hard work

I come to you today with one of the most serious discussions I’ve ever put before you.

My heart is heavy with a lot of pondering. But it is also light with a lot of new trust and discovery.

A few weeks ago I learned that something serious and scary had happened to my friend, Tufara.

Tuffy works for the Highlander Center. If you’re not familiar with that highly esteemed organization, please check them out. They do important work in this world.

Part of Tuffy’s job is to travel around developing new partnerships for Highlander. She recently went to a rural area to do just that. I’m not going to tell you exactly where because, if it’s too far away from you, then you might just think you’re somehow vindicated in this story and that’s not the point.

She arrived in this new community at the appointed hour.

As she was getting out of the car, Tuffy overheard a voice: “They didn’t tell us they were sending us a nigger.” Right about that time, her cell phone rang. The person on the other end was a constituent from inside the building saying, “Tuffy, get back in your car and drive away.”

Now, when I learned about this incident, I said, “I can’t believe that things like that still happen in these days and times.” I even posted that to Tuffy’s Facebook page. “I’m shocked and indignant…” I believe is the way I put it.

Tuffy wrote back that she was shocked as well. Shocked that I was shocked. Given the work that I do, she wondered how I could not know that these evils still transpire every day.

So, I started thinking about that.

I believe that this is one of the subtle and nearly unrecognizable aspects of white privilege that we carry with us every day. It’s a mask. Kind of like the comedy and drama masks. The one of surprise. Oh?! That happens? We have to be reminded every time.

So, Tuffy and I have been having this very rich dialogue about it, strangely enough, facilitated by Facebook. And, I told her – here and now, I’m ripping off that mask in her honor.

She told me she believes the only way that racism will ever truly be over is when white people understand that it’s our work. Did you hear me? Our work. To take up the mantle and carry forth these discussions. To tell these stories. To recognize and lay down our privilege whenever and wherever possible.

I don’t know what comes next, but my heart is heavy with pondering. And light with new trust and discovery. Let me know your thoughts…

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  1. A few years ago two events occurred during the same year that reminded me of Tuffy’s experience.

    1)I started performing a show about being raised Jewish in the south. In it, I talked about how 2 girls beat me up in middle school for being Jewish. They lured me to an empty lot, hit me with a brick and kicked me on the ground while calling me a “Dirty Jew,” and asking me why I didn’t like Jesus. The thing is, no one in my family believed the story was true. “Nu-uh,” my sister said. “No body cares if you’re Jewish anymore.” I remember in 2007, one of the girls who had beaten me up friend-requested me on Facebook. All the shame and fear and guilt and hate washed over me again.

    2)In 2007, I also went to my high school reunion. In a sea of white tables there were two tables off to the side where all my friends who weren’t white sat. There was no intermingling or the races. The room was simply and concretely black and white.

    I think there’s much more to the American story (especially here in the south) than meets the eye in this chapter which includes an African American president in 2010.

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  2. Thank you for sharing this story. It is easy to say “privilege is about not having to see” but this story took that lesson and punched me in the gut with it.

    Uncomfortable, but good.

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  3. Shannon, thanks for being so brave.

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  4. I myself have also been going through some encounters that make me realize I have become very isolated in the social justice world. I attended my cousin’s wedding this past weekend and it was disturbing to say the least–dripping in homophobia, racism, and sexism I attempted to infuse the space with different perpectives…this proves difficult–especially in family situations. I want to figure out a better way to talk to white people because that is my responsibility…we cannot make change if we are only interacting with like minded people…exactly what you mention in your blog–figuring out how to take off the mask is one step–figuring out how to open the door into what Anne Braden termed “The Other America” is another thing…and that is a hard path for white folks to follow…

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