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Mother From page 15

she allowed herself to listen to that person’s particular story, she gained amazingly in that exchange.

What is striking for Naomi is to see how much the impact of racism continues to be felt in this country, where people tend to believe that we have a post-racial society. She sees it still impacts people with their access to education and opportunity in this country, and who it is we are in community with. There is a tendency to pat ourselves on the back for how far we have moved in terms of race and racism, and she has to tell us that as a black woman and a mother of children of color, that they continue to experience racism even in their relationships with peers, in this day and age.

Naomi shared a recent experience her teenage son had with a friend since 2nd grade. Recently they were talking about exchanging Pokemon cards, games that young men play. His friend said to him, “What about my cards that you stole?” and her son said, “I didn’t steal any of your cards. Why would you even say that?” And without missing a beat his friend said to him, “You’re black. That’s what black people do.” Naomi has known this child and his parents since he was very young, and she knows that this is not something his parents taught in their own home and they would be shocked to learn. The story shows how racism has perme- ated our society – when a child who was raised in a home whose parents didn’t know where he could have got the idea that black people are thieves. Clearly if he’s not getting it at home, he’s getting it from the rest of society. That hurtful experience


for her son took him a couple of days before he was able to speak to his friend about what it felt like to expe- rience being labeled as a criminal. So those are the wounds that parents of color have to deal with over and over.

Naomi has had the experience of walking into a store, and right away a store detective is following her. And what is it that they see someone who is likely to shoplift? Normally she would challenge them, and say “why is it that you think that I would be interested in stealing?” Then

There is the sense that if we don’t talk about it, it will go away. And the reality is that we know from our own personal experiences that if you don’t talk about what’s wrong in relationships, it gets worse. It does not heal through ignoring it. The first thing is to admit that it is a difficult conversation to have. It is frightening for most people to start talking about racism, because we do have preju- dices. And then admit before we start the conversation that there are going to be times when we’re going to say something that does not sit

Naomi’s works with people to recognize when they “o and race is one of the really big ways this happens a really lasting impact. We are raised in communities us to “other”. The messages of “othering” are messa take in very often without even being aware of it. It’s recognize that we all have ways in which we “o

they’re shocked at being challenged, and also deny that – “Well, I wasn’t really following you.”

Naomi’s works with people to recognize when they “other” people and race is one of the really big ways this happens and it has a really lasting impact. We are raised in communi- ties that teach us to “other”. The messages of “othering” are messages that we take in very often without even being aware of it. It’s important to recognize that we all have ways in which we “other”. Naomi thinks the difference with racism is that those who have “othered” based on race, have tended to be those who are powerful, and who have been able to not just make their “othering” personal pain for some, like her son’s story, but a structural, institutional pain, with lack of access to educa- tion, to housing, and to employment.

Dec/Jan 2011-2012

right with somebody else. It’s also im- portant to share with each other what it is that I think you said, and what is it that you thought you said. And then come to the recognition that our experiences in the world do impact how we hear each other’s stories and what we say to one another.

So in her workshops she makes the space safe for everyone to ask what it is that you heard that made you think that what they said was racist. Also she wants to be very clear to white people that they come into these conversations from a place of privilege. We might not recognize that, but the truth is that if you look at the stories that are told, they tend to be stories of white people, white history, and everybody else’s story is kind of added in and so that their story and perspective is considered to be the norm.

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