Maybe one day I’ll publish that essay.
But not today. Because publishing that essay, ironically enough, would be just one more way in which a white, middle class asshole (me) found a way to use his privileged platform (this and other, larger websites where I publish) to make public declarations about white people. And even though it’s a blistering critique which I stand behind every word of, it would just be another example of a white person making this all about white people.
And right now, this is not about white people. This is about what we, as Americans, choose to do amid the horror that some of us have wrought.
So instead of going an angry rant, I am going to write in support brown people, in support immigrants, and in support women, and in support of LGBTQ people.
People are complex, contradictory beings. Despite the absurd fantasies of some economists, we are not like cats, simply licking what we like, clawing what we don’t, ignoring all that doesn’t matter or captivate us, and always working in our self-interest.
Rather, we are complicated and erratic to the point of enigma. We are not always kind or good to each other, or even to ourselves. We are not the nominals in rational choice theory equations. We are the ephemeral stuff of poetry. We are the tangled threads of psychology. We are the blinking vagaries of stardust. We are the unknowable mysteries we use to paint our gods.
And sometimes that shit goes really wrong.
The wrong can take as many forms as we humans can assume, which is nearly endless. As Townes Van Zandt once said, sometimes our pain and trouble fall upon us like a storm, and sometimes we dig our own holes.
Right now, this nation is digging holes. Holes that force people into pits of isolation and inequity. What to do?
Refusing to dig is good, but it is not enough.
Imploring others not to dig is also good, but it is also not enough.
Reach down. Extend your hand. Pull people up.
And those of us who are in no real danger of falling into a hole must be prepared to climb down in there, willingly, and stand side by side with those who are caught, those who feel the earth around them falling away. Offer words of encouragement, yes, but offer tangible support as well.
On January 21, when the Million Woman March comes to Washington, D.C., just a 50 minute train ride from Baltimore where I live, I will open my home to a small army of women prepared to descend upon the capital. I will march with them only if they want me to. And I will fight to support equality for women, and offer my body as a shield against the pussy grabbers, the molesters, and the men who would use their power and authority to gaze upon nude 15 year old girls.
I will voice my support for immigrants of all stripes, rejecting the divisive notion that some nations send us better people than other nations. I will pressure politicians to enact and support humane laws. And I will actively work to make my city and my personal home a sanctuary for families facing fracture upon the anvil of deportation.
I will continue to advocate for and aid Native people struggling to maintain and assert their independence in Indian Country, and Native people in urban and suburban America who endure anti-Indian racism on a daily basis so frequent and so casual that perhaps the most shocking thing about it is that hardly anyone is shocked by it.
I will be adamant that we as a nation never return to the sexual dark ages; I will openly recognize that LGBTQ people are our sisters and brothers, mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, lovers and friends, and I will work to ensure they maintain and expand their hard won legal rights and continue to live freely and openly among us.
As a middle class person, I will not ignore the increasingly grim economic reality of a modern America where unskilled and semi-skilled workers of all colors and sexes face not just diminishing opportunities, but also a seemingly endless array of predators and scavengers looking to exploit them.
And I will not become self-satisfied.
I will never believe that I have done enough simply because I publicly condemn racism against brown and black people. Or because I write a check to support a cause. I will never forget that other people can never remove their dark skin and escape into the comfort of majority and power. I will never forget that I have the luxury of not caring, or the luxury of caring deeply yet staying out of harm’s way.
As a teacher, as a public writer, and more importantly, as a citizen and human being, I will not only condemn racism and sexism, but I will work towards banishing them by doing the only thing that can free us in the end: building bridges between people.
This past Friday night, my girlfriend and I along with another couple blew off some steam at a neighborhood bar in a working class section of Baltimore. The corner row home bar itself reflects the neighborhood it is nestled in. The clientele is mostly white, but not entirely. On Friday, there was a typical crowd: maybe a dozen white men, two black women, plus me and my friends (three of us white, one from India). The owners are a Korean woman and her older white husband.
Everyone was at least in their thirties. All of the other patrons, aside from my group, were decidedly working class. At one point, a guy with no front, bottom teeth told me he had saved up $1,500 so he could go be homeless in Florida this winter. Maybe he was serious, but he was pretty plastered so who knows. He also gave me really good advice about hanging doors.
At one point, some twenty-something whites who are part of the recent gentrification wave in this neighborhood wandered in. They were excited to be there, perhaps wanting to burnish their street cred. But it was probably a bit too gritty for them, and they were gone after about 20 minutes. They missed the show.
If this bar is emblematic of America’s many confusions, contradictions, and conflicts, it could be pinpointed in the owner. She left Korea decades ago, but retains a very thick accent. She voted for Obama the first time, not the second time. She has a very low opinion of politicians generally. She voted for Trump this time, but repeatedly mused that no one knows what the future holds and maybe he’ll be assassinated. Based on her facial expressions and tone of voice, I sensed she neither relished such a prospect, nor would be bothered by it in the least.
For a while, things were copacetic. People drank cheap cans of beer and the occasional shot of soju. Then the fireworks started.
The spark of politics lit the room. I didn’t quite catch the pro-Trump moment that ignited it, but soon enough, one of the black women began repeatedly shouting: “Fuck Trump, leave it alone!” One of the white guys bellowed that this would be the end of welfare. The bartender and her husband tried to dampen the outburts, less out of any real political concern I think, but because it was bad for business.
The initial wave of anger settled down into the occasional grumble. There never seemed to be a threat of physical violence, but the tension and catharsis were very real.
About 20 minutes later, one of the black women, who had a voice of stunning beauty, was singing karaoke arm-in-arm with one of the white guys as many of the patrons got watery eyes.
This is my America, in all its ugliness and beauty, its shame and potential.
This essay also appeared at 3 Quarks Daily.