In the audience of poets


Last week, after several people asked how I, as a white parent, talk to my white children about white privilege, I reposted something I wrote two years ago. Something I still feel is accurate and potentially helpful, especially when talking to small children. (And by small, I mean grade-school aged. For me, personally, I think preschool is too young. Bo and Revi don't understand what privilege means because they are four. They do know that people judge others based on their appearances and we talk a lot about what makes different bodies different... and what makes different minds different... different hearts different...)

We don't REALLY know.

And that's a problem. That's THE problem. That's OUR problem.

And I started to think, after reposting my Frozen piece that THERE IS SO MUCH more we can do with our children -- that we NEED to be doing with our children -- our communities and ourselves.


All we need to do is listen. 

I grew up in a predominantly white town Or, at least that's what I thought...

Looking back, I realize that I grew up in a predominantly Latino town but because we were so segregated, we never got to know one another. The Latino kids, most of whom were Mexican, took different classes on different parts of campus than we did. They were ESL (English as a Second Language) and their teachers taught them mainly in Spanish.

Or at least that's what we were told.

The only time we were ever together was during PE class and even then, you could have drawn a line between us...

We didn't speak to one another. We didn't acknowledge one another. We didn't even know each other's names.

I had NEVER EVEN THOUGHT about that until recently. Until now, really. I accepted it as status quo... that from 7th-12th grade, I never had a conversation with a single ESL student. Not one. We didn't mix. We were separated on the campus and nobody asked why. 

I never asked why. 

I grew up without knowing the stories of these students -- my peers. Teenage girls just like me. Teenage girls nothing like me. And I wonder what life would have looked like FOR ALL OF US had we been put together in the same English classes... standing in front of classrooms reading our poetry to one another.

What would have changed? Would we have become friends?

I grew up in a liberal hippie beach town in the 90s and had no idea I was also experiencing a very real form of segregation.

It wasn't until I came to LA and became active in a community of artists, most notably slam poets, that I started to listen -- and ultimately HEAR the words and stories of people of color... 

Because one can read a book -- one can read many books -- on what it's like to be black, brown, gay, trans.... But LISTENING to a person speak… that's the game changer. (It was for me.)


Da Poetry Lounge on Fairfax was my first slam experience. My neighbors took me with them. They were poets and rappers and honed their rhymes at open mic nights. I assumed, with my own poetry in hand, that I would want to share as well... But I didn't. And in several years of attending slams, I never did. There was too must to hear -- too much to listen to -- too much to learn.

It was there in that room that I first learned what it meant to be a feminist. It was there in that room where I first heard a woman speak openly about a rape, hear a black man cry—and a brown man cry—and the crowd fall silent. It was there that I learned for the first time what it was like—what it was REALLY like—to be black in this country. To be brown in this country. To be ANYTHING but white in this country. That is where I saw the light. That is where I recognized the power of truth and how effective it was. I woke up in that audience. I woke up again and again and again in more audiences like it...  (I still do.)

...Because reposting words on Facebook does not wield the same power as teenagers and young adults and old adults standing on a stage with their hearts in their hands PLEADING, SINGING, SOARING...

Because SHOWING UP somewhere with your body and your heart and your open eyes and ears is EVERYTHING. Sitting in the audience of the vulnerable, wise and willing is WHAT WE ALL SHOULD be doing right now.

Fellow white parents, we don't have to talk to our children about white privilege...  We just have to take them somewhere where people of color are willing to share their stories. For those who live in primarily white suburbs... take a road trip... drive to the nearest city or town that isn't primarily white... pull up a chair at an open mic night -- at a coffee shop, or a theatre, or the street... where black hands put black microphones in black hands. Where brown voices are singing their truths... (You can also encourage your children to subscribe to Youth SpeaksGet Lit and/or Button Poetry on YouTube. Talk to your school about showcasing local poets at assemblies… Elevate voices in the community who, for whatever reason, you might not typically hear from. There are so many ways to put our bodies in the audience and listen…)

You can read my entire post, here.