(This post is one in a series on race titled “But Some of Us Are Brave.” The series includes posts from a diverse group of writers from our community. It takes a considerable amount of transparency and vulnerability for the contributors to this series to pen these posts and voice their experiences. We appreciate their courage, and we hope their willingness to be brave will spark some authentic community conversation on this sensitive and important topic. We hope you will read these posts thoughtfully and join the conversation by responding honestly and respectfully, and by sharing them with your friends and acquaintances. — ABT )
By Kelsey Miller
I want to recognize the great work Lucas did in his post in this series by echoing his confession: I am racist. We all are. I say this in a spirit of deep repentance, which is where any truthful conversation about race must begin. This beginning also protects us from the dangerous temptation to think that we will somehow transform our culture into a utopia where we will each transcend racism and become color-blind. Better instead to accept and find meaning in the challenge of the work of un-packing our own biases, conscious and subconscious. That is good and fruitful work that we might all dive into together for a lifetime.
I grew up outside Chicago in a very white, very privileged suburb. It was not until I moved to Texas that I first heard a blatantly racist comment, spoken by one white person to another. The naïve temptation in that moment was to believe that somehow, the more highly evolved North was devoid of racism, while the South is filled with it. With more exposure, I soon learned that racism is not a geographical problem or cultural problem; it’s a human problem. Still, in the last few years that I’ve lived in Texas, I am sobered by the number of times I can recall where I said nothing in reply to both explicitly and implicitly racist comments.
One tool that has helped me to analyze some of these comments and attitudes, and to continue questioning my own stereotypes and biases, is to read books and articles by African American authors who are critically engaging issues of race, power, and privilege in our culture. I am deep into Bryan Stevenson’s new book Just Mercy, and I believe his prophetic witness to the deep brokenness in our criminal justice system in the form of racial and socioeconomic disproportionality is changing me permanently.
Stevenson writes, “Today we have the highest rate of incarceration in the world. The prison population has increased from 300,000 people in the early 1970s to 2.3 million people today…One in every fifteen people born in the United States in 2001 is expected to go to jail or prison; one in every three black male babies born in this century is expected to be incarcerated.”
Stevenson goes on, “Some states permanently strip people with criminal convictions of the right to vote; as a result, in several Southern states disenfranchisement among African American men has reached levels unseen since before the Voting Rights Act of 1965.”
If you did not already know this, does it surprise you? I am shocked by the statistics and stories Stevenson shares in this book. Stories of systemized violence against people of color, of intentional legal misrepresentation of African American clients, of scores and scores of laws in our country that are less than 50 years dead that routinized and systemized the inferior status and treatment of people of color. I can own up to the fact that it is a privilege to be shocked, but I hope never to stop there. It is only when you and I use that shock to fuel us to keep reading, to keep listening, and to keep having the hard conversations that it becomes truly valuable.
Stevenson’s work has empowered me to engage more critically and respond more vocally to daily instances and examples of the dangerously disproportionate systems he unpacks. For white people, this means first confessing our own participation in racism, even if we think it only happens inside our own heads, and then resisting the urge to remain silent when other white people make openly or implicitly racist remarks. I used to think that it wasn’t worth risking a relationship or upsetting a temporary calm to call out wrong when I heard it. And I doubted my own strength, or that a few comments from me on the destructive nature of racism could be effective. How often do I tell myself that lie? That people can’t change or won’t understand, and it’s better for me to just be quiet?
Perhaps the more sobering question is this: is false harmony more valuable than the everyday pursuit of equality and justice?
A switch flipped when I realized that I can choose to either sell out people of color by refusing to openly condemn racism when I see it in action, or I can summon the courage to say something when it would be easier to be quiet. I’ll admit that this understanding of “bravery” is really lame and cheap in the wake of protestors who took to the streets of Selma, the bus boycotters who endured beatings and abuses, the unjustly tried and accused who faced all-white juries presented with zero evidence, followers of Dr. King and Malcolm X who were willing to give their all so that they might be heard, and so many more. Still, my voice is what I have, and speaking up is one thing I can do. So rather than be immobilized by the weight of my privilege and frustration, I can choose to say something. I can decide that false harmony is not more valuable than the everyday pursuit of equality and justice. I can risk the hurt feelings or shock of neighbors, colleagues, family, and friends when I tell them that comment they just made was NOT ok (and why).
And, since I started this post with a confession, I’ll end it with one: I am pretty terrible at being brave, most especially about a topic as challenging and uncomfortable as racism. But I’m trying, and I’m working on it, and I’m learning from people who are much braver and wiser than I am.
Will you join me? How can we be brave together today?
Kelsey Miller is a Child Hunger Outreach Specialist at Texas Hunger Initiative’s Waco Regional Office. She is passionate about more people gaining access to and education about healthy foods and our food system, and thinks the expertise of those experiencing hunger and poverty should always be our starting point. Kelsey lives with her husband and rambunctious puppy in Waco, and is also pursuing an MSW from Baylor part-time.
by Kelsey Miller
Do you eat paleo? Primal? Local? Organic? Gluten-free? Refined sugar-free? Vegetarian? Pescatarian? Vegan? South Beach Diet? Atkins? Hunter-gatherer? Fast food junkie?
Or are you overwhelmed by what appears to be an ever-evolving set of messages about what is healthy, what our bodies were created to eat, and how to make good food choices? Americans are inundated with messaging that tells us we’re never getting it quite right with food, even as we are sold the “silver bullet” to good health and nutrition. As a nation, our diet-related health outcomes are worse than ever. Healthy eating enthusiasts have, at turns, said fat was making us fat, and then reversed that decision. It’s healthier to avoid meat, or it’s healthier to eat lots of meat. Carbs are the enemy; whole grains are essential to good health. Sugar is the devil; sugar is not really so bad in moderation. All of these developments and disagreements have emerged in just the past few decades or so. Even for the conscious consumer with enough income for flexibility in choice, the sheer number of choices and the ever-increasing volume of conflicting information is maddening.
How has our culture so deeply complicated one of the simplest and most basic human activities – eating? Writers much more skilled than I have contemplated these big questions at great length – check out Michael Pollan, Marion Nestle, Raj Patel, and Michael Bittman if you want to read more. But I’m more interested in this issue at the practical level – we are inundated by information (and misinformation) about healthy eating; how then shall we live? How can Waco become a better place for all people to eat and thrive, even when we don’t have all the right definitions or answers?
Let me be the first to admit, I am overwhelmed. I love fresh fruits and veggies, try to eat only meat, fish, and dairy raised ethically, and have had the privilege of growing my own food (and food for my community) as a former produce intern at World Hunger Relief, Inc. And yet…
And yet I still frequently find myself at a loss for what to eat in a pinch, how to make good choices with limited time and energy, and how to consistently make healthy food culture a part of my life. I often fail to eat healthy. I often struggle with this question of, do I have to eat healthy at all times in order to recommend it in the community at large? My professional mission – which interweaves with my personal mission in many ways – is to advocate for and strengthen programs and policies which increase children’s access to healthy foods. What if as advocates we were more open about the fact that none of us – or at least very few – get it all right when it comes to healthy eating?
Occasionally, I’ll try an experiment where I ask people from different backgrounds how they define healthy eating or good nutrition. In my limited, unscientific experience, very few people answer with any real confidence, regardless of their education or income level.
If you’re a student, how many times in the last month have you gone to a class or meeting and been offered free candy, cookies, or donuts?
If you’ve visited a food pantry recently, how much of your box was full of canned and packaged goods, with long ingredient lists, and few whole, fresh items?
If you’re working and attend many meetings, how many lunches have you been to recently where barbecue, meat-heavy dishes, or fast food was offered?
I do not seek to demonize any of these choices and realities (I have a particular weakness for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups…), but rather to suggest, aren’t we all kidding ourselves if we think only folks with low incomes struggle to make healthy food choices on a regular basis? Whether it’s the tyrant of Too Busy or the tyrant of Too Much Information, many of us feel helpless in our knowledge of what is truly healthy food, and in our ability to acquire, prepare, and eat such foods.
As I write this blog post at my desk, I’ve finished my lunch of roasted sweet potatoes, black beans, and watermelon, all packed in a reusable, BPA-free container. But here’s the wrench: I washed it all down with a carbonated soda in a – gasp! – Styrofoam cup. Does this make me a bad person? Does the fact that I have an on-again, off-again relationship with soda even when I know it is bad for me make my advice or recommendations moot?
If all of us “food people,” as I sometimes hear myself referred to around town, opened up about our own struggles to make healthy choices, I wonder if it might change the conversation. Would that vulnerability welcome more folks into the conversation about how to ensure all have access to healthy food? I am convinced that it is not people with low-incomes alone who need “education” on nutrition and healthy eating, as I so often hear well-intentioned people say. It is all of us. Despite cleverly curated Pinterest boards, how many of us really know how to cook simple and healthy meals anymore, or feel like we can make a healthy choice under pressure at most restaurants? What if we could embark on a journey of healthy eating all together, as a community, instead of drawing arbitrary lines in the sand about who needs education and support? Because if I’m being honest, that neon fast food sign looks pretty appetizing during my short lunchtime…and I, too, need encouragement and solidarity from my community to make better choices.
Kelsey Miller blogs for Act Locally Waco about Food Security and related issues. She is a Child Hunger Outreach Specialist at Texas Hunger Initiative’s Waco Regional Office. Kelsey is also a team member for the CHAMPS grant. The CHAMPS project aims to equip city leaders, anti-hunger groups, and the broader community to more effectively combat child hunger with the help of summer and afterschool meal programs.
The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email [email protected] for more information.