Category Archives: Uncategorized

Lighter days

Oh, readers. The summer has been long and hot. I spent most of my time looking for a job. Whatever time was left over, I spent fighting with people on Facebook. In retrospect, I now believe the “anger” part of grief is real. It’s a thing. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, my intense anger about the things happening in the world were a more palatable way of processing how pissed I am at the world, the universe and everything in it.

Then, I got a job and things started looking less dark. I bought some new clothes, went to Chicago. Today, I found out that Barnes & Noble in Memphis will be carrying Wailing Wall when it comes out on November 10. I’ve gotten a couple of invitations to guest blog. I’ve started to talk about what the book launch parties will look like and it’s definitely lightening my emotional load. I knew that writing the book was the only way I would survive losing Josh. Now, the book is supporting me in ways I hadn’t even imagined.

And? I’m working on another one. Sort of. It’s still all in my head, but I know the theme and structure and there are even some words written. As much fun as it is to invent characters and make stuff up, non-fiction is just plain easier for me to write than fiction. Once I’m able to sit down and start pounding out words, I believe I can still publish this one in 2016. Working title: Having Loved Many Men. I’ll let you ponder what it’s about.

Autumn is coming and I can break out my favorite sweater. Soon the leaves will change and I’ll sink in to myself for the winter. Like the old gospel song says, “All is well with my soul.”

~D

Have it your way, but don’t get crazy

An old friend, Patti Durr (may she rest in peace) nicknamed her Deedee. My alter ego, my inner child, the person who fought for her life for so long that she doesn’t know any other way to be in the world. I tell people that I come from an inner-city background. Don’t let the middle-class soccer mom look fool you. Deedee is alive and well and living just below the surface.  She’s a lot like Bonquiqui from this Mad TV sketch.  Most of the time, I just hear her mumbling under her breath and we laugh together as I walk through the world. But when things start to feel too dangerous, Deedee takes the lead.

And she will.cut.you.

It would be disingenuous to apologize for her. When she comes out I know  something is threatening my sense of self.  It feels like a life or death situation. There is danger about and the best defense is a good offense. She’s saved me many times and I love her.

In some discussions around social justice issues, Deedee takes charge. Particularly if I’ve been arguing all day for someone to consider a point of view different from their own. Especially when the conversation has devolved to personal insults.  Especially when I feel like someone I love is in danger because of this person’s position.  She’s more brave than I am, you see. Her need to be loved and accepted is subordinate to survival. Whereas I can spend a lot of time with my brow furrowed, nodding and trying to understand why you believe that some people are inherently criminal, or that you know what is best for a population you do not belong to, Deedee will let you know.

I am unapologetic. Well behaved women rarely make history, right? Love me, love Deedee.

~D

She keeps me warm

There is no way to write this post without sounding like a whiny brat. And I sorta feel whiny. I don’t want to, but there you go…

I’ve never felt so lost, so misunderstood, so much of an outcast as I do moving in, around and through social justice circles.  I don’t belong with People of Color. Though there are so many aspects of the community I resonate with and understand, I don’t share the Black experience. I’m not likely to be killed in a traffic stop. Hell, I’ve been driving around since April with expired tags and haven’t even been pulled over! I am caucasian and I have a middle class income and advanced degree, but I don’t belong with the White Middle Class.  In fact, I feel out of place there. Like I’m faking it – or expected to if I want to “fit in.” Even though I grew up with a single mother on welfare, I don’t really belong in the White Working Class anymore, either.

I have no tribe.

Did I chose to be a white civil rights activist? I grew up with all the White Southern racism you would imagine and somehow recognized it for what it was. Maybe I chose it when I chose to have children who are people of color. Maybe it chose me. All I know is, all roads lead to race for me.

I can’t change. Even if I wanted to. Even if I tried.

Black people ask if I’m expecting some kind of prize for fighting for their justice. White people call me a nigger lover. If I talk about my own experience in raising people of color, I’m speaking for a community to which I do not belong. If I look for support from my friends of color, I’m asking the oppressed to educate me on their oppression.

Like people of color, I am constantly aware of racial dynamics. On television, ordering in a diner, pronouncing the name of someone I’m talking to on the phone. And it’s exhausting and frustrating and overwhelming.  Still, I can hide in a hole and not think about it for a minute which is something people of color cannot do. I recognize my privilege.

It has to be worth it, right? To continue the conversations, even if (when) I offend people I love? Even when people call me names?  Who am I kidding. It’s who I am. Even if I had a choice, I would chose justice.

She keeps me warm.

~D

Go Set a Watchman – My Review

Oh, the sensitivities that emerged this week when Go Set a Watchman was released! My social network feeds were clogged with declarations of betrayal by Harper Lee, refusals to read the book and assurances that Lee was taken advantage of in her old age: No wonder this was never published before. Harper Lee never would have destroyed our hero and icon Atticus Finch and all he has come to mean to us!

But if Mockingbird was a racial treatise in 1960 when it was published, Watchman is no less relevant in 2015. Rather than a pat on the back for how far us White Southerners have come, Watchman reminds us that our history with racism is complicated and the tendrils run deep. The racial attitude of Atticus Finch (and Jean Louise, if we are honest) are believable depictions of this world of 1950’s Maycomb, Alabama that Lee has so eloquently built. And the book provides the influences around it: junk science about the inferior intellect of African Americans, fear of sharing resources with them and anger at the Yankees for imposing their way of life on Southern America. If Mockingbird gave us a White Southern Racial hero, Watchman makes him more human.

Who’s bad?

I should acknowledge up front that Joshua’s birthday is next week. Like the week leading up to the first anniversary of his death, I’ve got a bad case of “the feels,” to use my teenager’s term. To be honest, I’ve had the feels since Joshua died. Losing a child has destroyed one of the layers that kept me cozy from the cold, cruel world. Life is more intense for me now – perhaps because I’ve been reminded of how preciously short it is. The first year after his death, I poured my feels into writing Wailing Wall. Now that it’s done and sent off to the publisher, I’m figuring out what to do with the emotion that has been dialed up.

I don’t mean to imply that the emotion is only there because I happen to be a grieving mother, because it doesn’t feel that way. It feels more like I’m in touch with emotion that I’ve closed myself off from for years, decades. Emotions that I thought made me weak, were too scary to process or that seemed bigger and badder than the capacity I had to process them. Now, they’re front and center. Slapping their chests and challenging me to step up like Michael Jackson. “Your butt is mine…”

My sister, Jessica, four years younger than I am, was a scrawny little thing. We fought. A lot. And she figured out early that she needed an equalizer: she’d sharpen her nails to a point or pick up a Whiffle Ball bat. Once, she stabbed me with a pair of scissors from her cardboard pencil box (fortunately, they were round-tipped). During all this, I just laughed at her. No matter how much it hurt, or how mad I was, I laughed*.

When men touched me in ways that made me uncomfortable, I zoned out and went to a place that was safe. Years later, when I was in an abusive relationship, I just stared at him while he hit me. Hard. Hard enough to bust my eardrum and give me a concussion. But I just looked at him, refusing to cry.

In many ways, my technique worked: none of the assholes stole my soul. I was a pretty smart kid to figure out how to save the best part of me in the face of danger (who’s bad?). What it left behind, though, was sadness. Sadness that I’ve cried out bit by bit every day since my son died. Now, we’re hitting the anger. Sometimes, even rage.

Here’s what I’m learning: My anger not is not frivolous. My rage is not unjustified or extreme. Some things deserve my rage.

And, though I don’t have much experience with it, rage can fuel passion and be used in a way that is productive and honorable and makes the world a better place.

How to do that is the next lesson.

~D

* In no way am I comparing being hit by a four year old to the other atrocities I mention. I only use it as an example of how I developed this coping mechanism early in life.

 

A Million Tiny Pieces

The world is perfectly organized to get the results we are getting right now.

Fellow white folks, I have something to say to you about Dylann Roof. It may be different from other messages you’ve heard this week. I don’t care to discuss whether his actions were terrorism or a hate crime – though I think it’s a useful conversation to have. Neither am I interested in discussing whether stricter gun control might have stopped these murders. While I think gun control is relevant, it’s too easy to devolve into a discussion that focuses, in my opinion, on a symptom rather than the cause.

What I’d like to talk to you about today, my people, is how we created Dylann Storm Roof.

Roof is not an island. He is held up by millions of inputs over his twenty-one years that led him to execute a plan to murder innocent black people. Inputs that took hold in the South long before he was born that told him black lives are less valuable than his own, then reinforced that notion over and over, every day of his life.

Indoctrination in to Southern racism is as sneaky as Nazi indoctrination was: it grabs our attention by telling us we are special. Chosen. Then it whispers that “they” are trying to take away our power and POOF, we’re prepared to attack this imaginary enemy to defend our position.

I won’t preach – we’ve all heard those stories and then tucked them safely away as “history.”  Let’s talk about today.

Examples of the inputs that support the belief that black people are less than, apart, different from us. It probably started with his parents passing on the belief system that they had. Then, we supported him and sustained him right up until this moment:

1) Referring to Memphis, Tennessee as “Memphrica” – My home town is majority black. I see this reference daily on Facebook and I bet there are other similar references to cities that are majority black that I haven’t seen;

2) Flying the Confederate Flag – I understand that many Southerners have ancestors who fought in the Civil War and that it’s important to honor them. I understand that many continue to support states’ rights and that, at a high level, that’s what the Civil War was about. But many Americans (black and otherwise) have told us that it is offensive and creates a hostile environment for them, and we’ve told them to fuck off .  We can say it’s about history – and maybe it is for some – but isn’t it at least a little about someone else having the power to tell you what you can and can’t do?

3) Way Down in Africa – America’s first black radio station, AM 1070 WDIA in Memphis is referred to in the white community this way. They are separate from us.

4) City Monuments: Until two years ago, there was a monument in Memphis dedicated to Nathan Bedford Forrest, the first Grand Wizard of the KKK. Two more monuments: Confederate Park and  were renamed along with this one when City Council voted on it in 2013. Notable, three white City Council members abstained from the vote.  Again, fuck off black Memphians. NOTE: These types of monuments remain all over the South – Memphis isn’t special.

Then there are the countless racist jokes we laugh at, pictures on Facebook of our president as a monkey that we scroll past and saying out loud, “I wonder what he stole?” when we see a young black man running down the street.  When we talk more than we listen and don’t stop to consider – at least for a moment – that what the African-American community is telling us about their experience could be true.

White Southerners, we created Dylann Storm Roof by supporting a system in which he could exist. Through our actions and our inactions, we have chosen to think of the African-American community as our enemy.

We loaded the gun.

~D