This song by Carole King and the album of the same name has been a favorite of mine for a long time. To me, it tenderly speaks to the complexities of life and how we are enriched and transformed by the many and varied people and experiences in it (even the difficult ones). From a very young age, I recognized that I feel deeply. Listening to music (and singing and dancing!) has always been a part of the process of acknowledging and accepting those feelings, even when those around me did not. Songs have such incredible power to elicit memories, to evoke joy, feel pain, and to connect us to one another!
Authentic, honest conversations have the power to connect us as well, and are a fundamental part of thriving individually and as a society. I treasure the conversations I’ve had with people from all walks of life - the fleeting ones at the grocery store, the emotionally raw ones I’ve had with loved ones and the ones that, through shared lived experiences, have serendipitously bonded me to a complete stranger. By the same token, silence and lack of validation about adverse experiences and trauma have lasting effects on the mind and body. To dig deep on how trauma literally reshapes the body and brain and innovative ways we can heal, check out The Body Keeps the Score - Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma on Libby, Hoopla, CloudLibrary, and RBdigital.
I, like so many of us, am feeling grief and outrage in the wake of George Floyd’s very visible and merciless death, and at the multitude of both named and unacknowledged people of color who died before him at the hands of the police or from the effects of chattel slavery, intergenerational racial trauma and poverty in marginalized communities. As I process what I am feeling, I’ve found myself in contentious and emotional conversations with loved ones and frustrated and anxious from the bombardment of conflicting images and accounts of recent events, U.S. history, and challenges to whether racism still exists.
Seeking knowledge, insight, and respectful dialogue, I’ve appreciated the following recent podcasts:
Part of the difficulty in discussing racism is that, because of our different biology and life experiences, we only see parts of the whole picture. (I am reminded of the story of The Blind Men and the Elephant from my childhood.) To some, racism means the overt racism espoused by hate groups like the KKK and neo Nazi groups. Others see it as racial slurs or stereotypical language that applies negative attributes of one individual to an entire ethnic or cultural group. Some look at police violence against black and other people of color as racist. Others see preferential hiring and advancement practices in favor of white people as racist. Some recognize the income/wealth gaps between white people and people of color. Most would agree that chattel slavery of African Americans was clearly racism. We have these different perspectives because we are different people, but also because we have all been shaped by systemic racism which grew from the early days of our country.
Though I’ve always had a strong sense of social justice, I really began to wake-up to the pervasive impacts of racism (and sexism, ageism, and patriarchy!) last year when I took a graduate Social Policy and Services course. For the most part, I grew up in a working class, predominantly white “color-blind” suburban Virginia community where I was told that success could be achieved through hard work and perseverance and when we’re down, we “pull ourselves up by the bootstraps” and keep going. Traveling from my nearly all white, affluent northern Westchester suburb to Hunter College in East Harlem to devour the course readings and critical discussions with my classmates (predominantly black people of color) revealed another reality. The aggregate of these experiences unveiled the ways in which U.S. laws, social policy and political ideologies have both explicitly and implicitly oppressed and marginalized people of color, particularly black Americans, and ingrained systemic racism into our institutions, culture, and very being.
Knowledge is power and though I think we all seek the truth, we are not always able to accept and recognize it. And when the truth is ugly and painful, we may try to avoid it or frame it in a way that we can feel OK with ourselves. Individually and collectively, I believe we must come to terms with the reality of how little has really changed since Dr. Martin Luther’s King’s The Other America speech in 1967.
We may not have created the racist systems that exist today, but by our silence and inaction we perpetuate their existence. The transformation required to create a new, positive truth takes WORK and cannot be done in isolation. We need to have the difficult conversations, we need to search deeply within ourselves, we need to actively learn and LISTEN -- nonjudgmentally and compassionately, and we need to do the hard work necessary to do the right things to end these injustices. We owe this to ourselves and to our collective humanity because each and every one of us enriches this tapestry called life.
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