Monday, June 1, 2020

Respecting Boundaries: I Can Do Anti-Racist Work Anywhere

A white friend told me about an experience he had last week when he asked a white neighbor to maintain social distancing because his family is at high risk. The neighbor sarcastically said he had forgotten his tape measure and not to worry because he would stay away from my friend and his family.

One of the things I know from years of teaching Empowerment Self-Defense is that there is a wide range of responses when people set boundaries. Much of the time, people respect the boundaries others set but sometimes people push back or respond in a hostile way like the neighbor above did. 

The person responding, not a boundary-setter, is responsible for whether or not they honor a boundary; however, when people responding to boundary-setting act as if their social prestige, privilege, or power gives them the right to ignore, threaten or abuse boundary-setters, the community also has a responsibility. The rest of us have to make it clear that having prestige, privilege, or power does not let anyone off the hook for their behavior. Unfortunately, there is no lack of examples, but two specific situations have been highlighted in the news this week where individuals have responded to boundary-setting with verbal or physical violence, consciously or unconsciously assuming their power and privilege allowed them to disregard the safety of another human being.

“I’m going to tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life.” White woman Amy Cooper said, threatening to call the police when Christian Cooper asked her to leash her dog in accordance with the rules of the Ramble in Central Park.

“I can’t breathe” said George Floyd, an African American man, who was killed by Derek Chauvin, a white Minneapolis police officer, by kneeling on his neck for over 8 minutes. Floyd clearly stated and repeated his need for air which was ignored not only by Derek Chauvin who killed him but by three other police officers.

George Floyd was described by his brother Philonise Floyd as “a gentle giant.” Philonise Floyd also said “to know my brother is to love my brother.”  Christian Cooper is aware not only of the rules of the Ramble but also aware and appreciative of the beauty and song of the birds he comes to watch so asking someone to leash their dog is not only following the rules of the Ramble but caring for the larger environment.

As a white person, I have the privilege to distance myself from Amy Cooper and Derek Chauvin; I have the privilege to focus on their individual decisions to disrespect the boundaries set by Christian Cooper and George Floyd and not on the ways that my own unearned privileges contributed to their perceived social license to respond with hostility. But, as Chicago Tribune columnist Dahleen Glanton said in White America, if you want to know who’s responsible for racism, look in the mirror: “regardless of how much you say you detest racism, you are the sole reason it has flourished for centuries. And you are the only ones who can stop it.” So distancing from Amy Cooper and Derek Chauvin or holding them solely responsible does not stop racism.

Removing the racism woven into the fabric of our society for centuries is huge and can seem daunting; but because racism is everywhere, I can do anti-racist work anywhere. I draw inspiration from IMPACT and Empowerment Self-Defense to:

  • evaluate safety on the basis of others' behavior, not their presumed social position or appearance. To focus on behavior and to recognize and move beyond deeply embedded racism doesn't just happen; it means to engage in conscious self-examination, which may be very uncomfortable and unsettling.
  • regard respecting boundaries set by people of color as highly as setting my own boundaries. Pat Parker in her poem "For the White Person Who Wants to Know How to Be My Friend," offers the dual consciousness to cultivate: "The first thing you do is to forget that i'm Black. Second, you must never forget that i'm Black." 
  • be an active and engaged bystander and take action when other white people use white privilege to dismiss, undermine, threaten or abuse boundaries set by people of color. 
Martha Thompson
IMPACT Chicago
Admin Team Co-Leader


Monday, May 18, 2020

Parenting and Crisis

Alena Schaim, Executive Director of Resolve (also offers IMPACT in New Mexico), offers things to think about in her blog post "Parenting in Times of Crisis." She suggests we think about:

How do our past patterns around trauma influence this moment?

What is within our realm of control right now?

What is our plan for our mental health and our family's well-being?

How can we still care for our communities with physical distancing?

What is our plan for conflict?

How can we teach our children love and support when things are tough?

Monday, May 11, 2020

Supporting Teens in Setting Boundaries with Friends

If your teen is having lots of screen time with friends, some of these things may happen with a friend:
  • their friend needs a lot of support during this pandemic and your teen is feeling emotionally drained.
  • their friend is great to hang out with but is sometimes thoughtless and your teen's feelings are often hurt.
  • their friend does all the talking and your teen rarely has a chance to talk.
In "5 Ways to Help Teens Set Boundaries with Friends," Barbara Greenberg makes these suggestions:

1. Teach your teens to label their feelings.

2. Encourage teens to heed their feelings and intuition.

3. Explain to your teens that they can't be all things to all friends.

4. Discuss different ways to set boundaries.

5. Look at your behavior in relationships.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Teaching Children Body Autonomy

In "Seven Steps to Teaching Children Body Autonomy," M.D. Shalon Nienow identifies 7 things for parents to teach their children about their bodies.

  • Teach the anatomic names for their body parts.
  • It is OK to say NO.
  • Ask permission before touching someone else's body
  • There is a difference between touch that makes them feel happy and touch that feels uncomfortable, scary, or confusing.
  • There are OK secrets (what you are getting your dad for his birthday) and not OK (hiding when you have been hurt or hurt someone else or someone has touched your body in a way you do not like)
  • It is not their fault if something happens to their body they didn't like.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Improve Media Reporting of Violence

Level Up, a feminist organization in the UK, has published guidelines for the press on improving how domestic violence is reported. These guidelines broadly apply to any reporting of gender-based violence. 

You can use the following guidelines to evaluate news articles about domestic violence.

Accountability: does the article place responsibility solely on perpetrators of violence?

Accuracy: does it accurately name the crime as domestic violence?

Dignity: does it avoid sensationalizing language, invasive or graphic details.

Equality: does it avoid insensitive or trivializing language or images. Does it use words and images that emphasize the seriousness and danger of domestic violence.

Images: does it avoid using stock images that reinforce myths about domestic violence. Does it use images that reveal the personhood of those who experience violence.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Boundaries During a Pandemic

If you're struggling with boundaries during social distancing, you're not alone. Resolve (IMPACT New Mexico) staff member Marie Schow says boundaries continue to be important and that it continues to be important to respect the limits that we set while recognizing the needs of others around us.

Resolve staff spends a lot of time talking about boundaries – how to set them, how to respect them, and why they’re important. They know boundaries are the key to feeling safe and happy in all realms of life. Boundaries are an expression of love and care. And right now, during an unprecedented health crisis, boundaries are more important than ever.

Read more about Marie's perspective on Boundaries during a Pandemic.

Monday, April 13, 2020

What is an Authentic Apology for Committing Sexual Violence?

In her Ted Talk "The Alchemy of an Apology,"  Eve Ensler, playwright and activist, outlines four steps to an authentic apology for committing sexual violence:

  • Self-interrogate: what contributed to your being capable of sexual violence?
  • Undertake a detailed account of what you did
  • Open your heart and allow yourself to feel what the person(s) you victimized felt.
  • Take responsibility for your actions.