A newsletter, from Tim Falls (#two)
Celebrating Black History Month, and a personal path to antiracism.
Thank you and welcome (back)!
Hello, friends 👋 and welcome to the second edition of our newsletter.
First, I wish to express my gratitude to you, for receiving the first edition with such openness. Your feedback was supportive and formative. I proclaimed that this is more than a newsletter and named it a community; your thoughtful replies and comments brought that statement to life.
Also, since publishing the first edition, our community has grown from 61 to 81 people: ⬆️ 33%! Welcome to our new members, and thank you all for being here.
Our February edition is a celebration of Black History Month. I've attempted to center Black voices, while speaking from personal experiences. Admittedly, writing publicly on this topic is intimidating. I’m doing it because I believe dialogue and action are necessary for progress, and my intention is to spark both. I may make mistakes or say something "wrong"; but I humbly hope that my intentions outshine my imperfections.
The social uprising across the planet last summer (and since) felt like a fresh wave of social transformation. Like many of us, I confronted the realities of race, racism, and White supremacy in ways I hadn't before. For example, I finally looked closely at the many forms of privilege (including Whiteness) that allowed me to mostly avoid race-related realities to date.
I decided to explore and acknowledge myself as part of the problem and begin actively contributing to the solution: justice.
I started listening more intently to Black voices, like Ibraham X. Kendi's narration of his book, How to Be An Antiracist. Before this, I didn't know antiracist was a thing.
As I listen, learn, and honestly assess myself, I better understand my roles in our White supremacist system/society. By keeping this in my conscious awareness, I'm better at catching and discarding my own racist thoughts and actions. With this practice, I aim to be a net contributor to a (future) antiracist society.
Why to be an antiracist
A personal story to illustrate why I feel antiracism is so important and my path to this place:
[Again, I share this with a real sense of hesitancy, for fear of over-centering myself in this conversation and/or unintentionally offending someone. That said, here we go.🤞]
As I’ve examined my relationship with race, I recognized that my path to antiracism began when I was a child. It was in my upbringing. I didn't know the word for it then, but it's apparent now: my parents and grandparents practiced antiracism.
I was born and raised in rural southwest Indiana. Our house was a dot in the middle of hundreds of acres of agriculture and wooded land, gridded by gravel roads that took us home and to school.
The small town (pop. ~1,500) where I spent most of my time was a "German-American community”, according to the sign that welcomed its visitors and evidenced by its annual bierstube.
It was (and still is) very White.
It was also very racist. Racist ideas, attitudes, actions, and symbols of White supremacy were commonplace and expressed by all generations: my peers, their parents, and grandparents.
Amid this, I was taught differently: humans are truly equal (though often not treated as such), everyone deserves to be loved and respected, and racism is not acceptable.
My parents didn't shield us from racism. They told us when they encountered racist acts in the community and how they confronted it, unwilling to "let it go." My paternal grandparents were the only White people in their neighborhood. When Black families started moving in and White flight ensued, they stayed. Their neighbors were lovely people and dear friends.
Young me gravitated toward Black culture — especially through music and sports. I listened to gangsta rap. I wore baggy jeans, slick sneakers, and sports jerseys. I borrowed little bits of lingo. My heroes were Black men: Ozzie Smith, Michael Jordan, and Tupac Shakur. Their trading cards filled my shoe boxes; their posters covered my bedroom walls; MJ's VHS tapes and 2Pac's CD's played on repeat.
When I reconnect with that young version of me, I think this gravitation was born from a feeling of not belonging within the racist, White supremacist culture that surrounded me…and a hope that I’d find more comfort, if I immersed myself (as much as a poor White kid from the country could) in the culture of people I admired. I recognized (some of) the struggle the Black community faced [due to systemic racism], and I wanted to be part of the fight against their oppression. In that child’s mind there were two sides, and I was choosing the side that felt loving of its people instead of the side that repulsed me by attacking “others.”
A lot of people in our community did not approve of my embrace of Black culture.
Teachers and school administrators harassed me, claiming my oversized clothing didn't comply with the dress code. They sent me to the school nurse to have my jeans safety-pinned tighter and higher. The principal lifted up my shirt to see if my underwear were visible.
And, in a particularly ridiculous display of racism, a group of guys (my age and older) called me (and others) a "wigger."
Isn't that some crazy shit?! ... Juveniles holding racist beliefs, facing a shortage of targets for their racist acts and words, directing their racism toward White people whose appearances reflected Black culture. In a few instances, this advanced to physical threats and abuse.
I retaliated verbally, but there wasn't much to do in response, other than continue to be myself. Ultimately, I just wanted to graduate and get the f*ck out of there.
I left the place I grew up, with plans to never live there again, because it was uncomfortably racist — even for a White guy. *Of course I’m now aware of the many privileges I enjoyed, which made my mobility possible — privileges not all people can count on.
To be clear, this is not a story of my victimhood. I do not consider myself that.
This is an example of how living in a White supremacist culture hurts everyone: Black, White, every color of the rainbow. The damage goes in all directions, causing trauma to both senders and receivers of White supremacist acts.
As Kendi puts it,
"White supremacist is code for anti-human, a nuclear ideology that poses an existential threat to human existence."
Even in a tiny, almost all-White town, racism is toxic. The toxins seep into neighboring towns, eventually reaching far-off communities and people of all colors.
That's one big reason I think building an antiracist society is important, and a little bit about how I arrived here. Thank you for taking this reflective journey with me.
None of us can rightly say "all lives matter" until ALL of us say "Black Lives Matter."
[Note: I did some research on the use of capital letters in "Black" and "White." This article informed my writing.]
⤺ Reply: feel like sharing reflections on your relationship with race and racism? I’ll listen and promise to suspend judgement.
A batch of bite-sized morsels of information and inspiration, with a sprinkling of invitations to get involved and celebrate Black History Month.
🤠 Howdy, from Falls Ranch
Updates from our family’s neck of the woods.
🐦 My appreciation for birds has recently soared. Perhaps it's the spectacular species of the Southwest US, more bird neighbors (having moved far from the cities), more time sitting quietly in their presence, learning of a massive migratory bird "die-off," or all of the above. This month, I participated in the Great Backyard Bird Count, which led me to the Merlin Bird ID app, an eBird account, and an (online) course with Bird Academy! This nest of goodies are free from Cornell's ornithology department.
🦅 Shout-out to Christian Cooper, a birder who (on the same day as George Floyd's death: 25 May, 2020) showed the human heart's capacity for compassion after his safety was threatened by a racist act.
Christian was the first openly gay writer and editor at Marvel Comics. He turned his Karen in Central Park experience into a graphic novel called It's a Bird, published by DC Comics in their Represent! anthology series.
📔 Field Notes
Highlights from projects I’m working on at home and at the [home] office.
👔 I assumed a new professional role as Strategic Advisor to the Limpopo Incubation Centre — a non-profit organization in Limpopo Province, South Africa. I'm supporting James (CEO) and team to uplift the local community through education and entrepreneurial employment opportunity - especially for younger folks. The Centre will also enable more South African companies to participate in the country’s Black Economic Empowerment program.
Youth unemployment rate in South Africa is the highest in the world. I hope my work in Limpopo (in addition to my previous collaboration with another non-profit, Quirky 30, in Cape Town) will make a positive impact in the beautiful country that captured my heart during a visit in 2014.
✅ Climate action together
Climate actions I'm taking for climate justice. I invite others to join me in these actions.
Action: Learn about the intersection of race and climate change.
Below are a few resources I've found especially informative:
What the Believers are Denying, an article in The Atlantic by Ibram X. Kendi
"…to reinforce the scientific certainty that human action and inaction are disastrously warming the globe and racist action and inaction are disastrously causing racial inequities, environmentalists and anti-racists must separate belief from science."
Color of Climate, a collection of articles on Medium by Drew Costley
"Black people living in American cities already have fewer green and natural spaces in their communities. Even when they can access the outdoors, doing so can feel dangerous."
Climate Change and Environmental Racism, a podcast by a group of high school students in Brooklyn, New York.
@IntersectionalEnvironmentalism, an account on Instagram. Give them a follow!
🤝 Aspiring to allyship
Efforts I’m making to be an ally to Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). I invite others to join me in solidarity.
✊🏾 Act: Black History Month Commitment Curve, a month-long challenge from Kai Cash.
👂🏽 Listen: Spiritual Activism for Fighting and Healing from White Supremacy, with Rachel Ricketts and A-Ian Holt.
This interview and discussion illuminated uncomfortable truths about myself, like the fact that I am racist (at times) — like all humans in a society of institutionalized racism. (See ⏯️ Now Playing 'bit below for info about Rachel's book, Do Better.)
👁️ Journey inward: Inner Field Trip, with Leesa Renee Hall.
Leesa guides a 10-day reflective writing quest to help people explore their unconscious biases and "become a better ancestor." Join me and other patrons of Leesa, "explore your interior" and "dismantle your submission to the dominant culture."
⤺ Reply: If you decide to join any of these efforts, I'd love to hear from you, learn about your experience(s), and offer support (this stuff's not easy).
🧘 Meditative moments
Ways to welcome a moment of calm to your day.
🌀 Sacred Sonic Sundays
Laura, my partner, is a woman of many talents, some of which shine through her healing arts practice. On select Sundays she hosts sound baths via Zoom. It's an accessible, low-effort way to meditate in community.
✨ This month, Laura is also hosting a cacao ceremony via Zoom (Saturday, 27 Feb).
🎟️ Visit her events page to reserve your spot for Sacred Sonic Sundays and/or the cacao ceremony. We hope to see and meditate with some of you soon!
⏯️ Now "playing"
Books, film, music, podcasts and other sources of enlightenment for Black History Month.
After listening to Rachel's message in her interview with A-Ian (see 🤝 Aspiring to allyship 'bit above), I had to hear more from her. I purchased a copy of her book from Marcus Books (Oakland, CA) — the oldest independent Black bookstore in the country!
Can't afford a copy? I'd be happy send my copy to someone via post after I've read it.
Can afford a copy? Support Black-owned book stores with your purchase.
As a novice student of the guitar, Fabi's article broadened and deepened my knowledge of artists who invented the techniques that my teacher is teaching me. I'd learned about many of the Black men who pioneered the blues; now I see and appreciate a bigger portion of the picture.
🎥 Goin back to T-Town, a PBS documentary that tells the story of Greenwood - "…an extraordinary Black community in Tulsa, OK, that prospered during the 1920s and 30s despite rampant and hostile segregation."
I didn't know much about the Tulsa race massacre until 2020. This documentary allows for greater empathy with the Black community, especially through current-day accounts from people who experienced this history first-hand.
This interview with Will gave me a new perspective and respect for opera — a genre of music I'm minimally acquainted with, but hold immense respect for. It's a beautiful listen!
In the context of antiracism, the discussion of reparations has layers, as the hosts of Code Switch explore and illustrate in this episode. To make reparations a reality, we need to understand the challenges.
I haven't seen these photos in all their printed glory, but the digital glimpses of it are gorgeous.
Reply (for email recipients) or comment (for web viewers) to share your perspective, ask a question, provide feedback, etc. Please communicate with respect and kindness, and I’ll do the same.
We can choose to celebrate Black history every month. So I say we do that, instead of limiting the celebration to February … who’s with me?
Thanks for reading. See y'all in March!
~ Tim Falls