Friday, October 26, 2018

Not Everybody Loved My Brave Magic Article Last Week – Here’s Why:


A person harmed, injured, or killed

Synonyms: Casuality, loss, loser, prey

Victimized: Singling out someone (or a group of people) for cruel and or unjust treatment.

Synonyms: To be persecuted, bullied, discriminated against, terrorized.

When we stop feeling sorry for victims it’s called Compassion Fatigue. 

Compassion fatigue is used mostly use to describe the phenomena of walking by homeless people and not breaking one’s stride or interrupting one’s cell phone conversation. It’s a numbing out, it’s also called desensitization. Many of us felt at one time or another, genuine compassion for these folks without homes.  But now because of the sheer number of homeless people, we as a society have wearily decided to turn a collective blind eye.  We no longer feel as though we have the resources or the wherewithal to continue to address the problem on a daily basis. 

Like: I hate to say it, but I’m just tired of dealing with this.

I wrote a story about an experience that I had last month about being the only black person at a 600-person retreat, called Brave Magic.  Five minutes after the story went live, comments started pouring in.  Most of the comments were positive and supportive.  Others were actual rebuttals to my essay and many of these “rebuttals” were aggressively negative.

I wrote:

“And it hadn’t even vaguely occurred to me that out of 600 people, I might be the only black one. I am more than just shocked, I am deeply saddened.”

A commenter wrote back: “This woman is playing her victim card by showing up to this event preoccupied with her race and she's complaining about having a lousy time?”

I wrote: “Really?! How is it that an event this big, in twenty fricken eighteen can be so incredibly homogenous?”

And another comment wrote: “So?  My wife and I were the only white people at an Eritrean wedding and we had a great time!”

I wrote: But in this age of “Hamilton” and inclusion riders, how could the organizers of a 600-person event have not even considered the optics and possibility of an all-white audience?

And this commenter wrote back: I’m sick of this victim mentality.  This writer is desperately seeking some way to blame racism and not just her own awkward feeling of being the only black person.”

Victim mentality?

Victim mentality: The feeling of being unfairly singled out for persecution.

At first these comments stung me.  I felt frustrated that my words and intended message were so misconstrued.  But then I read a little further and realized a deeper truth. These commenters were unable to read the words that I wrote as anything less than an indictment of the current culture of privilege in our society. It wouldn’t have mattered what I wrote in the article, because they had made up their minds that I was suffering from a “victim mentality” the moment they read the title:

I Was The Only Black Person At Elizabeth Gilbert’s And Cheryl Strayed’s Retreat

I think I get it now…

Slavery was hundreds of years ago, right?  The civil rights movement was what?  Decades ago now?  And affirmative action is currently charging colleges, universities and corporations to diversify their populations, right?  And they’re doing it, right?

They’re thinking: We’re ready to move on now, why aren’t they?

I understand that there were thousands who saw my article as a complaint, my observations as indictments.  They think that writing about being the only one who looks like me in a room of 600 people is tantamount to irresponsible whining. 

I write about what I’ve experienced and all they hear is “Oh poor me!” 

They do not know the difference between a victim and “victim mentality.”  They have not bothered to look up the definition of the word victimized.  In other words, they are ignorant (sorry, I know that word is harsh, but it’s actually quite accurate in this case).

A little education on this subject for those who don’t know or may have forgotten:  

Black people in this country have been victimized since Europeans decided that we were literally worth less than them (3/5 of a man?  Wasn’t that the math?)  -- this is a fact. Victimized, as I stated up top, means, discriminated against, bullied or terrorized. So, by this very definition, I and everyone who looks like me here in America is, in fact a victim.

But my Brave Magic piece was not written in “victimese.”

I did not write it as a victim.

I wrote it as a reporter.  I was simply reporting my observations to whoever cared to read about what was like to be me, Laura Cathcart Robbins, a black woman at an all-white event.

But I do think these comments are really just a sampling of the way so many American’s feel about all marginalized people in our country.  This whole “you guys need to just get over it” mentality has permeated our society from top to bottom.  The men and women who negged on my essay were really voicing their frustrations about having to deal with the realities of living in this “melting pot” that we call America.  They want us all to just shut up about the “past” and be grateful for where we are now (which is where exactly, by the way?). 

Well here’s something you may not know: We want to move on too.

With the exception of Kanye and a few others, most of the black people that I know don’t subscribe to the notion that America was ever great – for black people.  And we don’t have any interest at all in going back to any calendar period in American history. 

So why can’t we just forget about the past and move on?

Mainly because there are so many Americans who won’t let us.  We can’t move on because we’re still being disproportionately arrested.  We can’t move on because we’re still getting shot down in the streets and our murderers aren’t getting convicted.  We can’t move on because we are still being pulled over for driving while black, getting the police called on us for shopping, sleeping or babysitting while black. We can’t move on because our votes and voices are still being systematically suppressed.  We can’t move on because we’re still getting stared down when we enter a convenience store or asked to leave when we take too long to purchase something.

We can’t move on because in the eyes of a great many Americans, we are still worth less.

So, it’s not for lack of effort.  It’s not that we don’t want to “just move on” (believe me, we do).  But we can’t, not as long as these daily injustices continue to occur.

Anyway, I’m starting to go down a tangent hole, and I’d really like to (as my friend, Chariesse would say) “keep it classy” – so I’ll end here with this:

Victimized people do need somewhere to share their collective voices – we are all responsible for not only making sure that that space exists, but that it continues to get more expansive and inclusive.

For I believe it is then, and only then that compassion fatigue can slowly be replaced with compassion invigoration.  So, let’s keep this conversation going.  And let’s really make America great “again” – but this time for everyone.


Friday, September 28, 2018

Here's why being the only Black person at Brave Magic this weekend turned out to be one of the best experiences of my life

As I write this blog, my memoir book-proposal is out there in the world getting busy.

Busy being rejected that is, by several different (well-researched) literary agents.  The few that take the time to respond to me, all basically say the same thing:

I’m sorry, I can’t sell you.  No one knows who you are.

So instead of being defeated, I’ve decided to look at these words as a call to action.  I’ve been advised to build what is called an “author’s platform” (an ability to sell books because of who you are or who you can reach - I.e. “likes, comments and followers”).  In order to make this happen I’m starting to do more of what I see other authors doing to boost their platforms.  The long (and exhausting) list I’ve put together includes but is not limited to:

Blogging (✔️)
Podcasts (I start my podcast class next week)
Storytelling (I just WON my first Story Slam at the LA Moth this Tuesday – after taking a storytelling class. HOORAY!).
Taking writing class after writing class (✔️ I just signed up for another one last night)
Cranking out an insane amount of article-submissions to various outlets (trying)
Reading the insane number of articles published by these outlets, getting familiar with editors and other authors (again, trying)
Being an active member of a writer’s group (✔️)
And last but certainly not least, NETWORKING, which includes: Going to RETREATS.

So, to this end, I registered for a retreat headlined by best-selling powerhouse authors (and besties), Elizabeth Gilbert and Cheryl Strayed (Eat Pray Love and Wild, respectively). When I signed up, four other women from my online writers’ group (there are seven of us total) had also signed up.  I had never before met any one of these women in person (we've been meeting for years via video conferencing). 

I arrive last Thursday after flying into San Jose’s airport, picking up my hybrid from Hertz and driving up the windy, narrow roads to 1440 Multiversity, which rests at the top of the Santa Cruz Mountains.  I am so mesmerized by the scenery that I actually forget to be nervous about being in this unfamiliar situation (my first writer’s retreat, my first time meeting the other ladies face-to-face and first solo trip for any reason in over a decade). However, my stomach begins to churn the moment  I take my place at the back of the 200 + person check in line. 

Only my stomach isn’t churning because of the length of the line, it is churning because I am the only Black person in it. 

Craning my neck to look as far down the line as possible, all I see are natural blond ponytails and top-buns, whose wearers look like they were born holding a yoga mat in one hand and a mason jar in the other. 

I do see a few silver-haired White women. I see three or four brown women (Middle Eastern, Indian or Pakistani?) and five Asian women (one I meet tells me that she is Korean American).  I find out later that there are 11 men in attendance also.

But there are no Black attendees.

There are 600 people here in total.

I’ve been the only one before.  I was the only Black student in class many times when I was little, I was the only Black parent (many times) when my kids were little and I’m often the only Black person in my recovery meetings.  But I didn’t know that this (my first-ever retreat) would be so massively big.  And it hadn’t even vaguely occurred to me that out of 600 people, I could be the only Black one.  Frankly, I am more than just shocked, I am actually deeply saddened.

While I continue to stand in line, it begins to feel as though some of the women are now craning their necks to look back at me. Ignoring the stares, I try to picture how any of these yoga mat-carriers would feel if they’d arrived at a retreat where absolutely every one of the 600 attendees (and all of the facility staff-members) were Black.  

They’d probably slip away nervously and call someone, right? Or maybe they'd turn around and head back to the airport without saying a word to anyone.

I feel irrational tears pressing against the backs of my eyes.

Really?! How is it that an event this big, in twenty fricken eighteen can be so incredibly homogenous? How is that I can be the only one - STILL - AGAIN at age 54?!

I think about getting back in my car and driving down that crazy mountain road back to the airport.  I am pretty sure that no one would blame me if I did. 

Enter the women from my writers group.

Gripping my car keys in my left hand so hard that my palm hurts, I use my right to send a group text, telling them that I’ve arrived and say that I’ll be “easy to spot."  Moments later, Stephanie appears (she lives in Portland) and then Dana (who lives in Charlottesville).  They are both so happy to see me that it relieves a bit of my self-consciousness. Soon we are in the dining hall.  We’ve now been joined by Amy (she lives in Oakland) and Riva who lives in Toronto.  

This whole time, I am constantly aware that I am quite obviously the fly in the proverbial buttermilk.  But even though I'm resisting it, I find myself beginning to feel at ease in the company of these four White women.  I am reminded of my freshman year of high school, basking in the safety of my posse of girls, watching others take notice of our "sister bond" and walk in the other direction with their cafeteria trays to sit at other tables.  I credit this "instant" bond with Stephanie, Amy, Dana, Riva (and Wendy and Kim who couldn't attend) to the fact that we've chosen to share with each other, extremely intimate subjects and events over the years through our writing; pregnancies, babies, prostitution, depression, falling in love, suicide, alcoholism, (me) infertility, divorce (me again), assaults, abuse, prejudice, bullying, breakdowns, etc...

These four women recognize immediately that I am the only Black participant here and know better than to pretend that it isn’t an issue.  They discuss it openly and inquire without agenda how things feel for me.  I am so at home with them in those first few moments that I almost get teary again.

I guess I'll stay for the night at least.

Day two of the retreat I think that I spot a Black person out of the corner of my eye on the other side of the auditorium — then that person is gone — disappeared.

Hold up! Did I just imagine her? 

Later in the afternoon when I actually see her against a far wall, my suspicion is confirmed. 

Oh yes. Definitely a sister.

We nod, acknowledging each other across the room (as is our code). I am relieved, but also in a very strange way, I am almost disappointed.  You see, in just two days time, I have started to relax into my solo minority role (although I am still a bit unsure as how to receive the many women who continue to approach me with strong handshakes and teary eyes -- thanking me for being here).

Huh?? You’re welcome, I guess.

These encounters aside, I’ve discovered that even in the Whitest of White environments, with the help of these four women, I’ve been able (this time) to set aside my painful memories of being the only Black person and have a new experience with it.

The truth is that I've having the time of my life at the Brave Magic retreat. Once again, I've learned something new about the most important person in my life — me.

R-L Riva, Me (obvs), Amy, Stephanie and Dana