Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Healing

What next? | Dear Friends

Dear Friends,

As some of you know, I’m a survivor of childhood PTSD. My father’s behavior toward me was the most difficult part of my growing-up years. It cost time, money and effort to become the woman I am today.

Yet I still haven’t faced what it means to be a white woman right now. Specifically, this particular white woman whose childhood set the table for racial blindness. It’s ironic. Nearly every day of my life from age 7 ½ to 14 I rode through colored town, and witnessed the realities of colored life in the Deep South.

My father’s approach to Deep South manners amounted to ‘be polite, smile a lot, and just keep going.’ Don’t ask questions, don’t debate anything, and remember you’re the eldest daughter of the white preacher who speaks from time to time at the Colored Community House.

Still, I was inquisitive. I remember asking my father more than once why things were this way. I’d lived most of my early life on the West Coast. I don’t remember seeing black people in Seattle or in Southern California.

According to my father, it all came down to the way colored people ‘like’ to live. Or what they found ‘most comfortable.’ Or how much money they made, or how they spent it. That was their choice.

Every school day during my grade school years, my father or a neighbor drove us through colored town on our way to and from school in the city. Colored town was about a quarter of a mile from our house.

Yet my father never talked with us about why colored town was there in the first place, why most of the houses needed repair, or what this meant in the larger picture of the Deep South. Perhaps he’d never looked into it.

I’ve decided I can’t avoid looking into it. Not as an academic exercise, but to face what happened before, during and after Jim Crow years, and how I’m now part of the problem.

Thanks for reading. This is a busy month for everyone, so I appreciate your visits even more than usual!

Gratefully,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 8 December 2020
Photo of segregated city bus in the 1950s found at aapf.org

James Baldwin | The Fire Next Time

In the mid-1960s I first read James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, a collection of two published pieces. Each deals with how to survive as a black person in the USA. The first is a painfully realistic letter to James Baldwin’s nephew. The second describes Baldwin’s own struggle as a black Christian, beginning at age 14.

Now, at the end of 2020, I’m reading Baldwin’s small book again. Sadly, most white citizens of the USA still haven’t figured out how to do the right thing by our black citizens.

Instead, we’ve formed factions for which we ‘need’ an enemy (who isn’t necessarily our enemy). Something or someone to squabble about. A diversion from painful realities. Sadly it seems to offer a way of winning, even though we’re all losing.

Remember divide and conquer? As children, we played it all the time.

Sadly, people in power love to see us fighting each other instead of fighting against an unjust system in which some human beings continue to pay an unjust price. Given our history, it seems white citizens would rather fight each other than deal with injustice to people of color.

Early in his second essay, Down at the Cross, James Baldwin describes our perennial problem. I’ve highlighted the line that caught my attention.

There appears to be a vast amount of confusion on this point, but I do not know many Negroes who are eager to be “accepted” by white people, still less to be loved by them; they, the blacks, simply don’t wish to be beaten over the head by the whites every instant of our brief passage on this planet. White people in this country will have quite enough to do in learning how to accept and love themselves and each other, and when they have achieved this—which will not be tomorrow and may very well be never—the Negro problem will no longer exist, for it will no longer be needed.

The Fire Next Time, pp 21-22;
First published by The Dial Press, NY, 1963
Vintage International Edition first published 1993

If this is the biggest question we white citizens face, it doesn’t matter which way we voted. What matters is whether we can learn to “accept and love ourselves and each other.”

We don’t need our perennial “Negro problem” in order to feel good about ourselves. Why not? Because this never was a “Negro problem.” It’s been a White problem from the very beginning.

Highly recommended, even if you read it way back when.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 3 December 2020
Book cover image found at amazon.com

Token presence and absent voices

Token presence rarely hides
absent voices in weighty matters
of life and death

Games rigged from the start
of nothing new are as deadly
as no token at all

Yet who am I to question
privileged presence in
the land of the free and the brave?

Yes, I’m a white woman.

And yet…I know the haunting feeling of being chosen at least partly because we ‘need’ a woman (of any color) in order to validate our committee, our faculty, our administration. Just think of how this will impact our promotional material! All for the price of less than a white male.

Potential money makers. That’s what women were and too often still are. A way of showing the world our school, our company, our church is doing the right thing. Put another way, you can trust us with your daughters of any color.

I don’t mean to sound cynical. I mean to be clear. Especially now, in this transition from Trump to Biden. Tokenism still happens every day at every level of hiring and top-level appointments. Especially here in the USA, land of the “free” and home of the “brave.”

We live with the sad and sorry outcomes of decisions made and unmade in light of political, personal, and financial considerations. It isn’t just the White House. It’s also businesses, local churches, hospitals, educational institutions, community leaders, and who gets to drive the garbage truck and who doesn’t.

After all, we don’t like it when things get overly-complicated or contentious. Especially in our own small worlds. I’m praying our new administration won’t fear complex, contentious discussion that broadens our small worlds, and brings us closer to other worlds.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 28 November 2020
Image found at medium.com

stripped of color

stripped of color
bare branches shiver
falling leaves take flight

D and I are just back from a blustery walk. Dead leaves whipped through the air and across the road. A few trees still looked spectacular. Yet on the whole, the achy beauty of autumn colors has become torn, tattered browns of brittle leaves.

What does it take to survive late Fall and early Winter? Or the unsettling reality of climate change? Or the huge surge of Covid-19 cases in the USA, coupled with the refusal of millions to take simple precautionary measures?

As a citizen of the USA, I shiver as I watch the barometer of Covid-19. It isn’t chiefly about our health. It’s about our relationships with each other. Especially with those most affected by the pandemic. We seem to have forgotten we’re all human beings.

Many of us run away from truth about our country. We harbor persistent, deep-rooted racial ignorance, and neglect citizens and visitors who fall near or beneath the poverty level. It isn’t difficult to see this, no matter which political party we favor.

Even so, I have hope. Not because Spring always follows Winter, but because hope is for any season of any year. Someone Else with far more gracious eyes than mine is in charge. My part is to follow Someone Else (Jesus of Nazareth), and do what I’m able to do.

I’m relieved that POTUS, our Governors and politicians, the Supreme Court, Wall Street investors, and deep-pocketed billionaires are not in charge of how and whether Spring will follow Winter.

With the exception of most conifers, leaves fall freely every Autumn. Why? Maybe they know Spring follows Winter. Today their job is to step aside, and let Someone Else figure out how we’ll get from here to there. My job is to do my part, and leave the rest to my true Leader, Jesus of Nazareth.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 15 August 2020
Image found at merriam-webster.com

Absence

absence eats slowly
into edges of presence
morning rises late

It isn’t just the season. It’s my life slowly diminishing one day after another.

The 2020 Election has opened a door for substantial change. I want to be part of the geriatric action. I wonder how many others raised in my generation (1940s and 50s) feel this as well. Here we are, often carrying painful bodily and emotional damage. What will this Election mean for us?

I’ve been thinking hard lately about my schedule, and how to manage daily routines without cutting into writing time. I’m not there yet, but I’m seeing a little light. Which is all I need right now. A little light of day and a little light of hope for our future as a nation.

Praying for small and large gifts of kindness, gratitude and hope to rise like the sun, against all odds.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 10 November 2020
Photo of November sunrise in Ashland, Oregon found at outdoorexposurephoto.com

A million distractions

A million distractions
rise daily from fertile ground
I close my eyes
trying to concentrate on Now

Now laughs at me
wonders whether I’m alive

Focus is for the birds
not for live human beings
swept up and along in
warped boats struggling
to stay afloat long enough
to be appreciated if not loved

The crowd roars its approval
begs for more showers of poison
from tongues wed to never-never land
coming your way today
unless you’d rather be
a bird

Just a few thoughts that reflect my desire to be over and done with the 2020 Election for our next POTUS. Why? Because  we have unfinished business. It isn’t about one thing. It’s about our entire history as a nation. We’re in a national ‘come-to-Jesus’ moment, invited to light a candle deep inside the hidden yet not-so-hidden history of this nation. Put another way, we’re invited yet again to stop walking over our history in Trance mode.

So yes, today I’d rather be a bird! Focused on what matters most.

This morning a couple of cardinals visited our recently-hung bird feeder. Clearly focused on food! Hoping this day offers food for our souls, and that we’re alert enough to accept it.

Happy Tuesday!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 25 August 2020
Photo found at kaytee.com

Half truths + Half lies = Lies

From a 1950s Texas textbook for school children.

And what about real life?

Half-truths
Half-lies
Does it really matter?

Yes means ‘Yes…but’
Not now means ‘maybe
In the sweet by and by’

Mind your manners
Sweeten your voice
Remember who you are not

You do care
About your children
Don’t you?

Or your job
Or your good reputation
Or your life

Sly words
Strung like pearl
Bullets

If you flee
They will find you
In the end

Now….
What did you want
To say?

It’s difficult to convey the slyness of slavery. It happened on both sides, though for different reasons. The scales were, of course, heavily weighted in support of sly masters and mistresses.

Words are indispensable. Easily twisted by the powerful into lies. Or toned down and prettied up in American History textbooks of the 1950s and 60s. (See photo at the top)

We may say we’ve moved ‘beyond slavery,’ yet the record shows we have not. As a nation, we haven’t begun to recognize, much less take seriously its legacy in our lives today. No matter where we are or what we’re doing.

Pointing to heroes and heroines is important, yet it isn’t enough. What about exploring the unsung courage, strength and ingenuity embodied in unnumbered black lives that mattered then, and matter now? Or looking into some of those textbooks and pictures that tried to make us one happy family?

Praying for courage to face the past as part of facing our future.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 August 2020
Image found at kut.org

I’ve been weakened by the walls I’ve built | James DePreist

DePreist’s star along Portland, Oregon’s Main Street Walk of Stars

James DePreist is on my mind again, thanks to a note from a long-time friend. DePreist was a world-renowned orchestra conductor, a survivor of polio contracted while conducting the Bangkok Symphony, and a nephew of his world-renowned Aunt Marian Anderson. He was born in Philadelphia in 1936.

DePreist died in 2013. You can read about his life in The New York Times obituary or on Wikipedia. At the time of his death, he had been conductor of the Oregon Symphony in Portland, Oregon since 1980.  He had also written two volumes of poetry in his own free style.

Of all his poems, this one has challenged me most. Not just in the past, but today. Given our current situation regarding Black Lives, and Covid-19, it resonates loudly. A timely invitation to examine walls I’ve built, and deal with questions now “breeching my barricades.”

I’ve been weakened by the walls I’ve built,
robbed
of strength-drenched testing,
protected into an unprepared defense
of self.
Failing in my futile fortress to see
contentment’s numbing trap
I
answerless
must battle the questions now breeching
my barricades.

Poem written by James DePreist
©1986 and published by University of Portland Press in This Precipice Garden, p. 6

This is where I find myself today. Answerless. Not so much for my childhood upbringing in Georgia, but for my adult years when I thought I knew better.

While it’s true we never know how much good we’ve done, it’s also true we never know how much pain or damage we’ve inflicted. And then there’s always the question about now. What now? What next? How must I change, what will it cost, and what will I gain?

Thanks, as always, for visiting and reading. I pray you’re finding ways to deal with questions now breeching your barricades.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 7 August 2020
Image found at en.wickipedia.org

Reaping the Whirlwind

When did it begin —
This habit of being
More interested in myself
Than in the heart-rending
Realities of others?

White baby becomes
White child groomed
To be a ‘good’ Christian
And obedient little girl
Never questioning
Or fighting against
Rules upon rules
Spoken and unspoken
Shaping each day
By hook and by crook
Plus forced acceptance
And respect for all men
In authority over them

Never forget this, my daughters:

To be an adult citizen
Of the United States
With full rights and a vote
Is an uncommon honor
Not accorded every
Girl child in this nation
Only white children need apply to this
Fake Order of The Righteous Remnant
Happy to believe the sad myth that
They are the light of the world
A Great City set on a Great hill
Above this Great yet shrinking land
Still starving for ministrations of Mercy
And Justice for All

The system that became today’s USA was rigged from the beginning. As were so-called ‘history of the USA’ books for school children. Looking back, our true history is clear, as were bits and pieces of our national blindness and apathy decades ago.

I pray you and I will remain courageous and determined, no matter what comes next. It’s dangerous to be a light of any color set on a hill, especially while also attracting those determined to extinguish the light of truth.

Thanks for visiting and reading. Even a new President, should we be so blessed, won’t be able to wave a magic wand. In the end, it’s up to us. One day at a time. One heartfelt conversation, one small deed at a time. May God have mercy on us all.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 4 August 2020
Image found at http://www.thestar.com (Toronto)

Let Justice Roll Down Like Waters

Justice doesn’t trickle down, any more than wealth at the top trickles down. Yet church-related efforts at justice sometimes seem to try trickling down. Through the cracks and around the edges.

Why? Because this is a politically-charged issue. The stakes are high, and it seems injustice is winning. Black Lives Matter and Covid-19 have together exposed our glaring weaknesses as a nation. Especially when it comes to race.

This past week I began a 40-day “journey through America’s history of slavery, segregation, and racism.” It’s titled “An American Lament.”  You can take a look or down download it here. It was originally an exercise for Lent.

No one ever taught me to lament. Especially about my personal history with slavery, segregation, and racism.

I’ve always thought of myself as a seriously ‘with-it’ woman. In seminary, in the 1970s, I studied both sexism and racism. At university, in the 1980s, I focused my dissertation research on women’s issues. I mistakenly thought that by understanding feminism, I had an advantage when it came to understanding racism.

However, the very first day of this 40-day exercise, I listened online to a riveting, challenging address about racism and Christian churches in the USA. It was recorded in 2018, the year of mid-term elections. The full title is “Let Justice Roll Down Like Waters: Racism and our Need for Repentance.”

I highly recommend Rev. David Platt’s address for pastors, church leaders, church members, and anyone who cares about racism in the USA.

As for the rest of life these days, I’m walking every chance I get (way too hot on many days), listening to birds, helping stomp out lantern flies, talking with neighbors (outside and with a mask, of course), and learning more than I wanted to know about my history with racism.

Cheers to each of you for making it through another week!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 1 August 2020
Quote and image found at blockislandtimes.com

%d bloggers like this: