Freedom

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Compare the best of their days with the worst of your days; you won’t win.

Since the shooting of Trayvon Martin I, like many other white Americans, have been forced to look at myself and examine what privilege truly means. Gradually, events at a national level have gotten harder and harder to ignore, with filming police altercations with minorities becoming more ubiquitous. Good. We white people need to sit down and look long and hard at ourselves.

I’ve never – I don’t think – been outwardly racist towards someone. Truly! I try very hard to not be racist at all. The irony though is if I’m trying not to be racist, I actually am embodying a form of racism. And I can’t help it, because racism is so deeply ingrained in our society. Every time I see a person of color, I think, shit, do they think I’m being racist right now? act totally normal. ACT NORMAL. It does not make me proud to admit these things, but I have to come to terms that I’ve been indoctrinated with prejudices and stereotypes my entire life. My knee jerk reaction might not reflect a deeply held belief, but it doesn’t matter. It actually takes work to be not racist. And I think a lot of white people fall short of putting in that work.

It’s very easy to look for a reason why a black man might’ve deserved to be shot to death, while buckled into a car, with his girlfriend and her young daughter in the back seat. Well, he must not have done exactly what the cop said! I understand the need to try to justify a senseless killing like this, because not too long ago, I was in complete denial that systemic racism was a thing. There’s no way people can be like this. Because I knew better: to keep whatever racism I had in me buried deep down. But the events in Ferguson brought out the true nastiness and transparent nature of racism which is still as full and healthy as ever.

Those were tough conversations to have. With ourselves, and each other. But they were totally necessary.

I was thinking this morning what “freedom” really means, this week after celebrating the independence of our country, and in the same week as two senseless police killings of black men, and the deadliest shooting of police officers in history. Freedom? Who does it actually belong to? I’m a privileged white woman in a liberal metropolis. I got money, I got a house, I can do whatever I want. I can choose not to engage in the race talks. I can tune it out and blog about lamps instead. That’s a great privilege I have. It’s my privilege to live in a bubble, if I so choose. But I not have the same privileges as a man. I may get paid less, or be more prone to street harassment — or even rape. I may be denied basic health care because I’m a woman. I have less freedom than white men. A black woman has it even worse than I do, having to bear the burden of sexist and racist attacks.

I think about black men, and how they are less free than me. Many of them can’t walk down the streets without eliciting suspicion. They can’t wear hoodies. They can’t protest nonviolently for their humanity without being labeled “thugs”. If that’s freedom, that’s an awful, terrible freedom, and that’s on us.

Nobody with decency would try to justify the shooting of 11 police officers, who were doing their sworn duty and protecting the public. That’s a terrible tragedy, and should be labeled as nothing else.

Why then, not the same reaction for the needless killing of a black man whose only crime seemed to be being black at the wrong place and time? Why no mourning for a man loved by his family, on the same level, as say, a gorilla?

WHITE PEOPLE. WE HAVE TO DO BETTER. What can you do? You can start by listening. Take the concerns and experiences of those who represent the oppressed minority seriously. Listen to black voices. Listen to Ta Nehisi Coates, or Roxanne Gay, or DeRay McKesson, or Shaun King, or Beyonce. Educate your friends. Call them out for dumb racist shit, and if you ever get called out for racism, I hope you take it to heart. Black Lives Matter more than your White Privilege, and the most important time to recognize that, besides yesterday, is today.

We don’t have freedom until we all have freedom.

UPDATE: I haven’t been able to watch this whole video but Trevor Noah is on point, echoing many of my own thoughts, but more eloquently. He is especially right on comparing an awakening to the realities of racism to that of sexism. WATCH IT PLEASE.

HEY LADIES: You can be a Feminist and still have the White Wedding

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I’ve been seeing this article, titled “Let’s Ban Weddings and, While We’re at it, Baby Showers Too” floating around the web the last few days, and normally I’m all for “think pieces” (whatever those are?) seeking to subvert the norm and question gender laws and societal traditions, but a lot of things stood about in this particular case, which I could just not let lie. I think Valerie Alexander and I probably would see eye-to-eye on a lot of issues, but something about her writing here really strikes me as totally patronizing.

My second year of law school at Berkeley, when I was broke beyond compare, I was in three weddings — one in Indiana, one in Chicago and one in Hawaii. Yes, Hawaii. I have completely lost touch with two of those brides, and am merely Facebook friends with the third, and for the record, none of them are still married. In fact, of the seven weddings in which I’ve stood up beside the bride, only two of the marriages have lasted.

Alright. I’ve been to, let’s say 20 weddings in my lifetime, and of those 20, three of them have ended in divorce, but it wasn’t because they weren’t prepared for the trials of marriage. In two cases, quite the opposite. Those women whose marriages were harmonious for a good portion, but near the end, they fought tooth-and-nail for them to work, despite their partners’ transgressions and emotional abuse. Some might say this is an act of weakness but it’s actually an incredible act of strength. I would actually say, in their cases, divorce was a pretty really good thing. They both had big weddings that cost a lot of money. I even designed the invitations for one of them. Is that the cause of their failure? No. Is it even a factor? Doubtful.

I look at the girls in the picture described above (and I use the word “girls” deliberately), and I feel sorry for them that their engagements have already been so marred by the ubiquity of this photo, but I also can’t help but wonder if all of the varied responses might help each one stop and ask whether she’s ready to be a wife, or merely ready to be a bride. Because there is an enormous difference.

Yeah, thanks for that. I won’t deny that a lot of women probably put a lot of effort into planning a wedding, without thinking about when they wake up the next day and their married life has begun. But who are you, Ms. Alexander, to say that the women (and I use the word “women” deliberately) aren’t prepared for what lies ahead? Do you even know them?

Alright look, I’m getting married in the Spring when I’ll be freshly 26. I think that’s considered young-ish. Would Ms. Alexander call me a girl who’s not prepared for her future? Just by looking at me? Very likely. I can easily dispel any doubts though, quickly, if you like. My fiancée and I have been together for over 3 years, and have lived together for over 2. In my mind, we are a married couple without the contract. We do the grocery shopping together (and separately), fold laundry together (and separately), go out with friends together (and separately), make breakfast together, argue about money, and furniture, and everything else healthy couples do/argue about. We plan to raise a family together. We already own a house together. Wouldn’t some say that’s a lot like marriage? Granted, I’ve never been married before. So no, I’m not totally prepared for marriage because WHO IS?

Here’s what I like about feminism: I can do WHAT I want, HOW I want it. I can have the wedding I really want, without feeling like I’m betraying all the women who blazed trails before me. I can wear a white dress and be walked down the aisle by my dad. I don’t have to take my husband’s name. I don’t have to do a garter toss. I can have a party the way I want it, for me and my husband. Exactly the way WE want it.

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Imagine for a moment if weddings were prohibited, or better yet, if you could only have one after 10 years of marriage. How much money would be saved? More importantly, how many ill-advised unions would never happen in the first place? I swear, weddings are the leading cause of divorce. If some girl wasn’t fulfilling her childhood fantasy of being a princess, holding court in the perfect gown with the perfect hair and perfect flowers, on a day dedicated solely to celebrating her ability to land a man, how much more effort would she put into finding the right mate, since the reward for doing so would be a lifetime together, rather than a coronation?

I’d go one further and say marriage is the leading cause of divorce. It’s like saying life is the number one cause of death. Give me a fucking break, you really think that every woman who spends thousands of dollars on a big party is JUST indulging her own vanity? Of all the weddings I’ve attended, I never doubted for a second that the bride and groom didn’t absolutely love each other as best friends and life partners. But what do I know, I just live in a major U.S. CIty. Probably not indicative of any larger, progressive views of weddings…

I used to live in a very blue collar part of Oakland, California where there were more baby showers than graduation parties. One family who I was very close to had four daughters. The three oldest got pregnant before graduating from high school and dropped out, and the fourth was hell bent on getting her college education.

For the three oldest girls, there were big, splashy baby showers with thousands of dollars in gifts. For the fourth, she was sent off to Santa Monica College (a vortex of collegiate Darwinism) with little fanfare and virtually no help. Where was her College Shower, to give her a laptop, a bookbag, sheets and towels, gift cards and cash and whatever else she might have needed to strike out on her own? Where was the whole family coming together to lionize her achievement, and set an example for younger ones of how you’re revered when you further your education? No wonder she got pregnant and dropped out her freshman year. That was something at least she knew her family would celebrate.

That is unfortunate, and I feel sorry for that girl. It’s a shame, but I think if Ms. Alexander was trying to make any sort of valuable point, she should’ve started and stopped with these two paragraphs.

It makes me wonder what our world would look like if female accomplishments other than becoming a wife and mother were equally exalted. If we had First Job Showers, gifting briefcases and business suits, or Promotion Ceremonies, with hundreds of guests flying in to commemorate a woman’s move to the C-suites. How about teen entrepreneur shows, instead of six (six!) different television shows about teen moms, which makes some girls want to get pregnant, so they can get on TV?

Women SHOULD be celebrated and encouraged more for their personal achievements in work, school, etc… And I think we’ve come a long way with that already. I think if a young woman wants to celebrate a new job or a promotion, you know, she can choose to celebrate that. Arguably though, women accomplish things more often – in work and school – than they do, say, get married or have babies. So, having a party every time someone gets a job seems excessive. But we certainly do celebrate women in this way.

I attended three ceremonies for my big sister: When she graduated high school, college, and got her Masters degree. She was an English teacher for many years until she met her husband and she’s now a full time mother to my wonderful little niece. Does the fact that she now chooses to stay at home negate all her past achievements? No.

Why can’t we all fucking stop analyzing how other women get married, or don’t get married, or have babies, or don’t have babies?

If you have kids, that’s great (and if not, that’s also great). But teach them. Teach them to do what’s best for them, and not necessarily what’s best in the eyes of whatever society they’re in. Instead of blaming weddings for failed marriages, enact real change yourself. Instead of saying “wouldn’t it be great if women were celebrated for this instead of that.” Then DO THAT. And quit writing bullshit articles on the Huffington Post.

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