Your Racist Relatives

Dear White People,

I’ve written to you many times about what it means to grow up in a racist, rural, southern area. I’ve outed my cousin for saying racist shit at Thanksgiving and another one at the Mokane Fair. I’ve written twice about why I don’t stand for the national anthem, I’ve shared my thoughts on what it means to be raising a white man, and I wrote about the unrest at Mizzou in 2015, since I worked there at the time.

I’d like to tell you that when I wrote about my cousin and his racist joke, I was sent a message from his mom which was intended to put me in my place. It essentially said: We’ve tolerated your gayness, so you must tolerate his racism.

I will not. I have not. And we have not spoken since then.

And that’s OKAY.

I know a lot of you white folks out there are struggling right now. You are fighting the good fight, but most of your family is posting shit about All Lives Matter, how rioting never solved anything, how if “they” would just protest peacefully, everything would be fine.

You know it’s bullshit. You know that when your uncle says, “I’m not racist, but…”

You. Fucking. Know.

You know because you’ve always known. Your whole upbringing was awash in racist shit. It’s seeped into every part of you, even though, at a young age, you knew it wasn’t right. You knew it didn’t make any sense that people would say those things or even feel that way when you had literally never seen anyone who didn’t look like you. How could people form opinions of others they’d never even met?

But listen. You’re not 9 years old anymore. Now if someone at the picnic says, “You can come sit over here with us white folk” you can ACTUALLY FUCKING SAY SOMETHING. Because now you have words and context to tell that family member to fuck off. Loudly. So everyone can hear.

It’s okay to call a racist a racist. Even if they’re your aunt, your cousin, your parent. Even if they protest that they aren’t. Even if they get mad.

Even if they never speak to you again.

And I know that’s what makes you hesitate. Because you know once you start doing it, fuck, you’re gonna lose a lot of your family.

But do you really want to hang around people who feel like that?

Again, I know it’s hard. Just a few weeks before my grandma died she was telling me a story about how my aunt really liked this black man but couldn’t date him because, you know, he’s black. All I said was, “Why?” And she said, “I guess you’re right. It doesn’t even matter.”

What would’ve happened if I said nothing? If I just let it slide?

1. She would’ve thought I agreed

2. She would’ve thought that’s the way things are.

Guess what? It’s okay to delete your racist relatives from social media. It’s okay to call them out. In fact, it’s your job as an ally, as a human being on this planet, as a responsible citizen of the United States of America, to do so.

Maybe you’re afraid of the repercussions. Sure. Maybe you’ll get in a huge fight. Maybe they’ll never speak to you again. But. Also. Maybe, just maybe, they’ll think long and hard about their actions. Maybe they’ll ask questions. Maybe, like you and I have had to do, they’ll admit all they’ve been taught and then work to change themselves.

And dig this: maybe there are a few more people in your family who think like you. Maybe they, too, are chickenshit to say anything for fear of losing a family member or having a hard conversation. Maybe a majority of your family feels just like you but no one says anything because of the strong personality of you know who. WHAT IF YOU ALL JUST FUCKING SAID SOMETHING INSTEAD OF JUST SITTING THERE ‘POLITELY’ ?

Fuck politeness.

Fuck racists.

It is your job to educate yourself about the deep, deep roots of racism in America. It is your job to educate and argue with those family members. Yes, it’s tiring work, but you know what else?

Our black friends, neighbors, teammates, co-workers, relatives, and loved ones are fucking exhausted from doing all the hard work.

Are you tired of explaining to your mom’s best friend on facebook what white privilege means? Too fucking bad. Keep going.

Are you sick of your well-intentioned neighbor saying, “I don’t see color?” Too fucking bad. Keep going.

Do you swear to god your head’s going to explode if you one more person say “aLl lIvES MAtteR”. No one cares. Too fucking bad. Keep going.

And finally, if you’re reading this and you’re feeling even a little bit mad at anything I’ve said, ask yourself this:

  1. Have I said all lives matter in response to black lives matter? (If yes, you were definitely taught to be a racist, but with some reading and listening to people of color, you can learn and be helpful)
  2. Have I ever said, “I’m not racist but….” (If yes, you were definitely taught to be a racist, but with some reading and listening to people of color, you can learn and be helpful)
  3. Was I raised in a small, southern, rural town? (If yes, you were definitely taught to be a racist, but with some reading and listening to people of color, you can learn and be helpful)
  4. Was I born and raised in the good ‘ol USofA? (If yes, you were definitely taught to be a racist, but with some reading and listening to people of color, you can learn and be helpful)

We ALL have a lot of work to do.

Here are some resources to get us started:

NAACP – http://detroitnaacp.org
Detroit Urban League – https://www.deturbanleague.org
Black Lives Matter Detroit – https://www.alliedmedia.org/blm-detroit
The Detroit Justice Center – https://www.detroitjustice.org
Focus Hope – https://www.focushope.edu
People’s Action Detroit – https://www.thepeoplesaction.com

Stream some movies:

“When They See Us” Netflix
“Mudbound” Netflix
“Becoming” Netflix
“Teach Us All” Netflix
“Just Mercy” Amazon Prime
“I Am Not Your Negro” Amazon Prime
“The Hate You Give” Amazon Prime
“Black America Since MLK: And Still I Rise” Amazon Prime
“Whose Streets” Hulu
“Black Stories Presents: Your Attention Please” Hulu
“If Beale Street Could Talk” Hulu
“Sorry to Bother You” Hulu

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson (There is a movie based on this book)
So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do by Jennifer L. Eberhardt
Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America by Jennifer Harvey
Racism Without Racists by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race, edited by Jesmyn Ward
This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, edited by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa

(this list courtesy of NAACP Detroit)

Pride and Prejudice

It’s pride month. So, let me remind you that I’m a homosexual. I’ve been aware of myself and out for 21 years. In that time, society has changed drastically, but not enough.

Maybe it’s because of my age or the people I hang out with, but it’s very rare that someone asks me “when did you know you were gay?” or “who’s the man?”  It’s such a relief.

This is the time I dreamed of when I was 17 and sitting in that therapist’s office and he was trying to tell me that being gay was going to be so hard and weird and maybe I should reconsider. As he would go on about all of the challenges of being gay, I would try to imagine the day when I just lived without anyone caring if I was. Today is that day.

I’m so grateful to feel so much safer than I did 21 years ago.

That doesn’t mean that everyone is safe, though, or that things are just fine.

My fitbit app updated the other day to include “female health.” It’s a nifty period/ovulation tracker. I pushed the button to allow it to ask me a series of questions. They included what type of birth control I use. I clicked none. And felt judged. Now that that portion of the app is set up, I can go in and track things in my life like: sex, unprotected sex, and the morning after pill. Obviously, these things don’t apply to me.

And I really hate that my fitbit thinks I have sex with men. My fitbit has made an assumption about me based on the fact that I clicked “female” at some point in time. At least I’m a cisgender female. Think of those others who have clicked the same and then been faced with a menstruation app that doesn’t apply to them. I’m sure all of this seems like the stuff that makes your conservative uncle want to say something like, “all of these gotdamn people wanting everything to be sooooo POLITICALLY CORRECT.” But, if the people making the fitbit app update were a little more diverse, I bet this wouldn’t happen. Someone in that room would’ve said, like, wait not all women have sex with men or have a period. And they would’ve designed a separate button that says, like, “click here if you have sex with women.” I would’ve felt so included. I would’ve happily clicked the shit out of that button. I wouldn’t known that someone out there was looking out for me. Instead, I feel a little sad. Instead, I have to stare at those options of clicking protected or unprotected sex.

Speaking of sex.

I’ve had this skin problem on my right hand for years. In the past, it went away and came back. I would have a few months with no outbreak. But now, it’s been here since October. It’s eczema, I think. These tiny bubbles form under my skin that leak fluid. My hand itches like a sonuvabich. More specifically, my thumb, middle, and pinky finger and no where else. It never goes away. Something as simple as water can make it flare up. It’s the fucking worst.

But here is what is worse than the worst: this is, essentially, my penis.

I’ve been to the dermatologist and allergist. I’ve had patches stuck to my back. I’ve been prescribed some insanely expensive steroid cream (which only makes my skin crack and bleed). I’m not telling you all of this for a diagnosis. I’m telling you this because, as I mentioned before, things are better for queers, but not the best.

I had to suck up my feelings and tell the dermatologist that my partner is a woman. That my right hand is vital to my sex life. She smiled, but didn’t seem to care.

The allergist, when I told her, at least showed sympathy and said, “oh, my, this must really be affecting your quality of life.” I said it was. And I felt heard. Or nearly understood.

But yet. Here I am, still suffering with this stuff. Now, before you all start messaging me with other ways to be sexually active without my right hand, believe me, I know them. I’ve been having sex with women for 20 years.

Consider this: maybe a male friend you know has confided in his doctor (and you) that his penis has tiny, itchy bubbles, that it is constantly burning and flaring, that the skin cracks and bleeds. Would you offer him other ways to have sex or would you want to help him find a solution? Don’t you think the doctor would do everything in their power to help this poor guy?

So, why am I sharing with you these intimate details of my life? Easy. I want you to know that homophobia, or even lack of awareness of homosexuals, affects my life in a lot of strange ways. Several times a week, maybe even every day, I’m reminded by others that I’m not the status quo, that I’m not still fully included. And I’m white and cisgender. Just imagine how trans people feel. How people of color feel. How immigrants feel. How differently-abled people feel. How someone who is all of those must feel.

This is why inclusion and diversity are so important.

Your conservative uncle might also get annoyed with all the pride talk this month and all the rainbow flags. He might ask, “who cares if they’re gay? Why do they have to run around waving flags?”

Because. Every other day of the year is straight, white man day. And though there is no specific flag for that (though some might argue stars and bars), I see it everywhere, all the time. And I’m reminded, even when I look at my phone or visit my doctor, that I am still an outsider.

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Why I Sit, Part I.

Since Facebook didn’t really exist in 2001, maybe you don’t know that I worked at a guest ranch in northern California. Guest is really just another name for “dude” ranch. That means, of course, people with money pay to come feel like they live out in the middle of the woods. I regaled them with stories of eating squirrel and taught them how to ride horses and shoot a 12 gauge.

I loved it; I loved living in the mountains, far away from everyone. I loved being able to smell sweaty horses and leather late into the night. I loved sitting by the creek flecked with gold bits and listening to the water.

But most of all, I loved talking to all of the people that visited and worked there. What was strange about the workers was that they were mostly foreign. I don’t know how, exactly, but there was an exchange program that got the ranch beautiful people from England, Germany, Poland, Holland, and as far away as Australia and New Zealand. I fell in love with all of them, but a few especially. Our nights were spent around the campfire, drinking local beers, smoking whatever, and telling tales of the silly guests and Sasquatch. I lived and worked there for a total of 15 months.

Again, this was 2001. I was in a hotel in San Francisco with a Polish woman, waking up from a strange night, when she pointed to the t.v. to show me the news. I saw planes flying into buildings. She seemed devastated. I listened closely, something about the World Trade Center. I had no idea what that was. To me, New York was a place I saw in movies. I had no concept of its actual existence. It was a dreamscape, unreal, far away. She was crying and I was watching her cry. I didn’t understand.

What I could understand on the news was that America was under attack. That there might be more planes and more bombs in major cities, so I hauled ass back to the ranch, six hours north, to where I was safe by the fire with my non American friends.

And we talked. And I learned. And it was there, just days earlier that I said angrily that Bush was and asshole and he was going to get us blown up. And dammit if he didn’t.

After that, plane tickets were cheap. I paid 450 dollars for a round trip to Germany. I spent weeks there and some time in Holland and Poland.

***

It wasn’t until the next summer at the Siskiyou Fair in Yreka California that I experienced something that forever changed me.  It was the night of the Rodeo and all I could focus on was getting and keeping her attention. The national anthem started playing, so I stood and put my hand on my heart. She stayed seated and looked at me like I was some kind of freak. “Stand up,” I said, incredibly offended. “Why,” she said, “it’s not my country.”

No one, in my life, had ever remained seated for the national anthem. I didn’t know how to react. Should I immediately cut this person out of my life? But. She had a point. She wasn’t American. If I went to New Zealand and was forced to stand for their anthem, wouldn’t I feel a bit weird? So I told her, if  I were with her, in her country, I’d stand. Then I learned that most countries don’t do that. Like. None. And how strange it was for her to see us all stand and singing along, ” O’er the land of the free/and the home of the brave”  And what did it mean, anyway? It was in that moment, at the rodeo, that I felt, for the first time, how absurd it was. I’d experienced something like this just a few years earlier, in church. Everyone was saying the words, but no one seemed to listen to what they were saying. And then there’s the pledge I had to recite every day in school, “One nation, under God….”

I sat back down. What was I even saying? Why were we one of the only countries to be so proud of our flag and anthems? It was like…brainwashing.

Later in the week, she and I watched the Fourth of July fireworks together. “It’s so American, ” she said. And it was. I was so American.

In many ways, I am still very American.

That was 15 years ago. I haven’t risen to my feet for a pledge or national anthem since then. Of course, I’m no NFL player. The last time I sat in protest was at Erika’s volleyball game, in a middle school gym, just a few weeks ago.

I was the only one sitting quietly as the song rang out through the tinny speakers.

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