I watched a video yesterday that struck me in a way I wasn’t prepared for. It was a video showing a large rubber raft landing in Greece full of people fleeing Syria. It started small and then got larger and I could see there were children and elderly and men in the prime of their life and women my age and younger. And volunteers in Greece were greeting them, carrying people from the boat to the shoreline. Removing cold, wet clothes from children and wrapping them in blankets. And this was heart-warming.
But then I saw a girl of about 12 get carried to the shore. Everyone else who was dropped on the shore was instantly wrapped and cared for or being hugged by others on the beach before them. But this girl began to say a name repeatedly. She looked frantic and panicked and then a volunteer with a three year-old and seven-year-old boy called to her and she turned and saw what I could only assume were her brothers and the relief that flooded her face broke my heart and sent me into a crying jag that felt cathartic.
Because I recognized myself in that girls face. And it was through watching her face light up with relief and love at the sight of her brothers that I saw my own past differently. Because I was her, once upon a time. I was a twelve-year-old refugee. I didn’t flee an oppressive regime. I fled a father. I fled a father with my mother and my two brothers who were the same age as this girl’s brothers. My father was a tyrant. He wasn’t trying to destroy a huge population, just a population of four. Or five if you count him, because he certainly ruined himself, too.
When I got a call that made me realize that we were fleeing our tyrant with literally the clothes on our backs, I was scared and elated at the same time. Both of these are emotions that can leave a physical taste in your mouth. Copper pennies and strawberries swirled together on my tongue as I ran out the door of the safe house I was hiding at to get into a pick-up truck that would take us to safety. But it wasn’t until I got into the pick-up truck and I realized that both of my brothers were there already that I relaxed. I was so worried that they may not have made it. I don’t remember why I was doubting they’d be there, but I remember strongly the feeling of relief that slid through my body, like a splash of cream poured into hot coffee.
Thanks to the kindness of strangers, and no thanks to the rude comments of police officers (at least I made it to twelve before I learned that police couldn’t always be trusted to protect you), my family has made it. And, I think we’re better off. Far better off than we would be if we’d stayed. But my mother’s fear of the tyrant we left was greater than her fear of being a refugee dependent on others for our shelter, our food, even our clothing.
But that relief on the girl’s face is the beginning and the end to me being able to understand her situation. The night we escaped our tyrant we slept on clean, warm beds. As the house manager at the domestic violence shelter told me, “You’re safe now. You have nothing to fear here.” But this girl’s journey is far from over. Very far from over. I have no idea where she slept that night, or who is helping her with food and shelter and dry clothes. I have no idea if there is an adult who can help her navigate what is sure to be a troubling and exhausting time.
But I look at that girl, and I see myself. I hear of so many politicians and even regular citizens, some of whom I’m even related to, who swear we should turn away all of these people. And I’m reminded that not everyone can be empathetic. And this makes me sad. Because as much as it hurt to truly recognize that feeling on this girl’s face. It also healed me a little. It made me realize how far I’ve come from that night. I have hope that she gets relief and help and is able to lead a happy and healthy life. Because I deserved that much out of life, and I feel everyone does. But mostly I’m happy that recognizing an emotion on a stranger’s face, a stranger on the other side of the world, leads me to feel like we have something in common.
Maybe? This here site has been a little broken for a long time. It is still a little broken. I need a Textpattern update to truly fix it. But the instructions for doing that make want to cry a bit because they’re so over my head. But a few months ago, they would have made me want to cry a lot. So, I’m not complaining. It could be a lot worse.
So, now that I have my blog back up. I just have to figure out what I might want to talk about. Of course I’ve had dozens of ideas in the last several months, but no idea what any of them are now that I can post again.
Old School Bloggers
I started keeping a personal blog in July of 2001. That’s almost 14 years ago. And I’ve barely written the last couple of years, and slowed down significantly several years ago. But I’ve been thinking about why that was. And there are a variety of reasons, which may only be interested to people who have gone through this process themselves, but may be interesting to people who are still blogging who were blogging years ago, or maybe even to people who think about blogging. I don’t think my experience or thoughts on this are unique. But I do have them. So here are some of the reasons why I slowed down and mostly stopped writing:
- My job got a lot busier. At one point I often had an entire hour hear and there throughout the day to either read people’s blogs, to follow long chains of random links to read, or to write about what I’d read. That’s rarely the case. Now, if I want to write, I’m likely to do it while I’m at work because I’m at a computer and the other things that could distract me are less interesting and it is during my “lunch hour”. I leave my desk to eat lunch about once a month. I most often eat my lunch while continuing to work. This isn’t very helpful, but I decided I’d rather work through lunch than stay late a while ago. And now I’m at a point where I’d rather force myself to take an occasional personal break and let work carry over to the next day unless it truly can’t be avoided. So, I may be able to write more.
- I wrote a book. It isn’t a great book. It may not even be a good book. There may be a lot of things I’d wished I’d done differently, but I wrote a book. In 4 months. It was a long and stressful and enjoyable and fulfilling summer, and it broke my brain. It’s been five years, and I think I’m finally healing. It was a great experience, and I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to do it, but it was hard to create and write 300 recipes in a short period of time. It was also hard, at first, to write descriptions that fit either the 150 or 65 word limits. But I got really, really good at it. So good, in fact, that it has felt really, really hard to write more than 65 words on anything since.
- Twitter. I joined Twitter. In the 5 minutes I would force myself to take on occasion, I would be able to catch up with a large handful of friends. Or, I could read one long-winded blogpost. So Twitter matched my reading time. It also matched my attention span since after reading everything I read while writing the cookbook also made it incredibly hard to read long things. Even a newspaper article would have me rolling my eyes with lack of focus 3 paragraphs into it.
- Blogging changed. The people I “came up with” also stopped blogging. Many shut down their sites entirely. While going through an old list of blog links from 2005 or 2006, I was amazed how many now redirect to a site that is obviously squatted on by a spammer. Many others are still up, but have nothing new since 2008, 2010, 2012. It makes me sad. All those people who were influential to me are just gone, disappeared. Although, thankfully, many of them are still a part of my life. We’re friends IRL, or at least on Facebook or Twitter. But the days when I would put up a blogpost and hope that the awesome woman who linked to me one time in 2001 would read it and give me a comment expressing interest are long gone. Our blogging culture has spread out, refocused, changed. And maybe that’s okay.
- It’s hard to write everyday. It really, really is. As an adult, it is hard to spend time on hobbies that seem frivolous. Especially when you know people who lost jobs, partners, friends, opportunities because someone went back and read their blog and changed their opinion of them. This hasn’t happened to me, thankfully. But there are times when I wrote something that was misunderstood (usually because I wrote it in a rush and left out my mental context) by someone I cared about and this resulted in me hurting them. And I don’t like hurting people. So it became harder to write, knowing that if I wasn’t careful, I might hurt the feelings of people I care about. That fear, that still has me feeling reluctant to keep writing.
- Google Reader shut down. This in and of itself is bad. But what was especially bad was that I had a great list of all the people whose blogs I read in there. And I didnt’ follow directions very clearly and I ended up deleting them. I lost an address book of sorts. And recreating it seemed like a good idea for a few minutes, but then became overwhelming. So now I have a Feedly account that I occasionally check in on. But not as often as I could, and mostly because it feels incomplete.
- It is so MUCH easier to just read what other people write. When I started blogging, there was often one story a day that would stick with me, and I’d ponder it and think about it and read different versions of the article or issue and then write my thoughts on it. But now? I read that one article and think, “interesting” and then I think “what else happened?” I’m just not taking the time to ponder. To think deeply. To consider. And, I fear, that it is making me a less considerate person in general. And since I don’t like hurting people I care about, I want this consideration back.
A couple of decades ago, a friend I no longer know told me I was very competitive.
My gut reaction was to say: “I’m not that competitive! You’re far more competitive than I am.”
But I thought better of saying it because I feared she would think I was being competitive.
So, instead I asked her: “Can you share an example? I’m not sure I know what you mean.” (I hadn’t even gone to therapy yet, so I’m still kinda proud of my response.)
She told me: You’re always comparing yourself to other people. You’re always looking at people and seeing all the things they do better than you. You’re always looking at your result and comparing it to the result of someone more experienced than you.
This conversation left me in a mental state of confusion and self-doubt, for a very long time. I found myself definitely comparing everything I did to everyone around me, and I always came up lacking. My effort needed more passion, my drive needed more focus, my skill was always amateurish.
I was probably 22 or 23, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that everything I did paled when compared to other people with more experience and resources than I had. At least now it makes sense. But at the time I kept thinking, “but I’m in college! I should be so much better now!”
My friend then suggested that I stop competing with other people, and instead compare current-me to previous-me and see how I was doing. And that helped, a lot. And despite the fact that our friendship ended many years ago because we were both hurt and stubborn, I still remember her saying this to me and I still try to force myself to stop comparing my effort to the effort of people around me.
So, it makes it hard to come here and have the desire to write, but have the words fizzle before they make their way to my fingertips on a keyboard. Why? Because there are so many people writing great things about feminism, writing great things about food, writing great things about craft, writing great things about every topic under the sun. And me? Well, I don’t even know as much about cast-iron as I once thought I did, because I found someone else who writes about it deeper and better than I do or could.
So, I think my reluctance to write something that is just okay is keeping me from writing. I used to not care what people thought about my writing. Because I wasn’t writing for them. I didn’t care what they thought. And now? Do I suddenly care what people think of my writing? I don’t think I do, but it has felt like I would be better served to read other people’s writing than I would be to write my own items. But that feels painfully one-sided now.
I’ve tried incredibly hard since I was 10 to not be a racist and not do racist things. I’ve not always succeeded, but I’ve tried and will continue to try. And I’m so very, very far from where I started at the age of 10. But still, even now, after taking college courses on where racism and history and privilege intersect, I still have that gut instinct to say “But I don’t do that/think that/feel that” whenever I read or hear about something that is “typically” white. And it occurred to me today, that there is so much more written about/spoken about that is “typically black” or “typically Latino/a”, etc. And I can’t help but feel that people who are black, or Latino/a, etc., are also feeling the urge to say “But I don’t do that/think that/feel that”.
And so I encourage you to suppress that urge when reading this article published on Gapers Block. I do not want to enable any deaths of anyone. I haven’t been silent, but I also haven’t been as vocal as I could. So, yes, “All Lives Matter”, but its time we all started thinking about people who aren’t ourselves who need more help than we do. As soon as unarmed white people are killed by police every 28 hours (or less), I’m willing to talk about how police need to stop treating white people so poorly. But until then, I’m going to focus on how “Black Lives Matter”. And I ask you to do the same. Especially if you’re not black.
My interactions with the police
Too long for the #crimingwhilewhite hashtag on Twitter.
I’m 43. I live in Chicago and went to high school and college in Columbus. I’m not a “bad” person and really haven’t committed any major crimes. But I’ve done some dumb stuff (like speeding, or turning the wrong way down a one-way street). And I can count the number of times the police have pulled me over or talked to me on the street on one hand. And the closest I’ve ever come to having a cop yell at me, was when I stopped to watch them arrest an African American man who had illegally run across the street, against a red light, to catch a bus. Something I’ve done hundreds? thousands? of times in my life. He tried explaining to them as they forced him to lay facedown on the sidewalk while he was handcuffed, that he was just trying to get to the daycare center because if he was late he had to pay a fine. (This was on Michigan Avenue in front of the Hancock Center in 1998 or 1999.) The cops laughed at him and said “If you do the crime, you gotta do the time.” I was confused, and appalled, and simply stared at the cops (probably open-mouthed in shock) when one of them pointed at me and said “Hey, Red! Get moving!”
I was pulled over while driving 9 or 10 years ago. And the cop just wanted to ask me what I thought about our Prius. Because his wife was thinking about getting one and he was talking to people who owned one to see what they thought.
I had gone fabric and pattern shopping with a friend that I was making a dress for 7 years ago. I had skipped dinner and was starving. I was driving north on Ashland when a cop pulled me over. I had no idea what I’d done so I told him (with a hand shaking from hunger) as I handed him my driver’s license and insurance card, that I didn’t think I’d blown a stop sign. He looked at me and said “There are no stop signs on this part of Ashland.” He paused and looked at me. “Are your hands shaking because you’re scared?” I shook my head and said, “No, I skipped dinner and am just really hungry, I think.” He handed back my cards and said, “There is a McDonald’s one block away. I need you to pull in there, eat a small hamburger at least, and sit for 20 minutes before getting back in your car. My wife has diabetes and blood sugar is nothing to take lightly.” I did as he said and thought “what a nice guy!”
I almost got pulled over two years ago while driving through the far south side with a friend while looking for a shop that sold a particular Chicago-sandwich (the mother-in-law). We were driving down a street, there were blue surveillance camera lights on every corner, it was almost dusk. We stopped at a red light. A cop car had been behind me and pulled up beside me. My friend and I were talking and laughing, the cop in the passenger seat was looking at me hard. I smiled at him and then picked up my WBEZ travel mug, took a sip from it and put it back in the cupholder. I turned back to look at the cop who was shaking his head, said something to the driver, and then smiled and nodded back at me. And it was in that moment that I realized he thought I might be “lost” and was going to offer help. Or he thought I might be looking to buy something illegal.
My interactions with the police are so very minimal. So very minimal.
These are practically my only interactions with the police for the past 10 years. I’ve been lucky. I’m also a white woman who “looks normal”. My visible appearance gives me privilege that I wouldn’t have if I were a 16-year-old black male in my neighborhood.
The apology I wanted
Thankfully, very thankfully, Ani Difranco made a true apology. And she thanked people for calling her out. This was the apology wanted. This brings tears of relief. I cry easy, so they’re real tears.
Thank you, Ani.
Open Letter to Ani Difranco
About a week ago Ani Difranco announced that she was going to be leading a retreat at Nottoway Plantation about an hour outside of New Orleans. This retreat would let a select group of attendees receive one-on-one attention from Ani and several other musicians who she has played with and helped get published for years to help them become better song writers. On Saturday, many feminists online began criticizing her decision to have a retreat on a plantation. On Sunday, Ani published a reply to her critics and announced that she was cancelling the retreat. As a vocal anti-racist, feminist, and anti-corporate activist since at least 1990 when she released her self-titled album Ani Difranco, her decision to have a retreat on a plantation was a surprise to many. And her cancellation announcement was a disappointment to many.
Andrew introduced me to Ani in 1996 and to say her words changed my brain, touched my soul, and inspired me to be better would be an understatement. She, her words, her business model, her focus affected me. She got me to critique many things I hadn’t thought about. Her business model affected how I run my own small business and it certainly helped effect how I thought about organizing a craft show for 10 years. I adore Ani, her work, her words, her influence. I had the chance to meet her briefly in 2004 when we saw her at a hotel lobby and I was so nervous that I couldn’t even say hello. So my dear friend and constant encourager Veronica said hello and thanked her for me. I’m still grateful for that.
However, today I’m saddened. A woman whose wise and challenging words have had such an effect on me, let me down. I still adore her. I still love her music and the effect she has had on me. But I hoped for more. And because I’m reeling, my thoughts are all over the board and unfocused and I hope that listing a few bullet points will help me process into something cohesive.
Some basic facts and my thoughts:
• Ani didn’t organize the retreat. A company approached her to do a retreat at an unnamed location just outside of New Orleans. She knew others who had used the organizer and liked the idea of spending the nights in her own bed. This makes sense. Organizing events like this is a lot of coordination and it is easier to have a company with established resources do it for you than to try and do it for yourself. And since Ani still has a young child, I can’t blame her for wanting to spend time in her own bed and see her child each day.
• Ani has spoken out for more than 20 years about how corporate profits and racism and sexism have had lingering effects on American culture and we need to challenge and think critically. I don’t doubt for a second that Ani trusted the organizer, whether that is because she trusted other people who had worked with them, or because she knows the organizers personally, I’m not sure. She says that when she realized that the conference was on a plantation she said “whoa”. I’m not sure what pushed her from being skeptical of the location to agreeing to have continue on with the retreat. I want to give her the benefit of the doubt and say that she tried to challenge for a location move and the organizer had her tied to a contract and she took the easier route. But that is an assumption based on my adoration of her, and not based in fact. I strongly feel that as soon as Ani found out the retreat was on a plantation she should have at least done some investigation to find out how the current plantation owners portrayed the history of the plantation, and the history of slavery in general. Why? Because if you’re going to ask women, many of whom are descendants of slaves, to return to a plantation and pay for the privilege of sleeping on ground previously slept-on by slaves or sleep in rooms previously slept in by slave-owners, you better know that the plantation is working to present the crimes of the past in an honest and healing manner.
• The Nottoway Plantation is the largest antebellum plantation in the country, and one of the largest plantations in South when it was active. It had 155 slaves and 42 slave cottages. None of them are still standing, but it is assumed that they were 2-room shacks. It was a sugar plantation built in 1859. The history page on the website seems to smooth over the treatment of slaves and says that slaves were paid a cash bonus based on their output. Each field slave was expected ot produce 270 gallons of dried sugar during harvest. Of all the different types of plantations, sugar plantations were the worst. The work was the hardest, most dangerous type of work. There is no down-time on a sugar plantation. In order to make a profit, there had to be a huge swath of land planted with sugar cane. The cane was planted in February and manually tended daily until October to January when the harvest would happen. Because the harvest often required 14-18 hour days to get done on time, it was common for all sugar plantations to pay cash to the slaves during this time. It wasn’t uncommon for as many as 10% of the slaves to be injured or killed during harvest. Most injuries were caused by the sharp scythes used to cut the cane or being injured on the machinery that the cane was fed into. Because of the high risk of injury, and because of the unending physical labor required by the work, slaves were encouraged to save the money they earned so they could buy their freedom when they were a little older and less valuable.
• Ani’s statement doesn’t contain any of these words: apology, apologize, regret, or sorry. That makes this not an apology. Just a cancellation announcement and her sharing her thoughts. And sadly the tone of her statement seems to be that she is more upset that she’s being challenged than it is that she understands why the anger existed and that she takes ownership of being the source of that anger. For a woman who encourages us all to “dig deeper” and who says “If you’re not angry, you’re just stupid, or you don’t care,” this seems out of character. And this leaves her critics to ask “Are you stupid? Or do you just not care?” And for a woman who has made a career, a business, a support system for other musicians, based on not being stupid and caring till it hurt, this response is erratic. The tone of her statement scolds people for being angry and attacking her for having the retreat there. And her gut told her it was wrong, but she proceeded anyway.
The family who built the plantation hasn’t owned it since 1889. It is now owned by a Australian billionaire who supports many conservative causes. Considering how Ani didn’t want to sign a standard record deal at the age of 20 because she didn’t like limits being placed on her creativity, because she didn’t like her hard work resulting in profits for large companies that she didn’t support, second-guessing this location seems obvious to me. I’m curious what caused her to not second-guess this location, to not do further research into the owners.
What do I think she should have said?
i have heard you: all who have voiced opposition to my conducting a writing and performing seminar at the Nottoway Pantation. i have decided to cancel the retreat. I am sorry I gave approval to have a retreat focused on creativity at a location that glamorizes plantation life and slavery. Thank you for sharing how hurtful this action was and I will share more later.(The bold are her words. See, she started to get it right.)
Why is it wrong to have a retreat on a plantation?
Having a white woman make money on the site of some horrible atrocities against Africans and then African-Americans is a bad idea. Having an expensive (to many, not all) retreat based on creativity appear on the ground where people died brutally and had no rights ignores the history of the land.
So can nothing be held on a plantation? Like Ani says, pretty much everything south of the Mason-Dixon line, and many things to the north of it, were built by slaves. And no matter where in the US you’re talking about, white people stole the land from others anyway. Does that mean she/we should avoid ever doing any events in the South?
It’s hard, if not impossible to find a stain-free location in this country to host something where no one was treated unfairly, killed undeservedly, or taken advantage of. However, having a vocal anti-racist, feminist, activist be the figurehead for an event on any plantation that isn’t run to promote anti-racist and feminist work is problematic on its face. And even though the original ruling family isn’t earning the profits, the location does seem to either minimize the effects of slavery on the slaves while glamorizing the life and the family who owned and ran it. Ani is right that there are many locations in New Orleans that have slave quarters and now rented out as apartments or hotels or used as guest houses. And I don’t think they should be torn down and have something new rebuilt in their place. But their presence shouldn’t keep us from criticizing her choice to be the figurehead for a retreat on a slavery plantation. I did a short google search to see if there was another location just outside of New Orleans that would have been large enough to host an event of this size that is run with the intention of providing a more accurate history related to slavery and I couldn’t find one. My hope is that one exists, but it is possible that this was the only location within a short driving distance that provided the amenities and had room to host the number of people expected. So, I’m not sure where else she should have had the retreat. And, I’m honestly not sure what should be hosted on a plantation. But, if your even the slightest bit curious what it would be like for a black American to work on a plantation now while interacting with the public, then you have to watch the Ask a Slave. It is hilarious and sad at the same time. More items like this are needed to help us create the healing and understanding. I hope that plantations don’t always gloss over the hard parts of our history to make it easier for white people to ignore the truth. It is very likely that the great-great-grandparents of myself and anyone reading this post were affected directly by slavery in some way, even if they weren’t a slave or directly owned a slave.
What are your expectations of Ani now?
I would like her to apologize. Succinctly accept that she made a mistake, apologize for making that mistake and for deflecting the understandable anger in this statement. I would hope that the organizer is able to present a better location for the retreat so everyone interested (and able to afford to go) can get the experience they were hoping for. I would love to see her explain, likely more eloquently than I, how to accept the history of our country while honoring the positive and hopeful and peaceful changes in the world that she has strived for with her music. I would like to see her answer some of the direct questions that her fans and women of color have asked her. I would like to see her lead a conversation that explains to all of her fans why it was problematic for her to agree to have a retreat on a plantation, especially to the many out there who didn’t see what was wrong with it.
I would like her to
Dig deeper, dig deeper this time
Down beneath the impossible pain of our history
Beneath unknown bones
and let us all dig with her.
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