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Real Talk

Blog by Associate Colette Parker

I’m trying to be civil, but it is becoming increasingly difficult.

I’m trying to accept that some people simply don’t know what they don’t know; but sometimes I think they don’t want to know?

I’m sorry – not sorry – that if one more (white) person tells me that navigating this issue of systemic racism is exhausting and uncomfortable, I may “lose my religion” (you can ask one of your southern friends to translate, if you don’t know what this means).

Please be assured that your discomfort does not mean that you are in danger. And it can’t begin to compare to the “discomfort” (which could be related to actual danger) that Black and brown folks experience each and every day. And don’t even get me started about the exhaustion.

Anyway, while I pause to restore a little decorum, I have given some inquirers a few things to ponder/research:

  • The Civil Rights Movement never ended.
  • Racism is systemic (but that doesn’t exempt individuals from being racist).
  • America was founded on genocide, slavery, and oppression.
  • We are still dealing with the lasting effects of slavery and America’s (fictional) view on race.
  • Forty-one slave owners signed the document declaring “all men are created equal.”
  • Abraham Lincoln declared that “there is a physical difference between the white and black races” which “will forever forbid the two races from living together on terms of social and political equality.”
  • White supremacy is not confined to cross-burnings, lynchings, and using the n-word.
  • Black folks and white folks have been taught the same revisionist history.
  • Black and brown lives have been minimized in a number of ways, including redlining, the war on drugs, gerrymandering, the gutting of the Voting Rights Act, accessing quality healthcare and securing equitable educational opportunities.
  • Black and brown people are still fighting for their full humanity.

And if that isn’t enough, help me answer this question: Why do white folks want to jump over the hard personal work of mitigating the impact of white supremacy to get to (half-baked) “solutions”?

Posted in Associate Blog


Blog by Associate Marybeth Irvine

The days of COVID-19, with its related “Stay Healthy at Home” directives, have left me with time to reflect, read, and pray differently. Mostly, the time is bringing me to questions and few, if any, answers.

In the early days, God presented me with an image of a disco ball. My dialogue went something like: “really a disco ball! — a reminder of flashing lights, dance floors, social gatherings. We are in the midst of a pandemic when all of those fun things are not options.” I prayed that the image would just dissolve, but it hasn’t.

This past week, I visited Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest (in Clermont, KY) and spent time with Nis (one of the Bernheim Forest giants built using recycled wood from the region).  Nis sits at the edge of a pond and is glancing in, seeing his image reflected for the first time. I finally got it! Nis sees himself and only himself and that image is the same one he sees every time he looks (barring changes in the water). My disco ball also presents a self-reflection; but rather than one, it provides many every changing ones.

So what does this have to do with anything? To me, it feels like the journey. I, like many other white-skinned people, have begun again in the last few months as issues of police brutality have light shown on them; as the deaths and significant illness related to COVID-19 reflect disparities based on skin color; as the education system as we have known it comes to an abrupt stop with its replacement form, impacting the poor and — most often — students of color significantly. For me, it means looking at all the facets of the disco ball and seeing all of me.

The first thing I needed to confront is my arrogance. I was in high school and college when the last “big” civil rights movement took place so I thought I understood race relations and equality of all persons. I have a biracial cousin so I thought I accepted blackness in my family circle. Professionally, I often chose to work in the black sections of town, meaning I drove down streets that often made the news because of the violence that occurred on them the night before. I go to lunch with my black co-workers not really thinking about them as different from me. I worship with a community that is the most culturally diverse in the city.  I am arrogant — I think I understand what it is like to live in skin that is not white.

My one-dimensional view really has been unraveling for a couple of years, starting with an innocent comment I made to a woman of color: “I really don’t see color.” The response I received was: “Then you don’t see me.” This short interaction became the first of many facets in my disco ball reflection. Most importantly, it freed me to ask questions and seek insight.

I hear myself asking: How did I not know that the private school education I received was any different from that others were receiving in the public schools down the street? How did I not know that the all-white pool I spent my summers in was that way because others were not allowed in? How did I not know that my all white neighborhood was not that way only because people of the same ethnic background like to live close to each other? Have I ever wondered what my cousin experienced being black in an all white family?

My father is from Virginia, so I have spent endless hours touring plantations and battlefields, seeing the monuments to heroes of the confederate south. Names like Stonewall Jackson, Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee have been part of my vocabulary from a very young age — how did I not know that the Civil War was about more than a dispute between states?

I still struggle with my understanding of slavery. My family’s immigration history starts in the 1900s, so we don’t have direct experience with it. This, coupled with my seeing  “black help” being much loved when I moved south, prevented me from seeing the pain still being inflicted in current times.

Why did I never wonder what it was like to live in black skin? What was it like when they went home? How do I understand my feelings, as I sat with a group of high school girls as they processed the death of a friend and I could not understand their vocabulary or speech patterns?  How do I say to them: “Can you tell me more so I can understand?”

The world of education has been my professional focus — I wonder what the impact has been of my school system’s middle school for students of color with its Afrocentric curriculum? — when/how will the rest of the students get a different view of history?

And I ask myself would I rather be called racist or privileged? Can I acknowledge the fear I experience when I am in loud, seemingly disorganized gatherings of mostly folks who don’t look like me? When I am sharing my financial resources, am I willing to risk and trust that they will be used for good? Can I be vocal enough to say publicly that my white standards are not the only ones that are appropriate? Can I keep risking to ask questions like what is a Green Book or what does a reference to a watermelon imply? Can I risk knowing I don’t know? Can I live with the discomfort of shifting my beliefs?

In the midst of the unrest in the country, I often find myself saying: “Just tell me what you want me to do.” Slowly, I am understanding that would be the easy way out; it would not change my heart.

But I still have more questions: If George Floyd’s painful death had not been played and replayed so often, would Breonna Taylor’s name ever been a part of the conversation? I wonder: is the nation’s outrage about the brutality allowing us to forget the other areas where suffering occurs? Is access to health care, education, employment, just and equal wages being forgotten. How do I keep asking myself the hard questions and be willing to sit with the discomfort?

My disco ball keeps spinning. It keeps asking me to see me in every changing reflection. It keeps challenging me to seek to understand and to ask myself in the words of Resmaa Menakem : “Can I commit myself to the long road ahead?”

Posted in Associate Blog

Race is a Made-Up Label

Blog by Associate Colette Parker

I need to say this:

Race has been used to divide and separate people for millennia, but the concept of race has no genetic or scientific basis.

We are one human race. Our species, Homo sapiens, evolved in Africa.

Although the concept of race science – this idea that humankind is divided into separate and unequal  races – has been debunked, race still determines people’s perceptions, opportunities, and experiences.

Race is a human construct, used to perpetuate the notion that white people (who descended from Africa) are somehow superior.

Since we made up racial categories, maybe we can make up new categories that function better. Or, maybe we can just embrace each other as human beings.


Posted in Associate Blog


Blog by Associate Colette Parker

We have been here before.

I’m hoping this time will be different.

I’m hoping this time we can be honest.

I’m hoping this time we can confront the ugliness of who we are as a nation.

I’m hoping this time America is willing to acknowledge the lies it tells itself about race.

I’m hoping this time the cries of the oppressed will be heard.

I’m hoping this time we can get rid of the idea that white lives matter more than others.

I’m hoping this time we will embody and practice justice.

I’m hoping this time America will change.

Countless people have risked everything to persuade our country to live up to its stated ideals. They marched. They were surveilled by the government. They were beaten with batons and bullwhips. They were tear-gassed. They were blasted with fire hoses. They were attacked by dogs. They were lynched. They were murdered.

We have been here before.

If we fail this time, what will history say about us?

Posted in Associate Blog

Unapologetically Black

Blog by Associate Colette Parker

Where do we go from here?

I’ve heard a lot of people asking that question lately.

Interestingly enough, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. posed that same question in 1967 (during the annual convention of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference). He suggested that to answer the question, we must first HONESTLY recognize where we are.

King said: “When the Constitution was written, a strange formula to determine taxes and representation declared that the Negro was sixty percent of a person. Today, another curious formula seems to declare he is fifty percent of a person. Of the good things in life, the Negro has approximately one half those of whites. Of the bad things of life, he has twice those of whites.

“Thus, half of all Negroes live in substandard housing. And Negroes have half the income of whites. When we turn to the negative experiences of life, the Negro has a double share: There are twice as many unemployed; the rate of infant mortality among Negroes is double that of whites; and there are twice as many Negroes dying in Vietnam as whites in proportion to their size in the population.  In other spheres, the figures are equally alarming. In elementary schools, Negroes lag one to three years behind whites, and their segregated schools receive substantially less money per student than the white schools. One-twentieth as many Negroes as whites attend college. Of employed Negroes, seventy-five percent hold menial jobs. This is where we are.”

To all of my well-meaning white brothers and sisters who are asking the question today – eager to move to “action steps” in a quest to end racism, I have a question for you: Do you know where we are? If not, I suggest that you find out before moving to treat the symptoms rather than working to root out the disease, which is racism.

To all of my Black and Brown brothers and sisters, I suggest that we follow King’s advice: “First, we must massively assert our dignity and worth. We must stand up amid a system that still oppresses us and develop an unassailable and majestic sense of values.”

He warned, however, that arousing human worth within a “people that have been taught for so many centuries that they are nobody is not easy.” He stressed how even semantics/language have perpetuated a false sense of inferiority in Black and Brown children while perpetuating a false sense of superiority in white children.

“In Roget’s Thesaurus there are some 120 synonyms for blackness and at least sixty of them are offensive, such words as blot, soot, grim, devil, and foul. And there are some 134 synonyms for whiteness and all are favorable, expressed in such words as purity, cleanliness, chastity, and innocence. A white lie is better than a black lie.  The most degenerate member of a family is the “black sheep”, he said.

King urged us to affirm our own self-worth, to reach down to the inner depths of our own being and sign our own emancipation proclamation, telling the world that we are human beings with dignity and honor.

I signed my own emancipation proclamation decades ago; and I will not apologize for my truth: that I am Black, that I am proud (not arrogant), that I am valuable, that I have a rich and noble history, that Black is beautiful, that Black men are not a threat, that Black Lives Matter.

And I will not apologize for hesitating to applaud the institutions, corporations, organizations, and individuals who insist on treating the symptoms of racism while white supremacy continues to drive the operating system in America.

“… power without love is reckless and abusive, and  love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.  And this is what we must see as we move on.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

Posted in Associate Blog