On White Privilege and Restaurants

It was supposed to be a quiet evening.  An evening of intellectual exchange, artistic energy, and political planning with some of the most incredible visionaries I know.  This is the true story of what happens when four queer people of color occupy space in Oakland and dare to resist the oppressive structure of the status quo.

*Trigger warning- the story that follows details child abuse.

We started our night off at the Grand Lake Coffee House, where we spent some time laying the groundwork for the upcoming events for Spectrum Queer Media.  After we ironed out some details, we decided to walk slightly up the block to a Thai restaurant that has been in the area for about eight years.  We sat down to bask in each other’s beautiful black and brown brilliance.  We broke bread in community with our intentions divinely aligned with our purpose- to tell the stories of marginalized communities in ways that pay homage to where we come from and are authentic to our experiences.

My jovial ease came to a screeching halt from the sound of a dull, low thud.  It was the sound of a glass hitting a flat surface with accidental force.  Weight and gravity worked in the way that they do, so the glass made contact with the table and its contents splashed across the width of the table.

“It’s ruined!  Why did you do that?  You do that all the time!! No, no… you can’t help.  It’s too late for that.”

The utterance came from a tall, thin, pale, blonde woman with a shriek that rivaled nails going slowly across a chalkboard.  She was loud and angry; in her mind, the outrage was not misplaced.

It’s just water.

Mind you, this woman did have water all over her shirt.  One would think that she was the wicked witch of the west with the way she reacted to such an elemental force.  This “woman” was taken aback by one of the customer’s responses.  She then continued to throw a tantrum about how he always does this and how it is none of anyone’s business.  The mood shifted early on at our table.  Lex, a former marine and current artivist, muttered under her breath, “He’s a kid.  It was an accident.  That’s what children do.”  Monica, a trusted Oakland philanthropist and community organizer, let me know that she would not sit idly by while someone abused a child.  “I am a mother.  I have to say something about this. That is unacceptable.” Blackberri, a local folk song hero and artist, looked around the restaurant, purveying the room for potential supporters.  A. Walk sat with their back towards the table and just listened to the atmosphere rupturing, an exercise in active, rebellious listening.

Lex tells me that the boy had fear in his eyes.  He couldn’t have been older than 6 years old.  His body shook violently; his eyes were downcast and his words were coming out in sputters.  He picked up some napkins quickly and started to blot away at the water on the table.

Monica turned toward the boy and told him that he was a sweet boy.  She told him that he was a good person.  She told him that he was loved.  The little boy looked up and smirked coyly at our table.  His “mother” loudly excused herself to the bathroom to compose herself and clean up a bit.  Then, Monica turned toward the adults at the table.  “Are these your friends?”  The question was not directed at anyone in particular- it was to all of the “adults” at the table.

Monica made the connection that the little boy was in an active state of trauma.  His amygdala had been hijacked by the situation and his first instinct was to appease his mother.  Her first instinct was to humiliate him and degrade him in public.  His “father’s” first reaction was to lash out at what our table was saying.

“It’s none of your business.  You shouldn’t poke your nose where it doesn’t belong.”

This is the first time I turned to face the oppressors at the table behind us.  I had to remind him that he was in a public space, a restaurant, to be exact.  A place where everyone was enjoying dinner before privilege decided to disturb the peace.  A space where we had paid for a service and got a show.  The woman that he had chosen to co-parent with had made a spectacle of herself, dehumanized his son, and he was directing his anger at the wrong table.

There was a middle aged, white man eating near our tables.  I can’t remember exactly what he said, but he decided to break up the energy with a joke.  He lightened the mood, enjoyed his dinner, and thanked our table as he left.  I want to personally thank him.  Wherever you are, your presence was necessary in that situation.

The folks at my table had a visceral reaction to a child being abused.  The folks at my table recognize the tell-tell signs of abuse and refused to be complicit in that energy consuming the space where we were breaking bread.  The folks at my table sat together as a tribe and exercised our rights to peacefully protest the bullshit.  If you were there and saw it, you would know that that child is abused on a fairly consistent basis.  Abuse comes in many packages- the mother who was probably abused herself, the father who has issues standing up for something.

I wrote this piece because it weighed so heavily on my spirit.  I hope that the next time you see something, you say something.  Abuse is a terrible thing to neglect or choose to not see.


On Airports and Equity

Have you ever traveled by plane?  My most recent adventure sent me to Brooklyn to visit my good friend, Ashley.  While I was going through the motions of getting everything together to make my flight, I took a moment to sit, breathe, and reflect.  Instantly, the world transformed before my eyes.  I had a sense of clarity that was powerful.  I would like to share what that clarity brought me.

My purpose in relaying this information is to inform, educate, and illuminate.  What I would like to get out of this exchange is for you to be motivated to action.  After all, knowledge without action is not generative.  The process by which this will take place is through introspection, mindfulness, and observation.

One of the first things I noticed was that everything is connected.  Airports are circular, you can travel an infinite distance within an airport by simply walking around.  After further examination, I observed that the airport was specifically designed to function in this way. This observation brought about a plethora of ideas and helped me to focus on making more nonjudgmental observations.

I noticed that everything was labeled.  I know that the labels existed for at least 2 reasons 1) to discourage confusion and 2) for my convenience.  Lines and special access revealed themselves to me.  Signs telling me what to read, what to eat, and how to enjoy my airport experience.  In many ways, I was grateful for the signs and labels because they prevented me from getting lost.  However, I started to feel influenced by the signs.

I observed that everything was in order.  Things were going just the way they were supposed to.  People with their belongings on conveyor belts flitting about from this task to the next.  Uniformed individuals directing traffic and breaking up bottlenecks.  Then, I proceeded to freak the fuck out.

The airport is a microcosm of society; the airport is a critical analysis of the world.

There is intention in the things you can hear when you stop and listen.  There is vision in the things you see when you open your eyes.  There is authority in speaking up when you have a voice.

This trip to Brooklyn turned into more than what I expected.  I learned about myself, my community, and the world by getting on a plane.  What will you learn on your next trip?

Imagine your airport experience if we introduced a little equity into the equation.  Equity equals purpose raised to the degree of justice.  What could the world look like?  What could your experience be like there?

Things need to change.  I’m glad I flew Delta.


Who Ya Gonna Call?

This has inspired me to do some in reach with my communities. shared power is vital to healthy, equitable interactions and relationships.

Julian Stodd's Learning Blog

The chances are, it’s not Ghostbusters. Where do we turn when we have a question? Into our communities. Questions i’ve seen in the last few weeks include:

Alex, who took a photo of a mushroom, shared it on Facebook to the Mushroom Society (yes, there is one), asking if it was toxic or ok to eat. Answer: toxic.

Jules, a friend who makes musical installations, asked if anyone could think of ways to make harmonic sounds with running water: answers included hydrophones, steam, pressure and paddles.

Graham asked what ‘talent’ means to your or your business.

Martin asked if anyone wanted to go to the gig he was playing at and Paul asked if anyone wanted a spare cinema ticket.

I asked if someone could help me with flight bookings.

Different questions: different communities. Different outcomes. But a commonality of approach. We turn to our communities to make sense…

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