Since the election I have felt at a loss for words. Despite what you may see or read from any of my social media or even in person, I have felt a loss of words…a loss of energy…a dimming of…something…which has impeded my ability to emote in the ways which typically come easier to me. The 2016 election, the new presidency, Black Lives Matter, Standing Rock, PULSE, and now this…Charlottesville…high profile snapshots indicating and peeling back just the thin skim of the broader festering in our American values. And unfortunately those examples are only a sampling of what has come (will come) so far.
So I’ve retreated. Or it feels that I’ve retreated. To try and regroup, re-center, orientate anew in this season unknown.
We recently had the pleasure of visiting family in South Dakota and my kids spent their days to the hilt with their cousins; their differences and similarities quite obvious, sometimes comically so to their parents. We were there for a week and pictures were taken, the obligatory cousin picture of course taken a few million times to get at least five out of six of the cousins present looking somewhere near the camera. It’s these cousin pictures that I keep coming back to during and post Charlottesville.
It’s a picture like this one that I keep returning to, mulling over the faces that I so dearly love and desperately want to protect. These smart, funny, imaginative, and compassionate little people who have little knowledge of what’s “out there.” Hopes and dreams largely untainted (though Nellie now knows she does not indeed have super powers—she’s still holding out for her owl), their aspirations set high bolstered by the love and support received from our family. They are different and unique in the best and most annoying ways that only parents will tolerate.
And when I look at this picture, my heart swells a thousand times over…and breaks in a bittersweet *han that only parents of color will ever fully understand. Because when I look at this beautiful picture of my family I also am reminded in times such as these that the precious people here will not be seen for the family that they are. They will not be treated as the family that they are. They will not experience life for the family that they are. They won’t be treated for their unique preferences or personalities. They won’t be treated for who they are. They’ll be treated for who someone else thinks they are. Who someone else thinks they should be. And for my kids who are both equally parts of their mother and father, who have already felt the stinging smack of racism towards themselves and others…it’s just too much for this parent who has also walked this pot-holed road of race in America. Of race in the Midwest. Of race in small-town, apple-as-pie, nice MN/ND.
It’s too many feels.
And I am tempted to continue retreating. To continue insulating and consciously hedging my life experiences in order to avoid finding myself on the blunt end of those humiliating, demoralizing, and de-basing moments that the out right hateful and the blissfully ignorant would inflict. And truly it’s those blissfully ignorant, willfully ignorant comments that burn the longest. That feel the deepest. And I have the right to retreat, don’t I? To retreat to protect myself and my family?
No, I don’t.
I’m mostly told and sometimes asked over and over that it is my job to educate others. To give them opportunities for learning and growth. …How can I judge them if I’m not willing to speak with them? Teach them? …Be their target? Be their mea culpa? Be their “safe” space? Use my experiences for the greater good they say. And while I try, and I offer myself up for that scrutiny day in and day out in real life conversations, in relationships, in organizations, marches, and through my keyboard…what work is being done by others who do not live this burden? Those who continue to ask me, demand from me “How can I help?” “What can I read to learn?” “I don’t hear about that stuff, how did x, y, and z affect you? (And while you’re at it, convince me to believe differently otherwise it’s your (my) fault for being a reverse-racist, liberal, snowflake-y bitch who thinks they’re better. Because what’s an insult without a little misogyny thrown in?)”
How can I fight this fight for my children who deserve so much more? For my family and other families and a community of beautiful people who deserve so much more?
I am tired.
But I will press on.
I will continue to fight through my loss of words. I will wrestle with my table-turning-in-the-temple anger and wretched despair. I will put up with the lazy questions and some (I’m only human) blatantly ignorant statements and I will continue engaging them in conversation. I will continue to speak and will not retreat.
I will push through this battle because I don’t want Charlottesville to be a legacy for my children to bear. Or yours. I don’t want this hate, this bubbling, festering, virulent wake to pour over. Charlottesville cannot be a rallying call for white supremacists, bigots, and Nazis, to be emboldened in their hate. Take note that it is not a rallying cry for those opposed to the white supremacists agenda either. The rallying call for equity has been ongoing and continuous with each deep, unjust loss felt by the communities delegated to the back of the proverbial bus. But don’t allow being late to the party assuage you of the importance of showing up now. Do not bow out saying that your contribution is so small it wouldn’t matter. Start your work now. If you choose to sit on the sidelines, understand that the movement for equitable treatment will carry on with or without you but that you have then made a conscious decision to be complicit with those who carried out the torch-carrying riots in Charlottesville and their message.
So all of these “no words” to say that–I’m tired. And I don’t always have the right words, hell, most days I don’t even have words. And certainly I don’t always know where to go or even where to start from. But I do know that all people deserve to live in a community in which they have equitable rights, treatment, and opportunity regardless of their skin color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, physical ability, or political affiliation. My children believe it. And I will work into the grave so they might be able to live it.
*Han: Han is a difficult concept to describe and the context in which it’s used must be understood in order to really “know” it. I borrow from Wikipedia (yes, I know, I hear the eye rolls) to explain what I can’t but know to be true here: “Han is frequently translated as sorrow, spite, rancor, regret, resentment or grief, among many other attempts to explain a concept that has no English equivalent. Han is an inherent characteristic of the Korean character and as such finds expression, implied or explicit, in nearly every aspect of Korean life and culture.” [Though I believe that han, even without an English equivalent or having Korean ancestry, many people of color or largely marginalized groups will be able to understand in their own unique way.] “Han is sorrow caused by heavy suffering, injustice or persecution, a dull lingering ache in the soul. It is a blend of lifelong sorrow and resentment, neither more powerful than the other. Han is imbued with resignation, bitter acceptance and a grim determination.”