Dear friends and family not in Minnesota: we are, I am somewhat embarrassed to say, safe.
I woke up this morning forgetting for a few minutes what was going on 20 minutes from my home. This white woman, who, all her life, has been middle to upper middle class, was safe in her suburban home, worried more about whether she was going to get control of the weeds in her garden today than anything else.
Then I remembered the horror the Twin Cities is going through right now. Which in turn made me remember the horror peoples of color have endured for hundreds of years.
And I was ashamed on so, so many levels.
I was horrified and outraged when I heard the news and subsequently watched the footage of George Floyd being murdered. I turned to my husband and said “This is going to be bad.”
Clearly I understated things.
I also should’ve reminded myself at that moment that it had been bad before, even in a city and state that prides itself on being open, accepting, liberal.
I pride myself to have the same qualities, but I find myself wondering if I have ever done anything to perpetuate this injustice, even inadvertently? What can I do other than continue to be aware, and to point out when I see people acting wrongly. But in my desire to do the right thing, I find myself afraid to ask questions and state opinions.
Today I replied with much hesitation to a Facebook post made by an African American friend , Adrian Walton, who used to live in Minnesota. I must have typed and deleted and retyped my remarks a half-dozen times. I wanted to express how I felt, but was afraid I would come off as not understanding.
I wrote, “I can’t even look at the news. And I don’t know how to say anything — as a white, upper-class woman, I have no right to be angry or sad or outraged. Everything I say is wrong somehow. I know that the officers who filled Mr. Floyd are heinous individuals that should be jailed forever. I know that the protests were righteous. I can’t get behind the riots — and for that, I am told to check my privilege. I feel for the employees, the patrons, the small business owners, the people whose low-income housing is now gone. Somehow that makes me on the wrong side. I ask myself over and over — what can I do to help this never happen again? I try to be an open-minded person. I don’t like the idea of being blind to race, religion, sexual orientation, etc. I want to SEE it all for the beauty everyone’s unique diversity brings to the world around me. ”
Adrian graciously responded: “the best thing I would suggest is speak up against what you see is wrong and don’t conform to the rhetoric of staying quiet. What hurts me more is seeing my white friends quiet or mute on this issue yet they vocally speak against everything else. I believe, well I know others feel the same. The only way to help in this problem is buck the norm. I get killed when I speak out against blacks doing wrong… but I’m going to always speak what I believe and think is right or wrong. You may lose some friends but if they are your real friends then they know where you stand ethically and morally anyway. This situation won’t stop until more people of other races feel like you yet speak out against it and correct it when it’s wrong.”
I thanked him for his response, and cotinued: I do feel…that …I am walking on eggshells when I speak in favor of a group I feel is being wronged, whether POCs, LGBTQ, Muslims, etc. Often there is eye-rolling, or you don’t understand, type comments. Of course, I don’t understand! But it doesn’t mean I don’t grieve or feel empathy or want change… I will continue to smile at everyone, be kind, courteous and respectful, not change to the other side of the street, or grab my purse tighter, or make assumptions about someone based on their appearance. If you ever see me doing something that needs “checking,” please let me know, AD!”
My daughter helps me be more aware every day, navigating the world of non-binary pronouns and helping me identify ways that may inadvertently come off as insensitive. So I continue to try. In talking with her today, she pointed out that being shocked or surprised about what happened to Mr Floyd is a form of privilege. The African American community is wearily not shocked anymore. It’s expected — every day — to be a suspect. To be looked at furtively. To be wondered about.
Think of that wretched white woman in Central park, who called the police on the African American man who was reminding her of the leash laws. While she essentially strangles her dog, she tells police he is threatening her, when he CLEARLY is not. She and he both know how the police could respond to the woman’s pleas — and he bravely stands his ground. How easily Christian Cooper could’ve been the next dead black man., had the police not recognized the shameful situation for what it was.
That, my friends, is white privilege. Using race as an indication of good vs evil, right vs wrong. Luckily, rightfully, she ended up the villain, and he was the hero.
I’m not saying that George Floyd was a hero. I’m just saying that he was a human who deserved to be respected by and protected by the police, not treated like vermin to be stepped on in the street.
Don’t we all just want to be respected? And to feel safe?
I am also not going to blanketly blame law enforcement. If we say all cops are bad, that’s just like saying every person at the protest looted and burned and destroyed. OK — wait — that’s gonna piss someone off. I know it’s not the same. But is it so different that we can’t at least take a breath and talk about it? So let’s not say “the cops.” Let’s say “THOSE cops.” Yes: it is a systemic issue that must be forever and radically changed. But please: don’t assume that all police officers would’ve acted that way. We know they wouldn’t. But yes: it clearly happens so frequently that the headlines are saying “again” and “another” POC killed by cops.
We also need to be careful about others who are being blamed. The owner of the Cup Foods, where the incident with Mr. Floyd originated, spoke publicly about the situation. He said usually when counterfeit money changes hands, the person handing it over has no idea the bill is counterfeit. Usually, the police arrive and just ask the individual where they obtained the false currency, and let them go. Obviously this did not happen in this instance. The store is appalled that their call resulted in this catastrophe. The clerk is devastated. The owner has offered to not only pay all funeral expenses, but wants to help the community heal however he can. I do hope that this small, minority-owned neighborhood business does not suffer. We don’t need that in a time when small businesses are failing daily due to the current health crisis.
The COVID-19 situation crossed my mind on the first day of the chaos: if it weren’t for the boredom of a pandemic, would the rioting and looting be as bad? I mean, I was a reporter once. I know the media is grateful for any non-pandemic news right now. And people are bored, and cooped up. Quickly I quashed that thought — and chastised myself for what was clearly a train of thought which diminished the complexity and severity for the situation.
Ironically, today I read an enlightening op-ed piece in the New York Times by writer Keeanga-Yamhatta Taylor. Ms Taylor, an associate professor at Princeton, eloquently gave some background on why, right now in particular, Mr Floyd’s murder is so incendiary. She actually mentions COVID-19, and that yes: it does play a role. But not how I thought.
Ms Taylor talks about how COVID-19 has disproportionately ravaged the black community “highlighting and accelerating the ingrained social inequities that have made African-Americans the most vulnerable to the disease.” Secondly, she talks about how the response to the pandemic is skewed “It’s not just the higher rates of death that fuel this anger, but also publicized cases where African-Americans have been denied health care because nurses or doctors didn’t believe their complaints about their symptoms. Just as maddening is the assumption that African-Americans bear personal responsibility for dying in disproportionate numbers.”
She also talks about something that has been mentioned repeatedly on social media: why are white protesters, heavily armed, allowed to walk into the Michigan state capitol and other areas, and scream in the face of police, without repercussions? In fact, our President praised them as “very good people,” whereas he called the protesters in Minnesota “THUGS” (his caps, not mine).
Even my candidate for President, Joe Biden, screwed up by saying “you ain’t black” if African Americans consider voting for Trump in the fall. Dude, you are a rich white man. You have no right to say something like that. I’ll vote for you, because we gotta get rid of the current abomination, but I’ll be honest: you were not my top choice.
Getting back to Ms. Taylor, who eloquently summed things up: “The convergence of these tragic events — a pandemic disproportionately killing black people, the failure of the state to protect black people and the preying on black people by the police — has confirmed what most of us already know: If we and those who stand with us do not mobilize in our own defense, then no official entity ever will. Young black people must endure the contusions caused by rubber bullets or the acrid burn of tear gas because government has abandoned us. Black Lives Matter only because we will make it so.” I urge you to read her piece in its entirety.
Back in the Twin Cities, everyone is agreeing it is time for real change. In today’s press conference, Governor Tim Walz gave an impassioned speech insisting that real change would come, but first the neighborhoods had to be set to rights. Kind of a clean up the broken glass before we can fix the foundations thing. I get that, appreciate it, and support it. He and the other elected officials seem to be truly committed to change. I hope so.
It might help that business leaders are vowing to help.
Dr. Marc Gorelick, president and CEO of Children’s Minnesota, released a statement today co-signed by 28 corporate leaders, from companies as diverse as General Mills, Best Buy, the Minnesota Wild, US Bank and Ernst and Young and Medtronic (full disclosure: HWSNBN works for one of the signed companies). It read, in part:
“As business leaders in Minnesota committed to the principles of greater equity, diversity and inclusion in our companies and in our community, we are deeply saddened and horrified by the recent death of Mr. George Floyd… His death … reflects deeply ingrained, long-standing injustice within our society. .. The repeated occurrence of racially charged events of this nature are contrary to the close-knit employment and residential communities we desire to have in Minnesota. We are committed to taking steps to eliminate the repeat of events like this in our society and committed to investing in substantive change in our organizations and the communities we serve to address racial inequities and social justice. Change has to start today, and it needs to start with us.” (read the full text here).
This is admirable. But will they make measurable change? What will they do? Today an African American CNN reporter was arrested for doing his job reporting on the riots. His white counterpart was not. Will these respected business leaders change that?
Let me pose this scenario. It is 10:30 at night, and the African American CEO of a company comes home, and his wife asks him to run back out to grab a gallon of milk for the kids’ breakfast. He has a choice to make: can he stay in the workout clothes he wore home from the gym, or should he change into khakis and a polo so he won’t be racially profiled?
When I run errands in my grubbies, I laugh and nervously hope I don’t run into anyone I know looking like that. If I were black, I would be worried I would be arrested or worse.
But, as I sit here, a white woman in my suburban home, I am not afraid to die.
And for that, I am privileged.
Below is a piece done today by my brilliant artist friend, Melissa Moore, another suburban white woman who found herself overcome with emotion today. This was her outlet.
Whenever HWSNBN attend social events — company parties, dinner clubs, drinks with friends — people always have the same fascination. The same desire to know, to pick our brains.
“So…tell us about those date nights!”
We chuckle and look at each other. He sips his drink, and I start talking.
The three questions we get asked most:
- How does it work?
- How often do you do it?
- Where do you get the ideas?
So how do the date nights work?
Our date nights stemmed from a conversation HWSNBN and I had in late August 2018. Singer Girl had just left for college, and the nest was empty. My husband of just weeks shy of 25 years looked at me and said: we are in a rut. He said he didn’t want us spending the rest of our days just going out to dinner and binge-watching Netflix shows. I agreed,. But I said I didn’t want this to be a one-sided thing, where I have to plan everything and then feel (whether rightly or wrongly) like the pressure is on me for us to have fun.
So we came up with a plan: we would take turns planning date nights. If it was my turn, I’d have it all planned out, with no input on the planning front from him — which meant he couldn’t veto what we were doing. The same goes for when it is his turn. That veto thing is the most important part of making these date nights work. How many of us come up with an idea for something to do on a Saturday night, but when we ask our significant other, they say “I don’t know, Nah. I’m not feeling it”?
If the other person doesn’t know what you are doing, they can’t kill the idea.
This also means that we get to do things we want to do — even if we know it wouldn’t be the other person’s first choice.
Our first planned date night was my choice, and we went mini-golfing at the Walker Art Museum in Minneapolis. that night, we also tried our first selfie. We are really bad at those and have pledged (well, one of us did) to do them every date night. We try to send them tt he kids, partly to let them know we still exist, partly to let them know we are doing ok (and partly to brag. Singer Girl has wistfully proclaimed she can’t wait to be 21 so she can hang out with us, as we seem to know where all the cool places are!).
How in the world do you find things to do?
We have done a lot:
Museums and galleries and art festivals
Countless amazing restaurants, bars, and breweries.
Inflatables courses. Pumpkin carving extravaganzas.
And so much more!
It is super easy to find things to do. I have always been a list maker and a collector of information, so I have folders of ideas. I have a paper one, filled with articles I have cut out of papers and magazines. I also have a computer folder with things I have seen online. The internet is amazeballs for this sort of thing: once you start clicking on things, you get suggestions thrown at you left and right. I mean, all you have to do is think about something and you get targeted ads, right? Well, imagine what happens when you start actively looking for things to do.
If I can’t think of something new and timely, I search local calendars. My absolute fave Twin Cities one for kooky ideas is City Pages. I have signed up for their suggestions, as well as tons of others. Here are a few interesting ones:
Sometimes you have to plan far in advance. I planned this Friday’s date about 3 months ago because I needed to buy tickets for something. I know he would’ve said no if I asked him, but afterward, he will say “I am glad we did this.”
How often do we manage to do date night?
Do we do it every weekend? No, but we try to. I have it on the calendar: Donni plans date night, HWSNBN plans date night, alternating weekends, so we know in advance who’s up to bat (yes, we’ve been to baseball games — and football, and soccer!).
Sometimes life gets in the way and conflicts inevitably arise. It is a lot harder to do when the kids are here, and, full disclosure, we are kind of glad when they go back from whence they came so we can get back to our adventures. We are also pretty busy socially in other ways, so sometimes we have to squeeze stuff in. The holidays are tough. His work travel can make it challenging.
But we can feel when it has been too long.
We start to go back to the boring, with not as much to talk about. Let’s face it: marriage is hard! We have been married 26 years this fall, and actually have known each other for 34 years. When you start out with someone, often the moments are somewhat stolen, and you fit the person into your life. They don’t know you, and you don’t know the, so every little factoid is fascinating (“you use toothpaste? I do too!”). Relationships are like fish: if you don’t keep swimming, they die.
HWSNBN sometimes says he feels like the date nights are a competition. I do not. I feel like they are a great way to learn more about ourselves and to do things that make each of us happy. Maybe I feel this way because I have always felt that pressure to make sure we had a good time, and now I feel it is shared equally.
One side benefit that we didn’t expect: all those people who ask us about date nights. I have people (often life-long Minnesotans who are younger than us) asking for suggestions. I think it’s so cool that we inspired folks to get off the couch and try new things.
Yes, it’s my turn this weekend. We will hit the road around 3pm and drive to an unknown destination (that’s another fun part: keeping it a secret as long as you can!). We have to be back by 930 the next morning, as we are booked solid: the Chilly Open for him in the morning, our Gourmet club Sat night, the Klondike Dog Derby Saturday and Sunday, and cramming as many movies in before we take the couch for the Oscars Sunday night.
And the couch will be okay then because we know that our next adventure is just a few days away! Happy dating to you all!
Just keep swimming, just keep swimming…