Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Blessings

In the South, we talk a lot about blessings. It's standard for sports and entertainment figures to talk about being blessed when they are awarded, we say "bless you!" when we hear somebody sneeze.  Fast food workers tell us to have a blessed day as they hand over our fries, and the phrase "bless your heart" doesn't always mean "you are a damned fool." Sometimes it means "I'm sorry, and I love you.""Bless" is a sacred word, a word from God and faith, a word that also means, for us, a blanket of grace and protection and benevolence that settles around our shoulders and keeps us safe.

I count among my blessings, then, the fact that I am surrounded by a wonderfully diverse group of people...MY people. My friemily, who exist in spaces where I can touch their faces, and in spaces where we can only dream of hugs as we exchange love over the internet. My friemily contains people of color and people who are in the LGBTQ community. I love people who are of varied faiths and no faiths, who are American citizens and who live oceans apart from me. I am loved by men who shoot turkeys for Thanksgiving dinners prepared by their wives, and by women who are fiercely, breathtakingly, gloriously unattached to that traditional picture, who rage against it. These people whom I love are blessings to me.

But those blessings sometimes come with a curse, a thorn twisted, cunning and sharp, in the threads of the blanket, waiting to pierce my skin and wake me up. Maybe the curse is the blessing. Maybe it's all the same.

There's a video going viral on social media right now, one more way for people to try to explain privilege to the privileged. People line up on a field for a race, only to be held back by things that they can't control, mainly having to do with financial stability. If you'd like to look at the video, you can find it here. It's pretty good, really, a nice little exercise using kinetic learning that seems to be reaching some folks. The focus is on race, a throw-away line near the end, and so it leaves some things out. It leaves out gender (often a factor in economic mobility), it leaves out religion (also a factor depending on one's community), and it leaves out sexual orientation (which the current administration is now saying is not protected by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in terms of employment.) It also leaves out the implications of culture, and the damaging effects that privilege, specifically white, heteronormative privilege, can have on our culture and our selves.

Yesterday, my brother and his partner were targeted for being gay in public. That's the only thing they were doing "wrong":  they were existing in a grocery store as a homosexual couple. It started with a family giggling and pointing at them. It ended with a manager putting his hands on my brother, calling him a faggot. It ended with police officers treating my brother, who called 911 because he felt threatened, like a suspect.

Privilege isn't just being able to win the race of life. It's being able to go to a grocery store and get a candy bar without people pointing out that you aren't like the majority. It's calling the police and knowing they will believe and protect you. If you are a person who doesn't ever think twice about those things, you are privileged. If you are almost always a member of the majority in any situation, you have privilege. This is galling for some folks.

It's galling for me, when just yesterday I was laying claim to the Me Too hashtag. As a woman and a girl, I've been sexually harassed and assaulted. My gender removes some of the privilege my skin color and sexual orientation lends me. But even though I flinch under that thorn, I can shift the blanket. I can snuggle up safely under a different corner of my blessings. Even my brother, who is in pain this morning, for whom I want to burn down the world right now, even he can shift his blanket and find safety in his color, in his gender, in his economic stability.

There are people in my friemily whose blankets are so thorn-twisted that they live their lives in discomfort. They are hurting, they are angry, they are agitated by the pain. Can you imagine trying to find rest under a blanket filled with thorns? I can't, and because I love these folks, it is my responsibility to ease their pain, to share my blanket. Better yet, it's my responsibility to pick out the thorns from their blanket. It's my responsibility to make sure that the blanket factory is discarding the thorns before they become part of the fabric.

That is what is happening in our country right now. Thorns are being woven into the fabric of our lives. Racism and sexism have always been there, tangled in the warp and weft of our history. Some of us bear scars from generations of scratches. Homophobia and religious bigotry have marked some of us, too. But it seems worse right now. It seems impossible to find a soft spot, a piece of comfort as the duly-elected president and his administration drive thorn after thorn into the skins of our brothers and sisters. It feels, to be honest, that regular citizens feel empowered to hurt others. Their prejudice is okay--it's protected by their privilege. Every day, there's another story of a casual racial epithet, a religious slur scrawled on a building that's not a church. Every day, there's another story about a member of the president's cabinet or one of his nominees or politicians he's endorsed or people he's called "fine" wanting to hang gay people, or outlaw Islam, or prevent women from voting. Everyday, the blanket feels coarser, pricklier, harder to breathe under.

In the South, the weather is finally turning.  The air is growing cooler, Visiting Season has begun, and we're drawing closer to the ones we love.  We are blessing the season's first sneezes, and saying the blessing over autumn feasts, and counting our blessings with thanks.  We are drawing blankets over our loved ones' shoulders, snuggling closer, loving a bit more tenderly. I hope that this change of season will bring a change of heart, too. I hope that we'll start looking more closely for the wounds our loved ones carry, and that we'll be willing to remove the thorns that caused them.

I hope we can learn to be blessings and not curses. I hope it's not too late to heal.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Personal and the Political

I have to take a break from social media, because it is making me sick.  All I've been doing is reading political posts and sharing political stories and articles about intersectional feminism and presidential overstep, and I'm feeling exhausted and shaky.  I told a friend that I needed to take a break, and while I knew that was my privilege speaking, I just couldn't see how actual ACTIVISTS did the activism without dying.

Stephen's response:  "That's probably the goal."

I know many of you will be glad to see the posts stop for a few days, but before I go, lemme just share a little something with you.

Many of my FB friends knew me in high school.  While I understand that people undergo great changes in life, it cannot be surprising to those people that I'm a fan of discussing politics.  I was in DEBATE, for heaven's sake.  I didn't take that class for the free legal pads and travel.  I was in that class because, as I told my mentor, teacher, and queen, Sandra Worthington Silvers, "I like to argue."  Debate class put a fine point on my arguing skills, introduced me to a wide variety of political realms, and helped me understand how policy affects everyday human lives.  So if you are shocked that I want to discuss politics, or share articles that introduce concepts that apply to policy in America, it's probably because I was too busy being a debate nerd for you to actually know me in high school.  This is me.  Hi.  Nice to meet you.

Additionally, many of my FB friends know because I taught THEM in high school.  Y'all know I coached the debate team, right?  Y'all know that I taught literature from the perspective that literature is an author's reaction to the effects of policy on human life, right?  I mean, maybe you don't.  Maybe you were too busy putting on lip balm, or chattering with your bff, or worrying about, like, whether your hair was flipping correctly after the careful application of a stinky baseball cap (and fixing to earn yourself a detention,) BUT...that's how I taught it, because that's what it is.  People get all gushy about the Romantics, because they talk about flowers and beauty, but they were also writing in opposition to the Industrial Revolution AND the failed French Revolution.  (Seriously, I still have my notes if y'all want to have a little convo about Wordsworth.)

My point is that my political posts might drive you nuts, but they can't be a surprise.  You knew who I was when you sent me or accepted a friend request, ammiright?

Speaking of friends, I think that we have two critical spheres of influence that include both who influence us and who we influence.  The first one is personal:  the god or gods we worship, our families, our closest friends.  These influences are intimately entwined, since we grew up with our families who gave us a religious foundation.  We attend church or go to school with or live next door to our people, and it is those folks that we "visit" with on Facebook.  We put the pictures of our kids up so they can see them even if they live hours (or continents) away, we share recipes because we know they like strawberries or pickles or cake (no, I'm not pregnant.)  We send prayers because we know that they believe like we believe, and that they need them, and we ask for prayers for our kids to do well in a swim meet or on a college exam or on a mission trip because we know those prayers will be sent and we know we believe that they are sent to the same god.

This personal and seemingly vastly more important sphere (to you) is the one that has the least affect on somebody else's life.  I love looking at pictures of your pretty mantel or your dog or your babies.  I am always up to sending you prayers or good vibes.  I think your recipes are FAB.

But.

None of those things change my life or the life of the gods and people in MY personal sphere of influence.  Your religious affiliation, your children, your recipes might make me ponder or smile or eat a good meal, but they won't directly influence the way I enjoy my life in any intrinsic way, unless you are in my own closest circle of friends.

What is WEIRD about living in a society is that the secondary sphere, the one that we might feel doesn't touch us as much or that we only think about once or twice a year or every two years or every four years...that's the one that actually causes CHANGES in our day to day living.  And while I know that many people believe that God affects actual change in our lives, and I respect that, this is not a universal truth that all people outside of your personal sphere believe.

So let's say that there is a gay pagan living two states away from you.  This person has LITERALLY no affect on your personal sphere.  You don't know this person.  This person is a vegan, has no small children, and doesn't believe in the same god as you. Nothing this person ever does, in all probability will EVER have an affect on you.  She probably won't ever even pass by your town, because she prefers the mountains to the beach.

Now, here's where things get kind of whackadoo.  Because of her personal sphere, she's going to vote for people who will help her continue the way of life that makes her the happiest and gives her the most security.  For her, that means voting for the candidate that will protect her right to stay married to her spouse, help her continue to keep the air and soil and water around her as clean as possible, help her keep the job that puts her vegan food on the table.  Her being married literally has no affect on you.  Neither does her job or diet.  Her wanting to have a candidate who has pushes for clean air and soil and water WILL affect you, but if the candidate manages those things, it will be a positive for you.

But you...YOUR vote DOES affect her life, it does affect her personal sphere, intimately.  If you vote for a candidate because he is (or claims to be) a Christian and he uses his beliefs to influence legislation to marginalize her religion, she is affected.  If you vote for a candidate who uses that faith to guide marriage legislation, she is affected.  If you vote for a candidate who believes that a smaller federal government is the only way to go, she, as a federal employee, is intimately affected.  If your candidate believes that climate change is ridiculous and that companies will take care of the water and air and soil without any government intervention, when the climate changes or the water and air and soil become tainted beyond repair, we ALL will be affected.

And it would go both ways, I assume, if we lived in a different world than the one in which all of our spheres jangle.

I've read many posts this week about people needing to respect other people's feelings posted by folks who voted for a man who literally doesn't care about other people's feelings.  That's one of the draws for him, right?  He says whatever he thinks.  I've read many posts from folks who think that liberals want things for "free," which ignores the costly legal battles and personal decades-long struggles many minorities have waged in our country to get the same rights and protections as others, let alone the same pay scale.

The fact that you can't understand that the beliefs you cultivate in your personal sphere influence the rights of others outside of that sphere is why I post political things. The fact that people are angry and worried and need to explain how they feel, what policies are going to change their personal spheres,  and their need to protect those within their personal sphere is why I post political things.  It isn't because I'm trying to make you mad.  It isn't because I'm trying to bore you.  It isn't because I don't love to read about your kids and your recipes and your needs.

It's that my personal sphere is going to be crushed by your vote.  It will be hurt by your vote.  It will lose rights because of your vote.  Any prayers you send are going to operate in a world in which Donald Trump is president, and in which he will influence legislation to take away my brother's health insurance.  Any pictures of your baby that you post will exist in a place in which Mike Pence believes that my brother's homosexuality can be therapeutically removed from his being.  Any recipes of yours that I cook will be eaten by a child who might have his access to public schools jeopardized.

That isn't political.

That's personal.