I don’t want to write this. I hate that I have to write this. Lately for whatever reason writing hasn’t been a joy but a bastard-challenge, sticking its bony fingers in the small of my back and pushing me. I’m on a bit of a downward slope, and the rational me knows that sometimes I go through these creative battles, and that I usually come out on top. I used to give up when this sinking feeling began, when I go through and question the quality, quantity, worth of every last thing that I compose. I would sit down and shut up and paint my nails, go outside and take a walk, go back to being a regular human being and not a manic freak. Not now though. I’m purposeful. I’m far removed from that girl. Something happened Sunday that is making me need to stride one long leg forward, even when it feels like someone is packing my movements in cement, or freezing me in carbonite until I have a better attitude (or until everything passes and I’m back to painting my eyelids purple). I have a child, now. He is five and has just begun schooling. He is a beautiful, intelligent, sweet soul who doesn’t see the world in terms of differences. His father and I are working really hard to keep it that way, by being conscious of our words, our actions, and our respective God-given talents. Using the bits of magic that have been placed into us by whatever divine something is floating and creating and mastering in ways that will make this spinning blue marble Earth a stronger, better place for humanity (for whatever reason we’re here) is an act that we have been working hard at the past couple of years at. Our focus used to be inward, cash-related, un-selective in its execution. Then we had a child and grew from a baby to a boy. We moved to Alaska and then moved back to East Tennessee. In what we thought would be Heaven the mortals still picked on one another for having different backgrounds, skin color, and ancestors. To put it into different terms, if your ancestors were white and you moved to Alaska searching for something big and bold and golden, sometimes it was just peachy if you said hateful things or turned your eyes away from those who had come from an older heritage: one that hunted whales or built totems or sang softly under their breath while some Russians who came in the name of Jesus killed and raped your daughters.
That’s harsh, I know. Yes, this is going to be heavy. But listen: you’ve got to get heavy to get to the light.
We went to that far away place so North the ground never melts all the way, and we figured since it was so above it all, it would be well, above it all. If you’ve been anywhere but in an ashram the past few years, you know that Alaska isn’t anywhere near above it all. Up there it’s okay to poke fun at the sometimes noisy, sometimes quiet, sometimes heartbreaking “drunk natives” who shuffle along the sidewalks of Anchorage and die by the dozen in the hateful and cold (cold in more ways than one) downtown streets. The fast and the pretty will forget that they know several Native Alaskans in their daily lives, the UPS man, the CEO of the corporation that they work for, the pretty (sometimes breathtakingly pretty) baristas in the drive-up espresso shacks. They ignore the truth of those who are not downtrodden and sneer at those who have fallen down the cracks. Never mind that there are countless white and black human beings who are down on their luck as well. I think Alaska might be the worst possible place to be down on your luck, with exception to maybe Siberia, but who knows? They might put you up in warmth in Siberia.
Most of the people who I circled near in Alaska classified themselves as liberals, as pacifists. They voted for Obama and they thought Sarah Palin was a homophobic fool. They donated to Planned Parenthood and supporters of their local PFLAG Chapter. When we first moved up there, I was afraid that I would be bombarded with feisty Libertarians with guns and moose heads above their mantles. There are plenty of folks like that, but we all know that people are multi-faceted: the presumably ignorant are often Gandhi-like, the presumably open-minded are often so closed off they don’t recognize that they are what they hate.
My shock, my bitten and chewed lips, my sadness and anger rose and boiled when I would hear my friends, my friends, whom I had spoken to and collectively nodded my head in agreement with over so many matters of the world and of the heart, would spit out term drunk Native, or dumb Indian. I was shocked that those who couldn’t stand intolerance and inequality of other races, sexes, sexual orientations, social classes, etc. etc. would so openly, loudly, and willingly voice their bigotry toward their neighbors.
My face, and more often my words gave away my sadness about their prejudice. Well, they are! My friends and coworkers would say. They come here from the villages to party, they stumble in the streets, they die in the parks and they don’t seem to care. They don’t assimilate with us and they talk so slow…
I am not going to stand up on my chair and say that there isn’t a problem with alcoholism in the cities and in the villages. Alaska is a hard place. It’s also hard for the countless white, black, Hispanic, Asian, female, teenage population with addictions to various substances. I am not a person with a thousand solutions or so starry-eyed that I don’t see the problems. Of course there’s a problem. But it doesn’t make it all right to speak with hate, to generalize (there are countless Native Alaskans who are not stumbling around the streets in oblivion, and there are countless who are living just like the other people in Alaska – with jobs and children and homes, etc. etc.), to pass over and write off an entire population just for their background and their unfortunate substance abuse.
Shouldn’t we be kindest to those who are at their lowest? Should we show them respect, even if they’re dirty, angry, or loud? I saw many, many elderly homeless women in Alaska. These women are someone’s grandmother. Why aren’t they being lifted up and held tight? I’m not pointing fingers and I’m not saying anyone is full of blame or completely blameless. I just want to know why it’s all right to treat one group of individuals as cretins, lepers, or something to make fun of on morning radio talk shows?
This week at church I was helping out in the children’s area. There was one little girl, around four or five years old, who didn’t want to be around the nursery or the Sunday school. When I asked her why she said, “Because I don’t like black people.” I was shocked, shocked, shocked that so much nonchalant dislike came from such a tiny little baby. I told her that that made me sad, that she should love everyone, that skin color was just that, a color – just like hair color or eye color or painted fingernails or not painted fingernails. That God made us all special and beautiful (which coincidently was the theme of Sunday school that morning – the one she didn’t want to attend). She said, “Well, my mommy doesn’t like black people so I don’t, too.”
I mumbled something about it “making me sad” or something weak like that and turned away from her. Angry tears were forming and my throat was closing up and I couldn’t think of what to say or do. Blatant racism is not common in my neck of the South. It’s just not. At least, in regards to “black and white”, you just don’t hear or know of anyone anymore who is racist. It struck me that it begins with simple, offhand comments. I could say to my son, “I don’t like grapefruit.” and he can say, “Yeah, I don’t like it either.” Even if he’s never tried it. All you have to do is insert race/sex/nationality/sexual orientation/citizenship status, etc. etc. and that child has mimicked you because they LOVE you and they want you to be pleased with them. See how it can twist and turn into something awful?
Down here in some circles, it’s still all right to make fun of gay/bisexual/lesbian people. It’s still all right to spew forth hatred about Muslims, immigrants, etc. There are socially accepted biases that are rampant in all areas of this country, from very far away to very close to home. In Alaska, it was just fine to hate Native Alaskans, never mind if a tribal-owned corporation was your source of income or if your next door neighbor was Athabaskan. Down here, it used to be ok to hate black people – or at least to casually dismiss them as different, as separate but equal. In the North, when I lived there, it was ok to hate Southerners, white trash, people from Kentucky, and in some cities (and I’m not talking about small towns) black people, gay people, illegal immigrants, etc. etc.
It (obviously) needs to stop. And it needs to stop infecting our children. As parents, as adults, as people of sound mind we need to watch what we say and examine what we feel and why. It has to start with us, because some of our children are already filled with a hate and they don’t even understand why.
That same Sunday, in the Sunday school that the little girl didn’t want to go into, my own son was singing songs about Jesus loving everyone and how God made everyone perfect and special no matter what. The teacher had the kids draw pictures of themselves, their name, on a paper that said, “God Made Me Special.” My son drew himself with a yellow shirt, red arms, white legs, and a brownish black face. Xander has blonde hair and blue eyes. He amazes me, the kid really sees people’s differences as something skin-deep and surface; he knows we’re all the same and beautiful with and without our differences, that our differences make us special. I hope I’m doing a good job with this kid. I hope I’m doing a better job than the shocked and sad reaction I had to that little girl’s words. It’s not her fault. No one is born with hate in their hearts.
I didn’t want to write this. I wanted to stay far away from it and talk about it a little and let it slide away. The little girl, she was really sweet and cute, like all four and five year olds. I can’t let hate for those who hate or who don’t understand why they hate infect me into not caring about and helping to lift up a child into what is good and right in this world and the Universe. That little girl, I could see storm clouds starting darken behind her round eyes, and I’m going to try to scare the monsters away.