Today is May 1st, 2010. It is the official release date of our book - a date we’ve been anticipating for a very, very long time. At one point, nearly three years ago, we thought our publication date would be in the spring of 2009; when our editor told us it would be a year later, it felt like a tremendous loss and we weren’t sure we knew how to wait patiently. Many of you knew our editor, Terry Cassiday. She has since departed this world and joined that host of angels who are guiding us from afar. When we expressed our dismay at what we perceived as a setback, Terry reminded us that this entire project – the original journey, the race unity work, the stories that became a book – was never our idea to begin with. From its inception, this undertaking has been the result of divine inspiration, divine intervention, divine nudging. She also assured us that the problem of racial prejudice was not going be solved between May 2009 and May 2010, that there would still be a need for our book, and that – like everything else – the timing of its release was being arranged by a wisdom far greater than our own. We often wonder if she had some premonition of what was coming. To say that the timing is perfect is . . . well . . . a bit of an understatement. And she promised that when it happened, it would be wonderful.
Last Thursday evening we did our very first reading as real authors. While we’ve been sharing many of our stories around the country for years, there was something quite different about Thursday. You know how people say about amazing events that it felt like a dream? And how the rest of us think that is so trite? Well let me tell you something – trite or not, it felt like a dream. Like when I’ve just climbed onto a horse and am ready for a gallop, then suddenly I wake up with a rush of disappointment. It wasn’t real; it was only a dream. That’s how I felt Thursday – like I might wake up at any moment and realize that I never actually wrote a book at all; I only imagined it. When we walked into the room at OSU, there were copies of our book, laid out in rows on a table. I heard one young lady say as she walked in, “Oh look! The book is here!” It was surreal. Then we read our stories – not from lined notebook paper with hand-written scribbles, not from computer printouts of unedited electronic files, but from a rectangular, three-dimensional object with pages that are glued together. We gave love to our audience; they gave love back. And when we were done, people paid actual dollars for those copies on the table and then stood in line, waiting for us to sign them! After every signature I looked up and wondered, “Is this going to be the moment when the phone rings, or Gene shifts his position in bed, or a dog barks, and I wake up, look around at the bedroom, and slowly become aware that none of this really happened?”
Apparently I’m still sleeping, because there’s another reading coming up tomorrow and Gene is over at the RV park doing last minute maintenance on our trailer. Things are piled by the front door, ready to be relocated into MUCH SMALLER closets and drawers. Managers of RV parks in Georgia, Texas, and Massachusetts are emailing me confirmations of our reservations. Friends are calling to schedule events in Little Rock, Chicago, and San Diego. I haven’t lost the 40 pounds I had hoped to shed before we set out, but other than that, everything is nearly ready to go. Maybe if I take a brisk, half-hour walk every day between now and May 12th . . .
And Terry Cassiday is looking over my shoulder whispering excitedly in my ear, “I told you so! I told you so!” The dream is unfolding before our eyes. We don’t know exactly what’s going to happen at every turn, but we’re okay with that. It is a little bit stressful and a little bit scary. It has been and will continue to be a whole lot of hard work. It is sometimes exhausting, more often exhilarating. And it is wonderful. So very wonderful.]]>
A few years ago I was working on finishing my degree at DePaul University. Gene and I had parked our RV at a scenic, forested campground on a lake in a far-flung northwestern suburb of Chicago. It was a lovely spot with winding lanes, a well-stocked store staffed by friendly people, a sandy beach, and paddle boats. In fact it offered everything a camper might need – everything, that is, except internet access. And so I drove every day to a small local library about 15 minutes away to research an essay I was writing for one of my course requirements.
One day a group of about eight high school students came into the computer room where I was working. They were a diverse bunch of young people; their clothing and hairstyles proclaimed their unwillingness to conform to some arbitrary standard of correctness.
Right on their heels came one of the library staff. He stood frowning, hands on his hips, watching the students shrug off their jackets and settle into seats in front of the computers. He didn’t speak a word of warning, but his expression clearly said that he was not pleased to see them.
While the group was definitely animated, they were neither rude nor excessively loud, and I found their company refreshing. The librarian however seemed determined to catch them committing some violation of library rules. He came into the room frequently to check on them, each time asking me if they were bothering me. I assured him that they were not, yet he glared at them and told them to be quiet, even though talking was not restricted by policy in that room. When the man came in for the fifth time, I told him,
“You know, there are no signs here that designate this room as a quiet zone. These students are having a good time studying together, and if I feel that I need a quieter environment, I’ll move to another part of the library.”
Well the librarian found my offer upsetting and told me with some vehemence that he would throw them out before he would let that happen. Then he glared at the group again for a long time to make sure his meaning was clear, and actually slammed the door as he left the room.
I looked over at this bunch of young folks who a few moments before had been laughing together as they worked on their various assignments. Now they sat still and somber, staring down at their knees. One of the girls saw me watching and cleared her throat once, twice, and then a third time, and finally spoke to me in a very soft voice.
“He always picks on our group because we look different. Not anyone else – only us.”
I just nodded, and my acknowledgement apparently gave her courage because she continued more loudly,
“ I hate that! They think we’re going to cause trouble just based on how we look, you know, like because we’re spiked.”
Here she gestured toward her friends, none of whom wore what I would call a spiked hairstyle, so I wasn’t sure exactly what part of them might be considered “spiked”. Deciding I didn’t really want to know, I simply nodded again.
The young lady looked around at the others as if to gauge their level of support for what she was about to say, and then she whispered,
“It’s because some of us are Mexican.”
As soon as her words were out, it seemed she suddenly realized that she was talking to an adult white woman, and a look of panic came over her face.
“Oh no,” she said, “I didn’t mean that. That was just a joke.” She glanced quickly at me and then away, then at me again, then at the floor.
I waited until her eyes settled and said, “No, that’s not a joke; it’s probably the truth and it is injustice.”
The group actually gasped, as though I had dared to speak out loud something that had always been hidden. I told them that was exactly what I was writing my essay about – the injustice of prejudice and stereotypes. They scooted their chairs up closer to mine and I talked for several minutes about our travels and the race unity workshop that Gene and I had been presenting around the country. At one point my young friend suggested that when I was done with my essay, I should post it in the library for everyone to read, and I promised to email them all a copy if they gave me their addresses.
As our discussion continued, I watched this courageous girl’s expression change gradually from excitement to resignation, and then to sadness, and finally she admitted that she didn’t think things would ever change. Already at her tender age she felt hopeless.
I begged them not to lose hope. I told them what I’d seen and experienced, said that there were many people, and yes, even many white people, all over the country who were actively engaged in change. And I said it was all happening because of bonds of friendship among people from different backgrounds. I explained how the images in my mind of the faces of my friends of color were what drove me on, how I didn’t want to let them down.
This seemed to encourage the group, and the girl said, “Hey, you and I are friends now! My name is Amanda.”
Then another student jumped up out of her chair, put her arm around a fair-skinned, blond girl and said, “This is my best friend – she’s white and I’m Hawaiian!” And within seconds the whole group was involved in the conversation, back to their animated, spiky selves, talking about this or that friend of a different ethnicity.
Amanda said, “You know, it’s not just about race. There is prejudice against gays and grogs too.” Anyhow I think she said “grogs” or maybe it was “throgs.” I thought it best to just nod my understanding, even though I clearly had no clue what type of person she might be referring to.
A young Mexican man, grinning and rocking back and forth, shouted “Hey, we’re an interracial group; we could be like your sponsors or something!” And we all thought up funny scenarios that involved my diverse team of sponsors following our RV down the road in their big red bus. The librarian apparently heard our laughter and came over to watch us through the room’s windows. He didn’t come in.
A little later I went out into the main part of the library to make some photocopies. As I walked back toward the computer room, I could see them through the same windows; they were ripping little strips of paper from their notebooks, writing something on them, and putting them next to my computer. Then they gathered up their jackets and books and straggled out of the room, offering their hands to me as we passed in the doorway. They exited the library still laughing – quietly – and one of the boys waved to the librarian on his way out.
On the desk I found a tidy stack of paper strips with their email addresses. Like their clothing and hair, these addresses reflected some aspect of each student’s identity. To me those emails were breadcrumbs strewn carefully on the forest path, to help me follow their trail and find my spiked sponsors when it was time for me to hit the road again.]]>
Those of us who are white have never been slave-owners, even if some of our forefathers were. It’s not our fault what happened to black folks back in the days of slavery, right?
Most of us are really good people – we have a few black friends, we don’t tell questionable jokes or use racist language, we teach our children to treat everyone as equals. The dialogue within the black community about the effects of stereotypes on the self-esteem of black folks is not our problem, is it? What could we possibly have to offer to that discussion? Is it our business anyway? Wouldn’t we be perceived as condescending or as having a savior complex if we expressed our opinions on that topic? Would our voices even be welcome in this forum? Whites often feel frustrated, powerless, and overwhelmed when we try to figure out exactly what our role is in addressing racial stereotypes and prejudice. We usually know what we shouldn’t do, but have only vague ideas of what we should do.
Please share your thoughts and feelings, whatever the color of your skin. If you’re white, what do you think is your role in eliminating racism? If you’re black, what do you wish white people would do? If you are of a different ethnicity, how is your group affected by stereotypes about people of African descent? How are you personally affected by racial attitudes in this country?]]>
And the ever-present pull between wanting to be outside breathing it in and not wanting to miss a moment of what was happening inside Pillsbury Hall. I’d come here nearly every autumn of my life since 1968, first as a college student, then as a mother of three children, later as a middle-aged woman seeking old friends and new insights.
The audience on that day sat enthralled; the speaker paced the stage, afire with inspiration. Beloved and respected by those hundreds who filled the seats, he had our full attention. He described the significance of these times, convinced us to take advantage of such a weighty opportunity. And while this sort of talk was not at all unusual at the Green Lake Bahá'í Conference, some mingling of spiritual energies was at play, charging his words with the power to move hearts in an unusual way. Ours included.
We left the session high on possibilities, got in our mini-van and drove toward our tent. And then this whole thing somehow got started. Gene, driving, looked at me with one eye and at the narrow road with the other; I looked at him with both of mine. “Let’s sell our house, buy a little RV, and travel around the country visiting Bahá'í communities.” Which one of us said that? Don’t remember. Seriously. It doesn’t matter who said it—we had both come to the same thought at the same time. Which almost never happens. Gene is a rather circular thinker, big picture and tangential. I go for the straight line, point A to point B, all the fine details neatly in a row. Though we often eventually arrive at a common point, the process is fitful and lumpy. Not this time. Clean as a whistle this time.
So there you have it—that was the beginning. On that day in that place the plan was hatched. Preparations took a full year. Green Lake Bahá'í Conference 1997 was our destination for the road test of our Nomad travel-trailer, and two weeks later we hit the road. We’ve got lots more stories to tell. Thanks for tuning in. Tell us what you’d like to read about.]]>
When I tackled a dot-to-dot drawing as a kid, my approach was to first stare at the scattered spots on the page before I even put pencil to paper; if I could “see” the finished picture before I started drawing the connecting lines, I felt I had triumphed. I could then continue, confident that each dot marked progress in the emergence of an engaging image.
I’ve observed my granddaughter’s two older siblings surveying their respective teen and pre-teen realities and attempting to make connections, unlock meaning and grasp their purpose as participants in a complex web of relationships. I have concluded that seeing one’s meaning and purpose in life is exponentially more stressful for youngsters today than it was when I was a youth. There are so many more dots to connect. But I know my grandchildren and their peers will become more proficient problem solvers than those of my generation.
Today our world is being drawn together in mind-boggling ways. My ardent hope is that we might help our children and youth develop the perceptual skills needed to “see” the big picture that is emerging in this current phase of social development. Then hopefully they will make the appropriate connections with the assurance that their life’s work will have meaning and purpose.]]>
Both Bill and the folder have long since been replaced, but I still have some of those pieces tucked away. Somewhere.
Along came blogs, and gradually I realized that this new medium could be what I’d been waiting for all these years. I began reading friends’ posts and fantasizing about what I might contribute to the world of online wittiness. I even created a blog account, spent days reading articles such as “How to come up with a good title for your blog,” and selected a clever name and appropriate profile photo. Apparently I failed to hit “publish” before closing my browser, because now I’ve forgotten where my account resides and can’t seem to find it. My post-less blog with the clever name is out there in cyberspace, somewhere.
And now I’ve written an entire book – well, half of a book anyway. Who would have thought I’d manage that? Not only written, but published. It still boggles the mind. In about ten weeks I will be able to hold that book in my hands, an achievement I never even dreamed of back in the days of the purple folder. And a book needs a website, and a website needs . . . a blog!
I promise, even though I have hundreds of unwritten essays buzzing around my brain, that I will stick to the topics listed in my little blogger’s welcome message. I will write about the subject of the book my husband and I have co-authored – uncovering racial conditioning and seeking racial healing. I will also regale you with hopefully witty accounts of my life on the road in an RV with my spouse (if you want his side of the story, click on “Gene’s Blog” – and try to remember that we’ve lived together for over a decade in a space the size of a walk-in closet). Occasionally I may relate stories about events in my life that brought me to this point, that made me this person who will soon be a published author. My writing will be accessible to anyone who wants to read it; my words will be online and between the covers of real books, available in bookstores. Everywhere.]]>