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I’ve been paying a lot of attention to the twittersphere since the Zimmerman verdict on Saturday. In the process I started following one of my favorite–now only occasional–NPR voices, Michele Norris. Norris left All Things Considered, which she used to cohost, to write a book, and started something in 2010 called The Race Card Project.
The Race Card Project. I love that name. Have you ever noticed how quick white folks are to play the “play the race card” card?
Yesterday at lunch I was skimming through the site and felt prompted to write my own six-word essay. I encourage you to take a shot at it yourself. It’s a helpful process. Mine–which
hasn’t shown up yet just showed up at the site–follows.
Here’s the link: We don’t want your “White” America.
We don’t want your “White” America.
By all appearances, I’m “white” and I was raised in white middle class America. My biological father was Hispanic (my relatives on that side are mostly pale, like me). My dad, the man who helped raise me, is part Native American. My wife’s son–now my son–is black, technically mixed race. And there’s a hodgepodge of miscellaneous race and ethnicity throughout my family tree.
Perusing this [The Race Card Project] site, I couldn’t help noticing an excess of comments by a few folks claiming to defend our “national identity,” [our white European identity]–defending it from the likes of me and my family.
1) By any sane reckoning, this country was long inhabited by brown-skinned natives before being invaded and colonized by fair-skinned Europeans.This was never a “white” country, except by the most despicable usurpation.
2) Skin color, while it may be a beautiful feature, is an arbitrary means of discriminating among peoples. I’m willing to wager that you could discern neither my character, intellect nor even my heritage by the color of my skin.
3) Despite its checkered past and frequent and flagrant hypocrisy, this nation, as it has existed for the last 200+ years (see #1), was founded on principles of opportunity, equality, diversity and freedom–freedom from, among other things, bigotry and oppression.
4) And we have grown in our understanding and embrace of those principles, grown to recognize and institutionalize constitutionally the rights of women and of blacks. This country is no longer, thank God, a white European good ol’ boys club. We have farther to go, but the progress that we’ve made–not some calcified snapshot of a particular point in the past–is who we are. As much, indeed, as we are in part who we were, we are far more what we are becoming.
5) Our culture is a sometimes chaotic commingling, sometimes harmonic union of a multitude of voices. Our language is notoriously and gloriously bastardized–stolen, borrowed, hopelessly corrupted, inventively conjugated–from every language on the planet.
Diversity is inherent in our national identity. More, it is what makes us great.
A monotone is unmelodic. Monoculture is weak and vulnerable. A palette of only one color–or even a few shades of the same color–offers little opportunity for expression.
This is not your “White” America.
This country has never been and–as long as I can help it–will never be your “White” America. It angers and disgusts me, but, more than that, it saddens me that anyone would want such a boring, insular, inbred construct of sameness. If that’s what you want, go make it somewhere else. If that’s what you want here, you’ve declared war on the nation you claim to be defending and I for one would be happy to see you treated accordingly.
I’ve been blessed with a beautiful wife (two, actually), an amazing daughter, a family that loves me, some great friends. I’ve lived a good life, got a college degree and had a reasonably meaningful and enjoyable career. And I’m pretty sure that Jesus loves me.
Yaknow, when I write that down, it sounds like a note of passing. It isn’t–at least it isn’t meant to be.
My fear is that it might be.
That fear isn’t based on health concerns or the lack of opportunity or even the lack of resources. Sure I wish I had the health and physical stamina of my 18-year-old self; I wish I was independently wealthy and knew all of the right people and all of the right tricks, had all of the right points of access and knew all of the best shortcuts to turn my dreams into reality. But a lack of resources (physiological, fiscal or otherwise) isn’t what’s kept me from realizing my dreams.
For the most part, when I imagine the gossamer-titanium membrane that separates imagination from actuality, a helluva lot of it comes down to, well, fear.
A few fears that come quickly to mind:
1. Disappointing and alienating the people who have proven themselves more than willing to forgive, accept and persist in their irrational love for me, whatever idiotic thing I do or, on the other hand, whatever simple act of decency I fail to do.
2. Offending religious and/or social conservatives with my foul, fucking language.
3. Showing myself to be not merely liberal but an off-the-reservation, anti-establishment, commie, universalist blasphemer against every sacred tradition or cherished family/American/Christian value.
4. Showing myself to be not merely conservative but an intractable, sycophantic, nostalgic reactionary, cleaving like a scared, hungry baby at the mother’s tit of the most illogical, regressive, outmoded beliefs.
5. Being arrogant.
6. Being stupid.
7. Showing myself over- or under-educated.
8. Failing to sufficiently reference my thoughts to the history of thought.
9. Bogging myself down by being pointlessly referential and allusive.
10. Saying the obvious.
11. Saying what everyone else is already saying or has already said.
12. An inability to translate my weird ass thoughts into words that not only make sense to another human being but successfully communicate what it is I actually mean.
13. A maddening desire to fully qualify and contextualize every statement.
14. A bad habit of saying things that are easily taken out of context and inevitably piss people off.
15. Being wrong.
16. Being right.
17. Being too early, too late, right on time.
18. Being irrelevant.
19. Appeasing the masses; being a populist demagogue.
20. Appeasing any of a number of self-appointed, self-righteous oligarchies of elites (whom you can always identify as such by their impassioned accusations against and vilifications of the other oligarchies).
21. Being too enamored of my own thoughts and/or the sound of my own voice.
22. Saying what I have to say in a way that is uninteresting, inelegant, ugly.
23. Being just a “thinker” or “word guy.”
24. Not being any good at even that.
25. An obsession to be comprehensive.
26. Being longwinded, verbose, redundant.
27. Incomplete lists.
So here we go. Let’s just face into some of these fears with a few guarantees:
1. I will continue to wrestle with my demons and will likely be held back to some degree by my fears. I don’t resign myself to bondage, but at this point in my life I no longer believe that regurgitating positive incantations and forcing my mind through tritely optimistic formulae will banish negativity, satan, poverty, halitosis, illogic, rationality or what-the-hell-ever-else is blocking me or chafing my short hairs.
2. I will disappoint you. I’m just gonna have to trust that the people who love me will continue to do so and that my being who I am won’t make them ill or prematurely gray or pathologically disillusioned. Or maybe they won’t love me. Or maybe they will love me and all of those curses will fall on them. I love them but they have to live their own lives, just as I have to live mine.
3. Sometimes I will say things that make no sense.
4. Sometimes I will say things that don’t need to be said.
5. I will sometimes trip (or run headlong) into vulgarity and blasphemy.
6. I will continue to resort to bullsh** neo-victorian euphemism and typological trickery to satisfy my own need to not feel like I am that much of a potty mouth or unsophisticate.
7. I will occasionally (or frequently) rant, whine and pontificate.
8. I will repeat myself.
9. Some of my ideas will be ill-conceived.
10. Others will be poorly expressed.
11. I will probably plagiarize (though, I hope, unintentionally).
12. Most of my conservative friends think I’m liberal. Fuck it; I’ll wear that label if it makes them happy.
13. Some of my liberal friends wonder why I cling to the backward vestiges of sectarianism and superstition. Fuck it. I love Jesus. I believe in fairy tales. I pray to an invisible God who committed genocide and sanctioned incest. Sue me.
14. I will hate every label and system and structure you try to fit me in.
15. I will continue to strive to define myself (or hear for myself from the heart of God who I am). I will probably take your definitions too seriously, but in most cases I will ultimately dismiss them.
16. I like words–pretty, ugly, arcane and obtuse, monosyllabic and simple, pious, profane, frustratingly vague, painfully precise, etc. There are enough of you bastards that obviously don’t; I’m pretty sure it’s okay that a few of us do.
17. I like to think. Not that I’m opposed to doing. I do some things. But I’m no longer content to restrain my thoughts because I don’t have a three-point action plan to accomplish them.
This is who I am and who I’m deciding to be. You might not like it. Feel free to express your disagreement. Feel free to join the billions who don’t read what I have to say.
Or feel free to join me. I mean this to be fun. I mean it to be meaningful. I mean to actually follow through this time; I like to believe that I’ve finally found a way to pretend that I don’t give a damn what any of you think (it’s a lie; I do–at least sort of) and can in fact say what’s on my mind, instead of always settling for an unreasonable facsimile thereof (that might be a lie too: I’m not sure we ever get the “real” thing; but I’m willing to risk getting closer than I usually dare).