acknowledging white privilege

a few of you know me well enough to have heard me identify as a black mexican jew trapped in a white woman’s body. i don’t bother to include that i’m bisexual, because being bi is obvious in my perception, presentation, and participation in the world. i’m upfront about my cluelessness of hetero thinking—it doesn’t make sense to me. i know if you were born hetero then you think hetero, but because i was born bi, the hetero perspective of the world is only an imagined stretch of “maybe it’s like this…?” to me.

cue:  here’s where we begin to discuss white privilege and white supremacy.

i grew up hungry poor in a black neighborhood. i was one of three white kids in a classroom that included twenty-seven black kids and one brown kid. i learned about white privilege early. white privilege meant that when my friends (all were black) and i went to the corner store after school, i stole candy for us because the workers at the store followed my black friends down every aisle, expecting them to steal while  assuming a pretty little blue-eyed towheaded white girl wouldn’t steal. shame on me for stealing. shame on them for their racial prejudice that allowed me to get away with it.

fast forward to present day. public restrooms are difficult to find in big cities like new york, paris, and london, but lavish hotels are easy to find in those cities. when i need to use the restroom in nyc, paris, or london, i walk into a four or five star hotel and head toward the restroom that can be found in the lobby, bar, or near their meeting rooms. that strategy works because i’m a white woman. nobody notices a white woman walking into an expensive hotel, acting like she belongs, surreptitiously searching for a bathroom. if i were black, my first step into the same hotel would draw attention.

if you have white skin, you’re benefiting from white privilege in this country (and other western countries), whether you realize it or not. because i grew up in a black neighborhood, i’ve always been aware of the privilege extended to me because of my melanin-challenged skin. you may not have had the asset of growing up in the vibrant company of black people and might be unaware of your privileges. we need to raise consciousness here, we need to talk about privilege, we need to acknowledge that privilege exists and that all white people benefit, knowingly or not.

make it a game if it helps to ease past your defensiveness and shame. to better understand hetero culture, i play the “maybe it feels like this?” game.  all white people can play the “if i were black, how might this situation be, feel, transpire differently?” game.  presently and historically, white privilege exists because white people hold the most power, wealth, and access to resources in this country (and across the western world). white supremacists are afraid of losing that power. fear is at the root of hate.  please do not let your fear impede your exploration of white privilege. please do not let your fear (or guilt or shame) of benefiting from racism prevent you from uncovering the inherent structural racism perpetuating in our communities. study your environment. question your assumptions. please notice the  daily advantages that coincide with having pale skin. in order to achieve actual (rather than presumed) equality in this country, white people must lean into the discomfort of acknowledging our privilege in order to address issues of equal access to opportunities that our country hasn’t yet achieved.

change happens here and now, with you and with me and with everybody whose pale skin brings the privileges that the legacy of white supremacy has granted us. please actively seek to raise your consciousness about the privileges automatically extended to white skin. search your heart, mind, and immediate surroundings to notice where and how white privilege manifests today in your world. we must acknowledge white privilege in order to change what is and has persisted since our country’s origins. the time is now. the task is ours.

 

 

 

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confessions with short hair

confession: i didn’t lose money in the casinos because i didn’t gamble. i didn’t gamble because he made me hand him all my money before we walked into the casino so that i wouldn’t gamble because when i gamble i almost always lose money…and feel inconsolably sad for wasting money that i lost gambling.

confession: my friend s listens to great music. once in a while she posts what she’s playing on facebook. usually i recognize her musical postings as songs i loved on repeat years ago and have forgotten. sometimes she introduces me to something new. she understands about living alongside a self-made mix tape soundtrack. today’s song on repeat in my world is one i associate with her. recently i reassigned a song that i held for an ex to her because she dedicated it to her brand new chosen-not-biological dad. life feels better when songs trip positive associations with people we love. if i could, i’d give you every song you’re holding for that ex you’re still grieving as a reassigned happy place where we dance around the room loving each other safely, wholly, joyfully.

confession: in montreal i got an emergency haircut because i’d been hating my hair for weeks. the salon owner i called was able to squeeze me in that saturday afternoon because he had a cancellation. i close my eyes while i’m getting a haircut. i meditate while the professional cuts my hair. i breathe and trust. he cut my hair several inches shorter than i requested. he was worried i’d be angry. when i opened my eyes, i was thrilled. i’ve wanted short hair for years but hesitated because i hate the growing out phases. some mistakes are wondrous gifts.

confessions: some of us will die the way we lived. some of us that die the way we lived will be considered as having lucky deaths. some of us that die the way we lived will be considered as having tragic deaths. i hope i die the way i’ve lived, whether that turns out lucky or tragic, i’d like to be consistent.

confession: for nearly a month i’ve been writing horribly cliché poems about leaving lovers. the only fun part of writing these poems is making up funny titles for chapbook collections of these bad poems. also, the point is to write, to keep writing when the writing is terrible, to keep writing because writing every day is better than not writing, to keep writing because writing is a good enough reason to stay alive when staying alive is hard, to keep writing because if i can keep writing when the writing sucks then i can write my way into good poems again one day and one day might be today. (or tomorrow, since today’s poem sucked, too.)

confession: send me your letters, the ones you write in your head when you’re awake in the middle of the night. send them telepathically if you don’t want to get out of bed for pen and paper. please send me your letters. i will read each word carefully, intuiting the combinations of feelings that create the mood, finding the frequencies of love and fear in the spaces between the words. i will pause for the punctuation, letting each thought complete itself in the silence following a comma, semicolon, period, question mark, and exclamation point. i will sit patiently as you take your time telling me the stories you want to share. i’m here for you. i’m listening.

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and the answer is…

i’m a crier. i make no secret of my tears. when i try to hide them, i fail and in those doomed efforts i make ugly faces. the world has enough ugliness; i attempt to lessen ugliness by letting my tears fall without restrictions.

i cry to stream pain from the inside to the outside. i cry from the exquisite pain of beauty and grace and kindness; equally or more frequently moved to tears by the “good” stuff than the hurt-sad-scared stuff . the pain is simply the pain of being alive, and i’ve been practicing for decades to feel the pain without suffering. tears help me flow through pain, because the sweetness that inspires tears breaks my heart open and that breaking hurts, too.

i don’t mind the pain. not really. pain means i’m alive.

sure, sometimes i weary of the pain. sometimes the weariness from pain engenders a longing for a relief imagined on the other side of dying. but as long as i’m here, i might as well breathe through the pain, open my heart wider, and love more.

i woke up scared and resistant on sunday. i stepped through montreal with my brand new short haircut and tried to out-pace pain, tried to leave it in the footsteps behind me. it didn’t work. i returned to the hotel and wrote an email that acknowledged my fear. the fear hung around. i called someone who knows these fears of mine and listed them again. he listened. he reassured. he said everything was going to be okay. (because everything is always okay even when it isn’t.) i felt the same fears but less afraid of those fears after talking with him. i ignored my fears and spent an hour doing sudoku puzzles (focus the mind on a task to circumvent the irrational fear circuit) and then took a nap. after my nap i remembered my objective to live courageously, to love courageously, to love more when fear threatens to close my heart.

days later, i’m sitting with those same fears, investigating this pain, and crying all the tears that surface without suffering. it’s okay to hurt like this. it’s safe to love this much and safer to love more. here we go, y’all. it’s time to love more. (like always.)

 

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cruising days

every morning i wake as this giant ship docks in a new port. for breakfast i slurp two large shot glasses of sweet creamed oats with thinly shredded coconut and a mysterious island fruit i can’t name. this delicious elixir gets me sugar-rush hiiiiiiiiiiiigh to begin my day.

in every port, my first mission is to find the public library. i vibe a new city by the feel of its library. is it a serious city with a large reference section? is it an arty city displaying art on its walls? is it a kid-focused city with an extensive children’s section and posted weekly kids’ activities? i honor each city’s library as i gather insights about its population and values. i pass through the aisles reading spines of books, opening books about unknown subjects to learn something, pausing to flip pages of books i’ve read and loved, feeling at home in every library all over the world.

i spend my afternoons walking along each port town’s boardwalk and parks. every eastern canadian port town has a stunning city park with acres of blooming gardens, green spaces, and trails. i discover trees and flowers new to my eyes. i am delighted by rodents and birds i can’t identify.

last call for all aboard is 5:30pm. i step onto the gangway at 5:28pm with a few postcards in hand. i move directly to the poolside ice cream station and invite my inner six-year-old to indulge in the unlimited toppings bar.

i walk laps around the ship’s outdoor track as we return to sea. i walk for hours and miles admiring the sunset’s colors shift to night. last night after sunset i watched the red sliver of leo’s new moon setting into the sea at precisely my birthday minute. (month=hour:minute=day)

later i lie in bed, gently rocked to sleep by waves against the boat carrying me toward tomorrow’s next adventure.

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your tender heart

hi. i love you.

that’s how i begin the letters i write in my head to my ex.

when i quit writing paper or electronic letters to the ex (doesn’t matter which ex, it happens with all of them), i needed (needed or wanted? a common hyperbole, we over-report our wants as needs)…ahem, i wanted to stay heart-connected with the person i loved while honoring our time and space apart from one another to heal separately.

there are exes i write to in my head for years after they’ve gone.

hi. i love you.

those four words are often the entirety of the letter i write in my head to the ex because then i pick up a pen or put my hands on a keyboard and write “hi. i love you” to someone presently in my life, someone i can love in action (outside my head), someone i can reach out and connect with and ask questions and receive answers, someone who wants to receive what i want to give.

hi. i love you.

how is your tender heart today?

my heart has been stretching everyday for as many days as i can remember. i practice growing my heart large enough to hold all the world’s pain and all the world’s joy and let the joy and the pain flow in and out with my breath, let the joy and the pain stay as long as they stay and let them go whenever they go. my heart tires of practicing. i practice again each day anyway. i practice because i’ve given up the fantasy that i can escape pain. i practice because my middle name is joy. i practice because i want to love you better. most of all, i practice because i want to love you more, deeper, fuller, bigger, truer, realer.

hi. i love you more today.

please be kind and gentle with your tender heart today. i love your tender heart.

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stars reflected in the ocean

confession: i think ahead to the end of my life and imagine that i’ll want more time, whether that end arrives in one year or fifty-seven. i try to make more time in advance of that death. i bend time better while sleeping than awake, but i figure all practice counts toward mastery and it gives me another reason to take more naps.

confession: i want more free stuff. (specifically, i want a free nightstand in austin to pick up eight weeks from now.) when i moved from austin, i tried to give away my washer and dryer for free, first to people i knew and then on craigslist. nobody came to claim them. i gratefully receive free stuff in philadelphia every week. i live smack between a working class neighborhood and an old-moneyed neighborhood. rich people set out lots of perfectly good stuff the night before trash and recycling day. i shamelessly ninja-stealthy sift through the goodies at midnight.

confession: this morning i saw a smashed benz jeep on a tow truck with its engine guts hanging out–big metal roadkill being hauled away.

confession: when i wear green, i think of her. green is her color. i wore green my entire life before meeting her without thinking anything about it, but now when i wear green, i think of it as her color.

confession: sometimes i feel inexplicable embarrassment while trying to explain my choices to prejudging ignoramuses. for example, i go on a different cruise vacation about once every other year—different oceans, different continents, different countries. people who think they know me, people who have never been on a cruise, or people who have been on an obnoxious disney cruise or some horrible low-rent caribbean cruise and assume their isolated experience applies to all cruises without an inkling that the variety of cruise options are vaster than those on the sixty foot food trough at buffet palace–these people say to me, “you don’t seem like someone who would like a cruise.” dude…sitting on a deck chair beneath stars in the middle of the ocean every night, sleeping in a completely dark interior cabin while the ship gently sways, and waking up in a different exciting port city each day waiting for me to explore it–if you don’t understand why i love these things, how do i begin to explain myself to you?

confession: i depart on a cruise in a couple weeks and i hate telling people because they usually respond in the manner described above.

confession: i had a mini-breakdown last friday. i couldn’t work anymore. i couldn’t talk about it. i couldn’t cry about it. i couldn’t reach out and ask for help. i did the only thing i could do. i made art. i mailed two of those creations to two different friends yesterday. i can work again today. i wish a breakdown-free week to you and me.

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when you’re dying (or just feel like it)

confession: every time she calls, i wonder if it is the call, the call to tell me that our friend has died. she called last night. our friend is still alive. i texted our friend after that call. our friend conserves her limited energy for things other than texting back, but i trust that her lover reads the text messages to her.

confession: i have another friend who is dying. (it can take several sick years to die of certain cancers.) i think about what i’d do with several hundred chemo-sick days if that’s what i had left. my friend plays video games. cancer took surfing but gave him video games. if cancer took dancing from me, i might play video games, too, especially with a virtual reality headset.

confession: none of us knows how many days we have left, sick or healthy. that reality keeps me writing, dancing, hiking every day.

confession: dance break. choose your favorite groove. (i’ve been in a sexy dance loop for several weeks with this song on repeat–https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BS0G1KK8H6M)

confession: i have a friend who feels like she is dying from heartbreak. i know that feeling, the dying-grieving that threatens to collapse you from inside every time your breath catches on a suppressed crying jag. fuck, that hurts. also, fuck that hurt. if there’s a shortcut through that pain, i don’t know it…except to spend as many moments as possible each day doing the things that are worth being alive for.

things worth being alive for this week: watermelon, cherries, the letter that arrived from the newest friend, the letter i’m writing to the writer, shafts of brassy sunlight angling through the trees 28 minutes before sunset, the dusky light 18 minutes after sunset that turns my skin a magical glowing blue, fireflies, a handsome man’s strut in a suit under a bright red umbrella, when someone introduces me to a perfect old song that is new to me, stretching in bed and going back to sleep for twenty minutes.

other things worth being alive for in weeks and months and years beyond this one: rendezvous, reunions, surprise meetings, chance encounters, synchronicity, new beginnings, swimming pools and hot tubs, oceans, street food in thailand, foot massages, art that you’ll make, art that i’ll make, a long-anticipated vacation, journeys across time, explorations of landscapes—earthly, emotional, and psychological, lasting moments of peace (ten minutes in meditation counts), intermittent reprieves of calm (a single exhalation counts), naps, baby animals, laughing with the friend that reminds you how much fun it is to be you, to be your friend, to feel happy again.

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