*trigger warnings for murder/suicide, racism*
When I purchased the little farm we have right now, I knew it came with some troubled history.
The previous owner obviously believed in making do or doing without. This extended to making his own additions, using contact paper as wall paper (and believe me, that slick, sticky, visually-disruptive material is nearly impossible to scrape off), and performing his own (highly illegal) wiring with substandard materials. The house never should have passed inspection. Shortly after purchasing it, I had a handy man look the place over to make estimates for repairs, and after he moved the toothpick in his mouth from one side to the other, he said, “So. You got fire insurance?”
I thought he was making a joke.
He was not.
So I guess I wasn’t surprised when I found out that the previous owner, a proud man who never took a “handout” from anyone in his life, had killed his disabled wife and took his own life when his advanced age prevented him from taking care of either of them any longer.
The disclosure was made right before the final sale. I’m guessing they hoped I wouldn’t back out at the last minute, and I didn’t. A Wiccan friend of mine offered to come and sage the property, and I took her up on it. I wasn’t afraid of the legacy, but I didn’t like the thought of living with such negative energy.
There were a LOT of issues with the property, not the least of which was the ever-present risk of fire. It became my greatest nightmare–the fear I’d come home to find a soot-spot where everything I loved lived. When I met my husband and got married, we pooled our resources to repair as much as we could to make the place habitable, but over time, it became apparent that nothing short of pulling the house down to its foundations and starting over would do. Before we could do that, we had to pay off the existing mortgage and then finance the new construction. Suffice to say, it took over a decade before we could get it done, but we finally moved into the new, clean, safe house last year.
Only there were still safety issues with the property.
The former owner had several burn pits on the land. Some were defined by cinder blocks to contain the burning trash. But there’s one located along the path I walk the dogs every day. It used to be an oil drum, but time and the elements eventually disintegrated the barrel, and the contents spilled out into a pile. Again and again, I return to this area to pick up broken pits of glass and pieces of metal. Every time there’s a storm, more glass erupts out of the ground. It poses a hazard to me and my dogs, but unless I bring a bulldozer in and dig up the soil, I have no way of removing the glass except to pick it up as I see it.
I confess, when I first moved in, and was doing the massive clean up needed, I occasionally tossed pieces of glass I ran across into the burn barrel. It was a convenient way of disposing of the glass, even though I knew I wasn’t really dealing with the issue. But now that the concealing walls of the burn barrel are gone, I can clearly see the magnitude of the issue within, and know it will effect the safety of those I care about for years to come. I wish I hadn’t, even unknowingly, without any intention of malice, contributed to the massive pile of glass shards hidden inside.
It has occurred to me over the last week, as protests have exploded in this country and even across the world as a result of the alleged murder of George Floyd by the police in Minnesota, that the broken glass problem is a metaphor for inherent racism baked into the foundations of this country. I use the term “alleged” for legal reasons; there is no doubt in my mind what happened to Mr. Floyd. And I know the protests are not just about George Floyd but about all the Black lives taken at the hands of the police or citizens without justification.
It’s about the broken glass that has been cutting Black lives since this country was founded. It’s the broken glass that means Black mothers die from childbirth complications three to four times the rate of white women in the US. Serena Williams is probably the most famous Black woman to almost die as a result of complications from her C-section, and she credits her survival to her excellent health care, something that’s often denied to many Blacks. It’s the glass used to justify incarcerating Black men at five times the national rate of white male prisoners, and earn 87 cents on the dollar compared to white men. The system is stacked against Black people on every level. Even during this pandemic, we’re seeing Black people die at a higher rate than whites. Is it because more Blacks are in essential low-paying jobs without adequate health insurance? Or because they are more likely–due to wealth inequality–to suffer from other health issues that affect their ability to fight off this virus? It’s hard to separate the different factors at play here.
I know these brutal facts because I heard the most amazing speech given by a young woman at a protest rally. I’m ashamed that I didn’t know them before.
Being a white person, my privilege means I live in a little bubble that often shields me from the experiences of others. One of the first times I ran into this was when I attempted to arrange a meeting with an online friend who was disabled. I blithely suggested we meet in a city halfway between us, assuming it would be an easy train ride for her. She had to point out to me the impossibility of what I suggested–how navigating public transport wasn’t the simple matter for her that it would be for me. I got a hard lesson then in learning to shut up and listen to what someone outside my narrow experience went through on a daily basis.
Another such time occurred when a Black friend casually mentioned she couldn’t meet me for a planned movie date because her neighborhood hadn’t been snow plowed yet, as it wasn’t a priority for the city because of its population. I’m sorry to say I thought she was exaggerating the situation. I naively believed that, like women’s rights, the battle for Black equality had been fought and won in the sixties. (I was wrong about women’s rights, too…)
More recently I experienced a major bubble burst with the explosive situation created when Courtney Milan, a romance author, was censured and banned from the Romance Writers Association, ostensibly for posting online a strongly worded criticism of a book stereotyping a character of Chinese extraction. RWA imploded with the unjust decision, peeling back a layer of support and unity that was only surface-deep, and only applied to a dominant portion of members, namely cis-het white Christian abled women authors. Of which, I am one. As such, the ugly underbelly of discrimination many AOC had experienced floated to the surface like a body in a pond. The previous leadership resigned, and the current leadership is working hard to rebuild the organization to do more than give lip service to inclusivity and diversity, but they’ve got a lot of work to do.
I recognize the temptation to make this all about me, even now. But I’ve been making a point to listen to those around me with actual experience. I’m hearing that Black should be capitalized because it’s not just a descriptor of skin color but an identity as well. I’m told that if someone says Black Lives Matter and I hear an “only” in that, there’s something wrong with my perception. There is no “only” in BLM any more than feminism means hating men or protecting the rainforest means we don’t care about protecting the ice caps. I read someone saying that if you jump in with your “not all white people” at a time like this, it’s the equivalent of showing up at a funeral to publicly mourn someone else. The floor has been denied to a certain segment of the population for far too long. It has not been yielded to me or you right now.
This graphic explains things nicely, I think.
So with that in mind, I’ve been looking for things I can do to show my support and to educate myself to do better in the future.
In addition to White Fragility by Robin J. DiAngelo, I’ve added How to be an Anti-racist by Ibram X. Kendi to my reading list. Victoria Alexander on Twitter put together this awesome reading list as well.
Can’t protest in person? Act Blue allows you to split your donation across multiple bail bonds organizations. Or you can donate directly to the ACLU. I’ve added donating to local food banks to my list of things to support as well.
Expand your reading list to include Black Romance Authors. @jazmenvert on Twitter posted this list of 52 Black Romance Recommendations from literallyblack.com book reviews. Support black-owned businesses and creatives.
But most of all, listen. Without being defensive. Without making it about yourself. It isn’t.
Because the glass is on our land. It’s been accumulating for centuries as each generation adds to the burn barrel, whether or not they are aware of their contributions, whether or not they intended to dump more glass into the ground. And until the whole area is dug out and the soil is replaced, pieces are going to still make their way to the surface where we all risk getting cut. I don’t get to bow out of glass pickup because I wear shoes and my feet are safe.
It’s everyone’s responsibility to pick up any glass they see.
Be well. Be safe.