I told a friend recently that I was going to tour the Whitney Plantation near New Orleans. She replied, “Brace yourself.”

Photo by anthonyturducken

Photo by anthonyturducken

The Whitney is the first museum ever to focus solely on the facts and experience of slavery in the United States.  It is a fascinatingly idiosyncratic institution that is so unlikely to have evolved and to be succeeding.

My experience was that it managed to deliver a punch without knocking me out. Unlike most museums, you are not left to wander around on your own. You have to go on a tour with a guide who tells you the unvarnished truth of what happened here. It’s tough going and our mostly white tour group was shaken by the experience. The guide firmly dissuaded one white woman when she asked questions designed to point out that maybe being enslaved in the south wasn’t always the kidnapping and torture that it surely was. “You may be trying to comfort yourself,” the guide said.

But there is no reasonable way to comfort oneself as a white person. There is only to feel the national shame.

To the best of my ability, I let myself feel the white heat of that shame. Slavery was not my fault, but it is 2015 and I’m alive now so the legacy of slavery is my responsibility. I see only a slice of how the consequences of slavery still linger, but when I pay attention, I see more and more.

I started writing this blog three weeks ago, after the shooting in Olympia of two black youth by a white policeman. But I wrote myself into tiny knots and couldn’t finish.

What struck me at the time was the immediate pronouncement of the police chief that race was not a factor. Impossible. Race is always a factor. Me, you, the cop, the kids, the police chief—everyone is swimming in the same mighty river of our national story of racism and privilege.

And now we have South Carolina. Where even today the Confederate flag still flies high over many a public building.

It would be very easy to point to the south, to point to others, to point to shooters and haters and say “Them! They are the problem.” Black people throw their hands up “don’t shoot.” White people throw their hands up “not me.”

I’m white. I’m not throwing my hands up. I know it’s me.

I’ll confess to just a few of the ways that it’s me.

I lobbied for years to pass laws creating more and more domestic violence and sexual assault felonies and these laws created a lot of criminals and a lot of prisons. I failed to recognize the huge impact this was going to have on people of color. This is institutionalized racism.

I pay taxes in a system that funds my school better than yours. Institutionalized racism.

I elect people who continue to support (by doing nothing) tax codes that keep black people poor and white people rich. Institutionalized racism.

It is difficult to understand the enormity of all that I have contributed to. And it would be the easiest thing for me to crawl back into bed because I feel so ashamed. Ashamed of Olympia and Charleston. Overwhelmed at the enormity of what lies ahead to undo the harm.

But the words of our Whitney Plantation guide echo in my mind: “You may be trying to comfort yourself.” These words remind and inspire me. To comfort oneself is human. To act, human too. So I’m going to drag my sorry ass to work. Today I’ll post this blog and call my legislator to ask why she isn’t passing a budget that fully funds all schools. And think about what else I am going to do. I encourage all you white people to get your sorry asses out of bed and get moving too.

Some news stories that caught our eye this week:

As Marissa Alexander was released from jail this week, The Nation examines why our legal system turns women into criminals for trying to stay alive.

Lindy West, a writer who is regularly harassed by trolls online, has a deeply moving piece on This American Life about confronting one of them.

Janet Mock, known for her memoir Redefining Realness, has a new talk show centering the voices of women of color. The show’s discussion of Bill Cosby and Phylicia Rashad is captivating.

Some news stories that caught our eye this week:

Zoë Quinn, the first and biggest target of Gamergate, has launched a network to help people experiencing online harassment & abuse.

Why campus approaches to sexual violence shouldn’t be more like criminal trials:  “No one cries foul when a student is expelled for cheating on an exam based on the preponderance of the evidence.”

The girls of the Radical Brownies troop have their own badge system, including one for “Radical Beauty”, an “LGBT ally” badge and a “Black Lives Matter” badge.

Some news stories that caught our eye this week:

When survivors tell their stories, they can seem cold or indifferent, get details wrong, or be unable to remember everything that happened, which is then used as a reason to disbelieve them. But these are all common, predictable responses to trauma.

Become a Racial Transformer today! “Racial Transformers don’t fixate on who’s a racist or whether someone intends animus. For they know that the deepest racism lies not just in the hearts and minds of individuals, but in the roles and rules of big institutions.”

Two powerful stories of abortion, pregnancy, and parenthood: “I had such severe postpartum depression that I was afraid my baby’s head would fall off.” And “I really was not prepared to quietly accept a bunch of non-Black people using my race to guilt me out of getting an abortion.”

Some news stories that caught our eye this week:

A pair of disturbing articles about the criminalization of pregnant women: Wisconsin’s law allows the state to jail women if they are suspected of drug abuse while Tennessee charges drug-addicted women with assault once they deliver.

We here at WSCADV always want to hear what Connie Burk has to say, and here she is with some choice words on preventing violence in LGBTQ communities.

The man who held and killed hostages in Sydney this week was, unbelievably, out on bail for involvement in the murder of his ex-wife, and more than 40 charges of sexual and indecent assault. And yet the Australian government is planning to spend more money fighting terrorism, not family and sexual violence.

Some news stories that caught our eye this week:

At 17, Malala Yousafzai is the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. “This award is courage and hope for me and all those who fight for education.”

Shonda Rimes was honored this week and her response has all the humor, drama, and emotional intensity of a good episode of Scandal.

Roxane Gay writes a lyrical defense of bad victims over at The Toast.

Bill_Cosby_(2010)Like most children of the 80s, I grew up with Bill Cosby. I loved Fat Albert and Picture Pages. I adored The Cosby Show and sometimes wished I were a part of that family. I probably identified most with Vanessa, but I always wished I were more like Denise, cool and rebellious. I also grew up with family members who were racist, and I’m quite sure that Cosby played a part in me rejecting that racism. It’s not a stretch to say that he helped change the way white Americans viewed black Americans (though that in itself was also problematic).

Those who know me would say that I never lack for an opinion and I frequently talk about various issues of the day that have me all riled up. But I’ve been uncharacteristically quiet about this latest airing of Cosby’s dirty sexual assault laundry.

It’s not that I don’t believe the accusations. I do. Rather, I find myself overwhelmed with sadness and anger in a way that I wasn’t expecting. No one close to me has committed violence (that I’m aware of) so this is the first time I’ve had to face the reality that someone I’m fond of could do terrible things. My thoughts of Bill Cosby are inextricably entwined with laughter and warmth and love…and now also with betrayal and anger and hurt. It’s hard to know how to talk about that.

It helps me understand how people can be in denial about abusers. That doesn’t mean that the denial is acceptable, but I think I now have more compassion for the people who defend abusers or refuse to believe it. No one wants to believe that someone we love or respect is capable of such things. It’s too awful to accept, too painful. I understand that, and I also know we have to move past that and start holding abusers accountable.

In this situation, with a far-removed celebrity, there’s not much I can personally do, other than using it as a way to talk about the issues of sexual assault, a sexist culture that refuses to believe women, and the power of fame and fortune to override justice. But if and when it hits closer to home, I hope I move quickly through my instinct to deny and instead focus on what matters: believing and supporting survivors, seeking justice, and creating change.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,352 other followers