Tell Me the Truth: Exploring Cross-Racial Conversations

Showing Up for Racial Justice Southern Maine/Seacoast hosted a scintillating community event that was free-of-charge, and made available by a number of other corporate & local sponsors.

Introductions were shared by Kelly Abnernathy, and Daniell Hoffman gave house-keeping details (both are members of Maine Southeast Seacoast Chapter of SURJ); this impactful afternoon featured two powerful women on the forefront of Racial Justice: Shay Stewart-Bouley from the blog “Black Girl in Maine” brought her experience as a Black woman in the state of Maine into a conversation & dialogue with author of “Waking up White,” Debby Irving.

The program began with an intimate conversation addressing the cross-racial friendship they share, and then they engaged the audience in and interactive response and dialogue. Together Shay and Debby demonstrate a model of thoughtful and honest discussion that offers a pathway for us to deepen conversations around race in meaningful and constructive ways.

The event was staged and held at the Traip Academy in Kittery, ME, and took place from 2:00-4:00PM, with a great (and surprising!) turn-out of about 300 people!

Students from Traip organized a protest this past year, during the time that professional football players and other athletes were “taking a knee” during the National Anthem. This national protest spread its way across America, and acted as a catalyst for other students to join these demonstrations. These points and others were enthusiastically communicated by Bete Stevens, a student at Traip.

Here are some of their very salient points they stressed in their dialogue:

Shay’s background and how she came to live in Maine, as an African-American woman.
Shay Stewart-Bouley is Executive Director of Community Change, Inc. in Boston, Massachussetts: also she’s a Chicago native born on the crossroads of working-class, Black and female, Shay Stewart-Bouley’s career since 1997 has focused on weaving these intersections into her daily life and professional work. Since the mid-1990s, Shay has worked in the non-profit sector, during the earlier years working primarily with marginalized groups and in the later years focusing on non-profit administration working both as an Executive Director at a small faith-based non-profit in Southern Maine and non-profit consultant/grant-writer to other organizations. In the early-2000s, Shay moved from her native Chicago to Maine and, as a Black woman living in one of the least diverse spaces in the United States, found herself writing regularly about race relations, social justice, and white supremacy.

She’s a prolific blogger at her award-winning blog Black Girl in Maine, where race is a major theme but also daily life as a Black, middle-aged woman in a world where these traits frequently are not valued. Shay also writes for the Portland Phoenix, crafting a monthly column titled “Diverse City” that celebrated its 10th year in 2013. Shay holds an undergraduate degree from DePaul University, where she self-designed a program to focus on African-American Health and Wellness and health disparities; she also holds masters of education degree in Administration and Supervision from Antioch University New England. When Shay isn’t working, she can be found on a yoga mat, where she is training to become a 200-hour registered yoga teacher in the Ashtanga tradition. If you need to reach her write her at first name at communitychangeinc dot org (from http://www.cci.org).

About Debby: I’m a white woman, raised in Winchester, Massachusetts during the socially turbulent 1960s and ‘70s. After a blissfully sheltered, upper-middle-class suburban childhood, I found myself simultaneously intrigued and horrified by the racial divide I observed in Boston. From 1984 to 2009 my work in urban neighborhoods and schools left me feeling helpless. Why did people live so differently along racial lines? Why were student outcomes so divergent? Why did I get so jumpy when talking to a person of color? Where did the fear of saying something stupid or offensive come from, and why couldn’t I make it go away? The more I tried to understand racial dynamics, the more confused I became. I knew there was an elephant in the room, I just didn’t know it was me!

In 2009, a course at Wheelock College, Racial and Cultural Identity, shook me awake with the realization that I’d missed step #1: examining the way being a member of the “normal” race had interfered with my attempts to understand racism. What began as a professional endeavor became a personal journey as I shifted from trying to figure out people whom I’d been taught to see as “other” to making sense of my own socialization.
My book Waking Up White is the story of my two-steps-forward-one-step back journey away from racial ignorance. I continue to study racism and strategies for its undoing while working to educate other white people confused and frustrated by racism. I remember these feelings all too well and am passionate about transforming anxiety and inaction into empowerment and action, be it for an individual or an organization (from http://www.debbyirving.com).

*A term that is getting used more frequently in our culture is the phrase White Supremacy which has always been embedded in the notion of White Privilege or White Racism anyway.

*Historically, whites have been the “chosen people” (ala Manifest Destiny) to be an WP a ideological construct. Thus, the “white-is-right” cultural motto.

*Whites have been driven to offer their help to people-of-color, that’s been counter-productive to building relationships based on respect for the other’s agency. However, a countervailing notion (reality), is that often in white-culture, it helps for a white person to communicate to other whites, and gives legitimacy to the knowledge & info given.

*Debby suggests, there’s a distinct difference between “partnering” and the driven-ness to “offer assistance” to persons-of-color. Partnering is being together in an ongoing dialogue, in an egalitarian way, within an “interdependent” space (my emphasis here). This is far-removed from “good, white lady help,” Shay noted.

*We need white people to speak up–whites often have a problem speaking to other whites around race-an intersectional area is for white women to observe their own vulnerability around racial issues.

*White norms and standards: don’t rock the boat, don’t talk about race (it’s like politics & taxes), and taught to avoid conflict and racial conversations. “If I really spoke my mind to all my white friends, I’d be ostracised.”

*Conflicts and misunderstandings and microaggressions may come at anytime for people-of-color. One example of Shay’s was that of a biracial family going to a restaurant, and when they got inside, a younger, white child yelled, “Look at those people!” repeatedly. Needless to say, this may have been a very embarrassing moment for the biracial family.

*Shay speaks first about her being black, descended from slaves, then a woman, and then an American, because her “blackness” is the bottom-line piece of her identity. Moving to Maine was a culture shock for her! She communicates for the need for people-of-color-parents to teach their kids about race in a productive way.

*What does it mean to be white? Debby asks. Often an African-American or a Latina-American will need to fight twice as hard for one’s identity. Stress thrives in black & brown body-minds. Well, due to our conditioning, being white means you’re nice. You try to give your kids an idyllic life; currently, many whites are trying to distance themselves from Trump and/or LePage, as being representatives of the total embodiment of what it means to be white.

*How can we reach Trump supporters regarding anti-racism? Whites may choose to let go of Individual Prejudices, Institutional Racism, and racial ideologies.

*White Privilege (WP) means having the resources to do your own work, yet still not consciously aware of your privilege, and then openly acknowledging the financial and accessibility differences; African-Americans tend to carry a lot of emotional baggage and perceptions around money. In once instance, when Shay and Debby did a workshop, the provider only paid Debby and not Shay-what’s wrong with this picture? It’s impossible to separate racial justice from economic justice. In our culture, race impacts all areas of our lives.

*Cross-racial relationships: Are we friends if we never see each other outside of work?
An anti-racist mindset taken out into the world with us-we’re not hard-wired to get rid of stuff, but this process benefits the greater whole and is much larger than the sum of all its incremental elements.

*From a white perspective, a good question to ask ourselves: what have we given up from our WP Belief Systems? One of the problems we cause ourselves more pain is just our own immaturity.

*My own perspective (eclectically adding Shay’s & Debby’s comments) on how we can reach Trump advocates: 1. Listening-learn where the other’s pain comes from. 2. Often generic, appropriate government involvement and the freedom of self-sufficiency and greater self-respect are very powerful and impacting; 3. Find ideas that are the most motivating kinds, and that all parties have in commonal; 4. Get to know where our life and work don’t align with developing interacial friendships, and don’t avoid friendships, because they may grow into new ways of cooperative effort towards mutual goals.

Copyright: Christopher Bear-Beam January 29, 2018

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