Over the last few days I have been digesting Dr. Robin DiAngelo’s 1:23:31 talk on Youtube about ‘White Fragility.’ Early on in the talk, she talks about how white progressives probably do the most damage to people of color on a daily basis because we work so hard to hide our racism, which is systemic. I have kind of a different relationship to race because I had some memorable experiences with exceptional people of color when I was very young. I still understand that colorblindness is a problem, and that white people tend to support systems which unfairly burden people of color. If I was going to give a statement regarding my white privilege, I think what Dr. DiAngelo says is appropriate:
“As a result of being raised as a white person in this society, I have a racist worldview. I have racist biases. I have developed racist patterns as a result, and I have investments in the system of racism. It’s incredibly comfortable. It’s certainly helped me with the barriers that I do face. And I also have investments in not seeing anything I just said—because of what it would suggest to me about my identity as a good person, if I’m coming from the dominant definition, and what it would actually require of me in action. I don’t feel guilty about that, but I do feel responsible for what I do with that socialization.”
This is less straightforward for me. For the most part, I am involved in far less ambitious materialism than most white people, perhaps because of my disabilities and limited resources. But there was a time when my kids had received a gift of stock from my father, and it was a particular public utility we depend upon for warmth in the winter. One would think that would be safe on the outside, since so many people in Colorado depend on it, but that company was certainly involved in the oppression of people of color. I divested their accounts of it earlier this year after listening to several chapters of As Long as Grass Grows: The Indigenous Fight for Environmental Justice by Dina Gilio-Whitaker.
It is my observation that most white people don’t think very much about the downstream effects of how they spend their money. Last year I watched The Aeronauts, and it struck me as quite the metaphor for this capitalist experiment we are all part of, along for the ride in the white folks’ hot air balloon, hoping we don’t all run out of air. And because of the reckless consumerism engendered by white people, there’s a very real chance we just might.
I identify as a white person, even though I am not genetically. This is a weird subject, too, because it was a secret that was deliberately hidden from our family. A lot of white people I have spoken with who did genetic genealogy were hoping that they would find that they weren’t entirely white, but I’m not sure they thought about what it would be like to have the DNA but lose the culture, and not belong anywhere. Even I am prone to associate whiteness with “The Man,” as I see the images that white people toil away to uphold even when they are not at a job as inherently destructive to the freedom of themselves and others. Many of us white people feel trapped into maintaining a certain image because of the current insecurities of our parents and the conditional love they have for us that is engendered in this country by meritocratic and ableist thinking. This is all reinforced by weaknesses in our biological construct that served for much of human history to keep us safe from enemies. I think a lot about likenesses and xenophobia because I have always felt like an outsider. I remember when my church theater group performed The Sound of Music, and I felt slighted because they cast all blonde-haired actors for the children. I still feel very confused about that, and it has affected how I feel about white people.
I am always afraid when I get pulled over, but not afraid for my life. I can’t imagine what that would be like to see those lights turn on behind me and reflexively think “This could be the end.” I cannot imagine what it would be like to be a black mother and have a black son, and know that there’s a good chance he won’t make it to 30 years old. I can’t imagine the heartbreak that people of color experience every single day.
In watching DiAngelo’s talk, it dawned on me that white fragility is really centered around the feeling that we have as white people that we have to defend our whiteness, which we did not choose, either. But that’s the thing - people of color have had to do this FOREVER. Every single day. It is fair of people of color to want us to take responsibility for how we contribute to systems which create this reality for them!
Few people know that not only did the founding fathers have slaves, but they were also poor. An important thing I learned from my historical studies during genealogy is that all of the white people who came to the U.S. were fleeing oppression in their home countries where they were serfs. They simply used the tactics that had been used on them by the European aristocracy (which still exists quite comfortably) on the people of color they imported to build themselves a new empire. There’s a great documentary on YouTube by Alain de Boton called Status Anxiety, which talks about when Alexis de Tocqueville came to the US to visit and discovered that people were over mortgaged and the quality of what they had was poor. It was all an illusion that was built on the belief that the sky was the limit, but because of that, nobody knew when to stop, and so they were constantly striving for more, more, more, and it was becoming lower and lower quality, even back then, according to the documentary. And of course, what is not mentioned is that what made this all possible was the blood of people of color. We are still doing it, it is just more covert.
The way we do this socially is by creating microeconomies where we can be top dog and marginalize others. We learn how to do that through the meritocratic social undercurrent in the US educational system which reaches its zenith in high school.
It seems to me as a white person, or just a person, to help make the world a better place, I could come to grips with my status anxiety, and the ways that I empower “The Man.” I have been working on this for a long time on the periphery of social justice work as a volunteer and in the choices I make in my own life. It’s challenging! I had a bit of a leg up because near death experiences have a way of reminding a person what’s important. I think my aphasia may actually have been a help in this regard, because honestly I don’t always comprehend what people are saying, but I can remember how they make me feel, and people who are overly focused on their image have always rubbed me the wrong way. I am more apt to forgive this in people of color, because I understand that they are tired of having a carrot dangled in front of them only to get the whip. My point is that people concerned with image are not the sorts who are apt to stick their necks out to make public statements about themselves and their own racism. I’m sure I will say something asinine here because, like I said, I don’t know what it’s like to not be white.
I was never celebrated for my appearance in my youth, and I think that helps. I have noticed that white people who get attention for their appearance in their youth struggle a great deal with vanity. I think this ends up becoming entangled with their sense of status. This is an observation I have made from watching people around me who were popular in high school struggle with their sense of self worth as adults. A couple years ago, I lost some weight and bought some new clothes, and the attention it brought was really confusing to me. People suddenly valued me in a way that was uncomfortable. This wasn’t the first time it happened, and I wasn’t sure how to react the other times, either. I can see how being treated how I was treated might evolve into a sense of entitlement over time; one could get used to being showered with respect and attention because one looks a certain way. Then, what happens when we get old and suddenly nobody cares anymore? I think what we’re dealing with is a bunch of Prom Queens and Mean Girls feeling exactly this. I mean, we’re all so vain! Seriously. I got sick of it, so for a while I was walking around referring to my body as a “meat suit” because, I mean, what a stupid thing to judge a person on.
But, I digress.
The fact is, humanity continues to live beyond its means. This is an energy economics problem. The burden of the hoarding of resources by the elite is borne primarily by people of color. And the rest of us, frankly, are complicit. And if we are complicit, we are racist.
I grew up in central Denver during the 80’s and early 90’s during the era of school integration. My neighborhood did not have a lot of children to play with except my two white friends who lived a couple blocks in either direction. None of us were particularly popular. Maybe I had a little popularity because I was involved in many things. Actually, one of my friends’ mothers was also half Hispanic, but they had also largely lost touch with their culture except for occasional visits to extended family. My friend didn’t look entirely white, and she was teased by classmates about it a lot when we were younger. I was able to make more friends in junior high/middle school (I attended the years that the Denver Public Schools transitioned from the 7th/8th grade model to the 6th-8th grade model), but they were still not in my neighborhood. It was at this point that I started to have closer friends who were people of color, who were my friends through high school. They did share some of their difficulties, and I particularly remember my friends of mixed race noting that they didn’t feel acceptance from anyone. For several years, my closest friend who I drove to school every day, talked about boys with, and hung out on the weekends with was black. She felt more like a sister than a friend. I think this early formative experience led to my tendency to be color blind.
My high school was integrated, but I would call it “pseudo-integrated.” It drew from Park Hill neighborhood, which was more integrated than Congress Park, where I grew up. But we also had some students with more progressive parents from the Denver Country Club. My friend that I hung out with a lot actually had moved to my neighborhood during middle school, and was part of our little middle class “pack.” We lost contact with one black friend from middle school because she lived north of Bruce Randolph Boulevard and ended up being bused all the way to a high school in south Denver. I remember her heartbreak at having to say goodbye to all of us and start all over in a very white school. It was the least diverse high school in the Denver Public Schools. Our middle school pack was pretty pissed when this happened. She was important to us. It was made very clear to her that she didn’t have a choice because she was black, and the district “needed” her at the other school. Years later, I would read Po Bronson’s book Nurture Shock, which would uncover lasting problems with forced integration and its contribution to racist thought, wondering if that was the right way to go about it. I don’t know. In any case, the integration experiment that I was part of was weird. At our high school, most of our pack was separated into the AP track, and those classes were mostly on the 3rd floor of the school. So all of our lockers were up there, and it was only if we had a class on a lower floor that we noticed the pseudo-integration of it all. I had a few “regular” classes like American Government and P.E., and I remember thinking that the kids I hadn’t seen before seemed to be at a distinct disadvantage. They were mostly people of color, Latinx and black kids, but not all. My memories from this era are fuzzy, but I do remember it was difficult to get things done in these classes because there were a lot of behavioral problems, unlike in my AP classes. It was pretty clear to me that the problem was not race, but poverty, because the kids who acted up tended to be poor and white, honestly. This may be a big reason I tend to focus on income inequality over color in my writing. It is not to dismiss the problems that black people have, but rather to concentrate on what I feel are the roots of the problem, which are in the misdirected values of white people, and how narcissism is held up as a shining ideal by our culture.
Even with this experience, nothing could have prepared me for what I experienced when I went to college in New Orleans.
After learning of my heritage, I now identify as a Chicana who was raised outside of my Chicanx culture. I am a sapiosexual (attracted to intelligence, but kindness is a requirement, too) polyamorous (at the very least emotionally) collection of identities trying to raise children to be self-confident and caring adults. I am a carrier of both cystic fibrosis and erythropoetic protoporphyria, which affect my life daily when I am not well. I have major depressive disorder and PTSD (probably complex PTSD, tbh), which are due in part to having lived with my health challenges. I am probably somewhere on the autism spectrum, as I have a tremendous amount of difficulty with auditory processing, resulting in aphasia, which makes group social interactions very difficult. I had a spiritual awakening over the last couple years and have a Reiki III Master Level certification. Spiritually, what I practice is closest to Gnosticism and Tantric Alchemy, but is of my own invention. I have a daily shamanistic practice which revolves around meditation and self-inquiry. I am clairaudient and clairsentient and have had these abilities since childhood, but forgot. What this means is I am an autodidact who is constantly evolving and learning, going to the top of the proverbial “mountain” to bring back knowledge for others, as that is what I am here to do. I believe that is what we are all here to do. In this vein, I have a special interest in healing trauma at the unconscious (4D) level with my knowledge of neuroscience, so there are fewer blocks to the 5D. What this essentially means is that my work concerns psychosocial and medical philosophy, the practices around healing, and what healing is, of the collective unconscious. What I found at the end of the Yellow Brick Road were the societal roots of trauma, and barriers to the 5D for the majority of the collective, but especially for people of color. For those who don’t understand what I am saying, the 5D is bliss, or eudaimonia. I believe in the healing power of art, music, light, food, eye contact, touch, intimacy and sex. I believe these are important parts of every culture that help cultivate identity and that they are murdered by the classist pressure for conformity. The awakening has been rough for my family, but The Universe brought us just-in-time resources so we could grow accordingly.
Fortunately, I followed a Yellow Brick Road through the internet which reaffirmed a lot of my own intuitive understanding about the nature of being human, connection, and self esteem. I shared things with my family as I thought they could handle them. Rediscovering your psychic gifts is an extremely isolating process without aphasia, because it is so weird. It’s like going crazy. Well, it’s “crazy” if you’re still living in that other world where Saturn and his consorts have everyone over a barrel. Mr. Smith, can’t you see we’ve had enough of you? So, suffice it to say, everything is weird here. But then again, it always has been. I just forgot why.
It hasn’t been easy. Having a spiritual awakening is pretty frightening, from the inside, and the outside. The Universe kind of takes you by the ankle and holds you up in the air and shakes you until you’re dizzy. And then it sets you down to see if you can still operate. There is very much a shadow to this process as I realized all of the ways I might be perceived and became intimate with the fine line between creativity and madness. I feel like if I had been creating content and posting it the entire time I was going through the process, I would have missed out on the larger lessons about dedication and building something big, which because of my ADHD tendencies (as “The Man” would call it - I’d rather say “go with the flow way of life”), I had not experienced before. I’m really not ready to post most of what I will be sharing, but am feeling immense pressure to do it from The Universe. Sharing myself like this has an immediate negative impact on my health.
Well, I’m still standing. I understand this is a tough road to go.
I had this really strange experience several times when looking at images on the internet, where I would come across an extremely long string of selfie gifs of hip-hop people. There would be hundreds. I remember feeling like they were there for an important reason, and that is why I kept looking. I tried to give each one attention. They usually looked like they were soliciting intimacy. I tried to pay attention to how I felt as I continued looking through these long series of photos. I felt guilty. I felt guilty for living in such a white area. I felt guilty for not exposing my children to people of color and other cultures. Living in the suburbs, our life has become so whitewashed.
As I scrolled through the photos, I also noticed that I did find something off putting or foreign, and it was the hip-hop. That’s because I associate it with gang culture and my high school. I associate it with a system of self-sabotage. But I don’t know if that was a fair categorization on my part. I think it is important to make art that voices uncomfortable truths, and that is a major function of hip-hop. In my mind, I need to make a concerted effort to not make the automatic subconscious leap that hip-hop equals gang. I learned a lot about psychological projection over the last few years, and as part of my spiritual awakening. Projection is what I am doing when I assume someone who is into hip-hop culture is in a gang. I think on some level this is going on in the minds of a lot of white people, because there are good reasons for an individual to steer clear of gang culture. But we need to get it out of our minds that it represents black culture. Don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t the problem before. I just see that this emerged as a new problem I need to work through.
It dawns on me that a black person might have the same thing happen, because our gang culture is even more dangerous.
Gang violence was a reality in my educational experience. So, I always kind of wondered what caused it. I was intrigued by stories like Romeo and Juliet, and West Side Story which showed the terrible results of ego jockeying. This is the product of a struggle for resources, power and status. It is true schizophrenic thinking, rooted in paranoia. This struggle for safety and calm by seeking what is without rather than within has had deathly consequences for people of color. It’s a maladaptive pattern of all human behavior, which affects them primarily. For that reason, I have felt myself shy away from competitive behaviors and try to work in a spirit of cooperation with others. I try to be aware of when false scarcity is being created, because that is a major way we are put at odds with each other.
When I came down with this latest episode of aphasia, I was working with acrylic paint. I was deep into the Alchemical process. I was, in the tradition of Clement Greenberg, exploring the properties of acrylic glazing techniques using the CMYK color architecture, like a machine would. The technique grew out of a simplification process I went through to ensure I would continue to create artwork. I needed whatever process I used to be sustainable in all regards to me as a person. This means learning to do more with less. The effect was that I figured out a way to communicate quite a bit meaning-wise through my art, usually just using three colors of a medium and a support. I had started this out of necessity because I was spending a fair amount of time away from home or in the car, and so I tried to carry a some fountain pens, watercolors, brushes, a collapsible water container, water brush pens, 2B, HB and 2H pencils, black and grey fineliners, and three Derwent Inktense Pencils in basically cyan, magenta and yellow with me on my travels. I never seemed to get much art done while I was out, even though I lugged that messenger bag back and forth to community college for a few years. But when I did finally sit down in my studio, I did a little series of 8” x 8” Inktense paintings. Okay, I guess it is not a little series. It is approximately 32 in number if you don’t count the one which is in the works, and you do count the one that I did at a particularly difficult time and which I can’t find, which weirds me out. I’m not sure why.
Anyway, as I settled into my studio, I realized I could start painting in a larger format again. I knew at the time that I was battling something related to my chemical sensitivity, and so I didn’t want to resume oil painting. I made the mistaken assumption that using acrylic paint in my studio was safe, because I had never heard anything contrary. Over the holidays, while using it, I had a bad attack. I ended up learning that research in Scandanavian countries had found significant psychological impairment due to exposure to various paints in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Too bad the US is so slow when it comes to these things.
I started with a smaller series of paintings, about 6” x 4”, trying to convert a concept I had about the heart as an island or an iceberg from the Inktense medium, which had been done with the CMY technique into acrylic using only CMY. The first issue I had was that the blue I had was all wrong, and I needed more of a Prussian Blue, which I tend to prefer in my art. Once I got the colors worked out, I started on the larger piece, which is 40” x 30”. The technique didn’t scale as I hoped, and I became increasingly frustrated working with the layers of glaze. My mood was affected for days later. I stopped working on the piece for a while and then came back to it after a couple of weeks of working on some smaller experiments that were more in the 9”-20” range. I learned a lot about the medium working on these pieces.
Because I was trying to achieve a smooth effect, but also allow the canvas to interact with the paint particles in such a way as to flocculate in its weave with each layer, I decided to use plastic bags to apply the paint, rather than brushes. I was experimenting with the idea of reducing waste in my work from the time I had done encaustic color field work last summer playing with the layering of color to trick the eye, and having the painting process also be part of the brush cleaning process. It was ye olde “Wax on, wax off” technique I was learning, spending hours emptying my brush of all paint particles, while meditating on the process to quiet my mind. It was very effective.
I had these two plywood supports laying around my studio for a couple of years that are approximately 15.5” x 20”, so I decided to see how the paint would interact with them. I did them one at a time, over the course of two or three weeks. So, their creation encompassed a whole lunar cycle. I did not gesso the surface of the plywood, but simply started applying acrylic paint in glazes that I had diluted with gesso and gel medium to pieces of plastic bag that I would then place gently on the surface and rub to transfer. What arose from that process on the first iteration was a semi-transparent sensual gradient of deep color. The wood grain as it shows through the paint on that piece is just a suggestion. On the next piece, the start was rough. Something was different, and I didn’t know what it was. The wood was ostensibly the same, but the paint just wasn’t behaving the same way.
Initially I thought it was because I was in a different part of my menstrual cycle and was more distractible. But after a couple of layers, I realized I didn’t care that much, and liked how I was getting a completely different effect. For the most part, I used the same process. I think I forgot to put gesso in the first layers, which left the paint a lot more transparent and more of the wood grain exposed.
My clairaudience is an important part of my work. I get important messages from The Universe from the songs I hear. There were times when I wasn’t sure I wanted to work on the pieces because the way I had them set up was cumbersome and hard on my back. But I couldn’t do a lot of work at once, anyway, because only so much paint could be applied, and I could only do one or two sections at a time, so the process became about knowing that it was going to be some time before the piece was finished, but being willing to work on it in its frog state as long as necessary. I’m calling it a “frog state” because the song I had going through my mind was Peter Gabriel’s “Kiss that Frog.” In putting forth diligent daily work, I was able to create something healing. It wasn't something that could be done overnight. I had to put forth a constant effort.
At the same time, I was of course still trying to be a parent, and it was the holidays, so there was a lot to be done. Getting through that difficult time, while I was also unwell (and becoming more unwell from working with the acrylic paint) was a process of applying the right energy at the right time, and in the right amount to whatever I was doing. This was a really helpful lesson to learn over the holidays. I’ve noticed life at that time seems to be a little over the top, because of all the cultural demands. Someone in my home has gotten extremely sick (we have taken turns) almost every January since 2013, and I am pretty sure it is because of the holidays. Because my son and I were both struggling with our health, we largely opted out of holiday celebrations, and January was a tamer beast health-wise. What I can't stop thinking about every year is how hard it is for me, and I am not even working outside of the house; what about all the people who have to work on top of that craziness?
I find the holidays heartbreaking. I grew up in a small family, and our holidays were centered around our spirituality, and a few gifts. It was a time to turn inward and strengthen our bonds as a nuclear family. This is the actual history of the holiday. It was a time for quiet contemplation and solitude, to celebrate the end of the darkness within oneself, and the birth of hope in its place. The Christ consciousness within us is not found through overindulgence. That is where we have gone wrong. The way we celebrate something so important and beautiful has become an homage to emptiness. What I imagined for my kids growing up during the holidays was having time for us to play games as a family, listen to stories and cook. In my dream world, we would even sing songs or play music! It was hard to find that energy over the holidays over the years. We spent a lot of time separated from our kids while they played with their cousins, and we had the same pointless arguments about politics with family members over wine, wondering why things weren’t changing, over and over again. This sapped our energy for days afterward.
Wealthier extended family members gave inappropriately large gifts. One year everybody got Nespresso machines from the uncles without kids. It wasn’t something easy that they did; there were coupons and rebates and a huge time investment. I understand a gift is a gift, and that when given in that spirit, nothing is expected in return, but this was a gift that none of us could reciprocate. That was really confusing. Another family member also got us a coffee maker that year. Nobody seemed to know how to actually connect with anyone else, but they knew how to buy things. This is a dangerous combination psychologically; narcissism is the result of lack of emotional connection in the context of material abundance. Last Christmas when I was shopping at the game store, the manager, who confided his salary to me, which was solidly middle class, randomly volunteered that Christmas was really hard for him because he has a large extended family with several successful members who often buy inappropriately large gifts, and that their family expected gifts to be exchanged between everyone. I commiserated with him and explained that I had requested a reprieve that year, because it had been really bad for our wellbeing. It was strange how it happened. I was purchasing the last thing on my list, and had this sense of victory, and then The Universe reminded me that had I not spoken up for us, I would still have a lot more shopping to do on things I wasn’t even sure people would enjoy, because I do not know what their day to day lives are like because we only see each other at holidays. Poor Dude. I encouraged him to speak up for himself. Elizabeth Warren has an interesting passage in her book, The Two-Income Trap, where she discusses the dire financial trouble people get into by not being willing to admit they cannot afford things. She says we need to de-stigmatize admitting financial struggles so that we do not get pressured into spending money on things we cannot afford. This is actually a great way for white people to make inroads on status anxiety; being honest about not having the money was easier for me to do with my extended family, because I have witnessed a lot of friends who are in lower socioeconomic tiers do it all the time in a responsible and matter of fact way. (Thank you guys for being a good example to me, even if it was embarrassing).
Extended family and gifts are a sticky wicket from both ends. For as much time and money as we spent on gifts we weren’t sure were wanted, we became more overloaded and more disconnected from the ones we received. It always seemed that our extended family was trying to make up for the lack of emotional time investment and connection with material gifts, and that the holiday celebration was an obligation, or that they felt obligated to include us. They were never close enough to us to know what our kids would want or need. I’m not blaming them for that; it’s just that I am questioning the societal effects of the way Baby Boomers celebrate Christmas and how the absence of heartfelt connection due to a focus on bucket lists they assume their children’s families share impacts their children and grandchildren in ways they may not be cognizant. We were also exposed to illness many times from people feeling compelled to appear, even though they were ill, at these family gatherings. It felt like it happened too many times for it to be just from oversight, but the general impression that I got from attempting to discuss matters was that my desire to protect our wellness was not high on their list of priorities, and that I was being a brat by asking them to consider us.
I think this is actually why we started questioning the existence of God as a family. I certainly wasn’t feeling God the way I felt its presence when I celebrated Christmas in a smaller more intimate way. It was hard for me to see the love. It was weird because we talked about greedy white people all the time at our get togethers with extended family, but I think I was the only one realizing that WE WERE THEM.
This was a terrifying thought. How do you say that gracefully? I would have thought that our political discussions would have made an impact, but apparently they did not. To quiet my discomfort, I started having my kids each shop for presents for a foster child every Christmas. I wanted to make sure that they understood that Christmas was about giving and not just receiving. I’m not sure the message got through. I’m worried it got washed away with so many game store gift cards and weekends in the basement playing console games. I tried to counteract those gifts with items I curated carefully from my knowing them as individuals, but these items were often left untouched for months or even years after Christmas. I just couldn’t compete with the extended family’s materialism. Who could?
I say this because I have tried to engage my extended family in a dialogue about these topics, and they insist they have a right to do these things. They do, certainly, but it is at the very least uncouth, and exactly the behavior we want to change if we want to see the world change. And I realize, because they work in the real estate realm that it may seem like I am essentially asking them to reconsider all of their values with the information I have shared, which probably doesn’t feel fair. But I am in the business of protecting souls, so even if it is uncomfortable, I say something. I am sure I sounded like Chicken Little a few months ago, but everything I said has come to pass, and those who cannot remember due to compromised intelligence are repeating the mistakes of the past. It costs us all a lot of pain and heartache. I don’t think any of this was intentional on their part, I think it was just ignorance. But when I tried talking with them about environmental issues with their house flipping, how those choices have affected my health and the health of my family over the years, and the health of everyone who has had to come into contact with the chemicals they use, and they ignored and rebuffed me, it became willful ignorance, which is what this Civil Rights battle is all about, and that is why I am sharing this information in this essay.
It is my observation that older white people are most resistant to change, and don't take kindly to any suggestion that change is needed from them. I understand change is difficult, but we don't have time for any more excuses.
My relative’s response was actually that she protested in the 60’s as a teenager, and she has a garden, FWIW. I had a black best friend and also put in a garden. Hey, Universe, does that mean I am in the clear? For some reason, I’m pretty sure I’m not. I’m pretty sure, as a white person I’m not in the clear until I inspect every corner of my soul and root out the racist beliefs in my “not racist” psyche, and stop sleeping with the enemy. I really hope there are some white people reading this. White people, our shadow is HUGE. It is going to take some time and diligent effort to end racism within ourselves.
So those were the matters I was attending to as I was falling into another bout of aphasia over the holidays. That time was really painful for me. Sometimes I don’t think I have aphasia. Sometimes I think I just have a case of not knowing how to talk about uncomfortable things with others. I am, however, very capable of stepping away and meditating on matters for some time to better articulate them through writing. It seems the more peaceful way.
I have just read a 1989 New York Times article by Michael Pollan about his relationship with yardwork. Erick sent it to me, and he got it from the thing I have liked to refer to as Charles in Charge, or The Octopus, The Yellow Brick Road, or, I guess now it wants to be called The Lobster, which may or may not be an AI or an individual, or an organization. I have been trying desperately to express to Erick how I feel about yards and yardwork, so I really appreciated the article, which details the flawed thinking of the American lawn. My own parents had a fairly combative relationship around yardwork, because my Mom cared, and my Dad didn’t. Actually, now that I think about it, this is an important part of my outlook on life. Their arguing about the yard was a frightening thing to me as a child. I still find it such a ridiculous thing to fight about. For this reason, I am not too attached to the appearance of my yard. Plus, it makes me sick to be out in the sun. So, I have a specific disability around being able to do yardwork the way it is expected by polite American society.
Yardwork takes a lot of time and energy. I don’t want my yard to fall into disrepair, certainly, but I also don’t have the energy to do the maintenance necessary without the use of chemicals. Thus, I feel it is unhealthy to try to uphold a standard which requires the use of chemicals. There’s no reason to try to be an A student in the Jones’ yard races, especially if I have other things I could be doing to better myself and the collective, like, oh, trying to write about racism, even though it is SUPER HARD.
I’ve looked at a lot of houses, and I actually can’t watch Househunters without feeling kind of sick. The kinds of criticisms people make about other peoples’ choices is just disgusting. The comments are so covertly racist and ableist. I can’t help it; I see racism and ableism all through this aspect of American life. It’s the most basic aspect - our shelter - which we are expected to dedicate our non-working hours to keeping up in order to avoid the wrath of the Mean Girls. Wealthy people can simply offload the stigma by hiring a service. But there is even some conformity necessary around having a service, because it is an expense that one might not have if conformity were not an issue.
I’ve wanted to rebel on this front a little bit, and I just couldn’t find the words to describe what I envisioned to Erick. I came up with metaphors like, “I want it to be more Monet Water Lilies and less Truman Show.” I mean, the major point of the natural space outside is to space us for privacy so we are free to be individuals, so why pretend otherwise? It’s all a huge illusion that costs a lot of time and money to maintain. If, however, we chose to work with nature and cultivate things that nourish us and the environment, and are open to experiment with what that looks like (more natural), we remove a lot of the environmental burden that keeps us from being our best selves.
I have two volunteer trees in my yard. One, in the front yard, I have tried to remove several times, and even paid a professional. It is now about 8’ tall, I think. The one in the backyard seems quite happy this year, even though it is a smidge too close to the house. It feels like I am supposed to leave them there. I have this problem where I can’t do yardwork because the mature trees in the yard died, but The Universe brought me two trees to replace the two that brought us the most shade. Trees are pretty expensive. Where these ones popped up is not ideal. Yet here they are, trying to be, and promising a little shade and clean air. And, well, let’s just face it. I don’t *want* to spend money to move them, and I don’t want to move them myself. If I were a different person, I might expect my partner to do it, but honestly I feel that if he doesn’t want to deal with it or pay for it, that’s fine with me. I think spending time and money just to make something “perfect” when The Universe is truly abundant when we can find gratitude is unwise. The energy has to come from somewhere. Where are we getting the energy to maintain these perfect yards, anyway?
I’ve had these same thoughts around house cleaning. When the kids were younger, I kept a tight ship, but it was mind-numbing, never completely done, and nobody in the family seemed to care that much. So, I let go. When we moved into the house, a neighbor wondered what I was thinking by getting such a big house. I’m glad it’s big right now. We’re all needing our space. But it’s a lot to take care of. I know a lot of other people who have cleaning services, but I have never signed up because I felt like it was important for me to not have more than I could care for. I just didn’t see the importance in maintaining a standard that was associated with an unnecessary cost. Elizabeth Warren says the big reasons people have to file for bankruptcy are divorce, health problems, and monthly recurring expenses. So, it seems ridiculous to risk bankruptcy just to have my floor mopped regularly by someone else when I could just do it less frequently. Plus, the person I might pay hopefully has a floor of their own that maybe they’d rather be mopping.
I studied in New Orleans for 3 years, which was quite a culture shock, having grown up in Colorado. The first difference I noticed was that most lower paying occupations were held primarily by people of color. It was pretty clear there was something a lot stronger than a glass ceiling in place there, just from using one’s eyes. I was on a University campus, which was bordered on one side by one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the Southern US, and on the other, a poor one. I had never seen such stark contrast. When I was working on a research paper, I browsed the stacks in the campus library and found a poverty map of the area. Most of the city, except the area right around the University, was in poverty.
I remember being there and thinking that it was a disaster waiting to happen, that with the regular flooding we endured from even limited rainfall, and the area being so economically deprived, it was just a matter of time before a big storm came and revealed the direness of the situation.
There were very few people of color who were students on campus, and fewer in my classes. I think this was probably the case in a lot of private universities at the time, but it was super strange to experience it there. Plus, there were reminders of slavery everywhere in the city. It was like living on another planet. On campus, there were many extremely wealthy students who were academically average. The school is referred to as "The Harvard of the South." That is not why I went there; I went there because they offered me a full-ride scholarship. Many of the other scholarship students I met had gained acceptance to Ivy League schools, but couldn't afford to attend, and I was part of that bunch. The University turned a blind eye to a lot of the wealthy kids' shenanigans, which were plenty. I met a guy who was doing property management for his wealthy father off campus who had been attending for 7 years and couldn't graduate because of his GPA. Now he was definitely a Puer Aeternus!
I found the Disney movie The Princess and the Frog to be an interesting commentary on classism in the South, and the difference between privilege and hard work. It shows how white people still benefit from the labor of people of color, even to this day. The movie itself, however, is a great oversimplification of the barriers to self-sufficiency that black people are still having to overcome.
I once thought I needed a big fancy life, but I never thought about how many lives it would take to maintain. Erick was lamenting how much time men pour into yards to please other people, and on this Father's Day, I can't help but think how many men are in situations where they have their weekends planned out for them by someone with a different bucket list. As a white woman, it seems to me that a good way to ease the burden on others is to release my fixation on the material, and care more about the wellbeing of others, especially marginalized people. That will ease the burden on my husband, too, who also cares about what happens to marginalized people.