Talk Less, [Listen] More…

 

So, it’s Wednesday, and Wednesdays are the crazy day of the week. The ultimate destination is guitar after school, which used to be a semi-relaxing time to sit and breathe after a long day. Post-election, the lady in charge who sits at the front desk, has needed to talk. And, as I explained last week (and I explain to the husband often), I’m the closest Oprah around, so she needs to talk to me. (That’s right: Black, overweight, generally a good listener = resident Oprah. It’s a thing. People think I’m approachable. I wish I could get in on the cash part of it, though!) I spent the 30 minutes of the lesson making this woman feel better while making myself more anxious.

Then that one mom came in.

Remember that time, way in the beginning of the school year, when I encountered the Mom who didn’t want summer to end? She was just having such a great time, just couldn’t bear to send the kids back? Well, turns out her kid and my kid are in the same class because, you know, God has an excellent sense of humor. Of course, her older kid has a guitar lesson right after Major has his, so I have to see her at the tail end of my busy Wednesday. I feel the need to be pleasant, which is… draining.

There I am, speaking with the lady at the desk about the post-election fallout, and here comes That Mom, bright and sunshiny as usual, her kids and their dog in tow. Everybody exchanges looks and sighs about what’s going on in the news. “How are you doing?” We all ask each other.

I answered honestly. “My husband and I were talking this morning about getting a dog or something. I don’t really feel safe right now. Not even in my own home. I just want something with a big woof to be a deterrent, you know?”

That Mom was sincerely shocked. “Oh my goodness, no! You are safe here! You are surrounded by like-minded people!”

Lordy. I’m such a moron. Why do I ever answer honestly? And why did I continue on? “Not surrounded. There were plenty of [He Who Will Not Be Named] supporters in town at the polling place. I am not going to pretend like I don’t know where I live.”

“But this is Massachusetts. Stuff like that doesn’t happen here!”

“Yeah, I want to think that, but then I turned on the news and heard that [a hate group] is putting its newspapers in people’s driveways not far from here.” I told her.

She nodded her head. “I heard about that, too. Just can’t believe it.”

I crossed my arms, ready to leave. “See?”

There was a silence for a moment. Then she leaned in a bit. “Well, you should just know that they are the minority,” That Mom said. “and that this isn’t my choice. My kids don’t even see race! They don’t see color. They don’t see wheelchairs… they don’t see religion. I’m giving them a moral compass. They are my little proteges. And I’m not shielding them from what’s happening. They need to see this and know what it is.”

Alrighty.

I hope I didn’t sneer or scowl. I wanted to tell her that Massachusetts liberals are some of the most racist people I know. That this state is one of the most segregated in the country. That I’ve never experienced so much racial tension in my life until I moved here, that Massachusetts racism is some of the most insidious because it’s so hidden, so nuanced, so utterly unfair, unreasonable, illogical…

But I called to my children instead and told them to come on. It was time to go home. I wasn’t going to teach that woman anything. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that she’s part of the problem. I didn’t have that fight in me.

I recognize that my disengaging is part of the problem, too. Change requires discourse, learning requires confrontation of normalized thoughts and behaviors. In other words, if I want to see different results during the next go-round, I need to actively choose discomfort in order to carve out opportunities to change minds.

That Mom isn’t my enemy. Her heart is in the right place. But, because her mouth was open, her mind closed, she wasn’t actually doing anything to be a good ally. That conversation is part of the reason why I don’t feel safe right now. She’s right, I am surrounded by like-minded people. They think they are being supportive, but really, they are making themselves feel better about themselves. A good ally listens with empathy first, seeks understanding second, takes action afterward.  But the number one best thing a real ally can do is listen.

I have had my moments of grace this week and then I’ve had others of a deep and unabiding dread. It’s difficult to try to reassure others (not by telling them that it will be ok, but by telling them to watch and wait. We’ll know what we are really dealing with after the first 100 days), when I cannot always reassure myself. I’m a fool to try, frankly.

I can’t believe it’s only been a week. What a damn nightmare. How are you holding up, Dear Reader? Have you found any effective strategies to soothe? Distract? I’d love to know.

See you Friday for Quiet Thoughts.

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