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Recognizing the racism we likely harbor inside

NIAGARA, Wis. — I have belonged to a book club since 2010; I joined one year after the group began and while I was still working. There are eight of us who meet once each month for eight months of the year. We call ourselves the Three B’s, which stands for Books, Brains and Bifocals — we are all “of a certain age.” While we all share a love of books, enjoy discussing them and now are mostly retired, we come from different backgrounds and have had a variety of life experiences. We all bring different perspectives to our discussions.

When I first joined this lively group, I had not yet retired. Belonging gave me the discipline I needed to read a book a month, which proved to be a lifesaver in getting me to concentrate on something other than my job. When I could not sleep at night, my monthly read became a comfortable companion. Now that I am retired, book club helps to keep my mind active and provides a wonderful social and educational outlet. Throughout these 11 years of reading and discussing, our group has built up a mutual trust. As we share our insights, we share our lives — and ourselves — with each other.

February’s book was titled “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism” and was written by Robin DiAngelo, who is white. To say it was a real eye opener is a gross understatement. To say it was a challenge to read is putting it mildly. As our leader said, “I did not choose this book for its literary value.” It read like a sociology textbook, so we had to really work to make our way through it. But we all knew once we began reading that this was an important book and would be an important discussion.

As I finished the book and began to anticipate our meeting, I wondered how in the world our leader would even begin a discussion of its important contents. There was so much between its covers and within its 150 pages; and much of it was going to be highly personal and difficult to talk about. No one wants to admit they are racist, and, quite frankly, most of us do not see our own racism. I had always assumed that racism was not an issue for me because I have always lived in small, white, northern rural communities. I have never held any ill feelings toward Black people, was always taught “they are just like us,” and for most of my life never came into any real contact with people of color.

But the Black Lives Matter movement of today, in combination with the civil rights movement of the 1960s, helped me understand that “this issue” was not going away. It is woven into the historical narrative that defines our country; in fact, it forms the foundation upon which our country was built. With this difficult realization came the very gradual understanding that I do contribute to its continuation as long as I do not see my part in it. And how do I discover my own racism? Well, reading “White Fragility” was a very good start.

To begin, our leader asked each of us to share our first memory of, or encounter with, racism. Second, we were asked to share when we first became aware of racism as a problem. For me, I distinctly remembered my first encounter was when I was about 8 years old. I was with my siblings in a park in a city near our hometown. When we arrived, the only other children there were two black girls about our age, and our mother was fine with us playing together … until another white family arrived at the park. All of a sudden, she had a change of heart and did not allow us to play with those little girls any longer. I was confused and asked her about it. I did not know what had changed. Her only answer was simply that she had “changed her mind” so had withdrawn her permission.

Fast forward to my college years. When I was a freshman, there was an Upward Bound program on campus designed to offer a transitional year to students of color. The group was comprised of native Americans from Keshena and Neopit, Wisconsin, and inner-city black students from the Milwaukee area. It was a well-intentioned effort, but looking back on it, I cannot imagine how out of place those 30 students must have felt in the middle of an all-white, highly privileged student body whose roots were firmly planted in some of the wealthiest suburbs in the region. The only reason I was comfortable there was because I had grown up with the campus in my backyard. I could not afford the tuition and had gained entry only because of my mother’s employee benefits program, which provided all four of her kids with free tuition. But, I “fit” because I was white, and my economic status was not immediately apparent. The Upward Bound students could not say the same thing.

It was 1969. The Martin Luther King Lounge opened in an effort, I guess, to honor someone of color in the middle of all of the white privilege. The Soul Room became a popular hangout for students of color. I remember walking past a freshman dorm room with a sign taped to the door proclaiming, “No Whites Allowed.” There was a very angry conversation happening behind that door. I tried to understand it, but I remember my resentment at being “excluded.” I also remember my embarrassment at wanting to know a particular black student’s name. I was watching a modern dance demonstration and he was really excellent. The only other students near me at the time were also black. I did not want to refer to him as black, but there was no other distinguishing feature — he was wearing the same leotard as his dance partners. So, I just asked the two black students in front of me who the black student was — and they laughed at me! It was an extremely uncomfortable moment, and I never did learn his name.

And then came the day when my freshman English class exploded. The class was almost a 50-50 split of wealthy white suburban students and inner-city black students who had, on their own, each gravitated to opposite sides of the room; there was no assigned seating in college. We were discussing a short story that referenced a “black woman on the street.” A male student from the Chicago suburbs referred to her as the “black prostitute,” at which point one of the black students jumped up from his desk, whirled around and confronted this Chicago student with the question no one could answer: “Where does it say she was a prostitute?” The assumption was painful. At that point, my English professor turned the class into a discussion of racism in America. I will never forget it.

White Fragility occurs when we, as white people, claim we are not racist when, in fact, we are not aware enough to realize that we are. Intentional or not, we do not possess nearly enough sensitivity to the feelings of people of color. We do not understand, nor do we come close to appreciating, the challenges they face every day feeling comfortable in their own skin, feeling safe in their neighborhoods, or feeling valued for being who they are. Nor do we appreciate or accept that as part of white America, we have contributed to the barriers that have kept them behind and held them back. If we cannot own our racism, we cannot correct it. Consequently, our entire society misses out on the richness of diversity we could all be experiencing.

I am in kindergarten in the School for Diversity Training. This column today is by no means meant to be a lesson for anyone on the appreciation of diversity. All I am capable of doing is pointing out a few things I have learned from reading one book. For me, it was a humbling lesson: I have a long path to follow to a greater understanding of this important issue. But I know it is a journey I must make — that we all must make — if our country is ever going to live up to its full potential as the land of the free.

NURSING HOMES

The usual senior living activity calendars and senior center menus are not being published to avoid confusion. Due to the coronavirus and the vulnerability of the elderly population, daily life in the senior living facilities and senior centers has changed dramatically.

All living facilities have closed their doors to public visitation, and the activity calendars have been modified to allow for one-to-one room visits only and individualized activities to keep residents engaged and active as much as possible while remaining within the health and safety guidelines provided by state health experts.

Group games are being substituted with individualized activities that residents can do in their respective rooms. Staff are providing supplies as well as “overhead announcement bingo and trivia” games and “hallway games” that can be played in individual rooms or by sitting within individual room doorways.

YouTube and DVDs are being utilized to provide religious services. A big dose of gratitude and appreciation goes out to all senior care staff for their creativity, caring and perseverance through a difficult situation.

All senior centers also have been closed to any center-based activity. Until they reopen, no information is being published that talks about activities typically available at these centers. While some have reopened with limited seating, meals do continue to be delivered.

Some centers also are preparing meals to be picked up. Menus are printed below for those centers that are either preparing takeout or providing home-delivered meals. Questions can be directed to the individual centers at the numbers listed.

SENIOR CENTERS

Alpha-Mastodon Center

906-875-3315

Amasa Center

906-822-7284

The Amasa Center is a curbside pick-up-only kitchen for now. Call ahead for Tuesdays through Thursdays. Menu for the week —

Tuesday: Ham, baked potato, peas and corn relish.

Wednesday: Beef stew, bean salad and homemade rolls.

Thursday: Turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, dressing and cranberries.

Note: All meals served with milk, bread and butter, fruit and dessert.

Breen Center

906-774-5110

Now open with limited seating from noon to 1 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Menu for the week —

Monday: Baked salmon, potatoes and peas.

Tuesday: Cheeseburger, potato wedges and baked beans.

Wednesday: Chicken stir fry, rice and Oriental vegetables.

Thursday: Pancakes or biscuits and gravy and eggs.

Note: All meals served with a choice of skim milk or juice and fruit.

Crystal Falls Center

Head cook: Lucy Korhonen

906-875-6709

Crystal Lake Center

Iron Mountain

906-239-0278

Home-delivered meals only. Menu for the week —

Monday: Chicken, mashed potatoes and broccoli.

Tuesday: Meat ravioli, bread sticks and Italian blend vegetables.

Wednesday: Chicken quesadilla soup, cornbread and spinach side salad with dressing.

Thursday: Egg bake, spiced apple sauce and breakfast sausage.

Friday: Pork loin, mixed vegetables and sliced potatoes.

Note: All meals served with a choice of skim milk, juice, or no beverage

For more information, call Christine McMahon at 906 774-2256

Felch Center

906-246-3559

Now open with limited seating from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday through Wednesday. Menu for the week —

Monday: Swedish pancakes, sausage and strawberries.

Tuesday: Chicken pot pie, cornbread and fried apples.

Wednesday: Pizza sub sandwich, chips and salad.

Note: All meals served with skim milk or juice.

Aging and Disability Resource Center of Florence County, Wis.

715-528-4890

Director: Tiffany White

Home-delivered meals only. Menu for the week —

Monday: Shepherd’s pie, stewed tomatoes, fruit

Tuesday: Homemade pizza, dark green salad and ambrosia salad.

Wednesday: Crispy chicken, oven fries, copper pennies and rice pudding with raisins.

Thursday: Country ribs, sauerkraut, parsley potatoes and fruit.

Friday: Pantry soup, egg salad on a croissant with lettuce and tomato, bread sticks and fruit.

Note: All meals served with whole grain bread and butter and milk.

Fence Center/Town Hall

715-336-2980

For meal reservations, call 855-528-2372

Same as ADRC menu, home-delivered only.

Florence Community Center/Town Hall

For meal reservations, call 715-528-4261

Same as ADRC menu, home-delivered only.

Tipler Town Hall

For meal reservations, call 715-674-2320

Same as ADRC menu, home-delivered only.

Hillcrest Senior Dining Center, Aurora

For meal reservations, call 715-589-4491

Same as ADRC menu, home-delivered only.

Hermansville Center

Coordinator: Pam Haluska

906-498-7735

Iron River Center

906-265-6134

Home-delivered meals only. Menu for the week –

Monday: Beef stew, bread and side salad with dressing.

Tuesday: Sweet and sour pork, rice and Oriental vegetable blend.

Wednesday: Cheeseburger, potato wedges and corn.

Thursday: Spaghetti and meatballs, winter blend vegetables, garlic bread and dessert.

Norway Center

Director: Michelle DeSimone

906-563-8716

The center will remain closed; however, takeout meals will be prepared for pick-up — those picking up must call ahead and wear a mask. Menu for the week —

Monday: Lasagna, broccoli, garlic bread, fruit, juice and dessert.

Tuesday: Chicken chop suey, rice, Oriental vegetables, fruit, juice and dessert.

Wednesday: Liver or burger and onions, mashed potatoes and gravy, Brussel sprouts, fruit, juice and dessert.

Thursday: Beef stew, stew vegetables, carrots, biscuit, fruit, juice and dessert.

Sagola Center

906-542-3273

Now open with limited seating from noon to 1 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday. Menu for the week —

Tuesday: Pork chop, macaroni and cheese, broccoli and fruit.

Wednesday: Chicken strips, potato wedges, corn and fruit.

Thursday: Beef tips, mashed potatoes, green beans and fruit.

All meals served with fruit and choice of skim milk or juice.

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