Hello Good People!
I've been traveling in the northeast for the last three weeks, from the fecund and flooded Hudson valley, to the grimy warmth of New York City's second summer, and north again to the autumnal rains of New Hampshire. What brought me to the east coast last month was an ambitious project I was asked to lead at Bard College. I developed a curriculum on Identity and Difference, and coordinated a team of 10 gifted facilitators to guide Bard's entire First-Year class through the workshop. It was hard and deep and beautiful work, helping these 18- and 19-year olds to talk about race and class, power and privilege, many of them for the first time. And in the midst of it there were those golden moments, where all of us in the room are laughing in spite of and because of and through the pain of the experience.
But only days before I left Minnesota to begin this work, I received an email from a good friend and reader critiquing my September newsletter. In particular, this reader was scandalized by my use of a race joke, which he felt was a base treatment of a very serious subject. I promised him that I would find some way to address this in my next newsletter in case other readers had a similar reaction. I went into the weekend at Bard with the question very much alive in the back of my mind. After my work at Bard, a college with a majority-white population and few international students and American students of color, it occurred to me that at the heart of this matter is the question of when, and if, it's OK to laugh about race and racism. This gave me the idea to write some guidelines on the subject.
Now, I know what you're thinking: Don't the guidelines need to be different for whites and non-whites? On the surface, I tend to agree, but in reality I think the question of when it's OK to laugh is much more complex and often has more to do with circumstance and self-awareness. Because racism is systemic, all of us carry racism with us wherever we go. It is the sum of the stories we have been told all our lives, consciously and unconsciously. How our racism comes out depends on how much power we are afforded in a society based on structural racism. For whites, racism often comes in the form of social and economic privileges that feel earned but in reality are not, and a set of internalized beliefs about the superiority of white culture (for more on this, see Peggy McIntosh's groundbreaking article, "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack"). For non-whites, racism comes in the form of lacking those same privileges, and because of this disparity, holding internalized beliefs about what we can and cannot do, as well as what we do and do not deserve, based on a system we did not create.
And all of it comes out in our humor, the place where the intricacies of identity and difference are splayed out like a deck of cards. Whether it's OK to laugh depends on what the joke is, who it's on, and who you are with. Read on for more detail.
Guidelines for Laughing about Race and/or Racism
It's Usually OK to Laugh About Race and/or Racism...
- When it's funny. Sometimes a person's racism is so flagrant or even stereotypical that it is truly funny. For instance, a white man that I am very close to recently referred to an African American man that he met as being "so articulate." An easy-to-understand example of how racism plays out is the belief or expectation on the part of whites that non-whites are inferior on multiple levels, including the sophistication of speech. On the one hand this is an extremely complex stereotype that has a great deal to do with how we have been socialized to value certain cultures over others. On the other hand, it is SO well known as a stereotype of white racism that when I hear it, I always have a good chuckle.
- When it's true. By 'it' I mean the accusation of racism, and by 'true' I mean it's actually happening. It may sound unbelievable, but sometimes joking at the expense of the person whose racism is 'coming out' is an effective way to both draw attention to their mistake while simultaneously staying on course for the good time everyone is trying to have. You can always pull them aside later for a more serious talking-to.
- When it's not true. This one is hard for white folks to understand, because they are often on guard for the accusation of racism. But some people of color (I say 'some' so as to avoid an accusation of generalizing) find the idea of playing the race card in inappropriate situations to be hilarious. It might be because we know how much it puts white folks on edge (and let's be honest, white folks: you deserve it). It might also be because people of color are always expected to be serious about racism, just like women are supposed to be serious about sexism, and queers are supposed to be serious about homophobia and transphobia. The cold hard truth is that laughing is what gets us through.
This does not mean, under any circumstances, that it isalways
OK to laugh. Here are some helpful guidelines for when you shouldn't be laughing.
You probably shouldn't laugh...
- When its racist. If you are with a group of white people and people are making racist jokes, ask yourself this: would Autumn laugh? If I'm not laughing, you'd best not be laughing either. If you are in a multicultural setting and a white person makes a joke you suspect is racist, you can always look at the people of color nearest to you to gauge their reactions. Because to be realistic, I am not always available.
- When it's not funny. There are many situations where racism manifests in a violent or violating way. These awful situations present a great opportunity to be an ally and aid the victim of systemic racism. You can do this by simply saying. "That's not funny. It's racist." Remember, silence is often interpreted as a form of assent.
- When it's disturbing. This is an easy rule. If you don't feel comfortable, don't laugh. Ask questions before making the assumption that all is well, or that something is amiss. One question I have often appreciated from others who are concerned for my physical and emotional safety in situations where I could potentially be the victim of someone's racism is, "Do you feel safe?" Another brave and helpful response is to physically stand by the side of the person who is (possibly) being mistreated.
I hope these helpful tips serve you well in the fight to end racism by laughing at it's idiocy, or not laughing when that would be the more powerful choice.
In this Edition of Iambrown:
If you have trouble viewing my newsletter in email format, please view it on my website, www.iambrown.org.
- Growing and Nurturing Sustainable Communities of Beauty, Balance and Delight (Minneapolis/St. Paul)
- Grassroots Healers International hosts "Healing and Social Change Activism" (Worldwide)
- TakeTwo Services is Open for Business (New York City)
- Whole Measures: Transforming Community by Measuring what Matters Most (Boston)
- Audre Lorde Project Launches 3rd Space Healing (New York City)
-----Growing and Nurturing Sustainable Communities of Beauty, Balance and Delight
A Workshop Open to Folks from all Traditions and Communities
October 14, 15 & 16, 2011
For many years the Reclaiming Witch Tradition has recognized that community is core to living a sustainable life of joy and plenty. We have been committed to actively exploring the ways that best grow and nurture sustainable communities of beauty, balance and delight. We would like to invite you to join us as we continue to investigate old and new ways of living in healthy community.
This get together will be hostessed by four local Reclaiming Witches; Grady Shapiro, Teri Parsley Starnes, Alex Iantafﬁ and Donald Engstrom-Reese. We are each actively fascinated with and committed to the growing and nurturance of sustainable communities of joy and plenty.
A few questions to ponder before we gather:
What comes to mind when you think about being an integral part of a thriving community?
What are the key elements to growing any healthy community?
What would such a community feel like, smell like, sound like, taste like, look like?
Is there a group size that is best suited for different types of communities?
What are a few types of basic communities and what are their purposes?
How important is the sharing of meals in the bonding between members of any community?
Are you a member of a community choosing to grow into beauty, balance and delight?
We will be gathering in:
(The Community Room in the basement)
The Walker Community Church United Methodist Church
3104 16th Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55407-1817
Oct. 14, Friday - 6:30 - 9:00 PM, a pot-luck feast to get to know each other (all are welcomed, even if this is the only night you can be a part of the weekend, please join us for this meal).
Oct. 15, Saturday - 9:00 AM - 9:00 PM, a day ﬁlled with discussion, experimentation and fun (bring a jar of local honey to do a bit of spell work with).
October 16, Sunday - a closing ritual to set the three days of community magic
We are asking for a donation of between $30 - $80 to pay for our costs. All extra funds will go to beneﬁt
Winter Witch Camp (http://winterwitchcamp.com/wwc2012/Joomla_1.5.18/
To register, please contact Paul at:firstname.lastname@example.org
----- Grassroots Healers International hosts "Healing and Social Change Activism"
How do we create change? The power of healing in this time cannot be underestimated.
We are writing to invite you to be part of the teleconference, "Healing and Social Change Activism" on October 15 and 16, 2011. This conference call will feature healers from all over the world, offering their insights on the role of healing in a variety of topic areas from healing poverty to cultivating happiness.
The teleconference is hosted by Grassroots Healers International (GHI), a network of healers committed to social change. GHI was launched in April 2011 and this is our first gathering of healers. This conference is a grassroots to grassroots initiative where people will bridge their personal healing processes with their larger commitments to effecting change in the world.
Why a teleconference on healing and social change? The world needs healing now more than ever! The traditional ways of social change- constant changing of the external without linking internal growth and healing creates disconnects and we cannot change the world through disconnection.
Our intention is to link internal healing with social change through creation of a dialogue that supports personal sustainability as part of our large calling to create a sustainable world where everyone counts and matters.
Please find the dial in information and an outline of the topics below. Please forward widely to your contacts!
Healing and Social Change Activism
Teleconference Agenda - October 15 and 16, 2011
October 15, 2011
GROUP A: 8:45 to 12:45 on 10/15/11
To attend, visit:http://instantteleseminar.com/?eventid=23089152
Phone Number:(415) 671-4335
Pin Code: 674412#
9:00 a.m Welcome and Invocation Free Woman USA
10:00 a.m. Om Prakash 'Healing from Linked Oppression and Discrimination' USA
11:00 a.m. Diana Lee 'From Sharecropper to Shareholder: A Healer's Journey in Reclaiming the Sweetness of Daily Living and Social Justice Work' LATIN AMERICA
12:00 p.m. Megan Dowdell 'Healing White Privilege' USA
GROUP B: 12:55 to 4:55 on 10/15/11
To attend, visit:http://InstantTeleseminar.com/?eventID=23089719
Phone Number:(415) 671-4335
Pin Code: 674412#
1:00 p.m. Stephen Leeper 'Organizing: The Art of Healing' USA
2:00 p.m. Rosa Asana 'Healing Addiction through Faith' USA
3:00 p.m. Free Woman 'Energy Activism: Spiritual Healing as Social Change Activism' USA
4:00 p.m. Nazar Nicholas 'The role of Inspiration and Positive Mental Attitude in the Fight Against Poverty' AFRICA
October 16, 2011
GROUP C: 10:55 to 3:45 on 10/16/11
To attend, visit:http://InstantTeleseminar.com/?eventID=23089971
Phone Number:(415) 671-4335
Pin Code: 674412#
11:00 a.m. Welcome and Meditation on Healing Poverty- Free Woman USA
12:00 Stephanie Yuen 'Grief Counseling using Holistic Approaches' USA
1:00 Stanley Chagala 'Healing Poverty' U.S. via AFRICA
2:00 Barbara Avant 'Healing From Religious Oppression: The Importance of Your Spiritual Journey' USA
3:00 p.m. Thea Sittler 'Self-Learning and Teaching' AFRICA
GROUP D: 3:55 to 5:55 on 10/16/11
To attend, visit:http://InstantTeleseminar.com/?eventID=23090349
Phone Number:(415) 671-4335
Pin Code: 674412#
4:00 p.m. Patrick David Henry ' Healing Incarceration' USA
5:00 p.m. Abdu Mohammed, 'Healing Poverty and Gender Oppression' AFRICA
-----TakeTwo Services is Open for Business
A message from Stephanie Arcella and Bix Gabriel:
After more than a decade each of working at nonprofit organizations, we are now combining the best of both our worlds – communications and development – to help nonprofits do what they do best: make the world a better place. TAKETWO helps nonprofit organizations tell their stories powerfully and persuasively and generate the support they need to sustain and expand their work.
Check out what we offer atwww.take2services.com
-----Whole Measures: Transforming Community by Measuring what Matters Most
This November CWC is partnering again with the Interaction Institute for Social Change to bring you this incredible offering.
Time: November 8, 2011 to November 10, 2011
Location: IISC, Boston, MA
The Center for Whole Communities and the Interaction Institute for Social Change collaborated and created a workshop that explores the ten values-based practices detailed in Whole Measures. The workshop provides the practical and transformational skills needed to collaboratively implement these practices in your organization or community. This experience is particularly well suited to those charged with engaging diverse stakeholders in a community or organizational change initiative.
-----Audre Lorde Project Launches 3rd Space Healing!!
3rd Space Healing strives to introduce accessible and sliding-scale holistic healthcare access to ALP’s members, staff, and larger community of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Queer, Two Spirit, Trans and Gender Non Conforming People of Color. Please refer yourselves, your clients, your family and friends who identify as LGBTQTSTGNC people of color seeking access to holistic health care to 3rd Space Healing.
The collective members of 3rd Space Healing, a member-led group of the Audre Lorde Project, are professional healers-queer and trans people of color and allies- who specialize in a wide array of modalities including Reiki, acupuncture, and HIV + diabetes nursing. We believe that access to holistic care that supports health and well-being is a human right, but is often out of reach for many LGBTSTGNC people of color who also identify as HIV+, low income, (im)migrant, or living with a disability. We also acknowledge that many existing structures of healthcare are not LGBTSTGNC-friendly, nor do they specifically focus on the needs of LGBTSTGNC people of color. In this light, we aim to create a space that is sorely needed, and humbly offer our skills in service to our communities.
3rd Space Healing is not primarily a direct service project, but a way to make different healing modalities accessible to ALP’s members, staff and larger communities by facilitating linkages to practitioners in those same communities. Certainly, those interested in accessing services every month are welcome to do so, but our vision is to have those coming to 3rd Space Healing access care in the private or community practices of the healer/provider-members of the 3rd Space Healing Collective.
If you have any questions, contact Becca Wisotsky212-463-0342 ext. 16