I’m Not “Woke”

Oil Lamp

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut.” – Matthew 25:1-10 (NRSV)

In high school, I had thick, springy curls that my straight- and thin-haired friends and family envied. One of those friends, a white girl, told me that I had “black people hair.” I took it as a compliment.

I took it as such a compliment that I told my mother what my friend said while we were riding on the DC metro, and a woman of color was sitting in the seat right behind me.

My mother tried, in vain, to get me to shut up. But I still spewed those words out of my mouth.

There’s no nice way to put it: I made a racist comment.

At the next station, the woman in the seat behind me got up to leave, and as she walked by our seats, her bag bumped me rather roughly in the arm.

It was more than likely an accident. But I felt enough shame to never say the remark ever again.

*****

I wish I could say I stopped making racist comments and remarks, intentional or otherwise, after this encounter. But I didn’t.

Hell, I still say and think problematic words and thoughts. I still have strong biases that need time, effort, and intention to destroy.

Yet I once considered myself a “woke” person. I’m sure other white people did, too.

And that in and of itself is problematic.

First of all, as a white person, I shouldn’t be using a term that began as an urge by and for people of color  to “remain vigilant, but also to keep safe,” before being appropriated into a badge white allies use to say that “if they walk the walk, they get to talk the talk.”

Second of all, the use of the phrase implies that there is a prize white people get when they cross the non-existent finish line of “not being racist anymore.” For white people, our so-called “wokeness,” our collection of quotes, behaviors, and friends, does not prove we’re “no longer racist.”

Our work of dismantling white supremacy is more than that. It is an uncomfortable and unceasing journey, and white people can cover themselves with merit badges without putting a dent in this system.

Claiming a so-called “wokeness” separates us from other white people. It allows us to claim we’re done being racist while other white people are not.

It’s a false claim that says we no longer have biases towards people of color that still need to be broken down.

It’s a claim that falsely announces the demise of this whole system.

The hard truth of it all is I didn’t magically stopped being a racist when I started chanting “Black Lives Matter” or when I marched in Charlottesville.

I’m still part of this broken system, so I’m still a racist. And that hasn’t stopped yet. Not now. Maybe not even in my own lifetime.

The same applies to all of us white folks.

*****

Along with most white Christians, I like to think I’m one of those wise, eternity-minded bridesmaids in Matthew’s parable, ready and waiting for the coming Kingdom with oil overflowing.

But more often than not, I’m one of the foolish ones caught unaware and unprepared, left begging my siblings of color for oil to light my lamp instead of fetching it for myself ahead of time.

So I’m getting rid of this “woke” label, one that was never mine to claim to begin with.

Instead, I’m waking up to my own self, my own biases and complicity, and the system that has made them all possible. I’m waking up to my past sins and attempting to move forward in humble repentance instead of being paralyzed by personal shame. I’m awakening compassion, empathy, and understanding within me, and I’m opening my ears to be more attuned to the stories of pain and joy from people of color. I will wake up to my need to admit wrong-doing and to apologize.

But waking up isn’t an easy process, either, nor is it a quick one.

Sometimes, I hit the snooze button. Sometimes, I take a long time to rub the sleep out of my eyes. Sometimes, that bed of privilege and supremacy is so comfortable that I don’t want to dream of resting on anything else, even when I know that comfort is built on the backs of my marginalized siblings.

Sometimes, like the seven bridesmaids in Matthew’s parable, I awaken with a jolt to discover I have no oil in my lamp and am lost in the dark, and those wiser and more prepared are moving towards a more perfect world.

It is in those times I am called to remember it’s one thing to bring a lamp in a dark space and quite another to bring the oil to light it.

And the sooner we realize we don’t have what we need to illuminate the darkness, the sooner we might start following those who have known the way much longer than we have.

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Mental Health Tips for Activists vs. What I Actually Do

Binge

1. Fast from social media, for minutes, hours, or even days at a time.

What I actually do: Refresh my Facebook and Twitter feeds all day every day, when I get anything resembling a breather or a break at work, or when I’m not stimulated enough by the world around me. You don’t want to miss anything after all, right? What kind of an activist would you be if you missed something BIG?

2. Designate time every day to practice deep breathing and meditation.

What I actually do: Hit snooze an extra ten times in the morning, because focused breathing is too much to ask me to do before 8 AM.

3. Meet with a therapist to process the highs and lows of your activism.

What I actually do: Drag my feet on finding a new therapist, because the new one “won’t be the same” (read, “as good as”) as my former one.

4. Make time to connect with friends and family. Whatever you do, don’t isolate yourself.

What I actually do: Hide in my room and binge-watch Netflix and binge-read Buzzfeed. 

5. Remember, self-care is an act of resistance. If you want to sustain yourself in the fight for justice, you must take care of yourself, and these steps (along with others) can help.

What I actually do: Allow “white guilt” (I’m sustaining an oppressive system and don’t deserve rest) to paralyze both my activism and my efforts and self-care while attempting to tell other people to do for themselves what I won’t do for myself.

Joy As A Middle Finger

Content warning: mentions of attack in Charlottesville

“Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid, for the LORD Almighty has spoken.” Micah 4:4

McGuffey

McGuffey Park in Charlottesville, VA

When I think of Charlottesville, the terrorist attack I was mere inches from obviously comes to mind.

But I also think about chanting and standing in solidarity with my black and brown friends as the white supremacists trudged down the street, remnants of pepper spray dripping in purple streaks down their once pristine white polo shirts. I think about the red-clad Antifa marching up behind us in a sea of red shirts and black and pink helmets, and the relief I felt when our group cheered them in, finally understanding what everyone meant when they told me “Antifa will keep us safe.” I recall the clergy arriving and linking arms to form a human blockade to stop the “parade” in their attemp to perform a very physical and literal exorcism of the streets.

And I think about going back to McGuffy Park after seeing the last of the “alt-right” leave. I reminisce on the time spent lounging under shady trees, sharing fruit snacks with my new BLM friends, trading stories about theater rehearsals and loved ones, meeting fellow activists, enjoying the sweet summer breezes and laughing at the Charlottesville citizens walking their dogs and going on jogs as if their city leaders hadn’t declared a State of Emergency.

And it made sense, because at the time, it really didn’t feel like a dire situation.

For a glorious half hour, it felt like a normal summer day.

It was a glimpse of the Kingdom of God.

It was pure joy, bliss, and contentment. It was safety.

It was resting on the ground beneath us and actually believing it might be level for everyone. It was vulnerability without fear of destruction. It was trust and love.

It was holy, holy, holy.

After that blissful half hour, we began marching on the Downtown Mall after hearing reports from fellow activists of renewed Nazi activity at another location. Even though we knew we were walking into more threats, the rush from our earlier victory over the neo-Nazis coursed through our veins, giving us hope that we could keep them at bay again.

When we marched those streets, we did so in victory. We did so in joy.

*****

When I think of Charlottesville, I still remember the joy. Oh, how I cling fiercely to that memory of joy.

I do not remember the joy in spite of the moment of terror that snatched it all away. I don’t remember those sweet moments to escape the reality of the pain, terror, and trauma from which my friends, fellow protesters, and I continue to recover.

I remember the joy because of the terror and the turmoil.

I cling to those joy-filled memories in a desperate effort to reclaim them from the terror that plagued that whole day and culminated in a terrorist attack by a white supremacist.

I keep that flicker of joy we had at the park safe and alive with all my might as a middle finger to those terrorists who would seek to destroy black and brown bodies, and those bodies that stand with them.

I remember the joy as a way to say to white terrorism and white supremacy, “Fuck y’all. You won’t win. Not this day, not this movement, not these lives.”

It’s this “Fuck y’all” joy that makes us laugh at insults like “race traitor” and whimpers about “Jewish privilege” and “reverse racism.”

It’s this “Fuck y’all” joy that got us back on our feet to march to our people in need.

It’s this “Fuck y’all” joy that gives me the audacity to plan a wedding in the midst of this chaos and hatred.

It’s this “Fuck y’all” joy that is keeping me going today.

I pray it’ll last.

Where Do I Begin?

Antifa

NY Magazine

Where do I begin?

Do I begin at St. Paul’s on Friday night, when the white supremacists surrounded a sanctuary of worship after beating up a gang of peaceful students, threatening and intimidating the people who came to answer the call of the God of justice?

Do I begin on Saturday morning, when the group with which I came couldn’t even get to Emancipation Park, the original site of the rally, because they knew they’d be marching to their arrests at best and their deaths at worst?

Do I begin when we finally got to the streets as the white supremacists were on their way out, and the white people put their bodies between the black and brown ones so the neo-Nazis couldn’t threaten them physically but could still taunt and demonize their sacred humanity?

Could I even begin when we got back to McGuffy Park after the white supremacists left and had a golden half hour of peace and joy, where we traded snacks and stories as if it were just a normal Saturday spent amongst friends?

Should I begin when we took to the streets again so we could meet some friends in need, when we marched and chanted and for a few shining moments held our fists up in victory?

Do I begin with the terror and chaos, the crashing cars, flying bodies, and screaming voices, of being separated from my group and not knowing if they were alive, injured or dead, of not knowing what the hell was going on except it was something awful?

Or must I start at the beginning of our nation’s history to unearth white supremacy’s origins, which have been embodied over and over again, from Native American genocide and slavery to Jim Crow laws and police brutality?

Where do I start? Where do I stop?

*****

DavidSmash

New York Times

The events are too much to recount. Should I begin with the people instead?

There was my main group, three activists from Black Lives Matter (BLM) and four from Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ). The BLM folks strategized where we would march and stationed themselves on the front lines during confrontations with the white supremacists. My fellow SURJ Care Bear and I provided snacks, water, and Aspirin to our Direct Action friends. Two SURJ de-escalators put their body between the three men in BLM and hoards of neo-Nazi, fascist white supremacists. We were seven brave souls doing God’s holy work of justice and mercy, demanding the acknowledgement of the sacred humanity of black and brown bodies, and handing out cough drops when the yelling broke our voices.

One of the BLM guys loved fruit snacks and always gave me a hug when I handed him a pack. He was always at the head of the pack when a confrontation with white supremacists occurred, at great risk to his own life. Another man had such a calm demeanor that I wondered what he was even doing there, until I heard him passionately chant and yell whenever he was on the front lines. Another carried a megaphone and led the whole community in our cries and made us double over with laughter at his witty one-liners. He’s a theater person like me, and he told me about the August Wilson play he’ll be performing in for which he hasn’t even begun to memorize his lines. (#Relatable).

My fellow Care Bear carried copious amounts of water and trail mix in her bag. Our de-escalators ran after our BLM comrades everywhere they went to make sure they stayed safe.

The so-called “evil” and “violent” Antifa prevented the white supremacists from beating clergy and stood by us when the alt-right passed us on the street, making sure we were safe and supported. They took control of the streets in the chaos following an act of terrorism, administering first aid and keeping people off the streets so fire trucks and ambulances could get through. We refused to go anywhere without them.

The people of SURJ made sure we all stayed together. After a terrorist drove through our fellow protesters and had us fleeing for our lives, they ensured that everyone was accounted for before seeking a safe house.

A seminary friend and community organizer prayed with my BLM friend after he witnessed the collision. Another seminary friend was the first familiar face I saw after escaping the chaos and the one I clung to in a desperate, terrified hug.

The family that housed my friends and I let us sleep on their furniture, breathe in their lavender and sage, gobble up their dark chocolate and honey, and rest in the sanctuary of a scenic and peaceful landscape after the chaos and hatred of the day.

In less than 24 hours, these people became my family and my great protectors.

I would march with them again any day.

*****

Is now the time to talk about returning home? Is this the end of the story?

On Saturday night, my fiance held me, the tension of watching and waiting finally over, his relief literally collapsing into me.

On Sunday, we watched movies and cooked meals together, and he kept looking at me and saying “You’re home,” as if he didn’t dare to believe it, because if circumstances had been different, it wouldn’t have been true.

On Monday morning, I used my prayer beads to pray in gratitude and in pain, for justice and for the steadying of my own heart, for myself to keep doing this holy, difficult, important work and for the families who have lost their loved ones to this same work.

On Monday afternoon, I went to work, and one of the first things I saw was my co-worker, a woman of color, leaving her lunch in tears because of a stray “…but don’t All Lives Matter” comment.

And then later that night, all my colleagues held a surprise bridal shower for me, and we ate cake, drank wine, and played Utter Nonesense for hours.

On Tuesday, I saw the posts and comments lumping my BLM friends and Antifa accomplices into the same category as those that threatened to and even succeeded at killing them. I read everything from “they’re the flip side of the same coin” to “everyone is equally responsible for making this happen,” as if our very presence in the face of evil was something to demonize and condemn.

Despite giving evidence that the BLM chapter of Charlottesville committed no violent acts, despite video footage of white supremacists viciously attacking people of color and other protesters, they didn’t listen. The president condemned us all and gave us a name associated with the evil we had encountered, as if we were worse than them.

And to add to the heartbreak and pain, to poison an already salted wound, the people saying and accepting these falsehoods claim the same “Christian” title I do.

We’re barely halfway through a new week, only days separated from Charlottesville, and still the tensions simmer. Still, the battles continue, not on the streets, but in the office and over Facebook and even in our own homes.

Now that I’m home, how do I keep fighting? Must I fight my own people?

Where do I start? When does it end?

*****

Do I conclude with a prayer, a prophecy, or a call to action?

Do I conclude with anything, or do I just let this be?

Do I tell you what to do next, or do I leave the choice up to you?

Do I remind you that real activism isn’t fuzzy hats and fuzzy feelings but hard, heartbreaking work that isn’t about you at all?

Do I dare give you an ending when this is far from over?

An Open Letter to Fanboys

Dear Fanboys,

I know you’re upset over the apparent “robbery” of “your” characters: the loss of your Doctors and Thors to women, your white Peter Parker “usurped” by Afro-Hispanic Miles Morales, your straight Hal Jordan “taken over” by queer Alan Parker, your blonde Captain Marvel flying out so Pakistani Muslim Khamala Khan can soar in.

How dare they touch your precious characters, you cry. And all in the name of something as ridiculous as “politically correct” culture.

You cry out to the geekdom gods: “Why have you forsaken me?”

Oh, my dears.

Just stop.

Seriously.

 

This is exactly what you sound like. Do you really want to be Dudley Dursley?

 

Enough with the cries of “P.C. culture is ruining geekdom” and “the canon says this character has to be THIS way,” as if those characters don’t already break accepted laws of physics and science.

 

If a time-traveling, regenerating alien hanging out with their past form makes more sense to you than that same alien regenerating into a woman, you’re being a little choosy with how you apply your logic.

You’re not being persecuted. You’re not losing your stories.

What you’re experiencing is a thing called “change.”

The world and culture are shifting around you. And as such, the representation of that world is going to change.

Straight, cis, able-bodied, white men aren’t the only people calling all of the shots anymore. Not only are more women, people of color, LGBTQ+, and disabled people finally getting the right to tell their stories; they have also been reading, watching, and loving the same characters and worlds you have.

All we are asking is that those heroes look like us once in a while.

But why not make an original character, though, you ask. Why must you “steal” one of ours? Go get your own, you demand!

Ah, yes, why didn’t we think of that? It’s easy, right? After all, your characters seemed to spring up out of nowhere with such frequency, we should be able to do the same.

If only it were the case that movies and shows with diverse casts of characters made by people who aren’t straight, male, or white didn’t take longer to make because producers don’t trust the characters will be likeable or even “articulate.” If only these projects weren’t desperately underfunded to the point that the production companies attempt to bribe their creators with more money if they just cast a white lead. 

Not to mention the frequency with which these beloved, well-rounded shows with this type of casting are dropped.

 

I guess they gotta make way for more episodes of Iron Fist, The Ranch, and whatever else Adam Sandler can cough up.

 

Why aren’t more women and people of color trying to tell their own stories, you ask. Why aren’t they working hard to get in the director’s seat or behind the writing desk?

Here’s the short answer: They are.

They’re working their asses off.

They’re also being met with microagressions like “I’m pleasantly surprised you knew what you were doing,” are blamed for a variety of minor issues for the sake of being a “minority,” and fearing that if they drop any “ethnic” dialogue or bring up too many “issues,” they’ll lose the project for good.

 

Not to mention the legitimate and very threatening harassment they receive online for critiquing video games while having vaginas and posting selfies with their fellow artists. 

These add up real quick and make pursuing a passion that much more exhausting and even dangerous. And it takes a special kind of strength to be willing to pursue what you love when all of that is coming at you every day.

When we get excited over a female Doctor, a woman of color being the main character in the new Star Trek, and actual Muslim women writing the story of an actual Muslim superhero, it’s not because we want to “steal” your characters for the sake of being “P.C.” We are excited, because just like you got David Tennant and 11 other men as the Doctor, and you had Captains Kirk and Picard (take your pick), we get Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor and First Officer Burnham. We get people who are like us telling stories about heroes who are like us. We have icons to admire and exonerate, whom we aspire to be one day, just as you always have.

 

It looks like a sun is collapsing behind her, and she’s still taking time to pose all stoically for the camera. How badass is that?!

 

When only one-third of speaking characters are female, despite the fact that women represent just over half the population in America, when just 28.3 percent of characters with dialogue are from non-white racial/ethnic groups, though such groups are nearly 40 percent of the U.S. population, and when only two percent of speaking characters are identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transsexual, we will line up in huge numbers for Wonder Woman’s release and binge watch The Handmaid’s Tale, American Gods, and Transparent.

When negative mass media portrayals of black men shape public views of and attitudes toward men of color, which can result in self-demoralization and a reduction of self-esteem for people of color and enable judges to hand out harsher sentences and the police to shoot indiscriminately, we will rejoice when Idris Elba heads The Dark Tower, John Boyega is a lead in Star Wars, and A Wrinkle in Time is driven by Storm Reid with Ava Duvernay at the helm.

So instead of complaining, please support us. We have good stories to tell. Heck, we even have universal stories to share, believe it or not.

Support us because you want more people to love fandom and geek culture.

Support us because stories are sacred and affect all of us in sacred ways.

Support us because we’re all a bunch of geeks who are into some crazy, weird, phenomenal stories, so we might as well enjoy them together while the rest of the world casts their judgmental looks upon our weirdness.

Watering Plants After Watching Philando Castile’s Killing

Planet Natural

Yesterday, I finally watched the dashcam footage of Philando Castille’s death.

This morning, as part of my house-sitting promise to my mother, I watered her plants.

I turned the faucet until it could turn no more and felt the water immediately pump through the extendable hose at full blast. I heaved the heavy load over the porch, unraveled the hose from its tangles, and walked to the first bed. I changed the setting to “Shower” and remembered to depress the lever slightly, because even a heavy shower can be too much for those tiny buds.

As I wandered through the beds of mulch and among their scatterings of green, pink, and blue, showering the delicate buds and small leaves, I prayed this small offering of water would be enough. I prayed the light shower would keep them hydrated when the hot summer sun mercilessly beat down on them later in the day. I prayed my neglect of the past couple days would be amended through this sprinkling, that it would be enough to keep them going in the time between my departure and Mom’s return.

I remembered I was not their real gardener. I was not at work under the soil soaking up nutrients to send up the roots, through the stems, and to the leaves and buds. I was not their planter or their keeper. Heck, I wasn’t even going to continue this work after Saturday.

And still, I watered each plant, each green that stretched out of the mulch and flower pots, each colorful bud closed up but expectant of the day it would open again.

I guided the small showers lovingly over each plant, and I wondered if God does the same with the tears shed over each unjustified killing, over each act of hatred and animosity towards the “Other.” I wondered if God uses those tears to water the hearts of the brokenhearted, that they may have comfort. I wondered if God uses those tears to water the hard hearts of those who do not understand the reasons for this pain, that they may soften and open. I wondered if God waters us with those tears so we do not remain numb but continue to be sensitive enough to soak them up and keep moving forward, to remind us that we cannot just let ourselves and our siblings continue to die and be killed.

And I wonder if God also sheds tears over our sorry, pitiful, divided state, and I wonder if God waters us with those tears, too. I wonder if in the midst of being showered, unknowingly or otherwise, with the tears of the oppressed and marginalized, we are also being showered by the tears of God.

And then I wonder where one’s tears stop and God’s begin.

*****

After I finished watering, I returned to the house and tidied a few things up. By the time I finished, the pitter-patter of a gentle rain shower sounded on the roof.

Maybe my small offering was accepted and met with another. Maybe God is still listening to and responding to our small acts of faithfulness.

Maybe that’s enough for me to believe right now.

A Letter for My Little Brother (And Other Arab and Muslim Boys Around the World)

Sami5

My beloved little brother, my habibi, 

I love you so much.

But I can’t protect you from what’s to come, not any more than Baba or Mama or Layan or Razan could. The only way to protect you would be to cover you with myself and my whiteness.

Yes, it’s there. It hides under an olive tone at times, but it comes out the moment I end my name with “Davis,” and one day with “Cowett.”

I can hide myself. You don’t have that luxury.

And I couldn’t do that to you, and even if I could, I wouldn’t change your beautiful olive skin, your big brown eyes, or your nose that may one day hook like mine and Baba’s. If I took away your body, and made it what it wasn’t meant to be, I’d take away the history we share.

I’d have to take away the story of our Baba, who came here on scholarship, confusion, hope, and fear in his heart, who was mocked and derided by those studying at the same institution as him. I’d take away the story of this man, who worked at great risk to himself instead of going home, because doing so could have meant going home in more shame and in more trouble.

If he had done that, my life never would have begun, and neither, perhaps, would yours.

I can’t take away the story of our grandparents, refugees oppressed by those who have a long history of oppression. Nor can I take away the story of our great grandparents, including one who left Russia before having to leave Palestine.

No, habibi, I won’t take away our history from you, not even to protect you.

Sami6

Sami7

That being said, I can’t promise that you won’t be accused of being any number of things that you obviously aren’t.

I can’t promise that you won’t be judged by your name, your skin, your nose, your eyes, and all the physical traits we love about you instead of by your character, your skills, your wisdom, your story, your life, or anything else that makes you amazing.

I can’t promise that you won’t be hurt, antagonized, discriminated against, spit upon, demonized, or lumped in with a group you oppose as vehemently as the rest of us who value freedom and human dignity.

I can’t promise this will be an easy life. Baba can’t promise it, because it wasn’t easy for him, not when he was young, when he became a citizen, when he met my family, when he had me, when he lost me, when he got married, when he had our sisters, when he got and lost his cushy job, when he had you, or when he sees headline after headline demonizing our people, even when they are at their most vulnerable.

But I can promise that you will need to live this life, and you can count on Allah to be with you as much as I can count on Jesus to be with me.

And no matter what, I promise you that I will not let those different names divide us.

And I would remind you, as Baba might, that our family lived in the village of Imwas, or what the Christians call Emmaus. And we tell the story of Emmaus every year.

In that story, two men travel the road. They had lost all hope of being dignified, of having their divine humanity recognized, of living freely as the people of God and not the people of Caesar. As they walked in hopelessness, a man they didn’t recognize walked with them, talked with them, and ignited their hearts.

And when they finished walking, he broke bread with them, and they saw, staring into their faces, the hope they thought had died.

People will tell you, “You are not my people,” and unfortunately, some, if not most of, those people will claim the same Christian title I do. While it will be impossible for it not to get to you, I want you to know this: Their words are lies.

You are my people.

Your God is my God.

Your family is my family.

Your blood is my blood.

There is no half in this.

You.

Are.

My.

Brother.

Different mothers and different skin complexions don’t change that. You are my brother.

And while our upbringings, skin tones, and lives will be different, we share eyes and a nose and a kindred spirit and an inherently divine humanity.

We also share a family, for better or worse.

And I will keep the promise I made to you before you were born: I will always be with you, and I always be for you.

All my love,

Lindsay (Your Favorite Big Sister 🙂 )

Sami2