Posts Tagged ‘Race’

Color Conscious…

November 7, 2011

“Brownings, Please” So exclaimed the headline of the Jamaica Gleaner, one Sunday, September last. Even before reading the article, and fully aware that I am still learning to fully comprehend variegate Jamaican vernacular, I felt quite secure in my determination that this was not about cooking. I was reminded of a TV programme I watched last year while flying back to Portland, Oregon from Montego Bay.

That show was CNN’s “Kids On Race: The Doll Study Revisited.” In a recreation of a 1947 experiment, a group of children were asked to choose the good, bad, ugly, pretty or “one that looks like me” doll from drawings ranging in hue from pale pink to dark chocolate, or, white to black. Almost across the board when asked to select the “doll” with positive traits the children chose the “white” one. When picking the negatives, yep you guessed it, they picked the darkest dolly, the “black” one.

Though not my first time observing this type of experiment and sadly, not surprised, my heart still ached as I questioned, again, how it was that, Anno Domini 2011, sixty plus years on, with the leader of the “free” world a milk-coffee-colored cousin, that the “barely out of diapers” future leaders of our world (and as current headlines imply, suit clad corporate leaders) continue to learn, and believe to the detriment of hue-manity, these putrid but persistent lessons? What are we adults teaching our children? And why are we adults perpetuating the madness? Obviously something is a miss. (Incredulous, I ask myself, and anyone who can hear, “Why are we still having this conversation?”) Something is not working, or then again, maybe that was the plan all along. But I digress.

It has shocked and saddened me during my journeys to the land of my parents, my ancestors; the home of my own vagabond, or wandering, soul, that the same self-hatred and disdain for one’s darkness, blackness, abundance of melanin, visibly evident African heritage, that reigns and rages, in the United States of America (and beyond) permeates this – rich, bounteous of spirit, heart and life – little island of Jamaica.

My mother had told stories of when as a child, being darker of hue and shackled with the twin shame of poverty, her “place” was in the back of the classroom at the “good” school she attended, and even that only because her mother washed its floors. Still, I say to myself that was then…

Will we, and I mean all of hue—manity, learn the truth of whom we truly are and what skin shade simply is at its core? Can we purge ourselves of the poisons we have been fed, disguised as lessons and learning; the blatantly illogical yet pernicious lies that corrupt us, our colors, our consciences, our compassion? Can we reclaim our power, take back our hearts, reaquaint with ourselves? Can we become the conquistadores of our own personal Freedom?

What if one knew that melanin is what colors us, what paints us uniquely in shades from milk to midnight; that technically, it is due either to abundance or deficiency, that we humans become black or white.

What if it was common knowledge that melanin is what darkens our skin, our hair, our eyes? Melanin helps us hear, colors our hearts, our blood, liver, the marrow in our bones, and gave “birth” to the stars.

What if you knew that melanin is protector, reflector, diviner, deflector, healer, highway-to-the-Divine; the almighty alchemist; the chemical of life? One-drop being sanctifier not stain – the key to life’s door?

What if you knew that billions of dollars of global government monies have been spent, and are continuing to be spent, studying melanin…and its magic?

Melanin is the most absorbent material known to man. It is melanin in a synthetic form that provided the insulation protecting the electrical wires of the now retired NASA Space Shuttle.

What if these truths were known to all human kind?
Imagine with me for a moment…

A rending of the cloak of inferiority, victim-hood, self-hatred, worn by the melanin-infused among us; this cloak woven and gifted “in the name of love, and God.”

The silencing, once and for all, of the perpetually repeated lies of white supremacy. The diminishing of the potency and power of color prejudice, and its big daddy racism.

We all, each one of us of every hue, have (are) melanin. What if we all knew and understood this?

What if commonsense/the universe/Sophia/wisdom/Goddess/God, whispered and we listened, really listened to her, “If you need a touch of melanin just to function, might that suggest the more you have, the greater thou can be?

Could humankind walk hand in hand, freed, no longer needing to run, hinder, hide, detach, crush, control, squelch, the “other;” able finally, to let go, relax and open to the unique foibles and fortes of each individual, no matter their skin tone?

Imagine knowing, deep in your heart, in the marrow of your bones, in your soul, in your melanin, that, like chlorophyll to plants, melanin to man, is the alpha and the omega?

No person, rule, wrong, “Doll Study” or “Brownings, Please” could ever take that away.

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Black Oregon

September 25, 2009

“When times are tough for everyone in Oregon, it is exponentially so for black folks.” This according to Marcus Munday, President of the Urban league of Portland. The Sunday Oregonian newspaper’s July 26th , 2009, headlline screamed: “State of black Oregon: precarious.” The column continued “Unemployment and other miseries troubling the state are multiplied for African Americans and went on to list the litany of ills and misfortunes that continuously befall the black populations in Oregon.

For example, sixty percent of black children in Oregon live in households with income below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. This compared to thirty-three percent of white children in Oregon. The percentage of Oregon students meeting the state’s 10th-grade reading benchmark in 2006-2007, was only thirty-eight for blacks as opposed to sixty-eight percent for whites. Also, the Oregon incarceration rate per 100,000 of the black and white populations is thirty-four percent for black compared to sixty-eight percent for whites.

We are constantly bombarded with negative stories in the media of the failings and shortcomings of the black population of Oregon (and America at large.) On Friday, July 24, 2009, the Metro section headline was “Schools confront racial gap.” Occasionally, of course we do hear success stories, but these tales are oftentimes, tempered by the “exception to the rule” insinuation. There is a latent, and insidious, belief within the general population, of the inferiority of black people. I concede that it would be hard not to believe with negativity channeled, unrelentingly, when it’s black people propaganda, whether current, or historical.

What if there is an ulterior motive with this negative press? Extreme? Paranoid? Perhaps, that is your call, but consider this: They say the winners; the conquerors; the dominant ones, get to write history. I understand that. What if that history contained more truths about the losers; the conquered?

What if it was general knowledge that during the formation of Oregon, blacks were not allowed to be here? They were not allowed to own property here. It was the Law. In 1844, Oregon residents passed laws banning slavery and excluding African Americans. An act passed by the Oregon territorial legislature in 1849, provided that negroes that “it shall not be lawful for any negroe or mulattoe to come into or reside within the limits of this territory.” This was precipitated by a fear among the settlers that  the Indians and free negroes would become allies against them. “Whereas, situated as the people of Oregon are, in the midst of an Indian population, it would be highly dangerous to allow free negroes and mulattoes to reside in the territory or to intermix with the Indians, instilling into their minds feelings of hostility against the white race.”

In 1859 Oregon became a state. Its original constitution included an article banning African Americans from residence, employment, owning property or voting. Some might say, that was then, this is now, but could that not have created instability in the foundation upon which a person might ultimately build their “home?

Wealth in America is through home ownership (the acquiring of property) and education. Sixty-eight percent of white Oregonians own their own homes. Only thirty-four percent of black Oregonians own their own homes. Twenty-eight percent of all Oregonians hold bachelor’s degrees, only nineteen percent of blacks hold bachelors degrees.

What if the true story was told to all, of how blacks, after World War II, were denied access to the GI Bill and Federal Housing Authority loans, while whites used this privilege to gain, and maintain, their head start to the American dream in all areas?

Predominantly black schools are constantly failing. The disparities in test scores between African American and white students is ever increasing. We read and hear about it all the time in the news media.

Comparing data on Lincoln High, Portlands most white school, and Jefferson High, Portland’s predominantly black high school, these disparaties are glaringly apparent. Statistics from the Portland Public Schools document, “Source 2008-2009, School Profiles and Enrollment Data,” state that Lincoln’s Talented and Gift students number 26.9%, while Jefferson’s numbers 7.4%. Special Education at Jefferson is 21.4%, and Lincoln’s is only 4%. Tenth Grade students meeting or exceeding State standards in reading (2007-2008) are 16.8% at Jefferson against 85.2% at Lincoln. Average graduation rates and drop-out rates for 2007-2008 at Jefferson and Lincoln are 68.7%, 7.52%, and 94.63% and 1.35% respectively.

What if the history we are taught, told, in no uncertain terms, that the “colored” schools, and resources therein, in the former “separate but equal” public education system, were intentionally inferior?
In 1867 in Oregon, though the Black population totaled 128, Portland assigned black and mulatto children to segregated schools.

In the landmark case, “Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka,” the key phrase in the ruling delivered by Chief Justice Earl Warren illuminates:

“Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children. The impact is greater when it has the sanction of the law, for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the Negro group. A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn. Segregation with the sanction of law, therefore, has a tendency to [retard] the educational and mental development of Negro children and to deprive them of some of the benefits they would receive in a racially integrated school system. … We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of “separate but equal” has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”

I highlight the sentence “A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn.” What if this knowledge was weapon? Would it not make sense that this “sense of inferiority” could be fueled by the bussing of the colored children to intentionally superior white schools, and the ostracizing melees that resulted? Why didn’t the Government, instead of spending all that money on buses and security, simply improve the tools and resources within the inferior colored public schools? Maybe this is a simplistic question. Maybe everyone’s lives needed to be affected for change to truly be effected. As my father used to say, “If you cannot hear, you must feel.”

Could it be that yesterday, and today, that “sense of inferiority” is the self-loading magic bullet; ammunition that, like the EverReady bunny, keeps going and going and going, and which fills the barrels of the guns that are the various institutions in our society, not least of all the media?

What if it were mandated that everyone know the story of the Code Noir Laws, the Jim Crow Laws, and all the other nameless “Laws” enacted and hiding out within the auspices of “Diversity,” “Multicultural,” and “Tolerance,” programs?

What if, instead of the same old slave stories, the story was told of how the Africans that were brought here, and from whom many black Oregonians (and black Americans) are descended, were Queens, Kings, Princesses and Priests, nobles, regal, revered and innately powerful people? A shaking loose of the inflicted “sense of inferiority” and the gifted “sense of superiority?”

What if the story that the first slaves held in the United States were not black, but white, (and let us not forget the enslavement of the Native American populations) was told. These first slaves were Europeans, mostly British, who died like flies on the slave-ships across, 1,100 out of 1,500 perishing on one voyage and 350 out of 400 on another. Could that suggest at least a superiority of the constitution of the black people?

What if, as an alternative to the stories of the disproportionate incarceration of those criminal blacks, the tale of how there were no prisons in the villages from whence the noble African’s came, the Africans having no need for same? Could that imply that the “statistically proven” criminality of the black population is taint, as opposed to trait?

The state of Black Oregon might still be precarious, but public perceptions might be changed? And what if public perception changes, might that lead to real, physical, spiritual, emotional change? Could it lead to an end to system dependency, claiming your “place” as opposed to learning one’s “place?”

I don’t know, but might it be something to consider?

The Story of Multiculturalism

March 17, 2009

In response to a hate incident (one week prior to the schools “famous” Multicultural Celebration) at my son’s middle school, I created the following presentation (and wrote “A Letter From A Mother,”) and displayed it at the school’s multicultural fair. I was actually nervous about bringing it in, but knew I needed to – even at risk of being thrown out. I know people are afraid of talking about race – if they only knew it isn’t real – but I believe we human beings absolutely have to talk about it. We have to be brave enough to go there; to learn what it is (or should I say, isn’t) and the harm that its spawn, racism, has inflicted on all humanity.

You will be happy to know I wasn’t run off the premises. In fact, I had some wonderfully in-depth conversations with parents, staff and administrators. However, it was interesting, and I will confess, not surprising, to see people enter the library all smiles, obviously attracted to the display, read a little, visibly recoil, and almost run away.

I really do understand the trepidation, but it is simply fear and the best way to overcome fear – to heal – is to face it. You might ask, “How does one face the fear of “race” and racism, it’s too big, it’s too deep, it’s too dangerous?” Well, I believe the only way is with the truth. I also believe it is my responsibility, to myself, to my sons, and to humanity, to do what little I can to help heal our world. So, here is a simple gift from me to you – a little (hopefully) healing truth.
 

What is multiculturalism?

Multiculturalism is Public policy for managing cultural diversity in a multi-ethnic society, officially stressing mutual respect and tolerance for cultural differences within a country’s borders. 

Multiculturalism was born from the Civil Rights Movement, which was born out of the Freedom Movement. At its root, it was created to counter institutional injustice, inequality and the Institutional Racism within the institutions that form the foundation of society – Education, Media, Finance, Justice, Religion and Marriage.

It was developed in an attempt to repair the damage wreaked by the products of institutionalized racism, i.e. Slavery, Jim Crow, and Apartheid, which resulted in the impedance to advance for specific groups of people, (people of color,) and privilege for the dominant culture (white people,) by setting guidelines and establishing procedures for the respect of, and tolerance for, people of different cultures and colors. 
 

The Language of Multiculturalism

What is Race?

 A social construct that artificially divides people into distinct groups based on characteristics such as physical appearance (particularly color), ancestral heritage, cultural affiliation, cultural history, ethnic classification, and the social, economic, and political needs of a society at a given period of time.

The classification of Race was created for reasons of hierarchy, control and power. According to the National Association of Anthropology, there is absolutely no scientific evidence supporting the social construct of “race.” There are far greater differences between a man and a woman, than there are between the so called, “Races.” Also, there are greater differences within a group than there are between groups.
 

What is Racism?

A system of beliefs, held consciously and unconsciously, alleging the inferiority of people of color (a supposedly biologically different group) to those of members of the Dominant Culture, or, white people. 

Racism focuses on the perceived “natural” differences between groups. It is grounded in the assumption that the differences associated with, or even determine, behavior, culture, intellect or social achievement.
 

What is Institutional Racism?

Institutional Racism is “Prejudice + Privilege + Power”

Institutional Racism is an imbalance of institutional power that systematically oppresses people of color and benefits white people.
 

What is Prejudice?

 Generalized attitudes about a whole group of people; the belief that a person whom we believe (because of skin color, language, or culture) belongs to a particular group will have certain characteristics. 

Enthnocentrism, which judges others on the basis of one’s own group standards; and racism which is rooted in the notion of the biological inferiority of other groups, are all related to prejudice and often entwined with it.
 

What is Privilege?

A right that is granted to some, but not all people – even if it is perceived or stated that all people have access to it. In terms of institutional oppression it is a right based solely on a persons membership in a particular social group.


What is Institutional Power?

The power that institutions such as the media, the educational system, the government, social services, criminal justice, business, financial, health care, religion, the military, have in our society.
 

What is a Right?

 A resource or state of being that everyone has access to regardless of social group membership. For example, Human Rights.
 

What is Discrimination?

Acts taken against a person based on prejudice. Unequal treatment based on prejudice.
 

What is Harassment?

Inappropriate unwanted behavior which disturbs someone, including verbal insults and touching someone without permission. Harassment is often motivated by, or a way of acting out, prejudice, and it is a form of discrimination.
 

What is Institutional Oppression?

Systemic discrimination. It is a pattern or system of inequality, which gives power and privileges to members of one group of people at the expense of another. Oppression continues because of institutional power, widespread prejudice, repeated discrimination and built-in privilege – unless it is protested and against and changed.

 
Oppression = prejudice + institutional power + privilege
 

What is Internalized Oppression?

The process by which people who are the targets of oppression begin to believe the prejudices used against them. As a result of believing negative messages about us, we may think badly of ourselves and/or other members of the group being targeted along with us. Often the behavior linked with internalized oppression is encouraged and enforced by the privileged group to frighten individual resisters, to divide an oppressed group against itself, and to keep people from joining with other members of their group to protest.

Internalizing oppression can have survival value for individuals, but is destructive to individuals, the oppressed group, and the cause of justice in the long run.
 

What is an Agent of Oppression? 

Individuals who belong to a social group that has access to institutional power and privilege who, may or may not, actively be oppressive or use privilege against a targeted person.
 

What is Bystanding?

Watching someone being discriminated against, bullied, attached, insulted or picked on, but standing by and doing nothing to try to stop it.
 

What is a Target?

Individuals who belong to a social group that does not have access to institutional power and privilege.
 

What is being an Ally?

Standing up for someone who is a target of oppression. To become better allies, we need to understand and act to change conditions of oppression to help create justice for all.
 

Who are People of Color?

Any body deemed not white, for example, African-Americans/Africans/Blacks, Asian/Asiam-Americans, Indigenous people, Latino/as, Middle-Eastern people, Native Americans, and Pacific Islanders.
 

Who are White People? 

Members of the Dominant Culture. Anybody deemed not of color.
 

What is the Dominant Culture? 

The ideas, values and perceptions of the dominant group within a society, vested with the power to impose its goals on the general populace.
 

What is Culture?

A society’s shared and socially transmitted ideas, values and perceptions – which are used to make sense of experience and generate behavior and ultimately reflected in behavior. Cultures are learned not biologically inherited.
 

What is the difference between Individual and Institutional Racism?

Racism is overt and covert. It takes two closely related forms; Individuals acting against individual people of color, and acts by total white society against people of color communities.

The first consists of overt acts by individuals, which cause death, injury and destruction of property. The second type is less overt: it originates in the operation of established and respected forces in our society – the exact same thing “Multiculturalism” was created to combat.

Referring to a person of color with a racial epithet is considered an act of individual racism, as is spray painting racial epithets on signs and property. 

Institutional racism results in higher numbers of people of color not graduating High School thereby maintaining the achievement gap. An article in The Oregon newspaper reported on the disparity in forms of discipline between black and white students. “If an African American child looks a teacher in the eye, it was said that it would likely be considered insubordination as opposed to if a white student did the same, where it would simply be considered, assertiveness, resulting in widely differing responses. 

African Americans make up 80% of the prison population, when they are only 12% of the total population, due to institutionalized racism within the justice and educational system. Black, Latino and Native American youth (people of color in general) are subjected to far greater surveillance than whites, resulting in higher rates of incarceration.

In American it said that the path to wealth, security and success is through home ownership and education. Throughout history, here in Portland, Oregon and throughout America, people of color, have been denied, the right to buy property, own land; access to free and equal education, and even the ability to advocate for oneself.


What is White Privilege?

Rights granted to members of the White race by way of institutional racism.

Privilege grants the cultural authority (the dominant culture) to make judgments about others and to have those judgments taken as truth. 

White people have received tremendous benefit from the legacy of slavery, segregations and the continuing racism.

In the United States a person is considered a member of the lowest status group from which they have any heritage. This means that if you come from several ethnic groups, the one that lowers your status is the one you’re most likely to be tagged with, as in “She’s part Jewish,” or “He’s part Vietnames,” but rarely, “She’s part white.” In fact, having any black ancestry is still enough to be classified as entirely black in society’s eyes (in accordance with the “one drop rule” that has been a striking feature of race relations in the United States for several centuries). People are tagged with other labels that point to the lowest-status group they belong to, as in woman doctor” or “black President,” but never “white lawyer” or “male senator.”

Any category that lowers our status relative to others’ can be used to mark us; to be privileged is to go through life with the relative ease of being unmarked.

Privilege is something bestowed.

To be born, white, male and wealthy, affords one the greatest privileges.

By virtue of the institutional system Whites as a social category oppress people of color as a social category. This is a social fact. It doesn’t however, tell us how a particular white person thinks or feels about particular people of color or behaves toward them.
 

What is a Stereotype?

A generalization about what people are like; an exaggerated image of their characteristics, without regard to individual attributes, determined by the Dominant Culture and perpetuated through Institutionalized channels.
 

What is an Ethnic Group?

Any category of people within a larger society who possess distinctive social or cultural traits, shared history and sense of commonness, regardless of group size, power, perception of certain common biographical traits.
 

What is a Perjorative Word?

A disrespectful word relating to religion, sexual orientation, gender, age and ethnicity (or a combination of these.) Perjorative words have been, and continue to be, used against people of all ethnicities and colors and ethnicities for the purpose of  belittling or disparaging them – putting them in their place.
 

What is Discrimination?

Behavior that denies equal treatment to people because of their membership in some group – parallels the beliefs, feelings, fantasies and motivations of prejudice. Stereotypes, or generalizing beliefs about others.
 

What is Diversity?

A reference to the varied national, ethnic and racial backgrounds of the United States population, but also to categories of class, gender and sexual orientation.

Diversity has come to mean a number of things in our “multicultural” society and has taken on new significance with the rise of the politics and economics of diversity, resulting in its meanings and uses depending on the social, economic or political view of the user.
 

Hate Crime

Hate crimes are defined under specific penal code sections as an act or an attempted act by any person against the person or property of another individual or group which in any way constitutes an expression of hostility toward the victim because of his or her race, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, disability, gender, or ethnicity. This includes but is not limited to threatening phone calls, hate mail, physical assaults, vandalism, cross burnings, destruction of religious symbols, and fire bombings.

Elements of crime statutes and protected classifications vary state to state.
 

What is a Hate Incident?

An incident which constitutes an expression of hostility against the person or property of another because of the victim’s race, religion, disability, gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. Hate-motivated incidents include those actions that are motivated by bias, but do not meet the necessary elements required to prove a crime. They may include such behavior as non-threatening name calling, using racial slurs or disseminating racist leaflets.
 

What is the meaning of the word Black? 

The absence of color due to the complete absorption of light.
 

What is the meaning of the White?

The absence of color due to the reflection of light.
 

What is the etymological meaning of Black?

The absence of color.
 

What is the etymological meaning of White?

The absence of color.
 

What is a Human Being?

Homo Sapiens. A member of the one race, the human race.
 

Thank you for receiving my simple gift of a little (hopefully) healing truth.

If you are interested in learning more this PBS website is a fabulous place to start – “Race – The Power Of Illusion.”

A Letter From A Mother

March 11, 2009

As my gift to humanity, and in response to a racially motivated verbal assault on my seventh grade son exactly one week before the “famous” Robert Gray Middle School Multicultural Fair, I created a presentation entitled “The Story of Multiculturalism” and “The Language of Multiculturalism.” I also wrote the following letter to all attendants at said Fair, the evening of Tuesday, March 3, 2009:

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Letter from a mother

Last week my son was verbally assaulted with a racial epithet considered to be the most disparaging. The response from the boys when called on it, was the standard, “We didn’t know.” I cannot accept that. I will not accept that. I ask that you not accept it that excuse either. It is a cop out. When you know a stone lobbed, if it connects with your target, will hurt, could wound, then you know what it is that you do.

Americans stand proud today reveling in the fact they, the American people, voted a man of color, a black man, into the White House and in this revelry many of us delude ourselves that we now live in, as the media writes, a “post racial” society.

This is a lie. When a child can stand and tell another child that his “race” is superior to another’s, it is evident that we do not, (never have done, and never will, unless we are brave, particularly those of the dominant, white, culture,) live in a “post racial” society.

We all must have the courage to see the lie for what it is – a cop out.

Wonderful though it is, if we truly lived in a “post racial” time, there would be no need for this “Multicultural Fair.” There would no longer be a need for “Multiculturalism” or “Multicultural Education” to counter, or clean up, the mess left behind from the social construct of race and it’s partner in crime, Institutional Racism; a mess which we have all, mostly unbeknownst, been smeared.

The myth of “race” and its resultant hierarchy is perpetuated in stereotypes which many times were first introduced into our beings, via songs and nursery rhymes; in our prayers and then in our lessons in school; in the things we are shown and more importantly, the things left out. It’s fed to us, bit by bit, line by line, in the stories and history we are told; the news we read and listen to; the pictures we see. And then there’s the music?

Oftentimes, we dance to the lies, we sing along to the melodies, deluding ourselves that “it’s just music, words; it’s such a great beat.

All the while we are being reminded that, in people, different is dangerous. Flowers are different from each other coming in different colors, shapes, sizes, but they are ultimately still flowers. Why is the same thinking not applied to humans? Why, when having different colored skin, are humans rendered less human, less eligible, less competent, less capable, or dependent on the shade, superior, deserving, prime. The pernicious social construct of “race.”

In the Government mandated quest to “accept and tolerate” difference, we negate the fact and existence of the truth of why we even need to mandate such a thing. After all, if left to our natural defenses (and having not been taught otherwise,) difference inspires curiosity within us. We are innately drawn to what’s different; it excites us, engages us. It opens us to possibility and growth.

I am asking you, as a mother, as a woman, as a fellow member of the one race – the human race, to understand that the social construct of “race” is all a fabrication to keep humanity apart and in fear. Fear of discovering the truth that some of us have been afforded privileges based on our color, or lack thereof, and many of us have been denied those same privileges for the same reasons.

The truth is that many people’s wealth, success and “superiority” has been built on the foundation of inhumanity, inequality, oppression and racism. This knowledge is scary to contemplate, for if one should realize the truth, “Then where does that leave me? Come to think of it, who am I then? No, no, better to leave that dog sleeping.”

However, until we, each and every one of us, confront our prejudices, our privileges, our fears and our truths, none of us can ever be free from the suffocating matrix of institutional oppression. None of us can ever be truly free.

We must expose oppression and the systems that support it. It is not enough for us to “eat Mexican food,” “watch Indian dancers” or learn “African drumming.” We must have the courage to face the truth of the American system and identify where we fit within it; understand and own our privilege and have the courage to use that privilege, spend that privilege, share that privilege, to work towards dismantling an unjust system and creating a more equitable and just society.

Nobody is saying that you created the system; I am not blaming you, but as long as you refuse to see the truth of the situation, you help to maintain the status quo. I am asking you to simply consider finding the courage to face yourself in the mirror of truth and own your privilege; own and accept the fact that you stand, through no fault of your own, on top, or at least nearer the top, by virtue of the fact that your melanin is not evident on the exterior; on your skin.

I am asking you to claim the knowledge that, contrary to popular belief it is not that the darker among us cannot progress or succeed, but that they have been hindered, through the vestige of institutional racism, and while your ancestors were harvesting freely from the tree of “future wealth and resources,” the ancestors of people of color were denied, denied, and denied again.

Can you really continue to shine, with pride, the medal you won for “winning the race” when your opponent’s ankles were tied? Do you really want to?

In this era of multiculturalism, we sometimes forget that people, no matter their color, or culture, are inherently the same – human, with the same needs, entitled to the same equal rights.

Please work with me, by making a commitment with yourself, and your children, to understand the whole truth of prejudice, privilege and power in this United States of America, and if you don’t like what you learn, have the courage to speak up, stand up, for humanity.

Sincerely,

Sharon Martini

Storytime, Krakow Koffeehouse & Cafe, Portland, Oregon, January 30, 2009, Part I

February 19, 2009

I realize this post is very long and I know how intimidating streams of words can be, so I have broken this posting down into five parts for ease of perusal, if you are so inclined.

Sincerely,

Sharon
__________ 

Friday, January 30, 2009 I set out to conduct a children’s story time at Krakow Koffeehouse & Café, in north Portland. I had been invited to do this by Krakow Koffeehouse & Café owner, Mark Kirchmeier. I was planning to read my children’s picture books Max and Me, Bugs! Bugs! Bugs! I Love Bugs! And Uh! Oh! Where Did Baby Go? This story telling was to be my first of 2009, and more significantly, my first reading during the brand new “historic” Presidency of Barack Obama, a president of color, whose message of hope and change knits nicely with the message of my mission – that we are all, no matter our color, culture, or nationality, inherently the same – we are all human beings in this world together entitled to respect, dignity, hope, truth and love.

A no-school-Friday, I brought my sons along with me to the Krakow Koffeehouse & Café story telling. Story time was 10:00 AM and we arrived energized and excited to entertain the little ones. I had planned not only stories, but songs – I was going to sing my original composition, “What Color Are You? You’re The Color Of Love.” – and art activities.

We entered Krakow Koffeehouse & Café, one son carrying a display stand, another carrying my guitar and me with my book bag. I approached the counter. There was a tall, bespectacled, white, male, behind the counter on one side serving a customer, across the other side a woman with long light brown hair wearing a white sweatshirt, appeared to cleaning. Neither employee acknowledged my presence, but giving the benefit of doubt, I waited a moment for the man to finish with the customer. Time ticked on. When there was still no acknowledgement of my presence, I politely interrupted the tall, bespectacled, white, male, “Excuse me, is Mark here?”  I enquired (Mark being, Mark Kirchemeier, the owner of Krakow Koffeehouse & Café, by whom I had been invited me to do story time.)

The tall, bespectacled, white, male, responded curtly, “Mark is not here, but we’re ready for you.” Taken aback that although I had not been acknowledged upon entering Krakow Koffeehouse & Cafe, this employee was well aware of who I was, and why I was there. This realization unnerved me somewhat, but I shook it off and proceeded to enquire as to where to set up for story time, turning my body to point to the area in question behind me.

When I turned back toward the counter the male employee was saying “Outstanding.” I detected a sneer and condescension in his tone but then, as the sweatshirt clad, white, female, employee was now standing beside him, I questioned whether or not he was indeed speaking to me. To clarify things for myself, I asked him if he had been speaking to me. He responded loudly, “I was speaking to her.” pointing to the female employee in the white sweatshirt. At this I said, “I was talking to you. I asked you where I should set up.” He then said, “When someone turns their back on you, it means they are finished with you.”

Thinking that he thought I had turned by back on him and attempting to clear up the confusion, I began to explain that I had not turned my back on him, but had merely turned to indicate to him where I might set up. He then shouted, “When someone turns their back on you, it means they are finished with you. I turned my back on you. I was done with you.” Still, not wanting to fully comprehend what was going on, I continued to argue my innocence. Suddenly, a white, woman with multiple piercings on her visage, charged over and began screaming at me that she had heard what I said, she was a customer and they, all the other customers, heard what I said. At this point the tall, bespectacled, white, male, fully unleashed his hostility and screamed “See, everyone in here heard what you said.” With a sweeping gesture, encompassing everyone on the premises, he then proclaimed that “See we all know what you say more than you people.”

With his “you people” comment, there was no longer any dodging comprehension for me. From the time I entered the premises of Krakow Koffeehouse & Café and was rendered invisible, my intuition had been willing me to see the truth, but I had bestowed the benefit of the doubt upon my fellow human beings inhabiting the premises at that time.

Slapped to reality I remembered that my sons were with me, watching this all and I worried for them. I tried to locate them, but my senses assaulted, I was rendered temporarily blind and I couldn’t see them. It was as if I were in the center of concentric circles – or a Roman amphitheatre, panicking, with lions slowly, arrogantly, circling – rapidly spinning, out of control, the outside circle rotating, morbidly slowly, in the opposite direction, everything warping in and out of focus; the only thing clear, sharp, and in focus, were the words and the hatred propelling them, which pierced my very being.

As I looked around Krakow Koffeehouse & Café, I caught the eyes of each of the four or five patrons (all of whom were white) who were inside in addition to the male and female employee, and the irate multi-pierced white, female, customer. I looked at every one of them beeseechingly, yet no one stood up nor spoke up. They burrowed their buttocks deeper into their seats; buried their faces in their coffee, cell phone and newspaper. One man looked at me with that “Can you believe this?” look then returned to his phone call. Another smiled sweetly at me on his way out the door. 

When finally I regained my equilibrium and located my sons, I knew I could not read my books in that environment. (My stories are full of truth, laced with whimsy and joy; they’re about equality, love and humanity.) I asked the boys to put my things back in the car, telling them “I cannot conduct a story telling here.”

The tall, bespectacled, white, male employee and the multi-pierced woman, both fired “Good. Get out we don’t want you here.” The woman then ripped a flyer with my photograph on it promoting the event, from a sandwich board, crumpling it in her hands saying, “I’ve seen your picture and you’re not very good.” I shook my head, wondering what my photograph could possibly say about my story telling abilities and began to follow my sons out the door. The tall, bespectacled, white, male, bellowed after us. “Thank God.” (My youngest son clued me in later that what the multi-pierced angry, white, female had meant was that she didn’t think my pictures were very good.)

We returned the guitar and other items to my car. I was about to leave when I decided that I needed to at least let Mark Kirchmeier, the owner, know why I would not be fulfilling my obligation and doing story time. I returned to the store to request a phone number at which I could contact him directly. I was told by the tall, bespectacled, white, male employee to get out. I tried explaining that, as a professional, I needed to let Mark know why I was leaving. The male employee continued to tell me to get out, eventually shrieking, “You need to show me respect.” (In my world respect is earned and you certainly don’t earn mine by ill-treating me.) Then, determined, it would seem, to obliterate any remnants of doubt in my mind as to whom, and what exactly, I was dealing with, the tall, bespectacled, white, male, employee vociferated “I don’t know where you’re from, but you’re in my country now.”

Evidently emboldened, the multi-pierced, white, female customer lunged at me, arms flailing, shouting in my face that every one of the customers (waving her arms for emphasis, including them in her sweep) felt threatened by me and that she was calling the police. 

I will confess, that at this time, like a bull at a red flag, all I could see was her silver nose ring, taunting me, tempting me, daring me… It took all my will to not shove my little finger between it and her snout, and pull, really, really, hard. You will be happy to know I did restrain myself. For this I thank my angels, my intuition, or maybe it was the “friendly” immigration officer in Charlotte, North Carolina, this past July, who after informing my two sons that they had more rights than I did; that they could vote (my sons were, at that time, 12 and 10 years old,) proceeded to tell me that should I “so much as hit someone, I would be sent back home (to England.)” (Now don’t get me wrong, I have no problem returning to my birthplace, I would however, prefer to do it under my own volition.)

At the time, I remember wondering, fretting actually, as to why such a “genial” welcome back to the Country for sweet little me. Friday, January 30, 2009, at approximately 9:50 AM, standing face to nose-ring attached to an out of control, bigoted, white, female, in Krakow Koffeehouse and café, my pinky twitching, it became awesomely, audibly, clear – complete with southern drawl. But that’s another story for a later blog.

The irate multi-pierced, white, female, customer picked up the phone, waved it at me and threatened, “I’m calling the police.” When that, to her surprise, didn’t scare me, she challenged, “I’m dialing the number…” I told her to go ahead. I am not afraid of the police. (I must say I did get the distinct impression that I was supposed to be afraid.) I had done nothing wrong, unless you count attempting to fulfill the obligations of a story telling invitation, entering the premises, head held high while abundantly melanistic, and expecting to be treated, like anyone else, as a human being – with respect and dignity. 

 Continued/Storytime, Krakow Koffeehouse & Cafe, Portland, Oregon, January 30, 2009, Part II

Storytime, Krakow Koffeehouse & Cafe, Portland, Oregon, January 30, 2009, Part II

February 19, 2009

Anyway, as I began to take my leave once and for all, Sunshine Dixon, of the Urban League of Portland, entered. I have never been so glad to see Sunshine. Believing she would have a contact number for Mark Kirchmeier, I felt my current dilemma of relaying a message to Mark, solved. I informed Sunshine that I was leaving, telling her “I cannot conduct a story time here.” (For background, Sunshine initiated contact between Mark of Krakow Koffeehouse & Café and me. She had explained that his “global” coffee shop was also an art gallery and he was looking for a diverse mix of artists to adorn the walls and provide entertainment on his premises. I had contacted him on her recommendation. We met and he subsequently expressed an interest in carrying my product, and invited me to conduct a (and possibly several) story time.)

I explained everything to Sunshine and asked her for Mark’s number. Sunshine confidently said, “I’ll take care of this.” She too was met with unbridled hostility. The multi-pierced, angry, white, woman continued to bleat at me telling me to get out and threatening me with the police. Sunshine attempted to both locate Mark Kirchmeier and reason respectfully with the irascible multi-pierced, white, woman. Eventually she tamed enough to ask derisively of Sunshine, “Why are we still dealing with her? (pointing to me) Are you her sister?

Standing talking with Sunshine, suddenly I heard “miss.” I turned to find the tall, bespectacled, white, male, employee, standing by me, face and body turned away from me, holding the phone contemptuously out toward me. 

I stepped so that I could look into his face and he would have to look into mine. I did not reach for the phone. Refusing to look at me, he, the tall, bespectacled, white, male, employee, contorted his neck and body, and jabbed the phone at me, saying disdainfully, “It’s for you. It’s Mark the owner.” I was not about to take the phone until he acknowledged me and so I continued to look at him in utter amazement, willing him to recognize my humanity. Alas, ‘twas not to be. The tall, bespectacled, white, male, employee ceremoniously dropped the telephone to the floor at my feet and ambled away.

Stunned I could not believe this was happening. I looked around the room, scanning the faces of the patrons who all, to a person, sat passively by, their reticence smirking at me.

Awakened from my stupor by my son’s movement and fearing he might pick up the phone, I readied myself to knock it out of his hands. A law-abiding, conscious, member of society, I am proud to say that my son kicked that phone away from me. 

Well, this gesture of self-respect and pride sent multi-pierced, angry, white, woman into a tailspin. She began bellowing that we were now damaging property and she was definitely calling the police.

Interestingly, or should I say, revealingly, it is now that the adult patrons of Krakow Koffeehouse & Café were compelled to action – almost baying for the blood of my 13 year old who had simply, unlike any one of them, courageously stood up for something, for his mother, for himself, his brother, for people of color, for humanity.

Sunshine was now on the telephone with Mark Kirchmeier, the owner of Krakow Koffeehouse & Café. He apparently was begging me to stay and wait for him because he was “only ten minutes away.” I finally had had enough. I gathered my children and began to leave again. Still breathing fire, multi-pierced, angry, white, woman, customer, followed behind me ranting, “Yeah! Get out.” “Who do you think you are? There’s only one British Queen.”

Finally outside of that toxic environment and inhaling the unexpectedly magnificent fresh air of highly- trafficked, North Interstate, I remembered a friend of mine was coming to the story time with her children and I rushed to call her to dissuade her from coming. Unfortunately, or fortunately, she was literally around the corner and pulled in simultaneously. Sensing something wrong, she quickly parked and rushed out of the car. I began to recount what had happened and I broke down sobbing. (Still, two weeks later, my spirit sobs when it hits me what my sons and I experienced, and I feel, like thumps on my person, the arrogant superiority of the perpetrators whom, somewhere in their being, believed such bigoted treatment justified, because we were in their eyes, different; in the words of the tall, bespectacled, white, male, employee, “…not from here” and therefore not entitled, as other paler people, to humane treatment.

I laugh, sorrowfully, when I think about how the stories I was going to read were about inclusiveness and the fact that, though we might be different on the exterior, we were all ultimately, inherently the same – human. I was going to sing my song “What Color Are you? You’re The Color Of Love!”

While my friend was consoling me, an anxious Mark Kirchmeier came scurrying down the street. He nervously asked me what happened. I told him, sharing how his tall, bespectacled, white, male, employee had used the eponymous “You people” to refer to me. I too told him how that same employee had screeched at me, “I don’t know where you’re from but you’re in my country now.” I spared him no detail.

He ran inside Krakow Koffeehouse & Café, coming back outside to state, “Well, we have a classic case of he said, she said.” At no time did he, the person who had invited me to conduct the story time, invite me inside so that we could discuss things all together and “sort things out.” He did, however, proceed to tell me that his employee’s social skills were “rough around the edges.” I asked “And you have him working in a coffee shop?” He also informed me that the multi-pierced, angry, white, female, customer, was his tall, bespectacled, white, male, employee’s girlfriend.

He then tried to assuage my feelings and wipe the slate clean, by offering me the chance to do story time on another day, “any other time I wanted” were his words. Shocked that he would ask, I told him that no I would never. When my friend who found the whole thing quite ironic knowing me, my books and my message, asked him if he had any sense of what it is I do. Why I do what I do. Why I write and illustrate the books I write; why I sing the songs I sing? Seeming confused, his response to her was “Well, we would still like to carry her children’s books and products.” 

Incredulous at Mark’s attempts to appease me and negate my experience, I communicated to him emphatically, that his employee’s actions were racist. Mark recoiled, horrified that I had dared to not only identify the elephant in the room, but also the piles of doo-doo on the floor. Then, shamefacedly, asked me, all the while looking down at the floor “So, you don’t think it was just that he was rude, you think it crossed the line into racism? You don’t think you’re being…” Mark didn’t complete that question, though I, staring at the edge of his spectacles (for he still would not look me in the eye,) willed him to do it.

Next thing, wouldn’t you know, a police car pulled up, parked, and the policeman entered Krakow Koffeehouse & Café. Mark took off back to his business. A minute or so later another police car pulled up. This time a policeman replete in bulletproof vest and ammo belt sprinted across the street into the coffee shop.

Susanne and I continued talking on the sidewalk for a little while longer. Neither Mark, policeman number one, or number two, nor anyone else from inside Krakow Koffeehouse & Café, approached me for any, or, additional information.

 Continued/Storytime, Krakow Koffeehouse & Cafe, Portland, Oregon, January 30, 2009, Part III 

Storytime, Krakow Koffeehouse & Cafe, Portland, Oregon, January 30, 2009, Part III

February 19, 2009

Returning to my car I glanced in the window of Krakow Coffeehouse & Café. I was shocked and offended to see Sunshine (who too had been the recipient of, and witness to, a racially motivated assault,) conducting a story time that I had, in good conscience, chosen not to do, due to the racist environment. Seeing Sunshine sitting there I was so angry. I felt slapped, no punched and stabbed in the back – she might just as well have put on black face and danced.

Watching her gushing and grinning all I saw was someone trying desperately to be seen to be perfectly fine with everything, unlike the uppity Negress, namely me, on the other side of the window. What I saw was her condoning their racism, siphoning off their hatred for them and swallowing it down, trying hard not to wince as its bitter rancidity tore apart her innards, and all the while ensuring that they didn’t feel bad. Her actions said to me “I’m not like her Massa. I won’t make you feel bad Massa. No. No. You just give me whatever you feel I’m worth Massa. What’s that you sayin’ Massa? You need to kick somethin’ Massa? Here I am sir, I’m layin’ down for you Massa. Kick me hard Massa. I can take it. Jus’ please, please, please, Massa, don’t make me go back in the field. I’m beggin’ you Massa…

As I replayed the scene in my mind later that day, my anger abated, settling to a profound sadness. She was only doing what “sane,” “safe,” “sensible,” black people who know their place do. Shutter your heart, shroud your soul, swallow your pride, but keep on working, keep on doing, keep on trying to prove your worth, prove you are just as good, just like those of the dominant culture.

Don’t just catch the filth thrown at you, ingest it, rub it in your pores, be a willing receptacle, but be sure to keep one eye and your nostrils open so you can continue to see, and smell, the ever elusive prize – that prize being, equality in humanity -, because someday you will have that prize, someday you will be worthy, someday when you’re broken enough, maybe when you’re “dead” enough, it will be yours? Someday they will let you win it. Won’t they?

Now that black people are free. (Come on you people, there’s one of your own sitting and shitting in the White House and we’re no longer hanging you now are we?) Free to accept whatever the dominant culture deigns to discharge on us; free to swallow our anger – eat it into sickness, so that we can still have access to the crumbs that might be tossed our way as long as we bend low enough, assimilate enough, work hard enough, stay in our bucket. Pardon me, my mistake, I meant place.

A couple of hours later Mark Kirchmeier telephoned me, enquiring as to whether it was a good time to talk. Before I could respond, he launched into the reason for his call. “I wanted to call and let you know what I have done with my staff. I have given Ben (that it turns out is the name of the tall, bespectacled, white, male, “coffee mixer and pourer,” aka barista) a reprimand and I have banned his girlfriend from the store.

He then kindly shared with me that Ben had thirteen years coffee experience so … he knew a lot, and he (Mark,) didn’t want to fire him at this time. Was he concerned about finding a suitable replacement? In this time when jobs being lost like hair follicles on a balding pate!  Poor, poor, Markie would surely have a monstrous time finding a suitable replacement for the socially inept (my British translation of Mark’s words) Ben. I mean, it’s intellectually taxing pouring boiling water on coffee grounds all day long. But, I digress.

Mark then informed me that it was in fact the girlfriend whom had uttered “I don’t know where you’re from, but you’re in my country now.” Aware of what he was attempting I firmly corrected him and reiterated that the comment had come direct from the mouth of his tall, bespectacled, white, male, employee. (I reminded him that it was the multi-pierced, angry, white, girlfriend whom had made the “…there is only one British queen” retort.) He conceded saying, “But that’s a racist comment? When I concurred. Mark plummeted into a whine of how dazed and shaken he was by what had happened.

At this point, my patience expired. Not only had this man not called to apologize, rewritten my story, presumptuously retelling it to me (all in an attempt to justify not dealing with his racist employee, thereby sidestepping his own racism,) he was now going to try to elicit sympathy from me.

I was standing in line at the checkout in Trader Joes; it definitely was not a good time to talk, and had Mark given me the chance I would have informed him of that fact, but, I believe everything happens for a reason and so I let him have it, in a proper, regal, British way.

I told him that he couldn’t even begin to feel what I was feeling when I set out that morning to conduct a story time filled with inclusiveness and love and that on entering his business I had made the mistake of expecting to be treated with respect and humanity and that I had, instead, been met with disdain and racism. I then informed him that this was not a good time to talk.

Driving to my home later that day, I suddenly felt exposed, and afraid – what if those hate filled people knew where I lived. I felt afraid for my children’s safety, my own safety and the safety of my home.

I received the following email from Sunshine Dixon that afternoon:

I am sorry about the event today
Sent By: “Sunshine Dixon”   
On:   Jan 01/30/09 11:23 AM

Sharon

I am heartsick about what took place today. My heart goes out to you and your kids for everything they/you witnessed and felt. This was so unexpected and out of line with what I personally experienced just one week prior. My heart breaks for what I witnessed and experienced today and I am so sorry that you and your kids went through that.

I stayed for half and hour to share with the 9 – 10 little ones who where there for you. The parents are going to check your website for other shows of yours to bring their little ones. They were sorry they missed seeing you and really want to connect with you in the future. I asked them to lookup your website. 

I talked to Mark as well.

I am so sorry to you Sharon and to your little ones for today’s events.

Sunshine Dixon

Yet, she stayed…

The sad thing is Sunshine really believed that directing people to my website and me potentially making a sale or two, would somehow mop up, be the antidote for, the poison liberally poured on my children and me by the inhabitants of “friendly, global, neighborhood, coffeehouse” Krakow Koffeehouse & Café, that morning; actions which, in her own words, had rendered her heartsick. When will humankind (and in this case, particularly, black (the melanistic among us) humankind) learn that Liberty, Truth and Equality are not, contrary to popular belief, commodities for sale to the highest bidder?

Continued/Storytime, Krakow Koffeehouse & Cafe, Portland, Oregon, January 30, 2009, Part IV 

Storytime, Krakow Koffeehouse & Cafe, Portland, Oregon, January 30, 2009, Part IV

February 19, 2009

The next morning, January 31, 2009, I received this email from Mark Kirkmeier, owner, Krakow Koffee:

RE: I am sorry about the event today

Mark

Sent By: “Mark Kirchmeier” 
On:  Jan 01/31/09 12:15 AM

Dear Sharon,

I had a good conversation with an Overlook parent named Claire Michaels, who came inside Krakow when you were talking with Ben (the tall barista with glasses).   Claire said that she picked up on some tension you were feeling with Ben, but she thought the situation was manageable, and then after the unfortunate phone dropping incident

happened, Ben’s girlfriend (with the nose ring) completely lost it, and starting shouting the “get out of her remarks.”

I am asking the girl friend to write a letter of apology to you.  If she doesn’t do so, she will banned from the store.  I have given Ben a reprimand.

Again, as I mentioned on the phone to you, I am dazed and mind boggled, that a staff person, and an girl friend with evidentally some behavior issues, and who had no business being party to this discussion, could screw up something as benign as a children’s story telling.

One tremendous grace note today, was Sunshine’s graciousness in staying, and giving some of the kids what they had come for, a story telling experience.

You didn’t have do that, Sunshine, and I greatly appreciate you’re doing so.

Sincerely

Mark

Find a white person to contradict, over-sensitive, angry, black person’s (in my case, uppity negress’) story…

It would have been better had Mark continued on in his daze and not “said” another word. However, he felt justified in denying my veracity and taking the word of someone who was not -party to the whole incident over mine. What was it his tall, bespectacled, white, male, employee, Ben had said? Oh, that’s right. “You see we all know more what you say than “you people.” The truth, as they say, will out. I did not feign a response.

And that staff person is still gainfully employed. Hmm! Let’s weigh things up a little. Racism vs. thirteen years coffee pouring experience, what am I thinking? No comparison!

Mark, obviously no longer dazed and mind boggled, and buoyed by the privilege of his the dominant “his-story” writing culture, continued his march toward domination.

On February, 2, 2009 at 7:30 pm, I received the following email:

written apology forthcoming

Sent By: “Mark Kirchmeier”
On:  Feb 02/03/09 7:30 PM

Sharon,

I have a signed written apology from barista Ben Reed on his behalf and his lady friend, who so spectactularly lost control last Friday.

If you have a fax, I could fax it to you, or mail it to you.

Sincerely,

Mark

That same said multi-pierced, angry, white, female, girlfriend, of the tall, bespectacled, white, male, employee, whom Mark had banned from his shop? Oh, that’s right, silly me, I had forgotten I’m black, I obviously misheard.

Baited, here is my response.

Mark,

Do not under any circumstances forward me any correspondence from your racist employee, nor his girlfriend. You cannot truly believe that anything you force them to write, coupled with your absolutely insulting email of yesterday, and your telephone call and comments on Friday, during which you shamelessly attempted to explain away your employee’s racist assault, by virtue of social skills that were, as you put it, “rough around the edges,” thereby negating my (and my children’s) experiences, our pain, our truth. But isn’t that the way those types transgressions are always handled?

I am including the text of your email for you to take a long look at. Try reading it out loud, preferably in front of a mirror, looking yourself in the eyes:

From: Mark Kirchmeier

To:

Subject: RE: I am sorry about the event today

Date: January 31, 2009 12:15:47 AM PST

Dear Sharon,

I had a good conversation with an Overlook parent named Claire Michaels, who came inside Krakow when you were talking with Ben (the tall barista with glasses).   Claire said that she picked up on some tension you were feeling with Ben, but she thought the situation was manageable, and then after the unfortunate phone dropping incident happened, Ben’s girlfriend (with the nose ring) completely lost it, and starting shouting the “get out of her remarks.”

I am asking the girl friend to write a letter of apology to you.  If she doesn’t do so, she will banned from the store.  I have given Ben a reprimand.

Again, as I mentioned on the phone to you, I am dazed and mind boggled, that a staff person, and an girl friend with evidentally some behavior issues, and who had no business being party to this discussion, could screw up something as benign as a children’s story telling.

One tremendous grace note today, was Sunshine’s graciousness in staying, and giving some of the kids what they had come for, a story telling experience.

You didn’t have do that, Sunshine, and I greatly appreciate you’re doing so.

Sincerely,

Mark

If you think that I, and my children, can be appeased by empty words penned on paper, when the Truth of the heart and soul of your employees, the patrons of your establishment, and ultimately you yourself, have already been delivered to me loud and clear, at high decibels and in silence, in words, spoken, unsaid, and insinuated, in every action and inaction, then you are even less of a human being than I, at this time, believe you to be.

It is ironic that 10 days after America celebrated (led by liberal progressive Portland, Oregon) the “historic” inauguration of President Barack Obama, in the year 2009, I entered your business, Krakow Coffee, invited by you, to conduct a children’s story time; to read my children’s picture book, Max and Me, a story of friendship highlighting our differences, yet celebrating our similarities, and I was drop-kicked, side-swiped, clear back into the 1950s and 60s – the only thing missing were the police dogs.

For your information Mark, “Max and Me is a story about friendship between two little boys of different colors. (Yes, that’s right, color, not race. There is only one race – the human race.) It is a sweet and funny story that reminds us that we are all the same at heart.”

“In this era of multiculturalism, and a seeming emphasis on our differences, we sometimes forgot that people, no matter their color, or culture, are inherently the same. “Max and Me” is a fun, uplifting story about friendship that illustrates this fact with levity and candor.”  http://www.sharonmartini.com/MaxAndMeReviews.html

It is obviously far more important for you to retain your supremely knowledgeable and experienced (13 years was it) though socially “rough around the edges,” coffee mixer and pourer, (aka barista) and provide free reign to his pierced partner, thereby, maintaining your bottom line – remaining in the black – (pun intended,) than it is for you to stand up for Truth, Love, Liberty and Humanity.

In the words of Henry David Thoreau: If the injustice is part of the necessary friction of the machine of government, let it go, let it go: perchance it will wear smooth–certainly the machine will wear out. If the injustice has a spring, or a pulley, or a rope, or a crank, exclusively for itself, then perhaps you may consider whether the remedy will not be worse than the evil; but if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the machine. What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn.

Sincerely,

Sharon 

“Love is not possession. Love is not control. Love is everywhere, everything. Love is not something to hold.” ~ Moi! 5/08
Sharon Martini
Lady Bird Designs, LLC
Wonderfully Whimsical Works of Art by Sharon Martini
www.sharonmartini.com
sharonmartini@mac.com
503-709-7298
www.mummychatter.wordpress.com

Continued/Storytime, Krakow Koffeehouse & Cafe, Portland, Oregon, January 30, 2009, Part V

Storytime, Krakow Koffeehouse & Cafe, Portland, Oregon, January 30, 2009, Part V

February 19, 2009

It blows my mind that ten days into this new “historic” Presidency, in liberal progressive Portland, Oregon, when the world is looking at America with new eyes, and the American media are talking “post racial” and the American people are patting themselves on the back for once again dodging that “racist” label, I and my children were caught smack dab in the middle of the hurricane of truth. Racism is not dead (I know this, which is why I do what I do in an attempt to help us all see it for what it is, how it infects us all, how it is perpetuated, sometimes innocently, sometimes not, by human beings who don’t see it for what it is; how it is spread in the air we breath, in the lessons we learn, in the prayers we pray; in the things we see and more often than not, in the things we don’t see. Only when we see it for what it is and own it in ourselves, can we move to change it) it is alive and well and festering in a coffee shop near you.

Dr. Martin Luther King said in 1964, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

While we can, technically, sit anywhere we like on the bus nowadays, and some of the American people did vote for a black President, I am still waiting for that particular dream to come to fruition.

It’s taken me longer than I wanted to be able to write about this experience, purge it from my being, my soul, and I have been frustrated with myself for it, but reading the article (specifically the excerpt copied below) in the February 8th 2009, edition of The Sunday Oregonian, on Oregon’s history with immigrants, I was reassured that everything happens when it needs to.

While Oregon was admitted to the Union as a non-slave state, Oregonians decided the way to avoid racial problems was to bar black residents altogether. Their argument was that by doing so they would abolish the inequalities between the rich and the working class. “I’m going to Oregon, where there’ll be no slaves, and we’ll all start even,” said Capt. R.W. Morrison, a pioneer from Missouri, in 1844, according to historical accounts.

The same argument was later used to bar immigrants of other races: They would bring down wages and establish inequities.

“White Oregonians have associated people of color with hierarchy and disparities,” Peterson del Mar says. “Owning slaves gave you an unfair advantage. Some thought wealthy people would use blacks and immigrants to get wealthier at the expense of regular white men.”

Oregon was the only state admitted to the Union with a black exclusion law in its constitution (Illinois and Indiana had had similar laws, while other states made it difficult for blacks to live there). The state ratified the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guaranteed citizenship for all U.S.-born people regardless of race, then rescinded its ratification. Oregon did not ratify the 15th Amendment, which gave African Americans the right to vote, until 1959.


I was aware Oregon was a non-slave state, my mistake had been in believing it was a non-slave state due to fact that the people abhorred slavery. I did not know that it was purely because of competitiveness, insecurity, and ultimately, money. Here again, the root of all universal disharmony. Call it my ignorance if you must, but I have spoken to many who were not aware of this fact. Had I, of course, been truly thinking, I would have known better, look what they did to the Native Americans.

However, the contents of that article confirmed for me the existence of ancestral memory of a place and its people. As the spirit of my ancestors, their memories and their grief, rises unbidden in me, the spirit, of a place lives on, takes up residence unbeknownst, in its people, but bolstered by the institutional racism that is the matrix of our conveniently “Obama-frenzied” town today.

It is, I believe, this ancestral memory, that flowed freely through the veins and hearts of the two rabidly bigoted perpetuators of the racist attack on my children and me (and Sunshine too) that Friday morning, January 30, 2009. It also flowed uninhibited through the hearts of everyone else who sat, inside Krakow Koffeehouse & Café, comfortably, complacently, looking, leering, listening and whom, in their rancorous, smirking, silence, corroborated and condoned the actions.

The experience in Krakow Koffeehouse & Café, January 30, 2009, was so shocking, so unexpected, and so deeply painful to me at the time, yet the pain pales in comparison, when I think about what my children perceived that morning. My two little boys, American boys, born and raised here in Portland, Oregon, considered by society, black (defined by the dominant culture as tainted and inferior, not the true definition – powerful, melanistic, “Womb of the World and its people” black) first, other, and therefore, in some minds, unworthy of the spoils of basic human rights.

My oldest son said to me the next day, “Mum, I can’t believe Friday happened.” And later, “Mum, next time I’ll try to protect you better.” I am weeping as I type this.

Nevertheless, I, strengthened by my, intrinsically more powerful, ancestral memory, shall not bend, and I shall not bow. I shall keep walking head held high, strong in my knowledge of the truth of my heart and my soul, that I am whole. I am human. I am.

Storytime, Krakow Koffeehouse & Cafe, Portland, Oregon, Friday, January 30, 2009

February 18, 2009

Friday, January 30, 2009 I set out to conduct a children’s story time at Krakow Koffeehouse & Café, in north Portland. I had been invited to do this by Krakow Koffeehouse & Café owner, Mark Kirchmeier. I was planning to read my children’s picture books Max and Me, Bugs! Bugs! Bugs! I Love Bugs! And Uh! Oh! Where Did Baby Go? This story telling was to be my first of 2009, and more significantly, my first reading during the brand new “historic” Presidency of Barack Obama, a president of color, whose message of hope and change knits nicely with the message of my mission – that we are all, no matter our color, culture, or nationality, inherently the same – we are all human beings in this world together entitled to respect, dignity, hope, truth and love.

A no-school-Friday, I brought my sons along with me to the Krakow Koffeehouse & Café story telling. Story time was 10:00 AM and we arrived energized and excited to entertain the little ones. I had planned not only stories, but songs – I was going to sing my original composition, “What Color Are You? You’re The Color Of Love.” – and art activities.

We entered Krakow Koffeehouse & Café, one son carrying a display stand, another carrying my guitar and me with my book bag. I approached the counter. There was a tall, bespectacled, white, male, behind the counter on one side serving a customer, across the other side a woman with long light brown hair wearing a white sweatshirt, appeared to cleaning. Neither employee acknowledged my presence, but giving the benefit of doubt, I waited a moment for the man to finish with the customer. Time ticked on. When there was still no acknowledgement of my presence, I politely interrupted the tall, bespectacled, white, male, “Excuse me, is Mark here?”  I enquired (Mark being, Mark Kirchemeier, the owner of Krakow Koffeehouse & Café, by whom I had been invited me to do story time.)

The tall, bespectacled, white, male, responded curtly, “Mark is not here, but we’re ready for you.” Taken aback that although I had not been acknowledged upon entering Krakow Koffeehouse & Cafe, this employee was well aware of who I was, and why I was there. This realization unnerved me somewhat, but I shook it off and proceeded to enquire as to where to set up for story time, turning my body to point to the area in question behind me.

When I turned back toward the counter the male employee was saying “Outstanding.” I detected a sneer and condescension in his tone but then, as the sweatshirt clad, white, female, employee was now standing beside him, I questioned whether or not he was indeed speaking to me. To clarify things for myself, I asked him if he had been speaking to me. He responded loudly, “I was speaking to her.” pointing to the female employee in the white sweatshirt. At this I said, “I was talking to you. I asked you where I should set up.” He then said, “When someone turns their back on you, it means they are finished with you.”

Thinking that he thought I had turned by back on him and attempting to clear up the confusion, I began to explain that I had not turned my back on him, but had merely turned to indicate to him where I might set up. He then shouted, “When someone turns their back on you, it means they are finished with you. I turned my back on you. I was done with you.” Still, not wanting to fully comprehend what was going on, I continued to argue my innocence. Suddenly, a white, woman with multiple piercings on her visage, charged over and began screaming at me that she had heard what I said, she was a customer and they, all the other customers, heard what I said. At this point the tall, bespectacled, white, male, fully unleashed his hostility and screamed “See, everyone in here heard what you said.” With a sweeping gesture, encompassing everyone on the premises, he then proclaimed that “See we all know what you say more than you people.”

With his “you people” comment, there was no longer any dodging comprehension for me. From the time I entered the premises of Krakow Koffeehouse & Café and was rendered invisible, my intuition had been willing me to see the truth, but I had bestowed the benefit of the doubt upon my fellow human beings inhabiting the premises at that time.

Slapped to reality I remembered that my sons were with me, watching this all and I worried for them. I tried to locate them, but my senses assaulted, I was rendered temporarily blind and I couldn’t see them. It was as if I were in the center of concentric circles – or a Roman amphitheatre, panicking, with lions slowly, arrogantly, circling – rapidly spinning, out of control, the outside circle rotating, morbidly slowly, in the opposite direction, everything warping in and out of focus; the only thing clear, sharp, and in focus, were the words and the hatred propelling them, which pierced my very being.

As I looked around Krakow Koffeehouse & Café, I caught the eyes of each of the four or five patrons (all of whom were white) who were inside in addition to the male and female employee, and the irate multi-pierced white, female, customer. I looked at every one of them beeseechingly, yet no one stood up nor spoke up. They burrowed their buttocks deeper into their seats; buried their faces in their coffee, cell phone and newspaper. One man looked at me with that “Can you believe this?” look then returned to his phone call. Another smiled sweetly at me on his way out the door. 

When finally I regained my equilibrium and located my sons, I knew I could not read my books in that environment. (My stories are full of truth, laced with whimsy and joy; they’re about equality, love and humanity.) I asked the boys to put my things back in the car, telling them “I cannot conduct a story telling here.”

The tall, bespectacled, white, male employee and the multi-pierced woman, both fired “Good. Get out we don’t want you here.” The woman then ripped a flyer with my photograph on it promoting the event, from a sandwich board, crumpling it in her hands saying, “I’ve seen your picture and you’re not very good.” I shook my head, wondering what my photograph could possibly say about my story telling abilities and began to follow my sons out the door. The tall, bespectacled, white, male, bellowed after us. “Thank God.” (My youngest son clued me in later that what the multi-pierced angry, white, female had meant was that she didn’t think my pictures were very good.)

We returned the guitar and other items to my car. I was about to leave when I decided that I needed to at least let Mark Kirchmeier, the owner, know why I would not be fulfilling my obligation and doing story time. I returned to the store to request a phone number at which I could contact him directly. I was told by the tall, bespectacled, white, male employee to get out. I tried explaining that, as a professional, I needed to let Mark know why I was leaving. The male employee continued to tell me to get out, eventually shrieking, “You need to show me respect.” (In my world respect is earned and you certainly don’t earn mine by ill-treating me.) Then, determined, it would seem, to obliterate any remnants of doubt in my mind as to whom, and what exactly, I was dealing with, the tall, bespectacled, white, male, employee vociferated “I don’t know where you’re from, but you’re in my country now.”

Evidently emboldened, the multi-pierced, white, female customer lunged at me, arms flailing, shouting in my face that every one of the customers (waving her arms for emphasis, including them in her sweep) felt threatened by me and that she was calling the police. 

I will confess, that at this time, like a bull at a red flag, all I could see was her silver nose ring, taunting me, tempting me, daring me… It took all my will to not shove my little finger between it and her snout, and pull, really, really, hard. You will be happy to know I did restrain myself. For this I thank my angels, my intuition, or maybe it was the “friendly” immigration officer in Charlotte, North Carolina, this past July, who after informing my two sons that they had more rights than I did; that they could vote (my sons were, at that time, 12 and 10 years old,) proceeded to tell me that should I “so much as hit someone, I would be sent back home (to England.)” (Now don’t get me wrong, I have no problem returning to my birthplace, I would however, prefer to do it under my own volition.)

At the time, I remember wondering, fretting actually, as to why such a “genial” welcome back to the Country for sweet little me. Friday, January 30, 2009, at approximately 9:50 AM, standing face to nose-ring attached to an out of control, bigoted, white, female, in Krakow Koffeehouse and café, my pinky twitching, it became awesomely, audibly, clear – complete with southern drawl. But that’s another story for a later blog.

The irate multi-pierced, white, female, customer picked up the phone, waved it at me and threatened, “I’m calling the police.” When that, to her surprise, didn’t scare me, she challenged, “I’m dialing the number…” I told her to go ahead. I am not afraid of the police. (I must say I did get the distinct impression that I was supposed to be afraid.) I had done nothing wrong, unless you count attempting to fulfill the obligations of a story telling invitation, entering the premises, head held high while abundantly melanistic, and expecting to be treated, like anyone else, as a human being – with respect and dignity. 

Anyway, as I began to take my leave once and for all, Sunshine Dixon, of the Urban League of Portland, entered. I have never been so glad to see Sunshine. Believing she would have a contact number for Mark Kirchmeier, I felt my current dilemma of relaying a message to Mark, solved. I informed Sunshine that I was leaving, telling her “I cannot conduct a story time here.” (For background, Sunshine initiated contact between Mark of Krakow Koffeehouse & Café and me. She had explained that his “global” coffee shop was also an art gallery and he was looking for a diverse mix of artists to adorn the walls and provide entertainment on his premises. I had contacted him on her recommendation. We met and he subsequently expressed an interest in carrying my product, and invited me to conduct a (and possibly several) story time.)

I explained everything to Sunshine and asked her for Mark’s number. Sunshine confidently said, “I’ll take care of this.” She too was met with unbridled hostility. The multi-pierced, angry, white, woman continued to bleat at me telling me to get out and threatening me with the police. Sunshine attempted to both locate Mark Kirchmeier and reason respectfully with the irascible multi-pierced, white, woman. Eventually she tamed enough to ask derisively of Sunshine, “Why are we still dealing with her? (pointing to me) Are you her sister?

Standing talking with Sunshine, suddenly I heard “miss.” I turned to find the tall, bespectacled, white, male, employee, standing by me, face and body turned away from me, holding the phone contemptuously out toward me. 

I stepped so that I could look into his face and he would have to look into mine. I did not reach for the phone. Refusing to look at me, he, the tall, bespectacled, white, male, employee, contorted his neck and body, and jabbed the phone at me, saying disdainfully, “It’s for you. It’s Mark the owner.” I was not about to take the phone until he acknowledged me and so I continued to look at him in utter amazement, willing him to recognize my humanity. Alas, ‘twas not to be. The tall, bespectacled, white, male, employee ceremoniously dropped the telephone to the floor at my feet and ambled away.

Stunned I could not believe this was happening. I looked around the room, scanning the faces of the patrons who all, to a person, sat passively by, their reticence smirking at me.

Awakened from my stupor by my son’s movement and fearing he might pick up the phone, I readied myself to knock it out of his hands. A law-abiding, conscious, member of society, I am proud to say that my son kicked that phone away from me. 

Well, this gesture of self-respect and pride sent multi-pierced, angry, white, woman into a tailspin. She began bellowing that we were now damaging property and she was definitely calling the police.

Interestingly, or should I say, revealingly, it is now that the adult patrons of Krakow Koffeehouse & Café were compelled to action – almost baying for the blood of my 13 year old who had simply, unlike any one of them, courageously stood up for something, for his mother, for himself, his brother, for people of color, for humanity.

Sunshine was now on the telephone with Mark Kirchmeier, the owner of Krakow Koffeehouse & Café. He apparently was begging me to stay and wait for him because he was “only ten minutes away.” I finally had had enough. I gathered my children and began to leave again. Still breathing fire, multi-pierced, angry, white, woman, customer, followed behind me ranting, “Yeah! Get out.” “Who do you think you are? There’s only one British Queen.”

Finally outside of that toxic environment and inhaling the unexpectedly magnificent fresh air of highly- trafficked, North Interstate, I remembered a friend of mine was coming to the story time with her children and I rushed to call her to dissuade her from coming. Unfortunately, or fortunately, she was literally around the corner and pulled in simultaneously. Sensing something wrong, she quickly parked and rushed out of the car. I began to recount what had happened and I broke down sobbing. (Still, two weeks later, my spirit sobs when it hits me what my sons and I experienced, and I feel, like thumps on my person, the arrogant superiority of the perpetrators whom, somewhere in their being, believed such bigoted treatment justified, because we were in their eyes, different; in the words of the tall, bespectacled, white, male, employee, “…not from here” and therefore not entitled, as other paler people, to humane treatment.

I laugh, sorrowfully, when I think about how the stories I was going to read were about inclusiveness and the fact that, though we might be different on the exterior, we were all ultimately, inherently the same – human. I was going to sing my song “What Color Are you? You’re The Color Of Love!”

While my friend was consoling me, an anxious Mark Kirchmeier came scurrying down the street. He nervously asked me what happened. I told him, sharing how his tall, bespectacled, white, male, employee had used the eponymous “You people” to refer to me. I too told him how that same employee had screeched at me, “I don’t know where you’re from but you’re in my country now.” I spared him no detail.

He ran inside Krakow Koffeehouse & Café, coming back outside to state, “Well, we have a classic case of he said, she said.” At no time did he, the person who had invited me to conduct the story time, invite me inside so that we could discuss things all together and “sort things out.” He did, however, proceed to tell me that his employee’s social skills were “rough around the edges.” I asked “And you have him working in a coffee shop?” He also informed me that the multi-pierced, angry, white, female, customer, was his tall, bespectacled, white, male, employee’s girlfriend.

He then tried to assuage my feelings and wipe the slate clean, by offering me the chance to do story time on another day, “any other time I wanted” were his words. Shocked that he would ask, I told him that no I would never. When my friend who found the whole thing quite ironic knowing me, my books and my message, asked him if he had any sense of what it is I do. Why I do what I do. Why I write and illustrate the books I write; why I sing the songs I sing? Seeming confused, his response to her was “Well, we would still like to carry her children’s books and products.” 

Incredulous at Mark’s attempts to appease me and negate my experience, I communicated to him emphatically, that his employee’s actions were racist. Mark recoiled, horrified that I had dared to not only identify the elephant in the room, but also the piles of doo-doo on the floor. Then, shamefacedly, asked me, all the while looking down at the floor “So, you don’t think it was just that he was rude, you think it crossed the line into racism? You don’t think you’re being…” Mark didn’t complete that question, though I, staring at the edge of his spectacles (for he still would not look me in the eye,) willed him to do it.

Next thing, wouldn’t you know, a police car pulled up, parked, and the policeman entered Krakow Koffeehouse & Café. Mark took off back to his business. A minute or so later another police car pulled up. This time a policeman replete in bulletproof vest and ammo belt sprinted across the street into the coffee shop.

Susanne and I continued talking on the sidewalk for a little while longer. Neither Mark, policeman number one, or number two, nor anyone else from inside Krakow Koffeehouse & Café, approached me for any, or, additional information.

Returning to my car I glanced in the window of Krakow Coffeehouse & Café. I was shocked and offended to see Sunshine (who too had been the recipient of, and witness to, a racially motivated assault,) conducting a story time that I had, in good conscience, chosen not to do, due to the racist environment. Seeing Sunshine sitting there I was so angry. I felt slapped, no punched and stabbed in the back – she might just as well have put on black face and danced.

Watching her gushing and grinning all I saw was someone trying desperately to be seen to be perfectly fine with everything, unlike the uppity Negress, namely me, on the other side of the window. What I saw was her condoning their racism, siphoning off their hatred for them and swallowing it down, trying hard not to wince as its bitter rancidity tore apart her innards, and all the while ensuring that they didn’t feel bad. Her actions said to me “I’m not like her Massa. I won’t make you feel bad Massa. No. No. You just give me whatever you feel I’m worth Massa. What’s that you sayin’ Massa? You need to kick somethin’ Massa? Here I am sir, I’m layin’ down for you Massa. Kick me hard Massa. I can take it. Jus’ please, please, please, Massa, don’t make me go back in the field. I’m beggin’ you Massa…

As I replayed the scene in my mind later that day, my anger abated, settling to a profound sadness. She was only doing what “sane,” “safe,” “sensible,” black people who know their place do. Shutter your heart, shroud your soul, swallow your pride, but keep on working, keep on doing, keep on trying to prove your worth, prove you are just as good, just like those of the dominant culture.

Don’t just catch the filth thrown at you, ingest it, rub it in your pores, be a willing receptacle, but be sure to keep one eye and your nostrils open so you can continue to see, and smell, the ever elusive prize – that prize being, equality in humanity -, because someday you will have that prize, someday you will be worthy, someday when you’re broken enough, maybe when you’re “dead” enough, it will be yours? Someday they will let you win it. Won’t they?

Now that black people are free. (Come on you people, there’s one of your own sitting and shitting in the White House and we’re no longer hanging you now are we?) Free to accept whatever the dominant culture deigns to discharge on us; free to swallow our anger – eat it into sickness, so that we can still have access to the crumbs that might be tossed our way as long as we bend low enough, assimilate enough, work hard enough, stay in our bucket. Pardon me, my mistake, I meant place.

A couple of hours later Mark Kirchmeier telephoned me, enquiring as to whether it was a good time to talk. Before I could respond, he launched into the reason for his call. “I wanted to call and let you know what I have done with my staff. I have given Ben (that it turns out is the name of the tall, bespectacled, white, male, “coffee mixer and pourer,” aka barista) a reprimand and I have banned his girlfriend from the store.

He then kindly shared with me that Ben had thirteen years coffee experience so … he knew a lot, and he (Mark,) didn’t want to fire him at this time. Was he concerned about finding a suitable replacement? In this time when jobs being lost like hair follicles on a balding pate!  Poor, poor, Markie would surely have a monstrous time finding a suitable replacement for the socially inept (my British translation of Mark’s words) Ben. I mean, it’s intellectually taxing pouring boiling water on coffee grounds all day long. But, I digress.

Mark then informed me that it was in fact the girlfriend whom had uttered “I don’t know where you’re from, but you’re in my country now.” Aware of what he was attempting I firmly corrected him and reiterated that the comment had come direct from the mouth of his tall, bespectacled, white, male, employee. (I reminded him that it was the multi-pierced, angry, white, girlfriend whom had made the “…there is only one British queen” retort.) He conceded saying, “But that’s a racist comment? When I concurred. Mark plummeted into a whine of how dazed and shaken he was by what had happened.

At this point, my patience expired. Not only had this man not called to apologize, rewritten my story, presumptuously retelling it to me (all in an attempt to justify not dealing with his racist employee, thereby sidestepping his own racism,) he was now going to try to elicit sympathy from me.

I was standing in line at the checkout in Trader Joes; it definitely was not a good time to talk, and had Mark given me the chance I would have informed him of that fact, but, I believe everything happens for a reason and so I let him have it, in a proper, regal, British way.

I told him that he couldn’t even begin to feel what I was feeling when I set out that morning to conduct a story time filled with inclusiveness and love and that on entering his business I had made the mistake of expecting to be treated with respect and humanity and that I had, instead, been met with disdain and racism. I then informed him that this was not a good time to talk.

Driving to my home later that day, I suddenly felt exposed, and afraid – what if those hate filled people knew where I lived. I felt afraid for my children’s safety, my own safety and the safety of my home.

I received the following email from Sunshine Dixon that afternoon:

I am sorry about the event today
Sent By: “Sunshine Dixon”   
On:   Jan 01/30/09 11:23 AM

Sharon

I am heartsick about what took place today. My heart goes out to you and your kids for everything they/you witnessed and felt. This was so unexpected and out of line with what I personally experienced just one week prior. My heart breaks for what I witnessed and experienced today and I am so sorry that you and your kids went through that.

I stayed for half and hour to share with the 9 – 10 little ones who where there for you. The parents are going to check your website for other shows of yours to bring their little ones. They were sorry they missed seeing you and really want to connect with you in the future. I asked them to lookup your website. 

I talked to Mark as well.

I am so sorry to you Sharon and to your little ones for today’s events.

Sunshine Dixon

Yet, she stayed…

The sad thing is Sunshine really believed that directing people to my website and me potentially making a sale or two, would somehow mop up, be the antidote for, the poison liberally poured on my children and me by the inhabitants of “friendly, global, neighborhood, coffeehouse” Krakow Koffeehouse & Café, that morning; actions which, in her own words, had rendered her heartsick. When will humankind (and in this case, particularly, black (the melanistic among us) humankind) learn that Liberty, Truth and Equality are not, contrary to popular belief, commodities for sale to the highest bidder?

The next morning, January 31, 2009, I have received this email from Mark Kirkmeier, owner, Krakow Koffee:

RE: I am sorry about the event today

Mark

Sent By: “Mark Kirchmeier” 
On:  Jan 01/31/09 12:15 AM

Dear Sharon,

I had a good conversation with an Overlook parent named Claire Michaels, who came inside Krakow when you were talking with Ben (the tall barista with glasses).   Claire said that she picked up on some tension you were feeling with Ben, but she thought the situation was manageable, and then after the unfortunate phone dropping incident

happened, Ben’s girlfriend (with the nose ring) completely lost it, and starting shouting the “get out of her remarks.”

I am asking the girl friend to write a letter of apology to you.  If she doesn’t do so, she will banned from the store.  I have given Ben a reprimand. 

Again, as I mentioned on the phone to you, I am dazed and mind boggled, that a staff person, and an girl friend with evidentally some behavior issues, and who had no business being party to this discussion, could screw up something as benign as a children’s story telling.

One tremendous grace note today, was Sunshine’s graciousness in staying, and giving some of the kids what they had come for, a story telling experience.

You didn’t have do that, Sunshine, and I greatly appreciate you’re doing so.

Sincerely

Mark

Find a white person to contradict, over-sensitive, angry, black person’s (in my case, uppity negress’) story…

It would have been better had Mark continued on in his daze and not “said” another word. However, he felt justified in denying my veracity and taking the word of someone who was not -party to the whole incident over mine. What was it his tall, bespectacled, white, male, employee, Ben had said? Oh, that’s right. “You see we all know more what you say than “you people.” The truth, as they say, will out. I did not feign a response.

And that staff person is still gainfully employed. Hmm! Let’s weigh things up a little. Racism vs. thirteen years coffee pouring experience, what am I thinking? No comparison!

Mark, obviously no longer dazed and mind boggled, and buoyed by the privilege of his the dominant “his-story” writing culture, continued his march toward domination.

On February, 2, 2009 at 7:30 pm, I received the following email:

written apology forthcoming

Sent By: “Mark Kirchmeier”
On:  Feb 02/03/09 7:30 PM

Sharon,

I have a signed written apology from barista Ben Reed on his behalf and his lady friend, who so spectactularly lost control last Friday.

If you have a fax, I could fax it to you, or mail it to you.

Sincerely,

Mark

That same said multi-pierced, angry, white, female, girlfriend, of the tall, bespectacled, white, male, employee, whom Mark had banned from his shop? Oh, that’s right, silly me, I had forgotten I’m black, I obviously misheard.

Baited, here is my response.

Mark,

Do not under any circumstances forward me any correspondence from your racist employee, nor his girlfriend. You cannot truly believe that anything you force them to write, coupled with your absolutely insulting email of yesterday, and your telephone call and comments on Friday, during which you shamelessly attempted to explain away your employee’s racist assault, by virtue of social skills that were, as you put it, “rough around the edges,” thereby negating my (and my children’s) experiences, our pain, our truth. But isn’t that the way those types transgressions are always handled?

I am including the text of your email for you to take a long look at. Try reading it out loud, preferably in front of a mirror, looking yourself in the eyes:

From: Mark Kirchmeier

To:

Subject: RE: I am sorry about the event today

Date: January 31, 2009 12:15:47 AM PST

Dear Sharon,

I had a good conversation with an Overlook parent named Claire Michaels, who came inside Krakow when you were talking with Ben (the tall barista with glasses).   Claire said that she picked up on some tension you were feeling with Ben, but she thought the situation was manageable, and then after the unfortunate phone dropping incident

happened, Ben’s girlfriend (with the nose ring) completely lost it, and starting shouting the “get out of her remarks.”

I am asking the girl friend to write a letter of apology to you.  If she doesn’t do so, she will banned from the store.  I have given Ben a reprimand. 

Again, as I mentioned on the phone to you, I am dazed and mind boggled, that a staff person, and an girl friend with evidentally some behavior issues, and who had no business being party to this discussion, could screw up something as benign as a children’s story telling.

One tremendous grace note today, was Sunshine’s graciousness in staying, and giving some of the kids what they had come for, a story telling experience.

You didn’t have do that, Sunshine, and I greatly appreciate you’re doing so.

Sincerely,

Mark

If you think that I, and my children, can be appeased by empty words penned on paper, when the Truth of the heart and soul of your employees, the patrons of your establishment, and ultimately you yourself, have already been delivered to me loud and clear, at high decibels and in silence, in words, spoken, unsaid, and insinuated, in every action and inaction, then you are even less of a human being than I, at this time, believe you to be.

It is ironic that 10 days after America celebrated (led by liberal progressive Portland, Oregon) the “historic” inauguration of President Barack Obama, in the year 2009, I entered your business, Krakow Coffee, invited by you, to conduct a children’s story time; to read my children’s picture book, Max and Me, a story of friendship highlighting our differences, yet celebrating our similarities, and I was drop-kicked, side-swiped, clear back into the 1950s and 60s – the only thing missing were the police dogs.

For your information Mark, “Max and Me is a story about friendship between two little boys of different colors. (Yes, that’s right, color, not race. There is only one race – the human race.) It is a sweet and funny story that reminds us that we are all the same at heart.”

“In this era of multiculturalism, and a seeming emphasis on our differences, we sometimes forgot that people, no matter their color, or culture, are inherently the same. “Max and Me” is a fun, uplifting story about friendship that illustrates this fact with levity and candor.”  http://www.sharonmartini.com/MaxAndMeReviews.html

It is obviously far more important for you to retain your supremely knowledgeable and experienced (13 years was it) though socially “rough around the edges,” coffee mixer and pourer, (aka barista) and provide free reign to his pierced partner, thereby, maintaining your bottom line – remaining in the black – (pun intended,) than it is for you to stand up for Truth, Love, Liberty and Humanity.

In the words of Henry David Thoreau: If the injustice is part of the necessary friction of the machine of government, let it go, let it go: perchance it will wear smooth–certainly the machine will wear out. If the injustice has a spring, or a pulley, or a rope, or a crank, exclusively for itself, then perhaps you may consider whether the remedy will not be worse than the evil; but if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the machine. What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn.

Sincerely,

Sharon 
”Love is not possession. Love is not control. Love is everywhere, everything. Love is not something to hold.” ~ Moi! 5/08
Sharon Martini
Lady Bird Designs, LLC
Wonderfully Whimsical Works of Art by Sharon Martini
www.sharonmartini.com
sharonmartini@mac.com
503-709-7298
www.mummychatter.wordpress.com 

It blows my mind that ten days into this new “historic” Presidency, in liberal progressive Portland, Oregon, when the world is looking at America with new eyes, and the American media are talking “post racial” and the American people are patting themselves on the back for once again dodging that “racist” label, I and my children were caught smack dab in the middle of the hurricane of truth. Racism is not dead (I know this, which is why I do what I do in an attempt to help us all see it for what it is, how it infects us all, how it is perpetuated, sometimes innocently, sometimes not, by human beings who don’t see it for what it is; how it is spread in the air we breath, in the lessons we learn, in the prayers we pray; in the things we see and more often than not, in the things we don’t see. Only when we see it for what it is and own it in ourselves, can we move to change it) it is alive and well and festering in a coffee shop near you. 

Martin Luther King said in 1964, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” 

While we can, technically, sit anywhere we like on the bus nowadays, and some of the American people did vote for a black President, I am still waiting for that particular dream to come to fruition.

It’s taken me longer than I wanted to be able to write about this experience, purge it from my being, my soul, and I have been frustrated with myself for it, but reading the article (specifically the excerpt copied below) in the February 8th 2009, edition of The Sunday Oregonian, on Oregon’s history with immigrants, I was reassured that everything happens when it needs to.

While Oregon was admitted to the Union as a non-slave state, Oregonians decided the way to avoid racial problems was to bar black residents altogether. Their argument was that by doing so they would abolish the inequalities between the rich and the working class. “I’m going to Oregon, where there’ll be no slaves, and we’ll all start even,” said Capt. R.W. Morrison, a pioneer from Missouri, in 1844, according to historical accounts.

The same argument was later used to bar immigrants of other races: They would bring down wages and establish inequities.

“White Oregonians have associated people of color with hierarchy and disparities,” Peterson del Mar says. “Owning slaves gave you an unfair advantage. Some thought wealthy people would use blacks and immigrants to get wealthier at the expense of regular white men.”

Oregon was the only state admitted to the Union with a black exclusion law in its constitution (Illinois and Indiana had had similar laws, while other states made it difficult for blacks to live there). The state ratified the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guaranteed citizenship for all U.S.-born people regardless of race, then rescinded its ratification. Oregon did not ratify the 15th Amendment, which gave African Americans the right to vote, until 1959.
  

I was aware Oregon was a non-slave state, my mistake had been in believing it was a non-slave state due to fact that the people abhorred slavery. I did not know that it was purely because of competitiveness, insecurity, and ultimately, money. Here again, the root of all universal disharmony. Call it my ignorance if you must, but I have spoken to many who were not aware of this fact. Had I, of course, been truly thinking, I would have known better, look what they did to the Native Americans.

However, the contents of that article confirmed for me the existence of ancestral memory of a place and its people. As the spirit of my ancestors, their memories and their grief, rises unbidden in me, the spirit, of a place lives on, takes up residence unbeknownst, in its people, but bolstered by the institutional racism that is the matrix of our conveniently “Obama-frenzied” town today.

It is, I believe, this ancestral memory, that flowed freely through the veins and hearts of the two rabidly bigoted perpetuators of the racist attack on my children and me (and Sunshine too) that Friday morning, January 30, 2009. It also flowed uninhibited through the hearts of everyone else who sat, inside Krakow Koffeehouse & Café, comfortably, complacently, looking, leering, listening and whom, in their rancorous, smirking, silence, corroborated and condoned the actions.

The experience in Krakow Koffeehouse & Café, January 30, 2009, was so shocking, so unexpected, and so deeply painful to me at the time, yet the pain pales in comparison, when I think about what my children perceived that morning. My two little boys, American boys, born and raised here in Portland, Oregon, considered by society, black (defined by the dominant culture as tainted and inferior, not the true definition – powerful, melanistic, “Womb of the World and its people” black) first, other, and therefore, in some minds, unworthy of the spoils of basic human rights.

My oldest son said to me the next day, “Mum, I can’t believe Friday happened.” And later, “Mum, next time I’ll try to protect you better.” I am weeping as I type this.

Nevertheless, I, strengthened by my, intrinsically more powerful, ancestral memory, shall not bend, and I shall not bow. I shall keep walking head held high, strong in my knowledge of the truth of my heart and my soul, that I am whole. I am human. I am.