august fades out into a wisp; a cold, leaden sky spreads overhead. this is not the september beginning that i've grown accustomed to over the years.

the yards fly by in a blur as i cut through sharp air. over and over, my peripheral vision catches the colored rectangles jutting out of dying grass. in english, spanish, and arabic, they read: no matter where you are from, we are glad you're our neighbor. when the signs first started propagating around my city, i found them comforting. slowly, that feeling has faded into frustration that they are necessary. they are little declarations of guilt, an act of parting with a small amount of money to publicly and unceasingly declare, 'look, i'm not a bad person.' they defend against the unspoken: other people are bad. other people hate you, other people don't want you here, other people wish you never existed, it's okay, i'm not one of those people, i think you're okay.

after the election, i walked to my polling station to read the posted results from our neighborhood. i wanted to see how many people voted for a figurehead for hatred. the number was greater than zero, and i wished it didn't fill me with such instant fear and suspicion and anger towards the people who lived around me. who were they? i'd never know. no one in this progressive, cosmopolitan neighborhood would dare plant flags in their yard supporting hatred; they sit in their secret minority, where they feel persecuted for their political beliefs.

the weeks marched on. i have to talk about it more; i have to tell people that i am not disappointed in them, that i am not afraid of them, that i think they have done no wrong, because i feel it everywhere i go. i feel the sudden need from others for approval, for validation, for recognition from the 'other' that they are not bad people. i am part of that 'other' that needs to reassure them. the petty part of me laughs, because i have felt this need my entire life.

but, yes, this is guilt, my friends. this is guilt you are feeling. this is guilt and confusion and worry about whether or not you are doing the right thing. someone asked me recently, 'do you want me to apologize on behalf of all white people?' and i said no. someone confessed to me recently, 'i didn't understand why you wouldn't make eye contact with me when we first met, and i was worried that i did something to scare you.' i gave assurances that i did not feel fear in that moment. i am smiled at more, i am complimented more, i am acknowledged more.

i feel this push, constantly, and it confuses me because i know i have done nothing more to deserve this sudden praise for existing. does it take nazis marching in the streets after our country elects the epitome of affluent white male privilege for people to decide to be nice to those they perceive to be at risk? i am no more deserving of praise now than before the sudden collective realization that there is hatred built into our culture.

i am guilty of this, too. i've changed, i've examined how i speak and how i think of others and what sorts of attributes i am biased for and against, and i have made it a point to be kinder and more patient and more open and more inclusive. i feel the guilt that comes from knowing that some people suffer consequences of their existence that i do not, and i feel guilt that comes from a sense of helplessness in my inability to correct these imbalances. i feel a shift in my behavior that i have not yet learned to control, to spend more of my energy protecting and uplifting the marginalized individuals while leaving the privileged majority to fend for themselves. is this fair? is this just? is this ethical?

i cannot condemn any behavior that i have not fully understood; it is hypocrisy to criticize actions that i have also performed. i have not yet decided if it is hypocritical to criticize hypocrisy.

i don't want to live my days in endless outrage, but i suddenly cannot stop noticing when i don't want to contribute my voice or my attendance or my acceptance to a group because i don't feel like efforts have been made to create a good environment for my perspectives. i suddenly feel this pressure to withhold my participation out of spite, while simultaneously yearning desperately to put my voice and my background and my whole existence into a position that will increase representation for people who feel like i do. i have not yet sorted out how to be a graceful person in this world at this moment.

this is hard, my friends. what i am wishing for is a mass, simultaneous shift in worldviews and attitudes to a true absolute acceptance and respect of all forms of existence, while knowing that there is no one true unifying factor that creates universal tolerance. i cannot wish for us all to be the same. i cannot wish for us all to agree. i wish i could.

now, when i pass the nine-month-old signs in every other yard in my neighborhood, i wonder how much ink has gone into printing them. i wonder where the waste from producing plasticized rectangles of paper has been disposed. i wonder how much gasoline has been burned to deliver them to their current positions, with rusting metal stakes and faded colors splattered with cut grass and insect dirt. i wonder who will be the bravest one to be the first to take theirs down, and what the neighbors will say when they notice. those signs are blood clotting in a sudden wound, forming scabs to show where we've been scarred. how do we heal? have we healed? will we heal?

i have a life to live. i remember that everyone has a life to live.

01 September 2017 18:20

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