15 July 2013

I can't keep quiet...

I was one of the basquillions of people glued to my teevee when twitter told me that the jury had reached a verdict in the #zimmermemtrial. I was one of the people who was hoping our justice system would get it right this time; hoping a murdered kid's family would see their son's killer convicted. While I was hoping for the best, I was expecting the worst.

See, I have been through the criminal justice system in murica multiple times; that's a common side effect of addiction.

What I learned through my years in active addiction is that the disease of addiction is not prejudiced. It respects no race, religion, gender, socioeconomic status, nationality, sexual preference, or geographic location. What I learned through my years of experience in the American criminal justice system is that the system, and the society, indeed respects certain genders, races, socioeconomic statuses, nationalities, religions, and sexual preferences, regardless of geographic location. 

See, when people hear I'm a recovering addict, they are always shocked. During my active addiction, the only visual clue that might have given away the fact that I was strung out was my weight--specifically, the lack thereof. I didn't look like an addict. I didn't fit 'the profile'. I was (am) a heterosexual white female from a working middle class family in the rural south. I didn't look like an addict, I didn't look like a drug dealer, I didn't look like a drug mule, and I didn't look suspicious. I was never profiled, never stopped and frisked, and quite often drove away from traffic stops with quantities of drugs in the car with no more than a ticket for a minor traffic violation. I was arrested more times than a few, and never received excessive punishment for my crimes. While I did do prison time, it was because I got the judge that sentenced everybody to time; I will say that my sentence was far lighter than the sentences of others in his court for much more minor offenses-probably because I just didn't fit the profile of a serious offender (blue eyes and red hair doesn't get racially profiled much, now does it?)

My addiction landed me in prison more than twice. And what surrounded me in those prison settings wasn't a bunch of people who looked like me. Yes, there were white women in the prison, but they were the minority; the ones who were there were there for serious offenses: killing her child, arms trafficking, shit like that. While in prison, I was surrounded by African-american women and Hispanic women, many of whom were there for offenses more minor than mine.

I survived in prison. I survived because some random woman saw the 'deer-in-headlights' look when I walked in, and she taught me things. She taught me how to use my creative side to make cards and things for other inmates. That woman had been there a while, and knew lots of the women there quite well; she introduced me to her friends, thus ensuring that I at least had a chance of being judged for my personality and not my race or religion or anything else that people sit in judgement of. The greatest compliment I was ever paid in prison was when sweetie-pie, an African-american woman I often sat and talked with, laughed at some random silly thing I had done (that was probably pretty dorky-white-girl-ish) and said that what you saw with me was what you got with me--I was the same person around everybody. 

Since my release from prison, I have often been discriminated against because of my felony convictions. I have had my car searched every single time I am stopped for speeding or whatever. I'm not complaining, for the most part, because I earned this kind of treatment. I'm also not complaining because at least my name has to be run through the system before I am treated with suspicion. As a blue-eyed-pale-white-redheaded woman, I am generally treated with courtesy and respect. I may not be the boss of my own vagina, but I am not treated as a threat because of my physical appearance.

So I have been aware that the system is flawed for some time. It disproportionately affects minorities in devastating ways.

Once I got clean, I guess I thought the world would change because I had changed. Or maybe I just thought that all people trying to change their lives for the better would be given the benefit of the doubt like I was. I was welcomed into the rooms of 12 step fellowships, I was given a job quickly, I was accepted into college with a little help from folks in influential positions. I was given the opportunity to recover.

Hurricane Katrina was the event that started opening my eyes to white privilege, although I didn't know that term at the time. I just called it racism when African-american addicts who had evacuated New Orleans weren't made to feel welcome in meetings. I went out of my way to hug those evacuees, whether black or white or purple/green/&yellow, because they deserved to feel as welcome as I did. I lost some friends over it, and I'm OK with that. Who needs those kind of friends anyway?

All of the rage I felt in the aftermath of Katrina was reawakened and thrown on steroids when Zimmerman shot an innocent kid (young man, whatever--regardless of what you call Trayvon, he didn't deserve to die) and then was acquitted. I was sad, angry, and sickened.
However, that was nothing compared to the way I felt when I started thinking about it on a more personal level. My dear friend Elliot (incidentally, he's black) tweeted that he has never felt safe in this great country of ours. Sunshine's friend/longest term employee Charlie (again, a black man in the South) makes it clear on a daily basis that he fears the consequences of some trivial mistake--he fears that he will no longer be valued. (For the record, these are not our only black friends. These are just the FIRST two we talked about after the verdict, and this post is already getting long-ish.) Sunshine (incidentally, native american, the earlier victims of #whiteprivilege) and I laid in bed and cried for our friends that feel they aren't safe, won't be valued, and are treated as less than because of the color of their skin. I cried like a baby, thinking of Elliot, such a beautiful and decent human being, never feeling safe. I cried like a baby because Charlie, a valuable friend and employee, fears not being valued. I cried at the thought of my co-worker, Tony, who makes me laugh and makes me feel safe at work, and his sons, having to always worry that someone saw them as a threat because of the color of their skin and the texture of their hair. I cried for Aryka, who is just a fierce and beautiful woman, because she is labeled as a gay black woman by those who fear the 'other'. I cried for April, whose mind and shoes I respect, because she has to fear for her son's safety. I cried for each and every one of those recovering addicts who was not welcomed in meetings after Katrina. I cried for my friend Rodney, who helped me realize there are miracles if I just open my eyes and heart to see them. I cried for Barry, who was my sponsor for a while til he moved back to New Orleans. I cried for sweetie-pie and Lynetta, who were kind to me in prison and helped me laugh in spite of our circumstances. I cried again for Lynetta, who died tragically shortly after her release. I cried for Keena, a sociologist, and I cried for her children and I cried for her students who help her study family relationships in murica. I cried until I couldn't breathe through the snot.
And then I got angry. I got angry at a society in which all the Trayvons must live in fear of being viewed as suspicious. I got angry at a society in which mothers must worry for their Trayvons.
And I got pissed that I live in a society that bends over backwards to help this multiply convicted felon when life throws me a curve ball but treats Elliot with suspicion. I call bullshit, murica. Get the fuck over yourselves, with your racism and oppression of anything 'other'. And know that this white woman is not afraid of a black man, because in my eyes, he is just a human being, and as such he is worthy of my love and respect.
I can't keep quiet anymore. I cannot keep quiet in a society that fears this multiply convicted felon far less than it fears a 17 year old Trayvon Martin walking home from buying skittles for his younger brother. I cannot keep quiet in a society that does not value all of its citizens equally--regardless of skin color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or socio-economic status. And if you don't like me for saying this, I don't give a fuck. I'm saving my fucks to give to people who are worthy of them.

6 comments:

  1. Yes. Yes. And yes.

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  2. The thing about white supremacy (conscious and unconscious) and all that is attached to it is once I saw it clearly (and it was about that fear and lack of safety you talk about, about my friends' who experience it daily), I couldn't unsee it. Because I don't wake up with it, I've bene blind to it till this past year. But I still have to deal with people who can't see it, who will fight you tooth and nail over whether or not they personally are racist, rather than getting that it is really fucking bad on a global scale. I can only imagine how impossible that is for those who live it.

    But then, what really challenges me right now (and I'm still figuring this part out) is that my friends who have been working in anti-racism for their lives not because they have a choice but because it is their lived reality, talk about how people of privilege have a line that we are not willing to cross, and how each of us have that line. I'm still sorting that out, what it means, because I don't want to have that line but I don't know that I can see it.

    Yeesh. Does that even make sense? I am counting on my friends to call me out when I hit that place. And on myself to say thank you, rather than fighting whether or not there is a privilege line I'm not willing to cross. That arguing back is bullshit and I'm embarrassed that I have done it and horrified that I might do it again.

    Together, and taking our lead from those who have the lived experiences, seems like the best way forward. <3 This post really talks to me, C. Thank you.

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    1. I thought addiction had erased all those lines I wasn't willing to cross. I hope I don't have any hidden ones, because those are like reservations in my program, and both of those lead to spiritual death/hell. If that makes sense.

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  3. Well said, Cindy. I totally agree with you.

    One of the problems I run into (with all social issues) is that there are so many unfair things in this world and I am completely overwhelmed by them. I am not institutionally discriminated against because of the color of my skin, but I have been discriminated against due to my gender and even my age (and I've definitely felt unsafe due to my gender, as well). I get what discrimination is like. I just don't have any answers for it other than to make sure I am the best me I can be and encourage my son to be open to learning about everyone.

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