Of course, the title is all wrong. It should be "Megalomaniac Trump Shits on My Brother's Grave" or "Hillary Clinton Voted in Favor of Iraq and She Still Has My Vote" or "My Brother was Killed in Iraq, So My Vote Should Count More Than Yours." And then one of these titles could be the driving thesis of this hoped-to-be-published-article-turned-blog-post, about that one time my brother was killed in Iraq, and how it made me learn a valuable lesson about --insert personal philosophy cum political ideology here-- and as a result, you should listen to MY voice in this FUCKING CACOPHONY of VOICES and vote as I say you must. Any other choice would be unconscionable (because, remember, my brother made THE ULTIMATE SACRIFICE).
I don't know that I fully believe in anything I just wrote. I don't know that I believe--well, in anything, anymore. And I don't feel despair over this. I guess one could call my lack of belief a soft resignation, an arms-length acknowledgment of a breezy, vague, but not disempowered, hopelessness. I am, right now, as a fifth-year graduate student, on the cusp of a potential maybe let's be realistic but please oh please book deal. I am 32 and white and cis and I didn't know, exactly, what those words truly meant in terms of identity until about five years ago. I live in Columbus, Ohio and I have a terrific husband and ornery pack of dogs and I am not only content, I am exceedingly happy. Like a goddamn Georgia O'Keefe poster of a painting of a perennial, I'm in bloom.
Last night, in Columbus, Ohio, Tyre King was killed. He's a hashtag now. He is a 13-year-old boy. He is black, which likely sentenced him to his death. I write "is" with purpose. I cannot bear to write "was." I bet he is in eighth grade. I wonder what his favorite food is? Does he have brothers or sisters? Is his mother...no, his mother is not OK. The people who love him are not OK. The cops say he has a BB Gun. They do not offer this factually, or as context for the situation--the release of this "information" is a defense. An excuse. A logical reasoning for the death of another black child at the hands of a trigger happy police force (unless you're white and eating someone's face, then you live).
I didn't start this essay with Tyre King because I feel like his tragedy is not mine. I worry I am exploiting his death now in some white savior-flavor way. I'm not sure I should tell you I have been curled up in the fetal position on my bed for about an hour now, weeping and snotting all over my husband's pillow. Yesterday was our anniversary. Eight years married, twelve years together. How dare I mourn the death of this child I do not know? I lied earlier, I do despair. The world is a hideous place, and I like to sit on my porch and forget about it. The faint Ohio sun ripples over green leaves resting on the roof of my house. The sky here is never quite blue enough, but everything is so very green, must be described with green adjectives: lush, dense, overgrown, leafy, verdant. I want change, and I want to want change less so my want does not overshadow any wants of those who are actually oppressed, disenfranchised, facing the real possibility of death, daily, simply based on the color of their skin. It's 2016. Did you know, it's 2016.
There's the title! "Once Poor White Woman Finally Privileged Enough to Ignore Election and Daily Tragedies of Being American, Specifically Being Black or Brown in America, Because, Again, this Author is White." Or "Quasi-Academic Mines Blue Collar Roots for Socialist Ideas Not Acted Upon, Merely Discussed at Wine and Watercolor Ladies Night Out." Or "Georgia O'Keefe Painted Va-jay-jay Flowers and I'M WITH HER!"
My brother had a BB gun. Or, his friend Eric had a BB gun. My mom would not have allowed a gun in the house. Eric and Ronnie used the gun while Mom was at work. They "accidentally" shot out a neighbor's sliding glass door. The house had been recently bought by a white family. A black family used to live there, The Jones', a mom and dad and two girls and a boy. I walked to school with the oldest daughter, everyday. Once, she and I stuck maxi pads all over the town bridge. Our back yards were separated by a short chain length fence, and the Jones' had a nicely manicured lawn, a small porch/deck. We had cement and dirt and a dying tree and a cardboard headstone for a dead hamster on our side of the yard. Mom mowed the weeds when she found the time. Our yard was indicative of the neighborhood, and the neighborhood may have been why the Jones' left, moved to a much nicer part of town. The new white family arrived and my brother shot out the sliding glass door Mr. Jones had added in his efforts to up the value of the house before they sold it. The cops were called. They were so disinterested I can't even remember their arrival or departure. I remember my mom looked ready to spank the shit out of my brother. She probably had to take a loan out to pay for that sliding glass door.
A few years later Ronnie got expelled from school. He was 13. He'd bought weed and been silly enough to examine the Ziplock baggie of green in the middle of pre-Algebra. Ronnie's trajectory seems to have inevitably led to the military. He needed shaping up. He needed adult-sized discipline. He thrived with strict boundaries and consistent male leadership. Eric joined too; Eric became a Sniper. He visits Ronnie in the cemetery, leaves Sniper memorabilia on his grave.
I'm supposed to teach Intermediate Creative Nonfiction in a few hours. I have 14 students, and I assign them Eula Biss, James Baldwin, Ta Nehisi Coates, Audre Lorde. I tell them this course is about "Finding Your Voice." I mean this stylistically, but mostly, I want them to interrogate their relevance. If I was 100% honest, I might say there are too many Voices like many of theirs already. Too many voices like mine. White voices. "Normative" voices. They are a thoroughly engaged, intelligent, critically thinking group of students. I am grateful for them and I do not want to see them today. I do not want to go in a room to talk around my urge to BRAINWASH THEM WITH MY LIBERAL AGENDA. This is what Fox News thinks I'm doing. This is what Trump tells his fellow White Supremacists I'm doing. I don't want to apply waterproof mascara and discuss, for three hours, the merits of the braided essay.
There is a vigil this evening, in the middle of our class period, for Tyre King. It will be out on the quad, on the grass, not nearly enough students there when this campus has a city's worth of people.
Last year, at a campus march for #blacklivesmatter (history on repeat), two white men leaned out of their dorm window and screamed the N-word. I hollered back at them, raised my fist, and they pulled down their blinds. The director of their dorm said it was not enough to point out which window they were at. I could not prove which white men, precisely, were yelling out of the window. She would plan some "programming." I said, "This is a hate crime." She assured me, she would plan "programming." A program to educate. "I might be able to get African-American studies on board," she said, hopefully. Cheerfully. I never heard from her again.
"My Gold Star Vote Matters More Than Yours" is a headline I pitched to Slate. The response to my five page rant I didn't want to write but did because I need a platform and that will help sell my book that no one is publishing yet:
"This is a tough essay. It's hard to straddle personal narrative and argument and I'm afraid this one gives me both in a way that feels unmanageable to me."
It is, was, unmanageable. It's dumb to pretend what I know isn't true. My vote doesn't matter more than anyone's. Trump is a bigoted monster; Also, here's a list of reasons titled "Why Hillary Clinton Doesn't Deserve the Black Vote."
I'm inclined to abandon this blog post altogether right now. Maybe I'm getting more done fighting with people on Facebook. Look, my hometown folks who call Colin Kaepernick "garbage." They think he's using his platform to say he is oppressed. They think it is that simple. That black and white. They make him a hashtag too: #garbage.
Or maybe I'll delete my Facebook. Go sit on my porch again. Smoke some weed and think about gardens. Burn out my #whiteprivilege, let it roll back and pause while I try not to think about things.
My therapist gave me a feelings wheel this week. She wants me to sit with my feelings, identify the complexity of each emotion--all of them eventually whittled down to six core emotions: Peaceful, Powerful, Joyful, Scared, Mad, Sad. The feelings wheel is in black and gray because it is a copy of her laminated version. The laminate version is beautiful, rainbowed and vibrant. This wheel is meant to help me define ways in which I cope, and to design healthier ways to cope. This wheel might help me not binge eat my pain. It might help me not turn my father's death, my brother's death, the death of another black man, woman, child, into a entire of bag of popcorn to be choked down as quickly as possibly. This feelings wheel will help me divorce my own feelings from the situations I exploit in order to feel those feelings.
The paragraph above is some of the whitest shit I've ever heard.
My voter ballot will be mailed to me next month. I had a nightmare that it never came. I had another nightmare that my husband didn't register to vote. I had another nightmare I was still in high school and it looked a lot like Facebook and grades were no longer grades, but opinions, and the loudest opinions graduated with honors.
I'm going to end class early today. I am going to lecture at my students. I'm going to tell them that nothing I say is as important as living in and listening to the world. I won't prepare a speech beforehand; I'll improv most of it, but it will be more about the pain of the world and how we have urges to capture the pain of the world and how we don't have ownership over all of the pain in the world, but the color wheel allows we still feel it. Then I am going to a vigil for Tyre King, and I will tell them if they want they can meet the rest of us on the green.