going “home”, part two

“They say your style of life’s a drag
And that you must go other places
But just don’t you feel too bad
When you get fooled by smiling faces”

–Stevie Wonder

Every time I go back to New York, I am hit with a profound and echoing sense of longing. I don’t know if it’s my need for variety and visual stimulation, for movement and excitement, but breathing in the very air around me (not breathing it in too closely, in some cases!) fills a need in me that I can barely express. And the sounds! And the accents! And the people! As I say very often, “I love my city!” And when I go back “home” to Michigan, I always feel like I’m leaving a part of me behind.
When I was in college, I came close to going “home” several times. I graduated six months early in large part because I just had to be back to New York. When I moved back to Michigan at the end of 1999, it began as a life-or-death situation, but ended up being a better decision than I knew I was making at the time. I often describe it by saying, “life is easier in Michigan.” If I’m feeling particularly sorry for myself, I will tell people that I tried to live in NYC and that the city “chewed me up and spit me out”, which is sometimes how I feel about it, even now.
I tried to come home just over a year ago. God said “not yet”, and then He said “no”.   And every time I’m back, I return (home?!) to my boring midwestern life and wonder if I’ll ever get “home” to NY again.
Last weekend , a friend asked me why I wanted to be back in NYC so badly. I was hard-pressed to find the words to express what I was feeling . . . I could only say that I didn’t want to have to say that I am “from” Michigan . . . that I didn’t want to lose my “New York-ness”. Here in the Northern Bible Belt, where it doesn’t matter if my clothes are in style, it’s just so easy to become apathetic . . . and mostly, I fear losing my identity; I fear no longer being a “real” New Yorker.
I think it’s a self-esteem thing, too. Can I feel good about myself if I’m constantly reminded that I couldn’t handle living in NY? Maybe it doesn’t matter to anybody else, but to me it does. I feel like I’ve lost a part of my identity, and I don’t have the confidence that I’ll ever get that back. I certainly don’t want to go back to Staten Island; I had that choice at the end of 1999, and saw Grand Rapids as the lesser of two evils. But do I need to learn to “settle” for Grand Rapids, to accept that this is my life now? I don’t know. I can accept that this is where I am *now*; I’m just not sure that I can see it as “forever”. I literally dread the time when I will have to say that I have lived in Michigan longer than I have lived in NY. I’m more than a dozen years away from that point, but as the song goes, “I’m only afraid that my dreams will betray me, and I’ll never get home again.”
What is not an option, to the extent that I can help it, would be for me to move elsewhere. When I first came to Grand Rapids, I immediately saw that the problem was that pieces of my heart were in two places. I can barely fathom the idea of tearing my heart into even smaller pieces, and leaving pieces of myself in yet another place. The first spring break I spent back in NY, I dreamed that Grand Rapids was located where New Jersey was. Ever since then, I have wished that I could take the map and fold it up like the back cover of Mad Magazine, and bring those pieces of my heart close enough to each other that it wouldn’t hurt so much. So although I cannot say what God might do, it is hard for me to think beyond these two options.
I suppose that, for now, I just have to be where I am, and try not to tie my self-esteem up with the choice of living in this “uncool” place living an unexciting life. Unexciting as it may be, it’s enough to exhaust me, and it’s where I am right now. and if this world is truly not my home, then perhaps this sense of homesickness will be my companion until the day I reach that final home. I’m told that in that place, my angst will cease. It’s hard to imagine, but intriguing nonetheless.

tears of joy, and my own “Obama Effect”

and NOT just tears of joy that Palin is going away . . . lol. although I will miss this.

No, I’m overwhelmed to think that this dream could really come to be a reality . . . so I wait with baited breath, along with the rest of the country, daring to hope against hope that at last, we all will be “invited to the party”.

However, one thing that really struck me last night, as I researched the local races, was that my renewed excitement over the political process (which has everything to do with the way that Obama made politics real to me again) was obviously having an effect on my attitude towards my own local elections . . .

Although I’m loathe to admit this, I’m a bit of a sloppy voter. (okay, aren’t we all?!) But seriously . . . my attitude towards local races has typically been to vote along my party lines, and in the case of allegedly “non-partisan” races (for judges and the like), to more often choose a female candidate over a male candidate. (My theory being that no matter what her political leanings, a woman will more often be likely to act in ways that are beneficial to women and children. Yeah, I said it’s a theory, and I said I’m sloppy about it!)

But this time, I really stopped and looked at the candidates, and compared their views, and (oh, please don’t shoot me, folks!) I actually voted for a few republicans in local races. (I also voted for one Green Party candidate . . . “oooooohh, she’s a Socialist! We knew it! Somebody put her on some list somewhere!”)

But my point is . . . I was probably more deliberate and intentional, more INFORMED, in my voting than I ever have been in my life. Why? Because Obama, by the way he conducted this campaign, caused me to believe that my vote really DOES matter, that there is some room for hope in this world.

And for the first time in my life, I am really, really proud of my country.

Sunday blogging against racism #40–GRPD vs. 8-year-old

(I will be posting a version of this on the PRFC blog also . . . )

So I saw a snippet about this case of mistaken identity on the news, and knew immediately that I was going to use it as this week’s topic . . .

but then I made the mistake of starting to read the forum comments about the piece. I got through about forty or fifty of them before I had to close the page . . .

it wasn’t the “well, duh, don’t run from the police” written by people who clearly  have no sense of what it is to not be able to trust that the police are on your side . . . or the “they’re used to it in THAT neighborhood” . . .

no, it was the endless barrage of pure, vitriolic old-school racist hatred that was evident in post after post after post. There was even a person commenting who had (thinking himself quite witty, I’m sure) given himself the screen name “Mark Fuhrman”. And phrases such as “porch monkeys” and “hood rats” (and much, much worse) used to describe the people in the southeast Grand Rapids neighborhood where the incident had occurred.

I suppose I should try to tell myself that it’s just a case of cowardly people taking shelter in the relative anonymity of the internet, but to be honest, it really frightens me that there is still this level of hatred simmering in the hearts of people in and around this city. It makes me wonder if there really is any hope for us . . .

Sunday blogging against racism #34 –racial tension at the bingo hall.

I just wanted to spend a couple of relaxing hours playing bingo. And I am pretty sure that this is what just about everybody there wanted, although my “once-every-three-weeks” habit is on a slightly different pattern than that of most of the people there . . . (I once heard one woman tell a friend, “I haven’t been going as much lately . . . I’m down to about three or four times a week.” !!!)

If you’d asked me before yesterday, I would have launched into a lovely schpiel about how bingo is the great equalizer, how people of all ages and all walks of life co-exist peacefully (except when the caller is too slow, or too fast, or when a newbie like myself inadvertently breaks one of the 621 unspoken laws of the bingo hall . . . ) But since I’ve started visiting a new-to-me bingo hall, I’ve seen a few cracks in the formerly shiny verneer of my “we’re all the same at the bingo hall” fantasy. 

I had seen a few moments of tension at this particular bingo hall in the past, but what I witnessed yesterday was more intense than previous ones, and harder to attribute to something other than racism.  

I don’t know how it started, but all of a sudden, this crotchety old white woman who was one of the workers  (or whatever they’re called) that day was yelling at an African-American woman, “And if you keep it up, I’ll call the police!” Of course, at this point she had everybody’s attention. What had the woman done? Had she lit up a joint at the table? (not that you’d be able to tell with all the smoke in there, anyway!) Had she stolen someone else’s dauber? Had she tampered with the bingo calling equipment?

No. She had answered a cell phone call. (This particular bingo hall had recently banned the use of cell phones during games.)

Lest you think I’m prematurely racializing this, please bear with me. 

There was a great deal of murmering going on among the women sitting in my general area. I was upset too. “call the police”? because she took a call? I’m sure the woman knew the rules . . . she was by herself, so she would have had nobody to watch her cards while she left the room to take a call . . . and she must have had some legitimate need to take the call. (she was an older woman–probably in her 40’s or 50’s–I say that because she wasn’t some young kid with the phone glued to her ear.)

The woman was visibly upset by the interaction, and quickly took her call out to the hallway . . . but for me, the mood had been broken, and my “fun” afternoon of bingo had gone downhill rather quickly. The next few times the woman’s phone rang, I saw her walking very quickly towards the exit, and she certainly looked stressed, if not downright afraid.

It didn’t help that at one point, I looked over at where she was sitting, and saw her dabbing at her eyes . . . yes, I think she was crying. What I had interpreted in her face as anger a moment before was now transformed in my mind to something much more heart-wrenching. And although it’s possible that her tears (if they were indeed more than just a reaction to the smoke in the air, as I suspect that they were) were tears of anger, they still broke my heart. I could feel the humiliation she felt at having been spoken to like she was a child, or worse. And i felt myself in this strange no-man’s-land once again, as someone with the external appearance of the oppressor, but having (at least to some extent) the mind of the oppressed.

My anti-racism radar (not to mention my pathological codependency) fully engaged, I started to hone in on rumblings and to notice some things:

  • All of the bingo workers were white, and come to think of it, I didn’t remember ever having seen an African-American working at a bingo game in Grand Rapids. This got me thinking about the whole “gatekeepers” concept and the question of who has access to the power.
  • Probably 40 to 50% of the players were African-American (I didn’t count). If “they” would get together and boycott this bingo hall, there would be a serious loss of revenue at this particular game. (I’ll leave it to someone else to talk about the exploitative nature of bingo and other forms of gambling . . . I’m still in denial on that one.) In fact, since I am such a <tongue in cheek>Cool White Person</tongue in cheek>, I actually said as much to a woman at the next table. (I hope I said “we” and not “you”, but I can’t be sure. But seriously, and this is NOT something I’m saying to make myself sound like the CWP that I am, but I was upset enough that I DON’T want to go back to that particular bingo hall now.)
  • Some of the women at the next table over were saying, “I stopped coming here for a while after that LAST incident.”, so clearly this was not the first time there had been this type of conflict.
  • At one point, there was some flap over someone who had won one of the games (an African-American woman sitting two tables over from me), and I heard a snippet of a conversation between some of the workers–“look out for ________” (I didn’t catch exactly what the offense was, but from the context, I got the sense that it was an accusation of cheating or some kind of deception). Then I heard the worker say words that made me shudder . . . “they do that . . . they come in late and they _______” (fill in the blank with some bingo terminology that  probably would not have made sense to me even if I HAD heard it.) Oh no. She said “they“. I heard it (remember, at this point my antennae were already tuned) and my heart sunk. I tried to convince myself that I hadn’t heard what I thought I had heard. Surely this white woman with the bad haircut had only meant “they” in the generic “bingo players” sense. Surely she hadn’t meant, “those people who come into OUR bingo hall”. But try as I might, I just could not convince myself that I had interpreted it wrong.

The thing is, I spent the rest of the afternoon looking at the crotchety old white woman with disdain and anger, keeping an eye on her lest she try some other antics . . . but then I stopped, and reminded myself that, rather than praying, “I thank You, God, that I am not like that sinner”, that I ought to keep in mind my own racism, buried though it may be under a flurry of well-intentioned words and attempts at “I’m-not-like-THOSE-white-people” coolness. And the problem, after all, is not that one crotchety old woman, but rather the deeper racism that hangs over all of our heads like the stale smoke of the bingo hall . . .

But it still broke my heart to realize that even here, in this seemingly benign setting, the racial divide was once again rearing its ugly head, showing up so clearly for those with eyes to see it. And I wanted to shut my eyes to it . . . I wanted to not see, to pretend that what I had seen didn’t mean what I knew in my heart of hearts that it meant. 

I just  wanted to play bingo. I just wanted to have some fun on a Saturday afternoon. And yet, I walked into a landmine . . . because this isn’t just a “Lorraine” thing–“there she goes again!”–no. if you open your eyes, it’s everywhere . . .

and I’m just not ready to shut up about it.  

Huckabee: NOT funny. (this one can’t wait for Sunday.)

Is this seriously going to be a non-item? Come on, folks! I’m sure that the man will say that it was “merely” a dig at Obama’s position on gun control . . . but I don’t find anything even REMOTELY funny about a white (“CHRISTIAN”) Republican making jokes about someone trying to shoot Senator Obama.

And maybe Field is right . . .  maybe it’s true that this country isn’t ready for a black president . . . but I am not giving up just yet . . .  even if 68% of people polled on our local right-wing talk radio station didn’t think that this t-shirt was offensive . . . even if I saw with my own eyes the Secret Service swarming all over downtown Grand Rapids when Obama was in town . . .