You may have heard some jubilant shouting on Twitter last week - that was me announcing that the school board voted the right way. I know. I KNOW. This thing for which we completely lost hope suddenly turned around and the school board HEARD us and then made the right decision! And I do say "right" because the options were 1. let ALL the kids in our school go to the fancy just-built school in 2017 or 2. let everyone but the lowest income, not-white, English language learner kids go back and put those undesirable ones in the super crappy substandard building. I am not exaggerating. This is what the boundary change amounted to. When I used the words "outrageous" and "scandalous" and "segregation" in my letter to the school board I was stating FACTS.
But the school board voted the right way. Want to know why? Because when the school year started, the REST of North Seattle caught wind of how THEY would be affected by the boundary changes. And they were not happy. Their kids were going to have to move schools for no discernible and/or good reason. Safe routes to school became an issue. Leaving friends became an issue. Getting jerked around by the school district just because became a very big issue. And those parents began to turn out in droves. They showed up to Saturday afternoon school board director meetings at public libraries. They swamped the school board email account. They went to the school board meetings which take place at 4pm on a weekday south of downtown - nigh impossible to get to for a North Seattle family - and signed up for testimony slots. They were mad, they had a voice, and they were making themselves known. Guess who benefited.
It's clear that the turning point for our issue happened when those families - from whiter and wealthier schools than ours - started advocating for themselves. Several longtime advocates were instrumental in communicating to those families how our specific boundary issue was tied up with theirs. And through Facebook posts and a local blog and communication between PTAs, those families at other schools began to care about what was happening at our school. It was easy to tie in our issue with theirs when testifying before the school board. The school board directors could see the connected dots AND THEY AGREED WITH US. Then they voted the right way.
Phillip has a less magnanimous and probably more realistic view on this. Because the school district staff got the boundary stuff so incredibly wrong, EVERYONE was angry and we just lucked out. I like my theory better, but I'll accept this one.
It feels good to have this victory so soon after the election (upon which I received a text from my husband, stuck at a work conference in Texas: "I feel like everything I understood about the world is wrong.")
Grappling with what it all means has meant, for me, that I've had ten times as many conversations about race as I've had in my entire life. Some of these are conversations about "ok, white friends, how are we going to be more engaged in this issue." And a lot of them have been, "ok, white friends, here's why your pro-life or anti-Hillary or I-just-want-some-freaking-change vote is frightening to people of color." I have been surprised that people need an explanation. But some do, and I've been providing it. At some point I came to the (terribly belated) realization: I want to do the work of making sure fewer people need this explanation.
Is this a very low bar? I think it is. But it's more than I've done before. I've talked about race a LOT - with people who are safe. People who think the same as me. People who know more than me, so I can learn and listen and ponder... and what have I done with it? I've kept it to myself. I've avoided awkwardness and confrontation and risk.
Well, I'm sorry I've avoided. Not that any intervention I'd engaged in earlier would have changed, say, an election result. But I have a better understanding, now, of what my friends of color are working with. Phillip has often talked about being the token Asian in a group, having to explain martial arts or fielding questions about model minority myths. Maybe it's MY turn to be the Race Ambassador. I can be the one to explain why the melting pot metaphor "melts" everyone into sameness and is hurtful. When someone says "I don't even SEE Phillip as Chinese!" instead of rolling my eyes I can say, "But he doesn't have that choice." When someone tries to make racism a "strictly interpersonal issue of hatred and intolerance" I can talk about stuff like, you know, housing segregation and its effect on, say, PUBLIC SCHOOL BOUNDARIES. (That quote is from this article, which resonated hard for me.)
Today we went to a panel/workshop/discussion thingy about race and public education, put on by a multiethnic church who is committed to having these conversations and promoting justice. For me, and everyone else there, the "church" part is a very important part of this conversation. Or, rather, all of us in this work need Jesus to fill in the gaps. I'm going to say something stupid. Someone else is going to lose her patience. Someone else will misunderstand. All of us may have different priorities. But knowing that we all rested in Jesus made this a truly "safe space". In our fumbling and confusion and awkwardness, Jesus is there to fall back on, to help, to pave a path, to make a Third Way.
Phillip will say this a lot to himself when it's just the two of us struggling to figure out the marriage things we are always struggling to figure out. We both want to find a solution so badly, but sometimes there isn't one. Sometimes we just are the way we are, and Phillip will finally say, "I guess this is why we have GOD." Like, FINE THEN. I GIVE UP.
I think, on this race issue (and I should say, there are PLENTY of issues to engage in right now, this is just the one I feel called to), it's best if we come to the table already surrendered. Especially us white people. Listen! And then believe what you hear. Do it over and over. Eventually God will give you something to say, probably something to share with other white people. I think that's what's happened with me.
Last month I went to a churchy conference that was pretty much useless except for this one line that I kept hearing in my heart over and over. The speaker said, "Because I KNOW all lives matter, I am not AFRAID to say that BLACK lives matter." Isn't that the truth of it? As people who believe in a loving creator God, who knows our names, who gives us destinies and desires and hopes and joys and deeply desires relationship with us, we KNOW that all lives matter. I repent of the ways I've held back, out of fear. I'm praying that in the spaces I move in, I will be bold in speaking up for the lives that our broken culture doesn't value as much as mine.