04 December 2014

I Can't Breathe

When I heard the Eric Garner decision yesterday, my feelings were beyond naming.

Outrage... disgust... horror... devastation...denial... fear...

 I spent the day in a haze, unable to concentrate. Were all the people going about their daily life around me unaware of the decision? Or -- worse -- did people just not care? The only thing I could think to do to resolve the growing turmoil within was to protest.

As I exited my car at MLK Blvd and Crenshaw that night, at first I felt awkward. I wondered if I had the right to claim this grief. When a woman shouted through a bullhorn "I am Michael Brown!" for us to repeat, at first I felt timid. But eventually, my voice joined the chant: "I am Michael Brown! I am Eric Garner! I am Ezell Ford! I am Kelly Thompson!" 

And I understood. To not claim their loss as my own would be to deny someone's humanity; to not identify directly with them would mean either they were not human, or I am not. 

Eventually the protest moved to the Walmart down the road. There I saw beautiful children, gripping their parents' hands tight, looking at us with questioning faces. The store was protected by a line of a dozen policemen, many of them black, whose thoughts I can't begin to imagine. One protester had a drum; his drumming kept our voices from flagging. With some of the protesters chanting "ABOLISH THE POLICE!", the tension palpable, it was all I could do not to samba - the dance that reminds me I'm alive - to pray with my feet.

28 May 2014

Yours, mine, ours?

I've been thinking a lot about the issue of cultural appropriation over the last year.

I see instances of this all over -- what is fashionable in my realm right now is very largely made up of the imagery, motifs and costumes of non-contemporary, non-white cultures. I am perhaps the worst offender I know: my closet and jewelry boxes are FULL of the cultural productions of cultures outside my own. But how fair is that? As a white person with all the unearned privileges of a white supremacist culture at my fingertips, I can slip into a Oaxacan embroidered dress without having to know the first thing about Oaxaca or the experience of a person from Oaxaca, who does not have the same opportunity to slip out of her skin when it might be convenient (hence the hashtag #everythingbuttheburden).

What would it mean for me to limit my clothing to what is of my own culture? And as a person whose ancestors on one side came through Ellis Island in 1900 from Russia (after leaving Germany two generations before that) and from England in the 17th century on the other side, what *is* my culture? What food do I bring to represent my culture to my kid's "Diversity Potluck"? What "traditional costume" do I wear to the Multi-culture fest? What can I legitimately claim as mine?
It appears I have a creative challenge.