care if it’s a man or a woman?”) therefore discrimination doesn’t exist.

    As frustrating as that is, it’s a HUGE step up from thinking that OF COURSE there’s discrimination and that’s The Way It Ought to Be(TM). And that’s why I think there might be some hope with him and people like him.

    (There’s always hope and always reason to keep learning and teaching. I was one of those idealistic people who thought racism wasn’t a real thing anymore because I’d never witnessed it myself and it seemed impossible that it could actually exist. It was a painful lesson to learn and it’s hard to admit that white privilege or (male privilege, etc.) exists because we all want to be individuals and say “But I struggled too”. And we do all struggle. And it is never fair or absolute, but realizing that being male, or white, or heterosexual, or mentally and physically healthy each bring with them a privilege that isn’t always extended to others can make a difference in the way we see the world.

    It is really, really uncomfortable to acknowledge these privileges since they weren’t asked for and make us part of the problem, but we’re a bigger part of the problem if we fail to recognize them.

    Peggy McIntosh’s work regarding the invisible, weightless knapsack is really good to read on this. Hard…but good. I recommend reading it, but be aware that it’s easy to get defensive and just shut it down as wrong immediately. I suggest reading it once while reminding yourself that this is a generalization and is not a personal assault on you. Then reading it again and reminding yourself that the things you see as true will cause a feeling of guilt, but that that feeling is one that shows you are human. Then reading it again and realizing that guilt does nothing, so instead turn that guilt toward a feeling of service. I didn’t ask to be a white American, but I am one so that means I will generally have more opportunities…but one of those opportunities is the ability to speak up for others, to amplify other voices who understand this more than I do, to learn, to question authority, and to give others in my same place the ability and opportunity to learn what I’ve learned.

    I don’t write about race often because the people who really should be listened to aren’t me. They’re the people who are dealing with racism and understand it and live it. For me, I pick my battles. I work in small rooms of friends and family to try to make changes in myself and in others. I rarely talk about it online but I suspect I’m one of many people who fight privately over Thanksgiving dinners and parties to make uncomfortable but needed changes in the way that the people I know and love see the world. It’s a quiet revolutions going on in workplaces and houses everywhere, but it’s the best way I can make a difference. And it’s not just with race. It’s about anything that needs to be said. It’s about respecting the opinions of others even when I vehemently disagree with them. It’s about being respectful in the way I present it and trying to win over people rather than just insult them.

    It is not easy. I may have screamed “THAT’S BECAUSE YOU’RE RACIST” at a family member recently. But then I stopped myself and started again. And it helped. It helped me understand where he’s coming from so I can better understand how to talk to him. It also helped him to see a few things he wasn’t aware of, and those small steps make a difference. It also helps that I’m always learning. That I don’t know all the answers and that I don’t think anyone does so I’m willing to listen, and think, and keep an open, flexible mind.

    Keep working with love. It’s the only thing that works. ~ Jenny)

  3. Sometimes the place where “heavy” isn’t the norm, is just the place where we need to sometimes find it. Thank you for not only making me smile on a regular basis, but for also making me ponder the heavier things from time to time. Incase no one told you today, YOU ROCK!

  4. Kindness. Just be kind; imagine what a different world we could create just by being kind to each other.

  5. We had a moment in our house when we had to explain to our generally kind, but still growing children why using the word “gay” can be unkind. We thought we had failed our friends. A few days later, I was watching George Takei dance at a wedding of friends and my daughter immediately came to watch because she is drawn to music. I started a long explanation of people marrying who they love and we shouldn’t label people…” She interrupts me, “People marry who they love, that makes sense. You should. You talked about that the other day. Can I see the dancing again?”

    (Wait…were you at a wedding with George Takei? Because if so, I’m officially jealous. Also, yes. It’s insane how simple it is for kids if you just expose them to the basics of equality when they’re young. When Jenny and Madame Bastra kissed on Doctor Who, Hailey said “Hang on. So, they’re gay?” and I said “Yep” and she was like “Oh. Got it.” I’d already discussed it with her so it wasn’t anything unusual to her. When I first explained the basics of sexuality I was too late, really, because she was like, “Oh yeah. One of the kids in my kindergarden class had two moms. Whatever.” They have a hell of a head start from where most of us were. ~ Jenny)

  6. Why can I not correct my typos? I realize it isn’t huge but it is huge to me.

    (I fixed it for you. 🙂 ~ Jenny)

  7. Next time you think you should do what is right, do it, instead of just thinking about it. Because it’s never pretty when you should on yourself.

  8. I would recommend, “To Kill A Mockingbird” to any young person… or old person. It has been my favorite book since junior high. Still relevant. (Besides, the characters have awesome names.)

  9. I love the one thing idea. Because when we try to take it all on, we fail from sheer exhaustion or lack of time. But the change if each one of us changed just one thing–well that’s a tidal wave I’d like to see. Positive energy just oozing up into the atmosphere would be a nice change . . .

  10. Beautifully said. We could really use a leader like him right now and a cause that unites us like he did. Recognizing how we can all do that separately by being better is likely the only way. Thank you for being the voice of so many and for saying what needs to be said regardless of recent events and their backlash.

  11. Oddly enough, my 9 & 5 year olds and I happened to watch the “Man In The Mirror” video by Michael Jackson today and ended up having a 30 minute discussion afterward which eventually continued over dinner tonight. I just love the ‘change needs to start with me’ message.

  12. 50+ years ago, I, raised on the West Coast, I happened to meet a charming young man whose background was the Jim Crow South. My first visit there was a horrible shock. We fought for years as I was not raising our children with those kinds of beliefs or values. Does changing one person count? Because then, I guess, I get to check off your assignment today. Thanks for the reminder.

  13. I truly believe that the picture I saw, in the classrooms I taught in, things will be better in the next generation. And there is so much more to go. There is. And, yes,, in race relations. If I hadn’t worked in an inner city school during my first year of teaching, I may not have been as aware, but I did and I am aware and we have children that we need to fight for in this United States. If you think I’m wrong, I challenge you to go work there, fall in love with these kids, and not recognize the obstacles facing them. Things ARE better. It is not time to quit fighting yet.

  14. A new quote to add to my words to live by. It reminds me of this…”We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”
    Do that one thing. 😀

  15. Thanks for this blog post, but I have to share what I thought when I first read your tweet about the blog. Because when I first saw the tweet, I read it as “Only in darkness can you see the stairs“. And I was thinking, huh, that’s an odd quote (but y’know, it’s the Bloggess, so…). So I’m thinking, well, maybe they’re glow-in-the-dark stairs? But then why can’t you see them when it’s light out? Huh. Invisible-in-the-light, glow-in-the-dark stairs? I’m not sure I’d want those (even if they did exist, which I’m pretty sure they don’t, thank goodness). And then I actually clicked on the link, and realized I had mis-read the tweet.

    So anyways, I’m feeling inspired by your actual blog post, but also still giggling madly about the blog I imagined at first (I still can’t figure out what a blog with that title would be about). So double thanks! –m

    (I would totally buy glow-in-the-dark stairs. Also, reminds me of another MLK quote I use when I’m scared… “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” ~ Jenny)

  16. Be kind and forgive and forgive and forgive again as we try to hold these awkward conversations, as we try to view from another’s perspective and maybe are still a little dense. And when all else fails, just listen. Stop talking and listen.
    Hopefully the hardest part is over, for which we owe previous generations a huge debt of gratitude. We need to make sure all they suffered was not in vain, that we Will not regress.

    (Listening is so key, and sometimes so hard. As a white person who has never experienced the things that a person of color will experience it’s easy to either get defensive, or to dismiss things I’ve never seen happen as not a real issue, or to inject myself and my issues into a conversation where I need to just be listening and thinking and looking for facts so that I can learn, rather than responding with what I think is right.

    The fact is that there are situations I can relate to, but that doesn’t give me the right to take over the conversation. I’ve lived in poverty. I’ve struggled. I’ve felt alienated. I’ve had physical pain and trauma and violence in my life. But I don’t know what it’s like to be a person of color. I don’t know what it’s like to be a gay man or a transgendered woman or blind or elderly. I know what it’s like to be me and I know that I want to be the me who listens and tries to learn and help and grow. I want to be the me that my daughter looks to when she has to ask the complicated questions about uncomfortable topics…the me who will hopefully have answers that will help her to have empathy for the world and for herself as well.

    I have a lot of hope for the next generation. They have a lot of work to do, but anything we can do to put them in the right place to do good work is so necessary. ~ Jenny)

  17. Thank you, Jenny. Just… thank you. As someone who has enjoyed some of the benefits of Dr. King’s (and the many un-named folks’) fight, and yet who still sees and hears people today scream about ‘laziness’ and ‘milking the system’, along with all the other crap they can spew that just makes me sad, you offer a ray of hope. Maybe the one ray we can all cling to in the darkness, because it’s a simple thing. Find one thing, and do it. I tell ya… my eyes are leaking just a bit with that thought. Thank you. (to be painfully honest (as we preach in Bloggessianism), it might also be the screaming headache that has forced me to turn down the brightness everywhere in my house, and outside, so I can try and see while I work, and it hurts a lot, and it’s making me cry a little, but this post of yours makes me cry a bit of happy, which will hopefully overcome the pain)

    (I try to remember that for every idiot screaming negative things there are thousands of others who are shocked and ashamed at their callousness. And for every one person you might see who is actually “milking the system” there are thousands of others who are using the system to help their children, or get to a place where they can give back. There are always angry, radical people willing to scream things out of ignorance or often out of hurt. I’ve heard terrible things said every race – including often my own – but I try to remember that people don’t usually get to that level of a lack-of-compassion without having been hurt themselves. Sometimes they just want to be heard, and then they can shrug off some of that hurt and begin to see things clearly rather than from a perspective colored by their personal hardships.

    Or sometimes they’re just assholes. Could be that too.

    Also, I always point out that, yes, there are people – of all races – who engage in welfare fraud, but I’ve never met one. I have, however, known lots of people who engaged in embezzlement. In fact, some of my favorite people have past convictions for smuggling or embezzlement but I never see people screaming about that online. Maybe I’m looking at the wrong comment sections. ~ Jenny)

  18. Today Australia’s Human Rights Commission emailed me to inform me that my college, RMIT (Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology) still has not indicated whether they will attend conciliation facilitated by the HRC. This is after a staff member in 2011 telling me not to apply because of my disability then turning to someone else and encouraging her to apply practically in the same breath and then, in 2013, they REFUSED LARGE PRINT PHOTOCOPIES. Seriously. Apparently those things are printed ON FUCKING GOLD LEAF PAPER. In 2013 the Appeals committee offered me disability access OR an appeal. I suspect that wasn’t ethical and perhaps wasn’t even legal. Anyway, I accepted their offer of disability access — only to discover THE CAKE IS A LIE. Not only have staff consistently put me down in front of other students for being vision impaired, but last semester the program manager informed me there is a loophole in my disability access plan allowing RMIT staff to either refuse all disability access to some documents or to withhold disability access until AFTER classroom and lecture learning activities are complete.

    I kid you not. One week last semester, a teacher emailed disability accessible documents DURING CLASS BUT AFTER THE RELEVANT LEARNING ACTIVITY WAS COMPLETE.

    In the past 5 days I have received 2 emails from RMIT staff instructed me to apply for Recognition for Prior Learning so they don’t have to tolerate my presence in the classroom, SO THEY CAN DENY ME THE LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES OF THIS PROGRAM.

    In the spirit of your post, I am currently probably over the legal alcohol consumption limit (the most recent email was today from the HRC telling me that RMIT still hadn’t decided whether to come but they wanted to know if my husband planned to attend — because the law being what it is, they HAVE to allow me the support person of my choice. And he’s an assertive bastard who can get appropriately and assertively angry and eviscerate them with a look AS WELL AS BEING TAKEN MORE SERIOUSLY THAN ME, BECAUSE HEY, DISABLED PERSON DOESN’T EVER GET TAKEN SERIOUSLY.

    So. I’m standing firm. I’ve told RMIT in email that I will NOT apply for RPL and I WILL complete this degree, EVEN THOUGH THE PROGRAM MANAGER HAS THREATENED TO MAKE ME TAKE EVEN LONGER TO COMPLETE THE DEGREE.

    Is that ok?

    You have no idea how much my heart is breaking. You have no idea how much your blog has meant to me while they’ve been bullying me. There were days when I searched the campus for the best location from which to take a header off the building… that way my loving husband and son wouldn’t have to deal with the consequences and I wouldn’t have to continually deal with the degradation and shame of being disabled, intelligent, capable but denied of every career and education opportunity because I’m vision impaired.

    (I don’t understand all of this but I’m sending you love and light and positive thoughts. We move too slowly when it comes to progress for disability. Thank you for pushing. You’re doing work to make it easier for the person walking behind you who will have to battle this as well. ~ Jenny)

  19. I am grateful you are willing to write those sentences. Your blog may not be built for it, but it provides a wonderful environment for them.

  20. Thanks. This explains why I have such trouble getting through to my husband on this subject. He was never taught. And it’s true. This has given me some peace, but I will not stop trying to convince him otherwise when the topic comes up. Banging my head against a wall?

    (It’s an uncomfortable place to be in, to have someone you love unable to see or recognize important issues. It reminds me of how everyone had that one elderly family who said super racist things but your parents wouldn’t let you say anything because they came from a different generation and could never be expected to change. But they can change. At least a little. And if you care enough about them you’ll want them to change. No one wants to be remembered as racist or mean or angry, especially by the people who love them.

    I try to remember that each generation carries problematic issues that they are unable to see clearly and that includes my own generation. That includes me. I have to keep my mind open to learn what I still don’t know, and -luckily or unluckily – my friends and family are being drug along with me while I try to figure it out myself.

    Just remember that if you didn’t love your husband you wouldn’t work so hard to help him to be more compassionate. That’s a sign of love even if brings up a lot of frustration on both sides. ~ Jenny)

  21. School desegregation begain in Florida when I was 9. At my newly integrated school, we’d have drills to go outside every few weeks, waiting across the parking lot from the school while the fire department and bomb squad went through the building. This continued, with slowly diminishing frequency, until I graduated.
    It wasn’t until I grew up that I connected the dots, realizing that that many people wanted to kill me because I went to school with “colored” kids (it was 1970).
    Sometimes I think that there are things that a child just shouldn’t understand. Then I remember that not knowing just leaves us powerless.

    (Those last two lines…thank you. Well said. ~ Jenny)

  22. Live life as if you are colorblind and see all of humanity as one !

    (I love the feeling behind this, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you that the term “colorblind” carries some stigma because it can negate the importance of racial differences and uniqueness. A friend of mine described it like this: “When you say you are colorblind to me that means that you are saying you don’t see my race. I want you to see my race. I am proud of being black and I don’t want you to ignore it. I want you to accept it and love it and protect it. You can’t do that if you refuse to see it.” I didn’t really get it until she explained it to me that way so I’m passing it on here. So many lessons to learn even if we have the very best of intentions. It’s hard work, but worth it. ~ Jenny)

  23. The events of the past few months indicate we cannot be complacent about how far we think we may have come. Thank you for the reminder.

  24. I love it when you get a little serious and deep…I mean, you’re often couching ‘deep’ with your wonderful sense of humour, but I also really enjoy the stripped down ‘deep’. I am going to think about my ‘one thing’, and do it. Muchisimas Gracias 🙂

  25. My husband and I raised our three boys in a city and they went to public schools with children of diverse races and religions. I wanted that for them, because my husband and I grew up in the suburbs and had no interaction with anyone who wasn’t white.

    One evening, my middle son, who was about six years old then, and I were watching a documentary about racism and there was a scene where a little black girl was being escorted to a white elementary school, amid catcalls, screams, insults, and angry yelling from adult crowds. My son looked at me in confusion and said, “Why are they doing that, Mommy? Why do they hate that girl?” And I tried to explain that some people only see skin color, and they hate what is different. He said, “How can people be like that?” and I could not explain.

    I love that my boys had a good foundation in diversity, and it has served all of them well now that they are adults. But I still cannot explain why people teach their children to hate.

    (Hailey read about Ruby Bridges when she was young and she couldn’t reconcile it with the fact that this little girl was her grandparents age…that it wasn’t ancient history, but was something that people she knew had witnessed. Honestly, I find it hard to understand too. Even now when I read about negative things that are happening today my first thought is usually “Well, that must be wrong. Surely someone is mistaken.” It’s disheartening how often it’s not a mistake…but also heartening that so many people are talking about it and seeing it. This is a painful growth spurt, but it has to happen for the world to change. Hopefully it will change for the better. ~ Jenny)

  26. To Dark Matter Zine: I walk beside the man I love who is blind. He has recently begun college and begins his second semester tomorrow. I understand your frustration and he knows your frustration from being discriminated against during an interview with a very closed minded business man who could not figure out how my love would be able to accomplish anything in his business. In school, he is receiving an overwhelming amount of support and reasonable accommodations. My heart breaks knowing you are not receiving the same. Half a world away or not – your husband and child love you and would rather stand beside you than stand alone.

    Jenny is right – You are walking a road that is overgrown with weeds and brambles. Your footsteps make it easier for the next person to travel the same path. My love and I discuss this all the time when he achieves something others once said was impossible. Yesterday, it was a certificate of being on the dean’s list. Today, it is snowboarding. Tomorrow, it will be Ceramics and Sociology.

    • with the faith of a mustard seed – Lizard Dreams
  27. Every day I work to make changes that continue to decrease “institutionalized favoritism towards white folk” in medical practice. I work in Personalized Medicine…which is customizing medications to the person taking it, not the population tested to get the drug approved (which was usually white). I won’t list the company, because I don’t want this to be a commercial for any particular one. I just want to point out that we don’t have to accept such subtle and pervasive racism as normal anymore. Also, personalized medicine doesn’t have to be more expensive than one size fits all (except if you’re brown). In fact doing better should also be cheaper, not for the insurance companies but for US the patients! I think Dr King might approve of this One Thing…

  28. When a bigoted (thankfull former) neighbor made snide comments about how “dark” the neighborhood was becoming, it at least soothed MY soul to pass along my grandfather’s lesson about “No Irish Need Apply”.
    For what it’s worth, my last name isn’t Kirwin because my grandfather couldn’t get a job until he took his stepfather’s name. And because of anti-German sentiment in the 1930s, my mother wasn’t allowed to take German lessons like she asked for, so she could hardly speak with her own grandparents (German-born, naturalized, productive citizens).
    Thanks for this.

    (I feel this. I asked my grandmother to teach me to speak her language but she always seemed very reluctant. I assumed it was because I was asking how to curse in Czech but later I found out that when my aunt started school she was sent home because she spoke too much Czech and that was something to be discouraged. My grandparents spoke only English around the kids after that. I use that example a lot when people say that they’ve faced racism too, because it’s awful and can help with empathy, but also because part of white privilege is the ability to change names and drop accents and more easily fade into the homogeneous background where it’s easier to hide a background that might negatively effect you. It’s hard to reconcile having a family history of discrimination while also recognizing my own privileges. It’s such a complicated topic. ~ Jenny)

  29. PS Glow-in-the-dark stairs are real. Commercial glowing strips were installed at the World Trade Center after the 1993 hotel-basement bombing. 9/11 evacuees gave them credit to their getting out quickly. It’s now required for NYC buildings and any building getting certified under International Building Code.

    Home-use strips and stair treads are on the market, but so far I haven’t found any where the manufacturers made them pretty enough to use in the living room.

  30. Because of your Mockingbird reference, I am commenting today. My blog post for MLK Day included how Harper Lee wrote me and my students a personal thank you years ago. It was a big deal for all of us–and I hope you might enjoy reading my post.

  31. I agree that prejudice people rein supreme in this land still, but I also believe that “victimization” is at the heart of that. People will always find excuses why they are not getting ahead in this world, but when there are obvious examples of why those excuses are pathetic, it makes me feel that hypocrites will always hold human beings back from their true potential. We need to realize that it takes “two to tango” and not generalize/demonize a whole group just to make ourselves feel better.

    It starts with parents teaching their children to be better people PRIOR to their children falling “victim” to their circumstances. We can’t sit back and let the village raise our children and then scream and cry when something happens to them.

    Humans have so much potential, but it’s wasted on selfish and lazy ideologies.

    (Humans are flawed and all races and genders are guilty of thinking of themselves as victims at times. You can’t fix that but you can focus on what you can do to make the world better so that people are less likely to become victimized. Keep in mind that no one wants to be a victim. Sometimes I feel like I’m a victim of my body when I’m in the hospital for my RA. Sometimes I feel like I’m a victim of mental illness that keeps me from doing things a normal person who isn’t afflicted with this could do. The thing that makes me stand up again and fight is having a hand pull me up and tell me I’m not alone and to keep fighting. I have tools and doctors and medicine and I’ll never escape from this mess that is my body, but I’m lucky that the few times I’ve been called selfish or lazy when dealing with a massive depression I’ve had others remind me that I’m neither of those things. The people calling me that never helped me. Not even in a “I’LL SHOW YOU” sort of way. The people who helped were (and are) the ones who look deeper and instead of focusing on the negative looked for ways to help. I realize this is a different topic but it’s the easiest one I can use to relate. Ignore the people who make you question doing good. Focus on the ones who make you unable to look away without feeling empathy and a need to help. That’s what keeps you strong and that’s what keeps you focused on actions that make a difference. ~ Jenny)

  32. I appreciate your entreaty to do something – even that thing alone isn’t going to erase racism from the earth. I was just reflecting on this myself. As a cultural anthropologist who works with non-profits on their efforts to communicate about policy issues, I’ve sometimes worked on race. One of the toughest things to see is how well-designed racism is to resist disproof. When we analyzed how people respond to facts about racism and racial disparities, what we saw was that for most people it deepened their stereotypes rather than challenged them. As a social scientist it was disheartening to see how everything we’ve learned about racism hasn’t been enough to budge people’s attitudes – and in some ways has fed into it. I think true desegregation is the only thing that can change us. And that, at least, is something we can all play a role in.

  33. I don’t go to church anymore (long story) but at the end of one sermon the pastor said “Play nice!” Best sermon ever. And I try to live that way every day.
    Thank you Bloggess for being awesome and playing nice.

  34. An awesome reminder to all, thanks Jenny! Also, they have glow in the dark paint- if you have wooden stair risers, you could paint them in glow in the dark paint- would be so fun!

  35. I love you guys. You didn’t have to comment but you did anyway on a tough topic and I adore you for it.

    Also, writing about racism is EXHAUSTING. I can’t even imagine what it must be like to deal with it regularly. If you do, I salute you.

  36. First Mon (#24) – now I want glow-in-the-dark stairs.

    Second – while living in Albuquerque in my early 20’s (white girl from Chicago area), I experienced what people like to call “reverse racism.” There are actually all sorts of weird prejudices there, but none of that pertains other than being an eye-opener as I was used to a more mixed community (to a degree). I came back home after only a few years feeling a bit resentful, but being the introspective type, realized that I was simply reacting to what I had dealt with in my very short time there. I spent even more years just trying to digest what it must be like to feel that for a lifetime, over generations. Obviously, I cannot truly relate, but it did make me “appreciate” what has essentially been a given in my life simply by being white. I can drive wherever I want w/o being concerned about being pulled over because I look shady to some officer. My brother-in-law (who is black), deals with it every few months. He doesn’t speed or blow stop signs. He doesn’t drive a racy car. Hell, I heard Levar Burton (Geordi LaForge! Reading Rainbow!) tell how, whenever he is pulled over, he automatically sticks both hands out the car window to show he isn’t a threat.

    Now, I am intensely aware of the privileges given to me simply for the color of my skin and I try to make other friends aware of it too. Yes, I have faced discrimination as a woman (and harassment – yay), and yes, for mental illness. But, I can hide the illness if I want and being a white woman is still easier than being black in this society. I know because I talk to people. I love to listen to stories about what it was like growing up as that person. “Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations”

  37. Living in TN, even in a very metropolitan area, I unfortunately witness ignorance on a regular basis. I am so grateful that I grew up in the Northeast – a melting pot that has for the most part succeeded, even with occasional racism still raring its ugly head. And it IS ugly, which is what I tell anyone who says anything racist, bigoted, misogynistic, etc. I call them on it IMMEDIATELY, no matter where we are, but ESPECIALLY if we are in a public and social space. And since most of them KNOW they are wrong and KNOW they have no way to justify their comments, they are embarrassed and usually shut up. I know it might not be the most effective way of changing their mind, but I am one who believes in “shaming the shamer”. When I was teaching kindergarten many years ago in AZ, I got permission to try this approach from a parent of a student who had recently refused to hold hands or interact in any physical way with a classmate because her skin was brown, causing the avoided little girl much sadness and crying. So the next time we were partnering up on an activity, I announced that no one was to hold the initiator’s hand because she had blue eyes and brown hair. She understandably got upset and yelled that it wasn’t fair, and I got down on my knees, looked her in the eyes, and very softly said, “No, it isn’t, is it? And how do you feel right now? How do you think ___ feels when you decide to not hold HER hand? It surely isn’t fair.” I then told every student to look at their classmates and find one thing that was different and one thing that was the same with EVERY student, and we discussed whether it TRULY mattered or made one child better than the other. I had MANY parents thank me for that lesson that day…


    Love the last line. Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations! That is actual reality! Humanity is infinitely diverse. These perceptions whether for the good or for ill are just that… perceptions, not reality.

    There is no such thing as reverse racism. There is only racism. Its racism when its done to you. Its racism when its done to a black person. Its racism when its done to an asian person. Its racism when its done me or to anyone based on the color of their skin or ethnicity.

    I’m so glad that you were able to parley your personal experience with racism into Empathy. The ability to empathize is at the heart of most compassionate and tolerant understanding of the world.

  39. Excellent post; well said, and well worth reading & rereading.
    It’s especially effective, because your posts are usually a bit lighter, or more about other personal things you’re dealing with.

    It’s taken me a long time to come to terms with the conflict in my life which stems from discrimination, of many kinds.
    I was raised Catholic, & the discrimination really started from there; we were the special people with the true faith, & everyone else was on the wrong path – such a stupid concept when I think of it now; how is someone more worthy due to the faith of the family they’re born into?
    Why would someone be less worthy just because of the circumstances in their life beyond their control?

    I’ve faced discrimination personally, & seen its impact on others, & even though some shrug it off, it’s always insidious & pits “us against them”.
    In my teens I had what you’d call a “black girlfriend”, she was of Australian Aboriginal heritage, though appeared more of a caramel colour. She too was Catholic, but in retrospect, had more issues to deal with than I did; though I never saw this at the time.
    You wouldn’t believe the lengths my parents (particularly my mother) went to in order to break us up, even enlisting one of my friends to try to sabotage the relationship.
    The relationship was doomed to fail, not because of the racial difference, not because of socio economic differences, but simply because I was not mature enough to deal with the inner conflict & turmoil, not to mention the fact that we grew apart, didn’t connect on a deep level & really weren’t so compatible at all.
    That said, it should never be a decision for anyone else than two people in a relationship to decide if they’re right for each other or not.

    Surprisingly although my first wife was half Chinese, & this didn’t seem to present a problem to my family at all; though she was Anglican rather than Catholic.
    It was because she seemed to be from a more similar socio economic background, was more career driven (than I was or will ever be), & she was driven to strive for success – no matter what the cost herself or to others.
    Ironically she was of a conservative political persuasion, as is my father (my mother sits on the fence politically, & I’m further to the left than my dad is to the right).

    I should also point out that I have also been deeply affected by mental illness, having been first hospitalized in a psych ward when I was 17 (scheduled, sectioned, or held against my will, whatever phrase is more appropriate), I was hospitalized a second time when I was 19, & this has impacted my life, my relationships, & my sense of worth ever since, as well as my family’s perception of me.

    My family basically decided that I was broken, some sort of defective mental case, & any respect or love for me was mostly replaced with manipulation, control, & ridicule.
    It did not help one bit that my family continued to blame me for my mental health issues, regardless of the history of same within both sides of the family; much easier to say that I’d been stupid experimenting with substances (as most teenagers do), than to admit I may have inherited traits, as well as been exposed to incidents within the family that triggered my episodes of ill health.
    Being the eldest I never had an older sibling to turn to for support so this has really come close to ending me.

    My current wife has CP, gets about in a wheelchair, & is the most loving supportive, & understanding person I have ever met.
    Ironically when I was a young child we had a “Spastic Centre” money box, to collect donations for the then politically incorrectly named Spastic Centre. (Nowadays I think it’s CP Alliance or something).
    I vividly remember looking at the box, with a photo of a girl (then about my age) sitting in a wheelchair with a pencil in her hand & a big smile, & saying “I’m going to look after her when I grow up”.
    I don’t know if it was foresight, guilt, coincidence, or conscience that guided me, but here I am now in my 40’s (after having married coming on 8 years ago, & been together almost 11 years), & I am indeed looking after that girl with CP, though realistically we are each others carer, & since she is the one maintaining permanent full time employment, you could legitimately say that I am the one in greater need of care!

    Again the discrimination in the background; my mother trying to break us up early in the relationship, going so far as to write to my then counsellor imploring him to talk me into breaking my relationship up.
    My mother interfering with my contact with my daughter (from my previous marriage), clearly with an undertone of stopping her from being exposed to someone with disability, or someone “living in sin”.

    I may never reconcile with my family, the hurt is too deep, the damage to my relationship with my daughter (who had a leg amputated due to cancer, & whose prognosis looks grim), may never be what it should or could be.
    I totally understand that my marriage broke up due to incompatibility, lack of understanding & communication, & failure to connect in a meaningful way, & that having one’s father somewhat estranged from them from an early age makes it difficult to reconnect, but nothing can take away the pain, the feeling of loss, & the sense of betrayal from one’s own family, as well as the sense of guilt that I feel in not being able to be the father I want to be to my teenage daughter, regardless of her illness, or the circumstances.

    I try my best to be accepting of everyone, & I can’t see that anyone should have advantage over anyone else, other than by hard work, commitment, & determination, but that still leaves out those that are too broken to be able to compete, whether they’re broken due to illness, background, or something else.

    In my case, I haven’t been able to work for 3 1/2 years, & realistically have no capacity to consider paid employment in the foreseeable future.
    All I can do for now, is continue to work towards being a better husband, carer, & person, with the help of my dog; whom we plan to train up as my “mental health assistant” – or Mind Dog.
    Where that leads, I don’t know, maybe I’ll end up a dog trainer, maybe I’ll just continue plodding along whilst my wife remains the breadwinner, it doesn’t really matter, what matters is, despite all the crap I’ve been through my dog & my wife help keep things in perspective for me, & when I can keep the depression at bay, give me the sense of hope that keeps me going.

    What I do know, is that ironically discrimination doesn’t discriminate!
    It doesn’t matter what your difference is, so long as you are seen as “other”, or “them” rather than part of “us”, you will always face a struggle for acceptance, for respect, & for opportunity.
    You could be black, asian, gay, mentally ill, physically disabled, belong to the “wrong religion”, whatever, so long as you can be somehow differentiated from the “in” crowd, you will face discrimination of one sort or another.

    Discrimination is a very hard thing to stamp out, and of course another side of the coin is that it leads to self exclusion, stigma, depression & in many cases suicide.

    We can’t live in a magical rainbow land where we all accept everyone, & pretend that differences don’t matter.
    What we can do is accept those we meet, those in our lives & those we see in society as valid valued individuals, no matter what the circumstance, & work from there.

    We also need to remember, that no matter how much acceptance we show, no matter how much we try to accept others, some people are just dicks, and that applies to everyone, & should not tarnish a group, just because some individuals in a particular group tarnish the reputation of others seen to be part of that group.

    I was planning on this being a short response, but obviously I’ve just plowed on, sorry if I’ve bored or offended anyone, but the subject of discrimination always gets me fired up.

    I guess just do your best to accept everyone as they are warts & all, with their faults, failings, & quirks.

    Just be careful that you don’t allow either discrimination OR rose coloured glasses to taint your perception. Regardless of disability, colour, creed, or political persuasion, some people are nice & some people are not, but you can bet the people that are not so nice have a lot of issues that they’re not dealing with, & that is as much a reason as any to be wary, though compassionate – even if your compassion only leads you to avoid them in order to avoid conflict.

    You can learn to accept everyone for who & what they are, but that doesn’t mean you need to invite objectionable people into your life to sabotage it for you, & if you’re unfortunate enough to come from an objectionable family (as I am), well, I’m still working on that, but I guess either keep your distance (when you’re old enough & mature enough to manage that), or do your best to keep it light.

    Peace & love to all.

  40. Hi Jenny! Seems I’m late to specifically-timed events (holidays, appointments, birthdays, etc.) on a regular basis, whether online or out where the rubber meets the road. :}

    Yesterday afternoon, one of my all-time favorite radio stations (thank you, listener-supported KKXT/Dallas, Forth Worth – kxt.org) played an awesome song I’d never heard before. It was so good, I had to share it here with you & the other Strangelings, in case others like me have missed it previously. I present Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday,” honoring Dr. MLK Jr. and his work:

    Here’s a very cool live version as well:

    Thank you for writing this post. You write it well – heavy or light, you get it out here where we need to see it. Thank you thank you. Never give up, never surrender.

    AND TO ALL FELLOW STRANGELINGS: Thank you for commenting here. Thank you, too, for being a part of a community in which I want to live.

  41. thanks for this post. sometimes I feel hopeless against all the hatred and I need to remember to do one thing today that makes a difference so that I can remain hopeful. sometimes it feels so bleak. you are such a voice and I admire you for using your voice for good.

  42. I actually find comfort in the fact that we are now venturing into the darkest corners, kicking over the rocks and facing the horrible, slimy things we find. I think that this is the blessing of an increasingly transparent society – there are fewer dark corners for bad things to hide in. Every time we drag something nasty kicking and screaming into the light where we can see it clearly enough to say “Hey, this isn’t right”, we ARE taking taking the nest step forward. We have to discuss the problem before people can put their heads together to find a solution.

  43. You’ve absolutely hit the nail on the head Curiouser & Curiouser, we need to go into the darkness to face it and bring the lurking evil into the light, not hide from it and pretend it will go away by itself, because it’s in darkness that evil lurks & grows stronger; bringing it into the light shows it to be what it is, and makes it easier to face & confront, as well as allows others who may be more resilient, stronger, or more capable to join in the fight against whatever it is that may be in the dark, be it discrimination, hatred, manipulation, corruption, or anything else that can ruin people’s lives.

  44. Thanks Ben. Even the support of this community in the comments of The Bloggess is enough, I think, to make us all a little braver in facing the bad things in life. Sometimes all you need to know is that someone is going to say “I got your back” to give you strength to be the voice of reason and compassion.

  45. @MaryHS (and Jenny) – you just reminded me – my family didn’t pass down the Polish language either. My dad’s father was the only child born in the US (out of 7 or 8). My dad’s grandmother spoke broken English (grandfather died), and yet neither my father nor his sisters learned much Polish. They were taught to only speak and learn English. That was the thing to do. Even though there is a huge Polish community in the Chicagoland area, there was still a lot of discrimination against Pols, from what I am told, and so they did their best to assimilate as quickly as possible. Of course, I grew up hearing Polish jokes, but I was raised without learning the language or the culture, so I never even took offense (not that I found them funny). Damn it, I am possibly having another epiphany. Sadly, there is no one left in my family to discuss this with. :/

  46. I grew up in Slick, Oklahoma. Yes, there is a place called Slick, Oklahoma. It is down the highway from Beggs. So, you could go from Beggs, to Slick, to Depew, but that always sounded kind of dirty to me. Anyway, Slick had 151 people in it, and when I was in school, it had just been desegregated…on paper. When I had my 12th birthday party, I had a slumber party, and I wasn’t allowed to invite Anita Cole, who was born on the SAME DAY as me, and was my best friend in my class because we both had a really warped sense of humor. I really wanted to invite her to my slumber party, because she had 13 brothers and sisters, and I figured she would enjoy the ability to use the bathroom alone, for a change. But Anita was black. She was tall, beautiful, long legged and black. I thought she was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen. But my Grandmother wouldn’t let me invite Anita, because none of the other girls’ parents would let them come. I knew my Grandmother wouldn’t let me invite her, even if I didn’t care if the other girls came. So, I folded. I didn’t invite her. I sat through my party, imagining her at her gran’s beer joint, down on the highway, on her birthday and mine, and I missed her there. She never asked me why I didn’t invite her. Anita was pretty smart. But I always felt bad about it. So the next year, when I moved to California, I took a girl who just came here from Vietnam to Disneyland, and I watched the magic, in her eyes. I don’t know if that ever makes up for anything, in the continuum of time and racism. But if I knew where Anita Cole was, I would totally invite her to my birthday…her birthday…next year. We will be 55 years old. She can even have dibs on the bathroom.

  47. Inequality has been written and spoken about for decades. Though it is true that it’s come along way and inequality isn’t as constant or public, it still is a major issue that is laced in every race, gender, religion and ethnic background. All it takes is someone to step out of their comfort zone to confront the problem and that adds one person closer to complete equality. It may be small, but the more people against inequality, the less likely it will happen as much. It’s steps like this blogger, who usually doesn’t write about this kind of stuff, to expose her readers for a couple paragraphs and look into this concept. It may lead to other bloggers talking about it and that can lead to other. It’s a huge cycle that can lead to the extinction of inequality.

  48. Beautiful. I was thinking recently about the fact that Selma occurred in my lifetime, just, but it did. And then thinking about where we are, I realized that, as far as we have come, we haven’t come that far. It makes me sad. It’s upsetting to me that things are so much the same. One thing is more than no things, hopefully your legions will heed the call.

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