It's Okay That You're Racist (For Now): De-Stigmatizing Being Racist So That We Can All Move Forward
IT'S OKAY TO BE RACIST. WHAT'S NOT OKAY is to continue to choose to allow your racist instincts to continue.
Allow me to explain:
Racism is a lot like anxiety—and, hell, I’m not a psychologist, but it seems like racism is anxiety. And trust me—I know a lot about anxiety. I’ve been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder since 2012, and have been experiencing it loooong before then. An anxiety disorder is essentially where your neurons misfire on a regular basis to tell you that there’s a threat to your survival when there actually isn’t one, and holy hell, it is obnoxious as fuck. For those of you who don’t have anxiety disorders, it’s basically like feeling like a tiger is fucking chasing you and constantly within one swipe, except that you feel that way all the time. I’ve been dealing with my anxiety disorder for almost fifteen years. It’s exhausting. It’s awful.
(I need a sticker or something. Or a badge of honor. Do they have anxiety stickers?)
I’ve been through years of therapy with several therapists, all of whom tell me the same thing: my anxiety is not serving me. It has a net negative outcome on my life. I spend more time existentially worrying—putting energy into worrying about things that are significantly less likely to happen than the level of worry I’m putting into preventing them—than I do actually living and enjoying my imperfect life. It’s taken me decades to embrace imperfection and unfinished projects and not overperforming in my work, but by golly, I’ve been working on it, and I have improved so much. My life is a billion times better because I’ve put in that work. I’m a billion times more relaxed than I used to be.
That doesn’t mean I’m not anxious anymore. Having an anxiety disorder means that I have to spend actual effort counteracting my brain’s instinct to be anxious. It means that when I’m in the car, thinking about how many car accidents happen on a daily basis and how many of them result in death and wondering whether the car seat we have will actually protect our kid and whether we’ve signed a will and whether we’re leaving anyone out of that will and whether they’ll be offended if they’re not included and how I’m going to need to start repairing those relationships that haven’t even broken yet—it means that I have to spend active energy unraveling that spiral as I’m going through it. I have to practice this using the tools that therapists have provided me over the years, and it takes work to re-train my brain. For some people, this comes naturally, and good for them! That’s awesome. For me, though, it takes work to make new, healthy thought-process habits. And that’s okay.
It’s okay that my brain works the way it does.
It’s awesome that I’m putting the work in to re-train it so that I have more peace in my life.
HOW CAN THIS PLACE BE SO PEACEFUL for me yet so destructive to you?
This valley with its lush green grasses under my Converse sneakers. With its bright blue skies over my box-dyed hair. With its morning birds chirping to each other as I type with my thumbs on my phone. With its desert-yellow flowers I capture on my NatGeo app. And as I get closer to my brother's home in the mountains, I walk on cracked asphalt, passing a plastic, broken Pelon con Rico container on the floor, blown out of a trash can by the high winds.
I CAN'T STOP THINKING ABOUT THE "GOOD GERMANS" in Nazi Germany. The people who knew Hitler was deliberately committing genocide against Jews but who voted for him, anyway. On purpose.
People say that they were doing what they thought--believed!--was right, but how could they believe that murdering an entire subcategory of humans was the right thing? My thought process in response to this, as a Jewish person, goes like this:
There are obvious flaws within the system of thinking here, but I want to be transparent and honest, because that's the only way forward, here, so bear with me.
When Trump got elected in 2016 and started generalizing Mexicans in similar ways that Hitler generalized Jews, I of course panicked--because guess what? I'm Mexican, too. My friends told me that I was overreacting when I compared modern early Trumpism to early Nazi Germany, but I was genuinely terrified. Sure, I'm White-passing, and I grew up Christian. But would those things save me if push came to shove? When people start using rhetoric that blames an entire category of people, it's us-versus-them. It's fight-versus flight. It's survival thinking--and there's no reasoning with survival thinking.
We expel vitriol and we start choosing our candidates by process of elimination: I can only vote for my candidate because the other candidates made this mistake, made that mistake, etc. Also, I'm ignoring the mistakes my candidate made, or I'm rationalizing those mistakes as "not as harmful" to our government/humanity/etc.
I'm not blaming people for having this reaction, though. I think it's a response to post-traumatic stress. It is a fear-based response. We're so used to having to choose between bad and worse that we're still evaluating a pool full of awesome candidates--brilliant ideas and flaws and all--by purity tests instead of looking at all the ways they work well together. But we don't have to this time around. We have a bunch of good candidates, all of whom would bring something different to the stage, flaws and all.
Remember: government is a team sport. We're all in this together. Cue High School Musical theme.
I AM FROM HEAT. A place with sun, maybe too much, but it's sorely missed when you take it away. No room for chill, except briefly for a dip in a chlorinated pool. (I don't know what to do with this saltwater nonsense.)
I am from sweat, dried sweat layered beneath wet sweat, protected beneath pimples that make my face sting and make me feel less-than human, less-than beautiful, less-than desirable, but these are my greatest strength: if I do not worry about beauty, I can focus on love, and through that I can bring people close to me to ease my perpetual insecurity.
I am from Christmas tamales with people my parents hate and who also hate them back; I am from putting on a social face and giving all the expected answers--
Yes, I'm doing well in school;
Yes, I love Jesus;
Yes, I love you, too.
Even though I only really like the reading-stories part of school, and the teacher praise when I've done well; even though I think Jesus is a metaphor and I doubt what my church says; even though I see how you all smile on top of your lies.
This piece is brought to you by Libba Bray's workshop at SCBWI, "Digging for Truth," in which participants were encouraged to "name your secrets" and "honour them by acknowledging them." The piece is a 10-minute timed freewrite based on the prompt "Where I'm from."
Photo source: COPD Living
BROWN FEET. THE FEET ARE ALWAYS BROWN. Four years ago, and now, they're brown.
Children lay face-down on green camping mats, but no packages of Jet-Puffed or Honey Maid or Hershey's, classic American childhood staples, are nowhere in sight. Present instead are large sheets of Reynolds wrap, silver and shiny like a housewife's wedding ring. A woman in an advert grins overenthusiastically holding a huge box of Reynolds wrap, her hands cupping either end of the box like she's describing how big her husband's dick is.
I guarantee you a woman did not make that ad.
There's a webpage that's titled: WOMEN IN JOURNALISM NEWSPAPER MILESTONES. It's short. Thirteen women are listed between 1739 and 1976. The author of the article is named Bill.
In a different advert, in another decade, a boy stands in a yellow rain coat holding Reynolds wrap next to his dog. The boy is pleased. Of course he's pleased: rain boots protect his feet and he splashes in puddles with his beloved dog.
I call the woman "woman" and the boy "boy." Most of the people who read this will assume the invisible, default word in front of those words:
We don't have to specify.
WHO ELSE HAS BEEN TOLD to be more "professional" before? I've been told to not swear as much with people, because it's not as "professional," and while I agree that not everyone is open to casual swearing and that it might be a good idea to make sure people are comfortable with your swearing before dropping f-bombs on them like it's hot, I am resistant to the idea that swearing is "unprofessional."
It seems that people's ideas about what is "professional" are quite conservative, really. It's okay to mention Christmas, or throw a Christmas party in the workplace--as long as you call it a "holiday" party--and have Santa and reindeer everywhere--but a Hanukkah party and the display of a menorah at said party is "too religious." Queer people are "accepted" in the workplace, but if you want to talk about your polyamorous relationship, "you don't need to share everything" even though everyone else talks about their wives and husbands on a regular basis. Employees with mental disabilities are protected by the American Disabilities Act (ADA), but if you talk about your medication in the workplace, you shouldn't because people might think you're tripping on Vicodin 24/7.
To this I politely ask: what the hell, people?
I NEVER FELT MEXICAN. NOT REALLY.
I've written several times about growing up as a privileged half-Latina, white-passing American, and I cannot stress how embarrassing it was to never really meet anyone else going through this. And isolating. Every time I met another Latinx person, I felt like a fraud. I even considered joining my school's Amigas Unidas organization, or the Sigma Lambda Gamma chapter, but I felt "too white" to join. I kept feeling like I had to prove that I knew Spanish, kept apologizing for my grammar. I pretended like I understood the slang jokes that everyone else made.
I was lying.
I am a proud Latina; I'm proud of the legacy that my Mexican grandparents have set, the stories of perseverance that they told about growing up prior to Cesar Chavez's labour movement. I grew up as a young Mexican girl in Fresno, but my story was far from that of Gary Soto's--I lived in the suburbs, not the barrio; I went to private, magnet, and charter schools and had an attentive mother who nagged me about my grades; there was never any question about whether I was going to college or not, and I even thought of Fresno State as a fallback school rather than something to aspire to*.
And to make matters worse: I was never racially profiled.
This sounds like a good thing, doesn't it? And it is, to an extent. But it's distressing in that my brother and I have drastically different experiences with this, despite having the same racial blood makeup.
PART OF THIS COMPLETE BREAKFAST
Blog not recommended for sober consumption.