Dancing With My Angry Self

pasdedeuxI’ve been dancing with anger for some time now. Perhaps it’s been on simmer for years, finally coming to a boil after a contentious election cycle. Maybe my hormones are shifting. Perhaps it’s an awakening. The why isn’t important.

Whatever the reason, my anger and I have gotten to know each other very well over the past few months, an intimate pas de deux.

What are you so angry at? People ask. Why is your daughter so angry? People ask my mother. Why is your wife so angry? People ask my husband.

The short answer? I’m angry at men.

I know it’s not fair to lump an entire sex into that sentence and that is one of the more complex movements of this dance. But I’m attempting to be as open and honest as I can–because I know I’m not alone in this.

There will be men who are offended by this bluntness, or perhaps surprised by it. I know because I had the same reaction when I started reading articles by feminists of color expressing their anger toward white women. But I”m not that woman! was my immediate response. And maybe I’m not. But I probably am, because regardless of who I think I am, I am the beneficiary and heir of a movement which has systematically left women of color behind. I cannot claim the successes without acknowledging the failures.

The same way men, in particular white men, are the beneficiary of centuries of patriarchal structure, whether they participate in it, uphold it, applaud it or try to change it. Men bear the weight of that structure on their shoulders. You can’t escape it simply because you know it’s wrong, it is too entwined with who you are.

And it pisses me off.

You hear a lot these days about being ‘woke’.  Woke to privilege, to racism, to sexism. Accepting you are part of the problem is a big part of waking up, scraping the crust of a lifetime of sleep away from the corners of your eyes. It’s uncomfortable. Yet as uncomfortable as it was and still is, I must keep acknowledging how I am part of the problem–even when all I want to be is part of the solution.

So I get it. I know there are men who want to be part of the solution, but in order to do that, you must realize you play a bigger part in the problem, whether it’s intentional or not.

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Being spitting mad with an entire sex has its downside of course. The biggest is that I’m married to one of those ‘men’. I’m raising two more. Nothing bitch slaps you in the face like expecting to smash the patriarchy and instead realizing you are raising the next installment of it. The rational woman within me recognizes that my husband is the best man I know. I know my sons are growing up with a sense of equality that didn’t even exist when I was a girl. I know many men who are allies, are compassionate, are feminists.

And yet, I”m still angry. For better or worse, I’m unapologetically angry with men. Fair or un, it’s there, pulsing like a metronome. And me and my angry self keep dancing.

The last year has felt like one big sucker-punch, kick in the teeth and stab in the back–with a “fuck you” thrown in for good measure. This is not just about election results, it’s also about the resurgence of anti-feminist hate groups. It’s about GamerGate and Breitbart headlines. It’s about male politicians introducing bogus legislation and men who have no clue what it is like to be a woman explaining to women what their problems are. It’s mansplaining and insulting. The casualness with which the demands of women are forever dismissed. The brush offs. And yes, the hate. Because there it is, at the core. And hate is what is coming through to my woke-ass ears loud and clear.

You see, it’s a pretty devastating thing to wake up one day, remove that last layer of crust from your eyes, and realize how hated you are by some. Simply by virtue of being a girl or  woman. It’s a harsh truth to stomach. There are men who hate women. There are men who simply don’t care. There are men who want to kill women just for being women. Or who use them as punching bags or live sex toys. There are men who think women are stupid, incapable, in possession of an emotion and intellect less than a man’s. Even if none of those things affects me personally, I cannot escape the fact that I am a woman, and these things are out there. They are the discordant notes I am dancing to.

Grappling with that leaves little time to stop and ask every man I see, “hey, are you one of those men who hate women?” And so generalization steps in to fill the gap.

I knew all of this of course. I’ve known it since I was a girl kneeling on a pew when someone told me there were no altar girls. But something about the past year has driven all of this home with a ferocity and clarity that’s left me breathless.

Sucker punch, kick in the teeth, dagger in the kidney.

I’ve come some way. I no longer vibrate with fury every time I see a male. I no longer want to smash things or spit in their face. Progress, right?

145Did you think only men got that angry? Only Fatal Attraction level crazy ex girlfriends? No. White middle-aged women get that angry. I am that angry.

Are you friend or foe? Adversary or ally? I don’t have the time or head space to ask. It is up to men to show me which they are. I’ve been giving most men the benefit of the doubt my whole life. I can’t afford those benefits anymore. The well is tapped.

If this post makes me sound like an angry woman, good. That’s the point. There is a time and a place for anger. The time and place are here and now.

 

 

 

American Elegy

black-boxThis is not an elegy for America, the beautiful; America land of the free. It’s not an elegy for  geography, latitude and longitude, tectonic ’tis of thee.

The land, blooded and let, bartered for pretty trinkets, stolen for a woolen blanket and a few bottles of booze–she will remain. Purple mountains majesty, fruited plains. Red clay, cityscape, amber waves of grain, corn-fed, big sky. The land, she will survive. She always has.

This is not an elegy for a nation. A nation steeped in blood, built upon the yoke of broken promises and broken backs. Founded in revolution, fed by division, fueled by that trickle of hope left in Pandora’s box. The ghosts of America Past keep that nation alive. They rise, clanking their rusted chains, shimmering like so much heat above those ribbons of highway.

This is not an elegy for a president. His name will stay marked, bold and black, in the history books. No legislation, no course of action can erase his existence from the march of time. It is not an elegy for a leader, an office, or even a string of promises amplified by a Greek chorus of millions.

 

In America that rich, red clay has soaked up oceans of spilled blood–on battlefields and city streets, on living room floors and dirty make-shift beds. In America, when a child plays under a chestnut tree, above her head there are ghosts swinging from nooses tied round its limbs. In America, the skeletons of all those left behind dance along side the movers and the shakers, the farmers and the cowboys. In America, history is sodden with trails of tears.

That spilled blood runs through the veins of all of us, no matter what our vision is or was. You can’t escape history, cannot twist away from the truth no matter which way you caress it in the text of your history books. No matter how many untruths you heap upon it, no matter which new phrases you coin–it won’t take the scorpion sting out of the truth. You can’t turn your eyes away from the bloated face of a black man swinging from a tree, the bled out body of a woman in a dark back alley, the ravaged body of a teenage boy tied to a paddock fence, or the bullet holes in a seven year-old girl on a classroom floor–you can’t turn away from that simply because the alternative seems too insurmountable or unpalatable or difficult or it’s not your problem. You may think you can. But not for long. Not before it rises up to haunt you like so many clanking ghosts.

This is my American elegy–not for a country or a people or a nation, but for the gauzy future of a country I held close to my heart, even when I was not there. In that future, we acknowledged those ghosts, paid homage to the land we’ve ravaged and raped, paid tribute to the broken backs upon which we’ve all walked to get right here. In that vision, the skeletons of the past rose up to dance, leading us forward in that arc toward justice.

Today though, the skeletons are still, heads bowed. One step forward and four steps back; not so much a dance as a stumble.

Today, I wail and keen through words, in an elegy for an idea which seemed close to bursting forth through the earth and into the light. Today I recognize that idea was further away than I thought. Today I apologize to all of those who understood that before I did.

Today that much vaunted arc seems pretty damn far away.

 

 

 

 

If You See Something, Say Something

see-somethingWhen my kids were small enough for peek-a-boo, they’d sit, a chubby toddler hand across their eyes.

“Can you see me?” they’d squeal, peeking through their fingers. To them, the logic was simple: if they couldn’t see me, surely I couldn’t see them.

A year ago, I found myself in a situation with someone waxing lyrical about his perceived virtues of Donald Trump (which essentially amounted to not being Hillary Clinton). I racked my brain to find a way to rationalize his ideas so that I could continue to be in the shared space we found ourselves in. I couldn’t. So I stopped sharing the space. I stopped doing something I enjoyed because I didn’t want to make others uncomfortable.

That’s what women do. That’s what liberals do. We don’t, in the parlance of my kids, walk all over other people’s feelings. Sometimes women don’t argue for no other reason than a deeply embedded survival instinct. Generations of women can attest that an angry man is often a dangerous man. As I wrote recently, keeping your head down as a woman is not an act of cowardice or consent as much as it is an act of survival.

I’m not one to shy away from confrontation. In fact, I court it most of the time. But I was deeply invested in the idea of allowing room for diverse thought.

I say was because I was wrong. Because racism and sexism? That is not diverse thought. It’s hate. It is some sort of superiority complex masquerading as something else. There is no room for racism. There is no room for sexism. If you feel that your skin color grants you superiority, or the organ dangling between your legs denotes supremacy, if you feel the God you worship or the book of stories you choose to live by outweighs those of others then you are, quite simply, wrong.

I can’t stop anyone feeling those things. I cannot nor should I stop anyone from thinking them or speaking them. But I will be damned if I will not confront the ugly truth of them and let them slide in order to keep a one-sided peace. A one-sided peace which is often mistaken for consent and agreement.

Women are taught, from a very early age, to keep the peace, to compromise, to find a middle ground. We are raised with an unspoken understanding that our role is to make everyone else comfortable, even at the cost of denying our own needs and beliefs. Making those around you uncomfortable? That is to be avoided.

You put your hand over your eyes. If you can’t see it, it follows that it’s not there, right?

Except it’s still there.

I’m a white, heterosexual, middle-class woman. I’m very probably past my child-bearing years. Hell, I don’t even live in the US at the moment. The easiest thing in the world for me to do right now would be to drape something across my eyes and tell myself that confronting it will make everyone else uncomfortable.

But just because I can’t see it doesn’t mean it can’t see me.

 
After 9/11, the NYPD ran with a Homeland Security campaign which urged New Yorkers: If You See Something, Say Something.

As Septembers came and went, the cry became less urgent. The fear of terrorism became something you learned to live with as opposed to something that fell out of the sky one cloudless day. It became a tag line. Black letters running across the bottom of a subway advertisement, sandwiched in between Dr. Z and Brooklyn Community College.

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Close up of letter sent to mosques in several U.S. states.

If you see something, say something.

What I am seeing, since the morning of November 9th, is evidence of the resurgence of acceptable racism, normalized sexism, legitimized bigotry. A digging in of heels over systematic oppression. A backward sprint toward a notion of “I can say anything now’ in some imagined Trump-landia, as if the election of a president magically stripped away any pretense of civil rights, civility, civilization.

Uh-uh.

Now is not the time to cover your eyes and pretend it’s not there. Now is not the time to worry about making others uncomfortable. Now is not the time.

If you see something, say something.

If you see someone promoting or repeating racism, say something.

If you see someone harassing someone else because of their sex, say something.

If you see someone giving someone a hard time because of their sexuality, say something.

If you see someone targeted because of their faith, say something.

Too many of us have been peeking out from behind fingers. We enjoy the privilege of looking away because it doesn’t affect our day-to-day lives, or it does affect us but somehow we normalize it.

This is not the time for looking away. It’s not the time to bite our tongues in order to keep things comfortable. It’s not time to keep the apple cart upright and moving.

The apple cart needs to be well and truly upset. The apple cart needs to be overturned, dismantled, smashed and burned for good measure.

Liberalism gets blamed for a lot of things. But the one complaint about liberalism I agree with is this: we focus too much on inclusiveness. Because in our quest to allow everyone an equal voice, to include all, we left enough space for the nasty stuff to get in. We gave the nasty stuff equal weight. And now it is in danger of spreading like poison ivy all over the skin of a nation.

silence-is-betrayalNow is not the time for inclusiveness. Now is not the time to make allowances for speech or actions which serve no purpose other than hate. Now is not the time to consider the bully’s feelings, to try to understand, to use logic. Now is not the time to let silence be mistaken for consent.

Now is the time to peel the hand away from our eyes and confront whatever is in front of us. No matter how uncomfortable it makes us or the people around us.

 

A Migrant By Any Other Name is an Expat

ellis-islandMy family and I are migrants.

More commonly we are referred to as expats. This is despite the fact that upon closer inspection, we actually meet the criteria of migrant workers more closely. Yet expat is how we identify ourselves as well as those we know. I suspect it has a lot to do with the color of our skin, our education levels, and our very bland middle-class-ness.

The fact is, we are foreigners living in a foreign land. Legally we’re allowed to be here until my husband’s contract expires. Prior to June, he and my children would have had EU rights to stay past that time, but well…then Brexit went and happened and overnight my kids lost the right to live, work, and reside in 27 different countries. I’m sure my children’s thank you note for that is in the mail….

For all intents and purposes, we are immigrants. Though it’s likely we’ll return to the United States one day, we have no immediate plans to do so. But because we are white and prosperous we’re generally not considered that kind of immigrant. If we brought up to those in the UK who voted Leave or those in the US who voted Trump that we are the very immigrants they voted against, I suspect many would be horrified.

We are not who they were voting against.

I guess we’re the good kind of immigrant.

I’m not sure why. The jobs my husband gets or any other ‘expat’ gets are jobs that could be given to citizens of whatever country we are in. The job my British husband did in America could have been filled by an American. In fact, from an economic standpoint I would argue that a farm laborer is far more important to the day to day lives of most Americans and Britons.

I would also argue that most won’t see or appreciate that. They only see different. They see other. 

Anti-immigration rhetoric is nothing new. The idea of someone ‘else’ swooping in and taking what, by some imagined right, belongs to you. It’s the same rhetoric that led to the rise of the KKK in the US–spread a few whispers that the big, black man is coming for your pretty white wife. It’s the same rhetoric which led to the rise of Hitler– the Jews are coming for your money. And it’s the same rhetoric that is gaining volume not only in the US, but all over Europe–you would have so much more if it weren’t for the dirty immigrants coming in and taking your jobs.

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We are those immigrants coming in to take those jobs. So is the family of every ‘expat’ I know. We can convince ourselves that it is because there isn’t a deep enough pool of local talent, but at the end of the day, that’s all a lot of hooey. Countries could invest in education in order to increase that pool of local talent, but they don’t. It’s easier and more economical in the short-term to hire foreigners.

Farm owners could hire locals to pick and harvest fruit. But they don’t. Because they’d have to pay them higher wages and their profit margins would decrease. Food prices would increase. It’s easier and more economical to hire migrant workers.

No one blames the companies. No one blames the corporations. We blame the folks doing the jobs–but the truth is, some folks shoulder more than their fair share of that blame. Part of it is race, part socio-economic, and a big part is perception.

Why should my white husband be considered an expat and a Romanian care worker in the UK an immigrant? Why is a Mexican laborer called a migrant and an oil executive an expat? I’m guessing that your average British couple who retire to the Algarve to soak up the sun in their golden years don’t refer to themselves as immigrants. Though that’s exactly what they are.

Immigrant is a term reserved for everyone other than us, everyone who may not look like us or act like us or have the same value system or identity.

At the end of the day, if you are working for an Embassy in another country, you are a migrant worker. If you are a CEO of working overseas, you are a migrant worker. If you think your income level, the importance of your job, or color of you skin makes you any different from the Romanian woman caring for your granny, the Polish builder who gives you a better deal on your decorating or the Mexican waitress taking your order, then you are part of the problem.

My family’s migrant journey is approved. We reside here legally by the grace of the Danish government. And the harsh truth is that it is pretty damn easy for us to get that approval. Our multi-layers of privilege makes it easy for us to travel from country to country, job to job. And yet many, many of the folks who are being targeted in the US, in the UK, in Europe are there legally as well.

But because they don’t look like they should be there, they have a bulls-eye on their back.

When my husband first came to the US, he did so on a tourist visa. We followed the rules. He never over stayed his visa, he got a job which offered him a working visa, something that many in the upcoming US administration are against. After we were married in 2001, we were advised by immigration officials not to apply for green card status. Right now he is still entitled to a green-card, but who knows how those regulations will change in the upcoming years? I guess nowadays it’s just your bad luck if you fall in love with someone who doesn’t come from the same country, right?

migrantWho am I kidding? We’re white, and we have money. My husband is the good kind of immigrant. Another layer of privilege.

How we identify ourselves and others plays a major part in our perceptions. Those perceptions inform our decisions, our actions. It’s always harder to look closely at our own reflections than it  is to look at those around us. But when we don’t, we fail, rather spectacularly at times, to recognize that for the most part, there aren’t as many differences as we think.