Over the past few months so much has changed for me personally. I feel like I’ve awakened to a new and improved self but only after a very painful beat down, a humiliation really. But I see things so much clearer now. It was necessary and worth it.
I didn’t see it until all of this happened – “all of this” being the isolation of Covid19 and the social unrest of what has always been issues in my personal life regarding race – but has come to the forefront lately because of the non-chalant killing of yet another soul, this time, George Floyd. – what I didn’t realize was how much I restrained my voice whenever I created or spoke particularly to an audience that tended to be White.
As I write that sentence, I feel a knife piercing my creative soul. How could I have ever restrained myself? My voice. My truth. Why would I ever do that?
It’s subconscious. It is not intentional. This is what racism or any “ism” has the power to do – it changes how we interact in the world because fear dominates that initial interaction. The creative process is mitigated by fear of not being heard “correctly”. Dismissed by bias. Fear stifles our honest voice to generate truthful work.
How did I notice this? Well, it’s been having conversations in person but also on social media during this volatile time in our world. Sending emails and tweets back and forth between people of different races and noticing how easy it was to write one tweet or email, verses another. Feeling my comfort level change instantaneously when writing to “Becky” verses when writing to “Chantel”. I tend to have less regard for how Black folk or People of Color view my words than White folk because I know Black folk (POC) will “GET” me. I hate to admit this, but it’s been like this my entire life.
Now, some of this may seem clearly also cultural. I mean, when I speak Spanish with family that’s because we all grew up speaking Spanish and so we “get” each other. There’s a comfort there. But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about just straight up writing and not being worried about if I’m “writing this easily for White people to digest and not to get too upset by it” kind of thing. Making sure I don’t use certain words that may push “readers” away – and when I say “readers” what I really mean is White folk who might buy my book if they’re not too offended.
It is not my intention to not share the true breadth of my talent. But I share this revelation because for me, it is a profound turning point in my work as an artist, as a creator, as a writer. I didn’t know I was doing it. I share it because racism is infused in every part of our society so much so that we don’t even realize how much it has constricted our voices. All of our voices. What have you learned during this time about your creative self? Have you been stifled?
So much time is spent on hating and “other-ising” that the counter punch to that hate is always trying to get people to understand they have nothing to fear from me or others like me. And yet as much as I scream, I still have to mold myself, package and pretty myself to make it palatable and likeable enough so you might be willing to understand just a piece of the real me…
I won’t do it anymore. This is me in freedom. This writing voice of mine.
If one more person asks me how to be an ally, I’m gonna…
I’m gonna help.
So how can you be a better ally to people of color as a writer or creative person? I’m gonna give you the same answer I keep giving every other person who asks: Listen. Be considerate. Be open to learning more. And remember, it’s not about how you FEEL, it’s about THEM.
If you feel uncomfortable right now, then you’re doing it right. If you don’t know what to say, what to write… good. I don’t say this to be cruel but I’ve been uncomfortable for most of my life, so if you’re finally feeling uncomfortable about racism, you’re probably on the right path. We’re all mostly on the same page now.
Honestly, being an ally just means being a good person who cares about other human beings. Period. But I get that it can be a scary and confusing time for people. All people. I’m here to help.
Maybe an example can clarify this for you. Hear me out.
When marriage equality was an issue for the LGBTQ+ community, I didn’t sit back and wonder “how can I be an ally?” It didn’t even dawn on me to ask the question. I didn’t call up every person I knew who happened to be Gay or Lesbian and ask them, “Is there something I can do to help?” I’m not part of the LGBTQ+ community and I have no real idea what they’ve gone through as individuals – but I’m sympathetic because I value them as human beings fully and completely. I have much empathy for any LGBTQ+ person being treated badly or wronged in any way. Even if I don’t understand all of the complexities of their particular “ism” – when I SEE hurt, I understand it as PAIN and I react accordingly.
So, why is it so easy for me to relate to the LGBTQ+ community and act as an ally when it may be hard for White folk to know what to do during this horrible time in our country regarding police brutality, Black folk and race relations?
Well, part of the reason could be that I grew up around people who were gay and lesbian. I was a dancer as a kid and most of my instructors and dance mates were gay or lesbian. I was comfortable around people who were not “heterosexual”. I also frequented many clubs as a dancer. Transgender folk didn’t scare me probably because I didn’t understand it fully and Drag Queens were performers to be envied and revered. I didn’t see them as “other” or less than me – not subconsciously or ever. When you know different people, it makes it harder to dismiss them for any reason.
But still. It’s hard to know what to do to help. Especially if you don’t know Black people or people of color in general. Even if you do know — it’s a tough time. I mean, I get it. I completely appreciate the want and the need to know. So, here’s what I did.
First, I listened. Listening to people is always a good place to start. As writers, actors and creative folk in general, we’re observers, so listening is easy. And when I didn’t understand something like the plus (+) sign or what the “Q” means at the end of the acronym “LGBTQ+”, I used Google to figure it out. So second on the list, is research. When I had a question, I first tried to learn what it meant on my own so I didn’t burden my friends who were going through a difficult situation. Timing is a thing people! There is a time and place to ask questions – be sensitive and choose wisely. Again, don’t make it about you and what you need. Instead, observe, listen, learn and research. When people are crying and protesting over the murder of George Floyd, it’s probably not a good time to ask what you can do. Instead, just be supportive. Listen. Listen. Listen.
The most important thing I did to be an ally was to make sure other people in my circle were aware of my standards regarding the subject regardless of how intricately I understood the subject. These are common things I said during the whole California “same-sex marriage” time period in 2008, to people in my life. Family and friends:
“No, you will not use that kind of language to talk about Gay people like that in my house.”
“No, we cannot be friends if you have a problem with Gay & Lesbian people.”
“If you don’t like the idea of a Pride Parade, you don’t have to go to one. I don’t go to the Tournament of Roses parade and I don’t make loud announcements about it. I just choose not to participate.”
“Are you sure you want to use the Bible as your evidence for why two men can’t marry? Okay. But do me a favor and watch this clip. It says it so much better than I ever could – but if you still want to argue your discomfort with the Gay community by using Bible verses, let me know. I have twelve years of Catholic school under my belt and like Martin Sheen’s character in this West Wing scene, I’ve read my Bible from cover to cover so…we can go there if you want too…let me know when you’re done.”
“Honestly, I don’t know what being Gay has to do with raising a child. I was raised by a single mom till 11 and then raised by a neighborhood of people that included gang members, teachers and coaches. I turned out just fine. But clearly, you’ve never met a foster child who’s been in the system, have you?”
I could go on and on…
My point is this: as writers, as creators, as storytellers, you have the sensitivity and the ability to be an ally just by being compassionate. Then, you can use your voice loudly to be an advocate. You don’t need to walk in my shoes or know my every emotional thought about the President, the protests, the murders, the police, etc., to be a good and decent person – to be an ally. You don’t have to write about Black people or develop new characters based on something you don’t know – that would go against that one principle of always ‘writing what you know’ and probably turn out pretty bad. My question would be, why don’t you know more people of color? It may be where you live, it may be part of your upbringing, but then do THAT – change THAT! Get to know people of color. Do your research. Ask questions – yes, at the appropriate times. Read books and articles from artists who are NOT like you! My goodness, if you can’t name at least 10 authors who are people of color, then yes, you have some work to do.
Being an ally, just means being a good person. That means, understanding that you may have possibly never valued Black life as much as your own. It’s nothing you did wrong, it’s just part of a systemic angst our country was built on. No one is blaming you personally or hating you for being White. No one. What we are screaming about is that by doing nothing about the systematic racism and oppression that exists in our country and even at times, denying it’s truth (even when you have video proof), yes you are contributing to the pain of so many people – and that, we will no longer allow. Its just not in anyone’s best interest. It really isn’t.
Look, I’m here. I’m happy to answer whatever questions I can. I may not have all the answers and I’m certainly not speaking for all people of color, but I’m listening and learning too. One of the most recent things I’ve done is reach out to White male friends and ask them questions about what’s happening right now, and seeing how they’re doing – honestly, I think they’re stunned that someone’s asking. But yeah, we’re all in this together. And the only way we’re going to get through it, is if we keep having the conversations…
My book Canela, is at its core a book about people being “allies”. Remember, being an “ally” is just the new trendy way of saying, loving thy neighbor. When we can see each other as worthy and precious, taking care of your fellow human being, standing up for them when they need help and valuing them, becomes real easy and natural to do.
I may not know much, but I still have faith in the best of who we all can be…
Thanks for stopping by. This has been a post I’ve included in my Author Toolbox Blog Hop. If you’d like more information on this writer’s group please visit:
March 13th, 2020 Friday 8:05pm – Facebook, Video, Unexpected Kindness
Well, today’s joy came unexpectedly. I posted a video on my facebook page thinking I might be able to help a few people who find themselves unexpectedly working from home, but actually, people reached out to me and ended up helping me. Kindness really is a thing!
Here’s what I posted:
“Social Distancing doesn’t mean social isolation.” Please take good care of yourselves and yes, be kind. Here’s my few minutes of advice. Hugs y’all.
March 12th, 2020 Thursday 8:44pm – My gift, my curse
Well, today was a challenging day. The rain was fierce coming down throughout the day and I had a client cancel and a project I had to put aside for a while. I think that’s going to be the norm during this whole Coronavirus thing, but the loss of Michael weighed heavily in my bones as I went about doing things. I don’t want to harp on it too much – but losing someone you love is hard. But it’s also a part of life. I guess for me today it was about thinking too much about some great moments we had – I went and bought some chocolate today too to honor him and I laughed and then cried… Yeah, I’m so sad he passed away.
Today was challenging because I had to much on my plate and I’m just finishing up the work on my To Do list. I’ve decided that I really need to make money doing something I love. For real. I can’t keep working for people who don’t “get” it. People who are mean are one thing, but people who are not empathetic towards other people’s needs are a complete other. Don’t get me wrong, I hate mean people too. But I hate even more working with people who are so caught up in their own world, so self-absorbed, that they don’t even recognize when they’re hurting people. And here’s the thing: I can’t help but call it out. Ugghh.
Now, you might think that sounds like a good thing, but I guess if I had a bucket of money somewhere and I didn’t have to pay any bills at all, then me calling people out on their bullcrap would be an okay thing to do. But most times, when I have to say something, I resign, or quit or walkway and lost the job, at least on my own footing.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, principle.
You know what though? Being principled has lost me thousands and thousands of dollars. I wouldn’t change a thing that I’ve done – don’t get me wrong. But it always bums me out when I just can’t keep my mouth shut any longer and have to tell someone, basically they’re an asshole. Or, they’re a slimey asshole. Or, they’re a cheap slimey good-for-nothing asshole. I think you’re getting the point.
Now, in all fairness, there have been people who appreciated the call out. Some people, in this case an extremely wealthy woman, had no idea she was being a cheap asshole to her staff by not paying them more. I was frustrated with her for a while, and finally I sat her down and told her sternly,
“You just came back from Barney’s with a wardrobe that includes a White Tshirt that cost over $600. Do you realize that’s more than what you pay your housekeeper for two weeks of work? She cleans your toilets for goodness sake and she’s asking you for $1 an hour raise and you’re having a complete breakdown over it. What is wrong with you? Just stop it.”
She took it well. She took it like a woman of privilege who had a realization that she had lost her way.
Yeah, I took some solace in that.
Truth is, I’ll always be as honest as possible. I’m blunt, but I try to be as kind as I can be, till someone’s behavior is just too much. Then I’ll go off on them. It’s both a gift and a curse, of course. And although I may have lost a lot of money by saying my piece various times in the past and walking away from a client or job, I have no regrets. I can’t work for unethical people. I really can’t be around people who are mean. And I really hate people who have no no emotional intelligence or integrity whatsoever. So yeah, no regrets.
I’m so glad I just wrote that all out — somehow, I feel better. Today, was a good day. Yeah, I like who I am. I wouldn’t change a thing. Not for all the money in the world. And that ain’t no lie.
Well, I didn’t think I would write about that tonight, but there you go – surprise, surprise! I’m kind of loving this end-of-day journaling thing. Hmmm.
Any time is a good time to start changing how you THINK about money. Even around the holidays. Maybe especially around the holidays!
If you can grasp why you feel the way you do about money, you can start laying the groundwork to change your financial stress and/or stop living paycheck to paycheck.
Too many people have an identity that is tied to how much
money they have or don’t have. Stop it!
Imagine a day where you no longer fret over making enough money. Imagine making choices not based on how much you don’t have, but instead, on what you really want to do? It’s possible. You can even learn to save money for that special trip you’ve been wanting to take or buy those fabulous Tamara Mellon shoes you’ve been craving all year long (Yaaaaassss! You say trip, I say shoes, tomato/tomahto). The point is, it’s all possible.
But first, it starts with understanding it’s taken you “this” many years to develop your views about money, so it’s going to take time to work and change it. So, start today.
Understanding your backstory when it comes to money
specifically is the first step in making changes to how you feel about money.
We all have feelings about money. Those feelings are tied
into how we were raised. Our experiences watching adults deal with finances had
a significant impact on how we deal with money today. If you were raised in a well-to-do household,
you may have a distorted view of what it means to “earn a living”. Doing volunteer work because your dad
wouldn’t give you access to your trust fund is not the same as growing up
watching your dad work as a teacher, janitor, secretary or carpenter and never
knowing what a trust fund was/is. Some people never make enough just to put
food on the table, let alone “summer” in France regularly. It just doesn’t happen, it’s not even an
option for most folk. In the same respects, kids born to wealth are not
inherently ungrateful, selfish or unenlightened. Being born into wealth isn’t easier. It’s just different. Some kids born into wealth are raised by
nanny’s – children of wealth may have constant feelings of being shuffled off
and may feel like a nuisance to their parents. “Rich kids” may get everything
they want materially but may miss out on relationships with their parent, which,
let’s face it, is what every kid really wants.
The point is no one should feel bad about what family
financial situation they were born into.
No one has a choice how they come into this world. But we all have a choice in becoming better,
in everything we do when you have the opportunity. That includes understanding
what money is, what it can be and how we can be better about our emotional
attachment to it.
To be very clear: one story isn’t better or more evolved
than the other. Just because you grew up not “summering” or having private
lessons, doesn’t make you a better person.
But our past, matters. Having a
real conversation about WHY you feel the way you do about money is an
important first step to fixing your current financial ideas about money.
For most people whose parents worked regular 9-5 day
jobs, money may have always been a scarcity, always hard to get, felt like some
sort of relief whenever they had it, and easily spent away in one “important”
holiday or unexpected emergency room visit.
For others who may have been born into wealth, money is
hardly discussed but always shown. Children of wealth have similar but
different problems with money. Being given a Honda instead of a BMW for a
birthday gift is a real problem. The
status of driving a Honda among friends may be seen as “not good enough” when
your parents could have afforded a “Beemer”.
It may feel as some sort of punishment.
Again, to some people reading this blog, the idea that a car would be gifted to a teenager may seem unfathomable and many would dismiss the issue as the wealthy teenager being ungrateful. But you would be wrong. For the purposes of this discussion,none of that matters. What does matter is that the stories we personally have about what money means affects us into adulthood regardless of wealth. It can be detrimental to who we are as adults. Our past defines how we relate to money and how we feel about it today. In order to change our emotions about money, it’s important to acknowledge why we believe the things we do.
Here are some questions to ask yourself:
When was the first time you remember learning that you were rich, poor, middle class or anywhere in-between? On page 26 of my book CANELA I discuss opening presents one Christmas morning and realizing there was no Santa. And although I always knew we weren’t rich, being poor was solidified for me that day. There was no Santa and when you write a letter asking for what you want and don’t get it, it’s because your mom can’t afford it. My first feelings of not having money is that being poor is bad. We must be bad people. I’m not worthy to have things I want, because we’re poor and being poor is bad. See how that works?
When you were a child and first heard adults talking about money, what were they saying? I remember mostly the bargaining and the begging from my mom needing another week to pay this or that. The negotiating. The hoping she could afford something. I remember her stress and reaction when I asked for something we couldn’t afford. I remember going without because she didn’t have enough. So, money to me has always been a negative entity. Money has always been associated with people with power being cruel to people with no money. I grew up not liking what money did to good people. And thinking that all bad people were mostly people with money. Now, of course today we know that power is a whole other animal and really what that was about. Nonetheless, my issues with money are associated with that experience.
Was money the main topic of discussion in your house growing up? Were there arguments about money you overheard? Money was always discussed in my childhood. Money was the reason for why things did and did not happen. Dreams were based on money. I couldn’t dance because I couldn’t afford new dance shoes or afford expensive “real” classes. Money and not having it was the reason for everything. It became the reason my mother died at 49. Not having enough money to get proper medical care and having to work while sick, is still what I maintain killed her. I absorbed that as a child. Money was cruel. Money was evil. People who had it were horrible to let my mother die. Again, none of this is really the entire truth, but at 11 years old, this is what defined my ideas about money and wealth.
When you wanted something and it cost money, were you made to work for it or was it given to you with a heavy dose of guilt attached or was it a simple transaction? I learned to stop asking for things because it was painful to watch my mother tell me we couldn’t afford it. After I lost my mother, I always felt a burden to other people, so I made-due with what I had and my only goal was to never be a problem. Wanting anything more than what I already had came with a heavy dose of guilt. Self-esteem and self-worth always in flux during those years.
Do you think you have a healthy relationship when it comes to money? Today, yes. But it’s because over the years, I’ve worked with and been around various kinds of people from so many different financial backgrounds – from extremely wealthy clients to individuals starting out with less than two rocks to rub together. I’ve learned from first hand experience how extremely similar all people are about money, regardless of their bank accounts and “net worth”.
The one common denominator that’s changed my views about money is that most people, regardless of the amount of wealth they have, can be very unhappy and struggling. And it usually has to do with how they define money in their lives.
It’s incredibly fascinating. Terribly sad. Totally fixable. And oh, so freeing! The best part: fixing how you feel about money, has nothing to do with how much of it you have or don’t have. Feeling good about who you are regardless, is…well, forgive the cliche, priceless.
Once you understand why you feel the way you do
about money, you can take steps to start deconstructing those ideas and get to
a better place.
Think about these truths/facts:
You are not defined by how much money you have in the bank.
When people meet you, they don’t know how much money you have or don’t have.
People with healthy relationships with money, don’t flaunt money or care about designer anything. Good people with healthy ideas about money value quality over quantity. Quality over cost. Quality over everything.
There are amazing people who have a lot of money.
There are horrible people who have a lot of money.
There are amazing people who have no money at all.
There are horrible people who have no money at all.
People with money have just as many problems as people without money – different problems, but just as bad, just as heart-wrenching, just as stressful (I promise you, this is true).
Poor people’s problems are just as valid as rich people’s problems. And just as important.
You are worthy regardless. Period.
Wanting more money is not a crime. Having money is not a crime. Not having money is also not a crime. Stop feeling bad about any of it.
Till next time. As always, thanks for stopping by.
(Carmen Suarez is an Adviser, Business Manager and Speaker to various start-ups and individual/wealth clients. For more information visit: carmensbusiness.com)