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An Open Letter to my Friends who are, “Sick of My Annoying Facebook, Political Posts.”

July 22, 2016

First of all, I get it.  Facebook is a great place to share photos of our families, funny quotes, cute pictures of puppies, awesome meals we’d like to try etc.  It is not a place to air your dirty laundry.  It is not a place to shove your opinions down other people’s throats.  I have felt similarly ‘assaulted’ by other people’s political rants in different years and different times.  But, this is not that year and this is not that time.  Things have gotten complicated and intensely complex.  Let me explain.

So, here I was minding my own business scrolling through my newsfeed keeping my own Facebook ‘appropriately quiet’ for the last 2 years.  Liking and reacting to all of your posts on the aforementioned things sharing my own mindless things.  Now, to fully understand what started happening in MY newsfeed I have to give you a little back story.

You all know.  I grew up in Benson. For those of you that don’t know, this is a lower middle class area that is largely diverse with my highschool being about 50% black and 50% white.  We joke about it sometimes as I am often the only person in my close circle of family and friends who grew up there because it’s clear in many ways that I’m ‘different’ from many of my friends because of this experience.  I have a different perspective on a broad range of issues.  I experienced things that I am both embarrassed by and proud of as they shaped me into a strong, resilient, tough-minded, loving and open-minded person.  A few of the most significant of those experiences that make me a little different from many of my friends I share with a mix of embarrassment and pride.  Me and my two brothers were raised by a single Mom.  My Father was completely absent from my life when my parents divorced at the age of 12.  Both of my brothers were in gangs in junior high and high school.  The first time I saw a handgun, my 14 year old brother came home with one tucked into the pants of his sagging pants along with a red bandanna tied around his head.  For about a year of my life, I too started to go down this path.  I had lines shaved in my eyebrows.  I would not wear the opposing gang’s color.  I know it sounds ridiculous for the person you know me to be today compared to the person I was in 1993.  Thankfully, I was young enough and dumb enough that this did not materialize into the ‘real’ kind of gangs that were out there, but nonetheless, for about a year we talked the talk, we learned gang signs, the boys in our childish gang had to get ‘jumped in’ where all their friends beat the crap out of them and if they could ‘take it’ they were in.  Fortunately, being in a gang as a female was not as alluring as it was for the boys.  I still liked to dress ‘cute.’  Truth be told, I really wasn’t that tough.  I liked people – all of them – way too much.  Nonetheless, these were my childhood friends and as my family unit broke apart this reality started pulling at me.  With a single Mom working, there was no longer anyone looking out for the trouble I was getting into.  My Mom was a teacher and her income was not enough to support a family of 4.  Even with a teachers salary and a small 850 square foot home, we could not make ends meet.  So she worked a second job at night waitressing and moved a girlfriend of hers into the house as a roommate.  I was on reduced or free lunch all through junior high and high school.  This was not embarrassing.  Almost everyone was.  The “rich” kids I went to school with were actually, in hind sight just middle class.  But still, they tried to hide it.  They recognized that they were the ‘outcasts.’  Being rich or middle class was not a badge of pride where I grew up.  There was no pride in being the only people who had more than the rest of us.  There was instead judgement toward them.  It wasn’t fair, but this was the world I grew up in.

My brothers would eventually grow up to be statistics.  One became a father at 17 with his 15 year old girlfriend.  My other brother became a drug dealer.  First, just pot, then more.  They tried to keep me out of trouble while they grappled with life in a world where the wolf was always at the door.  The drug dealer brother would give me all of his ones every week if I didn’t skip any classes.  This usually amounted to around $30 and made my weekend!  Finally, I had gas money to pay my friend back since I did not have a car.  That didn’t happened until I graduated from high school and was 18 years old.  As a result of his drug dealing, our house was raided one morning when I was 17.  I awoke at 10am on a Sunday morning to multiple police officers posted up along the ledge of my upstairs dormer bedroom, guns drawn screaming to “put our hands up!”  As I raised my arms in the air from my sleepy, groggy stupor, on a beautiful Sunday morning I was holding a stuffed dog that I slept with every night.  My innocence and my reality confronted in that one image burned into my mind.  They crossed the room carefully and asked me to turn around.  They started to cuff me.  I asked them, “Please don’t put them on too tightly.”  They are heavy and metal and I could tell that they could hurt my little 17 year old wrists.  And, after all they weren’t there for me.  I already knew they were there for my brother.  They slammed them on tightly as they made their statement about ‘fuck ups like us.’  They found no drugs that day.  Eventually, we were un-cuffed after they completely destroyed our home looking for anything.  My brother was booked on weapons charges instead of drug charges.  My wrists were bruised from the cuffs.  I did nothing wrong except have the wrong brother.  In my adult life, he would be the right brother over and over again and help me out of a million different struggles and support me through the best and worst of times.  But at that moment, he was the ‘enemy’ to anyone with a badge.  I get it now.  But I sure as hell didn’t get it then.

Through these years the friends that we would make would cross the racial and religious spectrum. We all had one thing in common.  We were just trying to survive.  Doing it the wrong way at every turn.  Totally unaware at that time what the ‘right way’ was.  The friends I made through the ages of 13-18 include many that become complete drug addicts unable to function to this day, many that went to jail, several that are dead.  One, that died in front of me and my brothers in my Mom’s house.  My boyfriend.  Struggling with his own drug abuse and unaware of how to get out of his own private hell, he shot himself.  Again, the cops came.  The looks on most of their faces were the looks of anger and disgust.  Looking back now I can see that the adults in them were furious for such a stupid death to have occurred and anger and disgust were likely their own mask they had to wear to allow them to do their jobs and not break down every day at the tragedies they would see.  The child in me felt the pain of their judgment, their lack of understanding, their lack of wanting to understand, their lack of comforting us.  We were horrified.  I was 16.  I needed a hug.  Like, a 10 year hug.  Pieces inside of me were breaking as the events unfolded and I knew even as it happened that I was losing pieces that I would never get back.  There was one officer (in hindsight, I am almost certain he had to be new) who was a bit shaken.  He looked shocked.  He looked sad.  He looked the same as we did.  And, he was kind.  He actually made eye contact with us.  I asked him with eyes that I am sure screamed for hope.  Screamed for answers after the ambulance took him away.  After the police refused to let me go with him.  To hold his hand, to be there while he fought and struggled for his last breaths.  I asked this officer who couldn’t have been older than 30, if I my boyfriend was going to die.  He looked down.  He could tell that there was no good answer.  He went with hope.  He tried to give me hope for a couple more hours telling me that sometimes the bullet can miss the brain if he had aimed the gun upward.  I already knew that he hadn’t missed.  I held a towel to his head and when the 911 operator asked me to check for an exit wound, I knew exactly where the wound was.  But.  But, I will never forget that kindness.  For a couple of hours, I had hope that maybe when I finally was released from police custody he would still be alive.  Of course, that wasn’t the fate that had already been decided.  But those gracious words.  Those moments of hope while I silently waited for hours in an interrogation room – at 16 – were moments I will always be grateful for.

These stories could go on, but I hope that gives you a little bit of the frame of reference I have for what it’s like to be poor. What it’s like to be in trouble.  What it’s like to interact with cops in traumatic circumstances because of your own bad decisions or those of the people around you.  Your family, your friends etc. It shapes your perspective in ways you can never fully understand unless you’ve lived it.  It makes things ‘normal’ that are not normal.  It makes things impossible for your own life that for others are just a ‘Tuesday.’  A few quick examples – I never went out to eat to a sit-down, nice restaurant until I was 16 years old.  I didn’t know how to use all the silverware.  I never went to a game at the College World Series until I was 30 in spite of it being a local event.  We couldn’t afford it and it just wasn’t a ‘thing.’  I had never watched a round of golf on TV until I was an adult and neither had an adult that I knew.  I had never been golfing until 20 years old and even then through a work event where I felt thoroughly judged by my lack of understanding of the sport through the entire event.  I had never known a single person who was a hunter although my family was full of military men and even some were sharp shooters.  I didn’t know what the Kentucky Derby was until I was 25.  Some of this is maybe my specific family, but part of it was that watching other people live in luxury when your own life is very much the opposite is just simply not appealing.  It wasn’t until some financial comfort was achieved in my own life that I began to be interested in the world beyond what I knew.  That I became interested in what else was out there in order to challenge myself.  Prior to that time, it was just one more thing I couldn’t have.  One more experience beyond my grasp and I had no interest in torturing myself in such a way.  That is just how I saw it.

Flash forward to today. Through years of hard work and doing whatever was necessary to change my own circumstances in life including working 80 plus hour work weeks, every single holiday, having zero time to be with my family during that time etc, along with several people who took a chance on me when they probably shouldn’t have, today I have an excellent career, I have an amazing husband and a family I adore.  I have friends today that the child I was would have hated many years ago simply for representing a life I didn’t understand and a life that quite frankly, was out of my reach all those years ago.  I have grown to love many of those friends as family.  I have also remained friends with many of the people I went to school with and many of them are on Facebook. These are the kids from my English class and Study Hall.  These are the kids I debated with in History class.  Some of these are the kids I learned to stand up for myself with.  Some of these kids are the kids I almost came to blows with all those years ago when fighting and acting like a badass was the norm of the day.  Because of my background I find it easy to relate to, enjoy and embrace people of many ethnicities, but to be fair I am more comfortable with a room full of black people knowing that in most cases, I will not be judged, that my beliefs will be embraced and that we will see eye to eye on a number of things.  This has led to a great deal more of my friendships through work and other experiences to include a significant number of people of color.  It’s not something I was very conscious of if I’m being honest, it’s just the way I gravitate.  It’s where I often feel understood and it makes for easy work relationships or other friendships that you might make.  I don’t have to explain where my Dad is.  I don’t have to explain why I do or don’t do things that others consider normal, but they are not normal to others that didn’t grow up how I grew up.  I still find these ‘abnormalities’ regularly and then realize, “I am the weird one.”  Add to that, those of you who know me, know that I make friends very easily anyway.  With anyone.  The truth is, again, through this life experience of mine, that I like just about anyone.  If they are kind to me and cool to me, I am kind and cool in return.  I have met only a very small number of people that are not good, honest, wonderful people.  Some even say stupid, nasty things, but the hearts of most people are unfailingly good.  I have found that to be true and supercede any difference in upbringing, race, economic status etc.

Now, for what has been happening on MY facebook.  For almost 2 years now, MY newsfeed has challenged me with thoughts, ideas, beliefs, heartbreak, fear, threats, etc. that I could not find words to engage on. Maybe yours has remained the same, but mine has been different.  I have come to realize very recently that maybe I am somewhat rare in this country, in the sense that I am a white person and my life is not quite as segregated as most other whites at least through my friendships.  Most of us don’t even realize it.  Take a quick glance through your friends list and count it up.  You’ll find the count is grossly disproportionate to the 13% of African Americans that live in this country.  Even my own is not that high, but somewhere around 10%.  All that aside, so many of my friends are black or they have black or mixed children.  So many of my friends live in neighborhoods that might be deemed ‘unsafe’ by others – where I grew up.  And, it started with Trayvon Martin.  Since that day, I have watched this fissure grow – between black and white America – courtesy of my Facebook Newsfeed.  My black friends posting about one injustice after another.  In some of these cases, the facts would come out and it wasn’t in fact an injustice, but rather a police officer doing their job.  Yet, the pain growing in the black community that I was seeing courtesy of my newsfeed was unrelenting.  All the while, my white friends and family are in large part, apparently unaware that this was happening.  Or they, like me, simply didn’t know what to say.  The two races often interpreted court cases and the facts of the trials differently.  Many whites believing that the court would find the facts and when an officer was absolved feeling that those facts must have been certain.  My black friends feeling the opposite. That they saw the video and could not believe their ears when yet another officer was absolved of a crime. How could this happen so often?  These are my friends.  These are people I care about.  These are people who have shaped me, been there for me, trusted me, lifted me up, prayed for me and in many respects these people I went to school with are many of the reasons I came to understand and love Jesus Christ.  To be clear, this was no small thing.  All through high school, I claimed to be agnostic.  I was baptized and raised in a Presbyterian church, but it wasn’t lived out in my home daily.   It was an abstract idea to me, not the truth.  And these friends of mine that I grew up with, that I went school with,  I learned about faith from them first.  Right around the age of 14.  I didn’t buy it fully until I watched a person I loved, die.  And, then, I knew.  And would forever forward understand the power of that love.  The power of that faith transcends logic.  Transcends any other divisions that might be there.  And, here I am watching these friends who I know are some of the most faithful people I have ever known, feel taken advantage of, lied to by a system of racism, victimized again and again. All the while, I am watching my white friends and family posting about puppies and vacations and new meals to try.  In some ways, this is a gross generalization to be fair, but in general this divide has showed up for me in such a stark manner courtesy of my Newsfeed that it turned my stomach.  I felt like I had racial whiplash.  Americans that I love were experiencing this country in such different ways and through different realities that I simply had no words.  I had no idea what to say.  I had no idea what to do.  I am a writer by nature and the pen wouldn’t put ink on the page.  Instead, I retreated into a safe shell trying like hell to ‘just keep swimming’ while all around me, courtesy of my Newsfeed I was watching the seeds grow into what we inevitably are now seeing – the reality of the different experience for black and white Americans in this country exploding into something violent, visceral, scary.  Some of that reality shaped entirely by perception and a media system that propagates our fear for the sake of their ratings, but nonetheless, the perception of far too many of my friends has been so damn painful that I can’t even repeat their posts, their words without choking up.

After Tamir Rice, a 12 year old boy playing with a toy gun killed in a park by police in November, 2014 a kid I had Biology class with posted that he told his two 8 and 10 year old boys they couldn’t play with squirt guns in the front yard anymore.  After Sandra Bland, by all accounts, a bright, ambitious young women who graduated from college with a degree in Agriculture in 2009, and who was due to start a new job in 3 weeks, was arrested for a minor traffic violation. Then, upon receiving the ticket for failure to signal, she asked why she needed to put her cigarette out.  The police officer proceeded to order her out of her vehicle.  She asked why.  She was then arrested, roughed up and taken to jail.  She was later found hanging in her jail cell in Texas.  It was classified as a suicide.  Her family and many of my friends did not believe that.  At this point, it seems we will never know.  Many of them began posting, “I am #sandrabland.”  They look like her.  And I love those friends. They are beautiful and talented and brilliant.  And they see themselves in the life of a women who is now dead after a traffic stop for speeding.

Then, there’s Eric Garner.  The cops were exonerated.  A friend posted, “They are just trying to pick us off, one by one.”  Then, there’s Oscar Grant. Then, there’s Freddie Gray.  These names my friends go on and on.  And, they aren’t JUST names.  Look up their story.  Ask yourself if that was your family member, your loved one what would you do?  How would you feel?  Now, realize that these ARE your loved ones.  Some of them have fought for this country as American soldiers.  These are OUR people.  These are American citizens.

Now, enter Donald Trump. While this undercurrent of frustration and pain is going on in our black communities, Trump decides to start allowing white supremacy ideologies to rear it’s ugly head again when he pretends he can’t hear the news reporter asking him about David Duke and the KKK and fails to unequivocally denounce these groups and ideologies until hours later.  Recall, the South Carolina primary is the next day.  He begins retweeting white supremacist tweets.  I felt things growing to a boiling point. And I was silent.  I still hadn’t found words.  I was still afraid to speak.

Then, came Alton Sterling.  Then came Philando Castille.  And, I knew the powder keg was going to boil over.  I knew it as I drove home from Des Moines on a work trip that day with my phone blowing up as people posted these awful videos over and over again agonizing over what to do about this constant stream of death at the hands of police.  I knew we had gotten to the point where the facts no longer mattered to many of my friends, because the facts never seemed to matter in a court of law.  Nobody was ever charged.  Nobody was ever convicted even if they were charged.  The only thing these families often received was a settlement pay out from the city.  Which is to say, “We’re sorry your child was wrongfully murdered, but nobody will go to prison for it.  Instead, take this money.  Blood money.”  Can you imagine?  What would you even do with that money?  Burn it?  That was it.  The spark was lit within me.  The facts could no longer be pushed away or silenced.  I simply had to speak.  I had to post.  I had to offend.  Sorry not sorry.  I began posting and speaking and asking questions and addressing what was so obviously a problem going on in our society.

I was too late.  That night 5 innocent police officers were murdered.  Later, 3 innocent officers in Baton Rouge.  Is this because we ‘collective society’ refused to speak?  Is it because we refused to pay attention?  Nobody deserves to die just doing their job.  Nobody deserves to die over a traffic signal.  And nobody deserves to be repeatedly murdered by a sanctioned group of society while the rest of society stays silent.

So, I sit here straddling the two worlds my friends live in. And, I cannot be another white friend my black friends see sitting silent on Facebook or otherwise tolerating a system out of control, tolerating murder in some cases with no accountability, tolerating that my ‘two worlds’ – the one where I grew up and the one I live in today – simply don’t come together.  I would so much rather bury my head in the sand, pretend this is happening to someone else, be quiet and avoid potentially upsetting someone or offending someone.  I would so much rather let someone else explain their life experiences and the ways in which those have shaped my perspective.  I would much rather avoid annoying you with my endless posts or pissing you off with realities you really don’t want to see and can’t believe are actual realities.  But, in my mind through this time has been a still, small voice saying that I must speak.  Today, my conscious will not allow me to be silent any longer.  My love of country will not allow me to.  And, every day, many of my posts are two fold – help one side of my world see what is going on for a good portion of America and help the other side of my world know they are seen.  Daily, I am faced with a reality where I am encouraging my black friends to know that ‘not all white people all the same’ even though they all know that.  I still need them to know that someone is on their side.  That someone hears their fear, their heartbreak.  That someone sees their children growing up, even if only on Facebook and hears their promise, sees the sparkle in their eyes, sees their karate moves, sees their awards earned at honors night, sees their back to school pictures where they grow so much every year.  I see the great Mother’s and Father’s my friends have become and I too, am afraid for their children as they become teenagers.  As they become adults.  I am afraid for my own.  If we do not get rid of this scourge of a system out of control with no accountability, this bubbling up all out racism, this undercurrent of ‘us vs. them’ and the broader system of ‘veiled racism’ through people like Donald Trump and recent senators with equally alarming things (Steve King – look it up) that is allowing hatred  to grow like a disgusting weed our children may someday have to justify their opinions, their thoughts, their attitudes every time they meet someone of color.  They will be assumed to be racist until proven otherwise.  They, may one day encounter a black or a Latino officer who may assume things about them and just shoot.  And, I just can’t.  I can’t sit back silently and allow others to create a world like that for them.  I know our country is better than that.  I know that when we speak, when we just talk to people, when we just relate to one another, the racism in this country is actually a very small minority of people.  Like, .01%.  But their voice right now is so damn loud.  And I can’t let it drown out the truth.  The truth that it is such a small percentage of the population that actually doesn’t understand that human hearts are all the same.  We all want to love and be loved.  We all bleed the same color.  We all love our children with the same dedication and hopefulness for their future.  Because of those facts, I just have to speak and post and fight and die if I have to ensure my friends know that they are loved, that we are in this together and that racism will go down this time, for good.  Not in policies and Presidents.  In the hearts and minds of those I know and those I love.  It will go down by speaking out, by telling the truth, by taking the veil off of our two very different worlds and being honest about those differences and embracing them.  And then rejoicing in our similarities – of which there are so many.  At the same time, I have to be honest to my white friends.  Just because you are not racist, does not mean they don’t exist.  Just because you don’t see cops behaving this way in your own local community does not mean it does not exist.  I am speaking because I straddle these two worlds and I need for everyone to hear the truth as I see it.  To hear the facts as I have lived them.  To hear the facts as many of my friends of color have lived them.  To hear their anguish.  And to pay attention.  To care. To speak. To act.  I know some people hate politics.  To me, this is not politics.  This is a fight for humanity.  This is a fight, we MUST ALL be a part of.  I believe in my heart of hearts that I waited too long to speak in the first place.  And from here forward, I could never live with myself if I chose to be silent and hand this problem (times a million) to my children to figure out.  It is our responsibility to take care of one another.  The best thing you can do to keep police safe is to pay attention to what is happening to far too many black people and take interest.  Don’t just dismiss it as someone else’s problem.  It is our problem and as American’s, these race issues always have been our problems.  I proudly accept my responsibility as an American to speak.   After all, in this country, as it has always been, whether we’re talking about blacks or police officers, I am my brother’s keeper.  I will not allow a single other life to be taken asking myself if I just didn’t speak soon enough.  Speak.

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