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racism

Activism, Guest Posts

An Open Letter to My White Would-Be Allies

June 27, 2020
black

By Charli Engelhorn

The “Last” button on my remote is wearing out. I’m pressing it every four seconds, hopping back and forth between CNN and MSNBC, popping in on my local Spectrum 1 channel because they supposedly focus on pressing news happening in my city. Maybe I have to check the networks. Did I see a “City Channel” in the guide? Back to CNN, then MSNBC, rinse, repeat… all in the hopes of finding some shred of coverage of the protests in our streets. I’m pressing, I’m hopping, but I’m not finding anything.

After fourteen days, the news channels have tired of reporting on the Black Lives Matters protests. Or at least they did until yesterday, when another black man was shot and killed in a public Atlanta parking lot. The protests are interesting once more now that their peacefulness teeters on the brink. But that will slip from the spotlight again and give way to the novel coronavirus, the un-novel and preposterous antics of Donald F-N Trump, unemployment, graduations, online yoga tutorials. And it’s finally summer. The beaches are open. The trails are packed. The ice cream truck is serenading your hood once more. No more homeschooling. No more cooking. No more hoarding of toilet paper. You finally have your lives back, and you intend to make the best of them. And your hair needs cutting, your nails need painting, the hedges need trimming. And look at what my cat just did! And this Black Lives Matter business doesn’t really affect you, anyway. The curfews are over, and if they’re not, they really don’t apply to you. Maybe your town never protested. And now you see protestors holding signs in German, the only words decipherable being “George Floyd” and “Defund the Police,” and if Germany cares, then everything must be in good hands. (Because, really? Germany? They don’t have their own problems?) But you don’t know about defunding the police. What about noise complaints and suspicious people in the neighborhood? What about people like Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer? Besides, you have your sign in the yard that supports science and feminism and—mixed in somewhere—black lives. And there’s still that “Hate Has No Home Here” sign in the window collecting dust from 2016. But there are other things going on. Like the bats. Did you hear about the bats? What about the bats in your attic?

I get it. There’s a lot to process in your world, other priorities besides black lives mattering. And you haven’t been hearing from me. You’ve noticed that I haven’t been on social media much these days. Maybe I’m upset about all things “Black Lives Matter” because I’m black. But you don’t see me as that kind of black, and I have a lot of white friends, like you, so maybe I don’t feel involved. Is it offensive to ask? And everything is just really depressing, so you’ve been taking a break—maybe didn’t even notice I wasn’t being vocal. If I was really upset, I would say something, right? I’m not shy. So if I’m not making noise, I must be fine, right? Right?

I am not fine.

There have been so many voices raised already, so for a while, it felt like mine could wait… that there would be a time when different voices would be needed. But the more conversations I have with my friends, black and white and everything in between, the more I realize how much you still don’t understand, and the more I realize it might be important for you to hear from someone like me: someone you know and care about. Someone who is not the first person who pops into your mind when you think about police brutality against black people—me, that light-skinned, sharp, friendly aspiring writer who just earned her MFA and can frequently be spotted laughing over cocktails with her white friends. Someone who grew up in white middle America. Someone who a friend once asked, “What did your parents say when they found out you were black?” Maybe if you hear it from me, a true understanding of how black people are experiencing this moment might occur, because I don’t want these issues to slip into the constant background noise of Everything Else. Because using my voice now may help keep the focus on racism from drifting away like it always, always does. Because black Americans don’t have the luxury of detaching or checking out. We can’t simply turn off the TV or pop in a movie (most likely a movie where no one looks like us anyway, which is another issue—one that is important to me and I’m actively working to change with that MFA I’ve worked hard to earn). We can’t turn away from the movement or the moment because we are “overwhelmed.” And, more importantly, I don’t want to.

To those of you who have reached out to me personally to see how I’m managing through all of this: thank you. I know you don’t always know what to say or how to say what you mean or maybe even what you are supposed to mean, but your making the effort is acknowledged and appreciated. The truth is, I haven’t been doing well. At all. But today, I’m finally on the other side of a lot of the pain and grief I’ve been struggling with the last two and some weeks—my emotions have balanced out to some degree, and my spirit has been lifted by the domestic and global response to this call for justice—and so, although my anger is constantly triggered by the continued violence against blacks and all the damn “Karens,” I feel heartened just enough to finally reach out. But please don’t think this slight uptick in hope obscures my daily reckoning with how to get through each hour. How to manage my sadness and anger. How to manage my resentment of the silence I still see so much of from so many of you. How to manage knowing how to break my own silence. How to navigate my grief and guilt over not being able to be out there fighting all day every day. Yes, I braved the virus and went out protesting more than once last week, and this week, I’m feeling a little under the weather. I don’t know if it’s the virus or a common cold or a physical manifestation of emotional grief, but regardless, I don’t regret protesting. It was important for me to add my voice and my body to this movement. It gave me a direction for my emotions, and it allowed me to fully engage in a fight I dearly believe in. I am being responsible and watching my symptoms, but make no mistake, if I am physically able, I will be back out there again.

What I really want to say to my would-be allies is that this movement is about justice for black people, absolutely. But it’s also about changing society in general. Because BLM isn’t just about police brutality. It isn’t just about the outrage we collectively feel when another black person is killed on the street, in their yard, in their own home, or in prison. It’s about the social ideology of race perpetuated in our homes, relationships, schools, jobs, parks, and minds. It’s about the divides we put around ourselves as individuals and groups to feel safe… to stay comfortable. It’s about changing our perspectives so black people can leave the house without having to calculate the risks involved in having black skin in white society. It’s about not having to feel unvalidated when our non-black friends tell us we’re being “too sensitive” or “judgmental” or “aggressive” or “angry” about our experiences with racism. So we’re not constantly having to explain why something is offensive or justify our right to be heard or assuage your discomfort or white shock that racism still exists. So we don’t have to resist the temptation to scream when we’re complimented for being educated, intelligent, polite, caring, successful, articulate, and [fill in with any positive attribute] because “good on you for rising above your blackness.” So we don’t have to keep fighting for the recognition and support enjoyed as a matter of course by those of you not living in black bodies. So we don’t have to keep telling people that “not seeing color” is not enlightenment—that, in fact, it’s the opposite.

Let me state this unequivocally: If you know someone who is black, regardless of what other racial composition they possess or neighborhood they grew up in, realize that they—that we—have experienced all the things you hear about. We’ve been profiled. We’ve been followed by police in aggressive ways for doing nothing. We’ve been pulled over for “a burned-out license plate bulb” in broad daylight and forced out of the vehicle. We’ve had people clutch their purses. We’ve had people warn others about watching their purses around us. We’ve had people move seats when we sat down. We’ve been assumed to be employees at sporting events, music festivals, department stores, and grocery stores instead of patrons. We’ve been followed around clothing stores. We’ve been asked where we live and what we’re doing here while standing in our own front yards. We’ve heard friends tell offensive jokes in front of us and tell us to “lighten up” because “funny is funny.” We’ve been called the “N” word. We’ve been treated worse than our white counterparts in school and at work. We’ve been accused of ridiculous things by bosses. We’ve felt our skin crawl because of a single look from across a restaurant or party. We’ve wondered if we’re in danger of getting beaten or killed simply for existing. We’ve felt our idea of home taken away because of a renewed and emboldened uprising of prejudice and racism in our country. We’ve questioned whether to attend events out of fear for our safety. We’ve struggled to find our voices and learn how to raise them. And for so many, we’ve been killed by those who knew they could kill us and get away with it.

This list is just the tip of the black experience. This list is just the tip of my experience.

So let me set some things straight, because there’s been some confusion in my world, and I know harm is not what was intended, but nonetheless… here are some truths:

  • I have no desire to get away from the protests. This fight is not bad or inconvenient or oppressive. It is necessary, hopeful, and inspiring. I turn toward it, not away from it. I don’t want things to calm down so I can forget and “go back to normal.” There is no forgetting, and there is no more normal. And, honestly, what passed for normal for you was never my normal to begin with.
  • Your support is appreciated, but please understand that our experiences are not the same. I know many of you are suffering, too. You’re dealing with your anger at the world. You’re reckoning with our country’s history and your place in it, large or small. You fear what’s next. You’re sad about everything that has happened. It is an exhausting situation for everyone. But the exhaustion we feel as black people is not the same. We are viscerally exhausted from dealing with racism for as many years as we’ve been alive. We are dealing with the trauma, pain, depression, and fear of decades and centuries of being treated as less than. And the damage from generations of trauma has altered many of our physiological beings to the point where we can’t even imagine who we could be in the absence of trauma. We are tired of swallowing the hateful words of racists and misguided words of those who fail to stop and think before they speak. We are tired of the silence of the rest of society, especially the silence of those who say they love us. We’re tired of trying to make people listen. We’re tired of having to defend our pain and outrage and anger. We’re tired of having to dampen our pain and outrage and anger to make you feel better. We’re tired of seeing just how much our lives don’t matter: in the inequities experienced by predominantly black schools; by the lack of support and assistance for black-owned businesses, even during a pandemic; by the disproportionate number of black deaths from COVID-19; by the disproportionate treatment of black men and women within the justice system; by the disproportionate number of felony convictions for black men and women; and by the degree of force relied on by police when dealing with black Americans, even when they are unarmed. You can’t truly get it, and that’s not your fault. But please know we are not suffering in the same way. No, we are not awesome. No, we are not all right. We are pissed. And we are ready for change.
  • If your gut reaction is to challenge my experiences or feelings about these issues or exonerate yourself from my message, please save it for someone who cares. It’s not me. There is absolutely nothing you can say that will change my black experience or how I feel about racism in this country or the movement to end it.
  • If you haven’t done anything to me personally that you can speak to specifically, don’t tell me how sorry you are. I don’t want your condolences or pity. It’s an earnest sentiment, but it’s not action.
  • Please don’t thank me for sharing my story. I didn’t do it for praise. Again, nice sentiment, but not action.

My white friends and aspiring allies: what I would love instead is conversation. This movement is forcing some solid policy shifts and new laws to be enacted, but that does not equate to sweeping change. Laws were enacted to give slaves back agency over their lives. Laws were enacted to desegregate our cities and schools. Laws were enacted to give blacks the right to vote. And yet… here we are. Here, where more than 40 percent of black men and women 20 and older suffer from hypertension, black men are more than twice as likely to die at the hands of police than white men, black communities have unequal access to health and community resources, and black women are underrepresented in high-paying jobs and make almost 40 percent less than white men and roughly 20 percent less than white women. Laws are great and necessary, but nothing is really going to change unless we change voluntarily on a societal level.

We have to be willing to look at ourselves and our prejudices and ask why we have felt as we have and been who we are and what we can do to move forward better. We have to be willing to have uncomfortable conversations about our experiences and those of lives we don’t understand. We have to be willing to ask questions and risk sounding stupid or awkward. We have to be willing to bring down our walls and see each other. We all have prejudices. And I mean all of us, whether you’re aware of them or not. And it’s not just across race lines; it’s also within them.

A simple adjustment in awareness is not the answer. We must have a fundamental paradigm shift about how we think of each other as human beings. We have to find a real way to break the psychological divides that create “us” versus “them.” We have to talk. We have to talk. We have to talk!

What would happen if, today, every single one of you said something to spark that conversation? I don’t mean just on social media. I mean in person, in our real lives. Say something inspiring or supportive of the BLM movement. Tell a friend about a moment when you felt prejudiced against someone and why. Talk candidly about what you felt, why you felt it, and how you feel about it now. Explore where you think that feeling came from. Read up on and talk with other white people about what you can do to feel differently. If you are a non-BIPOC, talk about a moment where you’ve felt prejudice from another. Tell a white friend or a black friend how it felt. Tell them how it affected your perspective of life and society.

We all have to start being honest about how racism exists in our lives, even at the micro level. None of us are immune, and that’s okay. We can still do the work to come together to make sure that Black Lives Matter, that BIPOC lives matter, so that we can truly stand up one day and celebrate all lives mattering equally.

This is my wish for us: communication and honesty. We have to change on a base level to move forward with integrity. We have to start listening and believing. We have to be brave.

So here’s my story:

I made a quick judgment about a conservative-looking white couple I saw in France last summer. They were wealthy, had southern accents, and fit every box on my list of people to blame for Trump. I assumed they were prejudice against me, which made me want to talk to them… yeah, it’s like that. I was overly polite when I asked them what part of the States they were from and was not surprised to learn they lived near Mar-a-Lago. I was surprised when they turned their chairs and started a lively discussion about how terrible things were back home and how much they looked forward to the next election. In that moment, I knew I had committed the same crime I’d accused them of. I’d judged them and held prejudice against them because of what they looked like. I was humbled by that experience and promised to be better at walking my talk. And I realized the reason I’m often quick to judge people who look like that is because it provides safety for me. If I assume the worst and fortify myself against it, when I’m proven right, it won’t hurt as much. The fact is it always hurts no matter what, and I’ve probably misjudged a lot of people along the way and missed out on enriching conversations. The talk we had with the couple was amazing. The wife even caught our French waiter trying to overcharge us. My heart opened a bit more that day. It really doesn’t take much.

I am so tired of being tired. But I will be back out there anyway, and I will keep talking, and I will keep listening.

Now… your turn.

Start the conversation in your social group. Use the hashtag #mytruecolorstory to start the conversation with the world. I’ve challenged some of you to engage in these discussions already, and I’ve been heartened by your willingness to be vulnerable and lay your experiences on the table. But it’s not enough. We must do more. We must keep the conversation going.

And if you don’t know me, you know someone like me. Reach out to them. Offer your support. They’re waiting for it, and they’re wondering where you are.

Charli Engelhorn is an award-winning writer, freelance editor, and creative writing instructor. She received her BA in English from the University of Kansas and MFA in creative writing from the University of California, Riverside Low Residency program. When not writing, she can be found playing volleyball, her fiddle, and one-sided fetch with her dog, Jacopo. 

 

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Guest Posts, Racism

Silence is Not An Option

June 12, 2020
option

Black Lives Matter.

Over the past week, The Manifest-Station has been quiet as we watched the world change in reaction to the brutal murder of George Floyd. The subsequent flood of similar stories that continue to emerge is horrifying. The overwhelming number of people harmed or worse by a group sworn to protect is sickening. The growing list of names is heartbreaking. Support of it has to end and ending it is not someone else’s problem.

We all own this problem.

Marching, listening, amplifying…all of that is important, but those alone are not nearly enough. As individuals and as a collective, it is imperative we work for change from the inside out and the outside in. We need to learn what it really means for our black and brown friends to try to thrive in this country, we need to unlearn our own assumptions and bias. We also need to demand change and we need to be relentless in our efforts. When people talk about “doing the work” it is not a trope, it is work and it is necessary.

The Manifest-Station is about being human, and we have worked hard for it to be a safe space for words, for all writers. We are committed to continuing the support and amplification of black and brown voices, this includes the work published on the site and elsewhere. We are adding a “resource” page that will feature ways to get educated and involved. In addition, Jen’s instagram feed is filled with actionable items. If we are missing something that should be included, let us know, this is a work in progress.

At The Manifest-Station, we are proud to add our voices to the call for change. Silence is complicity, and frankly, it is not an option. Change is possible, moreover, if we work together it’s coming.

Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood, Racism

Blue Blazes

November 27, 2017

By Jane O’Shields-Hayner

“It’s hot as blue blazes!” I said, wiping the sweat from my face with a faded, red bandana. I wet it under the garden hose and lay it, cool, around my neck.”

“Can we get more ice cubes, Mommy?” Rebekah asked.

“We’ve used them all. They go fast when it’s a hundred and six.” I answered, stepping into the soupy water of the plastic pool where my daughters sat with squirt toys, dolls, and blades of grass bobbing on the surface.

Rachael hugged my bare legs and lay her cheek against my knee. “Can we go to a real pool, Mommy?” She begged. “…a big one with a divey board and everything, … please?”

“I think it’s time we found one…” I said, …but let’s eat first!”

Both girls stood up in the tepid water and began to dance. “Swimmy pool, swimmy pool!” they chanted.

I stepped out, brushed the green cuts of grass from my legs and headed for the house.  “You-all play in the sprinkler while I make lunch!” I called back.

“OK, Mommy!” shouted Rebekah, dragging a hot hose with a sprinkler ring spraying behind it.

I walked up the back steps, where three air conditioners roared from windows in our rented home. The one near me sounded a loud boom and the walls and wood floor lurched, as the thermostat switched it off or on. I had learned to sleep through it, in fact, it comforted me; for I was born and raised in the blistering heat of North Central Texas. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Marriage, Race/Racism

On Loving v. Virginia and Interracial Marriage: When Race Isn’t the Only Difference

August 30, 2017
life

By Rebecca Bodenheimer

Our story is not the Loving story. It is a tale of interracial love and marriage—like the story of Richard and Mildred Loving, whose journey was beautifully and poignantly represented in the 2016 Jeff Nichols film Loving— and yet, it’s so very different. Fifty years ago, the Lovings took on the state of Virginia’s ban on interracial marriage in a landmark Supreme Court case, and on June 12, 1967, they won, hammering the final nail in the coffin of state prohibitions on interracial marriage. The Lovings were relatively similar in terms of background, including aspects of class, region, and language. The only thing that separated them was race. This is not to minimize the huge significance of racial difference, particularly in the 1950s South, but only to emphasize that in terms of other aspects of their identity, they were actually quite compatible with each other. One of the main messages I took away from the Loving movie was the gulf between the huge significance of race from a legal and social perspective, and its insignificance in the daily life of the Lovings. This story was not about a couple who set out to challenge a racist law, or even to take a stand on racial equality, at least not at first; rather it was about a man and woman in love, trying to do what was best for their family. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Racism, Resistance, Surviving

But What Does This Mean? Racism, Unity, And The Next Four Years.

February 6, 2017
racism

By Kristina Newman

This morning I woke up in the middle of the night to the screams of my daughter crying. I panicked even though this was not a new occurrence to me. We never let her come in our bed anymore but this time I needed to see her. As I snuggled her in bed my anxiety grew and my stomach clenched.

I thought about how this is only the second time I have been truly scared for my life and the life of my loved ones as a result of what was going on in the political world. The first time was when the announcement we were going to war in 2003 was made. I was in the car driving from California to Arizona with my dad. I remember asking him, “but what does that mean?” I meant, what does this mean for me? What does this mean for you? What does this mean for America? Will bombs reach our shores? How will our lives change after this?

14 years later I find myself asking the same questions. I understand who won, but what does that mean for me and the ones I love most? What does that mean for our country? I am a black woman who is married to a Jewish man and raising a biracial daughter. I am an ally to the LGBTQ community and many of my dearest friends and family identify as such. When their community bleeds, my heart bleeds too. I have friends whose parents and students and loved ones are immigrants. There are Muslims who are rightfully scared for their lives and have been since September 11. These are the communities I am most scared for. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Racism

The Natural Step

November 14, 2016
hair

By Trinica Sampson

You can’t remember the day you learned to talk or the day you began to understand speech—language sneaks in when you aren’t looking, and suddenly you can speak, suddenly you can listen as the world tells you that you are not good enough.

It begins with the books you read, with the characters who do not look like you. Next comes television, the bridge to the real world— but it’s a bridge that was never made for you to march on. A million advertisements showing you how to lighten your skin tone with makeup, how to tame your frizzy, curly hair. “7 Hairstyles to Mix Up Your Look!” the magazines shout, but your mixed hair won’t be manipulated like that.

Every Sunday your white stepmother tries to make sense of your hair. You sit in-between her legs for hours as she rips a comb through your curls and strangles your hair into submission with hair ties and gel and sheer force of will. She keeps up a running commentary as she does it, a stream of comments like, “God, your hair is thick” and “you just have so much of it” and “there’s not much I can do with this other than braids.” But you know the language, so the insidious coded message reveals itself to you as bad, bad, bad. Continue Reading…

courage, Guest Posts, Racism

The Last Pep Rally

October 23, 2015

By Jane O’Shields-Hayner

It was during that last, fragmented year of college when I found myself standing, once more, in a hot and rowdy crowd at what would be my last pep rally. My sorority required my attendance, to demonstrate support for the next upcoming football loss.  My school lost pretty much all the time in those days and I had no real interest in football.

This was my fourth year of college and I was twenty-one years old.  This semester I had registered for fifteen units of classes, and not attended a single one. Without a conscious thought, I had devised a simple way to sabotage my life.

My life was college life, and college was the vehicle I used to meet my whims. As a student, I could stay up late and hang out every night. I could dress in magazine fashions and boogie at the kind of parties where everyone drank as much alcohol as their gut would allow, then smile for photographs holding a paper cup while the blue light from the photographer’s flash bulb ignited and smoked.

I wasn’t new at slacking, but this year I had pushed slackhood past the point of no return. I dressed and drove my car from sorority row each morning while my friends left for class. Instead of parking at the main campus, walking inside a limestone building and facing one of the many professors I had never seen and never heard, I drove off in one of several other directions. I pointed the long nose of my yellow Mustang toward the highway, pushed on the accelerator until my toes touched the floor and dreamed I was flying. Three hundred horses of power propelled my wagon of yellow steel toward the horizon and then I was free. With a thrill in my heart, I raced past the contradictions, troubles and lies of my scrambled and misdirected life.

Continue Reading…

Current Events, Guest Posts, Inspiration, Race/Racism, Racism

At 13, I Didn’t Expect My Teacher To Be Afraid Of Me

October 16, 2015

By Haneen Oriqat

At 13-years-old, I was a nerd. At 13, I was also beginning to struggle with my identity. I didn’t expect that my choice of dress would define my identity, just as I don’t think that Ahmed Mohamed expected his identity to be the topic of a trending hashtag.

#IStandWithAhmed was trending at number one worldwide as social media erupted with the story of a 14-year-old 9th grader in Irving, Texas being interrogated without his parents’ knowledge and arrested in front of his classmates. Ahmed had brought a homemade clock to school, but was accused by his teacher of the suspicious object being a bomb. Despite claims of safety for the students, this wasn’t treated like an actual bomb threat. There were no lockdowns, evacuations, or a bomb squad to immediately remove the suspicious object from school grounds. When I read the article about the incident posted by Dallas News right before heading to sleep on the night of September 15, I was stunned.

I saw the picture of Ahmed being led away in handcuffs, his face a mixture of confusion and fear. He had been excited to share his invention with his teachers, adults that he trusted, educators that he looked up to. It was those same adults that should have been there to protect him against harm. That look of anguish on his face was one that I felt reverberated through my body on my first day of 8th grade as a 13-year-old. It was the day I decided to come to school wearing a hijab.

I held the blue and cream-colored smooth material in my ha Continue Reading…

Fatherhood, Guest Posts, healing, Race/Racism

A Black Remembrance of My White Father.

June 21, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Erika Robinson

I have not shared this photo before. I have wanted to keep my father to myself, perhaps because, when he was alive, I had to share him with so many.

But it’s Father’s Day, and it is both nationally and personally a sober time. So I am giving all of us a gift by sharing my father once again.

My father left for college when he was only 16. He left for the big city from a farm in Nebraska, where he had no exposure to Black people.

There was no one whiter than my father, with his light eyes and hair, his aquiline nose, his Midwestern twang, and the way he said words like egg and roof. Tweed jackets with leather elbow patches and Oxford shirts were his uniform. He lent them a white guy cool by finishing his look with khakis and topsiders that he wore with no socks. He smoked a pipe. He loved Latin and classical music and German food. He was completely and unapologetically white.

My father was also the greatest man I have ever known. I described him to a friend recently: the way my father was committed to social justice and the cause of civil rights; the way he gave his voice, his body, his life force to the struggle for equality for Black people to the degree that he received letters of thanks during his lifetime from Martin Luther King, and to the degree that he was eulogized in Congress upon his death.

My friend said “Your father sounds as though he was very…optimistic.”

This friend of mine is a very polite young white man. I could tell from the pause between the words “very” and “optimistic” that what he’d wanted to call my father was “naive.”

Here is what my father was: he was grounded in his identity as a white man, aware of the privilege this status conferred upon him, and acutely conscious of the mantle of responsibility laid upon him to live a life of service to those upon whom society had conferred a different status entirely. Continue Reading…

Binders, Guest Posts, Race/Racism

Creep Parade: Not One For The Bucket List

June 11, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Shani Gilchrist

Most people—Americans, anyway—have imaginary checklists with grand items they tick off one-by-one as they go through life. Visit Paris — check! Go bungee jumping — check! Run a marathon —check! When asked about my own bucket list I have to struggle to think of more than two items, and they’re not your usual wishes: kayaking with killer whales in Vancouver Bay and attending the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland.

Truthfully, I only remember the kayaking part when trying to come up with a creative answer to the bucket list question. But Davos is a real dream for me. Unfortunately no one on the inside has any reason to send me an invitation, but I’m usually in a different part of the Eastern Alps when the world’s luminaries are convening in Switzerland. Usually, I’m tagging along with my husband for an annual medical congress he attends in the tiny village of Alpbach, in Austria.

Alpbach is quaint and cute and everyone remembers you when you return because outside of the tourists, almost everyone there is related. It takes about five minutes to walk from one end of the village to the other, but it’s an enjoyable five minutes amongst preserved, unified, traditional wooden buildings. Each roof peeks cozily from beneath a quilt of pristine snow, and each chimney lazily exhales a steady stream of smoke from a fireplace inside. Every year the staff at Der Alpbacherhof Hotel patiently suffers through my broken German. They give me wry, knowing smiles when I stumble through the haze of my jet lag into the breakfast hall just as they’re about to shut it down at 10:30am.  Every year the same dog wiggles his way toward Aaron and me for a pat as we walk up the hill toward the glass and metal marvel that is the Congress Centre, a meeting space that is the area’s lifeblood. Because of the timing of the annual meeting and the seemingly misplaced, ultra-contemporary structure, I dubbed the trip “Mini Davos” the first time we went.

This year my husband made an unusual move and signed up for a second conference following the Alpbach congress. I’d been told we were going to Innsbruck. Instead we went to Igls, another small village that is located five kilometers and several decades away from the Tyrolean capitol.

There were signs upon our arrival indicating that we wouldn’t be experiencing the warm hospitality we’ve become accustomed to in the state of Tyrol. My husband checked into the hotel while I organized our things in the car, trying to fully wake myself from the nap I’d taken on the drive. When we walked back through the front door once he’d come to help me, we busily walked toward the elevator, but the woman working behind the front desk came running from it to interrupt our path.

“Excuse me! Excuse me!” she said, putting out her arm to stop me from walking through the elevator door. “This is for guests only!”

Still foggy from my nap, I wasn’t alert enough to be anything but confused for a moment. There was a tinge of familiarity to the unfriendly greeting, but I couldn’t quite place it. All I knew was that I didn’t like it, and I silently raised an eyebrow at the woman as Aaron waved his keycard in front of her and informed her that we were heading to our room. By the time we reached the third floor I was fully awake and haughtily ticked off, realizing that the receptionist had—at best—assumed I didn’t match her assumption of what the wife of a white American businessman should look like. At worst, she’d thought I was a hooker. Once we’d unpacked, I took a page from my mother’s book of make-the-bitches-eat-their-hearts-out. I changed out of my ski jacket and thermal top and into some cashmere, put makeup on for the first time that day (we’d stayed up so late drinking wine with friends the night before!), and completely ignored the woman when we passed her on our way out to find some lunch, cheerfully calling “Grüss gott!” to anyone else we passed in the lobby.

Grüss gott. The phrase means “may God greet you.” In Austria and parts of German Bavaria it’s customary to give this blessing to people as you cross their paths. At busy times of the day in Tyrolean villages the air undulates with a continuous line of these greetings as everyone nods and acknowledges everyone else. In more cosmopolitan areas Grüss gott is used in more direct interactions, such as when entering a store or meeting a friend. The phrase represents much of what led Aaron and I to fall in love with Austria. Grüss gott feels like a friendly reminder to slow down. It feels like a wish to know the people around you. It feels similar to a sort of American Southernism that highlights the region’s unhidden quirks and long, drawn-out conversations. Perhaps this is why we felt so welcome the first time we visited Alpbach. We felt something akin to the warm space within the bubble of friends and family we’d built in South Carolina that kept us from moving away, despite the many signs that we should probably live elsewhere. At home, we were like welcome strangers. The same seemed true in Austria.  It seemed that every Grüss gott was sincerely given as a wish for good luck and well-being. On that first trip we visited friends in Salzburg once the conference was over. It was Aaron’s birthday and we dined and sipped local wine while trading stories of outdoor adventures and shopping. We returned to the hotel feeling warm and happy, as if God really had greeted us in Austria, bestowing grace and fellowship upon us.

The cold welcome in Igls didn’t prepare us for what the friendly night receptionist, who grew up on the other side of the valley, described as a “weird, creepy parade” that the town puts on every three years. It’s called Tyrolean Fasching, which, in this case, seemed like a redneck Alpine carnival gone wrong. The men dress up as grotesque peasant women who dance, hoot, holler and drink copiously as they lead a procession of tractors hauling miniature log cabins atop flatbed trailers into town. When the parade is over, the cabins are deposited in the village square and each one contains a different kind of discotheque. But I’m jumping ahead. By the time I realized that much I was already experiencing the feeling of being not being safe in Europe for the first time in my life.

The drunk, grotesque cross-dressing men knew everyone lining the streets except those of us who were in town for the conference. Unlike many of my friends of color, I don’t tend to notice when I’m the only brown-skinned person in the vicinity unless someone is making an issue of it. It wasn’t until one of the drunkest of the monster-like peasants lurched at me for a raunchy hug that I became aware of the fact that I was the only non-white person around. Suddenly, I felt like I was a target.

As the parade carried on, two more peasants lunged for hugs and gropes. Aaron, his British co-worker and I were laughing nervously, unsure of what to make of the situation. I started hiding behind my male counterparts whenever it seemed like I’d caught the eye of another parade participant. The final two men, who would have failed any sobriety test despite the fact that it was noon, were the most determined, and they were the ones who caught me off-guard. I was talking to a couple from the conference when I realized I wasn’t going to get away from the peasant who was suddenly in my face. As I shrank away from his hug I felt two quick raps at the backs of my knees from a surprisingly heavy walking stick carried by his friend. I tried to keep myself from falling to the ground by grabbing my husband’s arm, which was holding a cup of hot gluweïn. As we stumbled, the stick-bearer’s even drunker friend pulled up his petticoat, revealing that he wasn’t wearing anything beneath it and that he’d taken special care to French-braid the hairs of his nether regions. I shrieked and covered my eyes as I hit the ground and gluweïn splashed onto my jeans. I think Aaron may have spit or hurled out the bit of spiced wine that was in his mouth. As the men laughed heartily and moved on, I wanted to burn my eyeballs with whatever mixture of lighter fluid and flint I could find.

The experience was gross and slightly funny, and very unnerving. Even though Aaron and I exchanged tense laughter as we recounted what had happened, neither of us felt right about me leaving the hotel alone for the rest of our stay. I’ve traveled to Europe many times, but this was the only time I’d felt unsafe.

***

Apparently this was just another part of a running theme in my life—a revelation of the cushioning that often surrounds many of my life experiences, intentional or not. The little Tyrolean village we return to each year isn’t necessarily an Alpine utopia of acceptance. We repeat the same steps each time we arrive in Alpbach because we have such a wonderful experience there. By repeating those steps we’re less likely to encounter the unpleasantness we did in Igls.

The truth of the matter is that Austria has been steadily gaining a reputation for racism and xenophobia over the past two decades. In August 2014 the European Training and Research Centre for Human Rights and Democracy published a report stating that 52% of blacks living in Austria have been abused or harassed on public transportation because of the color of their skin. The study also states that 47% of the black population had experienced harassment in the street. Up until this latest trip to Austria I’d remained blissfully ignorant of such growing national attitudes because while my husband was conferencing, I was busy insulating myself into a mode of retreat. I’d sleep in, mosey downstairs to breakfast, go for a walk, then spend the day writing in a cozy corner of the Albacherhof’s lounge. When Aaron and his colleagues were done for the day they’d join me at my perch and we’d order a round of drinks. The Alpbach days were sustained by a mixture of solitude and curated sociability. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, motherhood, Race/Racism

Warnings For My Sons.

February 24, 2015

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By Seema Reza.

The first time I read about the murder of Tamir Rice, a 12 year old boy shot by Cleveland police for waving a toy gun at a playground, I tell my sons, eight and fourteen, to pause the television. We are watching a show called Once Upon a Time, based on fairy tale characters who are dealing with the ultimate curse: reality. I read them the whole article, word for word, from the link I clicked on my Facebook feed. I read them Tamir Rice’s father’s words, “He didn’t know what he was doing. He was only twelve.”

They pay attention to my words in the way they do only when I am telling them something in this tone of voice–a voice I cannot fake–the scared quivering that sounds like a squint. We are cramped on the couch in the apartment we moved to when I left their father, our legs piled on top of one another. The television is paused on one or another fair-skinned, flowing-haired heroine. On this show, every rescue emerges from doing the easily identified right thing, every curse is broken by the everlasting magic of true love.   Continue Reading…

Abuse, Binders, Guest Posts, Race/Racism

A Glossary of Ambiguous Terms for Difficult Situations.

February 5, 2015

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By Laurence Dumortier.

Cocksure (adj.):

In September I arrive in Italy for my Junior Year Abroad thinking I know a thing or two about life. I have had two “big” relationships, each lasting about two years. I’ve had sex a lot, mostly with my boyfriends, but also a few weird one-night stands. I’ve also been hurt, and this makes me feel tough. I’ve been alone since the summer and liking it. I don’t need anyone. I just want to learn Italian, eat with abandon, drink it all in.

In truth I know nothing about a million things—including love and sex—I just don’t know that I don’t know them.

Infatuation (n.):

When I first meet Arthur he seems shy but friendly, and with a winning smile.

Everything feels new and exciting, though, so there isn’t a lot of excitement left over for boys. I’m more intrigued by my flat-mate Carolyn. She seems even more knowing than I think I am. She grew up in New York; she is knowledgeable about art; she studies film and semiotics and in an argument she can make her point with deadly accuracy; she is on the tail end of a painful breakup and looking for distraction; she is devastatingly funny and beautiful. I don’t know it yet but she will become, and remain to this day, one of my closest friends and co-conspirators.

Tight (adj.):

There is a lot of drinking in Italy, but it feels joyous and grown-up. We make dinner in our tiny Italian kitchens and though we are inexpert, it all somehow ends up tasting delicious. It’s hard to go wrong with tomatoes and zucchini and whatever is in season, all ripened to bursting, glorious with flavor, picked up from the little fruit-and-vegetable man down the block.

Our little group of Junior-Yearers is intimate and funny. It feels safe somehow to flirt, to laugh, to begin new adventures. There are a few outliers in the group, doing their own thing, but there is no hostility, we are chill.

Thirst (n.):

On Halloween we dress up. This is over twenty years ago in Italy, in a town with few Americans or Brits, so Halloween is just our little group. We party. I end up on the balcony of one of the flats with Arthur. We are kissing and it is surprisingly, electrifyingly, good. Back in his bedroom we take off our clothes. I notice his body which is beautiful and strong in a way I never knew I would care about. His beauty, and his interest in my body, the way he looks at me, makes me feel beautiful too. I have never felt that way before, I’ve always thought of myself as okay, cute-ish, verging on ugly at times. It is a strange thing to feel beautiful. In his bed, his face, which had earlier struck me as pleasant, looks beautiful too. It’s like love at first sight, except we’ve been exchanging pleasantries for months.

In the next weeks we spend whole days curled up in bed together, laughing, fucking, sleeping, listening to music. I feel like I’m on the drugs. The feel of his skin under my fingertips is like that weird velvety buzz of being on X. Continue Reading…

Fatherhood, Guest Posts, healing, parenting

How To Parent On A Night Like This.

November 25, 2014

 

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By Carvell Wallace

My son is home from school. He stays in bed while I take his little sister to her 4th grade class. He watches about 8 hours of television. I have to work. We watch Skyfall together in the morning. The violence is a little beyond what I would normally allow, but something about a father and son watching a spy thriller together…I can’t resist. A Final Showdown at the Scottish Manor. Helicopters and explosions. Cars with semi automatics in the headlights. Sawed off shotguns.

I pick my daughter up at 3:30 while he stays at home. I take her to the grocery. We talk about persimmons and how to tell if they’re ripe. She asks me how I decide which chicken to buy. I explain about air-chilled, and free-range, and grain fed, and hormone free. I realize that I don’t actually understand “air chilled.” I send her clear across the store to go find peanut oil. She does. I am impressed.

In the car, she asks about her brother. I tell her he’s home alone. She is quiet for a few more minutes. Then she tells a story of the time her mother went to the store and left them home alone. And they heard a sound. An explosion of a kind. And her older brother started panicking, telling her it was gunshots, telling her to close the blinds and hide on the floor. And how she became terrified and FaceTimed Mommy from her iPad. And Mommy tried to calm her down, but eventually came right home, leaving a cart filled with groceries in the aisle.

Helicopters are already circling downtown.

She tells me that she now knows that they were overreacting. That it was probably fireworks. It didn’t sound like real gunshots. She’s heard real gunshots. They happened one afternoon while she was playing on the schoolyard. The teachers told them to run inside and they didn’t even have to line up. That’s how she knew it was serious.

We come back home and the kids are reunited. Rare is the day that one has school and the other doesn’t. They are so used to being together in the same cars on the same schedule, even at different schools, that when they see each other, there is awkwardness. They want to check in. If they were adults, they might say “how was your day?” and “I missed you!” But they are not adults. So they argue about who is the worst teacher at the elementary school, and then reminisce about funny episodes of sitcoms that they’ve watched. She quizzes him on his menu, keen to make sure that he didn’t get an ice cream or a cookie on his day off. She’s always keeping track of things like this. Everything must be even.

Grand Jury Decision is expected to be read at 8pm CST.

She begins her homework. He watches vaguely racist and sexist youtube videos.

I make her a snack of plain yogurt and granola.

Rumors are starting to spread that there will be no indictment.

I already know there will be no indictment. I’ve been a black man in America for a long time.

The house is quiet, everyone engrossed in their screens. I am agitated. Scrolling social media, lead in the pit of my stomach.

We’ve been here before. As a family.

We are black people in Oakland. We talk about race a lot. We talk about gender a lot. We discuss transphobia and homophobia a lot. We discuss capitalism and civil rights a lot. We’ve heard helicopters and chants and seen the streets burn. We’ve been to protests. We’ve held signs and played drums. We’ve had our car broken into and our heart-covered backpack and pink size 3 trench coat stolen from the front seat on the first night of Occupy. We’ve driven past armies of cops in riot gear in our minivan. We’ve been here before. We are black people in Oakland. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts

To Be Made Whole.

November 5, 2014

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By Melissa Chadburn.

My weight fluctuates a lot— I’d say I gain and lose between 20 and 30 lbs. every year. I think there is a story my body is trying to tell. I think perhaps my body is storing too much pain at times.

The things that weigh on me:

The time I wanted back in with my foster family— so I met my foster parents at their job at the ad agency and gave them a presentation on why they should let me come back. The presentation was complete with ways I would financially contribute to the household, and ways that I would be good, and how no one would hardly notice me.

I only ever hit my mother once. It was a reflex. She was in a wild angered frenzy and threw a T-shirt at me. It had my favorite Superman button on it. A metal button the size of a cheeseburger. Somehow the weight of it landed on my nose and I bled. The shock of it all— my crying the blood, she ran to me, full of remorse. The second she was close I socked her in the stomach. Her face, the face she showed me, is the one that haunts me. My face and her face are so similar that the punishment is simple, it’s the look I give myself when I think no one likes me or that I’ve done wrong. Continue Reading…

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