In My House

Well, here it is Monday again and we’ve made it through another weekend; the last of May. Perhaps June will be the month this annus horribilis will turn around, but somehow I rather doubt it.

I grew up in the 1960’s. I was born in 1961, so when the decade ended I was nine and my earliest memory is me, maybe two years old or so, and the air raid sirens were going off in Chicago–they went off as a test every week on a certain day at a certain time, to ensure they were working and if Chicago was suddenly attacked by air–missiles, I suppose, from the Soviet Union or Cuba or perhaps a Canadian Air Force attack–we could get proper warning. I remember that the basement of my elementary school was a nuclear fallout shelter–or perhaps there was one accessible through the basement; my memory on this is cloudy but I can remember seeing the symbols (the black circle with three yellow triangles) on the wall above the stairs when I’d go down there to use the bathroom. I remember the Civil Rights movement and Vietnam and the violence meted out against people who protested inequality or an unjust war. I remember riots, and cities on fire, and leaders being murdered, shot and killed in a time when it seemed like the very fabric of the nation was being torn apart.

As a society, we tend to look back at the wild and crazy Sixties as a bizarre decade that opened with malt shops and bobby sox and the sock hop, which gradually morphed into something darker, and vastly different. The darkness and disillusionment didn’t lead to change in society or more equity; if anything, the resistance to civil rights for people of color became even more entrenched as other marginalized groups began advocating for their own rights and freedoms and equalities: women and queers. But the problems and inequities protested in the Sixties never went away completely; more doors were opened, to be sure, but the progress was slow and incremental, but below the surface it continued to simmer, and here we are, in 2020, dealing with these same old problems still.

Why is this so fucking hard, people? It doesn’t have to be.

I remember when Dr. King was murdered. I remember when RFK was murdered. (And yes I know these were political murders, so they were technically assassinations, but I’m sorry–murder is murder and it doesn’t need a fancy name to dress it up nice and pretty for consumption. MURDERED. They were MURDERED.)

I also remember the busing riots in the 1970’s.

My elementary school was segregated–in Chicago. I don’t know if all public schools in northern cities were segregated back then, but I do know ours was. The story was our principal would regularly turn away Black families trying to enroll their children by telling them the school was full, but any white family who came in was permitted. We had a lot of Hispanic/Latinx students at my school though; so clearly the bigotry was targeted at Black families. It was very strange, and even stranger to think about now, looking back; my elementary school was (with the exception of no Black children) the proverbial melting pot of cultures and countries (as taught to us as children–no mention of non-whites in that melting pot, of course). Most of my neighborhood–and therefore my schoolmates–were immigrants, either first or second generation; the woman down the street who babysat my sister and me’s parents immigrated from Poland. We had Poles and Latvians and Lithuanians; Czechs and Slovaks and Serbs and Croatians; Greeks and Mexicans and Nicaraguans and Guatemalans and Cubans and Puerto Ricans. Ironically, I also had classmates who identified by their principality in what used to be the Holy Roman Empire before it became Germany: Bohemians and Bavarians and Hessians (they were made very uncomfortable when we studied the mythology of the American Revolution, since the Hessians were mercenaries hired by King George III).

My high school in the suburbs, despite its size, only had a handful of black students; Bolingbrook is much more integrated now than it was at its inception. And of course, my high school in Kansas was completely free of black children. I had one black teacher before graduating from high school; and that was the sixth grade. My first black teacher in college was in Women’s Studies–she was a great teacher, and during that semester was denied tenure. I often wonder what ever happened to her; I don’t even remember her name. But she was the first teacher I ever had that truly opened my eyes to what our society and culture was actually like, rather than viewed through the rose tinted lenses all white children were given back then; what it was like for women and minorities in this country. As I was also beginning to realize at the same time that I didn’t necessarily have to be closeted and miserable for the rest of my life, and maybe wasn’t, and didn’t have to be, a square peg, she had a profound influence on me and this was when I first began to challenge, and question, everything I had been led to believe was carved into stone as truth.

It disturbs me that I do not remember her name. It disturbs me now to realize had I not been gay and had I not taken her class…I might not have ever questioned and reevaluated everything I was raised and socialized to believe. Sometimes when I see this right-wing assholes bloviating and spewing their bullshit and lies and bigotry, I sometimes think that, but for an untenured Women’s Studies professor and my sexuality, could have been me.

And it sickens me.

I don’t have the answers to how to solve what’s wrong with our country. But I do know the answer of how not to–which is to continue not listening to the people, to not listen to people of color, to not listen to anyone who is a minority of any kind in this country; to not listen to anyone who is anything other than a cisgender white male.

The Pledge of Allegiance ends “with liberty and justice for all.” It doesn’t say “with liberty and justice for white people.”

I’m not perfect. Every once in a while a thought will pop up in my mind that no longer fits my current worldview, something from the lizard part of my brain and the way I used to think, was conditioned to think, before my gradual enlightenment and reexamination of everything was I trained to think and believe, and it horrifies me. But I don’t pretend it doesn’t happen; I examine it, try to dissect and dismember it, to ensure it never pops into my brain again.

It’s work, but it’s work that needs to be done.

Black lives matter. No one should have to live in fear for their life every time they leave their goddamned house, or go into a nice neighborhood, or just go about their fucking day-to-day business.

This country and what it stands for was a terrific ideal that we, as flawed people and humans, have never actualized into reality or lived up to. It isn’t too late for us to start now. But we have to examine everything we’ve been taught, white people. We need to look at our art, our culture, our society, and our politics, with a skeptical, questioning eye, and we need to do the work. Our country will never heal without it…and if you care about this country as much as you claim you do–or you are, indeed, a true Christian–you will do this work so that everyone is equal in the eyes of the law and everyone has the same opportunities to succeed, to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Because we who are minorities–whether racial, gender, class, sexuality, religion–are never going to shut up and we are never going to go away. You don’t have to like us; you can still think I’m a faggot if it makes you happy and you somehow think that’s what your invisible sky lord demands. But your business has to serve me, and you have to treat me the same way you treat everyone: with the respect and dignity every human being deserves.

I don’t really understand what is so controversial about that.

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