With Liberty and Justice for Some

“Two households, both alike in dignity humanity
In fair Verona the USA, where we lay our scene
From ancient grudge wounds of oppression break to new mutiny
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean…”

William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, edited excerpt from prologue

15 years ago, a family member of mine received a voice mail that sent a shock wave of fear through her body. “There’s been an incident involving your son and a gun, please give us a call at your earliest convenience.”

With a pounding heart and shaky hands, she dialed the school office. Relief washed over her as she learned that a neighbor spotted her son and a friend driving around shooting cap guns out of the car window.

His punishment, an in-school suspension, seemed too harsh. They were just playing. It wasn’t even on school grounds. Come on! Lighten up, and also, you might want to work on your voice mail skills.

He survived the in-school suspension and now has a story to laugh at and share with his grandchildren; “The time my mom almost had a heart attack because of a poorly worded voice mail.”

In 2014, another Midwest boy, 12 years old, was playing in the park with a toy gun. Instead of the school being called, the police were called. Instead of his family being jolted by a false alarm, their worst fears were realized, instead of an in-school suspension, Tamir Rice was shot and killed by police within 2 seconds of their arrival on the scene.

The white household gained a story, while the black household lost a child.

When my (white) husband was in middle school, he heard about marijuana, but wasn’t exactly sure what it was. He knew it came in bags (dime-bags, nickel-bags, something like that), that people smoked it, and that people sold it, and that people who could get it were cool.

When he heard that a friend wanted some pot, my husband, the budding entrepreneur, decided it was his golden opportunity to acquire two things he lacked; cash and street cred.

He found a couple of cigarettes, unrolled them, and put the loose tobacco in a baggy thinking,”that’s probably what pot looks like” and presented the “weed” to his friend. Obviously he didn’t earn any cash and he certainly did not earn “street cred.”

My husband’s consequence? A little embarrassment at the time. More embarrassment years later when his wife blogs about it. Which in my estimation, is about right.

Eric Garner, a black man, a husband and father, was suspected of selling cigarettes made from loose tobacco. He did not resist arrest nor was he carrying a weapon.

Eric Garner’s consequence? A police officer choked him to death using an illegal maneuver.

The (white) police officer’s consequence? No trial, no charges.

White American’s are taking to social media with their similar stories of getting off the hook for every type of crime using the hashtag #CrimingWhileWhite, and black Americans are sharing their stories with the hashtag #AliveWhileBlack  of getting treated like criminals for… well… living. If you think the stories I shared above are unique, read about multitudes more by looking up these hashtags on Twitter or Facebook.

A new mutiny is erupting from an ancient wound. This “two households” thing isn’t working for half of America. It’s time to live up to our country’s great slogan, “one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for ALL.”

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It’s time for White American’s to wake up from the “American Dream” long enough to see that for some, it’s a nightmare. Continue reading

Why We Love Pointing Fingers at KSTP

pointing

You know those questions that cut straight through all the superficial, self-protective, crap and get straight to the heart of the real issue?

That’s the kind of question my professor asked our class several years ago. We were discussing our reactions to a video we watched in which a racially diverse group of people were discussing racism.

There was one cringe-worthy guy on the video whose name I can’t remember, so I’ll call him Paul. Adamant that he wasn’t racist, every word Paul spoke was a sweeping and unfavorable generalization about “those people.” With pride he claimed he was “color blind,” despite others around him saying that their race and culture was a big part of who they were and how they wanted to be seen. When others in the room shared their experiences, his reaction was, “That’s ridiculous.”

One of the professors, a black man, listened with great patience to everyone’s reactions to the video; I hate Paul. Paul is what’s wrong with the world. Paul made me so mad. How can he not see who he is hurting? Why doesn’t Paul shut up and listen? Paul needs to apologize.

The professor asked a poignant question that has stuck with me ever since. In a quiet voice he asked us to consider, “Why is everyone having such a strong reaction to Paul? Why is everyone distancing themselves from Paul as if he is saying things that are far worse than anything you’ve ever thought, felt, believed or said?”

I realized that by slamming Paul, all our rage was focused on him, a person on a video whose mind we’d never have the power to change. It was a lot easier and more fun to highlight how much better we were than Paul and avoid taking responsibility for the ways we were perpetuating racism, the exact thing we were upset with Paul for neglecting to do.

This story parallels the #pointergate scandal (if you don’t know what it is, take a minute now to Google it or read about it here) . I’m frustrated and bewildered by the irresponsible journalism and the implications of #pointergate. I’m amused by the clever pictures of people proudly flashing their pointer fingers in in protest. I’m cheering for KSTP to take ownership for actions.

I’m tempted to join in the public blasting of KSTP, but I hear the patient voice of my professor asking,

“Why is everyone having such a strong reaction to KSTP? Why is everyone distancing themselves from KSTP as if they are saying things that are far worse than anything you’ve ever thought, felt, believed or said?”

I think it’s okay to be outraged about a news story that diminished a person’s entire existence to a cliché racial stereotype. I think it’s good to want KSTP to apologize.

I just wonder if it could be more productive to do ourselves what KSTP doesn’t seem to have the guts to do…

To reflect on stereotypes we are accepting as truth.

To take an honest look at how well we are being inclusive of people who are different.

To notice how we might be unwillingly contributing to systems of oppression.

To apologize to someone who we’ve hurt.

Rethink that Comment About Ferguson-Part 2: 10 tips on How to Validate Others

A couple of days ago I wrote a post about recognizing the impact of our comments about Ferguson, MO. While most of the feedback I received was positive and encouraging, some seemed to miss my point.

The point of the original post was not to debate facts, put anyone down, place blame, or call anyone racist. It was a call to THINK about what others might FEEL when they read your remarks. It was about VALIDATING to the experience of the potential readers of the comments, not shaming the writers of the comments. It was about LISTENING to people’s perspectives who might differ from yours.

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As a relational therapist I talk about validation frequently. It is an important relationship skill for used in families, workplaces and especially when talking about controversial topics like what is going on in Ferguson. It occurred to me that I asked people to validate  others without actually explaining how to do it.

Sometimes looking at “What not to do” can be a good way of learning “what to do” when it comes to validation. John Doe submitted the following invalidating comment. Warning: while it’s a great example for learning about validation, it may be offensive:

beccjoy, you have a good heart, but and it’s a big but, the reality is you are part of the problem. You are making excuses for behavior that is not acceptable. It must stink to be pulled over for being black. Hassled for walking down the street. But you know what? Many,  many blacks have suffered that indignity went to school, got a good job, and bought the house next door. Oh yea the guys in Fergusun would call them Uncle Tom’s .The problem is in the black community. Only they can fix it. X% of population. Y% of children born out of wedlock. Abortion % way above any other. Crime same. If you say these things you’re shot down. Until the black community faces their own problems this will keep going on. By you and others making excuses, talking about “slavery” (150 yrs ago) It will never fix. The victim mentality only perpetuates. White privilege is the biggest joke I’ve ever heard. That’s just more white guilt from self loathing whites. The worse part is the rest of America is fed up. I’ve been blogging 5 yrs and I have my finger on the pulse, and I’ve never seen the comments all over be so negative and nasty. You reap what you sow. Good luck, I hope you find an answer. I really do.

-John Doe

I have identified 10 rules to keep in mind if you want to have productive conversations.

The Rules of Validation

  1. Acknowledge the parts of what the other person is saying that you agree with or find helpful. Don’t get caught up in a small detail that you disagree with while ignoring the greater point.
  2. Replace the word “but” with “and.” The word “but” negates the positive thing you just said. An example from family therapy I hear often is “I love you but…” which usually doesn’t end in the person feeling loved. Try the word “and” instead.
  3. Avoid accusations and name calling. These things often lead to defensiveness and defensiveness kills conversations and often relationships.
  4. Stay on topic. If you are responding to someone, respond to the actual content of what they said or wrote without bringing up other related topics.
  5. Avoid an argumentative tone. Have you ever been in an argument with a person you actually agree with? An argumentative tone can create unnecessary fights.
  6. Speak for yourself. An easy way to do this is to start your sentence with the word “I” rather than “you” or “they.”
  7. Don’t belittle others, or their causes, even if you don’t care about them or the cause.
  8. Don’t pass the buck. It is easy to identify what other people should do or change, although it isn’t usually effective. Take ownership and responsibility for what is in your control to change.
  9. Be specific about encouragement. If you have something nice to say, it is more likely to believed and taken to heart if you are specific.
  10. Validate everyone. People and their stories deserve to be heard, valued, acknowledged, and believed. It doesn’t matter if you think they are bad, wrong, lesser, whiny or anything else. They deserve to be validated no matter what.

Below I apply these rules to Mr. Doe’s comment, line by line:

beccjoy, you have a good heart,     Thanks (rule 1)

but and it’s a big but,     The word “but” negates the earlier positive comment  (rule 2).

the reality is you are part of the problem.     Accusations, true or not, tend to put people on the defensive. Defensiveness makes people less likely to listen to your message (rule 3).

You are making excuses for behavior that is not acceptable.     Try to keep the content focused on what the other person actually said. This comment was a reply to my original post, which didn’t mention unacceptable behaviors, nor give excuses for them (rule 4).

It must stink to be pulled over for being black. Hassled for walking down the street. But     again, the word “but” negates an attempt to be empathetic about these experiences (rule 2).

you know what? Many,  many blacks have suffered that indignity went to school, got a good job, and bought the house next door.     I’m glad he noticed that multitudes of people have overcome unfathomable oppression (rule 1) and (rule 2) I don’t think the argumentative tone is necessary (rule 5).

Oh yea the guys in Fergusun would call them Uncle Tom’s.     The point of my post was making sure our comments validate others and are considerate of how comments might be perceived. This remark does neither, and is a little off topic. If Mr. Doe lives in Ferguson, or is friends with a lot of the guys there, then, this comment would make more sense (rules 4 & 6).

The problem is in the black community. Only they can fix it.     If everyone points to someone else as the problem, rather than taking ownership for our part, change will not occur. A more helpful response would be to model taking personal responsibility and asking for others to follow suit (rules 3 & 8).

X% of population. Y% of children born out of wedlock. Abortion % way above any other. Crime same. (I have taken the numbers out and replaced them with X and Y because I question their accuracy and relevancy).     My original post, said nothing about these statistics. I said, “Let’s listen and respond better” and it seems your reply is, “No, we shouldn’t listen to them because of their bad behavior.” A validating response would not try to build a case against a people group. They are people who deserve to be heard and valued no matter what (rules 4 & 10). 

If you say these things you’re shot down.     Perhaps metaphorically, but literally, I don’t t think you have to worry about that. Following rule #3 might lead to more productive conversations and less feeling “shot down.”

Until the black community faces their own prms this will keep going on.     A validating response does not offer simple solutions to complex problems for other people to fix (rules 7 & 8).

By you and others making excuses, talking about “slavery” (150 yrs ago) It will never fix.     A validating response would not put the word slavery in quotation marks, as if it didn’t really exist, and it would stay on point. I made no mention of slavery in my original post (rules 3, 4, 7 & 8)

The victim mentality only perpetuates.     Someone who is trying to validate another human being’s perspectives notices a difference between “playing a victim” and being a victim (rules 3 & 7).

White privilege is the biggest joke I’ve ever heard.     A validating response doesn’t belittle something that is a big deal to others (rule 7).

That’s just more white guilt from self loathing whites.     Empathizing, taking ownership, listening, and validating other people’s stories is not the same as self-loathing. Using negative labels like “self-loathing whites” may make some people feel defensive (rule 3).

The worse part is the rest of America is fed up.     Validators speak on their own behalf. It’s okay to feel fed up, but “the rest of America” can express their own feelings (rule 6).

I’ve been blogging 5 yrs and I have my finger on the pulse, and I’ve never seen the comments all over be so negative and nasty. You reap what you sow (no comment).

Good luck, I hope you find an answer. I really do     Validating responses might include well wishes like this, but being specific is more powerful. Since I didn’t pose a question, I’m not sure what he is hoping for me (rules 4 & 9).

-John Doe

It is possible to validate someone without agreeing with them or condoning their behavior. Here’s my example:

To John Doe (and others who have made similar comments),

While your comment offends and distresses me, I want to acknowledge that you are an important person with a valid perspective. I’m sure that if I knew more about your experiences, personality and relationships, I would have a greater understanding for why you think the way you do. You seem to be a person who likes to identify and solve problems and that is admirable. Thanks for having the boldness to speak up, even though we disagree with each other. I realize and respect that you might not have known what I meant by “validating others” so you can’t be blamed for breaking all of the rules. Now that you know, I hope you will realize the great power your words have to help or harm others. I regret that you are missing out on the many strengths the black community has to offer.

Beccyjoy

Your voice is needed in this conversation. Validating comments are welcome below.

Note: If I receive comments below that are invalidating to me, I will publish them, but if they are invalidating to people of color, I’m not going to allow them here.

You might want to rethink that comment you are about to post about Ferguson, MO

I, like you, am heartbroken about what happened to Michael Brown, and what’s happened to so many others. I have read the posts, watched the videos, and prayed for justice and peace. It is so sickening that it’s hard to sleep. I have so much to learn about how I should even think about these tragedies and I am choosing to listen rather than express my opinions about most of this issue.

The part I do feel I understand well enough to speak to is the invalidating commentary by my fellow white people.

People of privilege, aka white people, aka my friends and family,

I know you might think your comments are harmless, or maybe you think it is fun to debate or “play the devil’s advocate,” but please keep in mind that in a land not so far away, people…teenagers even, are actually dying over this.

You might mean well but many your comments have the distinct flavor of someone who is not willing to listen and entertain the thought that perhaps it really is “that bad.”  At best, you are coming off as ignorant, at worst, racist.

By saying, “you do not have all of the facts” we are essentially saying “I don’t believe that you are smart enough to know what is happening right in front of your face.”

By saying, “this isn’t a race issue” we are saying “I know more than black people about what it feels like to be black.”

By saying, “I’m sad about this too but…” we are saying that there is really an ending to this sentence that rectifies a mother losing a child.

By saying, “let’s see what the autopsy says” we are saying, “I need a white doctor to tell me what really happened because I’m not going to believe the eye witness accounts of a bunch of black kids.”

By posing a hypothetical scenario about a white victim being shot without cause, you are just confused.

By saying, “it’s a lot better these days than it used to be” we are not acknowledging the current pain that racism causes.

By blaming the victim, we are- well, blaming a victim.

By saying, “this discussion doesn’t really apply to me,” we are saying black people are not as human as you.

As shameful as it is, I understand it. Who wants to face the fact that a black teen got shot by a white police officer for no apparent reason? Not I. Who wants to admit in their hearts that this is not an isolated incident? I’d rather grasp at some hope that the world is just. I’d rather turn away and make-believe that racism is dead, because I have that option. It is much more pleasant to think of the atrocities unfolding in Ferguson, Missouri as some big misinterpretation of the facts than to really listen and believe that people of color actually might know what they are experiencing.

So, for what it’s worth:

To the people of color;

I’m sorry. I’m sorry you’ve had to be so loud to get our attention. I’m sorry that another beautiful adolescent had to die to make us notice that you are oppressed. I’m sorry that no one is listening. I’m sorry that no one believes your experiences. I’m sorry that this is still happening. I’m sorry for the ignorant, invalidating, and racist comments you’ve had to deal with on top of everything else. I’m sorry that I’ve turned a blind eye to your struggle. I hear you, I believe you, I stand with you for justice. You deserve way better.

Beccyjoya

#Validateothersorkeepquiet #Whatifitisthatbad