LORA,MOM* AND SECRETARY
*Lora is my mama!
Aaron: So my first question for you is why didn't you think you were qualified for this project?
Lora: How did you know that I didn't think I was qualified?
Aaron: You told me.
Lora: Oh, did I? Oh, okay. Cause I also told Daddy and um, he's like, well, you're not out there, you know, protesting. I think I only went to that one to pick up you and Cisco.
But, when I hear someone say something, I don't let it go. There was a zoom meeting. And I heard someone ask why aren't there more black people on the board of trustees? And the answer that was given made it appear that there wasn't any person of color that was qualified. And I definitely heard that in the response. Although the person answering did not intend that to be the response, but it had that feel to it.
I immediately emailed the person who had asked the question and asked them, were they okay? You know, because they are a person of color. And they were not, oh my goodness. They were so angry and they, and their husband, um, were ready not to have anything to do with Principia ever, ever, ever again.
And that was hard.
And I didn't let it go. I went to the person who answered the question and I said, do you realize that your response made people feel this way. I heard that answer and immediately was concerned for the person who asked the question. And they were like, oh, well, that's not what I intended. And I'm like, it doesn't matter what you intended. That's what was heard. And I encouraged them to apologize. I think they did, or their office did. I don't, I'm not sure exactly how it went, but because of Witnessing Whiteness, I'm much more alert and question myself all the time.
Aaron: Can you talk a little bit about witnessing whiteness and what prompted you to pursue that for yourself, but not just for yourself, for your community as well?
Lora: So I think it was a Dean's workshop and they were talking about some things, probably racism at the college. Something in that discussion and the fact that it was the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, um, of his assassination, I guess that would have been what, three or four years ago? Just rocked me to my core. I... I called you and you know how upset I was on the phone. I was like, it's been 50 years and we're no farther along now than we were back then. You know, it just felt so frustrating that we couldn't, we couldn't recognize how suppressive our culture is and how unequal it is.
I mean, I can picture myself walking through the parking lot or a couple of parking lots on the phone and sobbing, sobbing. Yeah. And try not to let anybody see me. It's so funny because you don't want anybody to think something's wrong and yet something really is wrong. And it's been ignored too long. It's been glossed over too long. It's been, um, accepted for too long.
And so I think you told me about the program then. I don't know if I knew about it before, but I think you told me about it then. I actually think I went into it thinking good. Now someone's going to teach me what I need to know about racism so I can help stop it. And then, finding out that before we can really address racism, we have to understand what being white is. And that was a surprise because as we found in the readings and the discussions and things like that, white people don't think of themselves as white. You know, you think of yourself as normal, you know. Because everything is geared towards white society, everything is geared towards being white. And so it lends itself to thinking that white is normal rather than understanding that we're all different people. We're all individuals that have to recognize whiteness in order to start eliminating the, the basic fundamentals of racism.
Aaron: So how do you feel, you know, you kind of touched on how, um, witnessing whiteness really rocked your world and your understanding...
Lora: Dr. Seuss was racist.
Aaron: Yeah, I know, right...
Lora: And all I could think was, oh my gosh, I raised my children on Dr. Seuss. I've done a horrible disservice to them.
Aaron: But you're getting at that experience of understanding that something that you thought was just normal and benign was actually not. Do you remember other kind of big aha moments or experiences that were difficult for you or moments that excited you?
Lora: Um, huh. I know, I know there were a lot of times where I just got overwhelmed emotionally. Talking about things that just felt so unfair and peeling all the layers back and seeing, oh my gosh, I've been a part of all this unfairness, whether I wanted to be, or not, whether I was aware of it or not, I played a role in it. And I think that that was probably hard. Um, I mean the biggest aha moment was definitely Dr. Seuss. I just was horrified that, that I had read all these stories to you guys and then
Aaron: Do you have any Dr. Seuss books around anymore?
Lora: I'm sure that I do, because one of the things that I got out of it was, you know, if you just read it and that's it. Yeah. That's problematic. But if you read it and then dialogue. You know, how does this story make you feel? Or when you notice this in the story, did you notice this in the story? You know, is that a fair comparison? What do you see in your life that's similar to this and just, um, yeah, using it as a, as a platform or a bouncing off place.
Aaron: Like an educational tool instead of just a cute bedtime story. Yes..
Lora: Something that rhymes one fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish. Yeah.
Aaron: And when you finished, do you remember how you felt at the end of that program?
Lora: I felt like I wanted to do more. Um, and then I was afraid that I would be in the role of facilitator, and I'm like, I don't have enough background to do this. And then time became an issue also. And then, and then the guilt sets back in. And you think, well I have a choice. I can choose not to do this because it doesn't impact me if I don't.
Aaron: But does it impact you if you don't? I guess, do you think that if you did just say, oh, that was nice. All right. I'm just going to go back to life as it is comfortable for me.
Lora: I don't know if I could. Because then I think I would be really contributing more to racism because once you understand a little bit about how racism works... well, for me, I couldn't, I couldn't just stand by and say, oh yeah, whatever, whatever, because it doesn't impact me.
It does impact me. It impacts my world and therefore it does impact me.
Aaron: What about the work is the hardest part for you?
Lora: Being consistent with it. Making the time for it. So Daddy and I listened to the 1819 project? The 1619. Ha, yeah 200 years... Yeah. We listened to that on our drive out to Colorado and back. Bits and pieces of it. And it got hard. I think in Kansas, there was a point where we had just had to turn it off for a while because, and then we talked about it for awhile. I had no idea that our country, you know, these, these people knew exactly what they were doing when they were crafting the constitution and they knew exactly what they were doing when they were identifying people, which kept them from having those freedoms that were crafted in the constitution. Uh, yeah, that was really hard.
But, since we got back - and it's been over a month - I've only listened to it once. And that's when I was sewing Cisco's vest. I could've listened to music I suppose, but I was like, I haven't had time to listen to this and I want to start listening to it again.
So having the time to really keep exploring and keep, keep learning and, and part of that, we can always make time for the things we want to make time for. Yeah. Is that feeling, can I handle it emotionally? You know, there's a lot already a lot going on. Do I want to add that extra layer of, oh my gosh, are you kidding me?
We've ... this is our history, you know? So that makes it easier to say, yeah, I think I'll work on another lesson or something.
Aaron: I'll listen to that tomorrow.
Lora: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. So, but I know it's there and I don't want it to not be there.
Lora: I know one thing that I've been frustrated about is one of the people that I went through the class with... I probably should talk to them because in the other things that they've been doing. They come across as, I do this, so I'm a really good person. And I'm like, that's not what makes you a good person.
You know, it's, it's, I don't know. I'm just, I'm struggling with that because I started another kind of book... - this person has gone on and continued the work in different ways. Let's read this book. So I did one book, summer book thing with them as part of a group, and then they did some more things and I was just like,
they don't feel sincere.
Aaron: There's a performative kind of aspect.
Aaron: Yeah. That's kind of part of why I want to do this project. I think that it can be a really difficult thing to be doing the work behind the scenes and not have the sense of relief that comes with the recognition that you're doing the work. There is a little bit of a safety net or a defensive layer that you can put up when you can list off all the ways that you're doing these things. So, you know, I want people to be encouraged and inspired to know that it is okay to go through, a 8, 10 week book club with a group of other white people. And to really have some aha moments and to not be a facilitator in that program. But to still continue to read and have conversations and speak up in your community, when you hear things that make you feel uncomfortable and then make you think if I'm uncomfortable, then how does the person that asked that question feel?
I think sometimes it can be easy for white people to, um, get caught up in this ... I must do all these things, I must like dedicate my entire life.
Lora: Isn't that what white, whiteness is about? The savior syndrome, you know? Yeah.
Aaron: So, one of the questions I have is, how has what you've learned about whiteness changed you? And part of what I mean by that is, you know, what changes have you made in your life after starting to engage with this and, and do some more deeper self reflection?
Lora: Mmhmm. Well, I think a conscious effort to try to see, see how someone else is impacted by a situation. You know, it doesn't bother me or it doesn't impact me, but that person obviously was upset. Why? And just trying to be more thoughtful. You know, changing boy to son. Trying to be more thoughtful about how, what I do or what I say make another person feel. I think that's been the biggest change is just being more alert to how I say things or how, how I do things. And a lot more questioning going on in my head. You know, if I address someone in the address, someone in the supermarket, you know, why did I feel like I could talk to them? Why was it important for me to acknowledge that person's bright pink hair? You know, oh my gosh, I love your hair. You know? Whereas if it was a white person, I somehow feel like that's going to feel weird if I say something, you know, but, and, and that's, you know,
Aaron: and you catch yourself in those moments.
Lora: I catch myself in those moments. And I, and I feel like, did I, did I feel like I could say that because I'm white, so I'm superior so that person has to listen to me? rather than if they had been white with the same color hair , would I have taken the time to say I usually do. Yeah.
Aaron: But, but I think this is,
Lora: I go through those internal conversations saying, what was my motive? Why did I say that? Why did I feel, I could say that?
Aaron: What would you tell other white people who are indifferent or just don't see the point of unpacking white privilege and examining their, what whiteness is in their life and how it affects them?
Lora: I hope I would help them understand that we're not exempt from the effects of white privilege. That, really it's... in a way it's an oxymoron. White privilege is not really a privilege. I mean yeah, it puts you into a different space than another group of people, but that's not better. How far could we have come as a society if we had embraced everybody? If we had listened to everybody's ideas, if we hadn't looked at people and said, well, of course you're not as wise as we are.
I take it back for me to how God expresses soul. It's not one group of people that are expressive of God's soul. God's soul is infinite and we are all collective that, that expression. You know, it's not one part of the spectrum. It's the whole spectrum. And it includes people who identify themselves differently than I do. And it includes people who look and act and talk differently than I do. And if I don't, I'm missing out, if I don't value all of that, because then I'm not recognizing the infinity of God.
Aaron: Yeah. And that going through the process of better understanding whiteness and how that impacts you and what privileges you have because of that allows you to see those blind spots that keep you from that diverse expression of soul. That's an aspect of this work that I think doesn't get talked about a lot, because there's so much pain and grief and trauma and guilt and shame around what's happened in our society. What white people have done and how being white associates you with that. You know, that is a part of my story that I don't get to choose, but it is a part of it. And there's so much shame around that, that I think that the conversations spin around that, like the justice part of it, like we have to change things.
And of course those conversations are really important, but I think a lot of times what is not so front and center is like that it is hard. It is not going to get less painful. Your capacity to hold that pain is going to grow, but it's never not going to be hard. And that it is a rewarding thing. To understand and choose not to be complicit. That you gain things from that. And it opens up things for you. And I think that so much of the focus is on what we're doing wrong, what we need to do differently. And not that going through this process will help you learn to love yourself in a deeper way. Because you can't love the people around you in a deeper way, if you're not also doing that for yourself.
Resources Lora has found helpful:
Witnessing Whiteness - YWCA St. Louis
Information about Dr. Seuss and racism
Vox - Dr. Seuss is a beloved icon who also drew some extremely racist stuff
Politico Opinion: Confront Dr. Seuss’ Racism, Don’t Cancel It
Slate - How Dr. Seuss Responded to Critics Who Called Out His Racism