It's Time To Speak Up

I’ve been trying to sort out why I was so affected by this story and the honest and candid telling of it by Canadian journalist, Sunny Dhillon. When it came across my feed, something compelled me to read it. I wasn’t previously familiar with Sunny’s work, but as I made my way through his words I felt something loosening inside of me. I think the issues he addresses have been whispering at me for a long while, asking me to step out from behind the role I am most known for in this space. Stories of my present life have been safe stories to tell, and I am glad to tell them. But as my children inch closer to adulthood, the whispers are getting more persistent. “What are you doing about the other stories you can tell?”

On which issues do you weigh in? On which issues do you not? What do you pretend you didn’t see or hear? When that isn’t possible to what do you cowardly chuckle along?

The world has gotten uglier in recent years — I wasn’t exactly thrilled with how we were doing on race before that — and for me it has become more difficult to let things slide.

~ Sunny Dhillon

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I have been discriminated against. I have chuckled along politely. I have been ashamed of my ethnicity, and I’ve made good-natured fun of it, too. But I have finally come to a place of deep love and respect for my culture—especially after becoming a mother and realizing how much it mattered to me that my children knew who they come from. As they try to find their own places in society, I’ve become more intolerant and outspoken about prejudice against any marginalized people. They need me to be that role model for them. There’s no way to shield them from the ugliness, and we welcome them to ask questions. I don’t want to raise them in a way that quiets their compassion or robs them of their power to bring much-needed change.

We have reached a crucial time of reckoning, when voices of the other need to be louder than ever. Being biracial, and especially carrying my father’s last name, means I have to take a hard look at the ways I have aligned with my white identity—which I also love and deeply respect—to protect and/or makes things easier through my life. It’s time for the harder experiences I’ve had as an other to make themselves known, too.

The world feels like it’s burning in all the wrong places. I was deeply affected by Sunny Dhillon’s story, because it made me feel like he was lighting my fire and asking me to turn and light the fire of the person next to me. His actions reminded me that it starts with me and continues with you.

Here are some more pieces that really resonated with me this year:

“What is White Privilege, Really?”

“Why I’m Not Racist Is Only Half the Story”

“Nanette is the Most Discussed Comedy Special in Ages. Here’s What to Read About It”

It’s time to teach ourselves, look at closely at the issues, and speak up for others.

It Starts With Me

When my parents brought me and my sister into the world, they proved love can exist outside the boundaries of race. And they handed me a responsibility to continue demonstrating that truth. But I still felt boundaries imposed upon me when I was young. I still felt the need to prove my belonging among my peers. I still had to fight through years of insecurity to embrace my ethnicity and speak out against prejudice. And I have been telling myself I triumphed, because I put it behind me.

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The Weight of Secrets

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Every few nights, after a bath and brushing of teeth, she climbs onto my bed. Just her and me. 

Mama, I'm ready for some questions.

It was such a thoughtful gift for a five-year-old to receive for her birthday. And it suits her nature to have a book that asks open-ended questions: she has a habit of firing an endless steam of them at us each day. She loves this new ritual and having the roles reversed.

On this particular night, we were on our fifth question. It was more than we usually get through, but she had asked me to turn the page and ask one more with the promise she would slide of the bed and join her sister for a bedtime story without a fuss.

I felt awful when _______.

I expected something simple like not getting dessert or not being allowed to go to the park after dark. She normally has an answer ready for me, before I've finished asking the question.

But it was quiet.

I looked up from the page to see her sitting across from me in her footed pajamas. Her hands were laced on her lap, dimples peeking out between her fingers. I couldn't find her eyes through her lashes, because she was looking down. 

I knew I had to stay quiet, that something was coming. She raised her eyes slowly. 

Mama, it's a secret.

There is a child in her class who struggles with boundaries and respecting personal space. But we talk a lot about inclusivity in our home and she's still in that beautiful phase of life, when anyone she spends time with is called a friend. 

I was playing with my friends and she wouldn't stop chasing me and catching me, Mama. And I didn't like it, and I didn't want her to do that anymore. And I'm supposed to say, "Please stop it." But I didn't. I got mad and said, "Go away." 

She looked at me with tears in her eyes — afraid of hearing disappointment in my voice or being told that I thought she was wrong, too.

I started slowly by asking her when it had happened.

It was a long time ago. But it still makes me feel awful. I hurt my friend. 

Tears filled my eyes then. I told her I was so proud of her for telling me. And that it must have been hard for her to carry that secret around so long. I told her that I've hurt my friends, too. We talked about how she could have handled it differently, by going to her teacher for some support. And we came up with the idea of inviting her friend to play. 

Secrets can create such a weight. I've experienced that burden myself and ached with compassion for people I care about as I watch them struggle under the weight of their own secrets. 

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to meet and interact with Frank Warren, creator and curator of PostSecret. Along with a small group of other bloggers and writers, we discussed secrets and the power we feel when we let them go. We talked about how painful it can be to hold onto them. 

It's enough to bear witness to someone's story, without fixing it ~ Frank Warren

My daughter's story — which she called a secret — had been sitting in her heart waiting for an opportunity to be released. Our ritual of question-asking had created the conversation she needed to do that, and I could see she was lighter after sharing it with me.

It was a good reminder for me. We need to do that for each other: create conversations, leave spaces, and listen. And as a parent, I was reminded that it's never to early to give our children those tools and that fearlessness. 

Tomorrow night, I'll be attending the innovative live theatre performance of PostSecret and I'm hoping it will open my heart and teach me more. I have an important role to play as the catcher of secrets in my family. And I have some teaching to do, as I help my children learn to be a safe and compassionate place for others' secrets to land. 

To learn more about this beautiful and innovative initiative, you can find PostSecret on their website, on Facebook and on Twitter and Instagram. To buy tickets to the Toronto show, click here

My gratitude to Eric and Candace and #HALLer for including me in this experience. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave A Space

When they were babies, my children would look for my face whenever something shifted in the room. Whether it was happy, surprising or sad—they wanted to see how it affected me, so they could decide how it should affect them. If I smiled, their mouths would turn up at the corners. If I was upset, worry would cross their brows. If I pretended to cry, their faces would crumple, too.

As we get older, we begin to mistrust that instinct. We forget that sharing pain can help to lessen it. We forget that sharing joy won't diminish our own. We forget that being able to sit quietly beside someone and her feelings is one of the most beautiful aspects of being human.

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