If there is anything I am learning to practice in a pandemic it is patience. For weeks I have been waiting to get my copy of Ruth King’s book, Mindful of Race: Transforming Racism from the Inside Out. I was glad it was back-ordered. People are paying attention to racial issues and want to learn more. I realize that I made a mistake, though. I regret that I bought the book through Amazon. I had not yet posted a link of independently-owned black owned bookstores (which you can find here). The book was a thoughtful yet impulsive purchase, meaning it had been on my wish list for at least a year and popped up due to algorithms beneath my awareness. I had listened to Ruth King’s meditations and wanted to learn more.
And now it was time to order it with a click on a touchpad. The automaticity of it all. Mind you I have been reading other works, Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, Waking Up White by Debby Irving and I listened to White Fragility by Robin DeAngelo. Not that I’m scoring points here, just that it takes time to self-educate. This reading endeavor is part of a concerted effort on my own and inspired by my mindfulness teachers. The effort is also being addressed where I work: at an Ivy league counseling center that remains predominantly white, while the student body is blessedly diverse. This persistent imbalance at most institutions is uncomfortable. As mental providers we are (and have been) grappling with systemic racism and are committed to change. It takes time. Too much time. After George Floyd’s murder, a black colleague whose practice is overburdened with students of color experiencing recent traumatic stressors said, “I’m just so tired. I have no words.”
It’s hard to know what to say sometimes. Yet, her white colleagues need to step up and speak up as a group to affect group change. The systems must change. It’s been too long. Yet, people are coming out of hiding and into the streets. It’s a start.
Collective silence of white people is often used, knowingly or unknowingly to maintain privileges in an unacknowledged but understood culture club. In such instances, silence is a way in which white privilege is exercised.Ruth King
There are other small reminders of the automaticity of thoughts and reactions which the dual pandemics illuminate on a daily basis. Admittedly, I can be victim to the neural wiring of a human brain to make fast easy choices and overreact to innocuous things or be unaware of biases. While sheltering in place my family regularly eats meals together now that we’re no longer over-scheduled with striving, athletics and achievement. At dinner one evening my husband said, “Tara, you aren’t going to like this.”
“What?” I asked
“Anthropologie,” he answered, passing the ketchup.
“It’s closing down? Bankrupt?” I had the horrified look one might get when their drug dealer skips town.
“Well, we know where your priorities are,” he quipped.
“Mom, Anthropologie is on this list of retailers pegged with racial profiling,” reported Sophie.
I paused for a long moment. I had to digest this information. I’m not glued to Instagram like my girls. Finally I said, “That is so disappointing.”
There are two times of the year, my birthday and Christmas, which are evenly spread apart, when the only material thing I ask for is a gift card to this particular women’s clothing and home goods store. The sale rack is my favorite indulgence. I haven’t stepped into the store in six months and I don’t shop online because the therapeutic fix is trying on the willowing pants or soft wraps or handling a sweet vase or dish for tea candles. The fragrances and bobbles are a delight. It’s always a sensorial, embodied experience. A simple yet potent pleasure dousing my brain with dopamine. Sometimes I even fantasize about being a window dressing intern if I didn’t actually have to earn a living; and I imagine taking up space in the magical displays with their impeccable designs. The catalogues are always a visual feast. When I’m overworked or feeling down I just like to visit the home section, sit on a chartreuse velvet sofa and meditate for 5 minutes. Breathing in peace, breathing out calm. I know. Crazy. Crazy privileged white lady.
Common to all of us is the fact that we don’t see the world as it is but how we have been conditioned to see it. The delusion we carry is that everyone sees—or should see—the world as we do. What we see and don’t see has consequences. In general, white people do not see race unless they feel threatened or until someone brings it to their attention.Ruth King
This retailer news got my attention. A feeling of fatigue arose as if waking up after a hangover. I eventually sighed to my family, “It seems that there are teachable moments for all of us these days.” Teachable moments for white people about accepting racial group identity, white privilege and the system that supports white supremacy.
Little wake up calls everywhere.
Moment after moment. Some heavy, some light. Some grave, some affirming. I hope this retail corporation steps up and addresses their values and responsibility — and until they do I will no longer shop there. And just like that my Anthro craving evaporated. Poof.
May I remain peaceful and let go of fixation.
May I see my limits with compassion, just as I see the limits of others.
May I be free from preference and prejudice.
May I bear witness to things just as they are.
May I see the world with patient eyes.Ruth King
Then something delightful happened. In my email inbox I received a note from a person named Kyle: “I just launched FiveFifths, the largest list of black-owned restaurants and online businesses on the internet.” The tagline: All Things Black Business. There is a series of Black Lists: Clothing. Restaurants. Beauty. Hair.
Kyle must have googled for anyone posting black owned this-and-that and landed on a web page I created called Share the Love 2020. So I clicked on his link and went right to the About Us. There are three young entrepreneurs: two black college grads and one white guy. We are all Five Fifths: equal humans, equal respect, equal opportunities.
I fell in love at first sight with these co-founders and their mission. “Of course I will add this to my growing list of resources,” I replied (as if I have some big following, jeez louise.)
Last night after finding my Mindful of Race book on my doorstep I stayed up until 2am reading Ruth King’s pointed yet patient and kind teaching about structural racism. I found myself underlining and making stars here and there. I thought about Kyle and karma. I was annoyed that I purchased King’s book from a behemoth corporation taking over global consumerism instead of a black mom and pop shop. Yet, I’m glad her book sales have gone up. She is a wise teacher who calls us to attention.
Ruth King calls racism a heart disease (and it is curable). Her invitation to me and you is this:
Some of us do not acknowledge that we are racial beings within the human race, nor do we recognize how or understand why our instinct as members of racial groups is to fear, hurt, or harm other races, including our own. And we don’t know how to face into and own what we have co-created as humans. But each of us can and must ask ourselves two questions:
Why are matters of race still of concern across the nation and throughout the world?
And what does this have to do with me?
Learn more about Ruth King and her workshops, Mindful of Race: https://ruthking.net/
Check out the black business listings by Kyle Umemba, Andre Joseph and Cam Woodsum at FiveFifths.co, who state: “The reality of our history means that certain groups and people have been overlooked, overshadowed, forgotten and restrained because of factors out of their control. Our objective at Five Fifths is to uplift those very people and to highlight the many great things being done by members of those communities today.”