Sunday, November 20, 2016

Quiet Strength

You must learn to be still in the midst of activity
and to be vibrantly alive in repose.
~ Indira Ghandi

I am a strong person. A strong woman. I have an iron will and determination. A focus and tenacity that will not quit.

My first boss after I became a park ranger compared me to a wolverine, a creature that once it clamps its jaws on its prey will not release them even into death. He would joke about the unsuspecting people who would underestimate my relentlessness nature.

When duty calls, I answer. I can carry the world on my shoulders. When a task is daunting, I bend myself to the task. And when the task requires me to take control, step up, speak out, I do, although being visible in this way is especially uncomfortable.

You see, my strength is a quiet strength.

And while I have always had an inner will and determination, and it has taken years to develop the ability to project that strength out into the world, I am still by nature a quiet and introspective person.

We have a dear family friend Charlotte who’s long been one of my biggest fans. She interpreted my behavior when I was a toddler as quietly observing and assessing my world and those in it. 

I don’t speak for the sake of hearing my own voice, or for the sake of being heard. I don’t insert myself into a space to make sure others notice me. I don’t make waves because I can. I am not loud by nature: I reserve that for times of need. In a noisy room I do not speak up just to be heard; but I will speak up when I need to say something. And when I need to say something I wait for an opening rather than cutting people off. I neither need, nor want to demonstrate my strength. I get no satisfaction in throwing my weight around.

But in a world where grandiosity, noise and boasting are celebrated, strong, quiet people like me are routinely overlooked. We are sized up and determined weak, insignificant, inconsequential, unthreatening.

Some people of course see who I am; undoubtedly they are generally more perceptive, or perhaps share traits like mine, or maybe know someone like me. They know that strength does not only present itself in loud, boastful packages.

But those others? If there ever comes a time when I assert myself, it almost always is unpleasant. I don’t know what their perceptions are, but after a lifetime of experience I have a few ideas:

      ·      Because they are loud and outspoken and I am not, they believe I am weaker,
      ·      They believe that they have the upper hand in our relationship,
      ·      If I do speak out or push back it completely confounds and angers them,
      ·      They respond by rejecting or attacking me.

This has definitely happened in working relationships. And in a capitalist society, most companies are built on a hierarchy that rewards self-aggrandizement and puts those people at the top.

Living in a patriarchal world, the assumption is that men are stronger than women. Generally speaking, if women do not demonstrate their strength loudly and boldly, that assumption stands. So in a male-dominated culture, most men do not notice my strength.

Unfortunately, too many women friends have followed this pattern.

I have always been drawn to women who are bold and outspoken. I love what I perceive as a rejection of patriarchy and the embrace of feminine power. I’ve always looked up to their fearlessness, the way they speak their minds without worrying about ruffling feathers – something that I definitely struggle with. I am fascinated by them, and curious to know how they grew beyond the bounds of gender roles.

But within these friendships, the same dynamic has usually happened: while I perceived that we were on equal footing, my more outspoken friends have often thought they had the upper hand. I did not believe I was giving them the power by giving them the floor, but they assumed I was.

A true friendship requires give and take, compromise, and a willingness to talk through conflicts. But many of my friendships with outspoken women only lasted until that time that I pushed back: at which time I was met with confusion and anger, followed by complete rejection.

For a long time, especially in the work environment, I experimented with how I presented myself: trying to project a stronger image initially; trying to soften my pushback if that need arose. In all honesty, all of my efforts and considerable internal angst reaped zero rewards.

And in seeing a similar pattern emerge among friendships, a deeper truth has dawned on me. I need to stand firmly in who I am, and learn to accept the consequences of living my truth. People who only see strength in loudness will underestimate me, and I need to accept that. Those same people will be angry when I stand up to them, and I need to accept that as well. Other people, those who are more perceptive of the variances of personality types, will see who I am. We will continue to get along well.

There is nothing in me that I need to fix. Become more authentic? Sure. Tell the truth faster? Always room for that. But there is nothing wrong with being quiet. And there is definitely nothing wrong with being strong. These things are a part of me. The world does not need to accept me. I need to accept myself.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Never Give Up

Content Warning: dream of armed robbery, contemplating being killed

In the days right after the election, I channeled my emotions into strategies. Disseminating information about ICE. Strategies for intervening if you witness harassment. The ACLU’s apps for recording hate crimes. I bypassed the anger and grief, and went directly to problem-solving.

Knowing one of my nieces might join the post-election protests, my dad expressed concern along with the suggestion that she make sure she feels good about the people she protests with (if she does protest), and I think the subtext was his hope that she would choose not to protest for her own safety.

Hate crimes have already spiked across the country. Racism was already rampant; people of color knew this, it is only us white folks who are opening our eyes to it. But by electing Trump, the country has given marginalized folks the message that their lives, their safety, is not important. Trump has glamorized racist rhetoric. And bigots are feeling encouraged by this victory of white nationalism. It isn’t news to people of color and all marginalized people that this country is unsafe. As I think of my white niece protesting, or myself committing to intervene if I see bullying or intimidation, it is clear that things are also not safe for those who would stand up against racists. And as much as we may try to control things, as we head into this new era (not newly racist, but newly proud and out white nationalism), safety is simply an illusion for all of us.

Three days ago my migraine hit. It’s been a doozy. I’ve spent most of the past three days in bed, in and out of sleep. During migraines, my subconscious has free range, and combined with being in pain and feeling useless, thoughts of hopelessness and despair can storm the barricades.

I had the strangest dream, and it was so real…

I was house sitting in a lovely home when there was an armed robbery. It was a professional job, we surprised each other, and I saw all their faces. I couldn’t believe it when I realized this meant they intended to kill me. I implored the person in charge of the robbery, a beefy white guy with big rings, sitting in a comfy overstuffed chair while several athletic women started to take the items they’d previously inventoried and prioritized.

I told him it wasn’t my time to die yet; I had a lot of living yet to do. I told him about my son, an adult, with whom I was so close. I realized that while I had a sadness about my own life being cut short, what really upset me was thinking about my family having to go through this. In a rush I described the struggles my son has endured, including surviving cancer. I told the man that my son’s wife recently lost her brother, and has also lost her father. I told him that my family has been through far too much and lost so many people; they can’t lose yet another person.

I was in fact pleading for my life, but for them. I took note of that, filed it away.

He told me that it was unfortunate, but what else could he do.

Two of the women took me out of the house to an alley. I repeated myself, made sure they knew as much as possible about me, and that my death would impact other people. They were professional; going about their business, listening with dispassionate interest. One woman offered that they might be able to find a random stranger to take my place, to be the one to die instead of me (presumably to convince the boss they’d done their job). She said sometimes that was done.

The thought of a random person dying so that I could live was abhorrent to me. I felt sickened. I answered emphatically, “no.”

I asked if there was anything I could do. Shrugs.

A van pulled up and despite the risk with guns pointed at me, I called out for help. It was in that moment that I realized I was not going to go quietly, but that I would wait and watch for any opportunity to escape. But the van was theirs, and they loaded me onto the top.

We drove off and I saw the stars above. There was the Big Dipper. I swear, the the stars had never been so bright before. I wondered if this would be my last time looking at the sky, and wished I had not taken it for granted. Its beauty made me weep.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

White Supremacy

I’ve been very deliberate today about what election-related news and commentary I’m allowing in. It’s a hard day to be an empath.

53% of white women voted for Trump, compared to only 43% for Hillary Clinton. White men and women combined voted 58% for Trump, 37% for Clinton. Bottom line, white supremacy won last night. And while most of us were taken by surprise by Trump’s victory, we shouldn’t be surprised by the prevalence of white supremacy in this country.

Ian Frank Gallery
Innocent Black men, women and children are executed in the streets, captured on film, and white people still justify it. And time after time those officers are not held accountable by our criminal justice system.

A group of white militants staged an armed take-over of a federal facility, some crossing state boundaries to organize the occupation, destroying property and sacred artifacts, and all were released without convictions.

Treaties and federal laws have been ignored by the government so a company can build an environment-threatening pipeline; security and police with military gear have used dogs, rubber bullets and pepper spray to attack Indigenous people trying to protect their own land. They have been arresting reporters and peaceful protesters alike, and systematically conducting strip searches.

Hate crimes against Muslims have escalated since 9-11. Domestic terrorism is overwhelmingly caused by white Christian extremists. And yet the media continues to manipulate the stories by describing the white terrorists as “troubled,” and “lone gunmen.” Meanwhile all Muslims, who in fact comprise nearly ¼ of the world’s population, are judged as terrorists. And black victims are criminalized even after they have been murdered.

In subtler, but no less dangerous ways white supremacy dictates the life choices of people of color. Since public schools are funded by property taxes, and since white people are the only ones who benefited from robbing land from indigenous people, then making profit off that land by the slave labor of black people, white communities are the ones that can afford good schools; meanwhile Black neighborhoods, Latino neighborhoods, and many schools on reservations have crumbling infrastructure and molding books.

The school-to-prison pipeline ensures that the majority of black men are not available to help raise their children, help support their families, and help bring their communities out of poverty. In prison they actually become more indebted, because the privatization of prisons allows for inmates to be charged outrageous fees for their “room and board.” Once released and rehabilitated, felons are never again allowed to vote, furthering the control of white people over black. The list goes on and on.
Ian Frank Gallery

So, we shouldn’t be surprised by the prevalence of white supremacy. It is rampant and insidious. It was built into the very foundation of this country. How else do you explain these injustices which go on every day, day in day out, for years, with white people not rising up and demanding justice for our brothers and sisters? How else do you explain the continuation of racial injustices that have occurred under Obama’s presidency?

We may have all been surprised last night. But now in the light of day it makes complete sense to me. Now I understand why white people have been allowing blatant racism to go unchecked. It’s all good, as long as we get our own, right?

As for me, now that the election is over I can resume my role in fighting to dismantle white supremacy. Some progressive friends are already planning to run for office. Not the Hillary variety of progressive; the Bernie variety of progressive - but even more intersectional. And I will be helping them.

The Political Revolution is underway.