Disrupting Racism With The 3 Love Arrows
Posted by Poonam Singh on Jan 17, 2018
As my family and I were getting settled and getting our food at Whole Foods, my son started singing jingle bells. He was being a 4-year old and entertaining himself.
In the corner of my eye I saw an elderly white woman. She looked like a grandmother. Very professionally dressed. Many times grandmothers approach us to give love to the children. I immediately felt open and warm to her and gave her a smile.
She slowly came up to me and said: "Does your son know the song Make America Great Again?"
You know when you don't understand what someone said, and you awkwardly laugh....well I did that. I didn't understand what she meant.
Then she asked again....
and then starting singing the slogan louder and louder....
And then some racial comments and slurs came our way and she began to follow us and point us out to others in the store. It felt aggressive and we were worried she may get hostile.
My husband, cousin and I packed up our stuff quietly, looked at each other and escaped to the elevator. She saw a big group of brown people with kids, and somehow that triggered her. “Make America great again,” which is just a campaign slogan had become a racial slur and it was targeted at me and my family.
I can’t forget her face looking at me. How hurt and angry I felt. How scared I felt. Mama Bear was in full force and I felt protective over my kids. My baby is only 1 years old. This isn’t the first time I experienced a racial slur, but it’s been a while to get something so blatant and the first time my kids got it. We were shocked and surprised and embarrassed.
This is what I call the first dagger of this story--how much it hurt to go through it.
But then there was a second and third dagger.
The second dagger is the self-doubt I started to experience as I began to process what happened. Should I have done something different? Suddenly you question it all. Maybe we were being loud. Maybe we weren't dressed nice enough. The self-doubting begins. Should I have said something back? Am I really safe here? Do I belong? Why is this upsetting me so much? Why do I feel someone is attacking me in my head and body? Why does it hurt? Why do tears come? What if she would have done something to me or my kids? Why can’t I forget her stare and singing and remarks?
How can something like this happen? Why didn't anyone else do anything? How can an older grandmother type woman be mean to children?
It felt like racism. Period.
And racism hurts.
Then there was the third dagger. I was shaken up and needed to talk to a friend and share what happened and needed some empathy. I needed some reassurance that I’m ok. The third dagger was telling a few friends what happened and hearing from them “Well maybe they thought you were Latino?” I was so confused by this response. Does that make it ok for them? Is that a way to protect yourself from feeling like this won’t happen to you? Isn't this quite a racist response? Then there were some responses that made this into a political conversation. I was so shocked that suddenly my experience became a political debate. I just wanted support and I did not bring up politics, yet it evolved into defending Trump and bashing Obama. Dang, how did this happen???? I decided I would be a bit more careful on who I reach out to for support, which I did.
What is so hard in this story is how there were so many missed opportunities to see the humanity in each other. The grandmother at Whole Foods didn't see me as a mother with children. She saw us as a group of brown people possibly threatening her sense of belonging and identity. The friends I was looking for empathy couldn't see my humanity in that I just wanted friendship at that moment.
I could have also gotten caught up in the 3 daggers of my experience--what happened to me, and then my self-judgement of it, and then my interaction with others. If I got caught up in that, I would have missed the opportunity to see the humanity in this woman.
So I had to breathe. I had to connect, and then I had to disrupt. These were the 3 love arrows I would use to counter the daggers.
Breathe. I needed to first connect to my breath and become mindful. I’m proud of myself for not inflicting violence back both in my heart or spirit or in action. I didn't inflict violence to her either physically or verbally and I didn’t inflict to myself--internalizing that maybe I don’t belong. That is how violence is interrupted first. I connected with how I was feeling.
Connect. I’m also grateful for community. Yes some friends didn’t respond the way I wanted them too but later I could see this was because it brought up pain in them. I was able to talk to them. Later, I was able to reach out to others who gave me immense empathy, including another brown sister and a few white allies. My friend Kirstin--another brown mom of three--reminded me of what our grandmothers went through and somehow thinking of my grandmother really helped me access love and gave me perspective. I thought about what Black men have to deal with on a daily basis in this country. I also connected with some trusted white allies who gave me exactly the empathy I needed. I felt less alone.
Disrupt. Disruption can happen at many levels, and in this case the disruption was with myself. To not internalize a negative view of myself or the world. The world is not scarier or more racist because of this. It’s ok to go back to that Whole Foods, if I want to do that. The disruption was also in my view of her. I will not view her or older white women more negatively. I can now see that perhaps there are disenfrancised elderly white men and women at Whole Foods that I may have never previously even noticed or seen. I can even find gratitude for this experience, knowing I will be teaching an upcoming workshop soon called Breathe, Connect, and Disrupt and can now make what we’re teaching quite personal. In fact, maybe it is not an accident at all this happened to me, and I was supposed to learn from it.
Pancho always tells us do the heavy weight lifting in small acts daily in your mind and heart so you can do the big weight lifting when the time is right. If I was by myself, I probably would have stopped and connected with her. With my kids, I went into Mama Bear protection mode. Maybe in the future I will go to her and give her a hug. Or introduce her to my kids. Or ask her to lunch. Or get into a dialogue and learn about her story. Or tell her I love her, like Pancho would have. I can see myself doing that.
For now, self-love is revolutionary enough.