Kiss5Tigers

The 5 Tigers represent the big things in life. This blog is about facing them.


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Well World

I had brunch with my friend R today. We went to a place called Henk’s which is behind the Half Price Books flagship store. HPB was having a tent sale that looked amazing but I hardly need more books. I have no place to put them! Henk’s is a German diner. I had the Polish breakfast, which is pretty much eggs and fried potatoes with Polish sausage. It was good, especially the potato, which I miss terribly while I am low carb. (I can’t in good conscience call myself keto.) R had blintzes, which he said were like eating dessert, and a reuben.

We talked about 10,000 things, as friends do. R works in community education for mental health. He teaches Mental Health First Aid mostly to educators. Eventually the idea of a healthy society came up.

R is gay, no children. He is also an atheist. He tells this to people in his presentation because he believes it is useful in helping educators to sit with situations they might not agree with. Now my atheist friend went on to tell me an interpretation of the Biblical story of the Good Samaritan which I thought was pretty interesting. Yes that sentence is knowingly ambiguous.

If you’re not familiar with the story, it basically goes like this: A man gets mugged and beaten up on the road to Jericho. The thieves leave him for dead. Several people pass the man and ignore his plight, including people you’d expect to help him, like religious leaders. Finally the Samaritan walks by. This is someone who is looked down on for his ethnicity. He sees the man in distress, takes him to an inn, and pays the bill for the man to stay until he recovers.

Jesus asks, who is the true neighbor? And it becomes a story about how to treat other people. But like most parables, there are other interpretations. My friend R says, this is a good example of appropriate care, both care of other and care of self. The Samaritan did not take the man to his own home, and he did not allow the man’s needs to derail him from his task in Jericho. He did not try to help the man directly, instead he took him to a place where he would be cared for appropriately. He paid the bill, which apparently was not a hardship for him. So, says R, we should be willing to help out others while also taking care of ourselves.

Another friend of mine has an issue with paying school taxes since they don’t have any children. I say, pay it. One day those young people will be in charge and I want them to be basically educated and hopefully able to think for themselves. I will live in a world they shape, I am invested in what these people are like. I don’t own a home so I don’t pay property taxes which includes the school tax, but I don’t begrudge the schools money. Money makes a better school, better schools make better people. Can we do it on less money? Well we keep trying and we know what public education looks like, so I suspect we can’t.

What does a healthy society look like? I don’t claim to have the final say on that, but I do know a few things.

Yoga moms are not the face of wellness even though they are the face of wellness culture. They are what could be called “the worried well”. That is, for the most part they are doing just fine and don’t need to worry in general that they will become unwell.

Homeless people are a sign that society is unwell. How can it be that we have abandoned houses and homeless people? Seems like a no brainer, put people into homes. And yet there is all kinds of resistance to the idea. You can no doubt think of some of the reasons: who wants those people in their neighborhood, why should we give a house to someone who is too lazy to get a job, or even when do I get my free house as a contributing member of society? So now we have to look at the factors in why a person becomes homeless, because very few choose this as a life path.

Any of the isms are a sign society is not healthy. Ageism, racism, sexism and others are rooted in fear; fear that somehow there are only so many resources around and if someone gets a piece of the pie, they are taking it away from me. It’s easier to scapegoat someone if you can make them a “them”, that is, not one of us. A healthy society knows we are stronger if we share the resources rather than hoarding them.

It was a good lunch, and a good conversation. I like my friends, they are good and interesting people.

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Facilitating

Today I had the opportunity to facilitate a DBSA support group. The regular facilitator was out of town.

It went well, I thought. Though we had many more people than usual.

Usually there are about 6 of us, today there were close to 15 people, many of them new. That is really a LOT of people. I didn’t have performance anxiety but I was concerned about the size.

Additionally, the reading today was a story from African folklore. We had 2 black ladies from the US, and a black couple from Africa. I was like, this will either be really good or really bad. And it was a mixed bag. The black ladies stayed, the African couple left. I hope they weren’t offended. I can’t help what the material is, I just facilitate.

I did notice a few people were less involved than usual. A few people passed on responding to questions, which also doesn’t usually happen. We read the lesson out loud, a few people passed on that too.

After the lesson, I asked a couple of the regulars how they felt about the size of the group. Mostly, the response was negative. Too many people. Especially for my folks with social anxiety, just too much. I want people to be comfortable. I can’t suggest the group will be that big every time, but how can we make people feel safe to share.

I think, when there are more than 10 people, we should consider breaking the group up. I could take half, and the regular facilitator could take the other half. That way, people would feel more comfortable opening up about their stuff. I have texted this idea to the regular guy, we’ll see what he says when he gets back.


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Peggy McIntosh’s Invisible Knapsack

I am doing some work on internalized racism. As a white person, I benefit from a system that keeps other people downtrodden. I just never thought of things that are true for people of color (POC).

I feel weird talking about white privilege because I am not a privileged person per se. I am female, middle aged, working class to poor, divorced, no college degree, etc. I don’t see myself having a lot of opportunities so I struggle with the idea that I am privileged.

But I am.

I couldn’t have listed the ways, but a woman named Peggy McIntosh could and did. She listed 50 ways she is privileged by skin color.

Some of them seem a little silly, like being able to slap on a skin toned bandaid and having it more or less match your skin tone. Nowadays that people choose Smurf bandaids or emoji ones, blending into the skin doesn’t seem like that big a deal. But it’s like medicine assuming the male body is the standard, first aid assumes caucasian skin is the standard.

Make up is another similar situation. You’d think manufacturers just realized people come in darker skin tones. LA Girl had the darkest tones I could find in a cursory search. Most companies had a wide range of paler tones with a few mid-range browns. But I have seen some gorgeous very dark skin on ladies and they deserve to have colors that suit them as much as I do. Make up is a political issue.

I can also be assured that there will be a crayon in my skin color. Crayola used to call it Flesh but in the 60’s they renamed it Peach. In the white enclave where I grew up, I wondered why they didn’t call it skin color. But just like we learned some people have orange hair (hi, redheads), we learned that some people have brown skin. Then we played with a whole range from mahogany to sepia. We called them black people but we didn’t use actual black to color them, just like we were called white people we didn’t use actual white. Decades later Crayola would release collections of skin toned crayons for use in classrooms.

But there were other more serious benefits of whiteness in the list as well. Things like, if you feel you are not respected as a leader, you don’t have to question whether skin color has anything to do with it. I might question if it’s because I’m a woman, but I know truthfully it’s because I’m not in the habit of leading. I don’t have to think about whether it’s because I’m the wrong color.

I don’t have to teach my child about systemic racism because it impacts her physical safety. She has issues with being safe so that I’ve bought her a taser, but that has more to do with being female and naive than any other reason. I might have to teach her that young men have agendas they don’t disclose, but I don’t want to teach her that all men are jerks. Black parents pretty much do need to teach their children that all cops are jerks. Not because individual police officers are never racially sensitive, but because in a pinch, enough cops will react more strongly to a POC than to a white person. Enough to be deadly. Just watch the news. (Aside: A policeman is not your friend, he is there to enforce laws; it happens that many of our laws are unfairly slanted against people of color, drug possession laws for example; therefore a cop doing his job is enforcing racist ideals.)

One that really struck home for me is, as a white person I can expect to be able to arrange my life so that I interact almost exclusively with other white people. My first thought is, why would I do that? But truly I have done it without trying. My roommates are white. My daughter is white. I went to a gas station today, staff was white. A few of the customers were hispanic but most were white. I went to my support group, facilitator is Bengali (she has told me this), but the group was white. Called my doctor’s office, receptionist I spoke to is white. Doctor is from India but I didn’t need to speak to him personally. Went to a book store, the barista was black, one customer was Asian, but pretty much it was a bastion of whiteness. I don’t even think the books were penned by POC. The magazine section had mostly white faces, and I don’t think I saw an issue of Ebony or Jet. I think I have one black friend right now, three Asian, and one latinx. I am in a white ghetto even though Dallas is a multicultural city.

How can I expand my contact with other races and ethnicities? I don’t feel like I can just suddenly start showing up at events. How do I express interest without being a mere tourist, a consumer of culture? I went to a few powwows with a friend of mine years ago and I’d love to go again, but I am not first nations myself. I don’t feel like I can just barge in. I worry about being a weeaboo, that is, a Japanese wannabe. I love so much about their culture and it is not mine. How does that even work? I mean, I’m not French but if I followed French culture nobody would bat an eye. Someday I will go to Japan, but for now I just read and study the language. I figure if I go there, I owe them the courtesy of knowing some words. I may be bad at it, but I tried. This weekend I’ll go to North Texas Irish Festival. There probably won’t be many POC there. I’m not avoiding them but I won’t organically just run into them.

So I am working this out, one way or another. I want to be better than I am. Not that I’m bad, but there’s always room for improvement. Unpacking this knapsack is hard, but carrying the weight of it is killing me. Got to make the effort. I thought we were past a lot of racism, but the more I look around, the more I see we are not.


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Isms and Whiteness

I’ve been thinking a lot about isms in the past 24 hours.  Before I start, I want full disclosure that I am white cis het female over the age of 50.  I am a product of my environment in many ways.  I am trying to transcend that, but sometimes I get caught in verbiage I don’t understand or old ways of thinking.

I belong to several online support groups.  Two of them have a high overlap of people so there is an issue that started in one group that spilled over into the second group.  That issue was around perceived racism and observed name calling.

Now I will be honest that I didn’t see much of the original thread.  What I caught was a friend of mine trying to defend his position, and another person issuing personal attacks.  I understand a third party made a comment about ISIS that other people took to be islamophobic.  My friend took the position that it was basic human stupidity not racism, based on the third party being a Fox news enthusiast.  You may agree or disagree with Fox news, but they do have a particular perspective to their reporting.  Another person felt that my friend was being racist and supporting a racist.  At some point the thread disintegrated to such a degree that an admin pulled it down so I am unable to review it.  My friend got banned from the site.

My friend went to another site, and mentioned that he was banned.  Of course people wanted to know why and he told his story.  Obviously he told it from his perspective.  The other person almost immediately chimed in that he was wrong and became personally insulting.  The second group tried to get her to tone it down and stop being so rude, but she would not.  Someone moved to ban her from that site.

The other person went back to the first site and stated that a bunch of racist women were supporting my friend.  That of course got the people at the first site riled up.  So now we have two people having a disagreement that has escalated to involve two forums.

Here’s the thing, it brings up questions for me about how to talk about racism and other isms.  The big question for me is, who gets to decide when something is racist?  Is it the person on the receiving end?  Or is it the person who committed the faux pas?  Because it feels like if it’s the receiver, then there is no room to make a mistake while if it’s the committer then there’s no way to call out someone’s bad behavior.

But what if the person who committed the ism is a POC and the person who got offended was a white man?  And what if the POC rather quickly escalated to bullying behavior?  Is this prejudice?  Group one is very supportive of the POC to the point where it has been suggested my friend is gaslighting, and sealioning.  (Apparently sealioning is when you argue with someone who is trying to leave the situation, that is, arguing to argue, posturing.)  On forum number two, the dynamic is almost the opposite, with the most vociferous people defending my friend and even suggesting we ban the POC.  I don’t know her except for this interaction, and I’m not impressed with her.  She gets heated rather quickly and doesn’t seem to be able to defend her position beyond name calling and stating that certain things are obvious.  Oh, and that she doesn’t owe a random white man anything.  So she played the race card twice.

I am so frustrated by this whole situation.  My friend may well be racist, I don’t know him that well, but I think if he is it’s more institutional racism, not a personal bias.  He has been fair with me and I don’t see him being intentionally racist to other people.  Of course if we agree that the person on the receiving end gets to decide, then the POC would no doubt find him guilty of racism.  If we agree that it’s the person making the faux pas, then there’s no way to call out my friend on the part that he’s getting wrong.

He thinks I am not supportive because I don’t argue directly for him.  I will do that with the admin, not on the general website.  I don’t want to stir things up any more than they already are.  And I do support his right to stand up for someone else’s right to make a mistake.  I get that we want to be allies for POC, women, LGBTQ, and all the rest of what used to be called minorities.  I also get that my friend is being vilified for something that I can’t prove he did.  And he claims he did not do.  (I can’t prove he didn’t do it either.)

I’m so confused.

It’s not the responsibility of POC to educate white folk, but on the other hand if someone is having a problem, it’s incumbent upon them to speak up in a way that the issue can be addressed.  If I don’t know I’m being sexist, someone has to tell me, and probably that would best come from the offended party, even though in another way they don’t owe me anything.

What is the best way to handle situations like this?  Ignoring it only lets it escalate and hurts my friend.  Getting involved has only made me upset, although I don’t think I’ve come across as very upset because I am trying to be diplomatic.  Also I have mostly been asking questions, since I could be completely out of touch.  That happens as one gets older.  I don’t see engaging with the offended person since she was rather vitriolic with my friend.

It just makes me sad.