How Can One Be Blind to Racism When It’s Everywhere?

There is a silly movie called The Mitchels vs. The Machines.  One part is about the difficulty of computers trying to recognize something that’s right in front of them. For example, the machines looked at a Pug and couldn’t decide whether it was a dog, a pig, or a loaf of bread.  In their confusion, they started burning so much CPU that they exploded.

Not long ago, I saw an image of a gas station in a story about long lines from the Colonial Pipeline that hackers shut down.  In the lower right was something I could not recognize.  Was it an olive?  A cigar?  Neither of those fit the context of the story.  My brain tried to understand the image, just like the machines from the movie.  It turned out to be the back of a bald, dark-skinned head, on a large man with no visible neck.  The moment I understood what it was, I could no longer see it any differently, nor why it was so hard for me to recognize it in the first place.  I only wish that I still had the image so that you might see that I’m not as crazy as that sounds.

Then I took the next step and asked myself, “why was it so difficult for me to parse that image right in front of me?”  For one, the image was poorly framed.  For another, that bald head had nothing to do with the story.  But on a deeper level, I suspected there was more to my challenge than those superficial explanations.

In truth, I don’t see a great many people of color, and even fewer while working from home during the (hopefully) tail end of the Covid pandemic.  That was a satisfying explanation for a moment, but I kept going.  No matter how I explained it, the fact remained that I did not see a person of color.  He was right there in the image, plain as day, and I was physically unable to see him without considerable effort.  Fortunately, I put in the effort.

Said another way, not seeing him – either ignoring him or remaining utterly blind to his presence in my visual field – would have been far easier. Realizing that, I became self-conscious.  Am I racist?  What did it say about me that I had trouble recognizing the image?  I knew that it was about more than the picture, which led me to a fundamental question: 

How Can Racism Be Invisible When It’s All Around Us?

For decades, there have been people preaching about the presence and costs of racism.  At the same time, others have vehemently denied that it even exists or that it’s a problem.  The simplistic view says that one is right and the other is wrong.  The more nuanced explanation is that it does exist, and some people are simply unable (or unwilling) to see it without spending far more energy to recognize what is right in front of them than they care to expend.  And for those that experience racism, that nuance is utterly baffling.  How could one possibly be blind to something as prevalent as racism?

On one level, racism is a poorly framed issue.  The way we define racism significantly impacts what we talk about or whether we can talk about it at all.  If we frame racism as an ancillary issue in the corner of a larger story, it’s easy to ignore.  But if we make racism the crux of the discussion, it takes far more energy to engage with it.  People who have power and authority are in charge of framing the issue, while the other side struggles to change the frame.  The 1619 project, for example, is mainly about shifting the frame through which we look at history.  Those who oppose the project have little interest in changing the way that they’ve always seen things.

On another level, the challenges we face as a country, society, or individual regarding race have nothing to do with the story we want to tell ourselves about who we are.  The problem here is the false implication that there is an “us” at all, rather than multiple cultures, experiences, and peoples, all trying to co-exist in the space of competing stories.  If the 1619 project is about defining the story of our history, then racism today includes the struggle for dominance in the story we tell ourselves about who we are right now.

I assert that it is legitimately possible for people not to see racism and that signs of racism are so rampant that they are impossible to miss.  If true, then those who don’t see racism live in a state of heightened cognitive dissonance.  Shifting their frame of reference would take an extraordinary level of energy, introspection, time, effort, and thought.  So much so that it’s far easier to ignore what is within their visual and experiential field.  

That’s because racism is about far more than what is “out there” in front of us.  Racism reflects who we are, and for some, changing the status quo means letting go of far more power and privilege than they wish to share.

There is no way to hold onto one’s notion of existence or entitlement if one opens their eyes to racism.

Acknowledging the pervasiveness of racism is not about the truth or falsity of claims any more than my inability to see the bald head was about the picture.  Instead, racism is a competing set of stories between who we are, who we believe ourselves to be, and the people we could become if only we put in the effort.  For some people, that effort is part of an ongoing process of social justice.  For others, it’s enough to make their head explode.  And so, they “choose” to be blind to the racism in front of them.

Negative Self-Talk

Once, there was an amazing young boy. He was smart, kind, talented, and liked to do so many different things. Then he saw this bowl with what looked like beautiful candies in it. The bowl spoke to him, inviting him to eat the sweets.

Except that they were not candies at all; they were poison. And when the boy ate them, he felt horrible inside, and he also felt bad about himself. He no longer wanted to do things because all he could hear was criticism that was screaming in his ears.

And yet, the boy kept eating these “candies” that made him feel angry, sad, and stupid. Then he was less kind to those who loved him because he felt so badly inside. He thought that maybe if they felt badly too, then he might feel better, but it did not work. Then, in frustration, he would eat more of those “candies.”

His parents who loved him dearly saw what was going on and told the boy, “No, do not eat those candies… they are not candy at all. They are poison!”
But the boy had been eating them for so long that he had grown accustomed to the poison and resented that his parents were trying to take it away from him. The bowl told the boy “NO! Your parents are wrong! Things ARE horrible! Now keep eating these candies!”

His parents spoke, saying “oh, my dear child, those ‘candies’ are your negative self-talk.”

Everybody has that. The power is in noticing these critical inner voices, but not eating them. Yes, they are enticing – eating them seems almost natural. But we can notice them and say ‘Hmmm… look… what beautiful poison!’

Do not EAT the negative self-talk by giving it power through your voice. Speaking the poison aloud keeps it in your mouth, and then you hear the poison with your ears, and that makes the poison stronger.

Do not REPEAT the negative self-talk in your brain. That lets it rattle around like a pebble in a riverbed, carving deep holes into solid rock. Those holes become holes in your soul that grows harder to heal.

Do not BELIEVE the negative self-talk. Believing it is like putting on dark glasses that dim the world around you. Wear them for too long and you forget that you have the power to take the glasses off and see the world with love, kindness, and beauty.

Unfortunately, negative self-talk will never go away. But with practice, you can notice it without eating, repeating, or believing it.

Tesla Created an Identity Problem

Getting a Tesla revealed an identity problem that I didn’t know I had.  My Model 3 is probably the 8th car I’ve ever owned. While I took care of its predecessors, they were all just cars – functional machines.  But with the Tesla, there’s this whole “tribe” thing among owners. We’re the people who know… the ones who voted with our wallet… the ones who believe in the mission of moving to a more sustainable energy future.

When I got my M3, it was a big deal for me personally.  I’d wanted a Tesla for years. For the first time, I had a sense of pride in my vehicle.   I had the pride of ownership, and a sense of membership with other owners whom I knew only from shared purchasing decisions and online communities.

At the same time, I also felt a great deal of humility.  Yes there are versions of the M3 that come in close to $40K (already an expensive option for me), but I opted for the long range, with self-driving capabilities, which bumped the price up a good bit.  The humility was that I had no desire to draw undue attention to myself for having spent more on a car than some people spend on a down-payment fo a house. I was self-conscious for making what I believe to be the right decision, while simultaneously recognizing that it’s a position of significant privilege that I was able to make that choice at all.

A couple weeks ago, somebody ran into the rear passenger wheel at speeds sufficient to nearly sheer it off.  I got a concussion and 2 fractured spinal plates. The shop says it will be another month before it is expected to be repaired due to parts and labor, and insurance is covering it.  But during this time, I’m back to driving an ICE-car (Internal Combustion Engine) that I’m renting.

Over my lifetime I’ve probably used thousands of gallons of gasoline and seldom given it any thought beyond the price of fuel.  Now, having gone gas-free for a while, the impact of filling the tank is inescapable to me. It’s something I know that I can (or could) avoid.  I know first hand how easy an EV (electric vehicle) is, and when I fill an ICE tank, I simply can’t pretend that it’s normal anymore. I can no longer pretend that it’s OK, nor can I ignore the impact each tank is having.  

It’s like The Matrix movie – most people took the blue pill and went back to dreamland, with no clue about the impact they are having by driving gasoline cars.  Switch to an EV, and you’ve just taken the red pill, awakening to the reality that most of the planet is slowly killing us all by conveniently ignoring the reality all around us.  And just like Neo, those who woke up to EV’s are up against an immense army of Agents Smith, which is the oil and gas industry making billions of dollars in profits while they will do almost anything to prevent their impending end of life.

Also, while my EV is in the shop, I found that two things are happening at once.  The first is that I’m creating this BS story that I’m no longer part of my tribe of EV owners/drivers.  It’s as if, despite having never been particularly status-conscious, I’ve just lowered myself to driving an ICE again, even if it’s temporarily.  I know it’s just a story in my head, but I formerly identified with part of the solution, and now I believe that I’m part of the problem again. Yes, I know that it’s temporary, but I genuinely experience it as physically and emotionally unpleasant, and each tank I fill is a reminder of that truth.

The second transformation from this unpleasantness is that if I’m generous, I can create some level of empathy for why so many people don’t want to take the red pill.  Awareness would simply be too painful. Cognitive dissonance kicks in, and they tell themselves that everything is just fine, or that there is nothing they can do, or that it’s too big for them to solve on their own through individual decisions, or that it’s government’s job to fix.

Another structure built into our society is the notion that it’s OK for everything to be far apart enough that cars are essential.  Our cities and towns and certainly our suburbs require a vehicle to get to the store, to school, to appointments, to recreation, and to so many things in our daily lives.  That’s all just part of the way it is, of course, but only because we’ve collectively failed to envision anything different.

I’ve thought about simply forgoing our family’s 2nd vehicle while mine is in the shop.  But then how would I get the kids to school, since there’s no bus to their Catholic school 8 miles away?  The very question drips with privileged absurdity… “How will I get my kids to private school unless I’m willing to drive them there?  Woe is me, I’m left no option but to drive as a result of [fill in reasons] to send them there.”

They are in 4th grade now, and even when we started them there, I brought up the number of miles we’d be commuting them over the next 8 years as a negative.  That was before I took the red pill. I had an inkling that it would have an environmental impact, but I failed to properly weigh it out.

8 miles, twice a day, 5 days a week, that’s an extra 80 miles a week.  

At maybe 38 weeks of school, that’s 1,520 miles/year.  

Over 8 years, that’s 12,160 miles.

At a generous 30 MPG, that’s still 450 gallons.

At 19.64 lbs of CO2 per gallon, that’s 7,960 lbs of CO2, just shuttling the kids to school – nearly 4 TONS, just for school, and we’re just ONE family!

But how many people take the time to do the math?

Way too few.

Hell, I just did it, but it has yet to change my behavior.

Personally, I’m thinking we need to move closer to the kids school, or send the kids to a school that’s closer to where we live – like the one they could WALK to, or take a school bus to get there.

And the resistance I feel to something so burdensome is at the very heart of why getting society off of gasoline is going to be so difficult.  It simultaneously demands a great deal of thought and effort from a great deal of people, who are not accustomed to factoring in the hidden costs of everyday decisions, let alone changing those decisions in the face of data.

Getting people off of gasoline is truly going to be a monumental task.

Seattle Snowstorm, February 2019

Love & Brilliance

I forever discount anything amazing that I do.
If I did it, even if only after some level of struggle, then surely it was not that hard or important, or worthy of praise or acknowledgment.

  • So I climbed Half Dome. Big deal.
  • So I saved a life. Anybody would do that.
  • So I fly my paraglider with eagles. So do the rest of the pilots I know.
  • So I have amazing children. Every parent thinks that.

The point is that I consistently fail to see real value or accomplishment in anything that I do.

The Impact is that I don’t see myself as amazing.
I see myself as small. Ordinary.
I fail to allow myself the experience of joy that comes from accomplishment.

No matter how big I play, I play small relative to what is really possible for me.

So what’s the Impact?

  • When I blaze a trail, I don’t allow myself to light the way for others.  I am the light on a hill that is hidden under a basket.  (Luke 11:33)
  • I fail to be a clearing for possibility in others

If I am going to be a clearing for possibility for others, and I am, then I have to allow acknowledgment.

I have to allow that what I do is declare and fulfill on possibility, because that’s what lights the way for others to do the same.

No!  No!  You idiot!
Don’t share any of that! 
How conceited! 
How arrogant! 
Shut up and go back to being small!

I hear you, my inner critic.
I know you are there.
I acknowledge that you are afraid for me.
I know that you love me.
I know that you are trying to protect me from being hurt, or being the fool, or ridiculed.
I know you are doing this from what has happened in the past, and that you have good reasons for doing so.

And you know what?

I’ve got this.
I’m a big person now.

declare that who I am on this planet – the possibility that I stand for – is love and brilliance, at the same time.

Brilliance not from ego, but from sharing.
Brilliance from shining a light for others to follow, if they choose.
Brilliance from creating ease, peace, and love where formerly there was darkness.
Brilliance from possibility, and opportunity — to which those around me can freely choose their own path.

And love.
Especially love.
The undeniably powerful love that I feel for my children?
Yes, that kind of love, even for myself.
A love that is unstoppable.
A love that is visible, tangible, ever-present, and real.

This is love that starts with a declaration, uses possibility as rocket-fuel, and creates a world and life worth living.

Who I am is the possibility of love and brilliance, for all.

I matter because I say so.

And so do all of you, if I let you.
And so do all of you, even if I don’t.
And so do all of you, from love and brilliance.

Can I do that?
Can I be in that space without collapsing?  Without fear?

No, I cannot.
Because fear is OK.
It’s not going to go away.
It’s just not in charge of who I am.

I am.
Because I say so.
From my word: Love and Brilliance.

My word?  Love and brilliance.

Love and brilliance.

The End of Racial Inequity

Why constitute myself as group, school, or larger?
Because alone, I have limited power.
As group, school, or world, when I am my word,
And I say something will be (is),
Then I have the power to create it through the very act of speaking it –
The power of generating it through the word that I am.
That’s a lot of power.
Individually, I experience that as scary.
My fear kicks in and screams

            “Don’t do it!  I’ll fail!”

The pull between the individual and the world is in my head.
I am my word.
Nothing else.
And for so damn long, my word has been small.
I am my word.
And my word is?  Is?
What am I up to?

I am the possibility of the end of racial inequity in my children’s school before they graduate.

Push.  Pull.  It’s too big!  It’s too small.
Who cares!?
I do.
And I am the possibility of the end of racial inequity in my children’s school before they graduate.
No!  No!  Wait!
But what about me?!  The individual!
If I am my word, and that possibility, little I will vanish.
I am going to fail!
And so what !?
But my kids are white!
Why should I even care about that?
Because the only way I can not care about racial inequity is to define an “us and them.”
That is the antithesis of declaring myself as group, school, or world.
It’s the antithesis of being my word.
I declare…
I am the possibility of the end of racial inequity in my children’s school before they graduate.
Because I say so!!
The ability (or failing) of humanity to see some people as better-than or worse-than others
is the seed of fear, of hatred, of indifference, of war.
It is the antithesis of the love that Christ is for all of his children.

I am the possibility of the end of racial inequity in my children’s school before they graduate.

Sailplane in Arlington

For my birthday, I gave myself a ride in a sailplane with the Evergreen Soaring Club. I fly paragliders whenever I can, and it’s been maybe 18 years since I was behind the yolk of a Cessna 152. But the moment I stepped foot onto the tarmac, I was hit with a flood of joyous memories and sensations.

There was the sound of the prop-planes on the taxi, runway, takeoff, and landing – that distinctive sound of the prop slicing through the air and the Doppler effect as it goes from approaching to fading into the distance.

There was the faint smell of airplane fuel. The smell of Jet-A is quite distinct, and unlike the smell of gasoline, it conjures a sense of power and freedom to travel into the skies.

Of course, there was the sight of all the small planes, tied down to the ground, wheels chocked, and cockpits covered from the outside to protect them from the sun. Unlike a commercial airport where I only see them from the window, here, I could walk among them, place my hand on their fuselage or wingtip and admire their sheer beauty, power, and grace. Even when dormant, they created a sense of walking between the gods of the sky.

There was a gigantic windsock in the center of the field, as well as scattered flags, all giving pilots information about the winds. Ah, yes, the wind! I know it oh so well from my own flights off of Tiger Mountain, but here, on the tarmac, it boldly proclaims “Launch this way today.

There were other people on the tarmac, most of them pilots, and there’s a subtle yet distinctive look of shared honor exchanged between people of the sky. Even being here for a “demo flight” in a sailplane, the feeling is unmistakable. It says “Welcome. We are people of the sky, our hearts live amidst the clouds, and we fill our lungs with the wind. Spread your wings and join us!”

At the far end of the runway was a Piper Arrow, reminding me of the times I flew with my father as a child in his plane. So from a very early age, the spirit of the sky had been seared into my soul.

But for today, here in Arlington field, I am a student. Tory, my instructor, takes me to the plane, waiting on the grassy field. He asks if I’ve flown small planes before, and I confess my sin, having been so many years away from the cockpit. He assures me “So you’re still a pilot… you’re just not current.” Never mind my frequent forays in my paraglider, his words still ring true. Once a pilot, always a pilot. There is something of the sky, which, once it takes hold of one’s soul, will never let go.

At last, standing alongside the glider, he reviews the basic controls of the aircraft. They have not lost their familiarity through the years, but they are different in this craft. And unlike a solo-launch in my Gin Rebel, a sailplane requires a tow pilot, and somebody walking, then running alongside the wing until we get enough speed to keep the wings stable.

The tow plane slowly takes up the slack, and once taught, begins to throttle up for takeoff. We are airborne well before the tow leaves the ground, so we stay low until he too enters the embrace of the sky. Tory has the controls through all of the takeoff, and I follow his instructions, learning what I can about the differences of this craft from others in my history.

At about 5,000′ AGL, we release our tow-line. The tow-plane banks left and we bank right. From here on out, we’re on our own. Tory demonstrates a few maneuvers and asks if I understand. I let him know that it’s all conceptual unless I feel it in my body with the controls. So he hands them over to me, and once again, I’m the pilot in command of my craft.

Gingerly, at first, I play with turns to the left and right. I gently maneuver the ailerons and the elevator with the stick in my hand and then re-acquaint myself with the rudder at my feet. In almost no time, I join the three controls back together in my mind and rewire my brain for this new configuration of flight. Pitch, roll, and yaw – the fundamentals of flight control are nothing new. It is only the connection between which input on my side translates to the proper motions on the outside that I need to relearn, and it comes back remarkably fast.

Tory can probably hear the gears turning inside my skull and in just a few minutes, he asks me to practice some steeper, coordinated turns. All the while, I’m not merely playing with flight – I’m building out a mental spreadsheet! Maneuvers are down the side, aircraft are across the top, and the center squares are the motions and actions required to effect the maneuver in the craft. Except that I’m not really building this sheet at all – I’m passively watching the cells get filled out as my body joyously experiments in this new craft.

Prior to coming here, I acquainted myself with some aerial maps to aid in orientation, but it hardly seemed necessary. I always knew where the airport was, and we seldom ventured far for my inaugural soaring flight. I set us up on the downwind leg of our approach for landing, but Tory took back the controls for base and final while I followed along, maintaining gentle contact with the stick and rudder as he flew the plane in.

In my paraglider, I set final glide to land where I want, and I have minimal control over vertical or horizontal speed at lower altitudes. Final approach is the last hundred feet of descent, and coming in ‘hot’ means anything faster than I can run after flare – maybe 10 knots across the ground. In the sailplane, however, final is still a good 400′ AGL, and we put the nose into a dive to travel closer to 60 knots for greater control. It’s hard to keep my eyes far ahead to avoid the sense of ground-rush.

We appear to be 20′ above the ground at the end of the grassy strip, and 60 knots is COOKING across the ground compared to my paraglider. Descending that last bit of altitude seems to take forever since the wings are long enough to create ground-effect. Plus, with a wheel on the belly of the plane, our final flair is much less pronounced. A perfect flair in my paraglider drops both my vertical and forward speed to almost zero. In the sailplane, we kiss the earth with a gentle descent, but we’re still rolling at a good 30 knots or more for another 500 yards until we finally come to a stop.

It’s a different craft indeed. Precision landing in a sailplane means landing in a soccer field. Precision landing in a paraglider means landing on a frisbee. One is not better or worse than the other – just different – and both are imminently enjoyable, and worth every minute and dollar invested into the experience.

Sparrow Returns

cf..: Tree and Sparrow

Tweet tweet.

Hello, my sparrow.  Many moons it has been since last you alighted upon my branches.  I have missed you, all the while watching your travels from afar.  So tell me, my dear one… who have you become since last we met?

Well, my grandmother, my journeys seem to have taken me in a circle, or perhaps a spiral, to where I now see the same place as before, but from a greater vantage point, not of elevation, but of centering.

And what is the center upon which you now perch?

It is love, my grandmother.  Love in so many ways, for so many things, and people, and places, and circumstances, and stories, and ways of being.  It is a greater sense of love for those around me and the multitude of journeys that we are each traveling.  It is love for not only what is possible, but also for what is in the way – real or imagined – for the obstacles too have lessons to teach me.

Yes, my sparrow, they do.  But often, the obstacles we see are not what they appear.  They are not challenges to be overcome, but invitations to learn new ways of listening.  So tell me, what is it that you hear?

From here, I can hear the sounds of other birds in the trees.  I can hear the sound of the wind gathering strength and energy from the sun, breathing in, and then exhaling into the sky to join the clouds.  I can hear the colder air moving in to take its place.  I can hear the sounds of footsteps from fellow travelers on this journey of life.  I can hear the chatter of other conversations – many conversations – each with its own sense of purpose, for some, and wanderings for others.  I can hear cycles in all things.  I can hear cycles of peace and tranquility, giving way to restlessness, moving into action and exploration and discovery, the joy of learning, and the search for meaning.

I can hear the footsteps of the squirrels and chipmunks at my feet as they look on in wonder at what I am doing in their land talking to you.  I can hear the screech of the hawk far above that would like to make a meal of the little ones at my feet.  I can hear the noise of activity all around.  But most of all, I can hear, or more honestly, I can feel the calm in the center of it all that is rooted in love, deeply rooted in love, and reaches upwards to the sky as an act of creative self expression.  I am learning the value of stillness, of calm, and of patience.  I am letting go of the rush and hurry, and the false sense that there is an arbitrary goal, target, or level of achievement that I must reach.

I am learning that it is indeed good to have goals, dreams and aspirations, but to hold them lightly and to move towards them with the effortlessness of the wind and in harmony with the cycles of all that surrounds me.  I am learning that I am still in charge of my destiny, but that it is far easier to reach my goals by flying with the wind than against it.  And to do that, I must be still and  quite enough to sense where the wind is coming from, and where it is going.  Not all winds are going where I wish to be… so be still.  Be centered.  And throw myself into only the winds that are traveling in alignment with my higher purpose, and grounded firmly in love and connection with others.

It is time to reconnect and fly with my flock, rather than separate or apart from it.  Sparrows are not solitary birds.  Find my flock.  Because I need their help, and I don’t even know what that looks like yet.  But sparrows are not solitary birds.  Join my flock.

Tweet tweet.


Hot Yoga

I went to my first Yoga session today. I met a kindly gentleman up front who would be the instructor. Once in the hot room where we would practice, he suddenly transformed into a cross between Mahatma Ghandi, Richard Simmons, and Adolph Hitler.

His words were soft-spoken, but he gently invited participants to contort themselves into shapes and poses never intended by nature, over and over again. Worse still were the circus-style mirrors at the front of the room that made everything seem rounder than it really was, but only in front of MY spot. The mirror to my right was normal, giving me a perfect view of another woman twisting herself so gracefully and completely, that were she to stand up too suddenly, she would undoubtedly screw herself into the wooden floor without leaving any sawdust whatsoever.

At some point in the 90-minute session, we were all lying on our backs, listening to musical chants in the background. I was completely at peace, knowing full well that if that man gave me so much as one more “invitation” I would kill him. I turned to see where the bastard was hiding, only to find that half the room had left already, and my towel was soaking wet.

I’ll get him next time, for sure.


I Am Loved

October 14, 2000 – The day I married my very best friend.