Category Archives: Black and White in America

Published on Mamalode!

I am honored to say I’ve been published on Mamalode, the top-rated online magazine dedicated to the stories of mothers. My article is a slightly updated version of a post that appeared several years ago on this blog.

The Bittersweet Healing Power Of Raising A Daughter Who Looks Like Me

The Bittersweet Healing Power Of Raising A Daughter Who Looks Like Me

When I arrived at Parents’ Night and met Zoe’s middle school teachers for the first time, they all said, “Well, we can guess whose mother you are!”

The truth is, our faces don’t look all that much alike; her features are more Eastern European whereas mine are more African. But our skin color and hair textures are closely matched, and that is what strangers pick up on most often. Besides, our posture and builds are similar, as are our facial expressions and the shape of our foreheads and chins. In a bad, blurry profile shot, if you took a hurried look, you might mistake one of us for the other. In any case, people easily and readily place Zoe and me together. Unlike most mothers with daughters who resemble them, I don’t take this for granted.

Read More …

 

 

Advertisements

Privilege, White and Otherwise: When your Dignity is Affirmed at the expense of Another’s.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn Sunday’s Magazine section of the New York Times was an article about Alice Goffman, a young, white sociology professor. In the article, by Gideon Lewis-Kraus, Dr. Goffman shares a story about passing through a TSA checkpoint with a bag full of drug paraphernalia and becoming agitated—not at the thought of getting stopped—but simply because she wasn’t stopped while a man with brown skin, but nothing illegal in his possession, was apprehended. Goffman describes white privilege in this way:

“…people smiling at me, holding the door for me. You don’t think, as a white person, about how your whole day is boosted by people affirming your dignity all day long.”

Affirming your dignity. It’s such a subtle, immeasurable concept. How does any one person have the ability to affirm or deny another person’s dignity? What affirms one’s dignity in the first place? Having doors opened? Having sales people speak to you with respect? Having someone listen when you talk? Look you in the eye? Recognize that you have been waiting in line for a table? There are dozens of ways one human can show that he or she values, or does not value another. We are more or less sensitive to these positive or negative estimations, depending on subtle messages we receive from birth.

That’s not privilege, you might say. It’s it simply ordinary human treatment of other ordinary humans. But, what if an entire group of people is denied this basic respect? That’s when it becomes something out of the ordinary.

All privilege is relative. The word itself implies one who’s got it and another who is lacking—a have and a have-not.  Some tangible privileges—access to an exclusive country club, ownership of a Bentley convertible—people acquire consciously, either by invitation, gift or purchase. Others are unearned birthrights—like property, or social connections. These are conscious privileges that no one can deny.

Other privileges are unconscious—like not being followed around a store. Like never having to think about one’s ethnic, racial or gender status because it is considered mainstream. These feel like ordinary conveniences rather than true privileges. They go unnoticed—they’re only a by-product of being regular—until they are either pointed out or somehow taken away.

A few months back, I hit my head on a stone counter. Suspecting (correctly, it turned out) a concussion, I went to the local emergency room, accompanied by my husband, who happens to be white. Others waiting were people of color, like myself.

I was chatty with the receptionist at the desk who took my insurance card, self-deprecating about my mishap. I was bubbly with the nurse who took my vitals. Everyone was polite to me and seemed pleased to meet a nice, cheerful, educated woman who wasn’t bleeding, throwing up, or experiencing any devastating trauma that they had to attend to (and hence probably didn’t need to be in the ER in the first place). I was ushered through every screening in no time. The doctor (also white and about my age) lingered to schmooze with my husband and me for no particular reason, other than the appreciation of light conversation at midnight in a semi-urban emergency room. All in all, a pleasant experience, though, as we left, I noticed some of those who had been waiting when I’d arrived were still there. As we drove off, I realized that I had been on the receiving end of white-privilege-by proxy.

Fast forward: one week later. My son, then eleven, falls on an ice-skating trip and cuts his chin, requiring stitches. We wind up in the same emergency room. My (white) husband is not present. It is day time, not midnight, so the place is slightly more crowded than it was a week earlier, but not significantly. We wait longer. The receptionist and nurses are polite, but less receptive to my usual chattiness. When the attending physician arrives, she asks if I have insurance (I’d already presented my son’s card to the receptionist), then answers her own question: No, before I can respond.

Next, I ask that a plastic surgeon come to stitch up my son’s face. The doctor gives me a look and says that Medicaid won’t cover it. I am offended by her suggestion that if I have any insurance at all, it must be Medicaid, but muster my most polite (read: condescending) tone:

“That’s fine,” I say, the slightest tinge of haughtiness to my smile. “I’ll submit it to my insurance company and see what they’ll reimburse.”

The doctor gives me a dark look—I am, after all, suggesting that she is not competent to repair my son’s face—and asks to see my insurance card herself. I present it (it’s a freedom plan) and she walks off, presumably to check its validity.

When the doctor returns, she is a different person: all smiles, respectful, affirming of my dignity. A plastic surgeon appears at the snap of her fingers. (More or less.)

A year later, though you cannot see the slightest mark on my son’s chin, I am not proud of how I handled the situation. Instead of challenging racism head-on, I dodged it by falling back on my affluent-suburban-mom status. I didn’t have white privilege at my disposal, so I whipped out the class privilege card.

Change happens when people with privileges directly confront the oppression of their non-privileged counterparts. Where privilege meets discrimination—when one person’s privileges are dependent on society’s discrimination against the other—it is up to the person with the privilege to own it, acknowledge it and challenge the injustice.

For another example, as a cis-gender[1] woman, I am confident of being able to find a restroom that is designated for me, and secure in the belief that no one will challenge my presence there. By enjoying this privilege, one could argue that I am benefitting from transphobia or cis-sexism. I have the luxury of never have to consider that.

But now that I’ve written these words, I am less comfortable than I was a moment ago. I feel some guilt, some shame. Some privileges are best when you’re oblivious to them.

Think about something most people take for granted. How about legs? They’re down there beneath your hips like they were the last time you checked. Maybe you think they’re too pasty or ashy or dimpled or sticklike. But you don’t think about them when you go for a walk on a sunny day.  You have the luxury of taking them for granted—not seeing them as a privilege in any case—until you meet someone who lacks two legs. Suddenly you feel not only gratitude for your two whole, healthy legs, you also probably feel a touch of guilt for taking them for granted. As your given right.

I have the luxury not to think about my legs—unless they’re sore from a vigorous run or a ballet class—or about my gendered status if I don’t want to because I am “regular.” I have the luxury to be oblivious to the conditions of the “other” until someone brings them to my attention.

And in this way, obliviousness—to the group of people who have fewer rights, respect or resources than you—is power. If you make me aware of my own privileges, I may get defensive. I may feel shame. I may point out all the privileges I lack that you may have—all the ways in which I am not privileged. That might ease my guilt. It may not. Either way, once you have brought my privileges into the light, I will enjoy them less. At that point, I’ll have two choices: the first is to ignore them, and strive to rebuild my obliviousness. The second is to take action—to speak out against the discrimination that places me in a state of privilege in the first place.  Which might mean relinquishing them some day.

[1] Cisgender refers to the experience of identifying with the gender one was assigned at birth. Cis Is a Latin root, meaning “on this side of” as opposed to “trans” meaning, on the other side or across from.

 

What LGBT Workplace Rights, #RealWomen and #BlackLivesMatter Have in Common

??????????????????????????????????????#BlackLivesMatter. LGBTQ Workplace Rights. The #RealWomen, body-positive movement. None of these happen to be dominating today’s news headlines, but the above triangle of issues are on my mind today, connected by a fragile but significant thread.

First, #BlackLivesMatter. I believe that people are starting to get it. Well, maybe not Elisabeth Hasselbeck, who thinks #BlackLivesMatter should be a hate group, as if asking for an acknowledgement of full membership in the human race means you want to kick everyone else out.

I am talking about important people, like Bernie Sanders who voiced a clear, if chastened and well-schooled about-face at the first Democratic Debate.

I’m talking about the outrage I see on social media from many non-blacks in response to racial injustice.

What people are starting to get is that responding “All Lives Matter” when someone mentions that #BlackLivesMatter, is dismissive and entirely invalidating. No one is arguing that black lives matter more than anyone else’s. Furthermore, #BlackLivesMatter is not the opposite of #BlueLivesMatter. #BlackLivesMatter is not, repeat NOT, an anti-police movement.

The only word implied but not stated in the hashtag is “too.” As in “Black lives matter too.” Black lives should matter just as much as everyone else’s. But sadly, in this country—all over the world, in fact—they simply don’t.

That’s based on piles of evidence, available in the in police reports, medical records, the news stories of blacks who have been brutalized and then left for hours before anyone called for help . Countless photographs of young African victims of war, photos of small, dark children that do not go viral.

I am not pointing a finger in any one direction. Just as police—of all ethnicities—are more likely to pull the trigger if the face of a suspect is black, I am aware that there is plenty of black on black violence all over the world. Sad to say, there are blacks for whom #blacklivesmatter less. I’m not going to get into the history of why this is, only that it must change, and thanks to the BLM movement, it is starting to. Only through (verbally) aggressive insistence—by blacks and non-black allies—will the status quo loosen up a bit.

Next, let’s look at Workplace Rights for the LGBTQ community—the recent winning of which made it illegal to discriminate against anyone based on orientation or gender identity. First of all, how is it possible that Workplace Rights didn’t exist until this past summer? That until the EEOC’s July ruling (that expanded the interpretation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to cover LGBT people), if you were lesbian, for example, and placed a photograph of you and the love of your life on your desk, you could have been legally terminated? What was the objection to Workplace Rights, exactly? Mainly, opponents believed that members of the LGBTQ community shouldn’t have preferential treatment. As though straight, cis-gendered people suffer a loss of some kind when a LGBTQ person is treated fairly.

Finally, the #RealWomen body-positive movement—whose goal is for every woman, cis or trans, regardless of shape or size to walk, run and yes—dance, if she pleases—through this world without shame or criticism. I know, I know. The objections to this movement are often shrouded in concerns for health. The notion of a size-24 woman out for a walk or a run or in a dance class in peace or being photographed looking happy (instead of moping in a “before” picture) is claimed to “promote obesity,” and put those women at risk of serious health consequences. Trust me, allowing a woman to have a good day, participate in life and celebrate her own unique beauty, free of judgment, will not contribute to a health epidemic.

Another objection is that the movement implies that thin women are not “real” women. As if thin women are discriminated against in department stores, in restaurants or on airplanes. Again, I know, “skinny-shaming” is a thing. But so is thin-privilege.  As a reasonably thin woman myself, I have both been skinny-shamed, as well as unwittingly benefited from the preferential treatment non-overweight women receive in this country. I can say from experience that it is easy to bounce back from the suggestion that your single digit dress size disqualifies you from being a “real woman” when your body-type is celebrated by the media as “normal” and healthy.

So, here’s my question for opponents of all three of these movements, those who believe there is a risk to acknowledging the full humanity of blacks, members of the LGBTQ community and larger women—my question for those who express outrage against the movements to support these groups themselves:

Are you standing up for someone who needs standing up for?

If not, it’s okay to sit down for now and listen.

I’m on a Podcast!

So I’m on a podcast! (As you can guess from the title of this post). I am honored to have been interviewed by Alex Barnett, Comedian, blogger and Multiracial Family man on his podcast, aptly named Multiracial Family Man.

Alex is the white, Jewish husband of a black woman (who converted to Judaism) and the father of a 3 year-old, biracial son. Each episode of his podcast is devoted to the issues that confront multiracial families and the experience of being biracial.

In my interview, Alex asks me basically everything about my experiences of being mixed and part of a multiracial family—from my parents’ marriage to my own, to how I handled my multiracial identity in college, grad school as well as in the ballet world.

Here are the links to the podcast:

On iTunes:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/multiracial-family-man-ep./id969793342?i=341813854&mt=2

And on Libsyn Podcast Network: http://traffic.libsyn.com/multiracialfamilyman/Lisa_Rosenberg_Podcast.mp3

By the way, Alex is smart, funny, down to earth and very candid about his family’s experiences. (Fun fact: it turns out he also went to college with my husband, though they never met!)

Make sure to check out Alex Barnett on the Web:

www.alexbarnettcomic.com

Youtube: www.youtube.com/alexbarnettcomic

Facebook: www.facebook.com/alexbarnettcomic

Twitter: http://twitter.com/barnettcomic