Category Archives: Racial Equality

#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

For The Voiceless

In 1955, the film Bad Day At Black Rock was released. Spencer Tracy played John Macreedy, a stranger with a paralyzed arm, who steps off a train into a desolate, dusty town called Black Rock. He’s cryptic when asked why he’s there, and is met with reactions ranging from suspicion to assault. Both Macreedy and Black Rock have a past and a secret.  When Black Rock opened, anti-Japanese sentiments ran high in the wake of World War II. I was born three years later, and first saw the movie when I was ten. I watched the credits with a charged focus, and when the writer’s name “Millard Kaufman” hit the screen, I applauded for my father.

Growing up in the film industry, I knew all the factors that lurked, ready to pounce, to derail a motion picture. Lack of chemistry among the actors. A director with more accolades than talent. An overly intrusive producer. Not to mention substance abuse, overblown egos and narcissism run amok. Logistics can go sideways at every juncture. But Black Rock beat the odds. In spite of the inevitable bumps along the way, everything fell into place. Dad was nominated for an Academy Award and the film is considered a classic.

But in my mind, what sets this work apart is not the near-miss-Oscar or the My-Daddy-Wrote-A-Classic. I’m most proud that during this sad chapter in United States history, wrought with anti-Japanese paranoia, Bad Day At Black Rock has a silent hero: a Japanese-American man. Dad wrote the script in protest of the treatment of Japanese-Americans – the bigotry, the violence, the internment camps. Sure, Dad’s Oscar nomination was a nice bonus, but he was deeply moved when the Japanese government honored him for his dignified treatment of a Japanese man in the film, and for his voice fighting bigotry.

Dad was a fighter. He joined the Marines and fought Hitler. He fought with another marine who made an anti-Semitic remark, and knocked him cold. As a commanding officer, he fought for the Marines “caught” with other Marines, pulling them out of the brig. Back home from the tropics, he fought Malaria and Dengue Fever. As a young screenwriter in Hollywood, he fought Joe McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee.

I was raised with several definitions for the word “fight.” The weapon of choice can be a gun, a fist, or a pen. Bravery can mean storming the beaches of Okinawa, pulling gay men out of confinement, standing up for a blacklisted colleague, writing for the rights of the oppressed, speaking for those who are silenced. For most of his life, my father’s weapon of choice was the written word. Language can be strangely powerful – letters strung together, to create thoughts, to convey ideas, to engage, to incite – a catalyst for change. I was raised to treat each person’s voice as uniquely valuable. I was brought up to listen carefully not only to sounds, but also to silence. I was taught that taking away another’s voice is an act of violence.

Throughout my childhood, I loved to curl up in my father’s favorite chair, with his leather-bound copy of Bad Day At Black Rock. Like the film, the script remains vibrant, sixty years later. Over the decades, the black ink has faded to dark gray and the cream-colored paper has become tinged with age. But if I close my eyes, I can still breathe the scent of the leather, touch the warmth of the cover, and feel an odd pulse – my father’s voice raised loud and clear, for the voiceless.

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Amy Kaufman Burk is a novelist and blogger. 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. Amy wrote Tightwire as a voice against the stigma of therapy, and to demonstrate the human capacity to heal. Amy blogs on a variety of subjects including parenting, LGBTQ+, gender equality and a Rolling Stones concert. She also collaborates with educators who include her books in their curriculum. 

Amy’s Author Page On Amazon

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

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Bad Day At Black Rock, Classic Films, Hollywood, Racial Equality