Getting Over Myself: The liberation of letting go of my self-image

Chapter 32 of Waking Up White: and finding myself in the story of RACE by Debbie Irving

How do you want people to see you? List five adjectives you’d hope people would use. What behaviors do you employ to convey this image? How would admitting ignorance or wrongdoing, no matter how unintentional, challenge your desired image?

  1. Competent – Because I’m terrified of being seen as wrong, I often feign an “I can do this” attitude, even when I don’t have a clue about what I’m doing.
  2. Knowledgeable – I often know more facts than other people (it’s no credit to me, I have a fly paper brain), and I don’t hesitate to tell other people what I think they need to hear.
  3. Kind – I try to remember to think of other people’s problems, even when mine are weighing on me. Consequently, I rarely give other people the opportunity to help me.
  4. Truthful – I have a difficulty admitting I don’t know, but I fake it, and often I just don’t engage. Remember “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.” So, fearing hurting someone else’s feelings, I just don’t connect.
  5. Empathetic – See all of the above. I try to “fake” empathy, even when I’m secretly thinking, “what and a$$hole.” It embarrasses me to say that.

If you would like to join me as I blog about my experiences with race, please read the book. It was life changing for me.

Courageous Conversations: Learning to listen and speak across difference

Chapter 30 of Waking Up White: and finding myself in the story of RACE by Debbie Irving

Make a deal with someone you trust in order to practice giving and getting honest feedback. Set your own guidelines, such as: If I ask your opinion, you will give me an honest answer, even if you know it might hurt, or, Feel free to gently point out to me [name one of your flaws] when I do it, so that I can increase my awareness of when and where I do it. Keep in mind the words of pastor Warren Wiersbe, “Truth without love is brutality and love without truth is hypocrisy.”

I’m going to try to do this.

But today, I’m going to take a point of personal privilege, and try to tell you all, my gentle readers, how distressed I am about the situation on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. The whole thing is anathema to me, from the heavily armed, mercenary troops, to the blatant disregard being shown for Native American rights and treaties.

The fact that the route of the pipeline was “kept private” until it was too late to object in the courts, to the reports of unprovoked violence on October 27th by police and “private” police against unarmed protestors.

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Peaceful protestors marching against heavily armed police.

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Three things ultimately stand out for me in all the rhetoric about the pipeline

  1. The route of the pipeline originally was placed through/near Bismarck, ND. The government of Bismarck objected for fear that leaks could potentially damage the water supply for the town.
  2. The new route was placed through Native American Sacred Sites and Burial grounds. When the tribe objected (including filing suit in Federal Court), the judge issued a temporary restraining order, followed by a dismissal of the tribe’s case. The tribe immediately filed an appeal, but the judge refused to extend the restraining order. As soon as the judge dismissed the case the pipeline company sent in bulldozers and trenchers before any additional studies could be made to determine whether there were burial grounds there or not.
  3. The pipeline is scheduled to go under the Missouri River, setting up untold millions of people for potential damage to their drinking and municipal water.

What can possible go wrong with an oil pipeline? Oh, right…

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What do you think would happen if a big corporation decided that it was in everyone’s interest to build a 10-lane super highway from Newport News, Virginia to Annapolis, Maryland, because that is a super congested area and national security demands ease of access. And then, as construction began, it became clear that the route of the highway was through the middle of Washington, DC (we’ll have to take down the White House and the Lincoln Memorial)

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across the Potomac, through Arlington National Cemetery (we’ll be sure to relocate the graves if we run across any bones),

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southeast through the Chesapeake National Wildlife Refuge (we’ll try not to harm any of the fish or wildlife), and the over to the coast.

Please join me, and people around the world in praying for the Water Protectors, and for the people in uniform during the vigil for Standing Rock.

If you would like to join me as I blog about my experiences with race, please read the book. It was life changing for me.

Feelings and the Culture of Niceness: Freeing myself from the conflict-free world of WASP etiquette

Chapter 30 of Waking Up White: and finding myself in the story of RACE by Debbie Irving

What lessons were you taught about crying? Do you feel differently if you see a man, woman, or child crying? For whom do you tend to feel empathy? For whom do you tend to feel judgment? Why?

Debbie could have been describing my family:

My parents – warm, funny, kind, and smart – so competent in so many ways – were utterly unprepared for one thing in life: navigating emotional conflict. Typical of their era, race, and class, they believed unpleasantries belonged under the rug, where, the hope must’ve been, the magic winds of time would blow them away. Bucking up and soldiering on without complaint – this is how successful people got on. Our ancestors did it, and so should we.

We were always told that crying was selfish – it was spreading gloom around the world. “If you don’t quit crying, I’ll give you something to cry about.” My husband sees tears as an emotional manipulation, probably because his family generally taught the same things as I was taught. My initial reaction to seeing someone cry is exactly as I was always taught. “Let a smile be your umbrella.” I’m usually much more empathetic to seeing a man cry, because men – even more than women – have been socialized to believe that weeping is a sign of weakness. I believe it takes real courage for a man to show that kind of emotion.

Crying children bother me, particularly when their crying is manipulative. That is a selfish reaction, but it’s difficult to carry on a conversation in a nice restaurant when a kid is screaming at the next table. BUT rather than just shushing children, I at least try to find out what the problem is. I generally blame the parents when children cry, and I think “They should have taught them that is not how nice people behave.”

It has taken me a long time to be able to actually look at my own emotions when I feel like crying – even when talking about the deaths of my parents. Where did I get the idea that there was something shameful about mourning their loss?

Injustice, particularly towards me, but also towards people I know, frustrates me and can bring on the tears, but unfortunately I usually swallow them, believing showing that kind of emotion will soften my arguments instead of bolstering them.

If you would like to join me as I blog about my experiences with race, please read the book. It was life changing for me.

Intent and Impact: Just because I didn’t meant it to hurt doesn’t mean it didn’t

Chapter 29 of Waking Up White: and finding myself in the story of RACE by Debbie Irving

Think of a time when you hurt someone’s feelings without intending to. Was your impulse to defend yourself? If so, why do you think that urge to defend your intention felt so important? If you eventually shifted from focusing on your intent to focusing on the impact of your words or actions, what inspired you to do so? What was ultimately required to heal the rift?

I grew up in a family who gently teased each other. The teasing was rarely mean, and usually pretty funny, and I came to hear a lot of criticism as gentle teasing. BUT my husband was and is not used to teasing. His mother, particularly, took everything that was said personally, and I know I probably hurt her feelings with off-hand remarks I would make.

I still blush thinking about the time when we were first married and we were visiting his parents. I asked him, for the umpteenth time, to get me a drink of water, and he replied, “Nag, nag, nag…” (quoting an old Alka-Seltzer commercial). I replied, “I don’t nag, your mother nags!” (which was followed on the commercial with “plop, plop, fizz, fizz” of the Alka-Seltzer being dropped in a glass of water.) Apparently, his mother had never seen or heard the commercial, and she got all red in the face, and walked out of the room. I, of course, was totally embarrassed, and tried to explain, but I was never sure whether she thought I was being truthful. I also apologized as soon as it became clear to me that she was offended. I’m sure she forgave me, and we had a really good relationship for many years, but, from that point on, I was always very careful to think through what I was going to say before I said it.

If you would like to join me as I blog about my experiences with race, please read the book. It was life changing for me.

I Am the Elephant: Finally realizing what I’d missed all along – and feeling like a fool

Chapter 28 of Waking Up White: and finding myself in the story of RACE by Debbie Irving

Can you recall a time when you knew there was an elephant in the room and you only discovered what it was later? Once you’ve recalled that time, make a list of the feelings you experiences. How did you feel once you got the full story and the elephant was exposed?

This really hit home to me. I think I’ve already expressed my desire to always be “the good girl” in the room – to always be the one who knew the most – to always be the helper. I have a horror of being seen as “Lady Bountiful” and consequently I often am reluctant to engage with folks of another race, or ethnic group, for fear of saying the wrong thing.

I’m thankful that much of my awareness was opened up through “Dallas Dinner Table”, a program created by a friend of mine, Tracy Brown, in the late 1990s or early 2000s. It was sponsored by the Dallas City Council, and was an effort to have mixed groups of about eight or ten participants sit down and have a dinner together, with guided conversation. There were several “rules” for the conversation, including things like “listen to understand”, and “suspend your preconceived ideas.” The conversation guides asked for people to tell their own stories, without interruption, and I was able to hear about a little of what was going on in other folks minds. No one was allowed to challenge anything anyone else said. It was both instructive, and freeing, to hear the other person and not be internally rebutting what they were saying.

I still, unfortunately, shrink from much interaction unless I’m in a structured situation, because I already know that I AM the ELEPHANT in the room, and I’m reluctant to inflict any more hurt on someone who has been struggling with hurt for years. I need to learn how to admit that I am at fault, and to be willing to hear the hard things they need to tell me. I’m trying.

If you would like to join me as I blog about my experiences with race, please read the book. It was life changing for me.

Living into Expectations: Witnessing the impact of racial legacy

Chapter 27 of Waking Up White: and finding myself in the story of RACE by Debbie Irving

Can you recall your childhood expectations of how you’d fare in school? How did you imagine your adult life would be? Where did you get these ideas? Think about lifestyle, family, and work. How close is you life to those of your parents and other adults you knew? How much do you think race influenced your life vision and outcome? How much do you think class influenced your life vision and outcome?

I always expected that I would be at the top of my class. When I was five years old my parents had my IQ tested, and it was reported as 145 (Genius category) – although even after I’m grown, my IQ tests between 130 and 135. Probably a lot of that was the fact that I was extremely verbal, after having been read to since I was little. I was always told by my parents and other adults in my life that I was smarter than anyone else, so I was expected to out-perform everyone else. I did get Honor Roll grades, although I never studied and often didn’t even bring homework home from school. I usually was able to finish everything I needed to do in the 10 minutes at the end of class while the teacher answered other kids’ questions.

I expected to go to college, marry a college graduate, raise a family and then go to work to fulfill destiny after the children were out of school (remember I grew up in the days of Leave it to Beaver, and Happy Days.)

That was the life my parents lived, and the atmosphere I grew up in.

That was the white American dream of the 40’s and 50’s, and I lived it out. By marrying an officer, I was able to continue with that life course. Both race and class influenced both my dream and the actual course of my life.

If you would like to join me as I blog about my experiences with race, please read the book. It was life changing for me.

Surviving Versus Thriving: The psychic costs of racism

Chapter 26 of Waking Up White: and finding myself in the story of RACE by Debbie Irving

Think about a time when you were treated unfairly. What do you recall of your emotions (e.g., anger, resentment, anxiety) and your physical state (e.g., elevated heart rate, stomach clenching, sweating)? How did you respond to the unfair treatment?

I don’t remember exactly, but I do know that I shut down. I’ve said before that I have a horror of not being approved of, and criticism – whether earned or not – makes me retreat into my shell. I’m already an introvert, and after an experience like this I’m even more reluctant to engage with anyone.

If you would like to join me as I blog about my experiences with race, please read the book. It was life changing for me.