Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Last Day of Poetry Month Offering

Av HaRachamin, Compassionate Parent

How do I sing to You?
What can I say that could be worthy?
How do I sing to You
and express my heart's journey?

I offer my heart through song
A prayer for community and earth.
There is much that needs repair.
There is so much of worth.

And I must tend my own pain
To be Your vessel of healing.
So let me serve You minus ego
And with every feeling!

(c) Copyright Sabrina Sojourner 2013

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Take a Deep - Deep Breath and Read Why I think "Accidental Racist" is Brave

Jumping straight into the deep end: I am disappointed in the reactions to what I believe Brad Paisley and  LL Cool J are trying to accomplished with the song "Accidental Racist". I love the song for its bravery and candid honesty. 

I was introduced to Paisley on Prairie Home Companion about two years ago, when he sang "Letter to Me." A few days later, I sat down and wrote my own letter to me. So, when I heard about the song, I dug past all the news stories and critics to view the lyrics for myself. 

"To the man that waited on me at the Starbucks down on Main, I hope you understand
When I put on that t-shirt, the only thing I meant to say is I'm a Skynyrd fan
The red flag on my chest somehow is like the elephant in the corner of the south
And I just walked him right in the room
Just a proud rebel son with an 'ol can of worms
Lookin' like I got a lot to learn..."

I know there are some people - perhaps many - who believe as one critic said "There is no such thing as 'accidental.'" I know it's an easy concept to believe as someone who has been deliberately targeted by racist, sexist, heterosexist and Antisemitic people. The viciousness and cruelty of such attacks can be completely unnerving to the point of severe trauma. However, I also know that very good people, and I believe most people are good, can walk right into being offensive and the intention to do so truly was the last thing on their mind - and I've done that! About 20 years ago, after a workshop I facilitated on diversity, I was critiqued for being anti-Catholic. I was horrified, especially since there was no specificity to the remark. As I racked my brain trying to remember what I said that could have been perceived in that light, I also found myself laughing so hard I was crying as I heard me think "But, some of my best friends are Catholic!" 

"I try to put myself in your shoes and that's a good place to begin

But it ain't like I can walk a mile in someone else's skin"

Those are hardly the lyrics of someone who is "clueless". Paisley said he wanted the song to spark discussion. The lyrics are rich and simple. He and LL Cool J have walked out on a huge limb in a society that is hardly post racial and, for all the progress we have made, still does not know how to talk about race!

"... but from my point of view

I'm just a white man comin' to you from the southland
Tryin' to understand what it's like not to be
I'm proud of where I'm from but not everything we've done
And it ain't like you and me can re-write history
Our generation didn't start this nation
We're still pickin' up the pieces, walkin' on eggshells, fightin' over yesterday
And caught between southern pride and southern blame

One of the things that can keep white people (men, straight people...) from being honest and having an exploratory conversation about their ideas, fears, "things they don't understand" is the absolute fear that they will be called vile names and/or otherwise privately or publicly humiliated. When it comes to the racism (substitute Sexism, Antisemitism, heterosexism -you get the idea), the offended want a-head-on-a-platter and the guilty-by-association allow themselves to be bullied into the belief that "somebody's head must role" for the socially unacceptable, though totally human, mistake.

I think the easiest way to demonstrate this problematic paradigm is to examine Congress. There are people on both extremes who see themselves as as THE moral authority on (name the issue because the issue matters not). There are people in the middle (I believe a solid majority) who believe and understand compromise (common promise) is the best we can do in THIS moment, regardless of stance and vision of the future. In this camp, you are more likely to find the Brad Paisleys and LL Cool Js: people willing to be vulnerable with where they stand in order to better understand the vulnerability of someone whom, if you are standing in judgement, appears to be the opposition. 

Tuesday afternoon, in the context of a different conversation, I shared with a friend of long-standing, who happens to be white, the instant in which a white therapist told me "You need to find your authentic Black voice." Regardless of where you stand in terms of what is or is not authentically Black, I'm sure you can understand that was the last time I saw that therapist. As my friend said, "Were you too articulate? You didn't speak enough Ebonics?!" We both laughed and that felt good. As a side-note, a few months later, the therapy center tried to collect the money I owed them for sessions, I wrote them a lengthy note explaining why they owed me money for training their therapist to be culturally competent, even though I clearly failed. 

I've traveled nearly 60.5 cycles around the Sun on this planet. I first learned about racism when I was 4 years-old (save your mind, I was born in 1952), though I was raised, primarily, in California. What I learned in the ensuing conversation with my parents was that racism was the shame of "Negro" people (that's what we were called, then) and the privilege of white people we "not white people" needed to bare. 

Upon President Obama's first election to the White House, you had many people talking about a "Post-racial" America. We are far from there, AND, if we want to get to a post-racial, post-bias, America, then events such as the Braid Paisley and LL Cool J's song need to be opportunities for thoughtful discussion instead of opportunities for pointing fingers and being self-righteous and hateful. 

If you haven't made a mistake like the one described in "Accidental Racist", then look at your life: Who is in it? Who is close? What kind of conversations do you have with them? With whom do you fear saying something wrong - and maybe keep at a distance? Whose criticism do you turn back on them - and not in a constructive way? Remember, when you point a finger at someone else, three remain directed at you.

"I'd love to buy you a beer, conversate and clear the air
But I see that red flag and I think you wish I wasn't here" (from LL Cool J's overlay")

Critics have also said that "Accidental Racist" isn't "Ebony and Ivory" and they are correct. Paisley's song is not intended for us to feel comfortable. It's intended to make us think; reflect. Talk about this song.

(c) Copyright Sabrina Sojourner 2013

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Ah, Warmth!!!

Though it barely snowed, I feel like I was colder than usual this past winter. These last few weeks I have been waiting for warm days and for the time to plant. Today, that warm sunny day and the time arrived. 

I got everything together and went outside, though I discovered that the work gloves I had so carefully kept track of over the winter were actually two left-handed gloves. I laughed out loud and posted the finding on my FB page. Later, and while it was still useful, I did find a right-handed glove that matched one of the left-handed gloves!

I chatted and joked with one of my neighbors. We were both thrilled with the outcome of last night's NCAA final game. 

I planted rosemary, sweet basil, and thai basil. I cleaned the chives out of the mint pot. Once the mint is a little taller, I'll need to add more dirt to the pot. I cut long dead limbs to fit into "lawn refuse bags". I played peek-a-boo with a one-inch wolf spider(?) and was grateful for my first black fly bite. I, of course, forgot about sunblock on the back of my neck, so it's a little warm right now and I don't care. 

As I carried out these tasks (today they were not chores), I was repeatedly reminded why I wrote the poem below and decided I would share it with you. Whatever you did today, I hope you made it a good day. If your day has been less than stellar, it's not too late to turn yourself around.



I touch the Earth in a
ritual of planting
restoring some piece of her
A laying on of hands
to her body
my attempt to give back
empower Her
as I would aid the ailing
psyche and body
of a woman raped.

Tears fall off my face,
as I recognize the agony
traveling through my hands
transforming Her/my rage into
acts of creating
sustaining life and light,
become the first water for the
raising their smiling faces
shimmering delight as they feel their
re connectedness
with our Mother.
they bow in thanks.
Returning their gesture
I wish I could relieve
as easily as I can heal
one patch of Earth.

(c) Copyright Sabrina Sojourner 2013