Mon
28
Jun '10

It Starts at Home

(NOTE:  This is probably the longest post I’ve written-1660+ words.  And it includes a 10 minute video.  Please take your time with it.  If you don’t want to be challenged, don’t bother reading it.  It WILL make you uncomfortable.)

I AM A RACIST. I AM A BIGOT. I AM PREJUDICED.

It may or may not be shocking to you that an educated, black business owner who was once an internal diversity consultant would make such a bold admission.

And here’s another shocker:  Chances are, SO ARE YOU.

Are you uncomfortable yet?

Good.

Many of you know that I was once an internal diversity/inclusion consultant for the IT department of a major insurance company. It was, what I believed then, my dream job. The job I was born to do.

For as long as I can remember, I have been a champion of the “underdog”.  I am not sure if it came from being the youngest of five or the fact that 6 year olds would part with their milk money to have me “coach” them.  I simply understood people’s pain all too well. And without even knowing it, practicing compassion became as natural and as necessary as breathing.

But I am willing to bet it came from more deeply personal experiences.

You see, I grew up in a small town on the Ohio/Indiana border.  At the time, the population was about 1500 people.  There were probably 100 black people in the community.  I was related to about half of them.

I was well aware that I was different.  I was raised to be proud of that.  I distinctly remember my brothers dancing around the house singing the James Brown song, “Say it Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud).  I was proud of my family and I was proud of who I was.

Sure, I was aware of the continuing civil rights struggles.  But we lived in up north, so folks liked to make-believe that racism was a “southern” thing.  Even now, that makes me laugh. While we certainly didn’t have any protests about blacks using public restrooms or being served at the lunch counter in our little town, I did learn the word n*gger by the time I was three.

Seriously. The age of THREE.

You’d be surprised the things that people yell in the stands at a football game.  In my case, they were yelling “Catch that n*gger” at my brother, who was a star running back.

And he heard them.

And it hurt. (But he never let it stop him.)

When I went to school, n*gger was a word that surfaced several times during any given school year.

Sometimes, it was by a classmate who just wanted to see if they could get away with it.

As I got older and started cheering, I heard it at almost every away game.

My *favorite* time came in March after spring break.  Without fail, someone who called themselves my friend would invariably say to someone else who had just returned from Florida, “You’re as dark as a n*gger.”

Really.

And of course, embarrassed at their gaffe, they would look at me and say, “Oh, but I don’t see you that way.”

Or my all time favorite, “I don’t see you as black.”

Alrighty then.

And yes, it always stung. Even when people didn’t “mean anything by it”, their insensitivity was mind-boggling.

At the age of 45, it still is.

Long before the election of President Obama, I became acutely aware of just how deep in denial most white people are about racism.  Especially their own.

When I took on the diversity assignment at my former employer, I was once again confronted with this denial.  The company is situated in a farm community and is one of the major employers in town.  Although most of the people I knew were  transferred in from all over the country, the culture of the organization was created by people who had never ventured far past central Illinois and/or their circle of family and friends. They saw the world through a filter that I was all too familiar with. One I found small, limited, and quite frankly, very sad.  One thing I did discover from this was, that in thriving on learning other people perspectives, I was indeed quite unique. The more diversity of thought around me, the better I felt. I wasn’t always necessarily comfortable in those days of having my particular views challenged, but I have come to delight in the fact that I can allow those perspectives into my consciousness and do in fact, welcome them.

I’d be lying to you if I told you the assignment was easy.

There was a tremendous amount of resistant when the diversity initiative was introduced.  Time and time again I would hear, “We don’t need diversity training here.  Those problems simply don’t exist anymore.” Or my favorite, “That’s a southern thing.”

It became clear that middle America (oh hell, America as a whole) would much rather comfort themselves with the false belief that racism is a thing of the past and that the only people who have issues with color are, well, people of color (you know, as in “playing the race card”) “They” (whites) are over it, so why talk about it?  In fact, after the 2008 election of President Obama, it was “declared” that America had now become a post-racial society.

Really? (Check this out when you’re done reading this. http://bit.ly/9X3C4O)

This denial really worked me up back in those days.  In fact, at the beginning of my training as a consultant, I would literally tear your head off.  (Not an effective means of inviting change and reflection, I might add). I did, however, become quite skilled at challenging beliefs in a non-confrontational way (a skill that comes in handy as a coach!)  Often times when presented with evidence on racism not only within the organization, but their own (I have a knack for finding your “hidden” biases), I could almost guarantee that 99.99% of the time, this person will go into this long spiel about how they couldn’t be racist because they were big fans of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. or their best friend was black or they lived next door to a lesbian couple…yada, yada, yada. (Never is the Shakespearean quote, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks” more appropriate than when someone feels they are being accused of being racist.)

After I got an earful of all the reasons they had absolutely no racist bone in their body, I would invariably hear the story about how their grandfather or aunt or dad was really racist and that they were absolutely nothing like “them”. When I asked about how they dealt with that relative, the answer almost always was: “That’s the way they’ve always been and nothing I say will change them.”

I agreed.

Then, I would ask, “So, what do you do when they make a racist remark in your presence?”

Crickets.

In fairness, some would tell me that they would ask them not to say such things in their presence but I would push. Do you ever say, “I will not bring my children around you if you continue to behave this way” or say “This will not be tolerated in my home.”

You can imagine the looks that I would get.

“I can’t do that, they are family

Uh-huh.

And that’s why this country still, some 140+ years since slavery was abolished, has never heal the wounds slavery created.

You are too afraid to bring out those issues in the open.

To challenge it.

To condemn it.

To discuss it.

To humanize it.

Because at the end of the day, you may have to do something about it. Or worse yet, acknowledge your part in it.

And wouldn’t that suck?

So you may be asking what the hell this has to do with blogging, coaching or anything else I write about?

I write this today because I saw this video on YouTube. With all the attention placed on the World Cup (which I had zero interest in), I was shocked to see what European soccer players of color are forced to endure.

And before you say, “that’s just their problem,” I invite you to consider this:

Not one of those so-called fans would probably ever yell a racist remark if those views weren’t first condoned in their home or circle of friends. Condoned by people who may not consider themselves racist but who remain silent for fear of upsetting the family or creating confrontation.

You may be one of those people.

And if you got this far in the post, you are not feeling particular comfortable as you examine your own situation.  

Let me be very clear: I am NOT making you wrong.

There is NO way I could see that behavior in other people and not carry those qualities within me. That’s why I started this post the way I did.

The difference in how I manage my racism is 1) in owning it and 2) in how I practice COMPASSION.

When you watch the video (it is about 10 minute long), I invite you to put yourself on the field in the shoes of those players. Allow yourself to imagine what it would feel like to have a stadium full of people shouting “monkey” and throwing bananas at you.

Don’t miss this. Really put yourself there.

Because the next time someone says something racist in your presence, you may remember that feeling and speak up.

Or you just may decide that no THREE year old should ever have to hear her own brother being called “n*gger” ever again.


=================================================================================================

Practicing compassion is an exercise that works both ways.  To get really good at it, you  also have to practice compassion for yourself. Considering it building your compassion muscle.

Look at the ways you may be especially hard on yourself. Listen to your self-talk today.

Where could you practice compassion for yourself today?  For someone you love?

Because it does start at home.

22 Comments »

22 Responses to “It Starts at Home”

  1. Allison Nazarian Says:

    Thank you for having the guts to share this publicly.

    As a Jew, I rarely (perhaps surprisingly) experienced anti-semitism personally (though the only 2 grandparents I ever knew were Holocaust survivors, and vocal ones at that). I was, however, often told "You don't look Jewish," always by someone who thought they were complimenting me. (In other words: "You don't have a huge nose, dark hair and horns hiding in your head.") And just recently someone was telling me a story about how he someone else tried to "Jew him down."

    And truthfully, I grew up in an environment in which it was OK to say disparaging things about other races and religions because, hey, everyone else hates us anyway, right?!

    It's everywhere and I think a lot of the problem is that something that is ingrained and "harmless" (so they think) is not always something on which one would think to practice compassion (if that even makes sense?).

    Regardless, again, thank you for having the cojones to share your story.

    xo ~ Alli

  2. Lisa Says:

    Thanks for stopping by Allison!

    You know, I have to be honest, I do not get anti-semitism at all. As sad as it sounds, I did not meet anyone of the Jewish faith until I was 18 years old in college. The girl across the hall walked up to me, told me her name, said she was from Miami and that she was a Jew. Now after days of introductions that consisted of name, state and major, this was new.

    I wasn't sure how to respond, so I asked her why it mattered that I knew she was Jewish. She said, "That way I know up front if you hate me." She looked at me like I was crazy when I responded, "Why on earth would I hate you because you're a Jew?"

    Every Jew I have met since basically does the same thing. (And btw..I haven't a clue what Jewish looks like. Thanks for schoolin' me. LOL!)

    I so appreciate you sharing the story about your environment. Last summer I saw some young Jewish kids on TV disparaging Barack Obama and I was so confused. How on earth could any Jew spew hate given all they have suffered? But you give a perspective I hadn't considered. You may have said it in jest, but if your belief and experience is that everyone else hates you, it would make sense that one could feel justified in doing the same. (I can tell you, however, in our house, it was inviting a good ass whoopin'! Vera (my late mom) didn't play that!)

    Unfortunately it is everywhere and ingrained in the fabric of society. But as you know from your grandparents experience, it is far from harmless. After the Holocaust, we swore "never again." Yet we only have to look to Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur to see how miserably we've failed. I guess I am a trying to say that maybe, since the methods we've used in the past aren't working (you know the definition of insanity), that maybe we try a new approach.

    Compassion–pass it on. 🙂

    xoxo – lmb

  3. Peggie Says:

    Lisa — you know how much I love this post and you for writing it. thank you for starting the discussion. this is a HARD thing to so many “modern” americans (the hell with our parents and grandparents — its OUR world now) are sort of ducking, weaving and just not knowing what to do. Absolutely, I have biases – -they are ALL based on fear and mis/non-education. I’m afraid of what I don’t know and/or understand. And one of the things we did in this country is make it so UN-PC to talk about race and fears that people who are interested in a dialogue are not having one for fear of saying the wrong thing. You’ve given us permission, right here, to listen to ourselves and then start listening to our fear and what it MUST teach us about compassion and humanity. #youarebraveandwise #thatisall

  4. Lisa Says:

    There is no such thing as the “wrong” thing when you are sincerely trying to open up the dialogue. Of course, you may stumble and may actually say something that people are offended by. But do you think really that that your silence, your complicity is any less offensive? Most people of color that I know are happy to share their experiences with you–you just have to ask.

    I am so blown away by your admission of your own biases. That takes so much courage and a whole lot of wisdom, sistah. 🙂

    Think about it this way, if someone felt the same way about you that you do when it comes to (insert bias here), how would it make you feel? What would you want that person who held that view of you to do?

    Once you do that, your wisdom and open heart will guide you through any conversation. Y ou just have to be willing to take the steps. #thatisall

  5. Carol Hess Says:

    I'm wondering if I'm going to have the courage to post this comment. Or will I write it and then erase it for fear of offending someone (mainly you, Lisa, since your opinion of me matters to me)? Or for fear of being misunderstood? Or, for fear of (God forbid) being labeled racist?

    What's the big word screaming at me from what I just wrote? FEAR. What I suspect is at the bottom of every form of racism. If I tear down the other guy, label him, put him in a box, call him a nasty name, then I will feel better about myself. I won't have to be so afraid of (name the fear).

    But that's intellectualizing. Convenient, safe, and not really what your post is challenging me to do. Which is get honest. And then compassionate.

    Yes, I'm a racist, a bigot, prejudiced. My reaction to the video proves it. "Well, European football fans are all like that." Is that really true, Carol? Of course it isn't. But it's easier to dismiss the football fans and their behavior than it is to look at that uncomfortable subject their behavior is bringing up.

    And speaking of uncomfortable, I really didn't like it when you asked me to look at my response when family members demonstrated bigotry. Most of my family comes from Baltimore — lots of racism, lots of anti-Semitism. Did their remarks make me uncomfortable? Yes. Did I do anything about it? No.

    I remember my concern about my parents' reaction when they found out I was dating a Jew. My college friends from Ohio couldn't understand the problem. "He's not a Pollack, Carol. So what's the big deal?" (I had to ask what a Pollack was. Sometimes bigotry is a matter of location.) When my boyfriend's mother sent people to spy on the "shiksa" who was dating her son, I was insulted. How dare she! I didn't realize, at least not back then, that bigotry goes both directions.

    So now what? What do I do now that I've admitted my racism and bigotry? Reword those unspoken remarks? Reframe those unbidden beliefs? Retell those untrue stories? Ferret out the fear underlying my racism?

    And how do I be compassionate with myself about it? (There goes my chance to beat up on myself! Darn!) How do I be compassionate with others about it? (There goes my chance to be self righteous! Darn!)

    Okay. I'm hitting the "Submit" button before I chicken out.

  6. Lisa Says:

    Carol,

    Thank you for standing in your truth.

    I cried when I read this. I could feel so much emotion in it: guilt, shame, sadness, fear…even a little anger.

    But most of all…courage. You have already faced demons and now they know for sure..this girl ain't playin'!

    You allowed yourself to be so vulnerable, so exposed. And it was such a beautiful thing.

    I am wrapping you up in big hugs and lots of love. 🙂

    Now that your truth is "out there", allow it to be. Trust me, I know the deep desire to judge it. Or worse yet, the dash to cover it up again. But resist the urge. Now is the time to practice compassion for yourself. There is never anything "wrong" with the way you feel. Never.

    I love the questions you began asking. Use them as prompts in your writing (says the student to the coach 🙂 ). Who do you want to become as a result of what you uncovered? Decide how you want to celebrate this "unmasking" and then do it.

    In the meantime, I will celebrate you.

  7. LaVonne Ellis Says:

    Yep, we all have biases and prejudices, it’s what you do with them that matters. Do you take an honest look at them and try to understand them? Or do you just stick with the belief that some other group, whether another race or religion or sexual preference, is somehow less than your group?

    Well, that’s supposed to make me sound like I’m all perfect and stuff. But you hit the nail on the head when you asked what I do when someone I love expresses racism. When I was young and idealistic, I confronted it. I didn’t care if my older male relatives got pissed at me.

    Now, I have one younger male relative whose anger scares me — not physically, just in general — so I don’t confront his racism, although he knows full well how I feel because I have confronted it in the past. I usually say, when he asks what I think, that I don’t know what to say and then I say goodbye. We don’t talk much now because of this. Yes, I should have more courage, but I really can’t take getting drawn into another sarcastic, Fox/Limbaugh/Beck-derived debate.

    Racists are much more aggressive and in your face these days. Which I realize means that it’s even more important to stand up and say no to them. I just wish it wasn’t so scary.

  8. Lisa Says:

    LaVonne, what would confronting him actually change? He knows how you feel. You’ve been quite clear. I see nothing productive in engaging anyone in a “Fox/Limbaugh/Beck-derived debate.” They are not listening.

    What I do hope is that people will take the opportunity to use examples like this video. I would love to know how he would feel if it were him on the field, doing nothing but playing a game he loves and has become pretty damn good at, being insulted for the color of his skin. Perhaps I am being naive, but I don’t see that as confrontational. That’s asking about him.

    There are many ways to skin a cat. 😉

    Perhaps he can’t articulate his feelings or maybe is too afraid to admit to them. But at least his auntie engaged him. Asked for his point of view. At the end of the day, even racists just want to be heard.

    We just have to give them something better to talk about.

    I’m not asking anyone to risk physical violence for the sake of opening dialogue. You have to do what makes sense for you, first and foremost.

    But I do have to ponder the idea that racists are much more aggressive these days. Perhaps I am totally unaware of what this younger generation is about or capable of.

    Are they more aggressive than those who in 1998 beat Matthew Shepherd and left him tied to a fence in freezing weather to die?
    Or those who, in the same year, beat James Byrd, Jr. unconscious, then tied him to a pick up truck and drug him until he was decapitated?
    Or those who assaulted Daniel Fetty in 2004, a gay man who was hearing-impaired and homeless? Mr. Fetty was beaten, stomped, shoved nude into a garbage bin, impaled with a stick, and left for dead (he died later of his injuries).

    I’m not sure that it’s never *not* scary. And that quite frankly, sucks.

  9. Lisa Miles Brady Says:

    New blog post on Lisa-Unmasked: It starts at home: http://tinyurl.com/23kvl9m cc:@pegkd #2500wds

  10. Peggie Arvidson Says:

    RT @LisaMilesBrady: New blog post on Lisa-Unmasked: It starts at home: http://tinyurl.com/23kvl9m cc:@pegkd #2500wds

  11. Peggie Arvidson Says:

    It Starts at Home – http://lisa-unmasked.com/it-starts-at-home/ this needs to be shared, unveil your fear & start talking. with compassion

  12. LaVonne Ellis Says:

    RT @pegkd: It Starts at Home – http://lisa-unmasked.com/it-starts-at-home/ this needs to be shared, unveil your fear & start talking. with compassion

  13. Peggie Arvidson Says:

    some wonderful discussion going on here – race, religion and fear — http://bit.ly/a0qOv6 cc:@LisaMilesBrady

  14. Thanh Ngoc Tran Says:

    RT @pegkd: some wonderful discussion going on here – race, religion and fear — http://bit.ly/a0qOv6 cc:@LisaMilesBrady

  15. Miss Mandie Says:

    Wow Lisa, what an incredibly open, honest, raw post.

    Racism, not surprisingly, spans the entire globe. Australia has a huge problem. Just five years ago, we had the 'Cronulla riots' where 5000 angry, young, white Australians went on a violent rampage against anyone of colour in response to a couple of surf life savers being attacked by a group of middle eastern men. The violence lasted days. It was horrific to see such an open display of racism by such young people in our largest city.

    Unfortunately since that time, a movement has been started in this country – a movement that our flag seems to be a symbol of…that of a white Australia. They openly display catch phrases such as "f**k off we're full" to let immigrants know they aren't wanted. Its incredible to think they don't see the irony in their statements given they too descended from immigrants at some point, given the only native people to this country is the indigenous Aborigines. Astounding!

    So I have my own prejudices to contend with…those prejudices that judge people with different opinions and outlooks than mine. We all have our filters and I pleased you've created such an open place for people to admit their own and provide the opportunity to transform them if they wish. Your love and acceptance shines through your supportive comments Lisa – what a blessing you are.

  16. Miss Mandie Says:

    ps – I love your encouragement for us all to speak up when around those who are openly making their racists beliefs known. Silence in the face of such things is participating in the continued issue…a friend of mine and I have been speaking a lot about the silent participation of so many of us in the continued oppression of women.

    I've found it a useful tactic to always discuss how my own prejudices have morphed over time. I, too, was a product of my education and upbringing and believe certain "truths" (ha!) about our indigenous people. It was only when I was older, and had the opportunity of working for an equity section at a university that I gained greater insight into these inherent prejudices of my own and that of our society.

    I am grateful that it's been a long time since I've come across anyone with an openly racist outlook.

  17. Mark Silver Says:

    I am so acutely aware of this topic… I’ve done a fair amount of internal work myself- and yet when I meet someone whose skin is a different color than mine, I can hear those thoughts in my head, “Oh look, you’re talking to a -black- person.” It’s so strange to have thoughts like that in my head, and yet there they are.

    It used to be I was so ashamed to even have them there that I ignored them and that, I’m sure, contributed to more unconscious racism on my part. By finding the courage (who knows where?) to acknowledge them within myself I’ve been able to to breathe, find compassion and acceptance in my heart, and then act more like a normal person even when someone’s skin color is different than mine.

    Growing up in Maryland I had a kid feel my head to see if I had horns (I’m Jewish), and I remember being yelled at “dirty kikes!” when standing in front of the synagogue after Hebrew School waiting to be picked up by my mom. Those incidents stung. But because my skin is light, those incidents were rare, not every day.

    When I worked as a paramedic in Oakland, CA, the huge divide between the wealthy white areas and the huge long sections of poverty that were almost entirely African American, Latino, or Asian was startling, even if familiar by then. I weep for our country, for our world and how much we’ve internalized these false differences to the point where they are real differences and cause real harm on so many levels. It damages everyone.

    So strange. So very very strange how pernicious it is. And I welcome every time we become more conscious of it. Thanks for writing this. Unfortunately we’ll have to keep writing these things for some time to come.

    peace
    Mark

  18. Jessica Says:

    Lisa – I love this post and, even more, I love the discussion it has sparked. I married a man who is half Asian. He grew up in rural Wisconsin so you can imagine that he was one of only a few non-whites around. He carries those scars to this day. And yet he has his own prejudices. We all do. But as you and others point out, the key is for us to confront those knee-jerk reactions within ourselves and work to change them.

    As I’ve gotten older, I’m better at confronting people who spout intolerance and hate. One of my favorite quotes is: All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing.

    Thank you for sharing this and helping us all become better people 🙂

  19. Tweets that mention Lisa Unmasked » Blog Archive » It Starts at Home -- Topsy.com Says:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Mark Silver. Mark Silver said: Racism is still working us, folks. Loved this post from @LisaMilesBrady- http://bit.ly/arlYkt […]

  20. Louise Bosse Says:

    Lisa-yes, racism exists all over the world. France is not an exception. Racism goes hand in hand with fanatism and stupidity and has no excuses. The cruelty of it all is to see that young children are brought up in the hatred of other young kids.
    Why are these people giving so many negative traits to their own kids? Perhaps if they realized what they are doing to themselves and their family they would change their behavior.
    Being weak and envious is not a way to become the person you want to become.

    But outside intellectualizing there is action, and thanks to the efforts of some people like Thierry Henry, that great footballer who is always selected to play for France, some actions are being taken. Then it is up to us to make our voices heard.

  21. Louise Bosse Says:

    It Starts at Home – http://lisa-unmasked.com/it-starts-at-home/

  22. Lisa Unmasked » Blog Archive » Cracked Wide Open Says:

    […] It Starts at Home A Few of My Favorites […]