History I Wasn’t Taught

I learned African-American ‘history’ when I was at school in Richmond, Virginia in the 1980’s and 90’s. As it was taught, Africans just got onto slave ships (although we never talked about how they got on those ships).  After a trip across the Atlantic that killed a great many of them, they got off in the new world of America.  The slaves had to work hard, but they had at least kind owners in all states except Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana.  Slaves were responsible for helping around the house and in the fields but contributed nothing to the country other than that.  Life seemed to have just happened for a while since there was no history about any slave revolts or attempts to be free until suddenly Dred Scott v Sandford had everyone talking about slavery.  The Civil War didn’t include any African-American soldiers who weren’t in the movie Glory, may or may not have been fueled by opposition to slavery, and finally all people were viewed as equal under the law (well, except the American-Indians and women).

After Reconstruction (which as I went to school in the South there were times when the teachers would make known their disdain for the North’s attempts to make sure People of Color weren’t discriminated against), there wasn’t any African-American involvement in American history until Brown v. Board of Education.  In the Civil Rights Movement, there were two, and only two, leaders.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr who, it was taught, went and asked for his rights politely and non-violently until finally the benevolent white Americans decided to give them to him was the main leader.  The other one was Malcolm X who was portrayed as someone who hated all white people and wanted them all to die.  We did a play on Rosa Parks in the third grade.  She was a tired, old maid who just kept saying, “I’m so tired.  Please don’t make me stand.”  The bus boycott was taught as being able to be sustained because white women drove their maids around so that they could keep cleaning houses.  I remember we watched a movie on it and the only people who were interviewed were white women talking about being happy to drive their children’s Mammy to the store or their cook to her house.  There was no John Lewis.  There was no Bayard Rustin.  There was no Selma.  There were no bus bombings.  There was no church bombing.  There were no deaths.  The Civil Rights Act was signed and everyone was happy and everyone had rights.  That ended the history of African-Americans.

The school that I went to is a private all-girls school that was across the street from a country club, one that at the time still didn’t allow African-Americans or Jews.  I’ve always said that I got a good education academically but a bad one socially, and I truly believed that until recently.  Lately, the huge gaps in my knowledge about what people have had to overcome and struggle against to be seen as full citizens deserving of all rights have come to my attention.  I am trying my best to fill those holes and am focusing on reading books written by People of Color and women this year.  The history of America is messy.  Rewriting history to eliminate the mess might make some people feel better, like we are the country we profess to be.  We won’t magically become the land of promise to all until true, actual, difficult history is taught so that we can learn and grow.  I’m starting by making sure my children have a full education from a young age.  We can do better, we must do better, or we can keep expecting the same issues to replay over and over.

 

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In Mourning

On election night, I wept.  As the returns came in and the inevitability of this came into focus, I curled up under my covers and wept those deep sobs that shake your body and your core.  I wasn’t just crying because my candidate lost – I’m a Democrat, I’ve been there before.  I wasn’t even crying because it was a candidate that I was particularly fond of.  I wept for the loss of a female holding the highest office.  I wept for the reality that a man who brags about sexual assault was going to be the Commander in Chief.  I wept because I knew how hard it was going to be to explain the election results to my daughter when she woke up; she was a huge fan of Clinton’s and that was going to be a tough conversation.  I wept for my lost hope in what a Clinton administration would be like.  I hid while my husband tried to comfort me, and for hours I wept.

As the Trump transition team started to release names of his Cabinet picks, I went from weeping to anger.  There are men and women who could fill these positions whose beliefs I don’t share.  He, however, wasn’t picking any of them.  Rather, the only qualification that anyone seemed to need was a large bank account and willingness to send some of it his way.  I was angry for all the kids who were learning that if they didn’t have big money, they weren’t going to matter as adults.  Children were seeing in action that money matters more than capability.  I was angry for the poor kid with a brilliant mind who feels even further away from reaching their potential.  That anger fueled me making sure that I knew what was happening in the country and making sure that my phone calls and letters expressing my displeasure were made.

When the executive orders started to be signed, I went from angry to incandescent.  How dare he say that people who are Green Card holders can’t come back into the country?  How DARE he say that people who have been vetted and have been contributing to America for years aren’t welcome here.  The wall between us and Mexico is going to hurt far more than it will help.  Executive order after executive order (and the rumored ones coming up that both hurt the LGBTQA+ community and saying that the Department of Defense will get to contribute to our education policies) were so against the America that my parents and grandparents had taught me to love and respect that it just lit me up.  My husband seemed to start to judge my rage to see if even talking to me about news was a good idea.  He was hearing me writing at all hours of the night and muttering about the state of our nation while I cooked dinner.  “This isn’t us” I kept saying.

The firing of the assistant Attorney General for saying she wouldn’t uphold the ban on immigration was the final straw for me.  I no longer am weeping and I’m no longer a ball of anger or rage.  I am still fighting and I calling and I am protesting and I am not giving up no matter how bad it gets.  However, I realized tonight what I’m now doing.  I’m mourning.  I’m mourning for the American ideals that I love so dearly.  I’m mourning for the independent judiciary that my grandfather always said was the most important branch of the government (granted, he was a federal judge so he was biased).  I’m mourning for Lady Liberty who no longer is welcoming the world’s tired, poor and huddled masses yearning to breathe free.  She’s now just trying to figure out how to get through yet one more day.  I’ll keep fighting because I don’t know how to stop and it’s too important to give up but my fight now is a mournful one.  I don’t know if America will ever come back from this dark time and be whole again and even if it does it will always feel the scar; it will always feel this division somewhere in its soul.  Institutional memory isn’t always a good thing.  But through the weeping and the anger and the mourning, I have one thing that’s always been there.  One thing that’s driving the phone calls and the letters.  One thing that motivates me.  Hope.  I hope and, as Andy Dufresne would say, that’s a good thing.  I can only hope that the hope gets me from mourning to regrowth.

Resistance-Washing

My older daughter has learned about Dr Martin Luther King Jr (she’s always insistent that when I say his name I say the whole thing – according to her great men and women deserve that).  There are holes in what she’s being taught.  Based on what she’s brought home from school, he was a peaceful, kind, loving, and brave leader who just asked enough times for rights and someone finally said yes.  I’m filling in what she’s learning with some information on his resistance efforts and what he both faced and advocated.  I’m also letting her know that there were other people involved in the Civil Rights movement who weren’t as peaceful.  I don’t want her to grow up thinking if you just ask nicely enough times you won’t ever have to fight for what’s right.  It can be difficult, but it’s worth it.

Filling in the struggle of Dr. King has lead to me reflecting on the history that I was taught as a kid.  I went to a private, white (not officially segregated but it was almost completely white), rich, Southern, all-girls school that was across from a White’s Only Country Club.  My mom taught there allowing my sister and me to go tuition-free, meaning the other kids didn’t let me forget that I was the poor kid (in that world, meaning middle class).  I was given an incredibly white-washed history.  In 3rd grade, we put on a play about Rosa Parks in which she was played by a white girl because there wasn’t anyone of color in my class.  In the play, Rosa Parks was an old woman who was very tired after a day of cleaning houses.  The girl playing her was to sit and just say, “My feet are tired.  Please let me sit” over and over.  She was nicely removed from the bus and taken to jail; there was no fight, she just complied.  Then, as I was taught, the bus boycott was mainly led by the white women who were generous enough to drive the African-American women and men around for a year.  There was no discussion of how much walking was done and there was no talk of riots and fights and black leadership.  The white women were generous and the buses decided to desegregate to relieve the burden on them.

Yes, that’s a massive white-washing of what happened, and is disturbingly inaccurate.  As I thought of it, though, I don’t think it’s just that history is too often white-washed, but more that it’s resistance-washed.  My education on the women’s rights movement was that Susan B Anthony was part of the Seneca Falls Convention, that basically women just asked for the right to vote over and over and finally the men said ok.  I wasn’t taught about Elizabeth Cady Stanton except as a friend of Anthony’s and it wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I even heard the name Carrie Chapman Catt.  There was no mention of beatings or hunger strikes or forced feedings.  There was no discussion of it being a hard-fought victory.  There wasn’t a fight, there was only polite.

When we teach people that all the rights won were just nicely granted, it makes people less likely to be willing to fight now.  When they aren’t just given over no matter how many times people ask, the question comes into people’s mind of why is this so much harder than the Civil Rights Movement was?  Why are we not getting districts that aren’t gerrymandered or polling places restored to places that they’ve been removed from?  We asked nicely, that’s all it’s supposed to take.  I wasn’t taught about the difficult part of activism, it’s supposed to be one big march and done.  It was taught as “please sir, may I have my Constitutional rights” and there’s no talk of those who lost their freedom or their life, just those who were ‘respectable.’

I’m trying to change this with my daughters.  I’m filling in the gaps in the resistance struggles and making sure they don’t think that all they must do is ask, they must be willing to fight for what they believe in.  When my daughter starts talking about how nice and kind and peaceful Dr. King was, I talk to her about his time in jail and about his speeches on resistance.  I talk to both my girls about the physical attacks that people endured.  We talk about John Lewis getting beaten up.  I tell them that African American kids were yelled at for trying to go to school with whites.  When we talk about women’s rights, I include women being arrested and being hurt.  I let them know that until the Civil Rights Act women of color didn’t fully have the right to vote.  I don’t just talk to her about the result, I talk about the struggle it took to get there.  No one is going to freely give anyone their rights, they’ve always been obtained after a revolution.  Those don’t come easy and I don’t want my girls to think that a struggle means they’re doing something wrong in life.  The struggle is a sign of doing something right.  I’m not going to white-wash history, and I’m not going to resistance-wash it either.  I hope they never need to fight for their rights, or anyone else’s for that matter, but they’re going to be prepared if it comes to that.

Wrapped in Privilege

I am a white, cis-gendered, heterosexual, married woman with a European name.  My husband is a white man.  We were both born in the United States to parents who were also born in the States.  I was raised in a house with both my mother and father and never knew anything but a happy, extended family.  Both of our children were conceived in wedlock and both were delivered in a hospital.  My husband’s job makes it possible for me to be a stay-at-home parent who is involved in my school-aged child’s education at a good school.  His job also provides healthcare that I am not concerned about us losing.  My family has enough political connection (albeit tenuous) that if the government were to come after me there would be people we could call.  I am wrapped in so many layers of privilege that if one were to fail I have backups.  I am not going to be someone a Trump presidency would come for.  My suit of armor is thick.

I marched on Saturday with my husband and daughters.  People have asked why someone like me went.  Yes, birth control will be heavily impacted but I have had a tubal so even that isn’t a large concern.  I do worry about ending up before Congress if they bring back HUAC but even then we could figure out how to come up with the resources to flee the country – a luxury that most don’t have.  The truth is I didn’t march for me.  I didn’t even march for my daughters.  I marched for those who couldn’t.

For too long, white women have been lamenting all the horror in the world while doing nothing to stop it.  We wring our hands at the injustice, frown, and go back to our lives.  That needs to stop.  We must step up and do the heavy lifting.  We must wrap ourselves up in the defense that is given to us by society and use it.  If I can go to a march, I need to be there.  If a Congressperson needs to be called, my phone needs to be at my ear.  If I can make a meeting with my Representative, I’m in my car on the way.  Right now, there are a lot of people who are afraid and rightly so.  If me sticking my neck out means that someone with less privilege than I can stay in the shadows, it isn’t just something that I need to do it’s a moral obligation.  Those of us who are protected right now have to figure out what we can do to take the heat off those who aren’t.  If we aren’t willing to work for justice, we don’t get to be complain about injustice.

This isn’t me congratulating myself for my action.  This isn’t me asking for marginalized people to tell me I’m doing good things and then listen to me talk about them.  This is me saying what I’m going to do, and then shutting up so others can talk.  I can understand being pushed aside as a woman, but I will never understand how it feels to be a female of color.  When those conversations happen, I need to be there as part of a shield of solidarity.  Shield don’t speak; they protect and they listen.  Right now, that’s what I’m focusing on and it’s what white women need to be willing to do.  These are extreme times (and feeling more extreme with each passing day), but that doesn’t make my voice the right voice.  I am an ally.  I am a friend.  So, I marched for people who aren’t me, people I haven’t met and in most cases, won’t ever meet.

Society gave white women a gift; it’s our time to use it.

I Am a Special Snowflake

I am what some call a ‘special snowflake’ (a derogatory term people like the use for those who care about social issues) and I’ve been called a social justice warrior.  Online, I’ve been referred to as bitch, whore, cunt, moron, stupid, trash, and a liar.  Men have told me that if I would just read the Constitution once I might learn something about politics (fyi, that’s all I read about).  People have said that I don’t deserve my kids because someone like me (ie with my politics) doesn’t deserve children.  I’ve seen people say that I must just be a miserable person because I care about sexism.  I’ve been called a liberal as an insult.  People have said they don’t want to ‘trigger’ me, which really means they don’t want to listen to me give an impassioned opinion.  I’ve gotten rape threats.  I’ve gotten death threats.  It’s part of life for me, and I’m white so I avoid racial insults.  I can’t imagine how much harder it would be if I were a woman of color.

Meanwhile, Bo Bice was in a Popeye’s and a woman behind the counter said that an order was for “that white boy.”  He was on television in tears describing how much it hurt his feelings.  I’m sure it was traumatic for him, but he got his food.  No one threatened his life or his safety, they just used his skin color to describe him. (Also, he once wrote a song called ‘Brown Skin Girl’ leading one to assume that describing someone by their skin color is something he’s comfortable doing to others.)  Our President-Elect gets called a mean name by Meryl Streep and goes on a Twitter rampage because someone was mean to him.  She didn’t call him a rapist or un-American.  She pointed out that he mocked someone for their disability.  She pointed out the truth and he went after her.  Mike Huckabee seems to think that gay people are oppressing him by existing, although I’m still not sure why.  Gay marriage is going to ruin straight marriage…somehow.  Trans-people in the bathroom that corresponds to the gender they identify with are horribly dangerous and must be stopped.  It seems to go on and on – different ways in which people seem to be threatened by truth and others just trying to get through the day to day.  There are an awful lot of people lately who are feeling threatened by the reality of equality.

How is it, then, that I’m called the snowflake and yet I, and people like me, keep voluntarily walking into the storm over and over.  I know what I’m in for.  I know I’m going to be made fun of and harassed and I weigh that against how important the fight is.  Call me a snowflake.  Call me weak or a SJW.  Call me a liberal.  I own every single one of those nicknames, proudly.  I believe that everyone deserves a fair shot and help when they need it.  I don’t think the country should waste money on drug-tests for welfare, because it’s not fiscally responsible not because I just want all junkies having food stamps (although I don’t care if we feed people who are high – they need food too).  I believe that people are inherently good and sometimes just need a boost in life.  Liberal doesn’t mean weak.  It doesn’t mean too fragile to function.  It’s just a way of looking at the world and how people in it should be treated.

So, I’m taking it back.  I’m taking back special snowflake.  Yes, I am.  I am one of millions and millions of snowflakes.  We’re making a storm and we’re going to blanket the country.  If you’ve ever been in a lake effect storm, you know the damage they can do.  They can shut everything down in the blink of an eye.  I am a Social Justice Warrior.  I believe that racism and sexism and Islamophobia and xenophobia and homophobia are a shitty way to look at others and should be defeated.  I don’t think it’s going to happen in a day or a year or a decade, but warriors understand that it’s a long fight and that they will prevail.  They do not curl up into a ball and give up.  They fight until the bitter end.  That’s what I’m here for.  That’s what my fellow SJW’s are here for.  We understand the length and magnitude of the battle and are ready for the fight.

I am a special snowflake.  I am part of the storm.  Watch us rage.