FH-hummingbird-slider

trying to save ourselves. trying to save each other.

Lisboa graffiti: silhouette of birds sitting on a wire beneath a row of windows1. This is the morning. Let’s see if I can remember how to type. It’s been a month since I wrote in this blog – and during this month, my life changed and didn’t change. During this vacation, I taught my body about rest, separation from the daily work, from the sort of scheduled struggle we in the Bay Area have turned our normal into. I visited other places and touched other ways of being and walked on new streets and listened to new voices and touched new possibility.

2. Today is the eclipse that the papers can’t stop talking about. Tomorrow we will see if the world has survived this particular form of darkness, another disappearance in the eyes of the sun. We will stand at attention today and watch as celestial bodies battle it out for our attention, for light. Isn’t that what we do every day, with our attention to celebrity culture? But these are real stars, you say. Yes. Real stars.

3. I want to say something about Charlottesville, but of course, it’s not about Charlottesville. Charlottesville is emblematic of our country’s entire history. White supremacist racists have been killing people, mostly folks who aren’t white, for the entirety of the American “experiment.” Yes, we should rage that a woman was killed, a person was killed, when a white supremacist drove his car into a crowd of people who were standing up for anti-racist values. who were standing up against white supremacy, standing up for a fundamental change in America. One that says, all people are created equal, and means it, and believes it, and enacts policy and government with the idea that it’s actually true. Racists killing people is nothing new. White supremacists killing people isn’t new, not in our American past, and not in our current day.

We white folks should rage as loudly, in such large numbers, when white supremacy kills folks of color, too, of course.

3. I wanted to tell you about the things I saw and learned during these days away, these weeks away from the everyday, but I have returned to a place that is so vicious and hate-filled and violent and crazy-making that it seems almost an additional violence to discuss peace instead of war. So many of us do not have the luxury of peace right now. We don’t have the luxury of vacation, because of the economy or our national obsession with work or because it is not safe to leave what we know of as home.

4. It is easy to be triggered all the time. It is easy to feel only despair. It is easy to feel lost and frightened and even nihilist — it is easy to want to lose yourself with just about anything— drugs or alcohol, food, television, video games, social media, all of the many ways we addict ourselves out of reality. It is easy to understand why we would want to disappear from this place if we are not part of the majestic elite that is rising like cream in this country.

We are not the only country with a vast canyon yawning between the haves and the rest of us, but this is the one I live in, and it feels like being at the back end of violence when I have it shoved down my throat. Today I will return to downtown San Francisco, push back into the disparity of this my once-beautiful city, in this the place I thought would save me as it had saved so many others, in this place I thought was my mecca. I will see the tech nouveau-riche and the very very poor, the homeless folks who live on the same streets with these tech giants. I will walk again amid the violence of the American experiment, the truth of the American dream.

5. I read a lot of science fiction while I was away, a lot of speculative fiction, a lot of weird fairy tales, taking the old tropes and pulling them inside out until their teeth and veins show. I read books in translation, wanting to touch other ways of imagining the world.

6. Outside I can hear the BART train. I can hear the whoosh of traffic like a constant tide. Two days ago I awoke to cardinals and the sound of the ocean. Why am I back here again, except for a mother who loves her boy and a dog who I missed like skin?

7. I would like the news media to quit publishing photos of the supremacists’ flags and regalia. Seeing those things continues to harm the folks these symbols were brandished against, and gives the images a wider audience, which the supremacists want.

I would also like the media to stop publishing photos of the troll-in-chief, especially on the cover of their papers or magazines – it’s all he wants: publicity. Let’s stop giving it to him.

8. We are trying to save ourselves. We are trying to save each other.

9. I am glad that many, many people are turning against the troll-in-chief and his wayward patch of hopeless advisors. It should not have taken this long, but at least there are people who are beginning to stand up. There should not have been as many people as there were and still are who dismiss him as a newbie who’s still getting his footing. Don’t you recall that the exact same language was thrown against Obama as a hostile criticism: that he was an amateur, that he had no business in the White House?

10. I am afraid for this country. I am afraid for our human species. Tech is not saving us. Tech is driving us apart from one another.

11. This is a scattered post of loss and wanting.

12. What’s new, we say, about Charlottesville, about this moment in racist American history, is that white supremacists feel free to show themselves, to march armed through the middle of a major town in the United States. But it’s not new for white folks to show their faces at a massacre or a murder in the name of white power — it’s actually on been a short time in our American history that the white supremacists felt that they needed to hide.

13. In spite of all the current awfulness in our country, and around the world – or maybe alongside it – I want to feel hopeful. There is so much to terrify us, so much to rage against, so much to be furious about, to grieve, to despair of. But there are glimmers of hope for me as well. Maybe it’s the antidepressants. I can’t say. But if nothing else, if they’re working right, antidepressants can lift us enough out of the muck that we want to keep going, that we believe there’s worth in staying alive another day. For me, it’s remembering that what got me through the worst of the violence of my adolescence and young adulthood was the idea of tomorrow — tomorrow might bring something new. Tomorrow something might change. Tomorrow could bring a new development. Often tomorrow did bring a new development, and it was bad. But the day came when tomorrow brought me courage and strength. The day came when tomorrow brought me a no so loud I couldn’t see my way clear to living the way I’d been living for so many years. The day come when tomorrow was my today and my today had a big yes stamped on it and that was the day that everything changed.

Looking forward to tomorrow has a kind of hope in it, or at least, can elastic into something like hope.

14. Keep standing up. Keep fighting against the brainwashing of white supremacy. Struggle in your heart and in the streets, if that’s right for you. Thank you for your struggle today. Thank you for the ways you hold the truth of others’ stories, the way you allow others to hold yours. Thank you for your creative resistance today. Thank you for your words. 

FH-hummingbird-slider

the other half of the country said No

No (SFSU Sticker graffiti)

What is there to say? What can we who didn’t want this possibly say?

I haven’t looked at the news yet this morning.  I was up until after 1am, just scrolling through Facebook and Twitter feeds, trying to find something. Solidarity. Hope. Someone announcing that there had been a mistake, that a cache of uncounted votes had been located, that disenfranchised people were going to get their constitutional rights back just in time to make a difference in this election. That this was a mistake. That he announced immediately that it was a joke, he was just kidding, god, he never actually wanted the job. I wanted someone to announce that it wasn’t really happening. That I was dreaming.

I got more and more numb as the evening went on. I didn’t want it to be true — this isn’t really happening, is it? More than half of the American people who voted weren’t actually voting for this man, were they? Weren’t actually telling him that his actions were acceptable, even admirable? Weren’t telling him that it was just fine for a man who said “I could shoot someone on Fifth avenue and still get elected” to actually hold the highest office in the land? I don’t have to list all the horrors for you. You know what they are. They’ve been in the news endlessly, repeated, mocked, memed, lampooned, shared with disgust, fear, astonishment — and still, here he is.

What can be said this morning? That people love to be on the side of the bully? I get stuck there — people love to be on the side of the bully. And he is nothing if not that, the man who stands in front of the whole world and openly mocks just about everyone who is not him. He’s even mocked his own supporters (I was about to write followers — this looks so much worse than a presidential election to me: more like half the country said yes to a cult leader.) More than half of the country said yes.

White people voted for him overwhelmingly. This wasn’t a landslide of sexism. Last night a friend said that more men had turned out to vote in this election than in any other in American history — and that they were voting for this man. But have you seen the infographic making the rounds that shows whites overwhelmingly voting red, and people of every other race voting blue? We can talk about sexism and misogyny, of course we have to talk about sexism and misogyny, but we also have to talk about racism. This was (is — goddamnit, I don’t want to have to use the present tense) a victory in our country for white nationalism.

I have felt horrified and disgusted after elections before. I called W. “Resident Bush” for all the years he was in office. I woke up after the Supreme Court made their decision similarly furious that Bush and his cronies got to gloat, got to win, got to stand in front of the American people and pretend like they earned something.

But something about this morning is different, of course.

This is a man, openly endorsed by the KKK, is going into the white house. There’s something I want to say about never underestimating power’s rage, how hard power will fight, how hard people will fight to keep their power. Can it be  that millions of American citizens love and admire the fact that this man stands up in front of them and openly mocks his opponents, threatens to harm them, encourages violence against them? Can it be that they want an America that looks and sounds more like what this man does and says?

My limbs are numb. I am too afraid to even be aware of feeling afraid. But under that, I am so fucking angry.

This is a vindication for Brock Turner, Bill Cosby, Woody Allen — this is a vindication for all the rapists. Let’s be clear: there have been rapists in the white house before. Probably most of the time that there’s been a white house. But can we at least state with certainty that there hasn’t ever before been a president who stood in front of the country and, when it was revealed that he had bragged about sexually assaulting women, bragged that he would and should have sexual access to any body that he wanted, said it was ok because other people (a former president) had done worse. He hid behind the stories of women who Clinton assaulted, and then he threatened to sue the women who came forward to tell their stories of his assaults. So, it’s a new thing to have an out, admitted rapist in the white house. I’ve decided to call him Rapist in Chief. How grand for us as a nation.

Of course, we’ve also never before had a president who has never held any kind of elected office. We have decided as a country that we value someone vulgar and unprepared for the office over someone who has been learning the ins and outs of the american governmental system for forty-plus years. We want someone who has filed many times for bankruptcy, we want someone who fought to keep from paying his workers even four dollars an hour, who would regularly refuse to pay people with whom he had contracts — this is the man who is going to bring jobs? Are there truly people who believe this?

What is the point of saying all of this this morning? Of rehashing what we already know?

The hope I have this morning, if I have any at all, is that the other half of the country didn’t think this guy was a good idea. The other half of the country said No.

Here’s what I thought last night: we are going to have to fight like hell for the many communities who are now under threat. Let’s not make any mistake — these are the same communities who have been under threat in this country forever: folks of color, women, immigrants. But our rapist-elect has said explicitly and openly and repeatedly that violence against these communities is acceptable. Who knows what the next four years will bring? Any of us with any measure privilege are going to have to put ourselves on the line, to stand with those who will be under assault. We have already seen violence done explicitly in this man’s name — what will happen now?

This is what we as a country have reaped – white supremacy (back) in the white house. What are we going to do about it?

I saw many posts last night in my Facebook feed encouraging folks not to grieve, but to organize. Protest. Fight back. And we will organize. We will fight back. We will spend a generation fighting back against what he and this congress is about to unleash. And we must grieve also. We must mourn.

It’s ok to take some time to sit in whatever emotions are up for you this morning. Write them, if you have it in you to do so — maybe not publicly, if you don’t want to, maybe in your notebook. Scrawl it out. Shout into a pillow. Consider how you’re going to do holiday meals with people who voted for this man, this government, if you have to — my home state went quite red, and I’m sure there are those among my kin who voted for this now rapist-elect. What will I say to them? How do we as a country so horrifically divided find a way to speak across these divides? I heard a reporter on NPR last night speaking to a Republican official; this official was wondering how the rapist-elect (he didn’t use that term) was going to reach across and help to heal the divides in this country. And the reporter said, “But does he really want to do that? Does he really want to heal anything? Isn’t this divide part of what got him elected? Isn’t this part of what he worked for, what he wants?” The government official didn’t have a good answer for that.

I haven’t looked at the news yet this morning, though I know that I have to. I know I’m going to have to see his face, hear his voice, now, for the next four fucking years, listen to him gloat about winning the country on a platform of exactly nothing. So much for his brand being ruined. So much for polls, predictions, all those pundits who told us this wasn’t going to happen.

I guess what I want to say today is that I’m outraged, and I am not surprised, and that lack of surprise is a terrible feeling. I didn’t want it to be true, that our adolescent country would go for brash bullying and farcical pretense over any kind of substance whatsoever. The white men won yesterday (and the white women stood with them, and helped).

 

This morning I am turning to Sharon Welch’s book, A Feminist Ethic of Risk, for words to help me remember how to hunker (back) down for the battle — this battle isn’t new. It has been going on for hundreds of years. Welch says that our “situation calls for an ethic of risk, an ethic that begins with the recognition that we cannot guarantee decisive changes in the near future or even in our lifetime. The ethic of risk is propelled by the equally vital recognition that to stop resisting, even when success is unimaginable, is to die.”

In the next paragraph she says, “As we, too, resist the evil of racism, seeing its connections with other forms of structural oppressions, we need to learn that failure to develop the strength to remain angry, in order to continually love and therefore to resist, is to die […] for if we cease resisting, we lost the ability to imagine a world that is any different than that of the present: we lose the ability to imagine strategies of resistance and ways of sustaining each other in the long struggle for justice.”

We cannot give up. Many, many people were galvanized last night (I can only hope). Many more will be. We will have to raise our children with the language of resistance, with the models of social justice warriors who came before.

We need your words today — and tomorrow, and for the next four years. We need your songs and your plays and your paintings and your many. many acts of artistic truth telling and resistance.Thank you for all of your words, today, tomorrow, and all the days after.

FH-hummingbird-slider

what do I do if I am from them?

(Just a heads up, my loves — I’m talking about racism and torture in today’s post, and there’s some graphic language here. Take care of you, ok?)

Good morning, good morning. It’s still raining outside my windows, though not nearly as hard as it did yesterday. I stayed home yesterday, avoiding the traffic and flooding and falling branches — I’d been feeling guilty about taking care of myself that way, thinking that I’d bailed on plans to visit my sister for no good reason (outside my window in downtown Oakland, things didn’t look so bad — some heavy rain, but isn’t that what’s supposed to happen in Northern California in the winter?), but then I saw photos of a car in standing water up to its roof on Ashby Ave in Berkeley, and I heard that downtown San Francisco had lost power, and I heard about the traffic accidents and snarls all up and down I-880, and I figured, well, maybe it wasn’t a terrible thing that I stayed inside.

Funny how, even after all these years, I second-guess myself after making a decision on behalf of my own well-being when I think someone else might be upset or disappointed by my choice. I have to find evidence to bolster up that decision: just saying, Wow, it looks like it’s going to be really bad out there, I think I’d rather stay home, isn’t enough for that voice inside always telling me that I’m selfish and thoughtless. This struggle around trusting myself is a part of my trauma legacy, part of this aftermath I live in, part of this ongoing work of recovery.

(Not really funny, after all. Just sad. A little more work to do.)

I have been grieving a lot recently, as so many of us are, and thinking about the legacies of trauma and loss. Last night I watched the Australian movie Rabbit-Proof Fence, the story of a fourteen-year-old Aboriginal girl and her two sisters who are stolen from their family and tribe, driven (in a cage) 1200 miles away to a mission run by white settlers, and who subsequently run away and begin to walk the 1200 miles to get back home. If you haven’t watched the movie, I encourage you to do so. I hadn’t seen it since I was living in Maine, when my ex and I rented it and watched it in our little log cabin out in the woods, and I wept and wept and wept. Same thing happened last night as the credits rolled.

I cry partly because this is a story about sisters in trouble, sisters who have to trust each other, sisters who get separated. These are the same tears that rise in me when I watch The Color Purple or (re)read Danzy Senna’s book Caucasia. I think about all the ways my sister and I were able to save, or at least help, each other, and all the very many ways that we couldn’t help each other, how we had to suffer and survive alone, and how difficult that has made our relationship in the aftermath, and how stupid and terrible it is that we had to go through all of that horror in the first place.

But some of those tears last night were tears of grief and shame and sorrow that the people I am from could (and continue) to perpetrate crimes like this on the lives and bodies and families and lands of other peoples.

These days, in America, we are talking about the crimes that majority white police officers commit against and in communities of color. And, now, threaded into this conversation, we have a conversation about the uses of torture. About when and where torture is acceptable. About what forms of torture is acceptable.

This is the kind of cultural conversation we are capable of having in this country: is it ok to kill an unarmed 18-year-old boy for stealing some cigars from a convenience store? is it ok to kill a man for selling cigarettes on a street corner? Is it ok to waterboard someone in order to force them to reveal information they might be holding? What about throwing them against a wall? Or keeping them awake for 7 days, with their hands chained over their heads?

We are able — even expected — to be able to discuss these things calmly, rationally. What kind of dehumanization is required, what kind of profound disconnect from our empathy and human feeling, is required to not be filled with rage and sorrow upon hearing any of these news stories? How armored do we have to be to debate something like the value of torture?

With the addition of this language of “torture report,” I find listening to the news too triggering these days. I shut off the radio. I know about torture. I know about sleep deprivation. I know about brainwashing and terror — my stepfather claimed to have learned the techniques he used from the CIA.

(I just can’t understand how newscasters all over America aren’t breaking into tears every time they sit down to do their jobs. Why aren’t our newscasts filled with sobs, smeared mascara, red-rimmed eyes? How do they keep from wailing in grief and disappointment and horror?)

What’s got me caught this morning is the grief that these are the people I come from: I mean, from white people, white “culture,” white ancestry. I come from people who homesteaded in the midwest (which means they got stolen land and claimed it as their own), from people who kept other people as property, from people who have developed, over thousands of years, the ability to so profoundly  dehumanize other humans that they can treat them like animals (as though even animals were worth treating the way my people have treated other humans).

This horror is a part of my legacy, a part of what’s at my back. As white folks — especially liberal white folks — we like to distance ourselves from what has come before, and from people who actively act out in racist ways. We say, Oh, but I’m not like them! I’m not that kind of white person. I have taken comfort in that way of thinking myself. I’ve thought, Well, yes, white folks enslaved folks from Africa, but I didn’t do that. My mom and dad, they didn’t do that. It’s not our fault.

What do I want to say about this today? Mostly that I am filled with sorrow and grief at having ancestors who did these things, at coming from a people able to develop institutions that have wrought devastation across the world, like the Catholic Church, the Mormon church, the Atlantic slave trade, the Anglican church — that I come from a people who believed that the highest aim of a person’s life ought to be to distance themselves as much as possible from their human body, and yet could treat women’s and children’s bodies, the bodies of folks who looked different from them, as things without value.

I am from the people who could even conceive of, not to mention design and implement, the American Indian Boarding Schools, the Magdalene Laundries, the Salem witch trials, from men with the capacity to perform the cognitively-dissonant gymnastics necessary in order to declare “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” while also owning other human beings as slaves.

Here is where folks often like to jump up and remind a speaker that there were Africans who kept slaves, participated in and profited from the slave trade. Yes, there are folks from other cultures who have done damage to their own and other communities. I’m not talking about those folks right now. I’m talking about the folks I’m from. My people.

We talk about the the intergenerational legacy of trauma. We talk about post-traumatic slave syndrome. I come from the rapists and slave owners, from sociopaths and torturers. In order to undo racism (starting with my own), I have to reckon with that. How do I hold this truth? How do I move with it?

Victor, a participant in a conversation among men of all races captured on film for the extraordinary and powerful movie The Color of Fear by Lee Mun Wah,  at one point reminds the (white) man he’s talking to that in order to become white, folks have to shed their ethnicities — we have to walk away from that which makes us Irish or Hungarian or Italian or Norwegian or French or even English if we want to be white. We have to forget our ancestry. There is no white culture, because there is no such thing as a “white” race (as so many have said so often before me) — instead, we who choose or sublimate ourselves to whiteness have to capitulate to the demand that we not be of a particular ethnic culture. We have to forgo our people’s foods, clothes, ways of speaking, ways of caring for each other, ways of tending the land (and then, of course, feeling that terrible void in the absence of the who and what and where we are from, we steal the culture of others in an attempt to fill ourselves back up again).

And, too, we demand that those we force to submit to our control to give up their culture as well (the Africans and Indigenous peoples forced to relinquish their languages, food, religions).

Some of the work we did in unlearning racism trainings I participated in back in the day invited white folks to acknowledge and name their ethnic ancestries, and share something of that culture with the room: a song, a dance, a recipe, a story. What of ourselves and our humanities have we relinquished in order to call ourselves white?

I don’t have answers today. Today I am grateful for the rain. I am grateful for the capacity to recognize and feel grief, to mourn what has been done in my name, what terror white supremacy has wrought all over the planet. I remember change happens one person, one connection, one generation at a time. I remember that it is my job as a white-skinned person to continue to speak out, recognize and name privileges I am given, to stand back and listen and share and honor the voices in communities of color sharing their reality and sorrow and truth.

And I remember that the child of a rapist is not doomed to become a rapist. We can make different choices from those of our ancestors. We can hold what is true about the path while going about the difficult and necessary work of creating a wholly new future.