Taking A Step Back

So… I intimated a week or two ago that I was writing some thoughts on Ferguson and Eric Garner and the general state of race relations in this country. And I did – I wrote them. But I don’t think I’m going to share them. There’s a handful of reasons.

When I shared them with my husband, he poked a few holes in my arguments and pointed out some new perspectives.   I realized that I didn’t really want to work on revising them, nor did I have the energy to defend them if, by some weird quirk of fate, my blog were to generate more attention than usual, because…

I’m tired.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I’m tired. I’m worn out. I’m stressed. On top of all the usual chaos that has kept my life full to the brim, I’ve added some medical issues. I cracked a tooth back in August and I’ve now been to the dentist and endodontic specialist five times… and I still don’t have the permanent crown. And I just broke the temporary crown on a piece of pecan pie that I forgot to chew on the other side of my mouth. I also went to the optometrist and now I’m waiting for my glasses to arrive.

In the course of applying for life insurance, I discovered that my blood pressure was a little high and my heart rate was extremely low. That started a chain of events that had my thyroid tested (it’s fine) and has me waiting on a stress test. The scheduling of the stress test was stressful enough, with the first cardiologist’s office continually rescheduling me due to their mistakes and me finally deciding to approach a different one. And now I have a cold, which has run me into the ground and may force yet another rescheduling of the stress test.

These may sound like petty excuses, but I’ve never had so many physical complications, doctor’s visits, and distractions.  I haven’t exercised in nearly a week now and I’m starting to feel the effects.  I simply don’t have the energy to push a position. It’s not that I don’t care, it’s just that…

It’s not personal for me. That may sound shallow and self-centered, but it’s true. I care very much about the issue and hope for change, but it doesn’t affect me directly and right now, I simply have too much else to be going on with.

It’s like John Pavolovitz said in this insightful essay, we have a proximity problem. We care more about what’s close to us. He presented it as a problem and it is definitely something that we should always be mindful of, but it’s also natural and healthy sometimes. None of us can solve all the world’s problems. If we tried, we’d spread ourselves out so thin, we’d simply vanish. Sometimes we can reach out and effect change; sometimes we have to withdraw and regroup.

One of the lessons of evangelism that I take to heart is that you can’t expect to win someone over to your perspective when their most fundamental needs (food, water, shelter, clothing) are not being met. The same goes for each of us, whether with receiving or with giving. We can’t take on external issues when we are struggling at home.

Well, I’m struggling. I know that my struggles are minor by comparison to what other people have to go through, but they are still my struggles. And right now they are very nearly more than I can bear. Any sane person would know that when they are in this situation, they should cut some stuff out. For me, it’s all I can do to get back to the keyboard and write about my family. Writing about the big stuff… the energy just isn’t there.

So I’ve decided to let that line of thinking go for now. I’m not convinced that the people who need to hear it would hear it, and there’s not much point in preaching to the choir. If you were anxiously awaiting my perspective, I’m sorry to disappoint. If you were wishing I’d quit going political and get back to the feel-good kiddy stories and parenting lessons-learned, you’re in luck.

One thing about going through a period of stress, it really helps you figure out what’s most important to you. Whether it’s what should be most important to you is another question. One best left for a less stressful time.

Dear White People

My husband and I went to see Dear White People Sunday evening.  First, I want to say that we both thought it was a wonderful movie in every respect and we fully recommend it to everyone.  The second thing I want to say is this.  It was not about race.

Don’t get me wrong.  Race was a very heavy and present backdrop.  The plot centers around a growing discontent between the black and white students on a fictional ivy league campus.  It deals fully with the kinds of issues unique to African Americans and it takes a critical look at white privilege as well as those senseless acts and comments white people do and say without thinking.

But it’s not about race.  What struck me as I left the theater, still savoring all the complex characters and their relationships with each other, was that it’s about people trying to find their place.  It’s about people not fitting in and then not being true to themselves in an effort to fit in.  It’s about internal and external conflict of character.

Yes, race was an important part of that discovery.  What does it mean to be black?  What does it mean to be biracial?  How must a person act to fit in with his or her black classmates?  What if a black student wants to fit in with the white classmates instead?  What if a person is black and gay?  And a nerd?  What if they can’t fit in with the black students and also can’t fit in with the gay crowd?  What about the rich legacy black kid whose dad has strong expectations of him?  What if he’s hiding part of who he is?  What if a woman finds herself in an angry/defiant black revolutionary role but is in love with a white man and is afraid her friends will find out?  If a white woman is dating a black man just to make her family squirm is she using him?  Is it any different than him sleeping with a black woman that he’s not really interested in?

These characters were so rich and engaging.  Each was striving for something he or she didn’t have.  And in some cases, couldn’t have.  Their struggles were real and oh-so believable.

Now… I’m not black.  I am ignorant of most of what black people in this country have to deal with.  I have spent a small amount of time over the years talking to black friends and acquaintances so I have a secondhand sense of some of it.  A secondhand sense is wholly inadequate but it’s about the best I can ever get.  I understand from an academic sense what institutional racism, white privilege, and micro-aggression is about.  I say this so that my next statements will not be taken to mean that I think my experiences are of the same magnitude.

What often makes a book or movie engaging to a reader or watcher is the ability to relate to one or more of the characters.  One reason Hollywood appears to use in not making many movies with all black or nearly all black casts is the fear that white people will think the movie will not relate to them.  Boom, just like that, they lose a large chunk of the potential audience.  Black people?  Well, they are used to only having a handful of black characters and most of them stereotypes at that.  So no need to worry about them.

Here’s the deal with Dear White People.  I related to these characters.  And, no, I’m not talking about the clueless white people, although I admit to seeing me in some of their actions too.  I mean that I was able to relate to the black characters.  Not their struggles with being black, but with their struggles with being alive in this world.

A dilemma  of sorts was presented in the movie.  It went something like this:

You walk into a restaurant and to the waitress, you look like a black customer that didn’t tip her well in the past.  She only takes your order after taking everyone else’s in the room.  You wait 45 minutes before your food comes out.  Now it’s time to tip.  What do you do?

1) Leave the standard 15%.  It’s what’s expected.

2) Don’t leave a tip!  The service was terrible!  A tip is to reward good service and she didn’t provide that.

3) Recognize that she expects you, a black person, to not tip well.  Leave a generous tip to try to change her perspective.

Obviously, I’ve never faced racism in a restaurant.  I still got excited at the familiarity as the dilemma was presented though.  Why?  Because I’ve experienced the same dilemma.  Families with young children are often assumed to not tip well.  So some waitstaff are not as attentive as they should be.  Should I confirm their invalid assumptions by giving them the lower tip that they so richly deserve?  Or should I tip them handsomely in the hopes that they will drop their stereotype and treat the next family better?  Been there.

Then there’s trying to fit in with the group that I’m not actually part of.  A black woman in the movie tried so hard to fit in with a particular group of whites.  If she played her cards just right, she could get some pseudo-acceptance, but she was never fully part of the group.  And in her attempts to be part of the group, she left behind her black friends.

Likewise, when I was fourteen and trying to show the older boys on the hiking trip that I could keep up with them – indeed, be one of them, I abandoned my girlfriend who wasn’t as strong or as fast.  I didn’t dare walk with her at the back, where I could have enjoyed her company, because I was afraid the boys might think I couldn’t keep up.  I threw away what I had to chase after something I couldn’t.

There’s plenty more examples that I won’t elaborate on.  Let’s just say that this movie did a terrific job in making these characters accessible to everyone.  I believe it proved that a movie can have all the main characters be black and still be something non-blacks can relate to.  It wasn’t poking fun like a Tyler Perry movie.  It wasn’t a gut-wrenching portrayal of slavery or pre-Civil Rights era.

No, it was just a story of ordinary people trying to find their way in the world.  And those people just happened to be black.  It added to my understanding of the rich diversity of black perspective.  It proved (although it sadly shouldn’t have needed to) that there are as many different perspectives among black people as there are black people.  Same as whites.

I don’t want to minimize the important analysis of the complexity of race in America that the movie engaged in.  There are a lot of lessons for both blacks and whites, plenty for us to ponder on how we relate with the each other, both within our race and without.  But I truly believe the bigger lesson was that we all face the same most basic struggles.  How to find our place in the world.  And how to be content when we find it.