The fire THIS time

I’ve been convinced for quite a while that racism is the fire THIS time. Still. Just like lots of people affirm that life and civilization appears to have started in Africa, destruction of life and civilization appears to begin with racism. It’s quite amazing, truthfully, that microscopic structures in our skin inspires people to create entire structures of legal and intellectual bases to justify treating people poorly. It’s probably started off as cultural bias, but it’s mostly irrelevant which came first, the skin color bias or the cultural bias. To a certain extent, I suppose it is mostly cultural, but the culture and the skin color cannot be differentiated at this point. Because those social structures have been in place for so long, they’re part of our social DNA, like any good caste system, and we have cellular memory around that. In very many cases, on either side of the racial divide, we’re not very eager to change the social status quo of isolationism. We generally enjoy “being with our own kind”, but we resent the legal and empowerment implications. I sincerely doubt we can maintain that kind of a structure.

When a nation attempts to maintain global isolation in it foreign and economic policy, it faces a stiff uphill climb. Trade is virtually the only way to empower economic growth, and secondarily, cultural development. When I was a kid, and living amongst only people who looked like me and who had roughly the same resources and status as me, I was very ignorant of many historical facts, and the world of people who were different. Looking back on it, my world was pretty small, and I had no reason to enlarge it. The first time I was confronted with difference, however, was traumatic because I had not had any reason to consider other ways to be in the world. There was a lack of tolerance and compassion built into that ignorance, because I didn’t have to consider anything beyond what I needed to obtain from that different environment…my nurturing, my socialization, my comfort all came from those people who looked more like me. Everything else was more or less transactional, at the level of power and will, rather than love and trust. Of course, I didn’t realize that, but that seems to fit the experience in retrospect.

So, when I did begin to interact with other ‘cultures’ and people who were not like me, people who could go anywhere without being questioned, people who didn’t have to ride public transit, people who had other people clean up their houses and who smiled all the time but did mean things. Those people. When I did begin to be in even casual relationship with them, I was immediately confronted with power dynamics. They were not presented as such, but it was very obvious there were lines drawn, socially and in the public. I understood very early that white people could get away with things my people could not. My people. I didn’t even understand the concept of “my people”, but I did understand that I wasn’t white, that I had limitations (and I don’t mean about not being good in math or something academic). Was it just what I was learning from my family members, or was I seeing this inequity for myself? I think it was both, because I saw television reports of various things happening in the community, and then heard my family’s reaction to those. What i heard from the family seemed to match my experience, seemed to match what I was seeing. I suppose, for better or worse, that’s how it goes, no matter which side of it you’re on. People who look like me have experiences that more closely match my own, but…I don’t know if the resultant outlooks track in the same fashion.

For example…both my parents were college graduates. The plan was always for me to go to college. It seemed like a given, unless I couldn’t afford to go or wasn’t smart enough to go, but otherwise, I was going. There was really no question about that. I’m sure I could have refused to go, but it never even occurred to me. That was normal for my family, although when I look at the actual history of my family, only my parents’ generation and my maternal grandfather became college graduates as a matter of course. My mother’s sister was a graduate, but only one of my father’s siblings graduated. His father was not a college graduate. My maternal grandmother went to “normal” school, which from what I remember was a teacher’s college for people of color, during segregation. Her sister went to nursing school, and became a registered nurse. I’m not aware that anyone else went, but it was expected for my generation…all my cousins are college graduates. I never really gave much thought to doing anything else, either. Just seemed like that’s what you did, and so I did that. I’m not sorry I did it, either.

College didn’t so teach me academics as it taught me about how the world worked, how other people lived, how vastly things could be different. It taught me how to think and how to self-differentiate, no matter how awkwardly (or drunkenly). It taught me that I could be angry, and that I could survive in ways I had not dreamed of. It taught me that life was very simple, but that it was not easy, and that people could be meaner than I could imagine and kinder than I could dream. I learned how to cry and I learned how to hate, and I thought I learned how to love, but I was wrong. I tasted freedom, and learned that it really wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be. And then, I learned that life was short. Very short.

I had been silently wrestling, and getting pinned repeatedly, by bumping my sexual orientation against the religion of my childhood. I knew there was something going on, I knew that my attraction was to women, but I couldn’t reconcile that with what I’d been taught. What would my mother think??? In college, though, the door was open wide and I smelled the breeze that blew in. Without even trying, I saw and heard and met women who loved women, women who had sex with other women. And me who loved men and had sex with other men. Come to think of it, I was encountering people who had sex for mostly the first time…I was a good Catholic girl, and we didn’t do those things (or at least, we didn’t talk about it). My mother always whispered about such things, as though whispering somehow hid it from God, I suppose. Nice girls just didn’t. Just didn’t. That was a really confusing message, though, since if you were going to have a baby, which couldn’t happen unless you did that thing you were only supposed to whisper about, everything changed and you were the pinnacle of respectability and attention. But, fortunately for me and unfortunately for my mother, I had no desire to be one of THOSE women. I never had the baby bug, and looking back on it, that was the correct thing for me. It would have been disastrous for me to have reproduced and tried my hand at motherhood. Utterly disastrous.

At any rate, college was my age of exploration, of figuring out that just because I thought girls were really nice and stuff, a flaming crucifix was not going to come flying out of the sky and impale me where I stood. I read books, I saw people doing things, I talked to people who were doing the things, I saw movies, I read more books. I researched. I talked more. But I did little. That feeling of being a misfit, and ugly duckling, having nothing to offer was already how I saw myself. Ain’t that somethin’? It seems like that has been a constant, from the beginning, not thinking I have anything to really offer, that I’m not really worth anybody’s time, or love, or effort. I believe I have to be exemplary for it to matter, and not the imperfect specimen that I am. But that’s another story, one of many.

So, college was my big awakening, on very many levels. It also exemplified the separation from the world in which I had grown up, the culture I knew best. I knew there was a different way, and in so many ways I liked this new way better. But I didn’t feel as though I really had a right to it, that I really was accepted by it. I didn’t feel as though I had any right to the one I had known all those years ago, either, and definitely didn’t feel as though I was accepted there, either. So, where the hell was I supposed to be? In so many ways, I had never felt as though I truly fit into the world in which I was raised, at least once I became an adolescent, and so…I was cemented into the state of being alone, like a relief carved into a concrete block. Han Solo in carbonite again. Frozen solid. That is more or less the conscious rationale for the self-medication – at least there were flashes, albeit delusional at times, but at least a spark of fitting in, of being a part of something. It stopped working after a time, and there was still just so much pain, but that’s where it started. It started with trying to ease the pain of separation from everyone and everything, from existing in some bizarre diaspora that could not even recall the homeland. But the feeling of separation was very real, and it remains very real. It’s better now, but there is still the pang of knowing the world I know is only my own, and the community is a fictitious place somewhere…over there. Sometimes closer, sometimes farther away, but always…over there.

I was just on a 12-step meeting, and we were talking about some of the same issue as we begin to consider being able to gather in-person once again. I’m not all that eager to begin that ritual, but I think some of us are just rarin’ to go. I haven’t voiced that, and figure there will be time enough to figure it out, and I’ll do what I need to do then. To my surprise, I am not the only one having some misgivings about rushing to return to the in-person environment. We had a reasonable discussion about that, and I was more at peace with it than I was the other day, when I felt there was some tendency to be rushing into re-entry. The virtual meetings are doing just fine right now, and I don’t see that in-person is the ultimate goal. I was actually having a little anxiety about that, but being able to discuss it earlier has given me a bit more peace about it. People who want/need to do the in-person thing are more than welcome, and people who want/need to do the virtual thing…likewise. There’s room for both, whether some of the purists see it that way or not. So there.

It amazes me that I get so worked up about how my feelings will be received…will I be the spoil-sport? Will I ruin it for everyone else? Am I wrong to feel the way I’m feeling? Ack. Shut up, brain. Just feel what you have to feel and keep it moving. My feelings aren’t going to crash the world and stop the planet from spinning. Get over your cheap self, as I have been known to say. I’m cheap, but I’m not easy is the follow up to that. I’m definitely not easy, and that’s just how I roll. I wish that I could remember that when it gets dark and the incline is a bit steep. I’ll learn. I always do, but even if I don’t, I seem to have a tremendous capacity for repetition and, if necessary, for pain. It hurts when I bang my head against the wall, doctor. Then stop doing that, says the doctor. Oh. Simple. But let me try it a few more times to see if I can find a way to do it without the pain. OK, you keep trying, and when it hurts enough, you’ll stop. That’s how I roll – when it hurts enough, I’ll do something else. But my capacity for pain is gargantuan, so…it usually takes a minute. Or an hour. Or a few decades. I can be a very slow learner.

So, it’s later than usual – daylight saving time kicks in at 2am tomorrow morning. Half the country will be late for church, the other half will be trying to wake up after having an extra hour to drink the night before. I’ll be right here, contemplating some other aspects of my life, wondering why the hell I am eating so much lately, like food was going to go out of supply or something. That’s another topic – there’s aloneness, loneliness, and emptiness happening right now. Ugh. I know I can’t fill up that emptiness with food, but I am damn sure making the effort. I need to get a handle on that, though, because I’m not feeling … good. Not feeling sick, but not feeling good in my skin because of the overeating. That’s for later, though. Right now, I’m going to one last 12-step meeting for the evening, and then I’m going to play a stupid FaceBook game and maybe watch SNL and hopefully catch some quality sleep. Sweet dreams are made of this…who am I to disagree?

One more step…

Published by annzimmerman

I am Louisiana born and bred, now living in Winston Salem, North Carolina. Fortunately for me, I was already living in NC before Hurricane Katrina decimated my beloved New Orleans. An only child, I now feel that I have no personal history since the hurricane destroyed the relics and artifacts of my childhood. As I have always heard, c'est la vie. My Louisiana roots show in my love of good coffee, good food, and good music. My soggy native soil has also shown me that resilience is hard-wired in my consciousness; when the chips are down (or drowned)...bring it on.

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