Sunday, March 10, 2013

Courageous Conversations

Somewhere along the way through motherhood, I missed out on an important meme, Courageous Conversations. Sure, I’d heard the term, but I didn’t realize it was capitalized.

I bet I’m not much different from the rest of America. I have a vague idea it was a phrase Obama said, and one that many of my “culturally competent” friends will drop into our conversation, signaling they are in the tribe.

I haven’t read the book and I didn’t Google it before beginning my thoughts. My jumping off point today was the article in Seattle Times today regarding a US Department of Education probe into discrimination in the classroom. When I finished it, I heard “courageous conversations” ringing in my mind.

Before speaking further, I must identify myself to anyone who has not met me. I am a divorced white mother of a mixed race 13 year-old black son who is at the racial identity phase of development.

I wanted Son to read the article, of course, but knew that was not going to happen. Instead I reread it underlining quotes and data I wanted to share with both Son and his teaching team at the meeting about his attitude tomorrow afternoon. (Spot on timing, Seattle Times.)

While there have been no suspensions at our house, there have been plenty of lunch detentions. Plenty. Lunch detention doesn’t sound like much, but think about Son’s perception that others are getting away with just a talking to.

“[He] has heard countless stories of black students who receive harsher punishments than white students for infractions that seemed identical.” “Yeah, so, I already knew that,” says Son.

“Some of the biggest disparities show up in schools with relatively small numbers of black students.” There are just 5 blacks in Son’s grade. Five.

“Where the racial disparity kicks in, all the discipline data says, is when you look at subjective reasons for discipline, things like disrespect or being disruptive, excessive noise, or loitering.”

Some of Son’s white female teachers have found him disruptive and disrespectful. Son feels he is singled out unfairly, the only one being called out at a table where everyone was talking. (Yes, he admits to talking and goofing around. The problem is the added edge of being singled out for reprimand when you already feel a bit of an outsider.)

What’s complicated is that all of the adults in the situation are well intentioned, culturally experienced white people who sees things very differently than Son.

I sincerely believe every one of the adults involved are doing their best. They’ve been through the training. They even have family across racial lines.

But if I am honest, if I am courageous, I must admit that I can’t recognize in myself any deep-seeded bias I might have not yet discovered. Have I been more protective because my son is black? You bet. Do I worry more? Absolutely.  Of course I’m biased, so why aren’t they as well.

And what parent of a young black man growing up in this country isn’t doing her or her best to help their son build the necessary armor and savvy to keep them safe out in a world who expects them to be either thugs or Oreos.

So tomorrow I will do my best to have one of the courageous conversations that ends in smoothing the way and keeping Son on the right track. I will follow Dr. King’s teachings and begin with a compassionate heart.

And tonight I’m going to meditate on the challenge of self knowledge. Can we ever see into our subconscious motivations and their resulting actions? 

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Message from the late winter garden

The chill of the damp soil seeps through my gardening pants soaking in the earth’s dark dampness.

Though the air is chill and the soil still cold, life is erupting everywhere -- hundreds of weeds pushing up into the growing light.

Now is the time for the hoe: the bulbs have all shown their heads and the sprouting weed’s feet have not had time to hunker down. Slicing through the top of the soil, I turn them under.

I returned today, into the garden -- my own little speck of earth. This 5th garden hour, I feel myself opening, breathing freer as bright yellow daffodils and velvety crocuses herald Spring’s arrival.

Under my fingernails I smell the earth. A switch flips and I feel the stirrings in my body’s neural memory.  Wake up!

The wheel turns plainly in the garden. A ceaseless flowing of light and dark growing first longer and then slower until the turn begins the cycle again. Though I cannot see the stars through my LED streetlight’s glare, I can feel the infinite’s presence connecting to my small, but important, place in the cosmos.

The wisdom of the garden is continually revealing itself to me. I grow with the flowers and die with the weeds. Sending out thanksgiving for being blessed with a home that has its own patch of earth; place enough to grow flowers and pumpkins and chickens, and where my children have room to grow.

“Wake up, wake up!” The garden calls. “My work is no chore and the harvest begins now.”