Why BLM Matters So Much To Me

Over 90% of communication has nothing to do with the words that are spoken. Tone matters, but not as much as body language. Spoken words account for only 7% of how you interact with another person. 

Anyone who has owned a pet knows that you can tell a lot about what an animal is thinking, their mood, or their temperament without a single word.  They too know your mood at any given moment even though they do not understand a word of it. 

Words mean very little. The way you act and how society shaped you involuntarily speaks volumes. In fact it is so loud that often the words you say cannot be heard. 

I grew up in Brooklyn until I was 12. We lived in a predominately Italian and Hasidic Jewish neighborhood right on Coney Island Avenue. I’m the daughter of an Italian immigrant who came over in 1970 because his large family dragged him here at the age of 20. It wasn’t an easy life for my father’s family here in the United States. At that time immigrants no longer had the opportunities they did just a few decades earlier. All but my father and one of his brothers returned to Italy. My father’s reason for staying was that he met and fell in love with my mother.

My father grew up in a small town with an incredible work ethic and even stronger ambition. For his family this paid off immensely. But in the United States his work ethic and ambition went unnoticed and did little to get him ahead. He couldn’t get ahead and even learn English when he had to work so hard just to put food on the table to feed my two brothers, mom and I. 

His parents were of the traditional followed traditional, old-school Italian practices. The mother was barefoot at home taking care of the kids, while the breadwinner male provided for the family. The male raised his hands to his wife and kids when he felt he needed to in order to keep his family in line and teach them the value of putting up with crap life throws at you without bitching and complaining about all you don’t have.

Consequently, that is how I grew up. My Brooklyn neighborhood felt dangerous. There were creeps on the street everywhere. We often had various homeless people living on our front step. Our front door didn’t lock. We lived three stories up in a vacant building in a small apartment with only 3 small bedrooms where you had to walk through 2 in order to get to the 3rd. Privacy, my own things, or own room never even crossed my mind. 

I moved to Long Island in Middle School. A poor town in the middle of what seemed like nowhere compared to Brooklyn. My father knew a handful of Italian friends who moved there, so our very Italian traditions seemed normal. My mother dropped out of high school in 10th grade, was in love with my father and didn’t even want to tell her family about the dark side of living with my father. 

Growing up all I ever saw was my father working and never getting ahead, and my mother depressed at home all day in a ratty mumu.

No one helped me with my homework. No one asked how my day was or what I was learning. No one told me I was smart or pretty or really even hugged me. No one said I love you in our home. My father’s workday dominated how our evening would go. Children were an aside. You fed, bathed, and clothed them until they were 18; then they were on their own and expected to come back every Sunday night for football and dinner. 

Believe it or not I saw nothing wrong with this. I did want something more. I wanted healthcare and time off. I wanted to not depend on a man. I think everyone I know, knows my story. I joined the military, got skilled in a few trades, used the Montgomery GI Bill and then my own funds to get an MBA. I got married and had children young (19/21/23 respectively), worked 2 jobs for several years, and spent the first 10 years of my oldest’s life going to school in one form or another. 

I was proud of myself. Many people ooh and ahh and say they are proud of me for being “self-made”. White privilege didn’t benefit me. The first time I heard the term I was pissed because it seemed to disregard all I worked for. 

I was one of the happiest people I knew. Not to toot my own horn, but I was also one of the hardest working people I knew (if not the most). To say I put 110% into work, my kids and my family was to say the least. I was really happy this way. 

In 2007 after 12 years of marriage I learned about a secret my husband had been keeping that absolutely devasted me. We recovered and I was almost back to my old self, but the same issue came up again just 3 years later. This time the marriage did not last. 

Being a divorcee and remarrying someone of a different background and current societal class changed my life. I broke down. I liken it to Richard Rohr’s book called “Falling Upwards”. 

I broke down but I also became a better person. A more aware person. 

There were prominent issues from being in two different economic classes that came to a head many times where I felt myself and my children didn’t measure up to what my step-children’s lives were like back at their mothers house. The division between private school, spending a lot of money on opportunities to beef up a high school and later college education, and even what kind of school should be looked at created a large divide where myself and my children felt as if the things we strived for and were very happy with were what the lower class does.

My most enlightening moment was a few days after my current husband and I moved in with our 4 kids into an incredibly, too large for my liking house, down a beautiful cul-de-sac not far from my old reasonably sized house just a few miles away. In this area no one ever saw there neighbors so it was a welcome feeling when our neighbors right next door came out to meet us. They also had 4 kids around the same ages as ours. They were very nice until they realized we had two 11-year-olds that were not exactly the same age. We explained we were blended. It wasn’t the words they said – because the words were sweet and nice. It was the body language, the surprise and uppishness in their voices. I don’t think we ever spoke to them again.

It was at that VERY moment a flash of awareness came across my consciousness. I suddenly wanted to cry for all the black families moving to a white neighborhood or how an LGBT couple may feel buying a home in the suburbs. I became aware of the stigma of how mixed races try to explain how they are being looked at when going about their lives; or how someone who doesn’t speak English perfectly is treated. A divorcee is probably much lower on this totem pole, but it helped me to see and feel how society treats people that they feel are the non-traditional humans you see on TV. It’s why I relate to the line in the BLM rules about breaking down the notion of the traditional nuclear family.

Over the next few years before I started having clinical anxiety, I continued to get angrier and at the same time continued to climb the ranks at work. 

The contrast between my husband’s kids and family became almost unbearable. My step-kids were told constantly by their mother that my extended family is white trash and that their step-siblings were not as good as them because they went to public school. It morphed into me and my ex using my husband to put my kids through college, me using my husband for money and a host of really other rotten things. Everything I did was looked at through the lens of me being a monster. Obviously none of this was true, but because of my background and my non league education, I wasn’t one of them. 

I understand that after dozens and dozens of “digs”, it’s possible to get really angry in a situation that seems like it didn’t call for it. Similarly to how a black person might storm out of a room because of a comment no one understood could even be offensive.

One specific example is how private schools and fancy camps was one of the great divides of our blended family and one of the main reasons that created a rift between our children gelling into something new. After a lawsuit, a camp dispute that went on for months, when in the same evening the high school my children went to and then the camp my daughter was going to were put down by two separate people, I got what may have seem unrealistically angry by the second comment.

Black people have all kinds of digs in their day to day lives. Just walking into a store perhaps and seeing the elderly white woman behind the counter reach under to get closer to the panic button is a little dig that me as a white person we would never notice unless someone pointed it out to me. Perhaps I did that or something to the like too, but didn’t even notice I was discriminating or questioned why I was.

Take that example of the panic button as one part of a whole day of these digs that weren’t meant but are a part of how we accept society act it is. Then imagine a black person going out to participate in a peaceful riot to ty try to explain how what we can’t see is hurting them and in many ways holding them back (it goes far deeper than this, but it is too much to write about here).

Then imagine being in this peaceful demonstration and then getting called the “N” word and told to go back to the rubbish where you came from and off “my street”.

Can you see how the experiences this very normal black person had in their life and day may cause an otherwise very rational human being to riot and lose their mind? I’m not saying that it’s OK to riot or loot or loose your mind, but I’m saying I understand how it gets there.

I understand because it happened to me a few times. I can understand how not feeling heard and being forced to live in someone else’s perceived “better, more civilized” society would make the person who is in the perceived lesser category feel.

Riot is the voice of the unheard.

We aren’t listening.

I sincerely fear that an executive order from the president banning cultural sensitivity training and marking it as “un-American” and “divisive” is a horrific move in the wrong direction.

It leads to more “not listening” and more ignoring of what too many are trying to say. It ignores the fundamental built in narratives that if you work hard in America you can make it.

That is absolutely not true for everyone. Not everyone is granted the same opportunities due to where you are born, the color of your skin and even the gender you are attracted to.

I’m a democrat and I believe in hard work. I don’t think that conservatives hold the only claim on this. I don’t think anyone is looking for handouts, but I think they are looking for a fair chance. I know I’m smart, but without tutors, money, or even support; please don’t tell me I had the same opportunities as everyone else. And my skin is white! How can we expect for a moment that a black person in an impoverished neighborhood could compete with a good school, tutors, not having to work after school, being able to easily study because the heat and lights are on and their belly is full. Meanwhile they are being marginalized while going into a store, looking ratty when the family can only provide hand-me-downs and consequently have to waive the flag and say the pledge that there is justice for all.

How can you expect the average black kid growing up in a ghetto to possibly make it out of there through hard work and education when their school was so sub-par to one right outside the gates of the ghetto and then claim it’s socialism if we put more money toward schools? I think it’s quite Christian to take care of others and still a democracy.   

Citizens who don’t have access to healthcare cannot get help when they are sick or help with mental illness at any kind of age – let alone when you are young and can still “make it” in America. It’s not socialism to want to find a way to give people access to healthcare, the very thing that will keep them healthy and contributing to the society we hold them down in.  I never had healthcare growing up. Mostly because my father was an immigrant. Even thought he was here legally, he couldn’t get a job that provided for it. Not because he was stupid or lazy, but because he didn’t have the same inherent opportunities that are so invisible and part of what so many people think comes with life, that they can’t see them. 

Not stopping to think about what you were inherently born with and took for granted is privilege. There are all kinds of privileges like just being American, being male, or having money. And skin color. With white skin it’s very difficult to feel the sting of how society looks down on others with different skin color. Even if you don’t look down on darker skin colors, it doesn’t mean that it is not real. In fact it makes it harder to believe that it is.

There is nothing embarrassing or humiliating about learning you have privilege and that being blind to it creates an unjust society. In the same way there is nothing that should be embarrassing about being a male vs a female. Unless you are an enlightened male or were educated on the subtle societal ways males dominate our society, as a male you will not see it.

As someone with money and maybe even the luck that some risk you took to build yourself up panned out, doesn’t mean that someone else isn’t working really, really hard – perhaps even harder than you, but circumstances will never allow them to compete to get to where you are.

This is exactly how black people are being held down. I’m several steps (maybe generations) behind my husband. 43 points exactly in a privilege walk. How can anyone believe a black person isn’t behind me on this scale? I don’t need data and statistics to know they are. I know because I’m alive. I feel the 93% of non-spoken word communication I’ve been treated with and I see the 93% that black people are treated with. And guess what? It’s much worse.  

This is why it matters to me. It’s personal because as a woman and as someone who can mingle in a different social class, I have experienced how many privileged don’t know they are privileged and make judgements and comments about things that are downright just not true or just plain insulting to me.

Women are sexualized and marginalized. The upper class looks down on the lower class and believes their more expensive schools and activities are better than the middle class school and activities. They don’t realize that these types of activities is what keeps America unjust and that the privilege they creates opportunities for them that do not exist elsewhere.

Black people have historically been treated differently. Because they were they lived in lower class housing and neighborhoods. Because they had no money there are not generations of families with college degrees in competitive jobs, making even more money to put more kids in college.

The field is unlevel.

It’s unfair how society just looks the other way and then blames the lack of hard work on those who just cannot physically or mentally make it. 

I may not have understood this as a white woman who in many ways has been marginalized. It wasn’t until I was 40 years ago and immersed myself in some things where I realized what I took for granted – the good of being white, and the bad, such as the role I was playing being a women; were things that I was blind to and when along with because it was just such an integral part of society that I didn’t see it.

I learned from extreme measures. The book I referenced above “Falling Upwards” talks about how it often takes extreme measures and extreme discomfort to learn about seeing another side. It’s a blessing to fall because the world makes a lot more sense to me. I can understand and see the injustices all around me. It’s not a Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish or any religious type of teaching life. Unless you stop to think about it, what we teach in American schools and homes as “success” is actually greed and looking out for #1. It’s the complete opposite of love.

Now at this moment in history we are being told that trying to understand where someone with a different background of the already made American dream and line “With justice for All” is un-American and creates a divide.

Not acknowledging there is a divide and ignoring what the a very large majority of a country’s people are saying is a divide.

My father will now be 70 years old this year. He will never retire. He is an alcoholic with tons of medical issues and terrible senior healthcare. My mother died at the age of 49 from lung cancer. Yes, she smoked earlier in life; but please don’t tell me that treating her during her life for depression and helping her find a way out of an abusive home and the stress that it caused would have done nothing for her. If nothing else, her quality of life and subsequently that quality of life for my brothers and I would have made a world of difference. 

The social issues we face are real. It’s the single most divisive element in this election. But I don’t understand how anyone can be against helping other members of society be brought up to simple standards of living with dignity. There are cases of lazy people, but they are not most people. 

Most people, given fair opportunities will take it. But those opportunities have to be there and visible. Without them there is no hope. You can’t blame someone for not working 80 hours a week knowing it won’t ever get them out of the ghetto. There are some where it can, I agree. Some of those individuals take advantage of it, and others squander it. But I do know that for the majority (like my father) – no amount of hours would have made a difference. I’m not advocating for giving money to lazy people, I’m advocating for creating opportunities for lower socio-economic classes.

That is why living wages are important. 

Black people are in this category of the lower socio-economic rung more so than any other sector of our society. They are in these rungs because of the history of our country. You want them to wave a flag and be proud of living here? Not try to peacefully protest and explain this in some way? 

We can’t have a conversation about fixing anything if these issues and the whole BLM issue are not acknowledged. BLM came up now for a reason. It’s not just because of police brutality. Police brutality was what made people get up and onto the streets, but it’s not the only reason. Privilege is so entwined into our society that unless you are living on the fringes you cannot see it.

Not seeing white privilege at work or how the lack of attention to these social issues doesn’t mean they aren’t real. Telling your own story of the hard work you did or the hard work your parents/grandparents did does not make anyone else’ struggles today null and void. It seems to be a valid excuse to turn your head. Helping others doesn’t turn our country into a socialist country, it turns our citizens into evolved human beings who can look past themselves for the benefit of others, which will in turn truly be beneficial for the society and county at large. It can be an even more thriving democracy when all our citizens are working and healthy enough to contribute and be proud to be an American. Right now it thrives for only some but not all. It’s not Justice for All.

What you do, how you act, what you post, how you treat people is what people perceive when they are communicating with you. I’d go the mat to say that most people are not knowingly racist, sexist, arrogant or pretentious on purpose. Knowing that, know you might be one of those people and not know it either. But those who aren’t know – because it’s being communicated so loudly, they can’t hear what you are saying. Stop and think about what you really think, what you really feel and what you really support. Is it justice for all? Or is it keeping you and you only safe and sound? 

This may sound disjointed, but the point is that I know I couldn’t see this message only a few years ago. I would have said society is fair. But I now know it’s not. Until we all acknowledge that we aren’t equal, the inequity will continue to grow.

I don’t think we want to do that to ourselves, our neighbors, our children or our country. But it’s happening.

Please. Wake. Up.  

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