I’m lovin’ me some Steve Camp right now
even though I think this was written by someone else . . . larry norman?!
it was written in the 70’s, I think . . . it was relevant then . . . it was relevant in the 90’s, when Steve Camp recorded it . . . and sadly, it’s still relevant today . . . the title of the song is “Great American Novel” . . .
We are far across the ocean in a war that’s not our own
I approached the gate agent and asked, “is there any chance…?” I had volunteered to be bumped from my flight, and all I could think about was a voucher…a voucher that would give me more opportunities to visit people I love. When she said, “I think we’re okay”, I am sure she was bewildered by the crestfallen look on my face.
(I’m embarrassed to say that I am sitting at the gate holding back tears as I write this. Trying to pull myself together. I am guessing that the tears are more about the good-byes in my life than about a travel voucher, but still…)
I first have to say that I know that I am nowhere near anything that could even resemble “poor”. I stopped using that word to describe myself a few years ago, instead replacing it with “broke”.
I am blessed. I have a job that, although it pays less than I would like, is enjoyable. I don’t dread going to work, which is perhaps as great a blessing as having a job to begin with. I have a nice car that runs well, even if I can ill afford it. I have a roof over my head and a washer and dryer in my apartment (those who have had to share laundry facilities or schlep to the laundromat understand this!)
I have just enough. I can pay my bills, and I somehow manage to stay afloat even when I make bad spending choices.
I have more than most of the world. I need to remember this.
But I also have less than many people I know. I struggle more with the basics than some of my friends do.
A travel voucher could mean the difference between getting to see friends I love and having to rely on conversations via email and Facebook sound bytes to stay connected.
(On the plane now, crying again. Must not scare seatmate. Who is smaller than me, by the way, and not a talker. Another reason to be thankful.)
Some people’s lives are just easier. I am a traitor to my purported allegiance to Jesus when I say this, but it’s my reality. I hate what capitalism has done to me. I hate that I am so bound to “stuff”. I know that the love of money is the root of all evil…only I don’t love money-I hate it. Hate that it consumes so much of my time and energy. Hate the envy it invokes in me.
Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?” ’Or I may become poor and steal,and so dishonor the name of my God. – Proverbs 30:8-9, NIV
But some people do not struggle this way. Some people are somehow not chronically under-employed. Some people’s parents help them pay for college, or are there to help them out in a pinch.
Some people start off with more and earn more and have more. Some people don’t need to put an $80 piece of luggage on a credit card, and don’t have to nervously count the days until their next paycheck.
And because I live in America, and have been shaped by the ridiculous values this country embraces, I am filled with envy, and I get tired of having to limit what I spend, of working two or more jobs, of struggling, always struggling, as I watch rent and car insurance and bills increase. Of drowning in student loan debt because for too many years I could not afford to pay enough to even touch the principal, and the interest just continues to snowball. Of watching a $2000 IRS balance refuse to budge because I am paying $200 a month in fees and interest, and I just do not have a way to access that amount of money all at once.
I am tired of having to limit my travel plans and to struggle to work out even the smallest excursion with other friends who are similarly struggling…or worse, to try to keep up with my friends who don’t have to worry about every penny they spend. The shame I feel-the comparisons-how is it that they have found financial success while I have not?
It doesn’t help that I was a lower-middle-class kid in an upper-middle-class high school, or that I was in honours classes with a number of extremely talented people. People I graduated with are AP photographers who attend the White House Christmas party, financial experts who are regularly interviewed on TV, and even people who are creating TV, attending awards ceremonies that I will only ever see from my couch. I have friends who never attended college, yet make three times what I make. It’s hard not to compare and to find myself lacking.
But I don’t necessarily aspire to any of that. When I play the lottery (or, as a friend puts it, “pay Stupid tax”), I don’t want the big winnings…I just want enough to get out of the hole I’m in, to be able to say that I can get back to zero. I just want to be able to not have to struggle so much. Mostly, I want to be able to travel to see friends who live too far away, and to have some confidence or certainty that I will be able to move back to New York someday…
They say that if you can’t change your situation, you should work to change the way you view it. Problem is, I still have not figured out how to do that…
It was maybe ten years ago that I was in my apartment complex’s pool with a friend’s young daughter. She was not a good swimmer at all, and was reluctant to go into the deeper end of the pool without my help. At one point, I can’t remember exactly what we were doing, (I do have a habit, even to this day, of letting kids use my back as a surfboard in the pool. Note to self: just because you’re in the water does NOT mean it is not going to hurt like a @%# later.) but whatever we were doing, she was either on my back or on my shoulders. We crossed over the point between the shallow and the deep end, and in her panic, she was holding on to me more and more tightly, pushing me down underneath the water.
With my head under the water, I could not explain to her that she needed to let go so that I could get my footing and thereby get us both to safety. I have very little understanding of fear of water, having spent my summers swimming in my grandmother’s backyard pool since before I could remember, but I can understand that it must be terrifying. Her panic was palpable, and yet, in order for me to regain control of the situation, I had to wrest her hands away from my grasp.
It was probably a mere 15 seconds, and I don’t really think that we were ever in any serious danger, but it frightened me nonetheless.
My friend’s daughter was like any other human. When faced with an immediate threat, real or perceived, her mind and body reacted, and her only instinct was to stay alive. It’s an instinct all of us have. It’s what keeps people going in the face of almost impossible odds…it’s why we refer to people with cancer as “fighting bravely”…it’s what makes suicide more difficult than people who haven’t been in that place can imagine. We are human, and our instinct is to stay alive.
Which is why I am so, so tired of people saying, “well, if _______” (insert police brutality victim of the week here) “hadn’t been resisting arrest, they wouldn’t have had these problems”.
These words are usually spoken by people who, even if they were in an encounter with the police because they themselves had broken the law, would never have to experience the abject terror that people of color – whether they have or have not done anything wrong – face every time they have an encounter with the cops.
As a white woman, being stopped by the police is an annoyance at best, albeit triggering in terms of my unresolved crap with authority figures. However, I can think of very few situations in which a random (or not-so-random) police stop would leave me fearing for my life.
I don’t know what it feels like to be a person of color in this country. I don’t know what it is to feel some unidentifiable combination of anger and terror at the mere sight of someone in law enforcement. And because I don’t know what that feels like, I am in no position to say what I would or would not do in that situation.
If you know anything about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), you know that it can lead to a state of constant fight-or-flight hyper-alertness. I imagine that living with the trauma of so many difficult encounters with police over time, either in one’s own life or as a witness to this violence, might lead someone to act unpredictably in the face of this threat. It’s not even accurate to say that this is a “perceived” threat, because for too many black and brown Americans, this is a reality borne by experience after experience after experience.
When my friend’s daughter was pushing down on me in that pool, pushing me further into the water, she was not trying to “resist” my instructions, or my efforts to contain her. She was, rather, trying to resist drowning, to somehow keep herself from the threat she was facing. That threat was very real to her in that moment, and so she thrashed and fought back against my efforts to free her hands from my shoulders and flailed and shouted.
She thought she was in immediate danger of dying, and her body reacted. She did what humans do. She fought for her life.
So now imagine that you are facing an immediate threat. Perhaps you are angry, and you don’t watch your words as closely as you should. Like a child talking back to a parent (unsettling image, but the power structure is set up in such a way that I’m often reminded of the children’s book Matilda: “I’m smart, you’re dumb; I’m big, you’re little; I’m right, you’re wrong, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”), you open your mouth, or you move in the wrong direction, and you are suddenly and painfully aware that you have provoked the rage of this authority figure, and you may very well be killed.
Or maybe it’s a case of mistaken identity, and yet you are taken to a police station and repeatedly sodomized and beaten…or maybe you simply grew up in the shadow of incidents like these, both the larger cases that are publicized in the news as well as the ongoing narrative in your own community of confrontations large and small.
If you don’t know what it’s like to live in that world, then you ought not speak of “resisting arrest”.
What they are resisting is death. What they are fighting against is the generations of brutality and fear that are seared into the flesh of this nation’s history. However they are reacting, it is all they can do in that moment. When you have a police officer’s knee in your back, or his gun to your head, it is not the time for calm; it’s the time to figure out how to stay alive.
If you resist, they may kill you. If you don’t resist, they still may kill you. And the definition of “resisting” is ever-broadening and not easily defined. And if you are a young black or brown man in this country, you don’t stand a chance against these changing definitions. You certainly do not have the luxury of trying to guess whether this is the day you will die at the hands of the officer who is approaching you.
They aren’t resisting arrest. They are trying to stay alive.
And they are doing this because this is what humans do.
Not to beat a dead horse, but if you’ve been reading this for a while (all two of you!), then you know how I feel about people making a joke out of ADHD. Even so, it’s hard not to assign blame to myself for this. No matter how many ways it’s confirmed, no matter how many different tests show that I really do have this thing, it’s still hard not to feel like this is a moral failing.
It’s still too easy to despise myself.
A few days ago, I came across an article on this website. A parent was asking for help navigating her son’s school environment, and trying to get the cooperation of his teachers. The writer, Sue Whitney, gave a helpful and very detailed response. The first part that caught my attention was this:
When they say, “He . . .
- doesn’t pay attention,
- wanders off task,
- drives the teacher to drink,
- doesn’t show his work on math problems,
- is disorganized,
You say, “That is part of his disability.
My current job is a huge struggle for me in that I am too detailed, too easily distracted, not fast enough. I get bogged down in the details and everything takes me so much longer than it takes those around me. I work with people who can hold long conversations with the people around them and still get more done in their day than I ever can, even if I buckle down, sit far away from everybody, and try to shut out everything around me.
I feel the limits of my brain quite acutely in this setting.
How do they think that makes him feel? Do they think the sad face stickers are going to change his disability? Does the kid in the wheelchair get sad faces on her chart for not walking well? If they gave the kid in the wheelchair sad face stickers do they think it would change the way she walks?
A disability. A real disability, that I can’t simply change by trying harder. I don’t say this to suggest that medication and modifying behaviors and the like are not necessary. I am not saying that there is nothing I can do, or that I just “can’t help myself”. I am just saying that I am always going to struggle, that my brain does not work so well sometimes.
Someone who uses a wheelchair because their legs do not work the same way as other people is not, to my knowledge, ever accused of moral failure, of not “trying hard enough”. Can I give myself that same grace? And how do I advocate for myself in the workplace when so many people, myself included, don’t take ADHD seriously?
I don’t have the answer to these questions. I only know that these words were a gift to me, a compelling reminder that my struggles are real, even if invisible.
(The article referenced in this post is from http://www.wrightslaw.com/heath/dont.care.iep.htm)
The churning I am experiencing means that everything I have to say will not fit neatly into a single blog entry. But let me start by saying this:
It’s not about what you think it’s about. Or rather, it’s not that simple. If nothing else, remember that. There is so much going on beneath the surface.
I have so much to say and it pains me so much to say it and it is going to take me a while. But let’s start with this phrase: “Implicit Bias”.
Got a minute? Take one of these tests. Or a few of them. Then ask yourself how you came to believe the things that you believe. The things that you don’t even *know* you believe.
This mess we’re in came from somewhere. We want to believe that we woke up one day with our enlightened, post-racial selves and that we are not carrying the baggage of our nation’s history. And why can’t people just get over it?
A poem by June Jordan, called “Jim Crow: The Sequel” is haunting me these days. It was written roughly in the Clinton era, and I think I came across it in an issue of Essence magazine. Here’s an excerpt:
But for two hundred years this crazy
land the law and the bullets behind the law
continued to affirm the gospel of
God-given White supremacy.
For two hundred years the law and the
bullets behind the law, and the money and
the politics behind the bullets behind the
law affirmed the gospel of
God-given White supremacy/
God-given male-White supremacy.
And neither the Emancipation Proclamation
nor the Civil War nor one constitutional
amendment after another nor one Civil Rights
legislation after another could bring about a
yielding of the followers of that gospel
to the beauty of our human face.
I know that the phrase “white supremacy” will upset some people, but please know that I am not talking about someone with a Klan hood in their closet. In fact, I am not talking about individuals at all. And I think that before I can go further, I will need to define a few things, will need to explain why I label myself a “recovering racist”. As disorganized as my rants may be, I would be so grateful if some of you would be willing to see through that and to join me as I continue to wrestle with these issues.