Thursday, May 4, 2017

Wokeness

Unsplash: Sanah Suvarna
I don’t know when it all started to emerge.
But I know it’s been a long awakening. Too damn long.
Because my mind is prone to lazy shortcuts.
Generalizations, micro-aggressions, and just plain ignorance
Stifled the stirring of my awareness, delayed three decades.


*********************************

1980s
I’m a young girl in the Pacific Northwest,
Living on the wrong side of the tracks, next door to the Projects
Daily, Vietnamese and Cambodian émigrés arrive in my neighborhood.
“Dirty gooks,” my child ears hear, muttered softly, frequently,
Something in the tone sets my posture to cringe. Every time I hear it.

Something’s wrong with our new neighbors.
A cloud of suspicion hovers over them,
Raining blame on them any time a cat goes missing.
Quiet hostility and unchecked emotions abound.
“They’re just people though – why?”

A new Cambodian girl comes in second grade.
Her shyness is crippling, her fear of the unfamiliar radiating.
Though she has no English, her timid, questioning smile begs,
“Will you be my friend?” I extend my hand, chubby and pale, together we walk
To the playground, the unspoken, universal language of kindness guiding us.


*********************************
1990s
I now live in rural Colorado, in a sea of white faces,
There is one black girl at the high school, but not for long.
They say her family was chased out of the community,
By a white supremacist group from the next town over.
It troubles me deeply. I liked her.

I’m applying to colleges and the nuances grab my attention,
“But I’m a first generation student and my parents can’t help me with school!”
“Sorry, Miss. You’re not a minority, and your numbers
Don’t demonstrate a scholarship need. Best wishes.”
I’m resentful at the system for pitting us against each other.

I’m taking an Ethnicity and Diversity in America course,
And I learn that racism isn’t just hateful words and feelings.
It’s horrific disparities in our institutions:
Fewer mortgages, lower standardized test scores,
Higher incarceration rates. Shorter life expectancies.

It’s systemic and has spread like cancer,
Even poor white trash > a person of color in many cases.
My privilege, yes, I have privilege!
Begins to make itself known to my consciousness.
I’m not sure what to make of it.

*********************************
2000s
I’m a young grad and new mom,
Watching the towers crumble on the news.
Muslim. Terrorists. They did this.
And suspicion spreads over 2 million of my fellow Americans,
While war begins against more than a billion elsewhere on the globe.

Fear incubates dormant hatred toward “them,”
While unity is feigned between “us.”
The latter is a bubble that eventually pops,
While the former trend becomes a noxious weed.
We turn on our own countryfolk.

This hate has grown bigger than racism.
Divisions become volatile factions in matters of
Politics, sex, gender, age, religion, abilities,
Income, race, body weight, the haves and have nots,
And people are dying. Daily.

*********************************
2010s
A new decade brings new civil wars
Globally, Africa, Syria, Russia, Yemen and the Middle East
In our own domestic state, white men with guns prey upon
School children, movie-goers, university students and more.
An epidemic of shooting unarmed black men begins.

#BlackLivesMatter does not mean my white life doesn’t
But I don’t live in fear of being pulled over by the police,
And I can run anywhere I want to without being asked if I live nearby.
#BlackLivesMatter is about drawing attention to the discrepancies
About white men with guns being “peaceably disarmed”
While unarmed men of color are shot.

Dead.

This awakening is painful, like a limb shooting sharp,
With pins and needles after an impossibly long time of numbness.
My privilege was bulky, clumsy, and uncomfortable,
But now I see opportunity through it,
Now I know better, so it’s time to do better.




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