25 July 2020

After morning at PhYM's Plenary Session on Addressing Racism

I recently took--along with a marvelous group from Green St. Friends Meeting--a 28-day challenge by Layla Saad in Me and White Supremacy.  I worked hard at it, and will for a long long time.  I am beginning to hear and cringe at micro-aggressions.  This morning I heard many refer to "we" as white Quakers doing something to help Black Quakers as if they were not part of "we."  Do I do that?

I wanted to call it out (without naming names), but the clerk moved us on to a group picture and a moment of silence at the end.  Efficiency on Zoom is so much more powerful than in person.  Assuming it's necessary to hold deadlines for so many people, and believing this morning generated ideas that will be picked up and acted on later, however, I urge myself to voice this and other contributions to the dialogue through letters and phone calls and writing.  Always writing. 

I wrote this essay-poem in worship earlier today, but I could add these new observations to it.  Language expresses where we are in space, time and openness.  But let me not bias my observations against a bias.  Or should I?  Should I? 

On Language
How young are we when we notice that learning means
acquiring languages? Not soon enough for us to become
world citizens conversant with multiple living tongues,
but early enough to learn to read multiple sign systems.

We use them for self-preservation. Passive grammar is
among the first: Not taking responsibility, but assigning it
to objects and thin air, like “It broke” instead of “I broke it”
and like “He died” instead of “I killed him.”

Impersonation might be next, soon followed by
choosing the signs we want others to read on us
rather than being genuine and unmasked. Offstage,
we wear signs as easily as make-up and costume.

And before we learn that unlearning might be good,
we have swallowed the codes of dominant culture,
which we have less skill to use strategically than
outward signs, less ability to control as we use them.

And then we learn Silence. Did all or some of these
languages keep us safe? At what point did trauma
cause us to let go of direct child-like speaking? Or
were layers a game to be smart, smarter, smartest?

With children to raise, we see the complexity
of learning, the necessity for instilling safety in movement
and language. Without children of our own to learn from,

       we gravitate to nieces, nephews, neighbors, students.

This morning in meeting for Worship, O pointed out that
the Bible book of Matthew records Jesus saying we have 
to turn around, humble ourselves, and become like little
children again.  How young would we have to become?


© 2020 Susan L. Chast

19 June 2020

Within the Systemic . . .

On the second day of Me and White Supremacy the lesson is White Fragility--ways we make working against racism all about US.  We draw attention, we cry, deny, demand, forget we're trying to remove obstacles white privilege leaves in the way of people of color.  I'm working through my gut resistance to being called "white."  I think it gets in the way of the work that I want to do. But find it is the work I am called to do.

At last, accepting I am white people,
obscured in a mass of  kin-like persons.
So that's what it feels like—a reduction—
Black people. White.  Established by law.
The distinction between us.  I am
white people and should converse with my own.
Two steps back to go one forward, to move
up to one step back then two forward. I
attempt to see systemic racism.

The Matrix—a Hollywood scifi film—
clarified "systemic."  Appearances
are deceiving.  Programming makes us live
how big powers want us to, and living
outside the systems is no fun. At least
within them, some people live the promise.
Outside them, some people see how they're rigged.
You're either on the bus or off the bus.
Possibilities are bounded by code.

Exceptions prove the rule. Exceptions
are necessary to make exposure seem a lie.
I made it, so you can too. You're just lazy
try harder. You are Black. I am White. Feel
the pigeonholing. Blue eyes or brown eyes?
You'll get your turn tomorrow, if we don't
achieve freedom today. Confusing, yes?
That's how systems work. First, make us believe
that we're different by natural law.

At last, accepting I am white people
I turn to talk with other white people.
See the lies. Hear the fake narratives. We
walk their line. See angry white people who
want ingrained systems to be natural.
Mommy will love them. Daddy likes them best.
Daddy rewards them for a reign of rage.
Terrorism is domestic, programmed
into systems that we must outgrow.

Tomorrow is Juneteenth, now a state holiday.

© 2020 Susan L. Chast

17 June 2020

White Supremacy and Me, and Believing in Myself

layla book cover photo.JPG


Layla Saad is an author, speaker & teacher on the topics of race, identity, leadership, personal transformation & social change.

Layla is the NYT bestselling author of the ground-breaking book Me and White Supremacy (2020), the host of Good Ancestor Podcast, and the founder of good ancestor academy.

I joined a group that is beginning to work on the 28-day challenge that Ms. Saad leads in this book. One might say that this is the last thing I need right now, to add another daily event in my life while I'm trying to put my next poetry book together and procrastinating fiercely.

Procrastinating fiercely. Ha! There's some kind of oxymoron.

So why do this now? The right group came together, or, rather, the right organizer: Lola George. I think she could help me be honest. Viv is there, too. Both could say along with me that they've done the work before, but this probe is systematic in unpacking the disease of white supremacy. I feel that I can be honest--honester and honester--in unpacking of my privilege and becoming a better ally along the way. I could stop unconsciously handicapping my black friends. I am handwriting the daily journaling. It feels more private than blog-able to me right now. I hope that allows me to be more vulnerable than I've been before. And also I hope to get to know more of Green Street Meeting for Worship in this process.

So, how not to make this an excuse for "procrastinating fiercely"? The answer may be in an earlier to bed and earlier to rise intention.

I have to want something more than I want to play games and TV and Netflix.

I want to believe in myself.


  © 2020 Susan L. Chast

09 June 2020

Digging for a Poem . . .

⚘   ⚘   ⚘   ⚘

. . . in the details of my life, in my inner monologue.

A neighbor took out my garbage.
She noticed I hadn't done it, and . . . .
In a loosened lock down, neighbors notice
what's close by and they speak from a reasonable distance,
a physical safety zone. As if we come out
of our bunkers to see who's still alive.

Surprise, surprise to notice my first thought is gratitude.
It's often a low grumble. Gratitude has replaced my inner
grumble of resentment and remembrance of past mistakes.
What was a weed in my garden turns out to be a rose.
I might be able to let go of the fear that as I age
and dementia sets in, all my anger, feelings of superiority,
and resentment will spill out, and everyone--even me--
will learn who I really am.

I just noticed an inner thank you instead of
What was she doing in my yard? It's my job . . .
and last year they snubbed me and why should I talk
to them now? Just because I called the police on them
five years ago for burning garbage in their back yard,
even though I knew better than to call police
on Arab American people. I did it without thinking.
It turned out OK didn't it?
An exhale of relief.
I will not pick that flower but allow it room to grow.

Gratitude is revolutionary. I am happy to live where 

police assume good unless proven otherwise;
where the police know respect and de-escalation.
No one needs to act from dis-empowerment--not old,
young, white, black, Latinx. We are lucky.
But why is it luck and not the lay of the land?
It isn't that hard to feel gratitude instead of meanness,
to chance meeting God in other people.

Gratitude. Deep, deep earth, a moment located just outside
that is always the center of the world and never the center
of anything: What we do, what we learn walking around
our neighborhood.  We make room for each other. Gratitude.
I am one of the few white people. At times I try to see me 
through the eyes of neighbors unlike me.

Excuse me. Where's my Words with Friends partners?
Excuse me, I have to go and play a few rounds before 

I think about one more serious thing.  To think, to write, 
to live, to take a fun break, to pray.

Words With Friends takes me to Facebook time.
I get hungry for it just as I do for communal silence.
It is way too noisy in my home today with drive-by
graduations everywhere, and all the words in my head.

Happy Graduation Seniors!
I'm going outside to wave to them.
And then I'm going to put the garbage cans away.


FYI:  The inner monologue is overactive mind/heart/body/spirit.  It is not "the still small voice of God."   I have to move through a meditative stillness to have any chance of that.  I also have to listen to others.

Oh right, eye contact. Ok, good, holding the eye contact... holding... still holding... ok, too long! Getting weird! Quick, look thoughtfully into space and nod. Oh, dammit, said 'yeah' again!

  © 2020 Susan L. Chast

05 June 2020

Friday Morning Ruminations

 Gianna 'GiGi' Floyd, 6, sits atop ex-basketball pro Stephen Jackson's shoulders as she makes the announcement
GEORGE Floyd's daughter Gigi, 6, has appeared in a heartbreaking video where she shouts "daddy changed the world" after her dad’s death sparked a global protest movement.

Protest against police brutality and its connection to racist city monuments continues for a second week after the murder of George Floyd.  George Floyd's daughter proclaims "My daddy has changed the world!"   Demonstrations have swept through the country and the world--even in Catskill NY, the tiny county seat in which I was born.  My niece-in-law Tina Martinez documented its "Enough is Enough" action on FB.  

Other posts from fellow high school alum were discouraging.  They are angry to be inconvenienced; they feel threatened and want above all to support Law Enforcement as it exists.  I'll have conversations with them as way opens.

I zoomed the entire Memorial Service. Here it is:

The Rev Sharpton gave the eulogy--a work of immense power as well as intimacy.  Get your knees off our necks.  I sobbed as the service made George Floyd a man to me again, a blood and flesh human being.  I cried standing silently through the 8.43 minutes it took for a police officer to kill Mr. Floyd.  How have I lived with comfort alongside such on-going injustice and inequality?  Open my eyes that I might see . . . is not only a women's power song.

As full as I am spiritually and emotionally, I have only written snatches of poetry since my post here last Friday.  I'm forcing myself to write now so I don't lose everything.  This week I read a manuscript for a friend, and helped plan a retreat.  I had a Journey to Wholeness session, a Spiritual nurture session, and a  qigong/meditation class.  I read a ton of news news and FB news, and responded to the useful/spiritual/longing comments I saw.

Sitting up here in my second floor apartment, I remind myself of my grandmother.  I wonder if I am channeling her?  No, she would do more.  Here's an old poem I wrote about her: 

          (UC Berkeley Graduate School 1987, revised 4/25/12)
Product of the radical seventies and one decade late, I

Don my turtle hood to exit luxury, traveling light
And slow back to the proverbial road not taken

Halt the erosion of truth, the Grandmother called
from her White House upon the hill, where she sat
Typing out letters and letting them fall

Evergreen-trees lined the night as Australia
Became a no-nuke zone and an actor aligned
His springtime in America to re-organize the right
And Grandmother wrote “Dear Editor” from her remote site.

I, turtle, move slowly through acres of passivity
While fateful animals pile earth on my shell
And play out the original rite of creation
Grandmother calls out for my group to smite
The pharaoh and his henchmen—like Moses to fight.

The living image stays now though I close my eyes to sleep:
Old women awake in a tower, turtle inching straight,
Pharaoh underground spinning orders that make
Wrinkled hands type letters, clocks tick, bosses take
Money moves, truth dies, turtles walk, I sleep at night
My eyes focused upward to see her steady Light.

Do I have a steady Light?  

I spend much more time channeling a wider universe (nature/God) than I ever knew grandmother to do.   She didn't waste time with FB, but she had piles of junk mail and random pleas for funding all round.  I believe she gave a little to many places, as do I.  She had been an artist and art teacher, whereas I was a stage director and theater professor and English teacher.  

I knew grandmother as teacher, sculptor, mosaic maker, potter, landscape painter, and expressionistic.  She worked in charcoal, pencil, oil, pastel, acrylic,water color, clay, concrete, block printing, copper, and glass.  She also did graphic design and illustration in a manner reminiscent of her early training in Germany's Bauhaus.  She did some form of art and public exhibitions until she died.  She also wrote letters to the editor until a few months before she died.  Her issues were preservation of the Hudson Valley environment, prevention of the spread of nuclear technology, ecology, recycling, local labor.  The Athens NY Town Hall has a plaque thanking her, Mary Berner, for helping to create Citizens to Preserve the Hudson and for keeping nuclear power plants out of the Hudson Valley. She lived alone from the 1960s when her husband died, through the 1990s when she needed assistance and moved in with my parents.  Her dates are 1901-2003.  

There's magic in people who live a century and more, I believe.

Less of my writing is public than Grandmother's was.  She wrote persuasively for government and public consumption.  I write poetry, some of it political.  My issues are peace, anti-racism, community-centered law enforcement, alternative energy, democracy, LGBTQ rights, and women's power.  I phone banked for Obama (we won), Hillary Clinton (we lost), paper ballots and voting in the primaries.  I will phone bank for whomever the democratic candidate happens to be.  I'm involved locally through the town library, reading and writing in its groups. I'm involved in Delco adult literacy programs.  I grow deeper and deeper spiritually through the influence of Quaker faith and practice. 

Yet in the Covid-19 pandemic, I've been idle.  Since George Floyd's death, I've been idle.  Between bouts of grief, I've been listening to music and podcasts, watching irrelevant movies, and relevant documentaries.  I haven't been exercising enough.  

Grandmother never hid her light under a bushel.  Do I?  Where are my words?  I look for them, and end up reminiscing.

The Reverend Sharpton reminded everyone "There's a difference between those who call for peace and those who call for silence."  Sharpton's words start at 01:32 in the video of the memorial for George Floyd (above).  I did not appreciate the Reverend Al Sharpton until I heard this eulogy that spoke intimately to the family and yet reached out powerfully to African Americans and the entire United States citizenry.   
Do not use your Bible as a prop.  Do not use George as a prop. . . . let us stand for what is right. . . . People call me to blow up issues. . . . You get away too much with hiding things. . . . When I stood at that spot, the reason it got to me is that George Floyd's story has been the story of black folks.  Because ever since 401 years ago, the reason we could never be who we wanted and dreamed of being is you kept your knee on our neck. . . . What happened to Floyd happens every day in this country, in education, in health services and in every area of American life. It's time to stand up in George's name and say get your knee off our necks!
He moved me to tears.  Here are my words.
Wishing for a Time Machine, Acting without One.

How far back do we have to go to change 
the history of African Americans?  
How deep do we have to go to dig up and to destroy 
the European-American roots of racism?

Radical change is change from the roots.
Few European Americans know roots exist,
that they spread beliefs and practice underground 
as roots touch and overhead as rhetoric flows tree to tree.

Pretending room for growth is limited creates 
the competition in which fear and racism are strategy. 
Democracy doesn't need to run on scarcity, but 
capitalism--our form of it--relies on it.

Racism is a strategy for subjugating and bypassing others.
It's built into our systems until we guarantee wages 
and health care for all.  Racism and classism are again and again
winning in our Congress, they're built into everything we do.

Unawaress is no longer a good excuse. The roots
of racism spread in search for a certainty that our churches
and government could guarantee in other ways. Then the roots
of racism might be made to turn back and to strangle their trees.

Not very poetic, at all, my words.  Not personal and moving.

I need to overcome a numbness when it comes to the truths of my heart.  Here is the week I most need to speak, but I am silent.  I listen and react, but then submerge myself into light entertainment and distance from the muses that could help.  Who else has the privilege of turning away from the fight?

That's what I need to write about and overcome, the myth of powerlessness.  The way privilege neglects and perpetuates what it cannot face.  Why?  Because it can.  White Fragility.  There's a poem in that.

This writing took 4 hours.  Maybe later.  
The truth of my heart. 

"I'll think about that tomorrow," 
--Scarlet O'Hara
Gone With the Wind.

 © 2020 Susan L. Chast