Becoming Mother

A book and a blog for first-time mothers

Tag: humanity

Elon, Take Me Away

Elon,

After this last month of news that American women have had, I think I can safely say…

Take me away in your spaceship to the stars.

 

I haven’t always been interested in space travel.

Truth be told, I’ve only recently found the idea very appealing.

I’m pretty sure the strong desire to leave this planet is emanating from a deep sense of doubt in humanity’s ability to overturn–or at the very least disrupt–rampant systems of oppression.

  • Women continue to not be believed when they are sexually assaulted. Or if they are believed, their pain isn’t important enough to actually change political will.
  • Wall Street continues to do its ludicrous work even though it robbed American taxpayers out of trillions of dollars.
  • Gerrymandering continues to silence and marginalize the most vulnerable.
  • Refugees and immigrants continue to be the scapegoats for every imaginable social ill.
  • Trump. Trump. And Trump.

I could go on. I won’t. I’m sure you’re familiar with the issues.

And so. Here we are. Women are told to vote (assuming our vote makes a difference–it doesn’t always). We are told to run for office (assuming we have the means and support to do so).

Sure, I’ll vote. I always do.

But in the meantime, if I’m really being serious, I have more faith that you can get us off this planet than I do in the American electorate’s ability to consistently move our country forward. Climate change is happening fast and if we’re still having arguments about whether or not it exists…

Is that sad or cynical? Maybe.

Or it could just be a logical estimation of the possibility that enough people who disagree with the direction of the country will actually be motivated enough to travel to a polling place and cast a ballot.

Societies are slow to change.

For most of human existence, patriarchy has been systemically and structurally embedded in society after society. (Precious few have managed to organize society differently.) Now that many of the factors that originally led to the necessity of patriarchal societies have been altered (division of labor, access to education, etc.), those same underlying assumptions that supported patriarchy are being either called into question or actively fought against.

Yes, societies are so, so slow to change.

Unless, that is, the people in those societies are taken out of their cultural context–and planted somewhere else.

This is one of the reasons why New Zealand and Australia were the first nations in which women gained the right to vote (1893 and 1902, respectively). European settlers (or invaders, from the indigenous people’s perspective), removed from their previous cultural context and banding together to build a life in a new land, were suddenly very flexible on the issue of women’s rights.

Women were, in fact, key to building these societies.

The same happened in the United States.

Women in the U.S. first gained the right to vote in…Wyoming.

And so, Elon, it’s not so crazy to believe that hitching my wagon to your star is, ultimately, quite feminist.

Might I suggest that our new civilization have some political structure where 50% of positions of power are necessarily occupied by women?

Just a thought.

***

I know people have called you erratic for smoking pot on Joe Rogan’s show…

Really? That was the main takeaway?

You talked about so many more interesting topics than that, like your vision that AI could be used as a tertiary level of cognition. And the fact that everything we put on the Internet is “a projection of our limbic system.” (Mind. Blown.)

I watched the whole thing (in 10-20 minute snippets over the period of a whole week while I folded laundry, graded papers, and ate lunch at my desk while simultaneously answering emails…).

I think you’re magical.

PayPal wasn’t your passion. It was just a $100 million thing you did so you could sink money into what really interested you: developing real plans for getting humanity off this planet (since we haven’t mustered enough political will to seriously try to figure out how to stop completely trashing it.)

You create electric cars that can drive themselves.

You build rockets that can take off–and land back on Earth.

You dig holes to develop a futuristic hyperloop that someday might take us across the country in like, 10 minutes, or something obscenely fast.

You create solar panels for roofs and electric semi-trucks that can haul the entire weight of a diesel truck–Uphill.

And you talk about the future with not only hope, but confidence.

 

I dig it.

You’ve made me a believer.

When I saw Interstellar, I thought, “Okay, if I were living on a spaceship that is basically a moving city, I could totally be sold on the idea of leaving Earth.”

Let’s leave behind a world that makes fun of science and learning and instead, embraces curiosity, courage, and the path less traveled (or never traveled, as the case may be).

Let’s try once more to make a different world where systems of oppression don’t emerge because of our lack of resources, tribalism, and ingrained patriarchy.

Let’s colonize, Elon. (#commassavelives)

Elon musk 2

***

Maybe you can’t tell, but I have a celebrity-crush on you. One of those crushes that you have for famous people that you’ll never meet in real life, but somehow you still think that maybe there’s the very minuscule possibility that our paths could cross… And if they did…

Nah.

You probably have a girlfriend. That’s cool.

I’m married. To a very great man, at that. He is extremely smart, too. He had me at his tattoo of the Golden Ratio.

(Can he come, too? Oh, and maybe my two kids? I swear I’m raising them to be decent human beings.)

Your achievements have come up in conversations among our friends, many of whom are engineers. I’m pretty sure my husband’s words were, That dude doesn’t care about money and he’s just crazy enough that he might actually succeed.

Admittedly, I am not a scientist or engineer. I did well in high school biology, physics, and chemistry (I excelled at balancing formulas.) I struggled in algebra, but I loved geometry (Proofs were fun.) But science and math were really not my thing although I have tons of respect for those who live and breathe those fields.

But your new world is going to need more than scientists and engineers who can help take us into the future.

It’s also going to need people who can make sense of our past.

We need stories to help us understand who we are and where we’re going. I am quite certain that without stories, humanity is lost. Human beings need storytellers.

I am a storyteller.

And I am full of stories.

I have other qualities that make me a good addition to your “space-bearing civilization.”

  • I am curious and I love to learn. I changed my major in college to linguistics because concepts like a universal grammar and the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis fascinated me. (Arrival was an amazing movie on several different levels.) Also, I loved the rule-governed nature of phonology, morphology, and syntax.
  • I’m down-to-earth (merely a figure of speech, I assure you), persistent, and hard-working.
  • I balance life between being driven by outcomes and diving into creativity for creativity’s sake.
  • I enjoy a good pun.

My special talents include:

  • writing
  • teaching
  • knitting
  • speaking in cartoon-ish voices
  • gestating life well past 40 weeks (for a few more years)
  • giving birth with no drugs

Thanks for giving me hope that as a species, we may not be doomed to a future in which misogynistic, narcissistic, entitled men are necessarily destined to rule this planet indefinitely, to the detriment of the vulnerable and voiceless.

People like you make me remember that there are many people in the world who are trying to improve the planet and preserve the longevity of our kind.

Sincerely,

Me

P.S. Can we please leave Mitch McConnell and his ilk behind? Much appreciated.

 

And oh, and this is AMAZING.

 

And for those of you who didn’t immediately get the reference in the title…

 

What I Will Tell My Kids About Race

hands_together

“I think your daughter and Ezra are the only two left in that room,” she said.

I was picking up my then 18-month-old daughter from daycare and I had just been chatting with one of the staff members. As I walked down the hall to my daughter’s room, I looked through the window and saw three kids.

“Which one is Ezra?” I asked, looking back down the hall to where she was standing.

She looked at me blankly.

“There are two other little boys,” I said.

She lowered her voice, put a hand up to her mouth, and whispered…

He’s the little black boy.

That. Right there.

That’s where it starts.

***

Why did she feel compelled to whisper, the little black boy?

My intuition tells me that she thought we shouldn’t acknowledge his race. (Because that would make us racist?)

But whispering words like this also sends an implicit message. One that could be internalized and filed away to young ears: That being black was something to be ashamed of.

It’s a common approach that American educators–many of whom are white women (me included)–use to show that they are being sensitive. It’s called colorblindness. And to some ears, it sounds okay.

I don’t see colors in my classroom. I treat everyone the same.

I teach the kids that we’re all the same. That it doesn’t matter what skin color we have.

That might be okay to teach kids–if it were true.

But it’s not true. Race does matter.

When we create these completely alternate universes in schools where we pretend that we don’t see the shades of our own children’s skins–and acknowledge how that affects their experience in our society–we create a generation of Americans who assume that everyone has the same experiences.

We create situations like this.

In the Storycorps podcast, “Traffic Stop,” a white mother and her adopted black son share the story of the night when he was brutally attacked by police officers during a traffic stop.

What struck me most about this podcast was the mother’s words of colorblindness:

“I thought love would conquer all and that skin color didn’t really matter.”

She speaks with a mother’s love. You love your child unconditionally. No matter what. But in projecting her own unconditional love for her son onto the cultural lens that American society uses to see her son, she blinds herself to the simple fact that…

Not everyone shares her love.

Not everyone believes that race doesn’t matter.

I dare say, she thinks as many white people do–that we have reached a point in our society when racism is not tolerated anymore. We may not believe that racism is completely dead, but it certainly doesn’t reside where we live and work and play. Racism is for the uneducated and the unemployed who need a scapegoat.

And if it dares happens, people say something.

But what about the covert racism that still exists? What about our own implicit biases that shape our split-second reactions?

As Hillary Clinton pointed out in the September 24th debate, implicit bias is not just a police problem. It’s a problem for everyone.

<whisper, whisper>

He’s the little black boy.

<whisper, whisper>

I don’t want to admit that I know he’s black, but he is. It’s the easiest way for you to tell him apart from the crowd of white kids.

I don’t want to admit that I have no idea what he’s wearing or how tall he is or the shape of his eyes or what his hair looks like or what he might be playing with. All I can tell you is that he’s black.

I don’t want to admit that he’s only one of six to eight black kids that we have in this school.

<whisper, whisper>

I don’t feel comfortable saying these thoughts, so I have to whisper them.

Just in case someone overhears us talking about race… let’s use whispers.

Because race doesn’t matter.

And because it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t exist.

Right?

***

When I was in kindergarten and first grade, I went to a predominantly black school.

You read that right.

My family moved to Dayton, Ohio in 1984, well before the Internet and its amazing capability of scoping out a location before moving. We moved into a neighborhood known as Five Oaks. It had a nice ring to it, but the real draw was the fact that the rent was well within our means. For $500 a month, we could live in half of a giant duplex with four bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen, a basement, and an attic spread across four floors.

Once upon a time, Five Oaks was a prestigious neighborhood for the wealthy. Which is why there were so many spacious houses available for dirt cheap rent.

Here’s a “tour” around the community, done in 2008 by a community activist.

 Because of our new home’s location, I attended Jefferson Primary School, where 80-90% of the students were black.

My best friend’s name was Princess. Like most of the kids in my class, she was black. I loved her intricately braided hair, like a curtain of beads that softly clinked against each other when she walked. She convinced her friends to include me in their games of Double Dutch jump rope. And when it was clear that 1) I really sucked at it and 2) her friends had no patience for me learning how to do it well, Princess sat with me at recess and clapped her hands against mine, clumsily at first, to “Miss Mary Mack.”

Princess was the only one who came to my sixth birthday party at my house. Even though I invited most of the girls in my thirty-person class.

My other best friend was Colleen. She carried a denim purse with a sticker of a man in a black hat. When I confessed that I didn’t know who he was, she looked at me in shock. You don’t know who Michael Jackson is? Then she showed me her moonwalk, her Rapunzel-like curly hair billowing in the wind. She was unlike anyone else that I had ever seen. Who else in the world had hair like hers?

I didn’t realize until much, much later that she was biracial.

 I knew that my skin was lighter than the skin of most of my classmates. But I had to learn that this difference had value attached to it.

***

It all started with a rock.

Thrown in my face.

My two older brothers and I were playing on the playground at Five Oaks park. A group of four to six black kids approached us and started telling us that we needed to go home.

This was their playground.

They threw rocks at us.

We cowered in front of them.

“That’s right. Get down on your knees and beg!” one of them yelled.

We ran home, rocks still pelting us from behind.

I didn’t understand why.

Why did they hate us? They didn’t even know who we were.

Did we do something wrong?

I could hold on to this memory as proof that racism goes both ways. That black people can be just as racist as white people. That I shouldn’t care about racism–whether it’s overt or covert–against black people because I “got over” the racism that was expressed toward me.

But such conclusions would disregard the larger truth that white spheres of influence are far, far more numerous and powerful. That these children could have been acting out of frustration with one of the many systems that they were just now learning were rigged against them (education, justice, economics–take your pick). Or perhaps they were giddy with the sheer novelty of exerting power over a group of white kids. I mean, really, how often did that opportunity arise in Five Oaks?

The truth is, I could leave the playground. 

I could “get over” this racist incident because I could move to a place where my race would no longer be a reason to torment me.

We could leave Five Oaks. We could move to many other communities where we would have more social capital. More power. More voice. More influence. More advantages. Maybe we wouldn’t be rich by moving, but we could at least move underneath the protection of an umbrella that would look out for “our best interests.”

In fact, we did.

Within three years, we moved to a white working class neighborhood. My new friends were named Amanda and Kristen and Jennifer. I saw new standards of beauty. No more beautifully braided hair. Instead, beautiful was straight, long hair that lay still as sticks across your shoulders and back. I admired their clothes, their shoes, their embroidered backpacks and lunchboxes.

Racism is, at the least, the inability to leave behind your low social capital.

But racism is also knowing that no matter how far you rise, there will always be someone who skews your worth because of your skin color. It may not be everyone. It probably won’t be those who are closest to you. But there will always be someone who will only see your race.

It’s knowing that your race will be used to explain any moments when you behave badly.

It’s knowing that your race will be cited to explain why you struggle in your life.

And if you dare achieve, your race will be referenced as a facet of your identity that you overcame.

Whether you struggle or achieve, you will always wonder–even if only in your own mind–if the person across from you sees your real worth. Your real self.

Racism is knowing that you will never fit into the label of “normal” since society feels the need to add “black” to identify every black person in the news, but never feels compelled to identify when a person is “white.” (Instead, white people just get to be “man” or “woman” or “boy” or “girl.”)

White people would like to believe that race doesn’t matter anymore. In our spheres of whiteness, it is easy to come to that conclusion.

But if you’ve ever stepped outside of that sphere, you know differently.

You know that Princess can never leave.

As long as we keep our circles separate.

***

When I think about what I will teach my children about race, I think most of it will not be in words.

Certainly, some of it will.

But you learn more about race by working alongside someone who is different from you.

Or playing a game together. Or singing a song. Or reading a story.

You learn more about race by sharing a meal with someone.

You learn more by engaging in a common humanity.

Racism becomes more personal and hurtful to you when you hear a white girl call the same kind of hair that you thought was so beautiful and magical–just a year earlier–“nappy” and “dirty.” You take personal offense when the white girl asks the black girl if she ever even washed her hair.

You start to take racism to heart when they hurt your friends.

And so that is one of my biggest jobs as a parent–to expand the sphere of interaction that my daughter has. Beyond white suburbia. And into spheres where she is the outsider. Where she is different. Where she needs someone to include her in a game that she doesn’t know. Where she can make friends with children who are different than her. Not just different in skin color. But different in religion. In social class. In language.

By becoming the other, we learn a lesson in humility and compassion. We learn how to redefine and question the word normal. We begin to recognize the invisible walls that we’ve built around ourselves. We begin to see who they keep out and how they do it.

We may not be able to tear the walls down with only our own two hands.

But we can help others to see the wall.

And maybe together, we can start taking the bricks apart.

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