Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Lemon Tea

It’s 54 degrees on a foggy summer day in San Francisco. Here in Northern Michigan, I have been swimming in warm lakes in 70 to 80 degree weather and gleefully glad to have escaped San Francisco and experience summer the way I think it should be. 

Until now.

It’s not foggy, but the San Francisco chill has come all the way to Michigan, the lake has turned cold and I’m changing from shorts to blue jeans and pulling out my vest from the bottom of my suitcase. And my spoiled privileged self is feeling, “Hey! This isn’t what I signed up for!”

But in the spirit of making hot lemon tea from lemonades, I found a 500-piece puzzle, a round one celebrating women in the suffrage movement and started digging in. 5-year-old Malik helped me find the edges, Zadie joined in, Talia came back from her run and sat down and a couple of hours later, we had both the pleasure of accomplishment and learned a lot about women I hadn’t heard of before. Some I knew something about—Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Ida Wells, Sojourner Truth, Helen Keller, Jane Addams— but there were 35 more whose story I needed to hear. And they had an accompanying sheet that told their stories.

After that, I sat on the couch reading Stamped:Anti-Racism and You and there again were familiar names of people I should know that I did. But also new ones that I needed to know—and now I do. And so should you. Naomi Anderson, the Grimke Sisters, Mary Terrell, Alice Paul (the latter an example of being a staunch supporter for women's rights, but an apologist for racism) and many others. 

So while I’m grouchy that it’s too cold to swim, the weather led me to some important things to know and some satisfying things to do. The lemon tea is both warming and tasty. 

School Dreams

Every August, for over four decades, I begin to have dreams about returning to school. I was curious whether I still would now that I’m retired.

The answer is yes. 

Monday, August 3, 2020

It's Time

Within a short span of time, I’ve read White FragilitySo You Want to Talk About RaceMe and White Supremacy and soon will get to Stamped and How to Be an Anti-Racist. All these books together say just about the same things in different voices and everything they say is precisely what needs to be said and attended to. Has needed to be said for hundreds of years, but we seem to only now (we being white people) ready to hear it, consider it. take it seriously, act on it. Of course, not all of the “we” and that’s a matter for great shame and sorrow. But meanwhile there is more hope than I’ve felt in a long time that people can finally get the incontrovertible fact that white silence is compliance, white silence is a form of violence. 

I have been vocal for decades about these matters, but one of the new (old truths) is that no one gets a cookie for doing the right thing. And I’m newly alerted to the many, many ways I could have done better and the many, many ways I’ve (unintentionally, but that doesn’t matter) contributed to being compliant with white privilege. One cannot exhibit an ounce of pride that one is a “good anti-racist” any more than one can claim being a “good parent.” There is always more work to do.

On Facebook, there is an excellent summary of the matter which I include below alongside my comment. For those who have not yet read the above books or are not inclined to do so, consider this summary. And then please, read the above books.

One. More. Time. In case it’s STILL unclear.


• 400 years ago white people enslaved black people. And sold them. And treated them as less than human. For 250 years. While white men built the country and created its laws and its systems of government. While 10, 15 generations of white families got to grow and flourish and make choices that could make their lives better.


• And then 150 years ago white people "freed" black people from slavery. But then angry white people created laws that made it impossible for them to vote. Or to own land. Or to have the same rights as white people. And even erected monuments glorifying people who actively had fought to keep them enslaved. All while another 5, 10 generations of white families got to grow and accumulate wealth and gain land and get an education.


• And then 60 years ago we made it "legal" for black people to vote, and to be "free" from discrimination. But angry white people still fought to keep schools segregated. And closed off neighborhoods to white people only. And made it harder for black people to get bank loans, or get quality education or health care, or to (gasp) marry a white person. All while another 2-3 generations of white families got to grow and pass their wealth down to their children and their children's children.


• And then we entered an age where we had the technology to make PUBLIC the things that were already happening in private-- the beatings, the stop and frisk laws, the unequal distribution of justice, the police brutality (police began in America as slave patrols designed to catch runaway slaves). And only now, after 400+ years and 20+ generations of a white head start, are we STARTING to truly have a dialog about what it means to be black.


White privilege doesn't mean you haven't suffered or fought or worked hard. It doesn't mean white people are responsible for the sins of our ancestors. It doesn’t mean you can’t be proud of who you are.


It DOES mean that we need to acknowledge that the system our ancestors created is built FOR white people.


It DOES mean that Black people are treated at a disadvantage because of the color of their skin.


It DOES mean that we owe it to our neighbors-- of all colors-- to acknowledge that and work to make our world more equitable.




(My comment) 

Clear and necessary summary. Thank you. White folks (and I'm one), let's get to work. Seriously. And if you need encouragement, here's a thought: all that hatred, inherited and ignorantly or purposefully kept going, eats away at our own souls. Happiness is not riding on the wave of our privilege, but looking deeper into our souls, doing the needed work in company with our neighbors. All our neighbors. Thank you, Amy, for the reminder.


Saturday, August 1, 2020


At the Little Bighorn Monument, I was reading to the grandkids the words of Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull and a quote from someone named Rotten Belly. This deserved some explanation. So I talked to them about my understanding of Spirit names, of being named according to the signs of one’s character. Spontaneously, and wanting to make them laugh by the surefire method of potty humor, I said, “For example, mine could be Poop-on-the-Trail.”

Not only did they laugh, but my daughter Talia latched on to it and decided that this indeed would be my new name. For my recent birthday, she went so far as to buy a piece of fake rubber poop (amazing that she found it in the small town of Frankfort) and so it appears I’m stuck with it. So now my job is to make it mythologically meaningful.

In the cultures of hunters and gatherers, poop on the trail is the morning news, to be read to see which animals passed through last night, figure out what they ate and along with “tracks on the path,” conjecture which way they came from and where they went. So in one sense, my name has to do with a newspaper headline that’s announcing something important to attend to. 

Or it could be something on the hiker’s path that is to be avoided and my job is to announce it: “Watch out for the poop on the trail!!! Step around it or get a stick and shove it to the side.” Again, this has to do with the morning news, using my Denmarkian nose and eyes to warn people what to watch out for.

My real “spirit name” that I gave myself in high school (no cultural appropriation here, just an inspiration from Native cultures I admire to reflect on my own character essential to my destiny) is “Dappled Path.” I just found myself loving the play of light and shadow when walking in the New Jersey woods. Didn’t know why or what it meant, just trusted my intuitive sense of noticing and affirming what I effortlessly liked. If my later self (meaning this one now) needed to name the meaning, I’d say it has to do equally appreciating the light and the shadow and celebrating the mix that has them in conversation. This constant back-and-forth in my life between apparent opposites— classical music and jazz, children and adults, social responsibility and artistic vision, things like that. It is the equal embrace of grief and joy, daylight ambition and nighttime reflection, feeling heart and active mind. 

So if you ever encounter poop on a dappled path, think of me.