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I can thank Donald Trump for one thing.

Donald Trump helped me realize I have a problem with alcohol.  Now, Donald Trump is helping me get sober. 

I have always liked to drink.  Over the years, I have acquired a love of all types of libations. The bitter, tingle of an IPA as it hits the back of your tongue, a dewy bottle of chilled white wine waiting in the fridge after stressful day at work, a bloody Mary made with all the fermented fixing.  I love the feeling of warmth that opens up in your chest after your third glass of Chardonnay,  the heady, irreverent buzz of taking a shot of tequila while sipping a Coors light or sitting next to your best friend, an open fire crackling on a sandy beach while sipping Bulleit bourbon straight from the bottle and feeling like a pair of untamable, feral women. 

For me, alcohol was everything.  It was relaxation, stress relief, fun, sophistication, adventure and a centerpiece of all social events.   

While I have always enjoyed drinking, alcohol took on a new meaning in my life after I turned 30. My thirties have been filled with anxiety and excitement.  The endless photos of marriages, babies and houses purchased that cling to my psyche after I close the Facebook window, the uncomfortable pang of wanting a child so bad I can feel it in bones (it hits me at the strangest times!), the realization that I am not wealthy and I can’t afford to build a life in Central California, a skyrocketing career doing work I really care about, the discomfort a being a young woman in a board room full of old, white men, the election of a fascist, misogynistic, pig head and the spiral into darkness: these are the things that have made turning 30 so amazing and so utterly, disorienting.  These are also the reasons I started drinking—a lot. 

Alan Carr makes an analogy about drinking that I find very useful.   He says that drinking is like the sipping the nectar from a “pitcher plant,” a flower that slowly lures insects toward their death with a sweet,sugary juice.  The insect lands on the plant and starts drinking.  At first, the nectar is delicious, intoxicating.   Slowly, the insect starts to slip.  The downward slope is so gradual that the insect doesn’t notice.  It just keeps drinking the nectar, oblivious.  Eventually, the insect slips too far down, it can no longer escape.  It looks around and sees it’s surrounded by death, empty exoskeletons of ants, flies and other insects suspended, weightless in the heavy syrup.  By the time the insect realizes its in trouble, everything around it is dead.

As I struggle to make sense of my relationship with alcohol (am I an alcoholic? can I even drink? why do I feel so out of control? what the fuck did I say last night?), Alan Carr’s theory of alcoholism has been helpful.  He and many other believe that there is no such thing as an “alcoholic,” a word that is both scary and stigmatizing.  There isn’t an invisible line that divides people who drink into two distinct categories: causal drinkers and alcoholics.  Rather, he believes that everyone who drinks is sitting on the edge of the pitcher plant slowly moving downward towards addiction and “alcoholism.”  Some of us, those with a genetic disposition and exposure to certain environmental factors, will slip more quickly—much more quickly—toward the point of no return.  Some people never get there.  Yet, at it’s core, alcohol is an addictive, destructive substance that ultimately leads to death.

In retrospect, with clear, sober vision, I realize that I had been slipping quickly for the past two years.  And on November 10, 2016, after Donald Trump became the President-Elect of the United States, things got bad—really, really, really bad.  For me and for just about everything I care about.  I got really angry, really drunk,  many times and hurt some people I care about.

So, Donald Trump showed me I need to get sober to keep up the fight that will be the next 4 years and to keep everything I love in my life.   And that’s what this blog is all about, the battle of sobriety and stickin’ it to Donald Trump. Thanks for joining me on this journey!

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This is a photo of my post TRUMP matic stress relief: a new puppy.  His name for now is “chub chub.”  He will arriving shortly after Xmas.  Baby animals will definitely be my #1 source of strength as I get sober and fight fascism.  

The pit of rage.

I don’t have trap doors anymore.  No places to hide when the anger starts to simmer, no wine hidden in an aluminum travel mug, no secret slugs of icy vodka pulled from the back of the refrigerator.  Let’s face it, the booze only made this particular brand of anger fester and then explode.  That’s what brought me to this page in the first place.

I am at my women’s meeting.  I am counting one dollar bills and carefully stacking them in a pink plastic bowl, the weekly tithing for the gift of feminine solidarity and sobriety.   A women I have come to love and admire fiercely (we’ll call her Anaheim) stands across the table.  I lift my head and meet her gaze.  She gives me an air hug from across the table.  I drop the bill in the plastic bowl and say, “I need the real thing right now” and walk toward her with open arms.

Anaheim knows a lot about the justice system.  The more I learn about the fucked up corruption in the “justice” system, the more I love Anaheim and that the fact that there are teeny, tiny brave, wise women like her out there. 

Anaheim is a couple decades older than me.  She is a slight women with a silver, white hair cropped close to her head, faded grey blue eyes behind an unassuming pair of thin silver glasses.  She dresses like a person who always has something more important to think about, wearing anonymous conservative black and grey dresses and practical black ballet flats.  Her frame is tiny, strong and jagged.  I can feel her shoulder blades as we hug.

“We’ve never through anything like this,” I say.  She knows the “we” I am referring to is women of my generation, those of us who are awake, alive, aware and in our mid thirties.

I have been asking Anaheim for advice, wisdom, solace since the Brett Kavanaugh shit show first began.  She is my “reality check”  when I know my vision is too narrow or short. 

When I first heard of Anthony Kennedy’s retirement, I felt bewildered and adrift again–a feeling reminiscent of how I felt on 11/10/16.  The discomfort is a cue and my brain looks for a trap door, a way out.  I start randomly Googling to try to understand what might happen if Trump gets his SECOND pick for the Supreme Court.  Google leads me to my answer, my temporary trap door: two female Senators who hail from the hinterlands of Maine and Alaska. 

A few weeks ago, I asked Anaheim what she thought about the prospective of these women voting against Kavanaugh.  

“They will not,” she tells me as we stand in the parking lot, the gravel poking through my thrift store sandals.  “They will vote for him, because he is not unqualified,” she says with razor sharp certainty.  This truth leaves me sinking, but her wisdom pulls me back.  She tells me about how the political pendulum always swings from one extreme to the next.  She says with profound calmness and clarity that we will have to find ways to get women access to abortions and we’ll rely on civil society to do to so.   She tells me we will survive this and I believe her. Her wisdom and perspective is my buoy.    

The feeling of lightness is replaced by sinking now.  If I sink down far enough, I will find the place where I hide all the rage.

Yesterday, as we stood there hugging next to the table, she told me that she remembers watching Anita Hill testify during the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearing 25 years ago and how she has found herself thinking “have we not learned anything?” as she watched the shit show unfold on national TV.  She is going out of town and won’t be at the meeting for the next three weeks.  I instantly feel bad for myself.

Trauma is experienced collectively.  It unmoors itself and circulates through communities at specific times—cued up my the callous actions, fear and animosity of white men.  I have learned this through my own efforts to “decolonize” my mind and develop an understanding of how black people feel when a police car drives by.  While I won’t set up a false equivalency, there is a parallel experience women are feeling right now, a pain that has some common origins.  It’s a deep, hidden pain that has been built through decades of assault and abuse by white men—a pain that is circulating amongst all of us who identify as women right now. 

I have been wondering lately, what is my #metoo story?  Do I have one?  I have never been raped or assaulted though like many I have had some close calls.  I could list the same litany of things we do everyday to avoid being sexually assaulted like the fact that I run on the treadmill everyday since Mollie Tibbetts and Wendy Martinez, or my inability to sleep in home alone without taking Benadryl and triple checking to make sure all the doors are locked when I home alone.  There is the boss that snuck up behind me and unhooked my bar as a “practical joke.” There are the drunken nights when I didn’t say no, but didn’t say yes either.  There is waking up and wondering if I deserved to feel like shit.  There are the more subtle forms of domination that happen in our daily silencing by men who do not see us for who we are, that are blinded by their own sense of knowing. 

There are the countless stories I hear every week from survivors in recovery. There is my friend who recently relapsed.  I remember the bruises on the top of her breasts as she pulled her oversized white shirt to the side.  She showed me the marks after our meeting when everyone went out to get $10 tattoos.  It was sex work, sure, but she didn’t tell him he could do that.  She’s a beautiful women who photographs births.   

There is my sister in the hospital—a scene that is defined by unknowns that characterize the type of rape that happens through a toxic mixture of drugs, alcohol, groups of belligerent white men and vulnerable young, intoxicated women.  There is the not knowing what types of drugs they put in her drink, who did it or how many.  There is her inability to tell us anything about it.  There is her wild disassociation from reality, her decent into schizophrenia, the disintegration of her being and our lives as we knew them.  Eight years later, she talks to me about what happened at CZ and how she still needs to “address it.”  There is a part of my brain that will never understand what happened, so I just say, “yes, you didn’t deserve that and I hope you can heal.”  I let all the unknowns fall down into the pit.    

I was sitting on the couch this evening looking for my new version of a trap door, one that does not involve a secret trip to the corner liquor store.  I woke up feeling like I needed get away.  I tried to buy a “trashy” book on my kindle.  I tossed and turned on the couch. I didn’t want to talk or be touched.  I want to curl up in a ball, so I can protect myself. 

As I let go of Anaheim last night, I tell her “there is pit of rage I have buried deep down.”  She gives me a knowing look. 

What will we do with all this anger?  What will we do with all this pain? Where will it go?

Let the weight hold you.

“Grief can be a burden, but also an anchor.   You get used to the weight, how it holds you in place.” – Sarah Dessen, The Truth About Forever

It begins with a hospital dressing gown, worn backwards, the strands of cotton fiber used to close the faded blue fabric look like old shoe laces, haphazardly hanging on your chest.  The nurse talks about how you will see a heartbeat today as she prods your sore breasts. 

Then there are moments of swollen silence as she scans the grainy screen—a cool pressure moving between your legs.  Your eyes scan the monitor looking for something that resembles the “10 week ultrasound” images you Googled the night before.

How many hearts have grown, expanded, joys multiplied on that screen?  How many fantasies fulfilled, storylines completed?

And how many hearts have shattered there on that grey backdrop?  How many times has the breath been sucked out of throats when the mind registers that the teeny, tiny pixels are not vibrating, that there is no hum of life displayed on that 24”X 24” digital box?

The doctor will come in and ask you to clear your bladder, so he can “get oriented.”  He is having trouble distinguishing organs from cysts and failed pregnancies.  The nurse will offer you an extra blanket to cover you as you walk down the hall.  You’ll say no, grab the shoelaces and throw them around your shoulder.

You walk towards the bathroom with your arms wrapped around your chest, clutching the blue grey fabric.   Your eyes are feral, red rimmed, your bangs are matted to your forehead,  a mixture of sweat and tears.

No one in the hallway will look up at you.  There is something hot and untouchable about fresh pain.  The nurses will avert there eyes, turn their heads as you walk past.  They’ll continue clicking keyboards, jotting notes on charts.

You return to consultation room B.  The doctor will ask you if you want to take a break.  You’ll wonder if it is he who needs a break from your wide eyes and tears and blank stares.  He explains that you can either take a pill and have the abortion at home or schedule a surgery. 

“You seem like you just want to get this over with,” he’ll say.  He is right about that.

The procedure is scheduled for next Wednesday.  But first, they’ll refer you to the wrong clinic.  A nurse will call you and do an intake for an elective abortion.  She’ll explain that you can “put the infant up for adoption” instead of having an abortion and that you have several options for birth control including the Nuva ring or an IUD.  You’ll tell her that there is no infant and that she doesn’t need to ask you these types of questions.  She’ll say she is legally required to give you this information and that you have to respond “yes” or “no.”  You hang up the phone and want to put your fist through a window.

You’ll wake up the next morning.  Your first breath a gasp.  This is how you greet the day.  Hot tears rolling down your face, leaving a gray puddle on your face.  You’ll instinctively grab your phone and start googling “recurrent miscarriage.”  You lay in bed reading infertility blogs looking for answers. 

You click the email icon, refresh and see an announcement that your baby is now 10 weeks old.  You should unsubscribe from everything, you tell yourself.  But your thumbs are on autopilot.

Your cousin posted photos of your grandmother.  There is a sentence that seems like a final thank you followed by a broken heart and prayer emoji.  The post seems to point to a clear message, but your mind takes a few moments to decode the meaning.  

“Is Mamique dead?,” you call and ask your Dad.  It’s 9:37am.

“Yes, honey. I’m sorry.  She died yesterday.  It was my job to call and tell you today.”

“I found out on Facebook.”

Losing a family member puts the mind in retrograde motion, the rewinding of memories and moments lived. 

Our lives begin in the womb of our maternal grandmother. We’re nested like Russian dolls, a womb holding a fetus holding an unseeable egg.  Energy flows across membranes, memories, unspoken pain, unyielding love, bravery, tenacity, all move in the space that exists before “ life.”  We inherit all this energy,  all this stuff that we carry around with us, because we are family and we are born together.

You’ll think of Mamique, of the time she threw wine in your step grandfathers face, of the white, vintage Jeep Wrangler she would drive up and down the coasts of Cape Cod, the sea salt air heavy, coating the cold metal frame.  The Jeep had no doors or seatbelts. We’d all pile in and feel the wind, exposed to the elements, the black pavement moving steadily below the tires.  It would be so easy to fall out.  Maybe that’s why I felt so free riding around in that Jeep,  hoisting my arms above the roll bar, eyes squinting, baby fine ten year old hair blowing back.

This is how my maternal family taught us to live.  Exposed. Alive. Unafraid to feel.  Unafraid to fall.    

“Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over again to annihilation can that which is indestructible in us be found.”- Pema Chodron. 

 

Scenes from Justice 4 Stephon

A bead of sweat drips off my face and hits the gray concrete sidewalk as I bend over.  I lock my dusty black road bike to the cold, metal bike rack in front of Sacramento City Hall.  A chubby tall, white man with a barely visible ring of grey thinning hair around the base of his head talks loudly on a cell phone.  He paces back and forth.

“You know I am a white man, so I just here to support and take orders from you all.”  I hear him say.  He is wearing a black oversized T-shirt that read “Build. Black.” in purple and white letters across his bulbous chest. 

I am here at City Council for the community forum about Stephon Clark, a man who was murdered by the police in his Grandma’s yard on March 18th, 2018.    

I am trying to figure out how to place myself in this scene.  I am alone and traveling by bicycle–a strategic way to get from place to place in a city that has been erupting in sporadic bursts of protest for the past week.  You don’t know what streets will be shut down and when, so you cruise on by.

I put my bike helmet in my backpack and stand up straight, stretching my arms to the sky.  I am trying to look natural mask the subtle anxiety that starts churning in my belly.  I feel like a high school student who had to show up to a dance by herself.  She stands on the sidelines, a wallflower watching the mob of people sway back and forth under cheap disco lights in her school gymnasium.  It takes some courage to walk towards a crowd alone.  I may have left my courage at home today.  So, I fake it and try to look natural.

I roll my shoulders back and pretend to stretch again, biding my time.  I look behind me towards a row of tall oak trees that line the city street.  News trucks are crammed together, parked next to a curb.   I see a row of cheap plastic tables and a line of people waiting with vacant expressions waiting in front of them. 

It’s a peculiar scene.  It seems so out of place.  A petite woman with gray, wrinkled skin serves bowls of beans and loaves of bread to the outstretched hands. A homeless man paces back and forth throwing his hands up in the air and intermittently screaming things like “we’re just here to support you guys” and “they shot his ass.” 

Nuns feed the homeless here.  I make a mental note. 

I start walking down the block and turn towards the massive concrete building.  I shimmy my shoulders adjusting the weight of my backpack.  I feel painfully conscious of every move I make.

  A woman is standing in front of a circular fountain handing out shirts and buttons that read “Build. Black.” Everywhere I look I see people wearing these shirts.  A thin white woman offers me a “Build. Black.” button as I walk by.  I shake my head and say “no, thank you.”  I am skeptical of the forces at play here—about who is trying to brand this moment and create the next hashtag, about who is swooping in and trying to turn a tragedy into a photo opportunity. 

I walk towards rows of gray, tinted windows that must be over 50ft high stretching up from the concrete and obscuring the City Hall chambers from the gaze of the outside crowd.  A mass of black bodies all stand in front of 3 metal detectors that are perched in front of the entrance to the building.  It’s 4:35 pm and the “community forum” is supposed to start in 25 minutes.  The chambers are full and crowds of people are still waiting to get in.

I stand on a black metal park bench, trying to get an aerial view of the crowd, trying to get a sense of where the lone white lady might fit. 

My efforts to “show up” feel futile.  I feel sheepish.  My eyes scan back and forth.  I pull my home-made from my bag and just stand there, on top my this black metal park bench, watching, taking it all in.  I feel the gravity pooling in my ankles, a weight holding me in place.

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As I stand there, I think of a term my mentor told me, “sacred presence.”   It’s where you don’t have to give or say or do anything, you just show up and learn how to be with people.  This is not easy for an overachieving alcoholic, but I “fake it til I make it.”  I stand there and just hold my sign, breathing, trying not to worry about what happens next.

It’s been 10 days since Stephon Clark was murdered.  The waves of shock have stopped reverberating through people’s mind and now everyone is sitting here in line, holding back anger and sadness that would spill out in unpredictable spurts from next three and a half hours.

I scan the crowd and see Mary, a 50 something elder, radical lesbian woman who has been on the streets of Sactown for year.   I know from my Friday Women’s meeting.  Our eyes connect, we give a knowing nod and half smile.  I jump down from the bench and go stand next to her, feeling relieved to see another white, alcoholic woman alone in this crowd.  We’re about 100ft from the entrance to City Hall standing next to a speaker that is projecting the voices from within the City Hall chambers. 

At 5:02pm, the forum begins and I am startled by the disembodied voices that pour out of the speaker.  The mayor drones on about the pain and suffering and all the policies, protocols and other irrelevant things that were going to happen.  A councilman from the Meadowview community then takes the floors.  More words float through the air. They are sorry. They know the community. Insert all politically correct diatribes here.  The numbness is ruptured by a sudden silence, rumbling, and string of expletives pierce the air.

“Man, shut the fuck up,” I hear as I look at Mary, realizing that the droning on of political appropriate jargon had ended.    

Stevante Clark, Stephon’s  brother, just took over the city council meeting, rushing past security, jumping on the mayors desk and screams “fuck you” in his face. He hoists his sagging pants above his hip bones, thrusts his fist in the air and does a celebratory dance like he had just scored the winning touchdown at his high school football game.  I’d later learn that this was his winning moment.  The few moments where he had control of the dialogue, a say in what happened next.

 He has a red and white bandana tied around his cleanly shaven head.  Bright white head phones draped around his neck.  He is wearing black felt slippers—the kind more “appropriate” people would exchange for shoes upon leaving their house.    

“The rent is too high.” “Dre T is mayor now.”  A reference to Sodom and Gomorrah.  I stand in semi-circle of people watching anger burst from between Stevante’s lips.  It’s a string of non-sequitors, ideas that emerge and disappear as quickly as they form.  It’s a mix of pain, grief, sadness and  impending psychosis.

I am watching this all unfold from behind the tinted glass of the City Council chambers, standing in a concrete courtyard surrounded by Black people–most of whom are doning “Build. Black.” shirts.   We’re all staring at a TV screen next to the window.  The screen gives the crowd a close up of Stevante’s coup unfolding inside. 

A homeless woman with tan, weathered skin and her meaty pitbull lay on the concrete underneath the TV screen.  She is curled up next to our feet.  We are all looking past her.  She is wearing a “Build. Black” t-shirt as she lays on her red tattered sleeping bag, one arm draped over her white and tan spotted dog.  She has a soft smile on her face and looks peaceful even as the swarms of bodies around her grow more agitated and shocked.  She doesn’t move. The gaze of onlookers, the crowds of black community members watching as Stevante screams into the microphone filling the chamber with disconnected words and ideas, don’t seem to disrupt her rest.  Perhaps she is immune to this, the gaze of others, the world churning on as she tries to get some rest.    

Over the next several days, the nation would watch Stevante Clark’s mind unravel, his thoughts growing more and more disconnected.  We’d watch his nostrils flaring, eyes narrowing, seething with anger.  “We haven’t slept. We haven’t eaten. I didn’t ask for this.”  The next moment he flings his fists in the air, knees bouncing, jubilantly dancing seeming electrified by the attention of onlookers.  He throw his body on his brother’s casket.  “I love the mayor,” he’d declares on national television no less than 48 hours after telling his to “fuck off.”

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It’s been two days since the City Council meeting and I am pushing my bike down the sidewalk looking for the Black Lives Matter protest.  We were supposed to meet in front of D.A. Anne Marie Schubert’s office at 3:00.  It’s 4:00 and the sidewalks are all empty, save for one white woman and her partner standing in front of the D.A.’s building.  “I just got off work.  I don’t know where everyone is.”  She is holding a sign that reads “Justice 4 Stephon” in green lettering.  A white PVC pipe holds the poster paper in place.  She gets a text from her friend and says the protest moved to the courthouse.

I ride several blocks, round the corner and head towards the courthouse.  I see Stevante Clark dressed in a oversized white t-shirt marching down the side walk toward a crowd.  He is surrounded by semi-circle of large black men, his “body guards.”  I feel strangely star struck.  He’s become a symbol for police violence and collective resistance in America.  I watch Stevante walk towards  a group of about 50 protestors are chanting “justice 4 Stephon.”  A line of bodies are blocking the on-ramp to the I-5 entrance.

Stevante makes his way towards the center of the crowd. He grabs the bullhorn and screams “anyone blocking the streets is disrespecting my family.”  I stand on the outside of the circle and listen to his rant and scream, “I didn’t ask for this.” “Do y’all love me?”  “I am….(Stephon Clark).”  A black, cloth high top sneaker flies through the air and lands at the base of a telephone pole about 3 feet from me.  Stevante had taken off his shoes and hurled them through the air.  A older white hippie dude hands the shoes to one of his body guards the shoes. 

The same disconnected bursts of sadness and jubilation are spilling forth in an unpredictable sequence.  Synapses in his brain can’t seem to connect on idea to another.  I imagine someone giving a lecture on trauma and showing a photo of a brain lit up like Christmas lights—one part isn’t communicating with another.  There are just flashes of random lights.

As an addict, I have banned myself from most social media—installing apps that prevent me from accessing Facebook, but I have broken all my self imposed social media rules these days.  I re-watch videos of the City Council meeting and my eyes fill with tears. Watching Stevante’s very public decline into hysterics reminds me of my sister.  He is acting out a pattern I have seen one too many times before.  I am reminded of times when I was with my sister in the emergency rooms.  She would verbally and physically act out as nurses and doctor’s trying to restrain her.  She’d yell one disconnected thought and then another.  A stream of emotions and ideas flowing through her mind so fast and she is grabbing onto whatever piece she can, just trying to stay afloat, but nothing will hold her.  “I didn’t ask for this.”  “I am…. (Stephon Clark).” 

As I watch these scenes unfold over the past week, I am desperately trying to form a coherent thought around all of it.  I am trying to piece together the senseless, lawless murder of young black man, the public decay of his brother’s mind, the homeless woman clad in a “Build. Black” t-shirt peacefully sleeping on the concrete as history unfolds around her, of my sister who also suffered irreversible trauma and is now locked in an institution far from me.

I found an article on Facebook that is helping me figure this out, helping understand the deep connections that just underneath the surface of all this.  The article is entitled “White People Don’t Understand the Trauma of Police Killing Videos.”  It’s written by  Monnica Williams, a black social activist professor who studies race-based trauma and mental health disparities.  She writes: 

“We need the world to see what is being done to our people to help bring it to an end. And it’s not just black people – these things are happening to Hispanic people, Native Americans and the mentally ill. The stigmatized and disenfranchised among us. I feel solidarity with all of them.”

I feel solidarity with all of them. 

The scenes I saw last week will be lodged in my mind for a long time.  I don’t doubt that as I go back to work next week, I’ll be refreshing browser and trolling Facebook looking for answers and information.  I don’t know exactly what this all means yet and that makes me uncomfortable.  The poet in me likes to think I am OK with ambiguity.  But, if I am honest, the alcoholic, who prefers control and black and white, wins every time.  So, I’ll keep sitting here with this discomfort—unsure of what to think of it all.

What I can say is that I do feel a new form of hope growing inside me in the midst of the chaos.  Growing up with the sort of chaos that never really gets better, hope is never a word that resonated with me.  However, I learning to open up to it and to let a little hope grow inside of me. 

For now, my hope is that as we Build. Black., we, as a Sacramento community, cast a net wide enough, we grow a vision large enough, that it can hold all of us together.  For me, Building. Black. is about bringing the margins to the center, and allowing us to feel solidarity with “the other.”       

When did you first realize you were white?

Trying to patch together a cohesive story about my experiences of whiteness and race makes me feel a little bit like a kindergartener making her first collage.  I picture my clumsy hands reaching around a wooden picnic table grabbing random pieces of stuff— a noodle, a piece of yarn, a straw—and trying to make all the pieces fit together. The end product is no work of art, not something to be proud of, but it is something.  And there I am, holding up a soggy piece of construction paper, with a crooked smile that says, “see I tried to tell the story.  Will you accept me, because I am trying?”  I think a lot of us white folks feel this way—like children, vulnerable, exposed and partially informed, incompletely aware—when we start to talk about our own whiteness which is probably why it doesn’t happen very often.

As I spin through the rolodex of memories, there are times when my whiteness comes into sharp focus.  There are these moments when I am acutely aware of  what whiteness is and why it matters, like when I change schools in 7th grade and become a “minority” for the first time.   And there are other times when whiteness just fades into the background—a discomforting static sound plays as all the melanin seeps out of the landscape and I am surrounded by sameness.  Everyone and everything is white, so I just don’t notice it any more.  This randomness and lack of continuity makes me uncomfortable, because I want to know the whole story.  I want to see how all the pieces fit together, to know the how and why of how all those experiences came to be before I start writing.  I know that there is a historical context to all of my experiences—the ones where I crossed borders and other where I was pulled behind large wrought iron gates.  I am not a historian and I don’t have much energy to do intense research, I’ll lay out some imperfect pieces—a random noodle here, a button there, a broken crayon somewhere in the corner—the kindergartener’s collage of my own racial memory, of what my experiences of whiteness have been and why they matter.  (The collage metaphor was bad.  But maybe it was so bad, it’s good?)

So, that’s how I feel about this task, but where should I begin? I’ll start with a simple (or not so simple) question: When did I first realize I was white?

———————

I first realized I was white while I was riding in the car on the way to swimming lessons.  My friend’s dad, Mr. Holden, was bringing us to the pool that day.  His sky blue hulking, pick-up truck pulls into the driveway of our house.  The exterior paint is chipped and battered.  I throw open the passenger door, take my gym bag off my shoulder and sit down.  My friend Andrea scooches over taking the middle seat, her legs straddling the stick shift. 

Growing up, my parents didn’t have  tons of money, but I didn’t know it. Soccer practice, swim and piano lessons, I had all the opportunities a child could dream of and then some.  It wasn’t until a few years ago that I became aware of the creative things my parents would do to give us opportunities and exposure without spending money.  Carpooling to the free swimming lessons at the Southwest Community Center was one of these strategies.  Free swimming lessons required us to travel pretty far, hence the carpool with Mr. Holden and Andrea, from our rural homestead in Onondaga.    

As the truck churns down the road, I can feel every bump and pothole.  The pick-up truck feels large, lumbering and hollow, the jagged, angular frame provides a thin shell that seems to barely shelter us from world whizzing by outside the window.  The truck is a bit like Mr. Holden—rough around the edges, a little beat up, sort of hollow, a tough exterior, a weak frame.  He is the night custodian at our elementary school and has a really “I don’t give a shit way” way of speaking and being in the world. Rich white people might call him “white trash.”   

The truck tips forward and we head down highway 175 toward the City of Syracuse.  The road is steep, tombstones pass by the window, a cemetery stretches out for days across the gray monotonous sky.  Tall boarded up buildings take the place of  Onondaga’s sprawling cornfields.  Barbershops and liquor stores emerge.  Dilapidated Victorian houses with expansive porches line the sides of the narrowing city street.  People with skin as dark as the soil gather on these tall, feeble porches together—watching traffic go by. Limbs hanging over banisters, black faces staring blankly at the passing traffic, children running along the sidewalk, barbecues smoke billows from backyards. 

The truck grinds to a halt at the intersection highway 175 and Brighton ave.  Mr. Holden grips the wheel.  I can see threads of sinewy muscle along the sides of his face.  Small tensions rising, muscles wrapping around the bones that connect in a big knot to form his jaw.  

 “Just a bunch of goddamn porch monkeys,” Mr. Holden spits out as he grips the steering wheel, his knuckles turning white.  “Look at all these goddamn porch monkey’s.  Get off your damn porch and get a job.”  He sticks his head out the window and contorts his face and screams, “what you looking at?!?!”   The light turns from red to green and the truck forward pops forward as Mr. Holden moves his foot from the brake to the gas and accelerate quickly. 

“Hahahaha, look at the porch monkeys,”  Andrea says and slaps my leg.  She turns her head toward me, looking for affirmation.  I stare blankly at her and then force myself to laugh along.       

Something inside of me recoils. I stare out the window.  My ten year old brain had trouble deciphering exactly what a porch monkey was or why it boiled up such feelings of hatred in Mr. Holden.  What I see outside the window—the dilapidated Victoria houses and sprawling porches—takes on a new meaning.  My insides churn, my thoughts halt, synapses too scared to fire.  The mind registers only a break in connection—an us and them.  There is a difference and there is hate and there is something called a “porch monkey.”  My childhood brain is trying to process what that means.  

An ineffable hatred spews out the windows of the truck and engulfs the landscape.  I can see it hanging there, invisible as Mr. Holden grips the wheel and steering his busted pick up truck, speeding down residential streets, braking and accelerating, our tiny bodies restrained by black, rusty seat belts.

           I look out the window and I wonder if all the black people know that Mr. Holden hates them so much.  I wonder if they think I hate them too.  I want to get out of the truck, but I am stuck there—feeling the engine vibrate, feeling every bump in the road.

This is what whiteness feels like.

A few weeks later, at that same intersection, the stoplight was red and my dad turned to me and said, “You see all this?  Every town has a place where they keep their black people.”  He lets out a long sigh and shrugs his shoulders.  Something between dejection, resignation and indifference seeps out of the air squeezing between his parted lips.

Porch monkeys.  Every town has a place where black people are kept.

This is what whiteness feels like.

If people ask me where I grew up, I usually say Syracuse, NY, though that is not true.  I grew up in Onondaga—my most formative years from the ages of 5 to 15 were spent in a poor, rural community on the outskirts of the Onondaga Nation Territory.  My early introduction to the city, to the place where black people were kept, was on the those long drives to the Southwest Community Center—where they offered free swim lessons to any kids that showed up.  My friends and my brother and sister were often the only kids in the classes taught by a large black man with dreadlocks that hung well below his waist. 

We were probably the only white kids within a 5 miles radius of the community center.  The two of us, me and Andrea, floating there in that Olympic size pool, learning to egg beater our legs and push our Speedo covered torsos above the water.  Kick your legs hard and keep breathing.   White kids learning to swim while black kids drown.   

The Southwest Community Center is located in the poorest part of the Syracuse.  The city’s Southside some of the highest concentrations of extreme poverty amongst blacks and latinos in the nation.  Rewind the clock about 400 years, when the first enslaved Africans set foot on American soil, and you start to understand how this landscape formed.  Slavery set in motion a momentum so fierce it would shape the landscape the city forever—the lynch pins of oppression and social isolation persisting for eternity. 

 

Syracuse, like most urban areas in America, has history etched into it’s landscape.  The timeline looks like this: slavery gave birth to Jim Crow.  Jim Crows became redlining which morphs into predatory lending and economic collapse and then “redevelopment.”  It’s the dispersing and containing of disposable black and brown people under the guise of development and progress. 

It’s also white kids in pick-up trucks learning about “porch monkeys.”  It’s free swimming lessons that black kids in the neighborhood don’t attend.  It’s misplaced guilt and blame.  It’s a hazy anger and fear that some of us learn about from the time we are young, and can only start to make sense of with lots of time and distance.    

And yet life continues.

————

A post script—sort of

GOD is a Group Of Drunks.

Fast forward 24 years from the moment I learned I was white, and I am sitting in a taqueria in California.  Four circular patio tables and pushed together—blocking the soda machine.  A 60 year old white lesbian with salt and pepper short hair and hearing aids, a beautiful thin black woman with a thick English accent wearing corvette red lipstick, a meek 40 something middle eastern house wife with her hair pulled back in a low bun, several loud talking 30 something women and a smiley entrepreneur in her early 50s are all eating greasy hot tortilla chips, scooping salsa out of tiny plastic and spilling chunks of tomato all over the tables.  Everyone is saying happy birthday to one another.

“I used to fill the wine bottles with water after I drank them, so my girlfriend wouldn’t know how much I was drinking.  Then I would drink the water a few weeks later,” one of the 30 somethings says.  “Why would I drink the water? I don’t know.  It’s just what I did. And you see, I don’t even have to explain why I did that to you all.  You just get it.”

How the hell did this group of people get together?  And how is it their birthday?  This is what I imagine the people staring at us as they pass by are thinking.

I am learning in A.A. that when we come together around our shared inadequacies and deficiencies, and love each other unconditionally,, that all of this difference, this whiteness, this thing that can not ever be wiped away,  this thing that must be deeply considered and simultaneously surpassed, stops mattering so much.  We are just there together, smiling. Because God is a Group of Drunks. 

Also, Trump: FUCK YOU

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Happy Birthday to ME and other things…

On Sunday, November 26, 2017, I celebrated my 1 year sober anniversary.  One motherfucking year without a drink or any other mood or mind altering substance.  Holy shit.

The magnitude of this accomplishment (and the gravity that brought the house down and forced me to take an honest look at myself for perhaps the first time in my life) is hard to put to words.  The expectant alcoholic part of me wants to wrap it up in a nice little box or present it all in a ten point list with picture perfect quotes and photos.  The workaholic in me wants all the insights and lessons to learned now, delivered, stamped, done, please, cuz c’mon this post should have been written YESTERDAY. On to the next thing! (Side note: It’s amazing how workaholism just sucks the joy out of everything!  Everything gets turned into a list to be down, a task to be accomplished, laundry to be folded, workers to be trained, grants to write, dogs to walk, kids to be fed, babies to be made.  No joy, no sense of wonder or appreciation—just an untethered freight train crashing around the world checking boxes and asking for approval from some unknown source.)

I don’t really feel like writing, because it all feels so undone.  BUT, I’ll share some more of my half baked reflections on race, privilege, Trump and the sober life that have been swirling around my head for the past month, because I told myself I would write once a month.  I forewarn you that given the random, unfinishedness of my last post that these reflections are probably closer to 1/4 baked—still 100% liquid in the middle. (But I am not 100% liquid in the middle, because I AM SOBER.  BOOM!)

——

Recovery is radical equality.

Getting sober and sitting in circles with other addicts/alcoholics has allowed me to experience the gift of radical equality—a sense of kinship and connection that is beyond human grasp, that is beyond the imperfect, white, brown, red, yellow, black disabled, gay, straight, bi, trans, etc. bodies we all wonder around the Earth in.  Over the past month, I have experienced this gift innumerable times though I haven’t always allowed myself to feel it.  That’s right.  I haven’t allowed myself to feel a sense of oneness and sameness.  There is part of me that feels too smart, too woke, too aware, too trying to be a down ass white woman who “gets it” to acknowledge and feel that sameness.  My neurosis around checking privilege, acknowledging difference, intersectionality and all those other important concepts creates these gigantic  walls in the brain, barricades around the heart. 

Radical healing, social justice and racial equity are at the center of my professional (and well, personal) life .  At work, we host many identity based conferences, workshops and trainings for people who work in schools.  One of these events was our annual Boys and Men of Color Workshop—an event where 250 young black men come together and explore masculinity, learn what to do when they get stopped by the police or when someone they know is arrested, and listen to other men and women of color talk about their experiences of what it is like to be a person of color today.  Carmen Perez, one of the four leaders of the Women’s March on Washington, was our keynote. Bad ass motherfucking mujer.

During the conference, I attended a workshop facilitated by the Anti-Recidivism Collective (ARC)—a community collaborative dedicated to helping prisoners recover and rehabilitate.  Their model is pretty much 100% the same as AA (shocker!).

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I stumbled upon the workshop somewhat accidentally.  I misplaced my program that morning—chalk it up to frenzied energy and excitement of realizing the key note was Carmen Perez.  So, I stepped into the ARC workshop and had no idea what the session was about.  I wrapped my fingers around the cool metal door handle, pushed the door open with my hip attempting to avoid any unwanted squeaks or creaks from the door hinge.   I stepped inside the conference room, shoulders hunched over, trying not to interrupt the workshop that had already started.   I push my shoulder blades against the bright white back wall of the conference room.  I try to slide into the room, side stepping along beige indoor outdoor carpeting.  I look up and see rows and rows of chairs in concentric circles, bright, rectangular fluorescent lights flooding from above. The banner above hung across the back wall.  A panel of three men—an older gentleman with a Panama hat and tattooed forearms, a young Latino man with dark skin and commanding presence and a squeaky high pitched voice, a large, assuming lump of person whose faced looked like it was chiseled from stone sat on the end behind a small rectangular table in the front of the room. 

My carefully calculated movement was an attempt to remain unseen—not only because I was coming in late, but because this workshop wasn’t for me or about me.  I, a white woman from Upstate New York, the district administrator wearing the blazer over her Black Lives Matter shirt, wasn’t in that circle.  I didn’t grow up in Sacramento or the inner city for that matter.  I don’t know what it’s like to be a young man of color, to fear the police, to experience racism and discrimination at every turn, to get kicked out of school, to have my dad beat my mom, to live off food stamps.  Moreover, this place is about the youth and we are the adult allies here to support their experience, organize the lunches and greet the young men when they jump off the bus buzzing with vibrant youthful energy.  The mind ticks on, all the differences to be aware of lest we let our guard down and conflate solidarity and privilege. (Cuz I am aware of my privilege, so I know better than that. I know better than to let my guard down and feel something, to acknowledge that maybe, on some level we are the same.) I was just an observer there. I know my role and now my role is to remain unseen–to not center myself or my experience in anyway.

But then something bigger than me reaches in and tears down all those walls.  I am left resting against a back wall in a conference room with tears streaming out of the corner of my eyes.  I listen as former felons talk about their struggle with alcohol and drugs.  Adults, six months out of prison, clawing their way back to life, preaching about how they “wished they would have focused on school instead of sports.”  I hear youth talking about their drunk dads who beat their moms.  How many of you have been arrested or seen someone arrested?  All hands raised.  I marvel at the bravery of our young men—the courage they have to just stand there, speaking their truth in front of their peers.  There is no promise of anonymity here.  There is only exposure—naked, bold, brave.

I stayed small, crouched against the back wall, during the workshop, but there was a part of my soul that cried out that day. Part of me raised my hand and said, “me too. I  am one of you.” Our stories are different and—while I feel trite saying it—we are, in that moment, the same.  Their struggle is my struggle.  I am an alcoholic, an addict. I know the insides of the psychiatric ward, the emergency room, the hospitals, the broken family, lost love and connection chaos creates.  And I need these former prisoners and boys and men of color if I am going to stay sane and sober.  I need them to be brave, so I can be brave.  And in that instant my soul feels something it was craving for so long—the kinship that transcends. 

Radical Equality does not let us white folks off the hook. 

My experience in the circle at the Boys and Men of Color workshop points to the source of tension I have been grappling with.  My mind is perpetually jumping from two oppositional points and trying to make sense of them (and also figure out how to respond when white folks get uncomfortable with the things I am writing and talking about.)

My motivation to take a “deep dive” into the formation of my own “white” identity stems for my desire to know my own experience of white privilege and to come to terms with how that has shaped who I am and in a way, what I owe.  So this is an exercise, fundamentally, in stripping away the large swaths and small interconnected threads that define my own inherited privilege.  It’s an exercise in understanding difference.  And this racial difference, I still maintain, is the most important for me, a white ally, to understand if I am going to be able to be effective at doing work around racial equity.  It’s a story I have to learn how to tell.    

  And meanwhile, my own recovery from addiction and alcoholism demands that I believe in our ability to transcend these differences.  It demands that I fully embrace and embody that idea that my liberation is bound up in your liberation and that we, the great parade of misfits, all need each other to heal and survive this wicked thing called alcoholism, addiction, drugs, chaos, brokenness and injustice.

I have been trying to reconcile two ideas that are oppositional and it’s really tough.  And I think it’s hard to reconcile, because so often, us white folks are out there looking for trap doors, for the things that allow us not see what we can’t and don’t want to see.  We want to find the edges that allow us to plunge off cliffs and distance ourselves from the discomfort of being born with body we didn’t ask for, with privilege and injustice we can’t undo.  So, for now, I will just keep holding these two opposing ideas. I am not definitely not done yet.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!

So it begins.

First a confession: I am intimidated by my last post.  While the idea of writing a racial autobiography seems both necessary and worthwhile, I have felt too scared to start.  This is in part, because I always envision new projects in very grandiose, earth moving terms.  I then become paralyzed by the shear scale, complexity and scope of the matter and within seconds of inception, a project is rendered impossible.  This is, of course,a symptom of alcoholic thinking and perfectionism.  Character defects are a real bitch.

Second, writing a racial autobiography would require talking to people, specifically talking to my family and talking about my family.  Without starting this investigation, I already know that the branches of my family tree and the spirals of our interconnected DNA bind me to a history of inherited white privilege and an ugly, unspoken legacy of addiction and alcoholism.  I can’t separate one from the other—the privilege on the outside and the turmoil on the inside.  Our familial connections—when view through this lens—are not pretty and hard, if not impossible, to talk about.  Of course, the purpose of writing a biography of racial privilege is not to bring forth the incredible resiliency, compassion and selflessness of the people that made me, but to see ourselves from a more distant place, a place of understanding how “we,” the white folks of my family, relate to the non-white “other,” that is out there in the world and to better understand how these threads of privilege, and the subtext of addiction, womanifest (I just made that up, turned manifest into womanifest. Ha.) 

Third,  I don’t actually think I can do this.  Just starting this task makes me realize how little I know about my own family tree.  Where were my grandparents born?  What’s my paternal grandmother’s maiden name?  I start free trail subscription to ancestry.com and go back 2 generations and am already lost.  I am clicking around old year books and census data retrieved by a pricey search engine and wondering if I am getting any closer or further away from the questions I wanted answered. 

I know I don’t really have the time and energy to map it all out.  I’d like to look at the whole legacy of my own inherited privilege—learn exactly who was bought and sold and my how my distant relatives benefitted from the transactions of powerful among white males, who inherited what from whom and which black body was labeled a commodity to sold, inherited, traded.  Whose labor was stolen? Which black and brown bodies were rendered invisible? Which tribe did they take from?

So, the truth is I won’t ever know the specific answers to these questions, because, well, fuck, I ain’t a historian and I have a job, small rented homestead and like to get 6-8 hours of sleep every night. I also realize there is a privilege in ever being able to ask these types of questions about my history and know that the answers are out there somewhere, that all of this is knowable even if it is beyond my reach. Being born with white skin means my records are traceable, that “my people” were the record keepers with the power to denote who was born when, who got what, the power to determine what was recorded and who was erased.  Once I start searching, my familial roads will be longer and easier to trace.  These roads won’t stop at a dead end where someone became a commodity, a dead end.  This is what it means to walk around in a white body, to have the bold of colonizers running through our veins, to watch 13th on Netflix and stare blankly into space knowing that what “my people” did to the “others” and wondering what it means now.

Knowing all this, what comes next for Crashley? 

At a minimum, I can commit to knowing more than about my family history (herstory, itstory, theystory, goofy pronouns) than I do now.  While I probably won’t be able to draw up the specific language from my great, great, great, great, great grandfathers will where he bequeaths native American’s land and African labor to my great, great, great grandfather,  I know that if I go far back enough this “stuff”, the historical records and sites where racial privilege is created and inherited, is out there—somewhere.  I think the “general knowing” its there will always have to be enough.  (Let’s face it, the number of grandparents we have increases exponentially, so all of us white folks, at least in some very distant ways are connected to this legacy.  This is the historical context in which we live today. It’s the air we breathe.)  Yet, for me, knowing even a little bit more about the specifics of how I came to be on this Earth will be valuable. 

Lastly, I probably wouldn’t have written this post today if it wasn’t for a woman I’ll call Mermaid.  So, I’ll end my post with an ode to Mermaid. 

My women’s AA group is diverse in many respects—age, spiritual orientation, sexual preference, number of years in sobriety—but we are mostly white women.  At most, maybe 2 or 3 back women will be the circle with us at a Friday night meeting. 

Mermaid is one of these black women.  She sat down right next to be last Friday at 5:53 pm—just a few minutes before the meeting began.  Mermaid is a contradiction, filled with beautiful tension that hangs all over her body.  She is put together—with eyelash extension and long, manicured fake nails—and disheveled at the same time walking tenderly on high heals, drawing on a notepad, hoping to listen and remain unseen.  She has dark skin, a rail thin body and a disarming, thick English accent— a voice that sounds so peculiar coming from a Black woman in America.  She embodies a quality I love about recovering alcoholics, our courageous ability to walk around the world in this broken-put-together way.

Mermaid asked me for the title of my blog a few weeks ago and actually started reading my posts!  When Mermaid plopped down next to me she said, “people tell me they are colorblind, and I am just like, ‘yeah, well what do you do at a stop sign?’ So, the things you are saying need to be said and if I say them, people will just tell me I am complaining or playing the race card.”

So, what Mermaid reminded me of was the importance of us white folks continuing to speak up about our own privilege—especially when it’s hard to see.  As allies, we need to continue talking openly about these things, especially with each other.

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I can here you thinking: “Wait a minute?  Is that Gizmo?”  No. It’s not.  It’s the newest addition to the Crashley Sugar homstead–PUMPKIN, an 8 week old red-tri Australian Shepherd.  My congratulations you have almost been sober for 1 year and you landed a new job present to myself (and Sugar).  Gizmo is an amazing big brother and puppies are definitely easier the second time around.  

Putting words to my whiteness

As an alcoholic, I am prone to obsessive thinking.  In fact, it’s my default mode. Whiteness is one of the things—–I obsess about . When left unchecked (which is most of the time minus the ten minutes I spend meditating every morning), my thoughts about white privilege just kind of swirl like angry gusts of wind and thunder that never produce rain—“Trump is a fucking racist pig. Here are 10 ways to be a white ally. Why can’t I manage to finish reading that book about race and environmental education? Cue footage of the latest, horrific police shooting or white supremacists mowing down protesters with their cars.” That’s a small window into the tempest that is the alcoholic, anxious mind of a white gal attempting to organize her thoughts about her experience of white privilege.

 

Admittedly, I have been scared to take on this topic—in part because it’s so vitriolic. There is this part of me that is afraid that I’ll say some ignorant shit and get slapped by some troller out there on the internet for being an ignorant ass. (But let’s face it, only about 20 people read this blog; so the risks of getting my feelings hurt by some stranger out there in internetland are quite low. Alas, we alcoholics also suffer from delusions of grandeur, so this threat has been real to me at times. So, now that I have confessed this, I will put my irrational fears aside and continue typing.)

 

I have avoided writing about my own whiteness, because there is also a part of me that prefers to traipse around the land of intellectual arguments while keeping my own privilege and experiences of race at a distance. This is, in fact, how I spent most of graduate studies—writing about all the racist shit that what was going on “out there” in the world, quoting scholars, reading bell hooks, Foucault, Audre Lorde, James Baldwin, etc., talking about “historically situated” subjects, but never really telling my own story (and feeling slightly sheepish and half hearted, because of it.) Never really looking in the mirror and asking the question, “how has your melanin deficiency shaped you, Crashley?”

 

This type of critical, deeply personal reflection was perhaps never encouraged, because for the most part, the people who structured by post-high school studies were white dudes. White dudes who are into social justice like to hide behind their intellect. Hyper-intellectualization seems to be an easy way to side step conversations about our own racial experiences and still demonstrate that we “get it,” because we are able to drop the right names and concepts at the right times. It’s like we can prove that we “get” privilege if can nail down the right arguments, quote the right scholars or seamlessly slim in comments about the slave rebellion of 1833 while sipping a latte or slamming a beer.

 

But what about “us”? Not the big, capital letter, concept of Whiteness, but the whiteness you see staring back at you as you brush your teeth in the morning. The whiteness you slather sunscreen all over wondering if the chemicals in the lotion or the sunrays are worse for you. That reflection, the skin we live in, I think, can be harder to look at, harder to understand, harder to see, than the arguments eloquently espoused in a masters thesis.

 

So, other than the fact that seeing our own whiteness is hard and I like doing difficult things, here’s some of what is motivating to me to write about my whiteness right now.

 

First, as I read more Facebook posts about “how to be a white ally,” I find myself feeling unsatisfied with the way conversation is framed.  Much of the conversation focuses on specific strategies like “seek diverse media sources,” or “find white ally friends” or “education yourself on the history of race and oppression in America” and leaves out personal experience.  I am assuming that lots of white folks are readings these lists, because they are short and trend worthy and the topic of being a white ally is probably starting to resonate with more people given the whole Nazis carrying torches in the street thing.  I guess it’s my own naivete—and perhaps my alcoholic mind that always seeks an easy, immediate solution—that is expectantly clicking on a ten-point list hoping to feel like, “ahhh, yes, this is what I was missing all along. A ten point program that will finally help put my obsession with race and privilege at peace.”  Needless to say, that has not been my experience with the whole “be a white ally” conversation.

What I have been craving is not a list,  but a more nuanced look to how privilege and power derived from white skin shaped the trajectory of my life. I’d like to dive heard first into the complex, messy, irrational ways whiteness has shaped by own experience. So, I hope by embarking on this racial autobiographical blog posting adventure, I’ll be able to take an honest and transparent look at myself.

Lately, I feel like I have gotten some small cues from the universe that it is time to take on this topic. One reason is because I am bored as shit at work and need something for my monkey mind to focus on, so I don’t self destruct. Also some wise voices that have thought about this shit for wayyyy longer than I have are pushing me to just start writing my story.

Specifically, there are three quotes from racial justice thinkers that have deeply resonated with me and pushed me to start writing..

First, a professor I know from graduate school recently posted about developing a Critical white Consciousness (CwC). Her post outlined eight ideas for white folks, like me, to consider. She wrote about CwC in a way that didn’t feel like a didactic set of commandments, but rather, a set of principles that can help white people learn how to live in their own skin in a way that feels authentic and honest.

 

While her whole list is worth reading, here are her first two points:

 

  1. Equity starts with autobiography. If we are to interact authentically with people who are often different from us, we must actively reflect on our own stories, biases, privileges, and assumptions. As much as we might not want to admit it, we are the embodiment of our ancestors; the blood on their hands in the name of Americanization, settler colonialism, and whiteness runs through our veins.

 

  1. As genuine allies, we cannot scapegoat racism by denying or hiding from our identities. To consider even a slight possibility that we can be colorblind in a racialized society is like claiming a fish in an aquarium might not be wet. It is what it is—we are all wet—so let’s deal with ourselves with integrity and empathy. And when these dynamics get intense or the information is too much to bear, try not to get defensive, for it is the surest way to miss the lesson.

 

So, what this professor has shown me is that justice starts with understanding our own whiteness. And not in a way that dismissively acknowledges the existence of soooo many white people at a rally or event or in some distant, sterilized or intellectual way, but in a way that acknowledges our own, imperfect, limited and complicit ways we understand ourselves. This type of autobiographical understanding demands we go beyond the general and dive deeply into the specifics. So, hence, the autobiographical blogging adventure will help me tell my own, messy, vulnerable story.

 

Second, Ta-Nahesis Coates once again shook the world with this incisive, in-depth and extremely dense critique of the First White President, Donald Trump.  Everyone who thinks about race posted that shit on Facebook. His brilliant piece ended with this thought—aimed specifically at white journalist and political analyst who had failed to see Trump’s ideology and tactics as white supremacy. He writes: The first white president in American history is also the most dangerous president—and he is made more dangerous still by the fact that those charged with analyzing him cannot name his essential nature, because they too are implicated in it.

 

White folks can’t name what white folks don’t see. So if we, white folks, can’t name the way whiteness had shaped our own lives; then can we ever really claim to see it somewhere else?  Like while we are waiting in line at the grocery store or cringing as we walk past the black homeless man talking to himself? So, I think as allies, we start by making our own whiteness visible—first to ourselves and then to others.

 

Third, one of my sponsors in AA is an elderly, alcoholic Catholic nun. Her presence and words are the antithesis of overly neurotic, hyperactive brain. We were having dinner last night to celebrate Sugar and my nuptials. I started waxing on about Coates work and race and all the other links and articles I had read that week while bored at work. I was spinning around in circles in my head and she said something that cut through the noise. “We have to listen. We want to understand these things.”

Ahhh yes.  We have to want to listen.  That’s it.  I want to write a racial autobiography, so I can listen to myself, because I never really have.