Blog

Before I Read the Book: Listening to Robin DiAngelo Speak About White Fragility

I recently went to see Robin DiAngelo speak. I first of heard of her last year when her book, White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, was released.

At the time I heard about the book I was not only too afraid to speak about race. I was even too afraid to read the book. Now after seeing her, I’m ready to take the next step. I’m ready to read the book.

I know, having heard her speak, that this slow process I am taking is a privilege of my whiteness. We live in a racial hierarchy where as a white person, I am at the top of the pyramid of power. The racial status quo makes it comfortable for me to support racism 24/7.

Intentionally Uncomfortable

I know these words are shocking. The thing about DiAngelo is that she, a white woman, was able to deliver her message with humility, honesty, and even a few jokes. She warned the mostly white audience that we would feel uncomfortable with her message. But that was okay since we live our lives in comfort every day.

To reduce racism she told us we needed to be less white. And that didn’t mean to be more of whatever European race we were, Luxembourg- American in my case. She said we could not be less white by being more ethnic. The way to be less white and to oppose the racial hierarchy was to be more humble and practice more humility.

Redefining Racism

DiAngelo defines racism as a system of sanctioned discrimination against people of color, not individual events between individual. She displayed a slide with examples of this system of discrimination against African Americans in the United States that go far beyond slavery to many examples today from educational discrimination to historical omissions. This goes against the mainstream definition of a racist as an individual who consciously does not like people based on race and who is intentionally mean to them.

She says racism is not one event between two individuals, but the system we live in. As a white person raised in our society, I cannot help but have a racist worldview and racist biases that I am invested in. As a white person, the system of racism benefits me. It helps me stay comfortable and overcome any barriers I do face.

She asked the audience to think about the question, “What are some of the ways in which your race has shaped your life?”

She often gives people one minute to answer this question. People of color never have a problem answering this question or filling the time. White participants often cannot answer the question or fill the time, even though being white has played a part in every moment of our lives from where we were born to where we lived and went to school. She says when we cannot understand what it is to be white, we cannot understand what it is to not be white.

DiAngelo says this leads white people to become uncomfortable with the thought that they are racist. This leads to what she calls White Fragility, or the inability of white people to handle racial stress. It’s the feeling of “What can I do?” or “I’m doing my best.” She says this leads to people pushing back and feeling hurt and becoming outraged against the thought of racism.

Practice Humility and Learn

There is no easy answer, DiAngelo says, and you can’t solve racism by being nice to people of color. Her suggestion? Internalize a framework of humility. She says we need to acknowledge what we don’t know and try to learn. She recommended her website as a start. There are loads of resources there including a number of videos where you can hear DiAngelo speaking about her book and its topics and a Reading Guide to the book.

Her book is also a start, so I purchased it and will read it too. I hope to learn much more.

How Do You Tell the Story of a City?

This weekend I was part of a book release for the new The Milwaukee Anthology by Belt Publishing. The Milwaukee Anthology includes non-fiction stories about the Milwaukee-area. I’m excited to have an essay in the book about my hometown, Port Washington, which is titled “Living Like Kings.”

I grew up outside of Milwaukee in a place that was always described as “20 minutes north of Milwaukee.” Port Washing sits on Lake Michigan and my story talks about how salmon stocked in the Great Lakes in the 1960s changed communities like mine, the lake, and families in the region.

Salmon were put into the lake to hunt alewife, a type of fish which had nearly caused trout and whitefish to become extinct. Doing turned out to be boon to the city, which transformed into a place known for its marina and fishing. It was also a windfall to my family of 11.

My six brothers fished nearly every day. We stockpiled canned salmon in our root cellar and ate it in an endless loop of recipes. I have eaten so much salmon, I am pretty sure I am made of it. A line from my bio, “she ate so much salmon as a child, if you cut into her you would find flaky flesh that you could easily lift away with a salad fork” comes from this essay.

The essay follows our odyssey as my family and our community grows and salmon popularity and population rises and falls with economic and environmental changes. In honor of the essay, and my town, I’ve included some pictures below of Port Washington and my family during this time.

About The Milwaukee Anthology

The book is just the latest in Belt Publishing’s City Anthology series. They are a small, independent press founded in Cleveland in 2013 as a platform for new and influential voices from the Rust Belt and Midwest.

The Milwaukee Anthology includes the work of more than 50 contributors telling the stories of the communities and people of Milwaukee. The book is available at Belt Publishing’s website.

My Irrelevant Review: A Star Is Born

I rarely watch movies in the theater. Instead, I put my name on the hold list at the library and watch them when my name comes up. That means I’m often watching movies years after everyone else. Sometimes I remember to put my name on this list early and get a movie shortly after it goes to DVD, which is why I’m writing about A Star is Born now.

A Star Is Born Album Cover 1976

I realize most people were talking about this Bradley Cooper remake six months ago, but I just had to put my two cents in. If you are one of the few people who haven’t seen it yet and are still unspoiled you may want to stop reading now. There are some spoilers ahead.

I have not seen the other versions of the film although it was hard to go anywhere as a child and not see the album for the 1976 version with Barbara Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. The image of the two naked stars in an embrace was both confusing and disturbing to the young version of myself. Although the 2018 version was updated, in some ways it feels as old-fashioned as that sepia-toned album cover.

Basically Implausible

I understand the story of A Star Is Born all hinges on a more successful man bringing up a younger female star as his career wanes, but I found the early scenes between Cooper playing Jackson Maine and Lady Gaga playing Ally to be unbelievable. I didn’t really see much chemistry in their first all-night date, in which we learn Maine is a drunk with a heart of gold, and Ally is a talented singer who has been overlooked because of her looks.

There is also implausibility in their interaction. When Ally sings a song she’s working on for Jackson in the parking lot of supermarket it made me cringe. Also, since it was just a few lines of the song, I didn’t believe he would be able to commit the lyrics or music to memory, which is important for the next plot point.

Not only does he remember, but has taught it to his band and is ready to sing it the next night at his concert. As Ally watches backstage, where she has been flown by private jet, he tells her he wants her to sing it.

Really? She’s only performed standards in front of a bar crowd before, but now she’s supposed to perform her song in front of an arena of fans. Oh, that’s right. Jackson is unpredictable. He would do that. What a rapscallion.

When Ally waivers, Jackson tells her he’s going to sing it anyway and starts to sing the song. Halfway through she joins him onstage at an extra microphone which happens to be on, and the crowd (who has no idea who she is) loves it. She does amazing and does not crack.

Unforgivable

The next scene is Ally cursing Jackson out about boundaries. She tells him how it was inappropriate for him to manipulate her into coming on stage. She tells him he did not have the right to steal her song.

Of course, that does not happen. No one wants to see that, right? Instead, Ally is a hit. Everyone on YouTube says so. She’s in the band! People love watching these two make out on stage.

But. She might even be better than Jackson. He’s an alcoholic and his career is on the decline. This relationship didn’t exactly start under the best circumstances.

You know the rest.

But I Did Cry

As for what’s to like about the film, I typically don’t listen to Lady Gaga music but do have a few of her songs on my digital playlist. I have somehow avoided hearing too much of “Shallow”, but found the keynote song likable enough.

I also have to admit I did cry after Jackson’s death. I cried when she was sitting with Sam Elliott, who plays his brother Bobby Maine. He tells Ally it wasn’t her fault. There seemed something real in this line. He also says:

“Jack talked about how music is essentially 12 notes between any octave
Twelve notes, and the octave repeats. It’s the same story, told over and over, forever. All any artist can offer the world is how they see those 12 notes.”

Of course, this is a take on A Star Is Born itself, a story that’s been told over and over in slightly different ways. But it may be time for a new story. This story, like this review after so much time, may be irrelevant now.

Procrastination and Impulsiveness: When Great Ideas Come to Call

I have never been a procrastinator. I usually do not put off for tomorrow what I can do today. I usually turn my assignments in early and I never had to pull an all-nighter in college. Except, for right now.

I pitched an idea to a blog sometime last year. It was so long ago I didn’t even remember it when they emailed me a few weeks ago and said they’d like me to write it. I looked at the words I pitched, not a complete article, just a paragraph, and liked what I saw. But I had no recollection of them.

I knew they were mine based on the content, but I couldn’t remember what else I thought I might write about to stretch the one paragraph into a full article of more than 1,000 words. I searched on my computer drive hoping I had been super prepared and actually had written the article, or at least a few points already, but found nothing.

But I figured it couldn’t be that hard to come up with the extra words. I could easily write that in an hour or so and have my article turned in well in advance of my deadline. So when I sat down and started writing I was surprised to find it was harder than I expected. I only came up with about 500 words and didn’t have anything else to say.

In the weeks since I have opened up the article I started and tried to work on the piece some more, but I haven’t progressed much. It’s a pretty boring article right now and I’m not sure how to come up with the additional words. In the time I have written, polished, and submitted a few other pieces (including blog posts), but I keep ignoring the one I’m supposed to be working on.


I am very much aware of my own double self. The well-known one is very under control; everything is planned and very secure. The unknown one can be very unpleasant. I think this side is responsible for all the creative work – he is in touch with the child. He is not rational; he is impulsive and extremely emotional.

Ingmar Bergman

I woke up the other morning in a cold sweat, wondering if I had missed my deadline, thankful that I still had more time. I vowed to finish it that day, but only looked at it for a few minutes before I was on to something else. It just isn’t inspiring me as I suppose it was when I pitched the short paragraph so many months before.

And that’s the problem. I sometimes get so inspired that I don’t procrastinate enough. I probably wrote that paragraph as it came to me in a rush, polishing it, and then sending it off to the publication so quickly that I didn’t think about what was next. I was in such a hurry I didn’t even track the pitch as I normally do through my normal record keeping process.

It’s the opposite of procrastination: impulsivity. A better approach would be to land somewhere in the middle. If I had taken more time, I would have made at least a few notes on how I thought the article would play out. That way if I was given the opportunity to write it, I wouldn’t have to struggle to remember what I was thinking.

I still have a few weeks to figure it out, and hopefully the creative spark will come to me again, In the future I’ll have to remember to write down what I was thinking when I have a great idea.

What about you? Are you impulsive or do you put things off? Or are you somewhere in between?

Silencing the Quacking of Creative Jealousy

This morning the ducks were really quacking. For some reason when they fly, they never shut up. I’m sure there are lots of scientific reasons for their vocalization, but to me it reminds me of one thing. Creative Jealousy.

You know that ugly feeling of resentment? To me, that is the sound of a quacking duck. When I looked up songs about jealousy, I found tons about romantic envy, but I couldn’t find any about the artistic kind, though I know this type runs rampant.

jealousy broken in half

I remember when I was starting out in my creative pursuits I used to get quite jealous of others who I thought were doing better than me. I once took a class on The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron and we would have show and tell at the beginning of class.

Once, I was so envious of someone’s painting at the beginning of class, despite the fact that I don’t even paint. Being jealous of her was like being jealous of oranges when I was made to be apple.

But jealousy isn’t logical. It works on scarcity. Jealousy believes that when someone else succeeds, we must fail. But that is not true. To combat jealousy, we must remember that there is enough good for us all.

But jealousy isn't logical. It works on scarcity. Jealousy believes that when someone else succeeds, we must fail. To combat jealousy, we must remember that there is enough good for us all. Click To Tweet

In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron talks about jealousy as a map. Each of our maps differs and we are often surprised by what makes resentment rise up in us. When we see someone else achieving something jealousy exposes our fear that we will not get what we want.

The antidote to jealousy is action. Instead of envy, we must believe that there is enough room for multiple successes in the world and take action toward what it is we want.

Cameron suggests listing out the people you are jealous of, why, and what you can do to take action. For example:

WhoWhat Are You Jealous Of?Action
My Friend JoanShe has a dedicated writing studio space above the garageFix corner of den into writing nook
Lady at
Conference
Published her book Begin revising novel

Taking small actions will breed hope, which will turn the negativity of jealousy into a more positive force. It’s also important to remember that creative success is hard for everyone. Focusing on the action of creating can help reduce the jealousy of comparing yourself to the creative success of others.

Feeling that there is only enough success for a few diminishes the work of all creative people. And isn’t celebrating all of our creativity more beautiful than the sound of ducks quacking overhead?