Home Sick

Dear Class of ’86,

There’s a reunion coming up. I don’t have any idea of how long it’s been–if I’d learned any math, I might know–but I also just don’t care enough to get out the slide rule.

I bring it up because its approach has inspired some vigorous conversation, which has, in turn, caused some thoughts that I must clarify.

And so I write.

First, I don’t hate you. There are members I hold dear–primarily my spectacular husband Tim–and I harbor no ill will to the rest. I feel the same way about my high school graduating class as I do about my kindergarten class; I just don’t identify with that group of people anymore. High school was four years of my life–not the worst four, not the best–just four years that I went through before I was fully formed. I spent three times that long at university (first as a student then as employee) and it was there that I became an adult.

It was that “becoming” process that served to undo any sense of belonging to the class of ’86. At college, I grew and fell and rose and strode into my own, with but a single high school touchstone (my dear friend Krista) to connect me to my “hometown”. In college, I became a mother, a process that caused my family to divest themselves of me, pushing me further from a sense of comfort in that hometown.

And I married a man of color, and gave birth to two bi-racial children, one of whom has a physical disability, and these experiences solidified my status as an outsider in the white, wealthy bubble of suburban Chicago. You might not understand why that matters, and that’s part of why I feel so separate.

Some of you have demanded I absolve individuals among you of this toxic conformity, a great hew and cry having gone up when I identified the casual racism of small-town life as one of my reasons for not wanting to go to the reunion. To that complaint I offer this: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”–Edmund Burke. I am averse to the culture and can no longer comfortably pretend it doesn’t exist.

So I guess the right word for what happened is that I “outgrew” you. And just like an old pair of shoes that I once dearly loved, when they were no longer comfortable to wear, it was time to move on. I don’t hate them, they simply do not fit.

There has been an implicit encouragement to acknowledge my “roots”, and somehow see that suburb as “home” … well, I explored those roots pretty thoroughly while I was living there raising my children after my first marriage ended. Reunited with my family’s disdain and the ill-fitting shoe of nostalgia, I limped through 14 additional years there.

I knew even as a child that I didn’t want to live in STC as an adult. I saw myself living on a craggy coastline in a cottage overlooking the wild Atlantic ocean. All the parts of “home” that I loved–the woods, the trees, the fields–are now subsumed into suburban sameness. My once-wild forest preserve halved, my overgrown paths in the woods now daily trod by local school groups. Even in the woods there’s no place to be alone in nature. My “home” is now the things I carry in my mind and heart. It no longer exists. I spent 14 years while I built my family staring at outlines, vague shadows of things I remembered.

Do I have roots there? No.

To use gardening parlance, STC was the seed medium in which I got a start, but eventually I needed to move to a bigger spot. I needed more space to spread out, and to find the right nutrients.

If you’ve read any of my blog at all, you know that I find conformity and homogeneity to be toxic to anyone who … well … anyone who isn’t just like you, Class of ’86.

And that ain’t me.

I hope you find what you’re looking for in your trip back in time. But please try to understand: the path I have been on since I graduated took me very far from the attitudes and mores of that suburban hamlet, and I have no desire to look backward. This has been *my* experience, and as I have repeatedly said, I don’t expect it to be anyone else’s.

But please don’t attempt to silence me because my experience has been different.

FamInDC

I will keep in my mind and heart these people, who comprise my home.

 

Dear Fellow White People

Over the last couple of weeks, I have jumped into the fray with some of you and argued the truth about police brutality against African Americans. Armed with unassailable sources and hard data, I’ve worked to show you not just how you’re factually wrong, but how you’re morally wrong. African Americans are seen and treated differently, treated as inferior, degraded and demeaned and maligned and killed by a large proportion of people in authority. You’ve been shown stories and statistics and research from a wide range of sources, and you continue to deny what’s right in front of your face.

I’ve learned one important lesson from these discussions; Racists gonna racist.

So instead of engaging with your Fox News-force-fed-anti-intellectual bullshit, I’m going to apply this important lesson to my life going forward. When I’m chatting with friends about the miserable state of police brutality against my fellow citizens and you chime in with “if only we could teach people to do what the police say!” this is what you’ll get from me.haters

 

 

 

When you say “FBI statistics show…” and you quote some bogus numbers you heard on Fox that have been debunked this is the response you’ll get from me. StephenFryHaters

 

 

 

When you talk about how Morgan Freeman said we should all stop talking about race and all the problems will go away, but you ignore the thousands and thousands of African Americans voices telling their stories of how their race has been used against them time and again you’ll see this. HatersMorganFreeman

 

 

I’ve tried to show you the error of your ways. I’ve tried to point you toward some of those stories. I’ve asked you to listen to the voices joining in an ever louder chorus of complaint against a system rigged in favor of white men. You won’t listen. You won’t read. It’s obvious to me you believe exactly what you want to believe, and everything you read anLeonardoGifd listen to reinforces your beliefs. That’s why you listen to Fox.

SamWaterstonHaters

I used to be like you. I thought that the problems that showed up in the media were hyped, that people were blowing things out of proportion, that there wasn’t nearly as much bias as African Americans were saying there was, that I had been the target of unfair treatment too, that because I had black friends and half-Asian kids, that I REALLY understood, and that meant I could judge their claims as inaccurate.

Then something made me listen. Something woke me up. And all these voices, pained and frustrated and angry and hurt, cascaded into my consciousness, and I started seeing a pattern. No matter how hard they tried to be and do what they were told to be and do, African Americans *still* got treated as if they were criminals, thieves, pretenders, liars, cheats, lazy, ignorant, unfit. And all of these judgements were placed on them based solely on their appearance.

We’re ALL judged based upon our appearance, folks. What many white people don’t get is that the appearance-based judgement we receive gives us the benefit of the doubt. We’re largely given a pass on minor criminal or questionable activities because the assumption is made that we’re just people who made a mistake, not dangerous or threatening. That’s what they call white privilege, something many of you refuse to even acknowledge.

That part makes me especially frustrated. You can’t even ACKNOWLEDGE that in our society, having white skin means we get to skate through life without the magnifying glass of assumptions boring a hole in our backs. Having white skin means that we can walk away from discussions about the corrosion of racism because it doesn’t affect us. Having white skin means that we can pretend like ignoring racism will make it go away. THAT is white privilege. And that’s what you cling to, and you don’t even know it.

So I’m done. You people who’ve forced your way into the conversations of African Americans and allies discussing the outrage of this inequality and tried to argue that you somehow know better than they do about their own experience —  you’re not worth my time and effort and energy any longer. You’ve ignored every effort to educate you, you’ve rejected all of the evidence presented to you, you’ve outright refused to read anything that contradicted what you already thought.

You don’t want to learn. You don’t WANT to hear that people are in pain. Your actions show that all you want is to reinforce what you already believe; that African American people have created their own problems, and those problems don’t affect you, and that you don’t have to take part in fixing those problems. Guess what? you’re PART of the problem.

So I’m taking my energies elsewhere. While it’s been occasionally entertaining to engage in discussions with you, while I have gleaned the odd thrill from putting you in your place, there are much better uses for my time. I will throw my support to the voices of the oppressed (yes, they are OPPRESSED, whether you admit it or not), I will give my time to agencies dedicated to leveling the playing field, I will stand and witness and fight where I am needed, and I will no longer give you even desultory recognition.

I didn’t carry much from my religious upbringing, but I did carry this: whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me. These are my brothers. These are my sisters. These are human beings with families and love and pain and joy and heartache. I can’t sit around any more and watch while they suffer.

The lines don’t need to be drawn in black and white. I’m going to add my lily white face to the black and brown faces and show you where the lines are truly drawn: in right and wrong.

Race matters to the future of our country. You can choose to stay right where you are, and pretend that the world isn’t changing around you. Keep your head in the sand. The tide of time will eventually bury you.

So don’t be surprised when I respond to your ridicule-worthy ignorance with a silly meme.

haters-gonna-hate