Heart Broken and Taking A Break

India Palace, off the Santa Fe Plaza, was destroyed in a hate crime yesterday. Although I’ve seen “small” hate crimes here, I have never experienced this before, in 35 years.

I’m taking a few days off from the blog. Frankly, I’m not even sure how to respond to the world right now. Hopefully will be back by July 1 at the latest.

White Fragility By Devon Miller-Duggan. Part 2.

White Fragility.2

One of the readers of Miriam’s Well pointed out this article to me in response to my here’s-the-context first blog on reading White Fragility: https://arcdigital.media/dear-white-people-please-do-not-read-robin-diangelos-white-fragility-7e735712ee1b She also apologized for giving me homework, but it was useful homework. The author of the article, Jonathan Church, is an economist with a background in philosophy, and the article above is one of three he’s written for on line outlets bringing to bear his understanding of logic and research (for instance, the pretty important fact that police in the U.S. kill at least as many white humans as black) on DiAngelo’s arguments in WF. Most notably, he accuses her of the logical faults of unobserved heterogeneity or omitted variable bias (in other words, circular reasoning), and of leaning too heavily on her own (and others’) approach to the white/Western values of individualism and objectivity. He bemoans the confusion and fuzziness inherent in White Studies scholarship. And he believes that discussions like DiAngelo’s muddy the waters of social discourse more than they move them forward.

He has points, but his tone is, forgive me, professorial in the not-best sense—he wants to haul out old clubs to beat new discussions into submission. This is not the place to get into the enormous subject of Western Individualism and its crimes and virtues. Hundreds of pages of back and forth are both necessary and important for that one. But I will take on his clinging to the idea of Objectivity. Like many critical notions, this one has driven Very Good Things—mostly lots and lots of real scientific standards and progresses—but it is a profoundly flawed concept simply because humans aren’t capable of it. Much of 20th century philosophy and literary theory (oh, boy, am I generalizing here) led to the conclusion that objectivity was a false god, even if it did give birth to critical ideas about intellectual and scientific rigor. Speaking purely on a personal/confessional basis, I don’t believe that I have had an objective—that is, un-agenda-ed—thought in my life, and I don’t believe anyone else has, either. No matter how we try, we all bring ourselves to whatever we think, study, make, engineer, along with the cultural and social circumstances of all that thinking, studying, making, engineering.

So, whether or not DiAngelo is guilty of all the faults Church accuses her of, he still comes across as the intellectually competent version of the white guy at a corporate diversity session in which there are 38 white people and 2 black. The white guy is pounding the table and yelling about it being impossible for white people to get jobs any longer. This story opens the Introduction. I suspect, because this sort of corporate training is DiAngelo’s field, that the story is either one of many, or a composite of many such she can tell. Admittedly, this is anecdotal evidence, experiential. The Introduction is the part of the book where I was muttering “yeah, yeah, yeah, know that guy, related to that guy, argued with that uncle…” What Church may be forgetting is that we study things because we experience them, either encountering them by chance (reading Homer in translation, learning Ancient Greek in order to read Homer in the original, ending up writing a dissertation on some small element of a dead language) or by direct experience (switching from a career in nuclear physics to one at NIH studying nano-particulate delivery systems for cancer drugs after losing family members to cancer). Real study requires passion and doggedness. Neither is a result of objectivity. So when DiAngelo says something that does appear to be a circular argument like “I could see the power of the belief that only bad people were racist…allowed white people to exempt themselves…I could see we are taught to think of racism only as discrete acts rather than as a …system,” I might also have rolled my eyes and thought about “good” family members’ nearly autonomic racism. An anecdotal, experiential response.

Then Chapter One opens with the subtitle “We Don’t See Ourselves in Racial Terms” and I started to settle in. Because I have been thinking for the past few years about the fact that I have moved through most of my life thinking that the word “race” only applied, truly, to people who weren’t white. After all, the only people I’ve ever spent time with (intellectually) who thought about whiteness as race were eugenicists and Nazis. I have a profound investment in thinking of them as OTHER, even as I acknowledge that history more than demonstrates that humans of all sorts and conditions are capable of being those others, or complicit with those others. It’s not comfortable knowledge, nor should it be. Maybe I was beginning to be relieved by her saying things about the human capacity for (sometimes unknowing) complicity in evil that I have only associated with genocides. Maybe it is a relief to see DiAngelo’s book going hand-to-hand and mind-to-mind saying things I know only in the context of the Holocaust, but carry with me through daily life—this stuff is systemic. Now Church would probably say that this is me being the intellectual opposite of rigorous. But I don’t think the purpose of WF is scholarly rigor. It means to cause discomfort, to make us LOOK and question our socialization, our very human desire for a binary (simple) understanding of an ugly issue in which we can call our whiteness neutral. Admittedly, thinking about whiteness/Aryan-ness has historically had remarkably horrible consequences. But thinking that you are not “like them (Nazis, King Ludwig of Belgium, Andrew Jackson)” just lets you off the hook of thinking about what you are, and whether what you are has consequences or implications, whether it is a function of a system.

Maybe I’m weird in being made happy by seeing that in print, in a book that is sold out on Amazon, by a woman who spends her life trying to dismantle a system from within. But I think it’s not that weird. I think it’s a relief. DiAngelo doesn’t have to get everything right in order to help her readers move themselves more deeply into what it means to be human, to live in societies and cultures that have, as far as we know, spent all of history declaring other societies, cultures, and individuals as others in spite of efforts by philosophers, spiritual leaders, and storytellers to teach us otherwise.

We know (scientifically, as objectively as possible, and convincingly) that race is a false construct.

I ran into another article against WF this week (https://medium.com/@thelogicalliberal/the-intellectual-fraud-of-robin-diangelos-white-fragility-e98197d16eb1). Its author, lawyer and activist David Burke makes many of the same points Church makes, calling DiAngelo’s supposed logical fallacy a “Kafkatrap,” which is valid, but part of the very difficult point DiAngelo is working to make with her book—the whole system of White Supremacy is so entangled in Western culture that it is an Ouroboros, a snake eating its own tail, a not-linear equation. I am going to look around to see if there a re any critiques of the book by non-Right-Wing women, because it’s striking that the two I’ve read are by men, but two is not a sufficient sample, even if it is thought-provoking.

When I was 8 and we lived in El Paso, my father carefully explained that Mexicans were lazy even as we had a Mexican maid who worked harder than I could keep track of for so little money that we could afford her even when we were poor because of my father’s dental school debt-load. That was a non-linear, illogical, fallacious argument, but he believed it, and I never forgot it. Some social structure a kid thinks about from that age onward is a system. It may be more than that, or other things as well, but it’s a system, and I think that 8-year-old is the part of me happy. I knew he was making an unsupportable assertion then DiAngelo is telling that 8-year-old that my father’s failure of logic was not a specific betrayals, and that my thinking my own thoughts were not betrayals of my father and the country he so clearly wanted me to revere. I think the first chapter of WF is making me happy because it is winning a fight I never had the language to have with my father before he died, even though I kept trying to have it that argument in one form or another. Maybe that’s why I had such a visceral reaction to Jonathan Church’s argument against the book—it felt like Daddy-splaining.

Happy Summer Solstice!

Here I am at the famous solar calendar…ummm, I mean the piece we used to call Fridgehenge at the Santa Fe dump.

This was taken some years ago by my friend Hope Atterbury.

Stone Fridge (the official name) by Adam Jonas Horowitz came down about 13 years ago


Buy hey, on every day of the year something aligns with…something else, even if it is just Venus appearing on the telephone wires. The universe is a big place and always glad to remember I’m in it!

Enjoy midsummer.

Bonus outsider art: sculpture by John Brown, including passer-by Rich Feldman.

Worth a click to see the full eye!

Sestina Playbook by Jules Nyquist

I’ve always found the sestina to be a difficult form to write, but maybe that is because I didn’t have this book in front of me! The handbook takes the reader through every bit of the winding spiral maze that is the sestina. Even those with some acquaintance will find the book helpful.
There is background on the troubadours, numerous examples by Nyquist, and a good overview. When it is time to pick the six teleutons (the repeated end words) Nyquist has excellent advice on variation and usability. Numerous prompts and assignments should get you–and keep you–going.
Among the things I didn’t know are that there is a double sestina form and other patterns. The double sestina has even been used in fiction. Now, I really want to try that!
Thanks to Jules Nyquist for demystifying the sestina–and for no doubt being godmother to many new ones.

Order here.

Oñate Statue

This from The New Mexican:
Rio Arriba work crews remove Oñate statue ahead of protest

A statement issued by the county commission said a decision to remove the statue and place it in storage was based on concerns it would be damaged.

Well, that statue has been “damaged” previously. Oñate’s foot was cut off. Why? To remind us that Oñate ordered that the right foot be cut off of each man in Acoma Pueblo. This was the Acoma Massacre, a punitive expedition by Spanish conquistadors in January 1599.

So, what about Santa Fe? The current mayor remains firm in saying that no monuments will be re-evaluated. Of course we all wonder about the obelisk in the center of the Plaza. It was originally inscribed with a dedication to soldiers who died in “battles with savage Indians.” Years ago, someone (An artist? Native American activist? Fed-up city employee? All of these?) removed the word “savage” with a chisel.

So, it stands as an altered monument. The original is there, along with the pointed grassroots commentary. Its fate does seem unclear in the long run.

PS. Breaking News! I just got a note–from the Santa Fe Reporter Newsletter–Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber yesterday said he intends to call for the removal of the obelisk on the Santa Fe Plaza, as well as one that names Kit Carson outside the federal courthouse downtown. He says he also wants the Don Diego statue in DeVargas park removed and “put, perhaps, in a safe place, while we look for its proper home” In a Facebook Live announcement, the mayor said it’s his belief that “we must take these steps now because it is the right thing to do. It is a moment of moral truth.”

Chapbook versus Full Length

If you were going to publish one last collection of poetry before you died–what would it be? A chapbook, usually less than forty pages, is informal. It has an ephemeral quality, maybe the sense of still being in process. It is a bit open-ended, as if there might still be more to come.
A book of poetry feels more complete, perhaps more assertive. It summarizes.
Poets–and editors–put a lot of effort into ordering a book. But readers may thumb through (even virtually) and read at random.
As to theme–I frankly tend to prefer strict theme at chapbook rather than book length. Theme as a necessity of arrangement came in mid-way in my career. I’ve certainly done it, and enjoyed it in others. But I like a full-length book that sprawls a bit.
Some poets like a Collected. That certainly is impressive, even scholarly. Some consider that too rigid (and collecteds tend to not sell well). I like a Selected myself–both for the greats and for the contemporary. If I want more, I’ll look further.
All this said, as a reader, I’ll take what I can get from poets I love. The serious collection, the off-the-cuff micro chap.
I had a real life discussion about this with a literary executor. It got me thinking. Given my current preoccupations, I’d probably like my last poems to be installed on a walking path, or written in sand, or given to the wind.
And you?

Secret’s Quilt

PEG – Profanity Embroidery Group – Whitstable

This morning we are taking a little diversion away from the Quilt of Profanity.
Over the past three years PEG has run a sister project with far less profanity involved in the stitching, although that has been nicely balanced by the profanities involved in the making, and this is our Secrets Quilt.
This quilt came to be from an idea suggested by Jacqueline Hall when we had one our ‘what next’ meetings. At the time the group voted to work on song lyrics for the exhibition, but Bridget Carpenter saw the potential of the Secrets idea for a community project, and LoveSecretsand was born.
We invited, via social media and workshops, people to post us their stitched secrets – anonymously. And you did!
It was so bloody exciting when they started to arrive – from all over the cockwombling world!
Some made us laugh, some made us well up, and some made us a bit worried. But all of them are beautiful stitched treasures.
This quilt is once again made almost entirely from recycled textiles, with the body of the quilt being deconstructed old denim shirts we bulk bought for peanuts.
The cuffs and pockets from the shirts were included around the stitched secrets and when we finally get to display the fucking thing for real, we’ll be inviting you to place further secrets in those pockets.
And so why are we telling you about this now? Because the fucking thing is finished!
If you’d like to see more, pop over to LoveSecretsand on Instagram or visit

So yes, I have a piece in the Secret Quilt, but I’ll never tell what it is. Miriam

Devon Miller-Duggan Begins Reading “White Fragility”

I am finally getting around to reading Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility. I’m a little late to the party, though the book is #1 on the NYT bestseller list, which could give a person a little hope, and which means talking about it is still current. I resisted. My husband taught it in Adult Ed. at our Episcopal Church a year ago (so I have the gift of his underlines) but I don’t tend to get up that early. I’ve also been working fairly hard to change my teaching to make race part of the discussion for about a decade now, with lots of stumbling, so I figured I already knew what the book has to say. And I do. I also don’t. The intro was interesting, but not revelatory, and I decided to keep reading out of a sense of it giving me something to do that doesn’t involve crowds—kind of like making masks is my “something to do” during the pandemic. But midway through Chapter One, a thing started to happen. A weird thing. My shoulders relaxed. I was breathing more slowly. I realized it was making me happy. This seemed an odd reaction to a book whose purpose is explaining white privilege and how that phrase itself is terrifying to many/most white humans. So I wrote Miriam and asked whether she’d be interested in a sort of reading journal as I make my way through what I hope turns out to be a hugely influential book.

A little background: I’m very white—half German, the rest a mush of British Isles, Irish and a little Viking for spice in the vanilla pudding of my ancestry. I am the child of and wife of self-made men who worked from childhood on. In my father’s case, he started picking beans at seven to contribute to the family income and worked his way all through Dental School, and kept working almost until he died, just shy of 70, from the melanoma he probably got while working as a Beach Boy during summers in high school and college. He had some help from his father-in-law, and my mother’s teacher salary, but mostly did it on his own. Still he had a support system. My husband started working in the local public library at eleven after his father died suddenly, to pay his Catholic School fees, and kept on working, with the help of some major scholarships, through his Ph.D. His parents were deaf from childhood diseases, and his father was an early advocate for Disability Rights, testifying before the New Hampshire legislature to become the first deaf person granted a driver’s license in the state. My father the dentist could never understand how my husband could have chosen to use his great big brain in a profession like university teaching that had so little (relative) earning potential. Both worked very hard, often at fairly cruddy jobs (grave-digging, fish-picking). But their stories would likely have been very different if they had not been white. That’s not a given—my husband and Clarence Thomas are products of the same college—not that he is particularly pleased about that—but statistics combined with the time in which both grew up (my father was born in 1933, my husband in 1944) heavily favor their whiteness as a factor in their successes.

When I was a child, the now mostly forgotten version of “Eeny, meeny, miney, mo, catch a…by the toe” was still commonly said with the n-word, and my relatively liberal parents made a big point of forbidding me to say it that way and making a point of my saying “tiger.” They were also both verbally, and to some extent sincerely, supportive of the Civil Rights movement. My mother’s most deeply held prejudice was against white southerners—of which she was one, though she hated to admit it.

I used to think I was not a racist. What finally deconstructed that comfy belief for me was students who were involved in Spoken Word in various ways, and who gleefully shared with me that I was just a “page-poet” they were putting up with because I maybe have some skills they could use. Epiphanies, by their nature, crop up from all sorts of unexpected directions. It’s been intellectually exciting and energizing to take on talking about race in the classroom without the burden of having to reassure myself that I am not a racist. I get things wrong sometimes, and other times I say something that makes the few students of color visibly un-tense and look pleasantly surprised. I am not, I don’t think, fragile about acknowledging my racism, though we’ll see what buttons the book pushes. It’s possible that I have an easier-than-usual time with all of this because I am also a Christian whose academic field is Holocaust Literature. Or not.

Oh, and I come from a state that is still fighting the Civil War. Delaware only has 3 counties. The northern, more populated county tends to resemble suburban New Jersey or Philadelphia. But its major city set the national record for occupation by the National Guard in the years following Dr. King’s assassination. The southern two counties had to be occupied by the Union during The War to keep them from seceding and letting the Confederacy have back-door access to the Chesapeake. The state’s politics still absolutely reflect that divide. And my mother’s people have been Southern in southern Delaware for a long time. In the northern county where I live, we call the rest of the state “Slower Lower” even though two of its coastal towns, Rehoboth and Lewes, are major LGBTQ summer and retirement spots for the DC-area crowd—they’re the two reliable blue dots in the southern end of the state.

I’ll report back next time about what in the intro made me tense up and what in the first chapters made me so darn happy. I’m thinking already that a more accurate title would have been White Brittleness, but that’s an awkward mouthful, and maybe a bit off-putting.