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I had another night of so many dreams it felt like I had never slept. And in one of the dreams even, I had been wandering around my church, although it looked utterly unfamiliar and was as large and labyrinthine as an IKEA. I couldn’t find any friends. I was looking for a chair to sleep in and suddenly it was 9am and people came along to tell me it was time to go on the work trip we were there for. A long line of little girls with freshly washed hair, all wearing soccer uniforms, was in the hall beside me and I wondered what work trip they were going on. Or if I was supposed to be participating in a soccer game instead.

This dream was yet another in a series of church dreams in which things are not right. Most of them in recent months have featured our former minister having reinserted himself into the congregation and operating a shadow ministry–oblivious to or unmoved by the fact that we have a new minister now. In every dream I am furious that he is there but powerless to do anything about it, as he doesn’t seem to recognize me or acknowledge my existence. It’s like I’m a ghost. There’s no worse feeling for me.


Of course there are moments–and sometimes even days–of lightness and joy. But more often than not when I wake up in the morning I am reminded of everything we are not allowed to do anymore, or whatever it is I want to do that my children will refuse to do, or the things I know I should do but don’t have the energy to attempt. I am often crushed by the avalanche of things I do not know and cannot figure out.

Zeke is deep into Minecraft and building worlds teeming with ordinary and fantastical creatures. He’s creating universes where he can do whatever he wants, and exert control. Worlds where he doesn’t have to fight with me about doing his writing assignments. So far he’s winning. I downloaded a new curriculum yesterday which I will employ on Monday to try to turn things around.

Zoe’s imaginary worlds are slightly more realistic, but filled with exchanges with friends and strangers and altered by filters. She lives in the universes of TikTok and Snapchat and Instagram. Both of my kids have gained access to places where they are in charge, where they are creative, where they construct their own identities. Places where I could kind of follow, but I would get lost pretty quickly.

So I play Words with Friends and do New York Times crosswords on my phone. I can finish most of the puzzles on my own. I have the feeling that I hear some people feel about math, that it’s satisfying because there’s one right answer and if you follow the steps, you will find it. Of course for me that only happens with words. With Words with Friends, there are a million possible answers, but it’s pretty easy to find a decent one. Since the pandemic started I have lost many more games than I have won. I don’t care. I don’t spend ages trying to find the words with the highest point value. Maybe a few minutes at most. The action of playing is enough for me right now–the discovery of a word. Long ago I realized that my scores in Words with Friends are closely correlated with my mental health and mood. I know a lot of people only play to win–not just in silly apps, but in life. I don’t believe in that.

And I read. And read. And read. Last night I read a middle grade book–Roll with It–by Jamie Sumner. When I finished the book I thought it was thoughtful and charming and an interesting perspective on what it’s like to use a wheelchair and have cerebral palsy when you move to a small Oklahoma town. I opened the Goodreads app on my phone to mark that I’d read it and give it some stars, when I noticed some one-star reviews. I don’t usually read other people’s reviews, but I was surprised by the critique that popped up and I read many of them. Apparently a lot of readers who are people with disabilities found Roll with It ableist and deeply problematic, citing numerous examples of how the author depicted both people with CP and in wheelchairs, and people on the autism spectrum (represented by another character) using inappropriate language and stereotypes. While I was reading the book I kept thinking that the voice of the narrator was honest and realistic, but clearly I don’t know. The author of the book is the parent of a child with cerebral palsy, and presumably based some of the story on those experiences. One of the criticisms of the book was how often the narrator noticed her mom’s tired eyes, which centers the mom’s experience more than the child’s. While I was reading the book, I appreciated those observations because I, too, am a tired mom. But I get it now that the story of the girl shouldn’t have to dwell on the effects of her disability on her mom. That is not her fault. So after reading the reviews I felt like a jerk for blithely enjoying the book and not thinking too hard about how it might seem to a person with a disability. I realized I was demonstrating able-bodied privilege all over the place. I understand that it’s not fair of me to escape into someone else’s trauma. I am holding my breath while I walk the line between wanting to learn about and from other people’s experiences and wallowing in my privilege. Even the forgiving net beneath me is a product of my privilege.

There is so much to learn. So much.

The truth is, I don’t want to have Thanksgiving without FG.

It’s not as if we would have physically been together this year, especially with COVID rampaging across the country, but we would have talked and texted and I would’ve sent her pictures of the food I made after consulting her about the right proportions of ingredients. Some of our family recipes are vague. For the stuffing, if it’s too dry you add more broth. If it’s too wet you add more dry ingredients. Every batch of stuffing is unique and special. I don’t usually make deviled eggs, but she made them perfectly. I was thinking about making some for tomorrow but I can’t call her for a reminder about whether or not she adds a little mustard in with the mayonnaise.

Today we had a wonderful surprise visit from two alpacas and a baby goat for my brother-in-law’s birthday. I would have loved to FaceTime FG during this encounter to see her reaction, which I know would have been expressive. I would print extra copies of the photos to send her at Christmas.

Every year I would choose one of my favorite novels that I’d read that year and I’d send her a copy for Christmas. Every February I would send her a valentine.

There is a picture of my parents and my kids and me with FG the last time we all visited, in early summer. It’s on my bulletin board above my desk and I look at it every day. It’s not the best photo of FG. Near the end of her life she had lost weight and her face changed shape. She seemed to be caving in on herself. I don’t think she was putting her teeth in most of the time. In the last few months she seemed to have aged 10 years. But I look at this picture anyway and look in everyone’s eyes and imagine what they were thinking and feeling at that moment.

I think FG was in some amount of pain then, even though she wouldn’t have said so to all of us. But she’s smiling as if she was happy we were there. That day when the photo was taken, she said something to me about when she would be able to come up to Virginia to visit again. I don’t know if she really thought that would happen or she was just talking. I would give anything to pick her up at the train station one more time.

I am thankful for so many people and so many things, but I am also broken-hearted this Thanksgiving. Not only because I miss FG, and I know other people I love are also desperately wishing she were here. But also for the family and friends of the nearly one and a half million people who have died from COVID. It’s hard to even comprehend. And I am heartbroken for the people I know who have lost a parent this year—whether from the coronavirus or another cause. Bethany, Bean, Melissa, Lee, Mark, Paige, Dave and Jim. And for the children and parents taken away from each other by our government at the US-Mexico border. And for the friends and family of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and all the innocent people who were killed by police this year and over the centuries.

There are many more disasters and tragedies I could name, but I won’t. And of course there are just as many blessings and opportunities and fragments of goodness we’ve managed to cling to during these crushing circumstances. I will list some of those another time. For now I will just be thankful that I had FG in my life for 46 years. I hope she will be whispering in my ear when I make the stuffing to let me know when it looks just right.

I have heard that the cracks are where the light comes in

And in the places we were broken we are stronger

That’s what the poets say

But someone has to sweep up the pieces, to find every last one, and set to work with toothpicks and superglue

Because we the people are shattered, scattered, smashed to bits

According to the sages

our scars make us who we are

But to have a scar we must stop the bleeding and heal the wound.

For now the blood still flows

the wounds are open

the battle continues

Never before
have I been asked
by so many people
to pray

This moment
must require
immense
energy
from all
of us

We understand
(at last)
how much
we are bound
up in each
other

Prayer
(to me)
is intention
not
transaction

So I breathe in
(deeply)
and breathe out
fully

and send
prayers

for

strength

courage

peace

relief

patience

healing

grace

calm

presence

Take what you need
and share
the rest
with
others

Tell me about despair, 
yours, and 
I will tell you 
mine

Meanwhile, we will 
laugh and cry and scream
and threaten to 
run away from home
and lose ourselves in 
games and stories 
and less wholesome vices
and make ourselves get out of bed 
again 
every morning
though sometimes 
we will wear pajamas 
all day

Meanwhile, we will 
check on each other
more than usual 
because we know 
what it feels like
to be teetering 
on the edge of sanity
(and to fall 
over the precipice, 
sometimes)

Does this get any easier?
I don’t believe so
Only more familiar

Meanwhile, we offer 
absolution to 
ourselves
as often as possible
because we tend to forget things 
(and people, 
sometimes)
because our brains 
and our hearts 
are overfull 
and our bodies 
are exhausted

We are making 
more messes
and letting them linger
but we are
doing the best
we can

even when it’s not 
enough

We are sitting with 
our feelings
or under our feelings
(when they become oppressive and heavy)
or eating
our feelings
or telling those damn feelings to
get the hell our of our house
when we have had
ENOUGH

We are listening
to each other
that’s got to be 
enough

© Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso (with gratitude to Mary Oliver)
October, 2020

A couple years ago we received a secondhand copy of the board game Guess Who? It’s kind of like a visual version of 20 questions, where you try to be the first person to guess who your opponent’s person is by asking questions about facets of their appearance.

We’ve played it many times, although every time it comes out if the box I get irritated that so many of the characters are white men. Zeke agrees with me, and we’ve tossed around the idea of replacing the cartoon faces with images of people with a wider variety of characteristics. Tonight we finally did it.

We started yesterday by brainstorming a list of people to include. Zeke decided we should use famous people instead of people we know. That way it would be easy for us to find pictures of them online and other people besides us playing the game would know who the people are. Because of the current and crucial resurgence of Black Lives Matter protests, activism, and awareness, and because this is Pride month, we decided to focus on Black and queer people, but we wanted to include lots of others too. I also wanted to make sure Zeke knew who the people were. So anyone I suggested who he couldn’t immediately identify, I shared the back story or showed him videos. I was slightly surprised that one of his nominations was George Floyd. I asked him, just to make sure, if he knew who George Floyd was. He told me that George Floyd was a man who was killed because a police officer put his knee on Floyd’s neck for nine minutes. He understood that this murder was one of the reasons we’ve been making Black Lives Matters signs and reading anti-racist books.

Here are the new faces in our Guess Who? Remix.

Bobby Berk (we love Queer Eye)

Beyoncé (Queen Bey)

Simone Biles (best gymnast on earth right now)

Chadwick Boseman (Black Panther)

John Boyega (Star Wars)

Karamo Brown (Queer Eye)

George Floyd

Tan France (Queer Eye)

Frida Kahlo (Zeke loves art and learning about artists and he recently studied Frida Kahlo and Yayoi Kusama)

Yayoi Kusama

Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton)

Barack Obama (our favorite president)

Michelle Obama (our favorite first lady and so much more)

Antoni Porowski (Queer Eye)

Megan Rapinoe (we love US women’s soccer, and Rapinoe is amazing personally and professionally)

Taylor Swift (Zeke is almost as much of a Swiftie as his sister is)

Kelly Marie Tran (Star Wars)

Jonathan Van Ness (Queer Eye)

Emma Watson (Harry Potter plus activism)

Jacqueline Woodson (author we all love and recently saw on The Brown Bookshelf’s Kid Lit Rally 4 Black Lives)

Letitia Wright (Black Panther)

Gene Luen Yang (author we recently discovered while watching The Brown Bookshelf’s Kid Lit Rally 4 Black Lives and Zeke devoured the first volume of The Secret Coders and I’m reading American Born Chinese)

Malala Yousafzai (role model for all of us)

Zendaya (Spiderman and Greatest Showman and so much more)

Zeke and I split up the list and found photos online of each person and cropped them to focus on the face. Just so you know, he is equally capable of doing this as I am. He only occasionally asked for help spelling people’s names. Autocomplete is a gift for a seven-year-old on Google. Then I dropped all the photos in a template on PicMonkey and added each person’s name. I had to print the collage out a few times to find the right size to go onto the cards in the game. We used the laminator my mom recently gave us to laminate the photos. Then I cut out three sets of the photos. Zeke glued one of the sets onto the cards from the blue game board. I glued the photos on the red cards and the yellow cards from which you draw your card for each round. I trimmed all the photos and maneuvered the red and blue ones back into the little slots on the game boards.

And there you have it. I realized near the end that we are missing one yellow card. So unfortunately Bobby Berk is floating around in the box without a card attached. I am hopeful that someone who has an old unused Guess Who? game in their basement can hook me up.


After I put Zeke to bed tonight, Zoe wanted to play our Guess Who? Remix. The first round we played the traditional way, just asking questions about obvious physical characteristics. Then I suggested we make it more challenging, and ask questions whose answers were not apparent. Turns out, this is harder and much more interesting. Questions like, “Does your person get up in front of crowds?” Or “Has your person written a book?” Or “Was your person born in America?” Sometimes we still ended up asking “Is your person female?” Or “Is your person gay?” Or “Is your person Black?” but we tried hard to go deeper. And we had to look up some information online to make sure we were answering accurately. I imagine tomorrow when I play with Zeke he will have a few more gaps in his in-depth knowledge of all the people, but he is curious and I think we will learn together.

I had a new hygienist–LaVon–at the dentist yesterday, who I will request from now on. I was in the chair for a long time because blah blah blah you don’t really want to know, but LaVon managed to make me feel at ease–as much as it’s possible to feel at ease in the dentist chair with someone poking around in your mouth–and not make me feel like problems with my gums are the result of a character flaw.

So last night after I brushed my teeth with the special high-powered toothpaste she gave me, using the new technique–more focused and gentle–she taught me, I ordered a new Sonicare toothbrush from Costco (LaVon said it’s much cheaper there) and a Waterpik water flosser from Target. I have been told to do these things before, but I haven’t. Who knows why? It’s expensive? It’s stressful to worry about your teeth? Buying oral hygiene equipment reinforces feelings of shame and guilt about decades-old failures to follow dentists’ and orthodontists’ intersections? Maybe all of the above and other factors I haven’t even explored. But at this particular moment, suddenly investing in a new toothbrush and a waterpik and soaking my night guard in denture cleaner seem appealing. Why? Because everything else in the world right now is uncertain and unknown and sometimes unreal.

What scientists and medical professionals know and think we know and don’t know about the Coronavirus and how to treat it and respond to it changes every day. I am learning about racism and anti-racism every day and realizing that many more people than I imagined don’t think racism exists. I am learning what defund the police means and how our communities could be so much better, but aren’t. Our educational system is a mess and I’m trying to imagine what will have to happen to renew my confidence in our schools. Not to mention our democracy is broken and many of our leaders seem to be corrupt, unstable, and lacking common decency and even the bare minimum of morality.

So putting more care into my oral hygiene seems easy by comparison. There are no philosophical debates or political ramifications. Just, hopefully, healthier gums.

This shelf includes some books we already had that I pulled from other bookshelves in the house and some of the new books I bought on recommendations of friends and booksellers.

At bedtime these days I am reading a book with Zeke called The Last Kids on Earth. The one we’re reading is the first in a series of six (so far) which has also been made into a show on Netflix. Normally I don’t go in for books about hordes of disgusting zombies and gigantic, stinky, oozy monsters, but 1) the writing is quite good and pretty funny and 2) every single night when I read with him I think, “at least we don’t have zombies and monsters in real life (yet)!”

The Last Kids on Earth was recommended by several parents in my recent quest to find new chapter books for Zeke since the library has been closed for several months and he’s read most of the books we our house. I ended up buying a lot of books, which should surprise no one. My approach to solving all problems is by reading.

This explains why I have also been dividing my book buying among independent book stores where I already shop (One More Page, Politics and Prose, and Solid State Books) and two Black-owned bookstores (Mahogany Books and Loyalty Bookstores) and Thrift Books, a used book website. I have been trying to buy less of everything from Amazon because of Jeff Bezos’ terrible labor practices. I would like to stop supporting Amazon entirely, but I’m not there yet. It’s really convenient. But I’m trying.

More of Zeke’s books. Some of these he’s read already. I had to move the Mo Willems and Dr. Seuss books into the hallway to make room.

The books I’ve bought from all these stores (online of course) include chapter books for Zeke, YA books for Zoe (and me), and a small library of books (for all ages) by Black authors and activists including fiction, history, memoir, and guidance on how to be an anti-racist. And of course I bought t-shirts from all the bookstores too, to feed my t-shirt habit. Don’t judge.

Some of the books I bought were recommended by or written by some of our favorite authors–Kwame Alexander, Jacqueline Woodson, and Jason Reynolds–who spoke during an online Black Lives Matter rally last Thursday night sponsored by the Brown Bookshelf. I think at this point I have perused every recommended reading list circulating on the internet. Our family is nothing if not broadly read. We have always read books that provide both mirrors (characters like us) and windows (characters who are different than us) but now seems like a good time to open more windows.


I have been hesitant to write lately because I am struggling with the idea that my voice is not what needs to be heard right now. On the one hand, there are other voices that should be elevated. On social media, I am working to do just that. On the other hand, I don’t think am being asked to silence myself. Am I? I don’t claim to be an expert on racism or on Black people’s experiences. I can only speak from my own experience as a white person and an ally. And I think it can be useful for me to speak up as an ally. But how much is the right amount to speak? And where and when?

Throughout many recent conversations with friends–most of whom are moms–a recurring theme is what is the right thing to do? What do we ask of our kids this summer? What is safe? What is worth the risk? When do we protest? When do we hold space? What will we do in the fall? How do we balance the needs for learning, safety, community, and justice? None of us have figured out the answers yet.

This isn’t about me. We are living through a stressful, uncertain, and scary time. But I understand that for our Black, Indigenous, and People of Color siblings, much of their experience living in this country is stressful, uncertain, and scary. I know that, as a white woman, I will never truly appreciate what that’s like. But I am committed to listening to, respecting, and amplifying other people’s truths. I am committed to learning about other people’s perspectives and experiences. I am committed to talking with other white people about why it matters to stand in solidarity with Black, Indigenous, and People of Color and that it is my obligation to become–and keep becoming–anti-racist and work to dismantle white supremacy culture and institutional racism. No one said this would be easy. Just like living as a Black, Indigenous, or Person of Color isn’t easy. I will do the best I can to stand with Black, Indigenous, and People of Color and to work for equity and justice, even when it’s hard.


I know there’s a lot you can read or watch about what’s happening right now in the world as the result of the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless other innocent people who were killed because of the color of their skin and our white supremacist society. I wanted to lift up a couple items that might help you understand if you’re having trouble.

Trevor Noah’s video: https://youtu.be/v4amCfVbA_c

Kareem Abdul-Jabaar’s op-ed in the Los Angeles Times: https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2020-05-30/dont-understand-the-protests-what-youre-seeing-is-people-pushed-to-the-edge

Rachel Cargle’s Ted Talk: https://youtu.be/VgufOtRq488

Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie’s Ted Talk: https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_ngozi_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story

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