Throughout modern history there have been moments when a country or region or people group have suffered tremendously – like after Hurricane Katrina or Haiti’s earthquake or the wildfires in Australia – and the entire world feels their pain and comes to their aid. This is the beauty of being human. It doesn’t matter how far apart we are, how different our lives or languages or religions may be. We feel for the other human beings who share this planet with us. We care enough to give without expecting anything in return.
Right now the people of Yemen – especially the children – are suffering greatly because of a “perfect storm” of catastrophes [including war, economic decline, and cholera] that has left 80% of the population in need of humanitarian aid. Unfortunately, Covid has both complicated matters for the country and limited the humanitarian aid available as every country in the world grapples with their own pandemic problems.
However, those of us who are able can still give to help the Yemenis. We can see their suffering and allow it to move us with compassion, to see past our own problems and to give whatever we are able.
I don’t typically do this on my blog, but this cause is so important, the need so urgent, that I feel compelled to ask my friends, family, connections, acquaintances, and even complete strangers to think of Yemen.
I have set up a fundraising page through the organization, Save the Children, which Brett and I already support monthly and have full confidence in. I hope you will consider giving to this or any other organization that is helping to provide food and healthcare and resources to Yemen. Any amount will help.
At any given time, there are plenty of needs in our world, and it is our privilege and moral obligation to ease suffering and save lives, no matter how far removed. As I like to say, the truest measure of financial success is not how much we are able to buy for ourselves, but how much we are able to give to others.
When I realized how truly privileged I am – even in middle class America, even living on one income, even with four children – I decided to give more. And the more I have away, the easier it was to give. This, in essence, is the road that lead me to minimalism, which led me to zero waste, which led me to intentional living – the intention being to enjoy a simple life free from the trappings of money and possessions so that I can freely and generously give to others in need.
Last year, I wrote the post Why I Choose Minimalism which basically gives my purpose statement for minimal living. Today, my reason is the same as it was four years ago – to spend less money on myself so that I can give more away.
So, while it may be out of character for me to ask other people to give money, this appeal is really just a glimpse of the passion that is a driving force in my life – a part that I rarely show on my blog, but is at the heart of everything I do.
And, who knows? Some day I may need help and have to rely on the kindness and generosity of strangers. But this time, it is my turn.
Yesterday was Juneteenth, an annual holiday in America that I had never even heard of until last year. I was sad, but not surprised, to discover that there was a piece of history that had been conveniently overlooked in my education on slavery – the part where Abraham Lincoln ended slavery in the slave states with the Emancipation Proclamation, but it took over two years for all of the slaves to find out about it. So every year on June 19th, there is a celebration of “Emancipation Day” or “Freedom Day” which is recognized as the end of slavery [though slavery was not completely outlawed in our country until the ratification of the 13th Amendment on December 6, 1865].
Why isn’t Juneteenth a federal holiday? Why isn’t all of America celebrating the end of our greatest moral failing, the institution of slavery? I know, as a white person, that it is initially very uncomfortable to face the facts of slavery and we will live under the shadow of these terrible injustices [which continue to this day] forever, but this holiday should be a time that we can celebrate that slavery is illegal. Banks should be shut down, mail should be paused, employees given a paid holiday, parades should be televised. We have a lot of holidays with questionable histories [Columbus Day, Thanksgiving, to name a few], but this is one I would think we could all get behind. But, then again, a lot of people in this country still celebrate “Confederate Heroes Day” so maybe I am wrong.
Since I didn’t know about it before last year, I couldn’t celebrate it, but I celebrated it this year. I talked to my kids about it, about what it means, about what slavery is, and about why we celebrate the day it finally ended. We ate cake. We watched a family movie [I wanted Zootopia for its message of inclusion, but my kids chose – without any guidance from me – The Princess and the Frog]. This will become our tradition, and hopefully include participating in local events around the holiday when this pandemic is over and we are free to move about the community again.
I would like to know more about Juneteenth. Do you celebrate the holiday? If so, how did you celebrate?
We shouldn’t just say their names – we should know their stories.
In order to familiarize myself with the stories of those who have been unjustly killed by the police because of their race, I went through a list of their names and looked up each story. I’m sharing a basic summary of their stories here – knowing that this list is not even close to exhaustive and these men and women are just a small representation of the countless black lives that have been cut short due to racial bias and discrimination.
Another powerful way to experience these stories is through the interactive cover of The New Yorker – found here.
As a white person who benefits from white privilege, I am so sorry. I hope that we can learn from these mistakes.
Amadou Diallo – New York City, New York – On February 4, 1999, Amadou Diallo, who was unarmed, was shot 19 times by four plain-clothes NYPD officers, Sean Carroll, Richard Murphy, Edward McMellon, and Kenneth Boss. Diallo was standing outside of his apartment when the officers drove by and apparently thought he looked a little like a rape suspect. When they called out to him to raise his hands, he reached for his wallet and they opened fire, shooting a total of 41 rounds. All four officers were charged with second-degree murder and were acquitted at trial. NO CONVICTION.
Oscar Grant – Oakland, California – On New Years Day, 2009, Oscar Grant was fatally shot in the back by police officer Johannes Mehserle, while another officer, Anthony Pirone, held him down with his hands cuffed behind him [he was unarmed]. The officers had been called to the location to break up a fight. Mehserle was indicted and convicted of involuntary manslaughter, but not second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter. He served 11 months in the Los Angeles County Jail.
Aiyana Jones – Detroit, Michigan – On May 16, 2010, Aiyana Jones, a ten-year-old, was shot in the head and killed by police officer, Joseph Weekley, during a raid. After two mis-trials, the charges against Weekley were dropped. NO CONVICTION.
Trayvon Martin – Sanford, Florida – On February 26, 2012, Trayvon Martin was fatally shot by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch coordintor who suspected for no apparent reason that Martin was “up to no good” and began chasing him. After some sort of violent altercation between them, Zimmerman shot Martin. Zimmerman was charged with murder, but was acquitted because he claimed it was self-defense. NO CONVICTION
Jonathon Ferrell – Charlotte, North Carolina – On September 14, 2013, Jonathan Ferrell was fatally shot twelve times by police officer, Randall “Wes” Kerrick. Ferrell had crashed his car and went to a nearby house and knocked on the door. The resident called the police and three officers arrived. Ferrell ran toward them and one officer attempted to fire his taser at him, but missed, so Kerrick opened fire. Kerrick was charged with manslaughter, but after a mistrial, the charges were dropped. NO CONVICTION.
Eric Garner – New York City, New York – On July 17, 2014, Eric Garner was killed by NYPD police officer, Daniel Pantaleo, who held him in a choke-hold while Garner famously said “I can’t breathe” eleven times before he lost consciousness [he was unarmed]. Garner was being arrested for supposedly selling single cigarettes without tax stamps, which he denied. A grand jury determined not to indict Pantaleo for the murder. NO CONVICTION.
John Crawford III – Beavercreek, Ohio – On August 5, 2014, John Crawford was fatally shot by a police officer named Sean Williams in Walmart for holding a BB gun that was for sale in the store. Evidence showed that the officers shot him without giving any verbal cues, or a chance to obey them. A grand jury chose not to indict Williams. NO CONVICTION.
Tamir Rice – Cleveland, Ohio – On November 22, 2014, 12-year-old Tamir Rice was fatally shot by Timothy Loehmann. The police had been called about someone pointing a gun at people. Tamir was holding an airsoft gun and when police arrived, they believed him to be drawing his weapon and shot him twice immediately. A jury declined to indict Loehmann for the murder. NO CONVICTION
Walter Scott – North Charleston, South Carolina – On April 4, 2015, Walter Scott was fatally shot in the back by police officer Michael Slager, who had stopped him for a broken tail light. Slager plead guilty to civil rights violations so that the state murder charge would be dropped. He was sentenced to twenty years in prison.
Freddie Gray – Baltimore, Maryland – On April 19, 2015, Freddie Gray died from injuries to his spinal cord which he received while being transported in a police van. Officers did not follow the policy to secure him inside the vehicle, which had been recently put into affect after a history of transport related injuries while in police custody. Six officers were charged when Freddie’s death was ruled a homicide. Caesar R. Goodson Jr, Edward M. Nero, and Brian W. Rice were acquitted. William Porter’s trial ended in a mistrial. And charges against the other two officers, Garrett E. Miller and Alicia D. White, were dropped. NO CONVICTION.
Samuel Dubose – Cincinnati, Ohio – On July 19, 2015, Samuel Dubose was fatally shot in the head by Ray Tensing, a University of Cincinnati police officer, during a traffic stop for not having a license plate on the front of his car. Tensing claimed that Dubose was trying to drive away and dragging Tensing by the arm, but body cam evidence showed otherwise. After two two trials both ended with hung juries, the charges against Tensing were dropped. NO CONVICTION.
Corey Jones – Palm Beach Gardens, Florida – On October 18, 2015, Corey Jones was fatally shot by a plainclothes police officer named Nouman K. Raja while waiting for a tow truck. Raja shot six times, hitting Jones three times, claiming that he was acting in self-defense, which a video recording of the shooting proved to be a lie. Raja was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Philando Castile – St Anthony, Minnesota – On July 6, 2016, Philando Castile was shot fatally shot by police officer, Jeronimo Yanez, during a traffic stop. Castile informed the officer that he had a gun, which he was licensed to carry, but as he was reaching for his license, Yanez became afraid he was pulling his weapon and shot him at close range five times. Yanez was charged with manslaughter, but was then acquitted of all charges. NO CONVICTION
Terence Crutcher – Tulsa, Oklahoma – On September 16, 2016, Terence Crutcher was fatally shot by police officer Betty Jo Shelby for refusing to show his hands while he walked towards his vehicle which was stopped in the middle of the road. Shelby was charged with first-degree manslaughter, but a jury found her non-guilty. NO CONVICTION.
Keith Lamont Scott – Charlotte, North Carolina – On September 20, 2016, Keith Lamont Scott was fatally shot by a police officer named Brentley Vinson. The police account indicates that Scott was armed and that he refused to drop his weapon, but a video recording showed his wife saying that he didn’t have a weapon. Vinson was never indicted. NO CONVICTION.
Jordan Edwards – Balch Spring, Texas – On April 29, 2017, Jordan Edwards was fatally shot in the back of his head by police officer, Roy Oliver, while riding in the passenger seat of a car that was driving away from the officer who was attempting to stop it. Oliver was convicted of murder and sentenced to fifteen years in prison.
Stephon Clark – Sacramento, California – On March 18, 2018, Stephon Clark was fatally shot multiple times by police officers Terrence Mercadal and Jared Robinet, who suspected that he was holding a gun – but he was only holding his cellphone. Neither of these officers were charged with any crimes. NO CONVICTION.
Botham Jean – Dallas, Texas – On September 6, 2018, Jean Botham was fatally shot in his own apartment by police officer, Amber Guyger, who claimed that she thought she was in her own apartment and believed that Botham was a burglar. She was convicted of murder and sentenced to ten years in prison.
Atatiana Jefferson – Fort Worth, Texas – On October 12, 2019, Atatiana Jefferson was fatally shot by police officer Aaron Dean, after a neighbor called police to inform that that her door was open. When he arrived, body camera footage shows she came to the window to observe the police and he shot her through the glass. Dean was indicted for murder and the trial is still pending.
Ahmaud Arbery – Brunswick, Georgia – Arbery was out for a jog on February 23, 2020 when he was pursued and confronted and fatally shot by two white men, Travis and his father Gregory McMichael. The McMichael’s were not convicted until a video of the murder went viral on May 5th.
Breonna Taylor – Louisville, Kentucky – Shortly after midnight on March 13, 2020, three police officers entered Taylor’s home with a “no-knock search warrant,” and shot twenty rounds, eight of which hit Taylor and killer her on site.
George Floyd – Minneapolis, Minnesota – On May 25th, 2020, Floyd was killed by Derek Chauvin during an arrest for allegedly using a counterfeit bill. Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes. Video footage went viral, sparking protests around the world.
Rayshard Brooks – Atlanta, Georgia – On June 12, 2020, Rayshard Brooks was fatally shot outside of a Wendy’s where he had fallen asleep in his car while in the drive-thru. The officers gave Brooks a sobriety test which he failed. When he resisted arrest and grabbed one of the officers tasers, he was chased by one officer named Garrett Rolfe who shot him from behind. Rolfe has been charged with felony murder and other charges.
All of these tragedies show that while the American justice system is supposed to be built on the idea that someone is innocent until proven guilty, that has never been the case for black Americans. The assumption of guilt, based on racial stereotypes and prejudice, is responsible for most of these murders and the rest are a result of a gross lack of concern for black humans.
The saddest part of all is that for every death that gets media attention, there are likely many more that we never hear about.
I am a mother of four kids, who are my whole world. I have other identities – partner, minimalist, personal trainer, environmentalist, baker, health freak – but they all revolve around my primary role as a mother. Sometimes I am envious of other women who have glamorous corporate careers while I spend a large portion of my day chopping food into bite-sized pieces. But I am glad that I am able to spend these formative years with them, since this is a luxury that many mothers do not have.
Because being a mom is such a large part of my life, and because this blog is about motherhood [well, motherhood and other things, obviously], I wanted to share how I am trying to raise my kids to be racially-aware, inclusive, and anti-racist.
Are Kids Born Racist?
I don’t believe that racism is a part of the human nature, though its existence is evidence of the general selfishness of humanity. Rather, I believe that racism is a learned behavior, passed down through the generations, whether intentionally or subliminally.
Racism: a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race
There is evidence to support both sides of the issue. Some studies have concluded that children are born with a preference for their own race, and other studies have shown that children learn racist beliefs from their parents, schools, and culture.
I agree with the research that indicates that we are most comfortable with people who share our race and culture because it is most familiar to us. That just makes sense. Our first encounter with a different race may be startling or uncomfortable, but that does not mean that we are racist – that we believe that our race is superior. It means that we fear the unknown. Which is why research has also found that the more time we engage with people of different races [and cultures and beliefs and lifestyles], the more comfortable we become with these differences.
Because institutional racism is so ingrained and so automatic and so accepted, without enough people wanting to enact true, long-lasting change, institutional racism ends up becoming our personal bias.
Sarah Gaither, Assistant Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke University
A great article about this can be found here [partially quoted above.]
I can also see from my own kids that we are not born racist. My children are happy to play with any other kid, it doesn’t matter in the least what color skin they have. My daughter, who is incredibly outgoing, won’t let race, age, gender or even a language barrier stop her from becoming best friends with other kids at the library or on the playground.
Breaking the Cycle of Racism
It is important to understand that racism is learned because that gives us hope that our children do not have to necessarily become racist adults.
[I know many adults don’t believe themselves to be racist, but as I wrote about it in My White Awakening, unless we have been actively working to overcome our own prejudices, we all have racial biases that inform our view of the world and we all benefit from a racist system based on white supremacy].
We have the ability to end the cycle of racism.
What this means to me is that I have to be especially careful not to taint their worldview with prejudices or biases or any negativity toward people who differ from us. Of course, I would never do that intentionally, but, as I realized while examining my own childhood [which I wrote about in my first racism post], racism often gets passed down from generation to generation very subtly. So in order to not unintentionally perpetuate racist beliefs, I have to intentionally teach my children inclusivity and equality.
It is up to us as parents to ensure that we put an end to the subliminal messages of racism.
1. Talking about our differences [including race]. The first thing that usually happens when kids encounter people who are different is that they ask about it – usually very loudly and in front of the person they are talking about. Rather than being embarrassed and trying to hush my kids, I usually give an apologetic smile to the individual and then give my kid an honest answer. Sometimes if the stranger is standing there, I let them answer for themselves. I view these moments as opportunities instead of embarrassments [even though they are usually still embarrassing], because they allow me to talk to my kids about how we are all different and that’s okay. And this is not limited to race. Some people ride in wheel chairs, some people have curly hair, some people wear hijabs, some people have nose rings, some people are missing teeth, some people speak a different language, some people have lighter skin, and some people have darker skin, because we are all different – but we are all people.
These are some unwritten rules that I have been teaching my kids:
We praise our differences. I allow my kids to ask questions, without feeling shamed for noticing differences. It is okay to notice that people are different from us. The key for me has been to speak positively about these differences. Differences do not divide us, they make us unique and special. They make the world a more enjoyable place to live.
We recognize that we are all different. I want my kids to understand that to us, someone’s skin may be dark, but to them, our skin is light. It works both ways. We may think they eat strange food, but they probably think that our food is strange, as well. I am trying to teach them that the world does not revolve around their perspective. This is the beginning of apathy and compassion for other people – being able to put ourselves in their shoes and imagine what they world feels like for them.
We treat everyone with kindness and respect. Again, this is not just limited to race. In fact, I think these are all very important lessons for loving and accepting all people, regardless of their race, culture, religion, orientation, family structure, outward appearance, abilities or disabilities. Teaching my kids the inherent worth of all human beings is vital to ending racism.
Of course, accepting that people are all different is great, but our culture will still teach them racist ideas if we don’t intentionally intervene, which is why the job is not done here.
2. Exposing them to many races and cultures. I love other cultures, so it is a lot of fun to learn how other people live. I want my children to understand that the world is a very big place and it is filled with all kinds of people who believe different things and eat different things and wear different things and, yes, sometimes look differently. One of our traditions during the Christmas season is to celebrate other holidays from around the world. We also like to attend the “Diverse Voices Story Time” at the library, which includes songs in another language and some stories about people from diverse backgrounds. Hanging out at libraries and parks and public places gives us the opportunity to meet people of different cultures and races. And we enjoy going to local festivals and events which offer opportunities to expose my kids to other cultures. As more of my kids enter school, they will meet more kids of different races and I look forward to watching their relationships develop unhindered by the negative affects of racism. I hope that all of my kids experience a much more multi-cultural upbringing than I did.
As I mentioned previously, research has shown that the more exposure we have to different races [and differences, in general] the more positively we feel about them. This makes a lot of sense, because oftentimes, we don’t interact with people outside of our own race and so we really have no experience to teach us that racial stereotypes are wrong and hurtful. We have to engage with people who are different and when we do, we will discover that they are just people like us.
I don’t want to raise my kids in a white world – I want to raise them in the real world.
3. Teaching the history of racism. This year around MLK Day, we picked up several kids books about the Civil Rights Movement. These books were the perfect way to discuss some of the unpleasant truths about racism in America’s history. One of the books also talked about the holocaust and anti-Semitism. I realized that I need to be more intentional about teaching my kids these important stories. We need to talk about the injustice that minority groups around the world have suffered at the hands of white society. We need to know their stories of struggle. We need to feel the weight of our whiteness.
Additionally, I need to teach my kids stories of minority leaders and heroes and champions and victors. I cannot allow them to grow up with only white protagonists. The same books I mentioned earlier told the stories of MLK and Anne Frank and Audrey Faye Hendricks, real-life heroes who I want my kids to look up to. There are also excellent books about leaders, mathematicians, scientists who prove that race and gender do not determine intelligence or capabilities.
4. Providing diverse toys and books. As a white family, it is easy to end up with all white toys and books, but this is not sending the right message to my kids about other races. I want them to grow up surrounded by diversity, and that starts in the home. In order to do this, I have to basically enforce affirmative action for the toy bin. I want the toys and books and television programming that my kids experience at home to mimic the real world.
We don’t buy a lot of toys for our kids [and at these ages, they are usually animals anyway – Paw Patrol, My Little Pony, Baby Shark] but I have started intentionally including diverse books and being more aware of what races are represented in our home. Black is not the only race that needs to be represented. My kids also need to be exposed other minority groups – some of which are harder to find represented in the toy aisle, evidence that we still have work to do.
We also no longer allow toys that depict racial stereotypes [such as “cowboys and Indians”]. We don’t allow programming that depicts certain races as inept or inferior or as always “the bad guy.” And, though a slightly different discussion, we don’t allow toy weapons of any kind because weapons are for the intention of harming someone or something, and that should never be a part of play.
5. Model anti-racist activism. In my previous post, I wrote about all the ways that I am supporting the racial justice movement. I can’t turn all my kids into little activists, but I can show them by my example that there are things that we can do about injustices that we see in the world.
As I have said before, there is a difference between “not being a racist,” and “being anti-racist.” An anti-racist actively denounces racism in all its forms and promotes equality for all races, ethnicities, and cultures. As a parent, I want my kids to not be racist, but I also want them to be anti-racist.
My hope is that by immersing my kids in the “melting pot” that is American society and modeling an anti-racist mindset, my kids will be able to break the cycle of systemic racism that is so often perpetuated in white families.
How are you promoting racial equality with your kids? Would love to hear other input – especially from parents of older kids.
There is a big difference between “not being a racist” and “being anti-racist.” An anti-racist actively denounces racism in all its forms and promotes equality for all races. To be anti-racist implies action.
anti-racism (noun): the policy or practice of opposing racism and promoting racial tolerance.
Since I learned about the existence of systemic racism and white privilege several years ago, I have been asking, “What can I do about it?” I read book after book discussing the history and the reasons and the causes and the effects, but what do I do??? I basically wanted someone to say, “Call this number. Say ‘Black Lives Matter.’ And done. Problem solved.”
As if it was going to be that easy. But that’s what I wanted. I wanted an easy solution. I wanted something I could do quickly, that wouldn’t interrupt my day or challenge my lifestyle or disrupt my status quo. I wanted a solution that didn’t cost me anything.
Unfortunately, that’s not how change works. So I stopped asking, “What can I do?” and started asking “How much do I care?”
Turns out, I care enough to give money to the cause, to show up at the protests, to speak to all of my friends and family about race, to spend hours reading and re-learning history, to teach to my kids about racism, to fill my home with diverse toys and books, to participate in my communities interracial programs, to celebrate other cultures, to learn more about my own heritage, and more. The opportunities for involvement are endless, but first we must be willing to make some changes.
So, here’s how I’ve become an anti-racist, and how you can too, should you want to make the world a more just and fair place.
#1. Get Angry
I had to get angry enough to do something about racism. I cared before, but I wasn’t angry enough to do anything. I had to confront all of the uncomfortable truths about race and racism and how white people have treated people of color throughout history. I had to read the true stories of slaves being beaten, families being torn apart, segregation, lynchings, suffrage, black people being wrongfully accused, convicted, and murdered by the government, redlining, mass incarcerations, and voter suppression – many of these things continue to this day.
Last year, when the miniseries “When They See Us” was released on Netflix, I watched the preview and looked up the case of “The Central Park Five” since I had never heard the story. I was so horrified that I told Brett that I couldn’t watch it right then because I knew it would be very upsetting, but I added it to my list for later.
I should have watched it right away. I should have been willing to get angry back then. Instead, I preferred to not look too closely, to not confront the truth, to not get too uncomfortable, to not get angry.
As a white person, I don’t feel the effects of racial inequality personally, so it is easy for me to deny or forget that it exists. But when I watch an unarmed man being killed in the street because of racial bias, I get angry. When I watch the portrayal of Bloody Sunday in the movie, Selma, I get angry. When I read Solomon Northup’s story of being kidnapped and sold into slavery, I get angry. When I hear my brother’s stories of his best friend being harassed by police because he’s black, I get angry.
Anger at injustice is the fuel we need for change.
The black community in America is already angry, and rightly so. But as white people, we also need to get angry. And in order to do that, we need to know the truth. As James Baldwin said, in the film, I Am Not Your Negro, the problem is not that white Americans have anything against black people, the issue is apathy and ignorance. And we can solve both of these problems by opening our eyes and ears to the truth.
Relearning the Past
First, I had to understand the history of racism and how it remains deeply imbedded in our current society. If I don’t know how systemic racism came to be or how it still affects people of color today, then I won’t be of any use putting an end to it.
It continues to shock me that we actually have a “Black History Month,” practically admitting that we spend the other eleven months studying white history. The fact that this month exists shows that we have a problem. It is proof that we have not given black history enough of our attention in the past. If the schools won’t teach it, then we must teach ourselves.
Here are three sources of information that have had the biggest impact on my understanding of racism:
“Explained: The Racial Wealth Gap” – a 16 minute Netflix show explaining how the wealth gap is a result of systemic racism
13th – a documentary by Ava DuVernay about the connection between our current system of mass incarceration and the racism that it perpetuates
Waking Up White – book by Debbie Irving about understanding racism as a white person
I have read many, many books, but I still have a very long list to read. I have watched numerous movies and documentaries that deal with race and racism, but I am still learning. This self-taught class on black history will most likely take me the rest of my life. But that is okay, because I need to be continually reminded that my life of privilege is at the expense of another life. This is what motivates me to take a stand against racism.
Listening to the Present
Besides just re-learning history, we have to learn about the current experiences of people of color. The best way to do this is to listen to the people of color around us. Sometimes it is easy to try to explain away a racist comment or make excuses about it or simply not believe someone’s experience, but if we want to know the truth, we have to be willing to listen and accept it.
As my friend Brianne puts it so well, “I don’t want people to feel ‘guilty’, but I do want them to acknowledge the things they have that others do not, and that one reason they have them is because of their skin tone. I would want them to try and be empathetic to the plight of millions of their countrymen and to listen to them when they try and explain how they feel. Don’t be defensive. Don’t tell me how you didn’t personally own slaves. Just listen to someone when they tell you the things that happen to them on a daily basis.”
We need to do more listening and less defending.
I attended a few “round table” discussions so that I could hear the responses of the black community to George Floyd’s murder. I also learned a lot from at my city’s protest about what it is like to be a person of color living in my town. And here are two more ways that I learned about what it is like to be black in America today:
“Where Do We Go From Here” – Oprah Winfrey’s Town Hall Special available on Youtube
Between the World and Me – a book by Ta-Nehisi Coates
I love this article by NPR, because it is 100% true. Educating ourselves about racism is just the first step to changing the system. And it’s also not a one-time fix. White America needs to be continually educating ourselves about race so that we do not allow the strong emotions surrounding George Floyd’s murder to slowly fade back to business as usual. In order to truly create change it will take time. We cannot correct five hundred years worth of wrongs overnight, or even over several months. It will require that we get angry, and that we stay angry until the problem has been solved. Which is why we have to move from being angry, to the next step.
#2. Show Up
Once I was angry enough to do something about racism, it was time to show up. I thought about saying “step up,” but the truth is that white people have a tendency take over. If history has taught us anything it is that white people always believe that their way is best. Sometimes, however, like in the fight for racial equality, it is best for white people to take a supporting role. It is not our job to dictate how or when or where protests happen. It is not our job to criticize or correct or give our unwanted advice. It is not our job to patronize or discredit the stories and experiences of people of color. What we need to do is be supportive and show up. Not take over. Just show up. We provide support with our presence, with our voices, with our fists in the air, when necessary, but always in support.
That being said, there are a lot of great ways to show support for the racial justice movement, and these are the ones that I am doing:
Giving money. As a white middle class American, throwing money at the problem is probably the easiest thing to do, so it was the first thing I did. If you are uncertain where to give money, look up organizations in your area that are promoting racial justice and policy change. Or you can give to Black Lives Matter, the NAACP, or the ACLU.
Talking to people about race and racism.In the white culture I grew up in, no one talked about race. And when I did start talking to friends and family about race, it was not received well. I was viewed as “liberal” and “divisive” and “argumentative” and “accusatory.” Navigating these discussions can be tricky and you may upset a few people. [I read the book Talking Across the Divide by Justin Lee to help me communicate more effectively with people who disagree with me on these issues. I highly recommend this book.]
Voting in local and federal elections. It is hard to admit that I didn’t used to vote at all, especially now that I understand how hard people of color and women have fought to have the right to vote. Voting is not the cure-all, as it is sometimes believed, but with the help of social change, voting can make a big difference. We have to vote for the people who will promote equality and justice, and we have to vote for the policies that ensure fair treatment for all people.
Signing petitions, making calls, and writing letters. Once we understand the issues, we have to make our voices heard to our local governments, our schools, our police departments. We have to ask for change.
Getting involved in protests. We show our support for the cause when we physically show up on the day of the march with our signs and say, “We care about your rights as much as our own.” I went to my first protest a few weeks ago and it was a moving experience. If you believe in the movement, then I highly recommend you physically participate.
Examining my own racial prejudices and changing myself. I’ve done a lot of this work already, which I talked about in my last post, but it is an ongoing process. I still have work to do. Our worldviews are deeply ingrained and very hard to interrogate objectively, but we have to consider the possibility that we are in some ways [or many ways] part of the problem of racism in this society. And then, once we can accept our responsibility, we must commit to changing ourselves.
Breaking the cycle of racism by raising anti-racist kids. I will talk more about this in my next post.
This list is by no means exhaustive. There are many, many ways to promote equality, and I intend to continue to improve in this way over time.
I found that for myself personally, I wanted to do something, but not know what to do was becoming an excuse for not doing anything. I realized that if I really want to see change happen, I have to push myself out of my comfort zone and do things that are hard. It is easiest for me to give money and tell myself that I am doing my part, but I care more than that. I can do more than that.
Change never comes easy. I’m a personal trainer. I know. I work with people who want to change all the time, but the truth is, no one can change themselves or their community and definitely not their world without digging deep and doing the hard stuff.
That brings us to the final thing that I am doing about racism.
#3. Break the cycle.
As a white parent, the most important and most challenging responsibility I have is to raise anti-racist kids who will not only accept and embrace people of all colors and orientations and religions [as most of us were taught to do], but will actively take a stand against injustice at its root which is in the system and within ourselves.
Because this area is so important to me, I’m going to post separately about how I as a white parent am teaching my kids to be an anti-racist.
The current events around the murder of George Floyd have brought a lot of attention to racism in America and I want to share my story of how I became aware of my own whiteness and the ingrained racism that comes with it.
As a white person, I had the luxury of growing up without ever thinking about my race. This is one of the greatest privileges of being “white” – never having to feel like an outsider in my own country, never experiencing an act of racism or being called a racial epithet, never being in a situation where my race was not represented. In fact, I lived in a totally white world and my concept of race and racism was always in the context of other people.
My journey to racial awareness began in 2017 when I read Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community by Martin Luther King Jr., which was the first time I really confronted the issue of racism and began asking questions. Shortly after reading the book, I watched an episode of Netflix’s docuseries “Explained” entitled “The Racial Wealth Gap.”This sixteen-minute show was the first time I really saw how unfair our current system is and I could not believe it. I began talking to all my white friends and family about race. I was amped up. I could not believe that no one had told me how unfair our system was. No one told me that there really was legitimate injustice embedded in our policies that has caused the wealth gap and ghettos and mass incarcerations and other forms of oppression that still exist today. I immediately began telling everyone that we had to do something. My understanding of the problem was very limited at the time, but I told my white friends and family that we [being all “white” people] had to correct this injustice by #1) apologizing to the black community for allowing this to continue and #2) providing reparations in the form of money or housing or land or whatever is necessary to right these wrongs.
Let me tell you, I was met with such a strong and powerful resistance from my white community. I have had many white people – God-fearing, Bible-believing, good white people – sit on my couch and tell me that there is no such thing as systemic racism or white privilege. That we don’t owe people of color anything. That slavery was unjust, but it is in the past and we don’t have to pay for the sins of our ancestors. That giving people handouts just makes them lazy and not want to work for anything. That handouts are what has caused the problems for poor communities to begin with. That people claim to be oppressed because of their race, when they are really just wanting special treatment. That reverse racism is the real evil in the world.
In my opinion, these statements are just excuses that we [white people] make to protect our wealth and interests. I believe that if white Americans took responsibility for the injustices that continue to oppress the black community, we would have to make sacrifices in order to right these wrongs – sacrifices that we, as of yet, are unwilling to make. If there is anything that I know about America [and maybe all of humanity], it is that we base our social, financial, and political decisions on protecting our wealth. If the love of money is the root of all evil, then America has to be the most evil place on this planet.
There are so many white lies [and by “white lies” I’m talking about lies that white people tell themselves] that are purely for the purpose of justifying our selfishness. For example, white people love to tell themselves that they are not wealthy, despite being in the top 1% of the wealthiest people on the planet. White people love to tell themselves that they have worked hard for what they have and are entitled to it because of their efforts, completely ignoring the 400 years of slave labor they received which created their wealth in the first place. White people love to tell themselves that if other people worked as hard as they do, then they would also have plenty, despite the overwhelming evidence that all of our current systems work to assist white people and hinder people of color. But the most heinous of all the white lies is that racism doesn’t exist and the white community is not responsible for the suffering of the black community, when our success is directly related to their oppression.
These are the lies that I heard from the white people I discussed race with. And it simultaneously broke my heart and pissed me off. I can only imagine how infuriating it is to be a person of color in this country where racist ideas are so deeply ingrained that the majority don’t even believe that they exist. That is when I discovered that racism runs much, much deeper than just mean-spirited acts of racism or overt racist jokes and slurs. Racism is a much more subtle, insidious disease that affects even the most well-meaning white person.
Turns out, before I could even deal with what racism means for people of color, I had to confront my own whiteness and discover what racism means for me.
Growing Up White
I have started my own racial healing, by way of the book, The Racial Healing Workbook by Anneliese A. Singh. The first exercise in the book asked me to think about my own experiences of “race” and “racism.” It took me a while to even think of anything, but over several days, memories began coming out of nowhere to remind me that I was not isolated from the affects of race and racism. I am sharing these memories with you now in the hopes that you will see that even good, Christian white folks have experiences that shape their understanding of race and often times, though not mean-spirited, these experiences perpetuate our culture of racial prejudice rather than putting an end to it.
My first memory of recognizing a different race was when I was a little kid I saw a picture of myself as a baby being held by a black man. I was told that I loved this man, which surprised everyone. They had expected me to be afraid of him because he was “so black.”
Later, as a kid, one of my favorite movies was the Disney film, Polly, which [I’m horrified to admit] we always called “Black Pollyanna.” I didn’t even know the real name of the movie until I was an adult trying to look it up so I could revisit some of my favorite songs from the film.
In seventh grade, my private school performed the play, Helen Keller, and because there was only one black student in the school [a problem in and of itself], I was cast as one of the “servants” in the show and they literally painted my face black.
In my Christian High School and my Bible College, there were only one or two black students and everyone talked about them being the “token black kids” who were always called on for the school photo shoots to give the impression of a multi-racial campus life in the school brochure.
When I was growing up in Flint, Michigan, my church was all white, except for one family who attended for a short time. My father, the pastor of our church, told me how he had to ask a greeter in the church to stop wearing a confederate flag pin because it was offensive to this black family. What I don’t remember was him using that opportunity to explain to me all of the hatred and oppression represented by that one symbol. Then, just three years ago when I moved into my current home, I complained to my mother that my neighbor proudly hung a confederate flag. My mother defended him saying “Maybe his grandfather fought for the confederacy,” as if that makes it ok. [Side note: my neighbor’s flag has since been taken down.]
My grandfather, the wonderful man that he was, was apparently “uncomfortable with having a black pastor,” which is a nice way of saying that he was racist. But this was excused because he was living in Flint during the time of the race wars.
I have Native American heritage on my mother’s side of the family, but no one knows who or when or how. It’s as if this part of our family history has been completely expunged, my grandmother preferring to be proud of her Irish ancestry. I find it ironic that the most American part of my heritage is the part that no one wants to talk about.
I don’t share this to give the impression that my family or schools were “racist,” because they were not. I could give you a list of a million memories to prove that they were kind, well-meaning people who taught me to love my neighbor and give generously and not judge people based on outward appearances and all of those important lessons about inclusion. However, whether it was unintentional or not, these experiences of race and racism definitely affected my worldview.
Besides my family stories, I also had to admit that I have made many racist assumptions and remarks due to my own ignorance. I have asked people “where are you from?”, minimized black experiences by doubting their truthfulness, been unnecessarily fearful around people of color, made assumptions about a neighborhood based on the race of its inhabitants, and even claimed that people of color use “the race card.” There was a time when I was against affirmative action and reparations and didn’t believe that black kids my age had it any worse than I did.
Look, I am ashamed of all of this. I feel really badly even writing it. But this is the truth of the subtle and insidious way that racism seeps into our culture. It’s small things, like an off-handed comment about babies being afraid of black men. Or growing up surrounded by all white people so that other races are always viewed as different. Or not feeling safe in a community of colored people.
As I’ve thought over these experiences, I can clearly see how my whiteness has informed my view of the world and impacted my beliefs about other races – whether I like it or not.
And I do not like it. Not one bit. I have gone through the first three stages of grief regarding my own participation in this racially unjust society. I spent the first thirty years of my life denying that racism existed. Then, when I discovered that it did exist, I was really angry about it. Then when I realized that I am a contributing part of it, I was overwhelmed by shame and grief. Now I am on way toward accepting my whiteness so that I can take the appropriate action against racism.
From Grief to Action
Thus far on this journey, I’ve been spending my time trying to learn and understand and become racially aware because these are things that I wasn’t taught. I mean, to me, Christopher Columbus was a hero, and Thanksgiving was when the pilgrims and Native Americans sat down for a happy meal together. I have had to literally go back and relearn history through a more inclusive lens. But despite all of my reading and listening and watching, I’ve only been passively anti-racist. The more I learned about the problem, the more I felt overwhelmed by how massive it is, how insignificant my contribution would be, and how isolated I felt in my own white community.
In March, I read Waking Up White by Debby Irving, which was the first time I had heard a white person confirm that systemic racism and white privilege exist. I felt such a deep appreciation to Debby Irving for helping me to not feel so alone. Then I read Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates and I felt terrible for even being white. Then I read Uncle Tom’s Cabin and my heart broke for all of the unspeakable crimes against black people throughout our country’s history. Then I read about the wrongly convicted “Central Park Five” and I was livid that this type of injustice is possible during my lifetime.
And then I heard about the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, and I was so upset that I couldn’t sleep that night. I was enraged and devastated and so frustrated that something as heinous as this crime could happen in my country let alone go unpunished for so long.
And then, I was sitting on my brother-in-law’s couch on the evening of May 26th, when Brett said to me, “You’re going to want to see this.” He sent me the video of George Floyd’s murder.
In that moment, I – like so many other people in this country – had finally had enough. I had to put my foot down. I could not be passive about this war on colored bodies any longer.
Since George Floyd’s murder, I have immersed myself in the voices and stories of people of color. I have soaked in the music, the podcasts, the posts, the articles, the movies, the documentaries pretty much non-stop. I went to my city’s protest, which was one of the most powerful and inspiring things that I have ever experienced. I watched Oprah’s two-part special called “Where Do We Go From Here?” I watched the movie Selma and the Netflix mini-series, “When They See Us” and the documentary 13th. I have been so upset that I sat down at my computer and typed away long into the night. I have had passionate discussions with family members and friends. I have been overwhelmed by sadness. I have been uncomfortable and upset about every new heartbreaking injustice that I have learned about.
I have been sitting in this grief for several weeks now. But all this grieving – though it has an important place in healing – isn’t changing anything.
Now it’s time to do something.
Tomorrow I am going to talk about how I have chosen to support the important work of racial equality and justice – and how you can too.
Today I turn thirty-three years old and my blog turns two. It’s kind of fun sharing a birthday with my blog. She has become a close friend of mine – the sort of friend who listens without judging or offering advice and never hates me despite how weird I seem to the rest of the world.
My birthday is not a special affair – not because my partner doesn’t try to make it a huge deal [he tries throwing me a party every frickin year], but because I don’t like a lot of fuss about my birthday. I prefer quiet time at home with my family instead of a big celebration, and this year that’s exactly what I’m getting [thanks, Coronavirus!].
My plans include a movie with chocolate and champagne. Sounds absolutely perfect.
In honor of my blog’s birthday, I’m doing some reflection on the past two years.
As someone who gets bored very quickly and has started [and stopped] multiple “blogging” endeavors in the past, I am quite surprised that I’ve managed to keep this thing going for two years.
I’m grateful to everyone who has stuck with me through my motherhood adventures, my dabbling in veganism, my purging of our belongings, and my attempt a [nearly] zero waste living. It’s been an eventful two years.
Looking back over my posts, I realize that this blog is very scatter-brained [which I suppose is only natural since I’m very scatter-brained]. In the past two years, I’ve written about minimalism, simplicity, zero waste, DIY, healthy living and motherhood. I’ve posted about clothing purges, my farm share, time outdoors with my kids, craft projects, grocery shopping, books I’ve read, my home birth, and even my trash can has made several appearances. It’s been weird, I know.
But, believe it or not, in the midst of all this randomness, I have been pursuing one main goal – which is the goal of this blog.
To live a simple and intentional life
Doesn’t sound too tough, but turns out this is a very counter-cultural way of life – at least, counter to my American culture which is focused on convenience and consumerism and accumulating wealth and working yourself to death in pursuit of it. American culture also has a tendency to glorify busyness, as if the people who are going the fastest, filling their schedules the fullest, collapsing into bed at night the most exhausted are the ones winning at life.
When I talk about my kids playing outside all day instead of watching television, or taking my own mason jars to the grocery store, or using bar shampoo, or [god forbid] not buying paper towels, I mostly get eye-rolls.
Living simply and intentionally has not only been challenging – it has also been lonely.
This blog has served as my personal sounding board and safe space for reflection [made all the safer by the small number of people who read it] and also a means of finding connections with other like-minded bloggers.
This blog is not about giving people advice or tips or how-tos. This has been my own personal exploration of how I want to live my best life.
Thus far, I’ve focused mostly on the simple side of things. I’ve been working on reducing clutter [physical and otherwise] and stopping the constant influx of new stuff. I’ve been avoiding further damage to the planet through reducing our waste and recycling what we can and repurposing what we can’t. I’ve been spending more time with my kids outdoors enjoying nature, creating works of art at the kitchen table, and engaging in their world of make believe. We’ve been doing more reading and baking and building.
We’ve gone back to the basics. Back to a simpler way of life. But something has been missing [from the blog, at least] — the intention.
So this year I am going to spend more time focusing on the intention behind these outward manifestations. I will be sharing more about our charitable contributions, humanitarian efforts and the reasons that go deeper than simply living with less clutter and screen time. Though I haven’t written about it [other than once about a year ago in this post], all of my lifestyle changes have been motivated by a desire to live an intentional life.
This blog is not just about simplicity – it’s about living a life of meaning and purpose.
Simple living and minimalism and zero waste save a lot of money, but for what purpose? Just to hoard my abundant resources until I die? To increase my already luxurious existence? To ensure that I can live out the end of my days without a care in the world? Is that what life is really all about?
These are the ideas that I have been exploring personally and that are going to show up more regularly in my writing.
Also, this blog is in dire need of a redesign which I will hopefully get done soon.
In the past three months, I have read some of the most profound and transformative books of my entire life. So, rather than wait til July, I’m switching to quarterly book reviews.
But first, I want to preface my reviews by saying that I don’t pretend to be an expert on…well…anything and these comments are just my own personal responses to reading the books.
I’ve come to see how books are a huge part of my journey and that the timing of reading a book makes a big difference in how I will receive it. I think this is true for most people. For instance, several years ago I read many books about minimalism, simplicity, and decluttering. Each of these was helpful at the time in teaching me how to simplify and organize my life. They served as an important first step toward a more intentional and less egocentric existence. I found many of these books to be transformative [such as The Year of Less by Cait Flanders and The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo and Slow by Brooke McAlary]. However, I tried to read another one a few weeks ago [When Less Becomes More by Emily Ley] and I just couldn’t do it. I’m at a different place in my journey now and while these books set me on the right path, I’m ready to move to the next level of intentional living. [You’ll see what I mean as you look at the books I’ve read so far this year.]
All that to say, I have read these books because they challenge my worldview and challenge me to change and that is what I love most about books.
[Also, the star ratings are purely for fun and only reflect my own personal enjoyment of the book.]
So here we go…
milk and honey by rupi kaur
This is a very short book of poems which is on Emma Watson’s feminist book club list. Clearly, I really enjoyed it [hence the five stars]. It was beautiful and powerful.
One of my favorite things about Kaur’s poetry is that “I” is never capitalized [actually nothing is capitalized]. It reminded me of a brilliant guy I dated in college who always used a lowercase “i” to refer to himself in writing because he didn’t think it was right for us to only capitalize the word referring to ourselves, but not the other pronouns. I LOVE that. I don’t know if it was Kaur’s intent, but the lack of capitalization created a unique, visual equality in her work.
I definitely recommend this book – but I also know that some people will be offended by it [as people are offended by anything feminine and frank] and that others will think it’s plain nonsense.
Truth is uncomfortable sometimes.
Hunger by Roxane Gay
This was another book from Emma Watson’s book club list. I had anticipated it being feminist, but I wasn’t prepared for how it would affect me as a personal trainer. Everyone needs to read this book to better understand the complexities surrounding body image in our culture. Although I have always been a strong advocate of “healthy over skinny” and “strong is the new sexy” kind of stuff, I have never experienced what it is like to be obese in our culture. This book was eye opening into the pain and discomfort that comes with living in a world designed for skinny people.
The most important lesson of all, however, is the age-old and yet still unmastered rule of etiquette: stop judging people by their outward appearance! [Geez. You would think we would have this one down by now!] This applies to so many people today. No one wants to be instantly judged because of the way they look – even if their appearance is their choice. We don’t know the whole person and the small glimpses we get are just tiny fragments of the whole reality. Roxane’s story is proof that sometimes even the people closest to us don’t know the whole truth.
“He said/she said is why so many victims (or survivors, if you prefer that terminology) don’t come forward. All too often, what “he said” matters more, so we just swallow the truth. We swallow it, and more often than not, that truth turns rancid. It spreads through the body like an infection. It becomes depression or addiction or obsession or some other physical manifestation of the silence of what she would have said, needed to say, couldn’t say.”
Roxane Gay, Hunger
And, then, if that wasn’t enough of a reason for this book to be awesome, it is also full of amazing truths about how frickin sexist our society is.
I was angry because young men in politics were treated like rising stars, but young women were treated like — well, young women. I was angry about all the women candidates who put their political skills on hold to raise children — and all the male candidates who didn’t. I was angry about the human talent that was lost because it was born into a female body and the mediocrity that was rewarded because it was born into a male one. And I was angry because the media took racism seriously — or at least pretended to — but with sexism, they rarely bothered even to pretend. Resentment of women still seemed safe, whether it took the form of demonizing black single mothers or making routine jokes about powerful women being ball-busters.”
Roxane Gay, Hunger
The Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn
This is the only book I’ve read all year [so far] that I didn’t really like. I chose it because I love to read books that are being made into movies before I see the films. Unfortunately, this one was just like The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, which was also totally predictable. I don’t know if this is a result of all of those creative writing courses I took in college, studying how to create a good plot twist, but I have read very, very few books that have legitimately surprised me. I should probably just give up on the suspense/thriller genre altogether, as it is usually a disappointment.
[Some exceptions are The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton and Where the Crawdad’s Sing by Delia Owens – both of which I loved and highly recommend.]
My sincere apologies to Mr. Finn…
How to Stop Losing Your Sh*t with Your Kids by Carla Naumburg, PhD
Everyone who has kids should read this. Even if you are thinking right now that you don’t need to read it because you would never lose yourshit with your little angels [you’re totally lying to yourself], you should read it anyway because it’s HILARIOUS. This author is the funniest I have ever read [though I am severely sleep-deprived due to having four little “button-pushers” so I may be very easily amused].
Last year I read Now Say This [for the second time], which was all about how to respond to your children and nurture them and empower them and teach them a sense of morality etc. Well, How to Stop Losing Your Sh*t is basically all about how to nurture yourself.
It was AWESOME.
It is also so full of wisdom that I would love to quote the ENTIRE BOOK right here, but you should really just go read it for yourself…because that’s obviously why it’s in a book form. In fact, I will probably start buying this book for new parents because it is that essential.
Many parenting books focus on how to get kids to stop with all the [button] pushing already. While it is technically your job as a parent to teach your children to keep their hands to themselves, both literally and figuratively, this is not the best tactic for managing your shit. Do you really want to hinge your sanity on the behavior of someone who licks walls and melts down over the shape of a piece of toast? Yeah, I didn’t think so.”
Carla Naumburg, PhD How to Stop Losing Your Sh*t with Your Kids
Since I can’t quote the whole thing, I’ll share one of the impactful nuggets of wisdom for me personally: STOP MULTI-TASKING! It seems so obvious to me now, but as soon as she said it I realized that I get super irritated with my kids any time I am trying to get something done AND spend time with them. In these situations, I think I’m being productive [and I highly value productivity], but in reality nothing gets done with quality and I just get upset more easily. So, I’ve been practicing being completely present during my time with the kids – setting the phone far, far away, focusing on my kids instead of running through my mental to-do list, engaging in activities with them instead of setting them up to play and walking away.
This was just one of the major helpful tips, but trust me, this book has TONS of excellent advice. You will definitely find your triggers and learn how to manage them, which is essential to avoid losing your shit.
“Screwing up and being awesome are not mutually exclusive.”
Carla Naumburg, PhD
Carla, I freaking love you.
Religion As We Know It: An Origin Story by Jack Miles
My relationship with religion is very complicated. In spite of that [or maybe because of it], I enjoy reading religious books of all sorts. I picked this book up because I have been studying philosophy and world religions in my spare time and this book [which is apparently the expanded preface to Norton’s Anthology of World Religions] piqued my curiosity.
In the end, this book turned out to be different than I expected, but had a profound effect on my belief system regarding religion.
“Religion seems to me to bear one aspect when considered as a special claim of knowledge and quite another aspect when considered as a special acknowledgment of ignorance.”
Jack Miles, Religion As We Know It
I don’t really want to get into my history with religion, particularly Protestant evangelicalism which was the most important part of my life for twenty-seven years, but I will say that while I have intentionally rejected religious practice in my own life and don’t hold any religious work as the “inerrant word of god,” Jack Miles made an excellent point that even fiction can be used to teach spiritual truths.
“Religious truth can be conveyed as well through fiction as through history. Patristic and medieval Christianity were content for centuries to search the Bible for moral allegories rather than for historical evidence…But because Protestantism, rejecting allegorical interpretation, had consistently emphasized and valorized the historical or “plain,” non-allegorical content of the Bible, Protestant Christianity has particular trouble entertaining the notion that the Bible could be historically false in some regards and yet still religiously valid.”
Jack Miles, Religion As We Know It
This kind of blew my mind. I’ve been wandering in this strange unfamiliar space of not believing the Bible to be without error, and yet not really being able to throw it out entirely. Of course, I was raised just as he stated, that the Bible is to be taken literally and believed as the final word on everything – scientific, historical, and spiritual. So I reasonably believed that if I can’t accept a part of it, I have to toss the whole thing. But, turns out, hermeneutics really are everything. [I learned that in Bible college —but unfortunately I also learned the wrong hermeneutic.]
If this is all sounding a little deep, well, it is. I enjoy academic books, but geez, I had to reread each sentence in this book about three times! Still a worthwhile read for anyone interested in religious studies.
Now let’s move on to something more light and fluffy…
My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman
Please read this book.
Well, first, read Backman’s first novel, A Man Called Ove, which still might be my favorite fiction book of all time.
After that, read this book.
Just when I thought Backman couldn’t possibly be any more brilliant [no seriously, I read his third novel and was disappointed so I thought he exhausted his brilliance writing Ove], he writes a book that is so beautiful, so imaginative, so powerful that I literally cried. [Admittedly, it doesn’t take much to make me cry, but still…] This man has a way of telling a story that I simply ADORE.
I cannot WAIT for the libraries to reopen so I can get my hands on Beartown!
Waking Up White by Debby Irving
This book is an absolute must read for every white American who has ever said that they aren’t racist, mentioned “the race card,” complained about affirmative action, stereotyped someone from a non-white race, or believed that they earned their wealth and status by hard work and determination. In other words, this is book is an absolute necessity for every single white American.
A few years ago, I read Where Do We Go From Here, by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and was simultaneously inspired and ashamed —inspired to continue the important civil rights work that began over sixty-five years ago and deeply ashamed to find myself among the white population of America that thought the work was already done. While the idea of racism has always been utterly appalling to me, I finally realized that I was complicit in the ongoing inequality that people of color endure in America simply by believing that we had done enough to right the wrongs.
Anyway, to make a long story short, I’ve been working since then to unpack my own biases and trying to truly and genuinely and humbly understand the issues surrounding racial inequality in America – including the implications of my own whiteness. However, I have continually hit brick walls when trying to discuss the topic of race with any of the white people I know – all of whom believe themselves to be entirely free of any guilt and without any obligation to right anything because nothing is wrong.
“The story emerging for me, however, tells a tale of black and brown people being held down so long that white folks have come to believe they got there on their own. The removal of legal barriers that once separated the races has done little to change the distorted belief system that lives on in the hearts and minds of millions of individuals. At this point, the only thing needed for racism to continue is for good people to do nothing.”
Debby Irving, Waking Up White
Then came Debby Irving, who I don’t know at all, but feel like is a kindred spirit because we are so much alike [and I listened to her read the audiobook so I felt like she was talking directly to me].
Let me tell you, no book has ever been so transformative for me. Maybe it’s because I was prepared by other race related books and documentaries and television shows and biographies, that I could easily soak up every truth in this book. I don’t know if I would have accepted it in previous years. It is not an easy truth to accept about myself. But I hope beyond hope that more people will read this book and discover like I did that my own whiteness has shaped my identity and just because I live in a white world doesn’t mean that everyone should have to do things the white way.
“In policy after policy, act after act, the United States has reaffirmed its commitment to being a melting-pot society adhering to Anglo-Saxon standards, as opposed to a mosaic nation built on the diversity of multiple cultures.”
Debby Irving, Waking Up White
We still have a long way to go, but we can get there if we stop denying that there is a problem and start working toward a solution. And the place to begin is by understanding the culture of whiteness.
Awake by Noel Brewer Yeatts
It’s impossible to read this book – a compilation of true stories from all over the globe – and not be moved with compassion for the half a billion people on this planet who live in extreme poverty.
This book led me to Peter Singer’s book The Life You Can Save and these two books combined have changed me forever – starting with the commitment to donate 100% of my income to charitable work easing poverty around the world. I’m not the sole breadwinner in my family, obviously, but I want to give whatever I have so that fewer children will die because of drinking unclean water, fewer young girls will be kidnapped and sold into prostitution, fewer women will be raped and impregnated and infected with AIDS, fewer kids will drop out of school, fewer people will live on less than $2 a day.
“Too often we want to settle for a god who knows and loves everything about us. A god who takes care of us, who makes all our dreams come true, and who keeps us safe. And we are comfortable letting god keep the hurt and pain in the far corners of the earth all to himself. He can keep all of that; just let us keep living in our world – our cool, clean, and comfortable world.”
Noel Brewer Yeatts, Awake
We are so privileged in America that we can actually forget that these tragedies are every day realities in some places in the world right now. But we cannot turn a blind eye to these desperate needs, no matter how far away they may be.
We have the power to change these things, if we choose….and really, there is no other choice.
The Call of the Wild by Jack London
When I saw that Harrison Ford was going to be in the new film version of The Call of the Wild, I was SO EXCITED, so I decided to re-read the book [by listening to the audiobook] before seeing the movie. About halfway through, it dawned on me that I’ve never read the book before. I thought I had read it in high school but maybe I had it confused with White Fang. Honest mistake…now that I’m fifteen years out of high school. [What?!?]
Anyway, I loved this story. As a nature lover and a dog lover this was a very enjoyable read [though at times sad]. I listened to it while running through my local forest preserve during this pandemic quarantine and it provided a nice escape.
I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I am SO EXCITED about it. [I’m a little bit of a Ford fanatic.]
Well, that’s what I’ve been reading. I’m always open to book recommendations!
In 2019, I read 40 books, I fell in love with yoga, I learned to knit, I spent more time outside with my kids, I visited the dentist TWICE, I made my own cleaning products, and I gave birth to a beautiful, healthy baby.
All-in-all, it was a great year.
This, my friends, is what New Years resolutions are all about. They are NOT just to set and forget. They are supposed to change you. And when they are effective, they are AWESOME.
This year, I have goals that are BIG. They are so big, they are a little scary. I’m almost afraid to state them – but these are things I truly want to accomplish, so I’m going to go for it anyway.
New skill: learn Spanish
Health: run a marathon, swim regularly, improve flexibility
Personal: go back to school for nursing, pursue kidney donation, volunteer regularly
Blog: improve blog design and function, organize and categorize posts
Family: establish family mealtime routine and guidelines, take international trip with Brett
Minimalism: minimalist game in January, remove 30 unused items per month, log all [non-consumable] purchases
Environmentalism: buy milk in glass, switch to safety razor, wooden dish brushes, and straw broom.
Humanitarianism: donate more money this year, sponsor another child, commission quilts for donation
As I’ve said before, I LOVE making resolutions [or goals] because it is so helpful for me to focus on specific things I want to change or improve or learn or accomplish in the new year. Maybe you hate them, maybe you’re indifferent, or maybe you have your own way of goal-setting. Whatever the case, I hope that 2020 is a year of tremendous personal growth and accomplishments for you.
Two years ago, I made a New Years Resolution that changed my life. Of all the goals you may be thinking of setting for 2020, I hope you will give this one a try.
To be perfectly transparent, this resolution didn’t actually change my finances at all, but what it DID do was change my PERSPECTIVE of my money. And, let me tell you, perspective is EVERYTHING. Even though I didn’t necessarily have more money at the end of the year [in fact, I probably had less], for the first time in my life, I felt really frickin’ rich.
My resolution was this:
I resolve to give money EVERY TIME ANYONE ASKS.
For the entire year of 2018,I gave money to every person holding a sign on the side of the road, every kid selling candy outside of a store, every collection bucket at an intersection, every additional dollar at the grocery check-out, every mailer requesting donations, every email asking for money, every heartbreaking commercial that I always used to ignore. I never kept track of any of it, so I have no idea how much this actually amounted to over the year, but, honestly, I haven’t missed any of that money and no matter how much it was, it was worth trading it all for the change it made in me.
To be honest, it was a huge relief. I didn’t have to endure that awkward feeling of trying to not make eye contact with whoever might be asking for money. I didn’t have to think about whether this person was “worthy.” I didn’t have to ask myself whether this was a “good cause.” I didn’t bother researching organizations to find out what percentage of their funds goes to administration costs or look up what the CEO makes. I didn’t pass any judgements or make any assumptions. I didn’t even ask myself if I could afford it [trust me, asking if you can afford it is the first step to finding an excuse]. I just said “yes.” Every time.
One time Brett and I were watching a Netflix comedy special without realizing that there would be a legit appeal for donations at the end…so, guess what. We are now proud supporters of Seth Rogen’s Alzheimer’s foundation called Hilarity for Charity.
Another time, Brett and I were on vacation in Baltimore when a woman came to us asking for five dollars. She told us a long story about why she needed the money and though we didn’t find it very convincing, her reason didn’t matter to me. All that mattered to me was that she needed money and I have plenty to share. We only had $20 bills on us at the time so I gave her one and wished her luck.
Now, I know what some people would say [because people have literally said these things to me]. “She’s just going to buy drugs.” “She is probably a professional beggar making $70k a year.” “You are not helping her, you are just enabling her.” “She doesn’t need a hand-out, she needs a job.” Yadda, yadda, yadda.
Trust me. I’ve heard it all. I was raised with the idea that the only safe, respectable place to give your money is to the church [so they can pay their bills and salaries and then use what’s left for ministering to their church members – am I stepping on toes yet?]. But I wanted to cut out the middle man and give to the needy. Even though my upbringing taught me that you can’t just give money to anyone, it failed to teach me the most important lesson:
Giving is just as much for the giver as it is for the recipient.
Giving money away at every opportunity is something that I do because it is right and good AND because it changes ME.
Giving teaches me to stop holding so tightly to my stuff, to let go of my reliance on my financial security, to live a little more by faith. Giving reminds me that I am blessed, that I was born into privilege, that I am no better than any other human being, and that everyone will face struggles and hard times and I can show simple, tangible love for my fellow humans by reaching into my wallet and giving [literal cold, hard cash] from my heart.
I have no right to pass judgements or make assumptions about the needs or intentions of others – because I am not god.
So many people try to play god, saying “don’t give money to that person because they will probably spend it on drugs or alcohol,” or “don’t give money to that organization because you don’t know if they will use it responsibly.”
Who are we to decide who is worthy of charity?
How are we to know who is “deserving” of our kindness and love? Why do we think WE are qualified to decide who should get money and who shouldn’t? Because we are the ones who have the money? Because we were born into a more privileged situation? Because we were taught the virtues of hard work and money management? Because we had parents who loved us and taught us these things? Does that make it okay for us to pass judgements on them? Or to even view it as an “us” and “them” situation?
We are ALL “US.” We are one big collective group of human beings – unique and diverse except for the unifying fact that we are ALL trying to find our way in the world. And it doesn’t hurt for those of us who are the most privileged to show a little more compassion, to give a little more and to judge a little less.
I like to leave the judging to god. After all, it is impossible for me to know a person’s entire life story from a sign on the side of the road, so I choose to let the universe handle all that stuff and I just do my part, which is give.
And if you believe the Bible, then I think you will agree that Jesus didn’t ask people to give only to those who have been fully vetted or who are completely worthy or who have never made mistakes or who will use the money the wisest. I’m pretty sure he just said to give to people who had needs. That’s the only qualifier. That they have needs.
My job is just to give.
This past year, I didn’t need to make the resolution again because I had already developed a habit. Now, the new resolution is to give more each year than I did the year before.