Grandpa was not able to keep a steady job. We believe he suffered from depression. The family lived on what grandma made on working-class female jobs in rural Wisconsin. School was easy for their son and he goofed off. His vision of his future was working-class until a high school teacher told him he was real smart and should pursue college. He listened. Being a White working class man in the mid 20th century, there were opportunities to move up. He went to College at Stevens Point and put himself through Law school working three jobs.
I knew Dad as a workaholic with little time for us. Making a good living was his focus, but he did not spend the money. We lived in this working/low middle class world with middle-class security and the knowledge that we were heading to college.
My parents divorced in 1973 when I was eight, the year my mother found her strong feminist voice. she made it clear there was no question me and my two sisters would have careers doing whatever we wanted.
I went off to college in Madison, Wisconsin, absolutely committed to NOT becoming a lawyer. But then I got a job working as an advocate through the Dane County Big Brothers Big Sisters program. I noticed the limits of what I could do to help women impoverished by divorce and uncollected child support. I decided to go to law school to learn how to help them. My first summer of Law school I worked at the Legal Aid Society, helping people obtain disability benefits., I also participated in a law clinic for prisoners.
It felt like important work. What I didn’t realize at the time is that when i graduated I would interview and compete for a handful of coveted Legal Aid jobs. Private firms made me offers even before I graduated. I went for the financial security of the downtown Minneapolis law firm offer.
We moved to Minneapolis in 1990, bought a house on 52nd and Logan. It was a White middle class neighborhood when we moved in. Now it’s an upper middle and upper class White neighborhood. Housing prices have quadrupled. New neighbors are young people, beginning adult life much wealthier than those who moved in 25 years ago. It’s the new Edina.
I would like to downsize and move to a diverse neighborhood. I don’t know how to do that without being a gentrifier.
In the early years, my husband and I traded off having the “big job,” providing the family with financial stability. We built a retirement fund, a college fund for our two children, security, health insurance. Trapped in the capitalist game. In those years I would tell myself, at least there are gender issues I am advancing here at the law firm. The world we were in gave us financial security, but I felt socially alienated in that world. I knew these were not my people.
When Ferguson happened the Black Lives Matter Movement called to me. It wasn’t so much that my consciousness was raised but more that now I knew I needed to act.
I grew up with a feminist mom. My two sisters are both lesbians. I was aware that the world was not fair. I was born with birth defects and had a series of surgeries in Milwaukee that exposed me to racial diversity and racial disparities I would never have known about from my experience in Waukesha.
A turning point in my education about white supremacy came when one of my law professors did a survey. There were probably 50 White students and five Black male students in the class. He asked everyone to stand and then went through a series of questions having to do with criminal injustice. ‘Stay standing if you have you ever been stopped by the police for x.’ At the end the only people standing were the five Black students. One had just been pulled over on his way to class.
So I was not unaware when Mike Brown was killed in Ferguson Missouri, but afterward three things happened.
1) I began viewing everything through a racial lens. It was like pulling a middle block on a Jenga tower. All the other blocks began falling at once.
2) For a few weeks the media shined a light on White Supremacy so that other White people I interacted with could see. I had ammunition when I talked to them. Not everyone understood, but at least we shared a set of facts.
3) Now I had a place and way to act.
It was hard at first to figure out how to be involved as a White person. I began going to the First Universalist Church of Minneapolis (Unitarian) because they were doing the work. I also went to a Minneapolis meeting of Showing Up For Racial Justice. An amazing group of local leaders had created SURJ as a place for White allies to join together and support racial justice work.
As a White person, I am still trying to figure out my role in supporting Black Lives Matter and other groups led by People of Color. I want to support and raise up the work that is being done. It is about being respectful and being centered in our interconnectedness. Sometimes I am cautious. At the same time, I know we (White people) need to be willing to make mistakes. I am so sick of us being afraid for ourselves, negating the violence and racism People of Color face every day. I am practicing shutting off my White “I need to know all the details” mind. I want to just show up in full spirit and follow the leadership of Black Lives Matter.
I used to always go to social justice events by myself. I noticed other White women doing the same thing. Now through church and SURJ I have others to go with, or I know I will meet someone I know. I have found my people.
When my daughter Zoe was in high school. She was my political buddy. She is a racial justice activist and my mentor in this work. When I see the young people leading Black Lives Matter and the young activists in the field, I am filled with hope.