PEO Sisters

June 2020 – Zoom meeting hugs of words and sharing found:

By Brenda Atchison President, International Chapter.

Our beloved meaning of the letters P.E.O. is crying out to me. Our values and virtues of faith, love, purity, justice and truth are crying out to me. You, my sisters, our nations and this sisterhood are crying out to me. Racism, bigotry, bullying, hate and societal inequities have absolutely no place in our Sisterhood or in this world. We condemn the acts of social injustice still present in our nations. P.E.O. must be a part of the solution. Reach out to your sisters. They need you. Educate yourself and your chapter. Learn more about history and people that are not like you. Think before you speak or act. Be positive. What will your legacy be? I see you. I hear you. I am listening.

By Lynn Corazo President, Chapter BN Houston and Harris County juvenile justice system staff member.

THOUGHTS ABOUT THE RACIAL INEQUITY  IN OUR WORLD

I want to share some of my own thoughts and feelings about the events of the past few weeks, in the hopes that it may be helpful in dealing with your own thoughts and feelings.  I’ve been angered, disheartened, frustrated, depressed, anxious – so many different emotions over the past 2 weeks as we have learned about the horrific death of George Floyd and been reminded of so many others lost in similar traumatic events.  Even more upsetting is that this seems to be representative of a cancer that is deeply affecting our nation and our world.  I’ve had the opportunity to attend several webinars and discussions about racism since that incident, and even in the months before it.  I am exposed to the racial inequities in our society almost daily as I work with youth in the Harris County juvenile justice system.  And yet I realize that I still fail to conduct the self-examination about my own thoughts and concepts that I should.  But today I’d like to share a little with you about my journey along the path as I have participated in these webinars and readings, in the hope that it may help you along your own personal journey.

First, I would like to acknowledge that I am a white woman who has definitely benefited from white privilege.  I grew up in a middle class white family, the only child of parents who were highly respected in our community and beyond.  The segregated schools I attended had adequate funding, and I had the opportunity to receive a good education.  I also had the opportunity to have many cultural experiences, including travel to many of the large cities in our nation as part of my father’s work.

What was somewhat different in my experience than that of many of my peers was that my parents were actively involved in interdenominational and interracial activities in Daytona Beach, Florida.  This included involvement with Bethune Cookman College, a black Methodist College in Daytona Beach, and my father gradually assumed the role of treasurer of the board of the college.  As a teen, I had the opportunity to participate in an interdenominational, interracial youth organization and got to know many fine Black young people, which was unusual in our segregated city.  As I reached graduate school, I attended a small Methodist school in Tennessee where a student body of about 150 had around 35 countries represented.  My roommate was from the Philippines.  After graduating, I met a young man from Peru, and we married and moved to Peru soon after for 7 years.  While there, I had the opportunity to gain further understanding of the power play between racial systems, with persons of Spanish origin (the white population), persons of Chinese origin who had migrated to the country (and there were many who had been there for several generations), and the indigenous Inca Indian population .  While I have had all these experiences, I find myself recognizing how little I still understand and how much I need to learn and rework within my own thinking.

Just 2 days ago I began reading an outstanding bestseller, How to Be an Antiracist, by Ibram Kendi, and I had the opportunity to hear an interview with him last week.   Then Wednesday I attended a webinar on Structural Racism, followed on Thursday by a panel discussion on How to Talk with Your Child About Racism. During that panel discussion, several panelists pointed out that even infants as young as 6 months begin to distinguish between skin color and other features in a person and may show bias about a range of human features (beards, hair color, skin color, etc).  We need to recognize that those biases form early and that even toddlers are exposed to racially tinged comments in daycare and community situations.  It’s important to begin discussing race and racism even at a young age.  We need to have those difficult, uncomfortable conversations with our children.  Kendi has written Antiracist Baby, a board book – will be out very soon.

The panelists encouraged each person to look within and gain an understanding of ourselves and who we are, of the concepts and understandings with which we were reared, as we begin to talk with our children/grandchildren/others.  Kendi says, “If we don’t do the basic work of defining the kind of people we want to be in language that is stable and consistent, we can’t work toward stable, consistent goals.”  Kendi, speaking of his own experience growing up, said, “ I thought I was a subpar student and was bombarded by messages – from Black people, White people, the media – that told me that the reason was rooted in my race…which made me more discouraged and less motivated as a student…which only further reinforced for me the racist idea that Black people just weren’t very studious…which made me feel even more despair or indifference…and so it went.”  He talks about how he even perpetuated these ideas in talking to other Black people, putting forth the generalizations about the shortcomings and idiosyncracies about the Black race that he had heard.   Kendi also points out that racist thinking doesn’t always apply to race – racialized thinking may justify prejudice against all manner of identities.

There is a lot of discussion about becoming “antiracist” these days, and I have to admit that I was not completely clear about this term until recently.  For years, I’ve heard people say, “I’m not racist” (while espousing racially tinged opinions).  Kendi and others believe that there is no such thing as a “not racist” person.  He says, “One endorses either the idea of a racial hierarchy as a racist, or racial equality as an antiracist.  One either believes problems are rooted in groups of people, as a racist, or locates the roots of problems in power and policies, as an antiracist.”  Kendi goes on to say:  A racist idea is any idea that suggests that one racial group is inferior or superior to another racial group in any way – and that those superiorities and inferiorities explain racial inequities in society.

An antiracist idea is any idea that suggests that the racial groups are equals in all their apparent differences – that there is nothing right or wrong with any racial group.  Antiracist ideas argue that racist policies are the cause of racial inequities. The r panelists talked about explaining racial inequity to children by talking about a game that started a long time ago.  The rules were different for white people and black people.  White people were given a lot of extra privileges, extra “get out of jail cards” or free throws, so they got a lot further along in the game.   I think this may be a good way to help adults understand as well. Kendi talks about how it may be necessary to give the under-represented and oppressed groups some extra privileges for awhile to equalize things.  Lyndon B Johnson:  “You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, ‘You are free to compete with all the others,’ and still justly believe that you have been completely fair.”

Interestingly, geneticists who mapped the human genome indicated that all human beings are  99.9% the same genetically.  Thus, we are essentially one race genetically speaking, despite our outward appearance.  We may have ethnic ancestry based on where our ancestors came from.

The terms Racist and Antiracist are like peelable name tags that are placed and replaced based on what someone is doing or not doing, supporting or expressing in each moment.  They are not permanent tattoos.  At times we may unknowingly exhibit racist tendencies.   Like fighting an addiction, being an antiracist requires persistent self-awareness, constant self-criticism, and regular self-examination.  The heartbeat of racism has been denial – deny that one’s ideas are racist.  The heartbeat of antiracism is confession – willingness to be vulnerable, ID the times we are being racist, having racist thoughts.  First step is acknowledging the problem – admit when we are being racist.  People of color act in racist ways as well.

Right now the people of our nation, and indeed of our world, are engaged in discussions about policy changes that are needed.  Kendi describes a racist policy as any measure that produces or sustains racial inequity between racial groups.  He says this includes written and unwritten laws, rules, procedures, processes, regulations, and guidelines that govern people.  Every policy in every institution in every community in every nation is producing or sustaining either racial inequity or equity between racial groups.  He says that racist ideas and and ideologies aren’t fueled by hate and ignorance, as often is stated.  Rather, he says, “People implement racist policies to protect their own political, cultural, and economic interests and then, perhaps on the principle that the best defense is a good offense, deploy racist ideas to advance those policies.”

I have only begun to delve into the rich treasure of understandings in Kendi’s book, but I’d like to share some of his thoughts at the end of the book.  Kendi was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer in 2018, often a death sentence.  Yet chemotherapy and surgery have obliterated the cancer from his body, and he is in remission.  He now speaks of metastatic racism in our country and asks, “What if we treated racism in the way we treat cancer?  1)Treat  the body politic with the chemotherapy or immunotherapy of antiracist policies that shrink the tumors of racial inequities, that kill undetectable cancer cells. 2) Remove any remaining racist policies, the way surgeons remove the tumors.  3) Ensure there are clear margins, meaning no cancer cells of inequity left in the body politic, only the healthy cells of equity.  4) Encourage the consumption of healthy foods for thought and the regular exercising of antiracist ideas, to reduce the likelihood of recurrence.  5) Monitor the body politic closely, especially where the tumors of racial inequity previously existed.  6) Detect and treat a recurrence early, before it can grow and threaten the body politic.

But before we can treat, we must believe.  Believe all is not lost for you and me and our society.  Believe in the possibility that we can strive to be antiracist and transform our societies from this day forward.  Racist policies are not indestructible.  And racial inequities are not inevitable.  If we fight to create an antiracist world, then we give humanity a chance to one day survive, a chance to live in communion, a chance to be forever free….I encourage each of you, when you look out at racial disparities, to see not what’s wrong with people, but what’s wrong with policies.”

As I said, these webinars and readings have profoundly impacted my thinking in recent weeks, and I am looking for ways to reach out in new ways.  I know that many of our PEO projects are designed to provide funds for persons caught up in racial inequities, but not expressly so.  Some of our sponsor families have been persons of color, yet I don’t whether we ever invited those recipients to our meetings.  We did sponsor Shonte Mathews, a black colleague of mine, for TSOFI, and our chapter was warm and welcoming when she visited.

But we as humans tend to be most comfortable with those who are “like us.”  The challenge I’m once again feeling is to reach out in our community, get acquainted with women of color and hear their stories – invite them into our gatherings.  In these days of unrest, we are all challenged to think through our own life stories and decide what the next step in our journey will be.  For my part, I have determined that I will begin to have some of those uncomfortable conversations with others.  I can reach out to colleagues of color and ask them to share their stories.  I will be more overt in talking with the youth I interview about their experiences and learn from them.  I’ll have meaningful conversations with my grandchildren, who have a Latino ancestry.  And I’ll do what I can to take steps to level the playing field in our country as far as policy is concerned.

Thanks for your attention in talking about this “uncomfortable” subject.  I welcome your comments and thoughts, and I would love to engage in dialogue with any of you at any time.  I’m sure many of you have stories to share.

As a footnote, I would mention that Ibram Kendi is a black man who serves as the Director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University.

Notes from interview with Brene Brown

  • Seeing disparities during COVID difficult for him – first response was that Black people not taking virus seriously; something wrong with Black people.  Yet data proved that they were being very cautious.  Then moved to statements that it must be that Black people aren’t healthy – not taking care of themselves.  Constantly blamed Black people, rather than failure of policy, inequities
  • We don’t see the American dream; only the American nightmare.
  • Constantly told that police are there to protect them, that they have every opportunity – yet that’s now their experience.
  • Danger essential to the Black experience.
  • Constantly stepping into the souls of the dead; know it could be them.
  • Book in 1896 – author began stating that he was free of bias – normalized black pain and suffering; destined for extinction
  • Statistics can be dehumanizing tools.
  • Argue that Blacks are disproportionately violent.  Wide belief that Black neighborhoods are more violent.  No relationship between violent crimes in neighborhoods and fact that people are Black – not predisposed to violence.  If that were the case, all Black neighborhoods would be violent; even higher income Black neighborhoods.  But that’s not the case.  Where there are higher levels of poverty, there’s going to be more violence, no matter the ethnic system.
  • We personalize groups – generalize from individual to group.  Think of disparities as the result of mischoices by individuals within the group.  Going to be all kinds of behaviors within any group.  So many variables.  But point out the negative characteristics in Black groups, while ignoring the negative behaviors in white groups.
  • We stereotype groups – see the most socially agreed upon negative characteristics within Black community; while taking the good characteristics of a few white people and assign to whole group.
  • Bell curve – manipulative of statistical data to prove racism
  • Do this in political arena
  • The heartbeat of racism has been denial – deny that one’s ideas and one’s nation is racist.  The heartbeat of anti-racism is confession – willingness to be vulnerable, ID the times we are being racist, having racist thoughts.  First step is acknowledging the problem – admit when we are being racist.
  • Racist – someone expressing racist ideas or supporting racist policies.  Promote inequity; racial hierarchy.  Contrast is not neutrality.
  • Anti-racist – racial equality
  • No in between inequity and equity, injustice and justice
  • When people say, “I am not racist,” usually in response to challenge from someone who says something they did or said is racist.
  • There are people who question this, but Kendi says, “Are you stating that from a defensive posture?”  Create a category for yourself?  Can’t define it when questioned – can’t define what it means to be “not racist.”
  • Racist -shame attached;  anti-racist – “so much work attached”
  • When person is confronted about making racist remark, person usually feels shame fpr being held accountable.
  • To grow up in America is to have racist ideas constantly rained on your head, and you don’t even know you are wet.  Someone comes along and tells you you’re wet and offers an umbrella – you are grateful.  People in power constantly raining those ideas on your head.  You were simultaneously a victim and a victimizer.  So many powerful people trying to convince others that Blacks were lazy, for their own financial gain.  Need to help people understand that they have been tricked – hoodwinked.
  • Bring people back into reality so that they realize they are being rained on – can recognize what’s happening to you and how you are affecting others.  Even have Black elites who believe ideas about Black poor; not recognizing that ideas about them are being promulgated through this.  Blame other people as the source of their pain, rather than seeing that the people they support are the source of their pain.
  • Racism is killing white people – voting against the very social nets they will need.  Dying of Whiteness  – Jonathan Metzel.  Looks at white resistance of extension of Obamacare and how it is harming white people too.  Debate over gun rights – has led to massive surge of white men being killed by suicide in those states where laws rescinded.
  • Generalize – when Black person commits murder, or a Latinx, they see that these are the problems that are plaguing America.  Your rights are being taken away – white men being chastised by everyone – we, the leaders, are your defenders.
  • Dehumanizing language of this administration – calling police on bird watcher – murder of George Floyd.  It’s a very straight line.  Every genocide in history started at this point – dehumanizing – infestation of immigrants – thugs.  Once we move people outside of what we believe is humanity, it’s possible to do anything to them.
  • ‘By not running from the books that pain us, we can allow them to transform us.”
  • Everyone has the capacity to change.