Sunday, June 28, 2020

My Anti-Racism Project

Scroll through any social media feeds these past few weeks and odds are very good that you'll find an avalanche of links to articles, videos, and news items filled with the voices of Black America. Which I believe is a very good thing. I've been doing my fair share of clicking and reading, but when I ran across this graphic, I was intrigued. 

Click here to go straight to the direct links. 

Yes. I'm always down for a good challenge, especially one with a scavenger hunt vibe, and since I had just the night before viewed the documentary 13th and could therefore immediately tick off Box #1, I was hooked. 

In the past week, I've worked my way through the first ten activities. 

All were interesting. 
Some opened my eyes. 
A few I'd already read/listened to but gained from a second time around.

None were a waste of my time.

So I'm excited to keep working through the list and see what else I might find.

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As I've watched and listened and read through these resources, I've also thought back over my life to consider other experiences I've had that have taught me important things about what it is to be Black in America. And so, with all due respect to the fact that some of these selections may seem outdated or less than ideal allyship according to 2020 standards, I offer a few personal additions to the Anti-Racism Challenge.

There are probably newer and - dare I say it - better biographies on this amazing woman but this is 
the venerable old classic version that I read. 

In second grade, I smuggled this book out of the classroom library and kept it hidden in my desk to read on the sly when I had finished my assignments but my fellow students were still working. The circumstances of Harriet Tubman's life and her eventual work in leading fellow slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad set my little six-year-old world to rocking. My poor little brain could not understand why she had to sneak the slaves away; I could understand that their owners wouldn't want to lose them but wouldn't everyone agree that they should be set free? 

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"We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like the waters and 
righteousness like a mighty stream."

Whatever words I choose to describe what I feel when I listen to this speech - the deep pain of freedom denied, the beautiful images of children of all colors hand in hand, the rhythmic cadence of the sentence structure, the powerful surging of emotion that crescendos to the close - will fall far short of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's masterpiece. All I can do is watch it, time and again, and let the tears stream down my face. 

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Guess Who's Coming to Dinner poster.jpg
 I watched it again last week and understand my mother's obsession on all three counts. 

When I was a little girl, on very rare occasions, my mom would grant me special permission to stay up late and watch a movie with her. This movie was one of those extraordinary occasions, and I knew that she had a special purpose in inviting me to watch. Intuitively, my eight-year-old self understood that she loved this movie, agreed with the message, and was also crushing hard on actor Sidney Poitier. The plot is set in motion when an upper class white twenty-something shows up at her parents' house with a brand new black boyfriend, and announces their plan to marry. Both sets of parents struggle with misgivings and fear, but in the end, they come together to support the young couple. 

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What I actually saw that day was album art and while I can't find the same photo online, this captures the same feeling as the original. 

I was eleven years old when I was first introduced to The Supremes. Oh, of course I'd heard their music many times before, as had any kid growing up within range of radio in the days of Motown. But it was that fateful day in the fall of seventh grade when I first saw a photo of the three incredibly glamorous and insanely chic ladies behind the music. And while I now can see that their appearances were clearly designed to fit the stereotypes of white culture, I can also say without a doubt that I saw them not as pretty black ladies but as the very epitome of beauty.

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Easily one of my top twenty favorite children's books. 

Though this book was around when I was a little girl, I didn't come across it until I had little girls of my own. It's a delightfully simple story of a little boy playing in freshly fallen snow. the artwork is strikingly modern and bold. It's also recognized as the first full-color children's book featuring a black hero. And what I cherished most about that fact is that my daughters never pointed out the dark skin or made any particular comment about his racial character. He was just a cute little boy playing in the snow, and we loved him exactly as he was. 

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Sadly, the band fell apart due to conflict and drug use, but when they were good, they were great. 

Growing up in the Motown years, my musical education was profoundly influenced by the black culture of the times. But even more powerful to me was the vision offered by Sly And The Family Stone, the first major American band to have a racially integrated, male and female line-up. And though I was still under ten during their heyday, the lyrics to Everyday People profoundly shaped my racial consciousness as well.

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I've read it before, and I'm reading it again right now. 

Maya Angelou's debut memoir captures the pain and pleasure, mystery and madness, of her childhood in the deep South. Though her life is poisoned by bigotry and violence, young Maya learns of the healing power of words, and finds a way to fly free. I love this book, and others like it, that tells the ugly truth about racism and also the great soaring spirit of the human heart that finds a way to overcome. 

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