I’m not Trayvon Martin; I’m the woman in the elevator with Questlove – Part 1

6 Aug

Ok, I’m going to get personal and tell some of my stories about my experiences with white privilege, racial bias, and female fear.  You ready?  Also, I’m going to link a couple of other articles in reference to what I’m saying.  I’m going to assume that you have read or will read these articles to get the references.

In case you’re a stranger reading this, let me start by introducing myself.  I’m a white woman from a middle-upper class background.  With an anglo-sounding name, blue eyes, and blonde hair, there’s no mistaking me for anything but white.  And nobody taught me to be racist.  Growing up, my parents told stories about segregation and how awful they thought it was, and in school I learned to admire Harriet Tubman and Martin Luther King Jr.  I heard my grandad say the N word, but I knew it was bad to say and think those things.

But as an adult, I’ve been learning that I still have my racial biases.  It’s not overt racism, but it’s the harder to detect, subtle biases and assumptions that seep out and every now and then I’m aware of them.  As a psychologist in training to become a multi-culturally competent psychologist, I’ve been taught that we all have these biases, and it’s good to recognize them and not ignore them.

Recently, I was providing a list of referrals sources to someone who is multi-racial.  I hadn’t asked if they had insurance, so the list I prepared were the low-cost resources, places that were free or had reduced fees.  I didn’t prepare a list of private resources, the ones you have to have money or money enough to have insurance to be able to access.  At some point I realized that I hadn’t asked if the person had health insurance.  So I did.  And they did. What did I do?  “Ok, here’s a list of low-cost resources in the area.  But since you have insurance, you could also see a private provider for the cost of the co-pay, if they’re in network.  Let me print you more referrals of others, and you can check with your insurance and see if any of them are covered.  Just a second, let me go print that other list for you.”

Thinking about it later, I asked myself, “Why did I just assume they didn’t have insurance?”  I think my assumptions about race played into it to.  Because they weren’t white.  Or at least didn’t look white.  (And that’s another bias there too about bi-racial or multi-racial individuals, even when I someone’s ethnic background, my brain takes that shortcut to just categorize someone as whatever race they look like, instead of acknowledging the complexity of their identity).  White people have resources.  Non-white people are poor, and don’t have insurance.  Of course I know that’s not true, but it’s the biased short-cut my brain takes some days.

And what was the message they heard from my actions that day?

I thought about Questlove’s article, and what he experiences as big black man who has a lot of success and money and privilege in some ways, but will always look like a big black man, and people will react to him that way.

http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2013/07/questlove-trayvon-martin-and-i-aint-shit.html

It doesn’t matter that you’re getting your college education, that your family has money, that you’re not even black – you’re multi-racial – people like me are still going to make assumptions about you and people who look like you.  Like the assumption I made that day.  That you’re poor and don’t have insurance and can’t get those better services that people with more resources get to have.  Because you look black.  “You ain’t shit.”

“Oh, wait, you’re not who I thought you were!  Ok, here, you can have the top shelf tequila.  Anything else I can do for you?”

I sincerely hope that’s not the message they received.  I hope they saw that I care about them and want them to get the services they need.  That I believe they are a smart, capable person.  But if they did get that other message, I would understand why.

 

But there’s more in Questlove’s article that I relate to.  There’s the woman in the elevator.  And I’m going to write more about her and me in my next post, which is why this is just a Part 1.

Happy birthday

25 Jun

I recently received some affirmation about my writing skills that means a whole lot to me.  Because of some recent opportunities to write more and these affirmations, I feel the flames of my writing passion stirred a little bit more.  I want to capitalize on this momentum and post some pieces I’ve recently written and hopefully continue writing more.

To start, a year ago I wrote this Inspiration Award nomination for my high school English teacher, which is given out from each graduating class of my university.  She didn’t win the award, but I’d been meaning to share this with her, and it was her birthday yesterday, and she is one of my biggest writing inspirations, so here it is.  Happy birthday Ms. W!

 

 

When graduating from High School, I hand-painted a small wooden birdhouse to show my appreciation for avid bird watcher and English teacher Ms. W’s influence in my life.  I write this nomination as another birdhouse – an opportunity to express my appreciation for the inspiration that Ms. W provided to me and hundreds of students in her career, many of whom have already crossed the stage that I am soon to cross as graduates of this university.  Now that Ms. W has retired after 23 years of teaching English and I am celebrating my graduation, I want to honor her with this nomination.  The only thing that could enhance my enjoyment of celebrating my own achievement would be to also celebrate those who have influenced me in my journey.  I would never have reached this milestone without the challenge and support of those who opened their minds and hearts to me.  Remembering my season in high school, Ms. W stands out as the teacher who inspired me the most by teaching me how to write well and encouraging me to think for myself.

In a few weeks I will graduate with my doctorate in Counseling Psychology and I’m humbled to remember the many mentors who have helped me to reach this point in my journey.   Writing is an essential skill as a graduate student, and when I receive a compliment on my writing, I often think, “Ms. W taught me how to write well.”  I’ve been writing academically and creatively since I was 6, and while I have had many influences on my writing skills, Ms. W’s influence stands out.  By the spring semester, many high school seniors unfortunately have little engagement in their final courses, but my final semester at Keller High School was marked by Ms. W’s AP Senior English course.  Through this class, Ms. W challenged me to take my writing to the next level – to express myself succinctly and directly.  As a college freshmen, I remember professors remarking, “You don’t write like someone just out of high school; you’re writing at a college level.”  I also remember experiencing frustration when trying to help my classmates edit their papers full of fragment and run-on sentences.  However, that frustration was tempered by reminding myself that perhaps they were not as privileged to have an English teacher like Ms. W.  Would that we all had a Ms. W in our lives, someone to challenge us to write well, to read with an open mind and heart, to think critically, and to articulate our ideas and opinions courageously!  I often felt that her AP English class was on par with a college level course because of the excellence that she expected from us.  I wondered why she didn’t teach at a college level.  Though her talents could have carried her into a more advanced setting, teaching teenagers to write and appreciate classic literature and poetry was Ms.W’s calling and passion.

Though I’m confident that Ms. W influenced my writing skills, being almost a decade out of high school, I don’t actually recall specific feedback on my writing or lesson plans when thinking of our class.  However, what I do remember clearly is the community she created within our class and the way she challenged us in our thinking.  Ms. W described our class as “iridescent,” as she saw that each of shined in a different color, representing our diverse characteristics, opinions, and experiences.  It was in this classroom that she encouraged us to shine and display our genuine selves.  Ms. W appreciated whoever we were, whether she or other classmates agreed with what we expressed.  As a role model, she exemplified respect and compassion for all of her students, even as she challenged us to continually strive for improvement in our work.  In my counseling work, I endeavor to live out her example by encouraging my clients to be authentic and work towards growth by offering them an accepting but challenging therapeutic relationship.

Ms. W encouraged us to think critically and connect personally with what we were learning.  I fondly remember class discussions that somehow wove together references from Hamlet, Donnie Darko, Ayn Rand, the New Testament, and Zoolander into metaphysical debates about the nature of time.  Through literature, she introduced me to Clarissa Dalloway, Tess Durbeyfield, and Nora Helmer, women who found the strength to stand on their own and break free of society’s confines in their own ways.  Ms. W herself was such a woman, independent enough to retain her maiden name after marriage and devoted to influencing the lives of her children, grandchildren, and students.  When I think of her, I picture a long-haired woman with a sparkle in her eyes behind her glasses, standing among piles of books and papers, poised to ask a question that would send our minds awhirl.  I stand among hundreds of students with this same memory as we say, “Thank you, Ms. W.”

Kirsten

17 Feb

“Now I know that our world is no more permanent than a wave rising on the ocean. Whatever our struggles and triumphs, however we may suffer them, all too soon they bleed into a wash, just like watery ink on paper.”
― Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha

The conductor read that quote before the performance of “Sayuri’s Theme” by John Williams from the Memoirs of a Geisha. That was the day after your death, and the following were my thoughts about you and your last moments as I listened to that beautiful piece.

 

Did you kiss your husband good-bye that morning? Did he make your laugh or smile? Did you walk outside of your door, full of love received and love given? Did you notice the beautiful crescent moon setting that I remembered seeing that morning?

What were you doing on that last drive? What songs were playing on your radio? Did you sing along? What were you thinking about in those last minutes? Where you thinking about the day ahead, your clients and your care for them? Were you thinking about match day, and wondering where you would be next year? Where were you dreaming of going in August?

Or were your thoughts on the present? What were the last images you saw? The sunlight, the clouds, a lovely tree?

Were you stressed or tired or bored? Or were you happy or excited or hopeful? I hope that last drive, those last minutes, those last moments were ones of peace. I hope that you heard your favorite song and noticed beauty and felt loved. I hope that you felt gratitude for the life you have been given.

I hope that in your last day, you made love to your husband, you talked to your family across the ocean, you laughed with friends, you did meaningful counseling. I hope someone told you that they were proud of you, that they appreciated you. I hope you felt lucky to be living the life you lived.

And I hope that had you known these days were your last, that you would have lived the same, loving others, experiencing the present, and pursuing your dreams of limitless possibilities.

New beginnings

3 Jan

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow;
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.
~Alfred Tennyson

2012 was quite a year for me, and I’m looking forward to 2013. I honestly don’t know where I’ll be at the end of this year, which is usually scary for me, but right now I feel excited about that prospect. I feel excited to continue pursuing my career, relationships, community, and service, open to move and work where I have opportunities, and excited for new beginnings.  It’s truly freeing.  That said, here are some things I hope to do this year. I hate calling them resolutions because they can be anxiety provoking, but that’s basically what they are. Here are my 2013 hopes -

1. Get licensed and land a permanent job. Yup. This will take some work, but it will happen and it’s my number 1 goal and hope for 2013.

2. Improve my financial budgeting skills.  This is something I’ve half-heartedly attempted before, but I’m going to try to be more structured about it this time and actually learn how to live off of my paycheck, instead of savings and credit cards.  I’ve already set up a monthly budget on Mint.com and I hope it proves to be a useful tool for this goal!

3. Maintain a clean home more often and host more often.  I love hosting others in my home, and in recent years it’s something that I haven’t done at much of (except for all my awesome visitors to Kansas City).  I think the cleaning goal goes hand in hand with the hosting goal because a barrier for me to invite people over more often is my laziness/embarassment about not feeling like my home is clean enough.  So, I’ll whip out the vacuum more often and invite people over :)

4. Do something active 1-2 times weekly and do some kind of a race.  I’ve noticed that I tend to take up exercises activities each academic year and then move on to something else.  Right now it’s yoga, which I’d like to continue, but it’d also be great to run and bike again.  I ran 2 5Ks and 2 4-mile races in 2012, and I’d to do something more this year – a 10K, a half-marathon, a bike race?  Something.

5. Be a peacemaker.  I try to help my clients set realistic, specific, and attainable goals for themselves, and this is probably my most vague goal at this point.  I’m honestly not sure what peacemaking for me will look like in 2013, but I know that it’s something that’s been on my heart in the past few months to pursue more, especially as I’ve reflected on advent and the Prince of Peace coming.

6. Speak my mind more often.  This means sharing my opinions, my feelings, saying, “I don’t like that,” or “I disagree with you,” in all  kinds of ways and in all kinds relationships.  This also means expressing my needs in a respectful way, being honest with myself and others, and not holding back my concerns nor my ethusiasm about what matters to me.

That should about do it.  What are your hopes for 2013?

Watching the embers burn

23 Dec

We sat silently, side by side, shifting our gaze from the glowing coals, to our feet, to the bricks, and back to the fire again.  I had somehow just brought up the Connecticut shooting and we had fumbled around for a couple of minutes, saying something about sadness and gun control and a feeble attempt to change the subject to something light-hearted, before this silence descended.  As I sunk into the silence, it felt appropriate to just sit with our unexpressed thoughts and feelings, staring into the still burning coals.  A lot has been said over the past week about this event, about these deaths, and I’m sure even more has been unsaid.

What I left unsaid at that fire is that I felt angry.  I’m angry that our nation is mourning the deaths of 20 American children so openly, yet turning a blind eye to the violent or preventable deaths of so many children around the world, including the deaths of children that the US is directly or indirectly responsible for.  Do innocent lives only matter when they’re lives that look and think and act like us?  I cried in the car that Friday when I heard the news reports.  I cried for the children and families and communities in Connecticut and for the communities and families and children in other parts of the world who daily face the threats of similar violence.  I can barely fathom what it would be like to live in a seemingly safe place and one day have your world completely shattered by the actions of a deranged man.  Or to live in a place that’s under constant threat in which you know that it’s only a matter of time before you or someone you love is taken forever.

I don’t know if there’s ever good timing for a national tragedy, but this happening so close to Christmas seems especially sad, and I wonder how the families can even find any kind of joy to celebrate with their beloved children gone.  It’s been an interesting and emotional advent season, with my own personal collisions and disruptions.  I’ve experienced sorrow, fear, excitement, joy, doubt, and peace.  And somehow Christ has been a part of it all.  It’s been so sweet during this strange season to reflect on what the Incarnation really means, and what it means that Christ was human and experienced our sorrows and pain.  All of it.  Every drop.  And today I remembered that in the Biblical Christmas story, children were also slaughtered.  There’s blood and violence of innocents in the story  alongside hope of redemption and angels and humans rejoicing.

And what happened in Connecticut and what happens in Palestine and Pakistan and Haiti and Egypt and Syria and . . . it breaks my heart and yet reminds me of the restoration and redemption that is sorely needed and is sure to come.  Throughout this advent season I’ve been longing for peace, and all that it means internally and in our world around us, and it’s amazing to read how must the prophecies of this season talk about the end of oppression, violence, and poverty, and how the brokenness of the ancient world that needed good news mirrors the brokenness of our world and hearts today.  And today I realized that even in our self-centered responses to the pains of others, there’s a brokenness in that too.  Maybe we won’t truly be able to look past our own pains and join in the pains of others until that day when every last tear is wiped away and our cursedness and brokenness in finally gone.  In the meantime, I’m going to try to understand in my own limited way, even if at times it just means staring into the fading embers.

 

 
“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him.”  Revelation 22:1-3

Tending the garden

2 Dec

It was a full moon this past week, and if there’s anything to the idea that full moons can affect human behavior, than I experienced that this week in my counseling work with my intakes and crisis counseling. Suicide attempts, hallucinations, and middle of the night crisis calls, ending the week with a case review meeting in which coworkers shared equally troublesome experiences with their clients.  I’ve felt exhausted and burdened by the heaviness of all these problems and the lack of sleep, and the frustration of session limits and lack of community mental health resources and lack of financial resources for our students to get the kind of medical and mental health care that they truly need.

I carried those burdens with me as I walked into church this morning.  For the first Sunday of advent, the pastor preached from Genesis 2 and talked about how it shows us that we have work to do and that God has given us the mission to take care of his garden.  He expanded upon this gardening metaphor and applied it to our lives, sharing how we’re called to tend to and nurture the plot of the garden that God has give to us, we’re meant “to draw out the potential of our gardens to the flourishing of everything and everyone.”  And this is God’s grace to give us this mission in His kingdom.

Listening to this sermon, I felt like he was describing counseling work so beautifully.  We’re given the sacred duty to tend to our clients’ gardens, to use the tools we’ve been trained in and our skills and personalities to help them to grow and flourish, to dig out the weeds and stones, to till the soil, to water them, to show them were the light is, to do whatever is in our power to remove their obstacles to growth and to bring about conditions that will lead to flourishing.  And so much is out of our control, the light and the rain and the weather and what kind of soil we start with, yet we do what we’re able to foster growth in those who put their trust in us.

And this past week, the weeds have been especially deep-rooted and ground has felt dry, making it hard, back-bending work to be an effective gardener, but during the sermon I was reminded of what a special calling I have, how privileged I am to do God’s work in this way, to ease suffering and promote growth.  I’ve been tired and I want to put down the shovel and just rest for longer than a weekend, but this morning I felt inspired and renewed to pick up my gardening tools again and to tend yet again to the garden plot that God has given me.

I emailed a version of this to my dear friends who are also in the counseling field and thanked them for the work they do.  Our work is so rewarding, but can also be exhausting and frustrating, but it is the work that God has given us to go, at least for now, and I’m thankful to be able to do it.  And I know this is true of all professions, though it’s especially easy to see helping professions through this lens.  Recently, I talked with my friend who’s husband is a pilot and she described how he loves his work because he gets to reunite families and loved ones.  He uses his technical skills to tend his garden, by safely transporting people across the country and remembering that he is a servant.

We all have work to do, so let’s pick up our spades and shovels and help our gardens to flourish.

The way of trust

14 Nov

“The way of trust is a movement into obscurity, into the undefined, into ambiguity, not into some predetermined, clearly delineated plan for the future.” – Brennan Manning, Ruthless Trust

I read this quote yesterday evening, from a friend’s Facebook post, that was from this blog post.  Oh social media.  Whatever, it spoke to my soul and it was what I needed.

I’m such a planner.  I’m a J on the MBTI, which means that I feel more comfortable with having plans, structure, clear expectations.  I find such comfort and security in my plans or in knowing others’ expectations, in knowing what’s to come in the next day, week, month, year, or knowing what others expect of me and what I can expect of them.

I long for more stability in my life.  I’ve moved every year of my life for the past 10 years.  I just want to know where I’ll live for more than a year, what job I’ll have, who I’ll be with.  I compare myself to my friends and coworkers who have that security, who have permanent jobs, who have marriage partners, who own homes, who have big things they can rely on day after day to be there for them.

But having those plans and security is not the way of trust.  Trust can only happen when things are unknown, ambiguous, uncertain.  And sometimes scary as hell.  But that’s the very definition of faith, “the conviction of things not seen.”  Faith and trust cannot exist when things are 100% tangible and certain, they can only exist because of the unseen.  “Lean into the discomfort, lean into the ambiguity,” my supervisors often say.  I’m being challenged to do that repeatedly, to be in that ambiguous, uncertain space and to somehow rest in it and somehow trust the God that intellectually and sometimes in my heart I know loves me.  There is security and there is trust, but it’s not my plans.  And I’ve seen over and over again things turning out very differently but better than I could have imagined.  I’ve learned humility to recognize that I often don’t know what’s best for me.  That when I want something and don’t get it, that I often get something better instead, something that I didn’t even know I needed.

So this uncertainty smooths out the path for ruthless trust.  For humility.  For growth.  For learning how to truly be present, to make the most of my life now, to use the opportunities I’ve given now, instead of missing something from the past or waiting for something in the future.  Not that I like it right now.  Right now, I just want to be wrapped in security, in my plans, in knowing that my desires will be fulfilled.  But I know this uncertainty is good and I have moments where it even excites me.  In the past couple of years, I often think about something I wrote about 2 1/2 years ago -

“Screw my plans. I put too much stock and security in them. I’ll make my plans and carry some of them out, but I still want to remain completely open to getting knocked up. I want to be open to whatever God brings into my life without my planning, be it a new opportunity, job, career, ministry, relationship, whatever those things are that could tear into my life, assaulting my carefully made plans in such a way that my life course is so radically different than what I anticipated, but better, stronger, more rewarding than anything my boring head could have dreamed up.

So go ahead, knock me up! I’ll probably start kicking and screaming and try to run in the other direction when you do, but maybe I’ll remember writing this post and it will help me to surrender.”

Ok, so there’s some violent language in what I wrote, but I think it captures the ruthless trust that I had when I wrote it, and the kind of trust that I need to have now.  The openness to receive what’s next, what’s in a year, in 5 years, without knowing what it will be, but trusting that it will be good and maybe even great.

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