Power in Interracial Friendship

By Loretta Wrobel

Learning from each other is a dynamic method of discovering how each of us is shaped by our experiences. By developing interracial connections, we can all expand our mindset by knowing individuals from different races and backgrounds. Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray, two talented authors, explored the powerful friendship between Mary Mcleod Bethune and Eleanor Roosevelt in their spectacular book, The First Ladies.

The writers focus on the intense and deep relationship between Eleanor Roosevelt, First Lady, wife of President Franklin Roosevelt, and Mary Mcleod Bethune, known as the First Lady of the Struggle. These two pioneers, in pushing us towards racial equality, gained insight and profound respect for the different lives they lived, as they carved out a unique and transformative partnership/friendship with each other. They accomplished this challenging feat during a time of prohibitive Jim Crow laws that addressed interracial relationships. In the 1930s and 1940s it was forbidden for white and Black people to share a meal, attend a concert together (concert halls were segregated), or become close friends. These two activists became fast friends, disregarding the societal restrictions that our racist world demanded, and launched a multitude of significant events that moved the needle on civil rights. Eleanor was able to take advantage of her proximity to the President and his trust in her expertise and wisdom on political matters. She helped Mary secure a federal appointment, furthering the cause of equal rights, by giving people of color an access to and a forum to bring racism to the forefront. 

Eleanor Roosevelt at her core was for equal rights. However, her experience growing up white in a privileged family and having her uncle, Theodore Roosevelt, in the White House, gave her a vastly different perspective. Mary, who grew up struggling in a segregated world, knew the pain and suffering of living as an oppressed minority. This struggle did not stop her, as she became president of a college in Daytona, Florida! This happened in the early 1900s, which was no small feat for a Black female in America. In 1904 she opened Daytona Literary and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls that later became Bethune Cookman University. What a role model she provided for young Black women growing up in the beginning of the twentieth century!

This book details the beginnings and successes of this most influential partnership between two feminist pioneers. Ms. Bethune was older and more seasoned, when she met Ms. Roosevelt, who was naïve and totally unaware of how individuals are traumatized by racism. The First Ladies chronicles the education of Eleanor that transformed a clueless woman into a staunch advocate for civil rights, based on what she heard from her dear friend and patient yet truthful teacher Mary. Coming from such opposite life situations as Mary and Eleanor, their views and opinions could have created stressful and hurtful encounters. However, these special and insightful activists together surmounted the potential for disagreements, by listening to and respecting each other and allowing their passion to work for equal treatment. In this manner they moved through any momentary anger or negativity.  These two brave warriors faced those challenging conversations, speaking their truths, even when each knew it could result in anger, hurt feelings, and confusion.

The story of their seemingly improbable relationship survived the potential misunderstandings, and resulted in both women being able to use their different skills, diverse connections, and access to power by clever and innovative means. Eleanor constantly approached her husband, encouraging him to speak up and out about racial matters. Mary used her power as the revered leader of oppressed people. I fell in love with both Amazonian women from the first words to the final words. I felt it enhanced my passion because I listened to the audio version of the book. The authors did a mighty fine job of demonstrating the change in both women as they listened, acquired knowledge, and laughed throughout their long-term relationship. They supported each other, as they suffered through disappointments, particularly around personal issues. They schemed and connived to expose the horrors of a racist society, and together they devised solutions. They refused to be denied, and continued to fight for greater minority representation in Roosevelt’s cabinet. They stood up courageously for dismantling the hierarchy of patriarchy.  

The beauty and grace of this loving interracial partnership was pure delight. I was rooting for them, and celebrating their joy and relief, when the administration acknowledged that our country would function better if all peoples were treated equally. This book about two women and their work to move our Country past the traumas and pain of segregation was, in fact, co-authored by a white woman and a Black woman. While Victoria and Marie were writing the book, they were engaged in the ongoing hard and difficult decisions regarding their own interracial relationship. The book is a primer for the importance of having interracial friendships and partnerships to truly understand the disastrous effect of oppression and discrimination on all of us. When you hear from a minority person about how racism impacts their everyday experiences, it is no longer undercover. When the white friend trusts and listens to how privileged their existence has been, she gains a profound understanding of how racism damages everyone. Racism also wastes the talents and skills and expertise of the oppressed people.

I recommend taking a smart hint from these two authors and reaching out to a person of color to develop a clearer understanding of what it is like to be Black in America. This book is as relevant now in 2023 as when our two heroines walked around the White House in the middle of the last century. I have great respect for Eleanor and Mary for taking the risk and becoming allies, which enabled them to work together on creating a more just and civil world. And kudos to Marie and Victoria for fearlessly using their interracial relationship in writing this book. By embracing this model of interracial sharing, we can work together to finally end the evils of racism. 

And did I mention that this book moved me—shedding tears, feeling rage, and laughing uproariously at the fun that Eleanor and Mary had, especially sharing their love of desserts!!!  

How Far Have We Traveled?

By Loretta Wrobel

As I perused the paper, a headline grabbed my attention. It was a news flash from the US Open on August 28th in New York.  The opening ceremony was honoring Billie Jean King, as nearly fifty years ago, she defeated Bobby Riggs by outsmarting and outplaying the loud-mouthed Riggs who screamed that no woman was clever enough and sharp enough to beat him. Fifty years later, people still talk abut that match that was witnessed by over fifty million in the US and millions more worldwide. 

What those crowds witnessed was a shift in perspective. It became the birthplace of a societal shift that drew women not only to the tennis courts but also to the legal courts, board rooms and medical schools. Women began to see possibilities of all manner of success in fields not seen as realities for women. This life-transforming event happened in 1973. 

It was during the era when women were beginning to crack the long-time glass ceilings in all fields, as they gained strength and inspiration from not only the women’s movement, but all the mass movements of the 60’s and 70’s–civil rights, LGBTQ+ and antiwar demonstrations/protests. It was a grand time for women to dream their wildest fantasies and reach their highest goals.  

I remember those open, free, and phenomenal years, when all possibilities were on the table. When in college at UConn, the sports arena was mainly for the male species with females confined to the stands to oooh and ahhh over the feats of their favorite male players. Part of the thinking during that era was that women had a hard time running the whole length of a basketball court due to their weaknesses. No one cared to bother with the reality of most female existence. Everything they achieved and accomplished was in addition to carrying and birthing a child, nurturing that child (children), maintaining a house, plus whatever they accomplished outside the home. 

Along came Billie Jean with her star skill set and her brilliant strategies. She won the match, plus the admiration of millions of women who could now pursue their dreams. If Ms. King could do it, why couldn’t they?

This amazing tennis star already had been instrumental in forming the Women’s Tennis Association earlier in 1973. King recounts that throughout her life women have approached her, thanking her for the inspiration she provided. Just ponder that one special match proved life transforming for so many.  It opened doors. Although those doors are still today not totally ajar, much progress has been made.

In Connecticut we have seen the success and popularity of the UConn Women’s basketball team that has so many devoted followers, not just females. Young women have role models to emulate. They have opportunities to learn how to become better players when they are young. We have a successful WNBA team, The Connecticut Sun, that made the playoffs again this year. We celebrate this achievement. In my college years I never would have thought this could happen, even if 50 years had elapsed!

Billie Jean King will turn 80 in November, so she is just a bit ahead of me. She continues to be active, and is supporting the new Women’s Professional Hockey League. Barack Obama told Ms. King that he saw the famous match and it influenced how he raised his daughters. What an endorsement for being in the right place at the right moment in history.

Who would have even imagined that this Battle of the Sexes still holds interest and is remembered after half a century! Truly this was a watershed moment. This one sports/political happening had a profound influence on not only women, but everyone who witnessed this out maneuvering of a boasting man  

by a crafty, talented, and courageous woman.  

I am in awe of the lasting significance of this well publicized contest that led to such a dramatic shift of the mindset of people in recalibrating the societal expectations of what a woman can do and how competent she is. Billie Jean demonstrated that physical agility and smarts is not confined to the male sex. It reinforced the notion that women are equal to males in their abilities to accomplish what they dream. It validated the tenets that the second wave of feminism was shouting about, during those radically changing times.

I feel proud to clearly remember what a victory for all women Ms. King scored that fateful day in 1973. I am also aware that we are still working on achieving equality in so many ways, not just in the sports area. We have a long way ahead but we are moving in the right direction and must not lose our focus. Historical change crawls slowly forward and old patterns struggle to stay alive, even when they have surpassed their usefulness.

For example, in 2023, Black Women’s Equal Pay Day does not occur until        July 27th. That means that Black Women must work all those months extra in order to earn the same salary that white males earn.  I see this as a very shocking reality that must be rectified in our country.

The next issue that Ms. King is addressing is aging. As a nearly 80-year-old woman, she is expected to slow down and be quiet and not raise any sand. Forget that one, this is not your average person who accepts what her fate is. She says, “We are not done yet. I’m not done yet.” I love that response from this trailblazer, who knows that it is never too late to carve new paths. She continues to work for equality and to acknowledge loudly and clearly that her work is not done. She is busier than ever and knows there is still much to do and she is on board to do it.  What a classy woman with such ferocity and ability to stay on target. Good follow-through on any court. 

What is Your Awe Quotient?

By Loretta Wrobel

The dictionary defines awe as “a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder.” Another definition is “the feeling we get when in the presence of something vast that challenges our understanding of the world.” These descriptions evoke a deep emotional reaction in me. I was captivated by this concept as I read the book by Dacher Keltner, titled AWE: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life. A 2023 book that gives a new wrinkle on how to exist and thrive in our present world. The author of this book focuses on the wonder, creativity, and collaborative dimension of awe, not on the other side of awe that features horror and fear.

I believe I have always been aware of awe, and never paid conscious attention to how frequently or when I have been exposed to awe. Often, we brush that experience aside and continue rushing through our packed and frenzied day. What unlocked my heart and cleared my mind was the suggestion to pause and digest my awe encounters on a regular basis and remember the feelings the experience evoked.

We exist in a world that is crammed with awe events, if we choose to witness them. What I understand is that standing in the middle of a mind-boggling awe event, I can absorb and feel it or I can zoom past it totally, not acknowledging the depth of what I felt or how it changed my mood.  When I remain unconscious as to what is before me, it is as if it has not occurred. 

Dacher Keltner writes, “Awe begins in encounters with the eight wonders of life” and “the experience of awe unfolds in a space of its own,” where a person feels good. He believes that we as humans can witness occasions of awe in everyday life. Awe can be everywhere, such as in the arts, especially music, in nature, in birth and death, and in many ordinary happenings that leave us profoundly open, elated, and feeling connected to a larger community.  Asking ourselves how we process this information gives us a start to open to the curiosity and beauty of awe. 

What impressed me was Keltner discovered that people who are awake to awe experiences exhibit behavior that is more connecting, and demonstrate a greater sense of community! If we stop for a moment, we all have felt the body awareness of awe with chills, hair standing on end and/or goose bumps. We are all aware of the whoa or ahh moments. However, do we consistently pay attention and record these times in our consciousness?

If the awe moments were to become more conscious in our ordinary day-to-day lives, would our feelings, emotions, and mental health be positively magnified? Studies have shown that when we are surrounded by nature, our blood pressure is lower, we express feelings of happiness, and we are more likely to engage in behavior that reflects kindness and a greater thirst for social connection. The author reports that after experiencing awe, participants are less depressed and not as lonely. Could we enhance our mental health by tuning in to the awe that surrounds us?

Keltner talks of the myriad examples of wonderment in our world, from witnessing acts of courage, strength and overcoming obstacles, to walking in a forest or standing next to the ocean. The health benefits of being in nature are well documented by many researchers. The Japanese developed forest bathing to promote mental stability and decrease stress. Forest bathing is simply being present in nature sans all our high-tech devices. The author discusses the biological need for awe.  We are hardwired to be soothed by our awe exposure to guide us in feeling our joy at being alive on this mysterious planet.  He quoted the poet Wadsworth as saying, “O there is a blessing in this gentle breeze.”

The author mentions the ability we possess to be awestruck by music. Music provides an opportunity to be connected to each other as we move with the beat. Music can energize us, calm us, anger us, inspire us, or allow us to feel serene and at peace. As humans we can connect and bond in the musical experience and develop a powerful sense of connection and community. Social movements have coalesced through the strength of a song or march. The Women’s Liberation Movement in the 1970’s and 1980’s was propelled forward by women’s music that provided direction, permission, and joy, supplying the foundation for a radical life altering community of empowered women. 

Who has not attended a sporting event and cheered along with the crowd for the home team? I remember being in Madrid at a bull fight and getting swept away with the ritual, celebration, and passion. I was shouting “Ole!” with all the other attendees and felt part of the group. I would not have guessed in advance that I would become one with the crowd at such an event.  It was a magical time, as I felt like a Spaniard and cheered along boisterously with everyone else, being overwhelmed by feelings. I can still reminisce and be back there during that extraordinary event, although it is more than a half century ago. That is the ultimate awe experience. 

How can we begin to integrate this awesome news so we can all benefit during these frustrating and scary times? We can increase our ability to love, operate from a humane perspective, and react with tenderness to our world. Awe can shift and shape our daily encounters and put deeper meaning in our lives. We can become better community members and more compassionate people in a world that continually challenges our patience, generosity, and sanity. Can we learn to develop our awe awareness so at the end of each day we are grateful for our astonishing, enhancing, mystical, beautiful, and breath-catching times? Let us become worshippers of celebrating and honoring awe whenever we feel, sense, smell, or see it.  

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November  2023 Issue

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