Category Archives: Black Lives Matter

Royal Racism

In March of 2021, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry (Duchess and Duke of Sussex) were interviewed by Oprah Winfrey. They talked about racism within the Royal Family, which contributed to their decision to set out and blaze their own trail. In response, Prince William (Prince Harry’s brother) issued a statement that The Royals are “very much not a racist family.” A friend of Prince Charles’ leaped into the spotlight to announce that his pal (Prince Harry’s father) is not a racist.

Quick recap: Two extremely White British Princes declared themselves and their entire family free of racism. 

Four months later, in July of 2021, Tarrant City (Alabama) Council member Tommy Bryant used the n-word in a council meeting, referring to a female council member, Veronica Freeman. In case further clarification is necessary, Tommy Bryant is White and Veronica Freeman is Black. In the aftermath, although Alabama GOP has suggested that Tommy Bryant resign, he has other plans. He has refused to apologize, and is talking about running for mayor.

Quick recap: An extremely White American man appears to view his own racism as free of racism.

When White people are accused of racism, their knee-jerk reactions are often instant, loud, resounding denials. Although England and the United States both overflow with racism, the massive majority of White folks in both countries seem to view themselves (like Prince William and Prince Charles and Tommy Bryant) as Very-Much-Not-Racists. 

Royal Racism, at core indistinguishable from Commoner Racism, knows no boundaries. Like COVID-19, it crosses oceans, infiltrates continents, spreads through cities, poisons families. Also like COVID-19, it kills. Unlike COVID-19, however, there’s no vaccine. 

So I’m offering an alternative approach. I’m extending an invitation to the Prince of Wales, the Duke of Cambridge and Mr. Tommy Bryant. I’m the princess of nowhere, the duchess of nothing, and a member of no city council. Still, I hope all three of you will take a short walk with me through a different incident of racism.

In 2016, Yale University discovered that a dean of a residential college had posted multiple racist remarks. Yale took a strong stance against racism, the situation was handled and the dean no longer works at the university. Sound straightforward? It’s not. Racism is a complex issue, so let’s 

Pause.

In this moment, I wonder how many readers are assuming that Yale’s obnoxious, racist ex-dean is White. Actually, the racist remarks targeted the White population, and were posted by a woman who is Asian. I’m outraged, as I should be. But I’m also inviting Prince William, Prince Charles and Tommy Bryant to take a moment with me and

Pause 

to think about racism. As a citizen of the United States, I don’t know one person of any heritage — except White — who has never been the target of multiple, even ongoing, actions and words rooted in bigotry. I’m White, and once when I was walking through San Francisco, a man spat on me. Another time, a different man purposefully slammed into me. (I was startled, but unhurt.) Both spoke words I didn’t understand, but later found out were derogatory slurs for “White”. There have been other incidents, but they’re rare enough that they’re not a part of my internal fabric, which makes me extremely privileged.

Privileged or not, this dean’s comments were wrong and harmful. Her mindset was rooted in the same dangerous mentality as all racism —  Us vs. Them, Superior vs. Inferior, Hatred vs. Acceptance, Inclusion vs. Inequality. We all — everyone of every color — need to be aware of the assumptions we carry, and their potential for racism. Still, I want to go beyond my legitimately angry response and

Pause 

because this issue is much larger than I am. My specific brand of outrage is, in itself, a privileged reaction, because this dean and her comments had no power to harm me. However, I don’t want to shrug it off because empathy is a key part of fighting racism. This incident gives me a small taste of what a Black man might feel when he walks down the sidewalk in broad daylight, thinking about his presentation to his company, and suddenly realizes that every White pedestrian is watching him, seemingly with fear. It’s a spoonful of what a Korean-American woman (born and raised in the USA) might feel when a stranger suddenly starts yelling that she’s responsible for the “Chinese Flu.” It’s what a Latino high school student might feel when they tell a friend they scored 800s on their SATs, and later find out a rumor is spreading that they must have cheated, because, well, y’know those Latinos — academic, not so much. It’s what a Middle Eastern college student, an American citizen, might feel when someone sees their backpack (heavy with poetry books) and freezes, as though listening for a ticking bomb.

Yes, this particular instance of anti-White racism was terrible, and I respect my own reaction. At the same time, I have to acknowledge the privilege of having experienced so few incidents in my lifetime as the target of racism. No, it does not make this person’s bigotry okay, and my being White doesn’t make my outrage any less valid. But in order to respect the full impact of racism, if someone ever points out that I’ve made a mistake, I need to listen carefully before I speak. I need to catch myself before I shout my knee-jerk denial, or enlist a friend to shout it for me. I need to remain open to the other person’s perspective, believe their experience, validate them as a full person. I need to own my assumptions, and be willing to recalibrate my mindset, even if it’s painful. 

Before we (Prince Charles, Prince William, Tommy Bryant and I) declare ourselves “very much not a racist,” we need to take a deep breath and 

Pause.

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Amy Kaufman Burk is an author and blogger. Her first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, follows a group friends through a year in a public high school with over forty  languages spoken among the students. This novel was written in gratitude Hollywood High School’s diversity and commitment to equality and inclusion. Amy’s second novel, Tightwire, follows a psych intern through her first year of training, treating a troubled client with a past filled with secrets. This book was written to validate the experience of emotional struggles, to fight the stigma of mental illness, and with deepest respect for the human capacity to heal.

Amy’s Author Page on Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

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Filed under Black Lives Matter, Meghan Markle, Prince Harry, racism

March For Our Lives

“You can’t cast too many Blacks in one film. Nobody will watch.”

“It’s just how it is.” 

“It’s an absolute truth.”

As a child (born in 1958) growing up in a film industry family, I heard this “absolute truth” from the experts — writers, directors, producers, actors, costume designers. Although everyone I knew seemed to agree, I was puzzled. I remember asking what the difference was between an all-Caucasian cast and an all-any-other-racial-heritage cast. I didn’t understand why the industry, brimming with creativity, insisted on following the herd regarding this specific convention. Some expressed regret, so I asked why they didn’t do something to change it. Their answer was always a variation of “It’s-Just-How-It-Is.”

With its rocketing success, the film Black Panther has rewritten that “absolute truth” of my childhood. Of course, several other films have already shown this “truth” to be nowhere close to “absolute.” Black Panther is a strong and timely reminder that “absolute truths” should always be questioned. As a kid, I was also told that an all-female cast wouldn’t work, that if actors came out as gay their careers would grind to an abrupt halt, that females needed to be frighteningly skinny because everyone looks heavier on film and “nobody likes a girl with a fat ass” (a quote from an actor, at a dinner party, which drew raucous approval from men and women alike). I was told these “absolute truths” would “never change.”

Even the most decent adults can get bogged down in business analysis, lulled by the familiarity of convention, and lose track of the purity of an idea. Claudette Colvin was 15 years old in 1955, when she was arrested in Montgomery, Alabama, for refusing to give up her seat on a bus. Malala Yousafzai was in her teens when she was shot in the head, and lived to become a voice for females and education worldwide. Emma Gonzalez — a survivor of the February 14, 2018, high school shooting in Parkland, Florida — has catapulted the #NeverAgain movement to unprecedented levels. Naomi Wadler was 11 years old when she took the stage on March 24, 2018, and stunned the nation with her eloquence in support of Black lives. Samantha Fuentes, wounded at the Parkland shooting, showed us that vomiting onstage can be an act of inspirational courage.

It’s-Just-How-It-Is can’t stop the Claudettes or the Malalas or the Emmas or the Naomis or the Samanthas. Sometimes we need young voices to remind us of the power of decency — hearts and minds unburdened by cost-benefit analysis, less tied to socio-cultural infrastructures. Until February 13, 2018, school shootings were “just how it is.” After February 14, 2018, with several killed and wounded at Margery Stoneman Douglas High School, It’s-Just-How-It-Is transformed into Never-Again.

Young people are rewriting our absolutes. They’re today’s self-evident truths and tomorrow’s inalienable rights. They’re our nation’s We-The-People, leading us as we renew our vows to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They’re our future and our now.

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Amy Kaufman Burk is a therapist-turned-author. Her first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, was written in reaction to seeing gay students bullied in high school. The story follows Caroline Black through tenth grade, with her circle of friends, as her new high school opens her world. Tightwire, Amy’s second novel, continues to follow Caroline, this time as a rookie psych intern treating her first patient — a stormy, brilliant, troubled young man who ran away from the circus to find himself. Amy’s blog includes posts about a variety of subjects including the resistance, gender equality, LGBTIQ+ ally support and racial equality. Amy collaborates with educators who include her books and essays in their classrooms.

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

 

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Filed under Black Lives Matter, Black Panther, Claudette Colvin, Emma Gonzalez, Film Industry Values, Malala, March For Our Lives, Naomi Wadler, Parkland Shooting, Samantha Fuentes, Uncategorized

#BlackLivesMatter

We all need to own our mistakes and this post is about one of mine. To people who use the phrase “All Lives Matter” rather than “Black Lives Matter” — here’s the problem. Let’s do better.

Many years ago, around week 25 of my second pregnancy, I switched doctors. My new obstetrician was a man and in our first meeting, we talked for over an hour. Dr. H. told me that his primary job was to follow my guidance, to give me the birthing experience I wanted. He promised he wouldn’t rhapsodize about the wonders of childbirth when I felt like a fiery boulder was forcing its way through my loins. He’d be ready to address my pain at any point, but he wouldn’t presume I wanted a knight in shining armor to ride in on a white coat and zap me with narcotics. He’d step in if he assessed risk, but I’d be in charge of my own choices. He understood that as a man, there would be parts of childbirth he would never fully comprehend, and he’d always respect that my experience belonged to me.

But this post isn’t about childbirth; it’s about racism.

I’ve been trying to find a way to write about racial bigotry. Our culture is caught in a seemingly endless cycle, and I honestly don’t know how to make a difference. But I do know that silence isn’t the answer, so I’m stepping forward. I’m modeling my approach after Dr. H.

I’m starting by raising awareness — my own awareness. As a 58-year-old Caucasian woman, I’m approaching racism the same way Dr. H. approached my childbirth, knowing that my perspective is both valid and limited. Fair-skinned, green-eyed, 5’4”, gray hair — every thread weaves into my identity, shaping my relationship to the world, influencing how others perceive me.

For the past five years, I’ve lived in The South. I watched the furor when the Confederate Flag came down, no longer displayed in front of government buildings. I’ve stopped people from using the “n-word” for African-Americans, from telling “jokes” about white police officers beating confessions out of Black suspects. I saw how these words and “jokes” and Confederate flags were so much a part of their fabric that when I objected, some needed me to explain what had upset me. Even then, many were puzzled how “just a joke,” “just a word,” “just a flag” could bother me. My point: these folks were as taken aback by my mindset as I was by theirs.

We each have a point of view, partly conscious and partly unconscious, that influences our words, actions and belief systems. Following Dr. H.’s example, I need to be aware of my own assumptions. So I write this post as a student, not a teacher. And since mistakes are a part of learning, I’m writing about one of mine.

When I first heard the term “Black Lives Matter,” I was immediately drawn to the phrase. These three vibrant words pulsed with power, capturing a world of hurt and hope. I posted on social media about an example of racism, with the hashtag: #BlackLivesMatter. But then I made my mistake. I wanted to convey that Black lives matter because all lives matter equally, and that many treat Black lives as mattering less. So I wrote #BlackLivesMatter, and added #AllLivesMatter.

As I followed the Black Lives Matter Movement, I saw many people – none of them Black — post #BlackLivesMatter and add #AllLivesMatter. It became clear that this undermined the importance of Black lives. When I realized my mistake, I thought carefully. I needed to understand what happened, why it happened, how it happened. Then I thought of Dr. H. In our initial meeting, he made no assumptions. But this time, I did. Dr. H. asked questions. But this time, I didn’t. I made an assumption about using a new phrase, and I skipped a step: I didn’t ask.

I apologize for my mistake.

#BlackLivesMatter

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Amy Kaufman Burk is a novelist, blogger and mother of three grown children. Amy wrote her first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, in reaction to seeing gay students bullied in high school. Her second novel, Tightwire, follows a rookie psych intern through her first year of training, working with her first patient. Amy blogs on a variety of subjects including parenting, racism, LGBTQ+, gender equality and a Rolling Stones concert. She also collaborates with educators who include her books in their curriculum. 

Amy Kaufman Burk’s novels, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable and Tightwire, are available on Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

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Filed under Black Lives Matter, Civil Rights, hate crimes, Racial Bigotry, Racial Equality, Stereotypes, Uncategorized