my own white privilege

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Nia Wilson #sayhername

Artist: Ruben Marquez

I am both grateful and semi-cringing at my last post on racism. Grateful because a. I got some things off my chest and b. that post pointed me toward another level, via one of my readers.

Cringing, because, after being pointed to another level, I became aware of some things inside myself, displayed in that post, that are unpleasant to look at. But I’m looking at them. These things I’m talking about, fall under the broad category of white privilege. A subject that I’m at the stage of barely learning to roll over in my crib on. I haven’t begun to crawl yet. But I am listening and learning.

I was on track, when I wrote about listening. That is a good first step. There is so much more, though. In addition to Hannah Drake, who I’ve been following and being inspired by for some time now, I was pointed to two, which has evolved to three, black women’s Instagram accounts.  I’ve been intensely following them over the last week.  They are @wildmysticwoman (Layla Saad), @rachel.cargle (those were the two I was pointed toward) and @ajabarber. There are many, many more black women teaching about white privilege there and elsewhere, but those are the women I am following and listening to right now. There is a lot to digest.

I was going through somewhat of a personal turmoil last week, so welcomed the relief of focusing on something bigger than my smallish problems (pretty sure that sentence also displays my level of white privilege). It’s also interesting that when I’m being cracked open by one thing, the light starts to come in from another source altogether.

I’m not going to go in to much about what I’m learning, but invite any of you interested to just start reading these women leaders and the wealth of information they are offering (especially Rachel Cargle’s social syllabi she has compiled). As I said, I’m just beginning here. 

It was interesting, however, that the very day I started exploring these women’s teachings and having my mind blown wide open, a bizarre drama unfolded centering around Rachel’s page and a white woman, who calls herself an activist, and goes under the handle @25park (Allison Brettschneider). I felt like I was living in my own parallel universe, reading about these concepts like white fragility, white savior complex, white exceptionalism, centering, performance activism, toxic feminism, etc., while seeing it all unfold in real time like a billboard had gone 3D and come to life. It was all right there in this woman’s highly disturbing behavior. I actually had a stomach ache for hours after reading her caustic and **I don’t even have the right words for it** comments.

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This eruption centered around black women leaders calling for other feminist leaders– particularly white feminists– to speak out about the murder about 18 year old Nia Wilson at the BART station. I’m embarrassed to admit, that I’ve been so out of touch, this was the first I had heard of Nia’s murder myself. But with what I’m learning, also unsurprising. Apparently, Ms. AB does not like to be asked to do something, because she snapped back with such–again I don’t even have the words--appalling display of everything these women are teaching about, that it almost became like a caricature but without being funny. I got, in such an immediate and deep way, what these black women are trying to teach us white women and what they deal with on a regular basis. I have to thank Allison Brettschneider for that teaching because I could have seen it if I was suddenly struck blind and reading it in braille which I do not know how to read. Even writing about it right now, I still feel disturbed. I think these feelings I’m having are transformative, because they give me a glimpse in to what black women feel on a daily basis living in on this planet.

On another planet than the one @25park lives on, Anne Hathaway, seemed to get a correct word out there in response to Nia Wilson’s murder.

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Another concept that is coming up in my diving in to these materials and listening to these women’s cries for awareness and justice and action, is that of spiritual bypassing. 

Finally a name to something I’ve been trying to articulate now for some time.

Spiritual bypassing, a term coined in the early 1980s by psychologist John Welwood, refers to the use of spiritual practices and beliefs to avoid dealing with uncomfortable feelings, unresolved wounds, and fundamental emotional and psychological needs. The concept was developed in the spirit of Chögyam Trungpa’s Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, which was one of the first attempts to name this spiritual distortion.
According to teacher and author Robert Augustus Masters, spiritual bypassing causes us to withdraw from ourselves and others, hiding behind a kind of spiritual veil of metaphysical beliefs and practices. He says it “not only distances us from our pain and difficult personal issues, but also from our own authentic spirituality, stranding us in a metaphysical limbo, a zone of exaggerated gentleness, niceness, and superficiality.” From this link.

I have so many thoughts swirling in my head right now about this, but I’ll keep it as simple as possible.

I cannot teach something that I don’t know yet. I can’t know something by trying to teach what I don’t know to someone else. I cannot be that thing I’m trying to convince people I know enough to teach on, if I am filled with obstacles inside my being, unknown to me, that keep that very thing I think I know, from finding me. I cannot smile or positive think my way past my deeply ingrained unconscious beliefs and attitudes either.

The first step, is to feel it in my bones first. And what I’m realizing, is that my white female bones are filled with privilege that I would like to deny. It’s hard to write that.

I may not fully understand it yet, and I may never, but I know this to be true.

So I’m embarking on a quest, a quest to change. A quest to dive in to myself and see what needs clearing out, so I then can BE better in order to DO better.

I see so much nonsense right now in this “everybody wants to be a life coach” world. People who have decided they want to be somebody and make a living off of it, so they jump right to the role of teacher before they have learned anything about the thing they are attempting to teach. Marketing over learning. Destitute people in bankruptcy court thinking their way out of the trap, is teaching other people abundance techniques at the very same time. While asking them to fund them via “go fund me” campaigns. It’s insane to me. People who have never struggled in the world of relationship, much less maintained a successful one, thinking their way to finding love is teaching others about relationship skills. And so. much. marketing. The way to become somebody, is to learn the best way to market yourself, until you get there. I just can’t. The total lack of authenticity while marketing oneself as “real”.

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If I just sound positive enough, if I read enough on this topic, if I use the right buzz words and emojis laced through them in the right written patter,  if I just have enough followers, then people will pay me for my wisdom! And it’s always crumbling, of course it is.

This kind of mentality guides me right now, because, although, like in my last post, I like to think of myself as the last person on Earth who would be racist, I am wrong. It is ingrained in the fabric of my being and I am just barely beginning to learn about that. The only way, the only way, I can be a true ally in ways I may have already thought I was being, is to keep digging inside. Keep listening to these powerful teachers guiding me and letting myself be humbled and cracked open. This is an inside job first and there is no bypassing that–and guess what–black women can smell my privilege a mile away (and likely it is displayed even all over this post, even with me trying to be careful not to, I am not changed yet, I have a lot of work to do).

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

When someone tells me the best way to be in support of them– which includes my own husband–the best response is to put away my ideas of what I think the best way to support them is and listen to them. Then do that to the best of my ability. Allison Brettschneider. showed me the opposite of that in neon. Don’t tell ME what to do is such a knee jerk response. It’s infuriating, even to me. I can only imagine what Rachel Cargle was feeling and the barrage of attack that came down on her. I can’t imagine really, which is the whole point.

I’ve known for decades that humiliation is valuable if it can breed humility. It would be a miracle if someone like Allison B.–who is being called out everywhere on these topics–(I would say she’s becoming a poster child for this now), could have that kind of revelation. It could change the world.

My own revelations, however, are more important right now to make the changes that can make a difference.

Layla Saad (@wildmysticwoman) just completed offering a 28 day course in White Privilege that she will be offering again in the coming months. I will be taking it. If anyone would like to join me, I will get you the information. You can start by following her on Instagram where I’m sure she will also post more information on it.

Here is an article to start with.

I’m aware, that my posting about these topics may make many of my regular readers uncomfortable. You may feel the need to unfollow me. I get that. Yet, that discomfort that you or I may be feeling, pales in comparison to standing on a subway station and out of nowhere getting your throat cut for simply being. Or witnessing that. Or knowing about it across the country, or the world, when that person looks like you and feeling your own unsafety in the world.

I just have to do this work. And I know I will stumble, say stupid things, even be offensive unintentionally in my unlearning. And I will keep pressing on.

Ok, back to listening and reading and drinking everything in and letting myself be transformed. And when it feels right, taking action, such as this post.

In the name of Nia Wilson, I write this. I say your name. #sayhername

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Artist: Kaylani Juanita

 

Racism 2

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I know I’m not alone in a heightened awareness (and a heightened sensitivity) these days around racism. I’ll just let that sentence stand alone without examples, because no one should need them. We are living in a culture right now, where racist attitudes are expressing themselves everywhere at full throttle. Not that they are new, I don’t think, but that they’ve been given permission to fly their freak flags (again) and they are creating parades with them. Even if their parade has just one participant, that racist person is marching out loud and proud.

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As a Caucasian female, I’ve prided myself on my personal lack of racist ideas and attitudes–the opposite really. I mean I’m that same girl who was the only kid in my 3rd grade class who volunteered to participate in the integration program. I was the only child in my grade level in my white suburban neighborhood who was bussed to “the black school” on my own volition. I held my hand up proudly when they asked for volunteers, and spent the next three years riding that bus, watching it cross paths with the black kids who were so “lucky” to come to the white neighborhood. I don’t know what their experiences were, but I can guess that they were less fortunate than mine in the attempts to help them be fortunate. Booker T. Washington grade school was a place where I thrived, got introduced to computers before any of the other schools did, and I was popular. It gave me a safe and nurturing environment at a time of turmoil in my homelife–when my father married the woman who started abusing us almost immediately. School was my refuge. I loved that school.

Yet, now, I feel I’m being asked to go deeper inside myself to these issues of racism–not just around me, but inside me. I’m realizing that now is a time to be humble, to be a listener-as-activist, and to learn.

I follow a very outspoken black woman online named Hannah Drake. She is a writer/poet/gardener who is guiding me in ways that she can’t imagine. She writes on her blog Write Some Shit and I encourage you out there to take a moment and check her out–maybe just start with her most recent challenge called Do Not Move Off the Sidewalk.

This is the part of the challenge that pertains to me (and maybe you):

For White people, I challenge you for the next 24-48 hours to be aware of how you treat Black people and People of Color in spaces. Do you have an expectation that Black people and People of Color should move out of your way? How many times do you insert yourself and your comments into virtual spaces because you feel it is your right without reading and listening to People of Color that have stated their truth on a particular issue? Do you speak around the Black person as if they are not in the room? Do you interrupt People of Color when they are speaking? Are you cutting a Black person or a Person of Color in line because you feel that is your right? Also be aware of how it feels to be cognizant of how your body navigates spaces and imagine how that would feel to do that at the very least for 8 hours out of each day.

I have accepted this challenge and in all public spaces, I’m noticing myself. And yes, I’m noticing that, although I don’t feel entitled to the space they are occupying, I have not been giving people of color the same treatment that I give people who look like me. It’s kind of scary to even say that out loud, but I am the subject of my own experiment, so I need to keep it objective. I notice that sometimes I simply feel like I might say or do the wrong thing, so I avoid. It’s not a fear of that person thing, it’s a fear of myself. That’s about as far as I know about it now.

So, applying this challenge, I’m confronting that fear. I’m making a point of pausing, stopping, holding a door vs rushing through it, making deliberate eye contact, smiling. Even yesterday in front of the grocery store, I struck up a conversation with two black women about the heat. They looked surprised that I stepped in to their space with my words, but they opened up to me. I am confronting an avoidance in myself that I was not even aware of before this challenge. I don’t really know what my fear is, and I may never find out exactly, but I’m willing to challenge it.

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In contemplating this further, I’ve also made a decision to shift in another certain way. I looked more deeply at another example that I encountered this week over a stupid reality show that I stupidly follow. It’s about couples agreeing to be married to a stranger (Married at First Sight). I not only watch this show, but discuss it with others on social media sometimes in a small Facebook group. This week the new season aired and it displayed the interview process with the matchmakers for selecting their couples. One gregarious black man shared, during his interview, that he was not attracted to women with darker skin than his. He said something about darker women not “melting his butter”.

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Photo by Ravi Kant on Pexels.com

A few days later, a black woman in the group brought this up for discussion. I noticed everyone chiming in with their thoughts and feelings about this disclosure–from outrage, to “everyone has a type and it’s no big deal”.  Reading through this thread, a shift happened in me.

You see, I’m a person who is often very quick to form an opinion. Some might even call me opinionated. I’m also a person who, when confronted with a challenge, is quick to seek and form a strategy to deal with it–formed of course on my opinion. What I should do, what I should say, how I should approach this thing.

I realized, reading that thread, that what I needed to do was listen. Not even form an opinion (yet) but to stop all that inner commotion and listen. Who I needed to listen to in this equation, were the people his comment affected most: the black women viewing it. My mind opened up as I thought about this discussion being their domain and if I’m invited to this party, I need to shut my damn mouth and listen to how they are feeling about it.

That led to me making that comment–that the thing I felt I needed to do was listen to how the “darker than him” women were feeling about this and learn something. Not do something, not post something, but just listen. 

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Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

The opening poster immediately thanked me for that perspective, then went on to educate the group (if anyone was paying attention besides me that is) about the term colorism and its roots in slavery and how this was a bigger issue than simply this man’s type. God, it’s exhausting to witness how quickly white people want to discount a black person’s historical perspective. Like “that happened then, so shouldn’t affect you now” kind of thing. I am SO SICK of reading comments like those. How about just trying to understand, that since obviously the person is feeling affected, what that means to them? Before so quickly denying their right to have the feelings they are already possessing? (that comment could apply to almost every marital argument–or any argument– by the way)

I felt a sense of relief in this awareness and decision. How about I make that my goal, at least for awhile or however long it takes, to stop forming opinions and judgments and do this or do that? But make my focus and intention to pay attention and listen. And maybe that listening will change me for the better. Then from that new place, I will know what to do.

So I’ve decided to release my fast thinking/deciding/judging/overworking mind for awhile and on these issues around racism, to pay attention to the people who are affected the most by it and deeply listen to what they are saying. Even if it is uncomfortable for me, to allow their words and thoughts and feelings to sink in to myself and see where that takes me. Maybe I can change the world by being changed by it even more deeply. That’s where I’m headed now.

I’m going to continue Hannah’s challenge indefinitely. I’m going to keep noticing how I feel and keep taking more risks in that regard. And I will see how that changes me too. Just me, one person living in a smallish town. This is my path to activism for the moment.

I’ll end this with David Whyte’s poem Start Close In. Take a listen, in his own voice.

 

swerve

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“Hi Kathy, nice to meet you, but that’s not what I need,” he said.

I was so lost in thought while pushing my cart out of Costco yesterday, that I handed the checker at the door my Costco CARD vs. my receipt.

Two incidents occurred there, both sort of connected, that sort of took me over and I’m still thinking about it.

It was a busy day and there was a lot of competition for space with those humongous carts scurrying around. I was there looking for nutrition shakes for my Dad, a urinal (they don’t carry those), paper towels, chicken soup and of course, coffee.

Where are those dang paper towels? I said to myself, after getting as far away from them in the warehouse as possible. I pivoted my cart and found an opening in the cart-crowd and began my mad dash to the very back of the store.

That’s where the first thing happened.

You know how you can see someone coming toward you in an aisle sometimes and you don’t know which way to swerve to avoid them and at the same time, they don’t know which way to swerve, so you both are semi-swerving with these micro-swerves that seem like a little Dancing with the Stars opening to a number, until you either stop, laugh and/or wait for the other person to complete their swerve and move past you?

Yeah, it was one of those. But something struck me as different this time.

The man I was swervecart-dancing with, apologized.

I replied with a laugh “I was just trying to read your swerve”.

But his apology somehow struck me to the core.

You see, this was a young, bright smiled black man, in very, very white Gilbert, AZ.

Why did he apologize? I wondered.

And why was I feeling so bad about that?

Neither of us did anything wrong.

Later, after I checked out, I ran in to a hot mess of Costco stuff, and people blocking the post check-out area turning it in to one-lane traffic only. I began to push out with my cart and another man, who was actually ahead of me, stopped in his tracks to let me out.

I thanked him, moving forward, still haunted by this feeling, now, exacerbated. You see the gentleman who just let me out, was also black (and very very tall).

My mind was flooded with recent memories of travel, and the norm I’ve been experiencing lately of these rushing Caucasian men, who can’t seem to bear to let me out of my airplane row, unless I have a foot firmly planted in the aisle, as we deboard the plane. Even if they are in a row behind me. I have actually said out loud to their backs before “I guess chivalry is dead”.

I am sounding like I am making generalizations, aren’t I? In fact, I am just describing my own, personal experiences. Glad I have a gallant, polite man who lets most everyone out before him, but always me. He is, in my experience, the exception, sadly.

Back to the young man who apologized, because that seems the one mostly stuck in my craw.

I have experienced this many times. If there is a little kerfuffle or something like that, it seems the black person is sort of trained, by ALL OF US, to give deference. Like I, with all my privilege, should naturally go first. Should naturally be deferred to. Like he had something to apologize for, for being in my path, when I was equally in his path!

I have to say, this broke my heart in a way yesterday.

That this exists at all. This vestigial tail of what our black brothers and sisters were required to do–take the hit for the white man, apologize if anything went wrong or didn’t go wrong. But the consequences in our not so distant past were far more devastating.

I am heartbroken also, thinking of ways I may have contributed to this, even unknowingly.

I wish I could go back in time to yesterday and say directly “you have nothing to apologize for!”. Or something. I feel unfinished about it.

I know I’m supposed to hand the checker at the door my receipt leaving Costco, but I was consumed in sadness, flanked at the back with chivalrous generosity, and it was all a bit too much.

I need to be better. I need to be more aware, more sensitive, more something.

But first of all, I just needed to write this to get it out of my head.

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A little story about race (ism).

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Please take a moment to grab a coffee or a glass of wine and sit back while I tell you all a little story about race(ism). And how it has impacted my life.

Back when my sister and I were in college in Normal, IL, I was fumbling and bumbling toward a degree in partying.  Cindy moved back up from Tallahassee, FL where she spent her first two years of college pursuing her degree in Nutrition, to finish it in Illinois. I don’t know why–if she was just homesick or missed me or I missed her so much she couldn’t stand it– but she did move back and in with me. We lived in this really weird house, where we shared a bedroom for the last year that she finished her degree. I finished my bumbling and decided to drop out for a year while deciding what I wanted to do (and stop wasting my parents’ money in college, while I was feeling so unsettled and directionless).

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I’ll just say it. We smoked a lot of pot back then. It was the late 70’s and that was our thing. We had a small house, shared with two other gals, with no TV but a stereo, and we spent our time doing bongs, and listening to Joan Armatrading, Todd Rundgren, Peter Frampton and Gino Vanelli. You get the picture.

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While maintaining my solid C average my last semester there, tripping over my intellect, I worked as a waitress at a swanky country club. It was there that I learned to drink Scotch, which I now despise. I also learned how to serve, while being treated like crap by wealthy people. To be honest, I was probably a pretty terrible waitress. But I did my time.

Cindy, while finishing her degree, worked in the kitchen at the International dorm. She served food there, so was popular as she gave two scoops of macaroni and cheese to her favorite diners. Her outgoing, bubbly personality gave way to many invitations to the International parties. We met students from all over the world that year.

While living in our small, smoky house, and trying to nurse what I’m sure was a low-grade depression, I decided to lift my spirits, by having this friend of a friend, former hair stylist now student, give me some “highlights” in my drab, dishwater blond hair. She sat me on a cold metal chair, in our small linoleumed floor kitchen, while painting this terrible green goop all over my head. She said this “henna treatment” would perk up my blond hair and give me highlights. I needed anything to perk me up, so readily paid her $20 fee for this service. I was so excited for my new look!

Right up to the moment where she was rinsing the goop out, in the mirrorless kitchen sink, and said in a flat tone “wow, you have a lot of red in your hair”. I felt my heart begin to race, as I had never had one shred of red in my hair that I knew of.

She trimmed and dried my hair,  and I quickly scooted to our one poorly lit, clawfoot tubbed bathroom, to be met with….well…Howdy Doody staring back at me from that old medicine cabinet mirror.

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Yep, my hair was bright orange. Not a cute, natural red even, but some kind of brassy, bright orange, like you would see on a clown wig. I was horrified.

The stylist knew this was bad. She offered to run to the hair supply store to get this formula that would take this hideous wig off. Which it most certainly did not. Nothing would take Henna off, it turned out. I was stuck with it.

I went from this kind of granola, hippie chick style who rarely wore makeup and mostly bell bottom jeans, and cotton Indian shirts who wanted a little, not obvious, perk-up. To someone who clearly was out of their damn mind.

I had to go to work the next day like that. And after the bug-eyed responses, people laughed. Of course, they did, I looked like a straight-haired clown. I can’t blame them, really. It was all so disorienting.

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yes, it was this color

But it truly was not fun for me, at all. I didn’t want to leave the house. The low-grade depression elevated to a medium grade. Not even a bong hit made me feel better. Elton John couldn’t even cheer me up. It was terrible.

One morning I woke up up to an envelope waiting for me on the small kitchen table. It was a card from Cindy. It was one of those Ziggy cards. Well, I’ll just show you:

 

That signature is the very one I took to the tattoo parlor to have her name tattooed on to my back. Things started getting a lot better in my life after I did that too. I met my husband that year.

 

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Now that I’ve digressed, on top of my digressions, you can see why I asked you to pony up to your laptop with a relaxing beverage, because this post is about race, and I’m about to tell you why. Please feel free to take a break and refill your glass or cup, in my case.

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One of the friends Cindy made that year in the International dorm was a man named Rufus O. Rufus was a very tall, very dark, very handsome man from Nigeria. When I say dark, I mean Rufus’ skin tone was as black as I’ve ever seen. If we were at one of the many house parties I attended with him, he was often spinning records quietly off to the side, and you could find him because of his intense white smile. He had the whitest teeth and the biggest smile, made all the brighter from the contrast.

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Rufus was a graduate student at that point. I think he was studying chemistry. He was a quiet man with a loud, deep voice. When he spoke, you listened. His voice often reminded me of that Uncola man on the commercials. He was smart and motivated and kind of a straight arrow for us, as we were basically the party girls.

I don’t know how long it took for them, or how long before she admitted it to me, but Cindy fell madly in love with Rufus. She kept it quiet for awhile, you know, the interracial thing.

When it came time to move forward after she graduated and I dropped out, she and Rufus decided to pursue further education at Western Illinois University. She, a Master’s in Community Health Education and Rufus, a PhD in Chemistry; maybe Biology. Rufus had his eye on medical school, which he did ultimately pursue, and complete. Cindy also completed her Master’s curriculum during the two years she spent with Rufus there. They were both excellent students.

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Our brother John, followed Cindy to MacComb, after graduating high school and completed his Bachelor’s degree in Marketing at Western. I wonder if Cindy hadn’t been there, if he would have been able to make that milestone. John spent all of his free time with Cindy and Rufus, who named him “Big M” and “Vacumn Cleaner”. Rufus would say both of those names for John, while laughing his deep hearty laugh. “Big M” referred to “Big Miser” as John was always mooching off of them and “Vacumn Cleaner” referred to his ability to eat mass quantities of their food.

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Rufus was an amazing cook and taught us all how to make this Nigerian chicken dish and Jellof rice. Rufus and Cindy often hosted dance parties.  Prince was one of Rufus’ favorites as he spun that original Prince record, “I Wanna Be Your Lover” our favorite, as Cindy and I spun our disco moves in their dark living room. He gifted us these long, tie dyed, African gowns  that we wore, as we pulled off our best Travolta-style moves.

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Their apartment was filled with serious studies, and serious fun. It was full of love and laughter.

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I don’t know when it started, but Cindy started to feel the sting of racism there–some from within our own family. Maybe most of it, actually. Marj, our stepmother, raised in Mississippi, was liberal politically but still a victim of her roots. She wrote Cindy letters– intellectually judgmental letters–telling her things like “I just think it’s selfish for you to not consider what any future children you might have with Rufus might suffer in this world”. She didn’t appeal to the world’s judgment but marked Cindy with words like “self-centered” and “as usual, all about yourself”. Classic Marj.

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Once, my Dad, Marj and Marj’s parents went to MacComb to visit Cindy.  Marj’s parents, our legal “grandparents” who we had known for over a decade at that time, refused to get out of the car, much less step foot in Cindy and Rufus’ apartment. They refused to even meet Rufus. Their boycott spoke volumes, and Cindy felt it.

During their tenure at Western, I got my act together, went cold turkey off pot, and moved to Arizona to pursue my nursing career. I got straight A’s the first year I re-enrolled in college. I changed my entire style of dress and back-to-blonde hair to a more conservative look. I made new friends and settled in well as a full-time student with a part-time job at a nursing home. that I’d set up before I even moved out. Arizona was a good fit for me.

Cindy came to visit me within that first year, and was restless. She spoke openly for the first time about how the stress of being in this interracial relationship was affecting her. She showed me letters from Marj, and shared about the Mississippi boycott. All of this was terribly painful for her. Their racism did hurt her, and it did affect her choices.

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Cindy ultimately decided to leave Rufus. It was during that decision, that she confessed to me that she had been married to him for two years. Rufus, being more conservative, didn’t want to live together without being married, she explained. So she agreed and slipped away to a courthouse, and married him in secret. I was astonished she had kept this from me. I guess this is the kind of pressure she felt. This was in 1981, not 1951, but she felt it just the same.

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Throughout the years, Cindy would reflect on Rufus and how good he was to her. How he helped her achieve goals, how they almost never fought, how kind he was even after she decided to leave him. At times she was wistful, wondering if they ever might find each other again. They did keep in touch, periodically.

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Cindy, then followed me again, this time to Arizona, where she put the final touches on her Master’s degree–an internship at ASU. Shortly after graduating, she broke my heart in a million pieces, when she decided to take an incredibly prestigious, corporate job in Minneapolis and moved there. She headed up one of the first corporate wellness programs in the country, at Control Data, and bought a condo. She was financially successful but became personally miserable after three years. Again, she moved back to Arizona, in with me for awhile, and ultimately got her own apartment in Mesa. It was from that apartment that all the walls came tumbling down.

Cindy was still trying to get on her feet when she met Michael Apelt. She took easy jobs, having broken away from the corporate pressure of Control Data. She needed a break, she said. She worked as a waitress at a pizza restaurant, and as a weight loss counselor at a couple of well known companies. “Nutri-Hell” she liked to call one of them. She wasn’t happy, all of her friends were getting married, and having babies, and she was headed to her 30th birthday feeling pretty adrift and unaccomplished.

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Along came tall, blond, blue-eyed Michael Apelt. Sociopathic radar zeroed in on the most vulnerable women in the disco. There were many, but Cindy was the most vulnerable. And the most hopeful. perhaps. Among her many entries about Michael in her diary, one stood out to me most bittersweet, “He is my white Rufus”, she wrote.

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This caucasian, Aryan even, German, blond, blue-eyed man who’d swept her off her feet, within weeks, abetted by his brother, murdered Cindy just as they’d planned from the start, for life insurance– days after she’d received a postcard from coal-black Rufus sent from, of all places, Germany.  Her former husband wrote about how he was coming to the States, and would like to visit her sometime over the Holidays. Of the many if-onlys, I wonder what might have happened if he’d arrived even a few days before that terrible, terrible night; Dec. 23rd, 1988.

Rufus’ postcard ended up as a piece of evidence in a courtroom, the following year.

Rufus, initially, became the prime suspect in her murder, helped right along by Michael Apelt, who tried to divert suspicion from himself and his co-murdering brother. He did the same with me, incidentally. The Apelts were ultimately arrested after their second attempt to throw suspicion in the African American direction, claiming “two black men came to the door and threatened us”. They clearly didn’t know that undercover officers were watching Cindy’s apartment, where the murderers had holed up 24/7, when they weren’t executing their cover-up or hawking her jewelry. The detectives saw no men fitting that racist description anywhere on the property, much less at their doorstep. The Apelts were arrested right after that final slip in their plan.

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I was questioned at length about Rufus. Rufus was tracked down and his passport investigated. He was interrogated  over the phone. I think Homeland Security was involved at one point. Rufus went from dreaming about revisiting the love of his life, to finding out she’d been murdered, and harshly interrogated about it. Merry Christmas Rufus.

Rufus tracked me down eventually; devastated and confused, obviously. He talked, also, about still loving Cindy and having wished they could reconcile. If only he had found her again, a few months earlier.

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Over the years, especially diving in to these events for my book, I’ve wondered what now-deceased Marj, and her parents might say, as we naturally compare the relationships of Nigerian Rufus with his MD, and night-black complexion, to the lily-white con men who stabbed Cindy to death in the desert, on the night before Christmas Eve.

Was your relief that she left Rufus something you celebrate now? Was your abject dismissal of the value of him as a human being or them as a couple, something you feel proud of?

Is the fact that your judgment of Cindy’s relationship, became part of the recipe that pushed her out of the only safe arms she had ever known with a man, into a knife to her throat by someone you would have approved of, something you feel good about?

Did you learn one damn thing through all of this?

Rufus went on to practice medicine internationally.

The Apelt brothers went to Death Row. One of them got married from prison.

I don’t know if Rufus ever remarried.