I am in Mexico, distant from the headlines in the United States. It would be so easy to dismiss what is happening in the United States right now. Just as easy as it is to dismiss what happens everyday to people of color.
I sat at my computer yesterday, and like 4 million other people, I debated weather or not I needed to see a man be executed. I watched it. And then I watched a woman film the aftermath of her boyfriend's murder, all while calling the killer "sir".
And I cried. And I cried. And I doubted my desire to return to the United States.
We are taught at such a young age that America is the greatest place in the world. We are taught to show respect to our country, to celebrate our country and to serve our country. I can say that I was pretty removed from that "Go 'Merica!" culture from a young age. We never celebrated the Fourth of July- most of the time we went backpacking in the mountains instead. At baseball games, my father would always stand, but never hold his hand to his heart. I mimicked this as I got older. My parents were not some sort of liberal, commie hippies. I don't know what their motivation was, but I suspect that it was the idea that you owe your devotion to God, and not to your country.
I have interpreted their morals, but twisted them so that I don't owe my devotion to 'God', or to my country, but to the people around me. I fail miserably at this effort most of the time.
But I think it has always been the idea that you owe your life to trying to understand yourself, and to understand people around you, that has led my desire to explore, understand and hopefully serve the world around me.
I grew up in an extremely white and privileged neighborhood, in Littleton, Colorado. We had one black girl at our elementary school. Her name was Amy. In the third grade, a group of boys, (white, of course) threw thistles at her, and they became entagled in her hair. I remember Mrs. Johnson, trying to get them out of Amy's hair, which only made the situation worse. Her parents were called, she left school and did not return for a couple days. Her hair was significantly shorter when she returned.
I said nothing, to the boys, or to Amy.
This is one of the few memories that I have of the third grade.
My senior year of high school I grew my thin, blond hair into dreadlocks. The next year I left my white suburb, for Baltimore, Maryland. I could quote Howard Zinn, for the misinterpretation of US History, cite Langston Hughes, Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou.
Yet one late night, as I was walking home from my studio on North Avenue, I saw a man across the bridge. He was much larger than me, African-American, and staring me dead in the eyes from 100 feet away. I began to panic. Could I cross the street? Should I avoid eye contact? Should I look him right in the eyes? He came closer and his stare became even more obvious. I was terrified.
"Wow. You have amazing dreadlocks. How long have you been growing them?"
I had to acknowledge that I had just made an extremely racist judgement on a man, whose culture I had appropriated.
Later in life, I lived in Africa for almost two years. I had a family in Africa, people whose skin was much darker than mine, but that I called mom and dad, sister, and brother. I teach at a diverse school, where white students are the minority. I am currently spending six weeks in Mexico, with the understanding that Mexicans are not thieves nor rapists, as Donald Trump might have you believe.
Yet late last night, I heard a noise outside my bedroom, and convinced myself that someone was breaking into my car. I actually had to consciously remind myself that nobody was trying to take what was "mine."
I am white, and I am privileged, and I carry deeply disturbing, subconscious thoughts about race and class. I wish I did not. I was not raised by hate mongering Nazis. I have never been exposed to that sort of ideology. I feel shameful and embarrassed to even write these stories.
But I think they need to be heard. Because chances are that even if you are using the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter, and you are white, that at some point you have held your purse a little closer. And pulling your purse a little closer is not that distant from pulling a gun on an innocent man.