The Loss of Equality

The recent Black Lives Matter movement woke me up to the inequalities around race and white privilege in our country that still exist today. I’m still taking time to learn, to process and to understand my unique, authentic role in this monumental time that is pivotal, not just for our nation, but for humanity as a whole.

While I find myself afraid to say or do the wrong thing, and not entirely sure about how to support my black friends and family members, I’m reminded that the best way to make a positive change is simply to start.

  • To have the uncomfortable conversation.
  • To risk looking naive in attempts to understand.
  • To DO instead of sit back while others suffer.

As I write, I can clearly see the parallelism that exists between how we as a society address RACE and DEATH — two elephants in the room that no one wants to point out because we just don’t know how!

So let’s educate ourselves.

I invited my sister-in-law Erika Parkinson to share her Black Story for our next community story of loss. Her loss doesn’t revolve around a deceased person, but it affects every element of her daily life. These subtle losses that Erika has experienced — the feelings of being “less than” or never feeling fully safe or secure in public places — represents just some of the shared loss of the black community, from which white privilege is born.

Read her story below.

A Shared Black Story

The first time I realized that the the color of my skin was something that some people wouldn’t like was kindergarten. I was called “blackie.”

“Yes, I am black,” I thought, but I could tell by his tone it wasn’t a compliment.

I remember having conversations with my parents validating my feelings but also reminding me that I am beautiful and worthy of respect.

This moment was the beginning of my journey as a black woman in America.

by Erika Parkinson

Like many black people who live in predominately white communities, I have had to learn to live in world where I am one of the only (if not THE only) black person in the room.

In high school I made the varsity track team as a freshman. I remember one of my classmates telling me “the only reason you’re fast is because black people have an extra bone in their heel.” Clearly I couldn’t just be a gifted runner.

I was an “other” predisposed for athletic pursuits.

At TCU, I was asked what sports team I was on by fellow students. A black student couldn’t have been accepted on academics alone, right?

I was at a semi-formal event when I was told, “You speak so well and articulately.” It was meant as a compliment but how did they expect me to speak? In broken English? And even if I did, does that make me less intelligent?

I can’t tell you the amount of times a person has helped themselves to reaching into my hair without permission and asking, “Do black people wash their hair?”

Ask any person who looks like me if they have been followed while shopping or asked for additional ID when returning an item.

These are what you call microaggressions. “Small” everyday aggressions that lead to a lifetime of frustration and feelings of being less than our white counterparts. Hearing the click of the car doors lock as you walk by, watching adults move their children away from you to protect them and wondering if your skin color is the reason for someone’s behavior or actions.

These are just a few examples of what a black person experiences in the US. Unfortunately, George Floyd experienced the extreme of aggression and racism towards black people. He was not the first black person to be publicly lynched and through the multiple deaths of other black men and women since then, he has not been the last.

Two years ago I married my best friend and love of my life. He is white man from a predominantly white Colorado town. Race had been a rare conversation when we first started dating but has become a more frequent topic in our home due to recent events. For many of my friends and new family members, this is the first time racism in America and its consequences are being discussed outside of an American history class. This is an example of white privilege.

This is the privilege of never having to question if the color of your skin could be a reason why you’re being treated differently from your peers. White privilege is being able to look at human history and never seeing your ancestors enslaved or colonized. It is being able to trace your family history back hundreds of years because your written history is valued and documented.

No, you don’t need to apologize to me or any black person. I’m not telling you my experiences to make you feel sorry for me either. I’m reminding you of black America because instagram has gone from black squares of solidarity back to technicolor vacations and OOTD. Breonna Taylor is no longer trending and calls to action have become the June fad.

My experience isn’t something that disappears because the officers that killed George Floyd were arrested. It is something that black Americans continue to deal with and is not just a “black problem.”

I have had a very good life but it is a life with experiences that my white friends and family have never had and no one should experience. We owe it to ourselves and the next generation to do better but there is only so much that the black community can do on our own.

I ask that white America realizes the privilege your ancestors gave you and stop using it solely for your benefit.

I call my white allies to action.

Use your voice and your privilege to make lasting change in this country for ALL Americans. Educate yourself by watching documentaries, reading books written by black people, and taking a hard long look at your own actions and judgements towards black people.

Even with all that I have experienced and what my ancestors have experienced, I am so proud of my heritage. If I had the opportunity to come back to life as a different race, I wouldn’t. My ancestors have endured — despite hatred, slavery, and systemic racism. That strength runs in my veins and I use my privilege to write down and continue to tell their stories so that they continue to endure.

I speak for myself when I say that I am open and welcome to having a conversation about race and my experiences with it. Please know, however, I am not THE voice (and neither is Beyoncé) for all of black America. Watching every episode of Insecure, listening to Spotify’s Black Lives Matter playlist, and watching Straight Outta Compton isn’t enough. Educate yourself through black literature. Educate your circle of influence. Make lasting change by calling out racism.

I hope this small glimpse into my life helps to open someone’s eyes to the life of a black American.

4 Tips to Find Freedom in Grief on July 4th

Milestones are tricky when it comes to grief and loss. We tend to “prepare” for the big ones like death-anniversaries, major holidays like Christmas, or your deceased person’s birthday, by anticipating that the day might be emotionally challenging. But, what I’ve found after more than 15 months since my husband Ian’s death is that the more subtle ones tend sneak up on us — presenting an equal struggle or even more of one because they catch us off guard!

We are approaching July 4th, which for most people might be categorized as a “smaller holiday” — a subtle milestone. But for me, it’s also my wedding anniversary with Ian. This Saturday, July 4, 2020, would have marked six years as a married couple.

I don’t know how I’ll be feeling on that day, but what I do know is that I’ll give myself space to welcome whatever comes up and feel it. My grief journey has taught me to embrace the pain as a sign of eternal love — the invisible string that keeps us connected. This Saturday, I plan to visit our wedding venue up on Lookout Mountain and explore the surrounding natural scenery with my two kiddos to remember the day;

How dapper Ian looked in his designer suit. (He got very fancy after living at the Raffles Beijing Hotel for 3 years! 😉 )

His delicious smile that made me fall in love with him.

The way his eyes locked on mine walking down the aisle.

The electricity in the air from the rain storm that had just passed and from energy that everyone who attended our wedding experienced collectively that day.

Love bursting from within us like fireworks.

And while there will be no fireworks to light up the night this year due to the pandemic, I’ll never let go of the spark that connected our souls here on earth and our spirits into eternity.

I revisited my blog post from my first wedding anniversary without Ian. At the time I still wore my wedding rings, in addition to his wedding band, which I had turned into a bracelet. I was still holding on to my old identity — loving wife to Ian and mother to his kids. It’s been a painful, yet profound process to shed these identities and I’ve taken my time to move forward in a way that feels organic and true to me.

I’ve learned that while I’m no longer Ian’s wife, that does’t diminish my love for him; and while our family is missing its father-figure, that doesn’t make us any less whole.

I’ve learned that pain is the greatest catalyst for self-discovery and growth — and this theme comes up time and time again. Which leads me to my last lesson —

That there is always a lesson!

Every life experience — as tragic, unfair, and hopeless as it may seem — can teach us something new. And this awakening is pure magic.

Sometimes it’s difficult to see these lessons when you’re in the thick of pain and struggle — so if you are, I offer the advice to give yourself grace, give yourself time, focus on doing the next right thing and most importantly give yourself permission to feel whatever you feel.

And for these sneaky holidays like July 4th, here a few tips I’ve picked up from my personal grief journey:

TIP 1:

If you make social plans, remember that you have every right to bail last minute. Sometimes we don’t know how we are going to feel right up until the moment we are “in it”, so give friends or family members a heads up.

TIP 2:

If you’re not comfortable with cancelling, then just don’t commit! Reserve the right to join the party last minute or late. Remember — you do what’s right for you!

TIP 3:

Remind yourself that this one special day is literally just another day. Consider making space to grieve a couple days before a holiday or milestone if you feel like something might come up. This way you can be in more control of your emotions and enjoy the special day as you envision.

TIP 4:

Holidays bring family and friends together. So when our loved one isn’t around to attend the party, it certainly deepens the void. As you see their warm embraces and hear their laughter, it will intensity your loss. Remember to:

  • Take a deep breathe.
  • Feel the pain.
  • Remind yourself that pain is love.
  • And that love is just as alive as the people surrounding you.

If you have experienced the loss of a loved one, you know that not one day passes without thinking about our deceased person. Milestones or holidays don’t change that. They can trigger our emotions, but we have the power to prepare to lean into our grief, save it for another day, or feel whatever come up in the moment. You have the freedom and power and to choose whatever path is right for you!

So this July 4th — a day to honor our nation’s freedom and independence —, I invite you to celebrate your loved one; celebrate the freedom and power of creating your own unique journey; and celebrate the lessons — the magical transformations that unfold when we fully embrace struggle and feel it all!