My plea to white america:

Please, please, please– we MUST rally around the black community and make our voices heard. We must show them, and the world, that we will not stand for this hatred. Their churches are burning.

Untitled

Can we please show our black friends, neighbors, and even strangers that we stand with them? Can we welcome them into our conversations? Into our neighborhoods and homes? Can we make sure that those responsible for these church burnings are held accountable?

Tagged with:
 

 

Untitled 2

A week ago, I averaged 40-50 readers of my blog. My essay, I Will Not Stay Silent: A Southern White Woman’s Response to the Charleston Massacre, seems to have struck a nerve. It made it to the front page of The Huffington Post and Google Analytics tells me that over 35,000 of you have visited this site in the last six days.  That’s kinda crazy.

The thing that I have loved so very much about this experience is reading the comments that so many of you have left. Somehow we have been able to bridge the divide of black/white, young/old, rich/poor, and southern/northern– we have told our stories to each other and we have been changed. I want to continue the conversation. I want to continue learning from you and being changed by all of you.

::

I don’t have ads on my blog so I am not sure how much advertisement revenue would have been generated for a readership of 35,000. When the post started to gain traction, I thought about putting ads up, but only because I would love to donate the revenue to some organizations that are actually working to pursue racial reconciliation. I really don’t like the idea of having ads on my blog. This is my scared space, you know?

It seemed like maybe it would be worth it if I could make a hefty donation out of all of this, but after talking to my super-wise husband, I decided to try and raise money another way. I don’t want to even appear like I am trying to benefit from the Charleston Massacre. I do, however, want to see if there is another way to leverage the interest in my essay.

I am not sure if this is going to work, but I’m going to try. I want to raise money– yes. But more than that I want to raise awareness about the injustices that are so often ignored in our society. I am convinced that if people’s hearts and minds change, their actions will follow.

www.natalieholmphotography.com

 

Buy a Print, Change the World

 

Once upon a time, I fancied myself to be a photographer. I had grand dreams of opening my own studio in our little downtown area. I spent an absurd amount of time learning about photography, researching posing techniques, building a website and generally being uber-focused on my dream. Then real life set in and I realized being a photographer is not really what I should be doing. As much as I wanted to be a portrait photographer, it really stressed me out. Like reaaalllly stressed me out. There are many reasons why it wasn’t a good fit for me, but the biggest one is that I really hate selling my work. I want to take photos because it makes me happy and not because it makes money. Capitalism stresses me out, y’all.

www.natalieholmphotography.com

And so I stopped worrying so much about getting photography jobs. I quit taking money from people and now I only take photos for families if I really, really love them. I found out that I would much rather wander around the yard and take pictures of weeds with my macro lens than chase someone else’s kid around that same yard.

www.natalieholmphotography.com

But, I thought maybe I could sell some of my prints if all the money is donated to some amazing organization that helps us move forward from this terrible tragedy. I don’t know what organization that is, but I am going to ask my friends who know things like that and I will report back what they say. (If you have ideas for me, leave me a comment and I will investigate- thanks!)

Fine Art Piano Macro

Here is what I am proposing. You buy a print and I will donate 100% of the proceeds to one or more non-profits that have a mission for racial reconciliation.

I have lots of fine art photos that I’ve taken over the years. Many of them adorn the walls of my house and they make me happy on a regular basis. Some of them are weird like a cup full of colorful kids’ utensils and some of them are are artsy like the one of Yates Mill that accompanied my original essay. There’s one of a fortune cookie (don’t ask) and several that reflect the rural landscape of my beloved south.

www.natalieholmphotography.com

The photography website that I spent forever developing back in 2013 is still kickin’ around so everything is all ready to go. Click HERE to view the gallery. Prints start at $10 (that’s super cheap!!) and shipping is free with orders of $25 or more. See examples below of how I have them displayed in my home to give you ideas. The frames I used in these displays are super cheap (less than $5 for most of them!) Here is a link to the frames I used if you want to get this same look.

racial fundraiser-1

racial fundraiser-2

Okay, friends. Get out there and buy some prints, share this post, and let’s see if we can do more than just talk about changing the world.

Much love,

Natalie

Tagged with:
 

 

1402311_10152348851750448_6585834427330056188_o

When I walk into my classroom on the first day of school each year, I am always nervous. It’s not because I don’t know what to do or say, or because I am unsure if things will go well. I don’t know why I always have butterflies in my stomach, but maybe it’s because there are all these students sitting quietly in their seats, faces turned toward me, waiting for me to begin.

There is a palpable anticipation on their part and they are looking to me to set the tone for how our class will proceed. That first day, every student is new to me. And though they might have heard about me from older students and I might recognize some of them, this is the first time they are a student in my class. And it’s a little awkward. They don’t usually get my jokes that first day or realize that I am most comfortable when I’m being goofy. It takes us a little while to form into the class that we will eventually become. They have to learn about me and my quirks and I have to learn about them. But mostly, it takes us a while to really gel as a class because I have to earn their trust.

My first few years as a teacher, I didn’t understand that teaching was all about building a relationship with my students. Naively, I thought it was about lesson plans, grading papers, and classroom management. I eventually learned that what good teaching really comes down to is me going out of my way to show students that I am on their side, that I am for them and that I believe they can do the work. I must do this over and over and over. My first job is to “win them over;” after I’ve done that we can get down to the business of learning Geometry.

I used to think it was obvious that I was on their side… I’m their teacher! Of course I want my students to be successful, of course I will help them if they need it, of course I have time for them! But I teach high school mathematics. By the time students get to my class, they have already decided that they either like math or they H-A-T-E math. It then becomes my challenge to convince those students who feel uncomfortable and even a bit suspicious of me that I truly am on their side. I don’t have any control over my students’ past experiences that shape their views of mathematics. I have to take each student as he or she comes and many come with a history of feeling like an outsider in math class.

 ::

Somewhere along the way I realized that there is a very particular power dynamic that exists in a classroom between teacher and student. Not only am I the only adult in the classroom, but I am also the one that assigns work, controls their grade, and judges their behavior as acceptable or not. These are perfectly valid reasons for any student to be wary of me during the first few weeks of school; students who have had bad experiences in previous classes will be even more justified in wondering if I can be trusted. Am I the kind of teacher that is going to sigh deeply at them when they come in two minutes late? Am I going to make sure they feel my frustration when they sheepishly admit that they don’t have their homework… again? Even worse, am I going to shame them in front of others because they don’t understand a concept?

Because I am the teacher and I have the power, I have to be very careful with my words, my tone, my actions, and even my facial expressions. It’s up to me to show my students over and over that I can be trusted. I can’t just say it once and expect them to believe me. It will not do to simply assume that my students rightly interpret my subtle attempts to show them that I care. I must over-communicate my position that I am on their side and that I believe in them because, given their likely background, they will have a hard time trusting me. I first have to acknowledge that the power dynamic exists and then work within that construct to help my students flourish.

There are also power dynamics that exist in our larger culture. These range from obvious ones like the dynamic that exists between high wealth and low wealth groups, to more subtle ones like the tension that can exist between people who were born and raised in a place and those that are newcomers to that same area. And there are definite power dynamics that exist in our culture because of race, but this is one of those things the majority white culture doesn’t particularly want to acknowledge. I get it. By admitting that whites have a kind of privilege not enjoyed by minorities, it feels like I am happily identifying with my ancestors who took it for granted that they were privileged. It feels distasteful and, honestly, it makes me feel… dirty? It’s hard to explain the emotions that swirl around in my head/heart/stomach, but it feels similar to the nervousness I feel on the first day of school. I don’t want there to be a power dynamic and I certainly don’t want to benefit from it. It feels very uncomfortable to admit that I have some sort of “power” that is accessible to me simply because I am white.

But admitting that a power dynamic exists doesn’t mean that I am endorsing it.

And so, just as I’ve realized it is on me to show my students over and over that I can be trusted, it is on us, white folks, to show our minority friends, acquaintances and even strangers over and over that we can be trusted. It does not matter whether we want this power dynamic to exist–it’s there. Perhaps the first step in shifting the power dynamic is to look for it in our own lives and then work to elevate the voices of those around us who are often ignored. Perhaps we can begin to shift the balance of power in a significant way as we listen to one another and consciously decide that we are not content with how things are. Perhaps one day, the idea of white privilege will legitimately be a foreign concept to my children’s children.

Tagged with:
 

 

{Update: June 28th, 2015– I would like to try and leverage the interest in this post and raise both money and awareness for the cause of racial reconciliation. If you are interested, please click here to see my idea!}

::

{Update: June 27th, 2015– I have been blown away by the comments so many of you have left on this post. Thank you for your encouragement, but more than that, THANK YOU for showing the world that there is reason to hope, even in the face of hatred. I plan to continue reading, talking with trusted friends, and doing what I can to move “From Hospitality to Shalom.” Blessings, Natalie}

::

I have always willingly identified as a southerner. My mother is from Savannah, Georgia, my father is from Greenville, Mississippi and I grew up in various towns in Alabama. I am most at home when the humidity is above 80%, there’s a pitcher of sweet tea in the fridge, and folks stop by just to “visit.” Many people are surprised to hear that I’m from Alabama—I’m not sure why but maybe it’s because I don’t fit the stereotype that most people have. I don’t even know what the stereotype of a white woman in her 30’s from Alabama might be, but I think it probably includes a strong southern accent, a considerable lack of education, and cooking with lard, fatback, and streak-a-lean. Oh, and someone who stays in Alabama. Moving out of state to attend university gave me my first taste of the shock I would often encounter when meeting someone unfamiliar with folks from the Deep South. They are often genuinely surprised that we can be levelheaded, articulate, and sincere.

Yates Mill

But I am from the south and, until recently, thought I would live there forever. A year ago, my husband, two young boys, and I moved to Long Island, New York. We knew it would be an adjustment and there would be hard moments. We knew it would take a commitment on our part to hold ourselves here, to wait for things to get easier, to trust that the decision to leave home— to leave everything we’d ever known—was wise. And we were right. It has been incredibly difficult at times to be so far away from loved ones who know us and love us. It’s been hard to find our rhythm in an environment where the pace is much faster than anything we’ve ever experienced. It’s taken a conscious effort on our part to remember why we came in light of how homesick we’ve been. This past year has confirmed that I will probably always feel more at home in a place that is hot and muggy and where the people move slower because of it.

And yet… I am becoming painfully aware in the wake of last week’s massacre in Charleston, SC that much of what made up the air I breathed as a little white girl growing up in lower Alabama was revisionist history. The “South” that I love and have been desperately homesick for, doesn’t really exist. I have always known this on some level, but I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t know the extent to which my ideas of home have been informed by things that just aren’t true. [1][2]

I’ve long been disabused of any idea that the Civil War was really about states’ rights or that the Confederate flag has any business being anywhere but a museum [3], but I can’t escape the fact that my very experience has been that of a privileged white woman. [4] And I can’t escape the fact that most of my friends are privileged white women. Amazing women. Gospel-loving women. And we have the privilege of going to church on Wednesday night without the fear that someone will gun us down because we are white. There is no flag flying high above a government building that symbolizes the hatred people had for my ancestors. The very fact that we can post on Facebook about puppies, vacations, and funny jokes in the days after the Charleston Massacre means that we have no idea what our African-American brothers and sisters are experiencing. [5]

I was born in 1979, just fifteen years after the Civil Rights Act was passed. Fifteen years. How can I think that the south I was born into and interacted with as a little girl was so very different than the south that tore itself apart in the 1950’s and 1960’s?

I think the problem white people in my generation have with understanding race issues is that we see it as taking place a lifetime ago, long before we were born. My mother tells me about a time in the 1950’s when they didn’t have a television, when she was required to wear either a skirt or a dress to work in the 1960’s, and about the first microwave they bought in the 1970’s. There is a vast gulf between her childhood and mine. Her history seems far away, so separated from our society today. The videos I’ve watched of the protests, marches, and speeches from the Civil Rights Movement seem to be from a different time, much like Armstrong’s walk on the moon seems to have more in common with the invention of the automobile than with my daily experience. And though my father went to the University of Mississippi in the 1960’s around the same time as James Meredith, I often forget that particular part of his history. I forget that the man who raised me was raised in Greenville, MS in the 1950’s.

I forget because my parents are wonderfully loving people who tried very hard to raise their children to see everyone as equal. They talked often about making friends with people of all races and set examples for us in their own lives. They didn’t, however, talk much about the reason it was so important to intentionally treat everyone as equal. They left it up to the schools to teach us about the Civil Rights Movement in that very sterile way textbooks teach everything—I certainly never read “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” in school. [6] My parents and many other white parents didn’t talk to their children about the things they must have witnessed in their schools, on the buses, at water fountains. I know that living through the Civil Rights Movement in the south impacted my parents and I know the collective history of the south is one that must be painful to them and others like them. Therefore, like many other whites from that time, they didn’t talk to their children about their true, painful, bloody history. And so, our history— our heritage— didn’t become real to us. Instead, we were left to parse together a romanticized version that leaves us feeling incredibly defensive whenever someone comes along and challenges our love of home. [7]

I know some of my white friends will be frustrated with me after reading this, and that’s okay. We have a shared history of silence when it comes to discussing difficult things. Race, poverty, and injustice—these are things that polite southern ladies don’t often enter into discussions about. [8] As my mama always said, “Honey, don’t stir the stink ‘cause it’ll just make it stronger.” Perhaps we don’t discuss these issues because we don’t know how to begin. Or because we are afraid of doing it wrong and making things worse. Or because we haven’t seen it modeled for us by our mothers and grandmothers. But I don’t want to stay silent any longer. I want to be part of the discussion. Mostly, I want to listen to my African-American brothers and sisters and learn about their experiences. I want my African-American students, along with all my students of color, to know that although I have not had their same experiences, I stand with them. [9]

I won’t remain silent any longer. Even if I mess up in my attempts to understand, I trust that my African-American brothers and sisters will be gracious with me and help me. The only way I know to start the process of reconciliation is on a personal level— through conversation. And so I am beginning. Will you join me?

 ::

[1] Article on “Lost Cause” narrative, John Price, https://medium.com/@thejohnprice/yes-you-re-a-racist-and-a-traitor-6c4bb12c5b63

[2] What this Cruel War was Over, Ta-Nehisi Coates, http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/06/what-this-cruel-war-was-over/396482/

[3] The Cross and the Confederate Flag, Russell Moore, http://www.russellmoore.com/2015/06/19/the-cross-and-the-confederate-flag/

[4] White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, Peggy McIntosh, http://amptoons.com/blog/files/mcintosh.html

[5] Eugene Scott quote on Facebook: What must it be like to live a life where the ‪#‎CharlestonShooting seems so irrelevant to your daily life that you can remain silent?

[6] Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King, Jr., Justin Taylor (notes and outline) http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2015/06/18/martin-luther-king-jr-letter-from-birmingham-jail-the-complete-text-and-an-outline/

[7] White Fragility: Why it’s So Hard to Talk to White People About Racism, Robert DiAngelo, http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/white-fragility-why-its-so-hard-to-talk-to-white-people-about-racism-twlm/

[8] I am very aware that the reason we don’t enter into these conversations is because we don’t have to. It’s another example of white privilege.

[9] Charleston and Teaching Children, Chris Lehmann, http://practicaltheory.org/blog/2015/06/18/charleston-and-teaching-children/

Tagged with: