Feel The Music

Well, surprise, surprise! Still not getting around to posting my Texas post. Maybe tomorrow. We shall see. Got distracted by something cute on Facebook.

I’m not all fluff – honest, I’m not! I also read a very long back-and-forth about the Confederacy’s reasons for seceding. And an article about why it’s so hard for white people to see racism and white privilege. And another article about why “color blindness” shouldn’t be our goal. Oh, and Article IV of the U.S. Constitution. Interesting stuff. Deep stuff. Valuable stuff. You should go look for it.

But for whatever reason, I find myself reluctant to be the purveyor of such material. Part of it is that I don’t want to start a fight or have any conflicts. Part of it is that I’m not confident I can articulate my thoughts well. Part of it is because that’s not the flavor of this blog. How much of that is just cover for the other, I don’t know. But here we are. On to the cute stuff.

I shared an article on Facebook that I came across a few weeks ago. It argued that we shouldn’t “defend” music education by claiming it will help test scores and performance in other subjects because music has intrinsic value and doesn’t need to be justified by other benefits. That share of mine then had more of my friends turn around and share it than any other I’ve put out there. I had struck a chord.

(See what I did there?)

And then I stumbled onto this adorable bit of cuteness last night.

{I’m not sure this whole embedded video thing works consistently so I’ve provided both the embedded video and the link. One or the other should work. And I’ll include a couple of screen shots below. One is of the baby crying before the music started and the other shows the excited surprise after. You should watch the video though. It’ll make your day.}

As soon as my face lit up with laughter at what I was watching, the sensible, intellectual part of my brain that wasn’t busy saying “Oh, goo-goo-goo-goo-goo-goo! Aren’t you just a precious sweetheart?! Oh, yes, you are! Oh, yes, you are!”… was thinking that this video was proving the point of that article.

Proof.

Right there.

Music is part of who we are. It speaks to a part of our being that we don’t have words for. We respond to it in ways that we can’t understand. I’m not saying that nothing else can inspire us like music can. I know that words can – both on the page and spoken by a powerful orator. I know that beautiful scenes in nature can too. But still. There’s a reason movies have soundtracks. The music completes the deal.

So why, why would we neglect music education in our schools? I’m an engineer but there are plenty of other, more normal people out there that aren’t using a lick of Algebra or Geometry in their day-to-day life. Read any online forum to get a sense of just how many people have forgotten their history lessons. Or geography. Or science. For that matter, look at just how many people fail to use basic English properly.

But I bet you nearly every single one of them listens to music. Feels music. Why not give them the tools to appreciate it even more. To perhaps be able to create it themselves. Give them tools they’ll use.

Why not?

baby_dance

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Dear White People

My husband and I went to see Dear White People Sunday evening.  First, I want to say that we both thought it was a wonderful movie in every respect and we fully recommend it to everyone.  The second thing I want to say is this.  It was not about race.

Don’t get me wrong.  Race was a very heavy and present backdrop.  The plot centers around a growing discontent between the black and white students on a fictional ivy league campus.  It deals fully with the kinds of issues unique to African Americans and it takes a critical look at white privilege as well as those senseless acts and comments white people do and say without thinking.

But it’s not about race.  What struck me as I left the theater, still savoring all the complex characters and their relationships with each other, was that it’s about people trying to find their place.  It’s about people not fitting in and then not being true to themselves in an effort to fit in.  It’s about internal and external conflict of character.

Yes, race was an important part of that discovery.  What does it mean to be black?  What does it mean to be biracial?  How must a person act to fit in with his or her black classmates?  What if a black student wants to fit in with the white classmates instead?  What if a person is black and gay?  And a nerd?  What if they can’t fit in with the black students and also can’t fit in with the gay crowd?  What about the rich legacy black kid whose dad has strong expectations of him?  What if he’s hiding part of who he is?  What if a woman finds herself in an angry/defiant black revolutionary role but is in love with a white man and is afraid her friends will find out?  If a white woman is dating a black man just to make her family squirm is she using him?  Is it any different than him sleeping with a black woman that he’s not really interested in?

These characters were so rich and engaging.  Each was striving for something he or she didn’t have.  And in some cases, couldn’t have.  Their struggles were real and oh-so believable.

Now… I’m not black.  I am ignorant of most of what black people in this country have to deal with.  I have spent a small amount of time over the years talking to black friends and acquaintances so I have a secondhand sense of some of it.  A secondhand sense is wholly inadequate but it’s about the best I can ever get.  I understand from an academic sense what institutional racism, white privilege, and micro-aggression is about.  I say this so that my next statements will not be taken to mean that I think my experiences are of the same magnitude.

What often makes a book or movie engaging to a reader or watcher is the ability to relate to one or more of the characters.  One reason Hollywood appears to use in not making many movies with all black or nearly all black casts is the fear that white people will think the movie will not relate to them.  Boom, just like that, they lose a large chunk of the potential audience.  Black people?  Well, they are used to only having a handful of black characters and most of them stereotypes at that.  So no need to worry about them.

Here’s the deal with Dear White People.  I related to these characters.  And, no, I’m not talking about the clueless white people, although I admit to seeing me in some of their actions too.  I mean that I was able to relate to the black characters.  Not their struggles with being black, but with their struggles with being alive in this world.

A dilemma  of sorts was presented in the movie.  It went something like this:

You walk into a restaurant and to the waitress, you look like a black customer that didn’t tip her well in the past.  She only takes your order after taking everyone else’s in the room.  You wait 45 minutes before your food comes out.  Now it’s time to tip.  What do you do?

1) Leave the standard 15%.  It’s what’s expected.

2) Don’t leave a tip!  The service was terrible!  A tip is to reward good service and she didn’t provide that.

3) Recognize that she expects you, a black person, to not tip well.  Leave a generous tip to try to change her perspective.

Obviously, I’ve never faced racism in a restaurant.  I still got excited at the familiarity as the dilemma was presented though.  Why?  Because I’ve experienced the same dilemma.  Families with young children are often assumed to not tip well.  So some waitstaff are not as attentive as they should be.  Should I confirm their invalid assumptions by giving them the lower tip that they so richly deserve?  Or should I tip them handsomely in the hopes that they will drop their stereotype and treat the next family better?  Been there.

Then there’s trying to fit in with the group that I’m not actually part of.  A black woman in the movie tried so hard to fit in with a particular group of whites.  If she played her cards just right, she could get some pseudo-acceptance, but she was never fully part of the group.  And in her attempts to be part of the group, she left behind her black friends.

Likewise, when I was fourteen and trying to show the older boys on the hiking trip that I could keep up with them – indeed, be one of them, I abandoned my girlfriend who wasn’t as strong or as fast.  I didn’t dare walk with her at the back, where I could have enjoyed her company, because I was afraid the boys might think I couldn’t keep up.  I threw away what I had to chase after something I couldn’t.

There’s plenty more examples that I won’t elaborate on.  Let’s just say that this movie did a terrific job in making these characters accessible to everyone.  I believe it proved that a movie can have all the main characters be black and still be something non-blacks can relate to.  It wasn’t poking fun like a Tyler Perry movie.  It wasn’t a gut-wrenching portrayal of slavery or pre-Civil Rights era.

No, it was just a story of ordinary people trying to find their way in the world.  And those people just happened to be black.  It added to my understanding of the rich diversity of black perspective.  It proved (although it sadly shouldn’t have needed to) that there are as many different perspectives among black people as there are black people.  Same as whites.

I don’t want to minimize the important analysis of the complexity of race in America that the movie engaged in.  There are a lot of lessons for both blacks and whites, plenty for us to ponder on how we relate with the each other, both within our race and without.  But I truly believe the bigger lesson was that we all face the same most basic struggles.  How to find our place in the world.  And how to be content when we find it.

Living White

I’ve been thinking a lot about the impact of race lately. That might seem like an odd thing for a middle class white woman to think about but it’s been on my mind nonetheless.

One of my cousins recently posted on Facebook that she had just finished watching The Help and the ending had made her cry. A friend of hers posted “The ending made me laugh. Stupid white guilt.”

The comment made me sad. True, I’ve never treated anyone like that and I never will, so from one angle, any guilt I feel is stupid. But sadness is not the same thing as guilt. Furthermore, the people depicted in that movie were living what they thought was normal. What am I doing right now that feels normal but is actually deeply wrong? How will that “normal” be portrayed in movies 50 or 60 years from now? What impacts are we still experiencing from the damage done so long ago? And do those of us benefiting from white privilege have no obligation to address those impacts?

White privilege is a difficult thing to define and a difficult thing to see if you don’t know where to look and it’s a term that surely makes a lot of people roll their eyes. People like that Facebook commenter, without a doubt.

But acknowledging white privilege is not about feeling guilt. It’s about noticing the advantages you have that others don’t, big or small, simply because of the color of your skin.

A black woman sits in the cubicle next to me. In addition to talks about work, our weekends, movies, family, and everything else, we have frequent talks about race. She, along with a couple of other black friends, has opened my eyes to the disadvantages of being black. Being stopped by a police officer because you don’t look like you belong in the affluent neighborhood you are driving in. Being followed by a store employee as if you are about to steal something. People making assumptions about your socioeconomic status and family history.

One of my best friends growing up was black. It wasn’t until recently that I learned why her mother never let her go to the mall with the rest of us. She was afraid that if there was ever a problem – claims of shoplifting or something – her daughter was the one that would be assumed guilty.

This makes me sad. I don’t feel guilty, just sad. I wish it wasn’t this way. I wish my black friends didn’t have to warn their children about dangers that I don’t have to warn mine about. I wish they didn’t have to put up with things that I don’t have to put up with.

I noticed a subtle form of racism and white privilege in the cafeteria at work recently. A fairly sweet and friendly woman runs the short-order grill. She jokes around with most of the customers and is pretty accommodating.

Last week, a black man waited for his omelet to be prepared. She was preparing it as she usually does, spreading the egg out thin, then adding the contents to one half and folding the egg over. He asked her if she could scramble it all up together, demonstrating with his hands what he wanted.

She did as he requested but rolled her eyes and told him dismissively that it’d taste the same either way. He didn’t respond. She started harassing him. She sometimes sounded like she was trying to joke around but there was an edge to her voice and animosity in her manner. At the end, she adopted a falsely sweet voice and loudly announced, “Here you go… SIR.”

I found her behavior rude and when I had the opportunity, I slipped away to tell the man that I prefer my omelets scrambled too. She accommodates other odd requests without the kind of belligerent behavior I witnessed that day, but I didn’t make the connection to the possibility of it being motivated by race until today.

Today, I waited in line behind quite a few people. I had a lot on my mind and wasn’t paying much attention. Someone had apparently asked to have his sandwich put in foil instead of the styrofoam box. A woman, black, said that she’d like hers wrapped in foil as well.

I didn’t see the first person get his food but I watched as the grill lady wrapped the woman’s sandwich in foil and then place it in the box. I mentally shook my head, thinking I bet the woman wanted the foil instead of the box.

Sure enough, when she handed the box to the customer, the woman said, “I didn’t want the box.” She then removed her wrapped sandwich and returned the box. She wasn’t overly friendly or demonstrative or apologetic about it but she also wasn’t rude or upset. She was just matter-of-fact. I don’t want the box. Here it is.

When she walked away, the grill lady rolled her eyes at the next customer and said, “As if she expects me to be able to read her mind.”

I was taken by surprise. The customer had not expected her to read her mind. She had misunderstood and the customer had clarified. So why the animosity?

I thought back over the many times I’ve stood in that grill line. The only two times I can think of her being disrespectful to a customer’s wishes was with these two people, who shared one distinct trait.

Was I experiencing a small form of white privilege? Were all of us white people going through that line being afforded more respect than the black people? Did we have more right to express our wishes? To be served by friendly and helpful staff? To ask for something special?

I believe we were. Now, there’s always the possibility that when you start looking for something, you’ll see it even where it isn’t. I recognize that. And maybe I’m doing it now. Or maybe I’m finally waking up and truly seeing what’s going on around me. What I’ll do with the enlightenment is still an open question.

Why do I?

“How cold is it going to be today?”

“Cold.”

“Colder than the last time I ran in a race?”

“Yes.”

“Are you sure? It was pretty cold that day.”

“It’s 36 degrees right now.”

“How cold will it be when the race starts?”

“Maybe 40.” He checks the weather, “No, only 36 still. Oh, and it’ll feel like 28. It’s windy.”

“Why do I do this?”

“Do you want me to be honest? Because you are dumb. ‘Here, let me give you money to go run on a street when I could just run on the treadmill at home and watch TV.'”

“I’m supporting the fight against racism.”

“You could send them a check and stay home.”

“I’m showing my support publicly.”

“You could take out an ad in the newspaper.”

I glare at him.

“I’m doing something with my friend Rachel.”

“You could invite her over for a glass of wine.”

“Why do I talk to you?”

“Because you love me.”

It’s a good thing he has all the answers. *grin*

Confirmation Bias

I was driving home the other evening with my daughter. I was worn out and emotionally on edge. Life was crashing down hard. Our schedule was hectic and feeling impossible. Our remodeling projects had slowed to a crawl. I had just learned that circumstances were such that I would miss her first ever volleyball tournament. I was still coping with the sudden and unexpected death of a friend at church. I began to sob.

“I’m sorry honey,” I said. “I’m cracking right now.”

She reached over and grabbed my hand. We drove in silence for a few minutes and then, attempting to be helpful, comforting, profound, she began to tell me about a book she had read that had been significant to her. I immediately began to tense, which was not the response she was hoping for.

The problem was that the book is one of those feel-good Christian books that seek to “prove” Christianity and the afterlife through an allegedly true telling of someone’s experiences while in a coma. As a skeptic, I do not typically respond well to such books. The emotional hooks don’t catch me and the holes in the story seem too massive.

I listened to her tell me how the author’s three year old son had been in a coma and been able to tell his parents what they had been doing in a different room while he was not with them. How the boy had spent time with Jesus. How he had, after insisting that many, many drawings of Jesus were not accurate, indicated that one a special needs girl had drawn was. I knew from previous conversations that this book had made a big impact on my daughter. I struggled with whether to respond.

I finally took a deep breath and did so. “How do we know the story is true?”

“Because it’s what his son told him.”

“No. It’s what he says his son told him. What if he’s lying?”

“He’s a preacher!”

“So? There are preachers who lie.”

I tried to present my case without killing her love of the book. The fact is that we, the readers, can’t know whether the story is true. We have to trust the author.

He could be telling the exact truth without error, misrepresentation, or misinterpretation.

He could be telling what he believes to be true but is still not completely accurate.

He could be accurately reporting what his son said, but in collecting the stories from his son, he might have led him in some way that made the story accurately reported but still untrue. Similar to purported psychics who ask leading questions and thus appear to know more than they really do. “Was Mommy knitting while you were in surgery?” That kind of thing.

He could be stretching the truth or outright lying in a laudable but misguided attempt to bring more followers to Christ.

He could be stretching the truth or outright lying in order to make a lot of money in book sales or become more famous.

Any of these are possible. What you think probably depends on how you tend to view this type of literature to begin with. I have other issues with books like this, besides questions of authenticity and accuracy, and I explained them to her, resulting in a lengthy give-and-take discussion.

But that discussion is not what prompted me to write this post so I’ll leave the details out. It’s what happened the next day that truly opened my eyes to a reality that I found truly profound. While surfing Facebook as I delayed facing my day, I saw a link a friend had shared about race. It detailed a black woman’s experience trying to get a job after being laid off. To boil it down simply, she applied through monster.com, which had a diversity questionnaire, identifying her as black or “refusing to answer”. She created a fake white persona with the exact same qualifications as herself. The fictional white person was contacted immediately while the real black person was still greeted with silence. Ultimately, “Bianca” (the white woman) received 12 requests while Yolanda (the black woman) received 2.

I immediately accepted the story as true. It resonated with how I saw the world. People of color suffer discrimination and here was proof. Proof.

Proof?

My words to my daughter the night before came back to me. Challenging me. How do you know this story is true? Look at it. It’s like a blind test. Two identical candidates – the only difference is race. What else could it be? But what if she’s making it all up? Well, why would she lie? Why would the preacher lie?

It hit me initially like a sucker punch and then felt like a major epiphany. I believed this woman’s story because it fit my world view. It confirmed what I felt I already knew. I could believe that a black woman would have this experience and so I accepted the truthfulness of the tale. A person with a different world view might doubt the authenticity of the story. Just like I doubted the preacher who wrote the book about the afterlife while others accepted it.

A friend of mine refers to this as “Confirmation Bias”. We are more likely to believe stories that confirm whatever bias we have. And let’s face it, we all have a bias. As much as I believe this woman’s story, I can’t prove it. (She might be able to with phone records, etc., but I can’t). As much as my daughter believes the author’s story, no one can prove it. The level of proof we require often depends on how inclined we are to believe the story in the first place.

So much of what goes on in public discourse is distorted by our own biases. If you believe that poor people are lazy moochers, then you will notice and believe stories that re-enforce that view and discount those that are sympathetic to their plight. If you believe that corporate CEO’s are greedy money-grabbers, you will see that everywhere you turn and fail to see anything different.

I grow weary of all the liberal-bashing and conservative-bashing online. The fact is, neither side of any discussion is completely wrong or completely right. Both sides have some truth and some value in almost every instance. I can’t make purple with just blue or just red. I have to have a mix of both. Some projects might call for more blue; some might call for more red. As the artist trying to paint the picture, I have to make that call about how much of each I need in order to get the right shade of purple.

Of course, there isn’t an “artist” mixing our policy making or shaping our public discourse. There’s a bunch of red paint insisting the picture should be red and a bunch of blue paint insisting the picture be blue. What we want is almost always going to be purple. But in order to get purple, we have to be willing to listen to each other and consider the possibility of truth from each side and find ways to blend them together.

I don’t know if we can get there. All I know is that I gained awareness when I realized that I accepted some things as truth while discarding others… just like the people I disagree with. I always knew they were doing it. I just hadn’t turned my own questioning on myself.

I’m hoping to retain that awareness moving forward – to continually question what I think I know and to look for truth in what I think is false. It might not change my perspective but it might give me insight into someone else’s, which might just allow us to find common ground. And if enough of us can do that, we might just start working together.

The Colors of the World

Daryl hates to wear sunscreen. With his pale skin, however, wearing it is vitally important. And so it was that I was applying the lotion against his will before his ballgame this morning.

He looked down at his arms before I had a chance to rub it in and yelled in alarm, “I don’t want to be WHITE!”

“You are white, honey.”

“No! Not white white. I’m apricot.”

“Apricot?”

“Well, I’m not white. It’s more apricot. Or peach.”

This reminded me of a little preschool Jane who used to ask why some of the kids were called black.

“I mean, they aren’t black. They are brown. So why do people call them black?”

This view of the colors of the world has apparently stuck with her. One of her black classmates was recently insisting that he was not black. The other kids were looking at him incredulously.

“Jane understands. Don’t you, Jane? What color am I?”

“You are brown.”

“See?!”

I think those two are actually green. Two peas in a pod, they are. Taking the world so literally.