Friday, June 28, 2013

The Door of No Return

I haven’t been able to write for weeks.  I’ve attempted. I have pages and pages of words strung together, but none of it seems right. None of it expresses precisely what I want to say. None of it captures my moodiness, sense of urgency, restlessness, sadness, and discomfort. I can’t put a finger on it, let alone write about it.
My dreams are strange – secret missions, magic, journeys, Ricky Ricardo (not Desi Arnaz), mystery, murder, and chaos. They are an every morning occurrence in the quiet minutes before my alarm sounds. Some mornings I am relieved by the beeping of the alarm, and other days I wish to slide back into my alternate universe.
Most of my conversations and posts to FaceBook these days are political in nature. They center on equal rights and immigration and the Supreme Court decisions and reproductive health and jobs and health care and scandals and gun laws and the Democrats and the Republicans and the liberals and the conservatives and the poor and the wealthy and the minorities and the majority and the great divide in our country.
Sometimes Ronald says, “I know how much you want to talk about this (or that), but I can’t anymore. Not right now. I’ve lived this stuff my whole life. It hasn’t changed.”
He’s right. I’ve lived some stuff for parts of my life and other stuff for all of my life, and I understand how it can become overwhelming, how it can blot out what little light we have during our time on this earth because the stuff of which we speak is darkness and hatred and separation and blindness and ignorance and judgment and intolerance.
Can we alleviate ignorance? I believe sometimes ignorance is willful.
Can we erase hatred from a person’s mind? I believe it is learned behavior, but sometimes it seems organic, almost genetic, perhaps inherited like one’s ethnic knowing and migration pattern and the lore of the family and group from which it emanates. It’s powerful in that it blinds one from seeing another way, perhaps a better way or more righteous way, and it causes one to lie and to make excuses and to blame the target of the hatred.
Why is it common for some people to believe the following? Poor people are lazy. They don’t want to work. They feel entitled. Black men are suspicious just because they are black. Women need strong white men to make their reproductive health decisions because they can’t handle it on their own. Women don’t own their bodies. Women do not deserve equal pay for equal work. Minorities do not need doors to be opened in the workplace or at institutions of higher education by the law of the land because they are not qualified anyway. Gay people are bad and sinful and an abomination, and they could change if they wanted to. Illegal immigrants don’t want to assimilate. They want to steal our jobs and our country. Muslims are jealous of our freedoms and they are terrorists. Americans are white, and able, and smart, and fair, and deserving.
I am a woman. I am white, ethnically Irish and Italian. I am a Christian with no church affiliation though I spent my first twelve years as a Catholic and a year or two as a Lutheran. I grew up poor and lived on welfare for a short time in my childhood when my father had a heart attack and the doctor was not sure if he could return to work. I’m married to a black man – we are uncertain of his full ethnic makeup but know he is descended from slaves. I am identified as white when I am alone. I am identified as black or other or an abomination when I am with my husband. I made a terrible error in life when I married Ronald thirty years ago and gave birth to interracial twins twenty-nine years ago, at least according to some who feel no shame in letting us know what they think.
So many things are happening right now, personally and collectively, that shock my sensibilities. Each incident feels like a violent assault and my words jumble in my head.
I remember the ‘70s when I met my husband freshman year of college. The possibilities seemed endless. The feminist movement had taught me I was equal to men. The Civil Rights movement meant that we were all equal under the law. It was a new day, and we were unafraid even when stuff happened because we wanted to believe it was just the individual, that the collective thoughts on gender and race had changed.
Almost 40 years later, I know it isn’t just the individual. It’s a collective paranoia and attitude and hatred and fear and anger and wielding of power that makes stuff happen. It’s the collective trashing of whole groups of people and of individuals. It is the deafening silence of the horde that feels no outrage. It is the hurtful reality that no matter what, if you are not part of the majority, you are at risk of being judged differently and unkindly and harmfully and dangerously and fatally.
We are moving backwards quickly and harshly and violently. The movements that propelled women and minorities closer to equality, begun so many ages ago and fought and died for over generations, are stalled, and there is opposing momentum to push them backwards.
And the effort to push us backwards gets more vicious as the stakes go up, and the groups behind the pushback are more open about their intent, proud of their intent, strong in their conviction that some are more equal than others and are more entitled to enjoy this great country.
When we go one step forward toward equality, we are pushed back three steps. The SCOTUS decision to strike down DOMA vs. the SCOTUS decision to strike down the Voting Rights Act – one step forward, three steps back. The proverbial ink is not even dry, and the ones who believe some are more equal than others start the process to make inequality the law.
I am offended by Paula Deen’s tearful apologies on television after she lost her partnerships with several companies including Wal-Mart, Smithfield, Target, Home Depot, and the Food Network. I am offended that she wants me to believe she is the victim. I am offended that she wants me to tell her it is okay if she expresses her racist thoughts or that she took credit for cuisine that was stolen from enslaved people or that she peddled a quick path to diabetes and obesity. I am offended that many Americans believe she has a right to believe that people of a different race are inferior. I am offended that these same Americans claim it is their heritage that makes it righteous.
I am angry Paula Deen used her celebrity and wealth to try to protect her empire when her words and actions were so damaging, not just to the people they personally harmed but to our country that struggles to live up to its best ideals every day and every hour. I am angry that her book sales skyrocketed since this story broke, and I am flabbergasted by one comment out on the Wal-Mart website posted in response to Wal-Mart severing their partnership with Deen, “Way to go in supporting a fellow Southerner.”
What about all the Southerners who are descendents of slaves?
I am offended that some people believe Trayvon Martin didn’t have the right to walk to his father’s house in the rain. They believe he didn’t belong there, much like one of my neighbors who sent an email to the neighborhood saying there was a suspicious black man in the neighborhood carrying a clipboard. So scary! Another neighbor, an octogenarian, walked down her driveway and asked the man what he was doing. He said he was leaving bulletins in mailboxes about a landscape business. He was doing what countless other people working for small businesses do in this city, but because he was black, even in my multicultural neighborhood, it was assumed he was there for ill intent.
I am offended by the cross examination by the defense team of Rachel Jeantel, Trayvon Martin’s friend, who was on the phone with him just seconds before he was shot and killed by George Zimmerman. I am offended by the defense team’s culturally insensitive questions and their effort to discredit her testimony.
I am angry that hardly anyone is asking if Trayvon feared for his life as he was pursued by an aggressive stranger who meant to do him harm. If someone were chasing you, wouldn’t you be fearful?
I am angry the GOP came out and said the striking of DOMA will bring society to a stop. There are so many other things that will stop society long before equality will. If they are worried about the sanctity of marriage, gay couples may be its last hope and bring it back in vogue.
I am angry that many white Southerners feel compelled to comment on my almost 40 years old interracial relationship often and offensively. I am angry that many white people consider themselves racial experts although they have spent their lives pretending they are race-less while assigning those they consider racial by describing them as other and different and negative. They have conversations about how people of color are racist, like the George Zimmerman defense team or Paula Deen or the GOP. They blame the victims of racism instead of the perpetrators and perpetuators of it.
They feel self-righteous, not righteous, in their stance. They are horrible, mean-spirited, vicious, small-minded people. There, I’ve said it. It doesn’t make me feel better. It makes me sad and angry and frustrated and disappointed and tired.
President Obama and his family visited the Door of No Return in Senegal this week. Millions of men, women, and children passed through this door and onto ships that transported them to the Americas where they were sold into slavery. I can only wonder at how powerful a moment that was for him, as I was struck silent just viewing footage of it in the media.
Such a long journey for millions of people, and such a horrible, inhuman fate awaited them. Yet, as a country, we refuse to address our hand in it and the awful legacy that is still evident in race relations today. That’s why my words left me. In 2008 I had hope, and now, each day and each hour, I watch in horror as our country steps through what feels like the door of no return. If only we could stop the horde and take a moment to regroup as one country of equal citizens under the law. Maybe then I’ll find my words again.

This painting helps to illustrate what my words fail to tell

The Obamas at the Door of No Return