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.

Kinetic Sand and White Privilege

KSand2

Kinetic Sand is pretty great.

Parents love it, because they don’t have to worry about pulling grains of sand out of the carpet. Kids love it, because they can have beach or sandbox fun indoors without getting reprimanded.

Kinetic Sand is also an amazing teaching device, and it put me face-to-face with my privilege and need for repentance.

This lesson occurred one morning in seminary chapel. Laura Lehman, Creative Learner Extraordinaire, gave the gathered assembly space to engage our senses, using tools like Play Doh, coloring sheets, Scrabble tiles, and the aforementioned sand. With these tools, we were to reflect on where we see longing, repentance, and celebration in our lives.

The sand sat at the repentance station, and it called me the moment Laura explained its purpose. I wasn’t sure why I felt the tug in my heart to go. I initially thought because I loved playing with the sand with my younger cousins.

I should have known a real Truth moment was about to happen.

After Laura’s instructions, I got up with the rest of those gathered as we awkwardly shifted to our chosen station. I walked over to the repentance station and picked up the sand, letting it sift through my fingers as I thought about repentance and the ways in which I needed to turn and return, to God and love of my neighbors. I began shaping the sand.

Soon, I found myself building walls. Due to the sand’s consistency, this project took a lot of effort. By the time I finished making them, the walls were high and mighty and formed a circular fortress.

Satisfied with my walls, I played with the remaining sand on the tray. I wanted to make something symbolic of myself, so I rolled my sand into a little ball and put it in the middle of my fortress.

The moment I put the ball down, it crumbled. I noticed the irony but insisted on taking the ball and mashing the sand tighter, hoping that little sand-me could hold it together enough to make this symbolic art serve its purpose.

I finally put sand-me back together again and placed her in the walled fortress. I looked at my creation and realized something was missing. If this was to be a proper place of defense, it needed to be sealed, and there was an opening from above. Quick to solve my dilemma, I dumped more sand on top of sand-me and covered the circle from above.

The walls became a sealed dome. I could not be seen.

It was then that I realized why I went to this station.

This is nothing new to me. I make defenses, for my heart, body, and soul. When I did this exercise, I knew they were high, but I didn’t realize they engulfed me. No one could come in, and I couldn’t get out.

At first, I thought this was all about me refusing to let the people around me in. But it’s so much bigger than that, too.

This was about me having the privilege to shut out the world around me, and this was about me wanting to keep those walls in spite of the damage done to my black brothers and sisters.

Like most white children, I grew up with teachers and textbooks that taught me racism was dead and buried.

That belief received a huge challenge on February 26, 2012, when George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin in Sanford, FL, and the movement known as Black Lives Matter began to form.

This belief continued to be challenged time after time in the next four years, after hearing too many more names.

Eric Garner.

Michael Brown.

Tamir Rice.

Freddie Gray.

Reverend Sharona Singleton.

Sandra Bland.

And too recently, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.

In spite of hearing all those names up until (and even after) this experience, I still found myself wanting to shut down, to turn off the TV and computer and let someone else figure out what to do.

And what a privilege it is for me and others like me to be able to do that. To simply turn away from what we’ve seen and heard, to build up walls between “us” and “them,” to live lives insulated from a dark reality.

Sometimes, I build these walls out of a sense of hopelessness in the midst of such pain, but in all honesty, most of the time I build them out of fear. I don’t want to offend anyone by saying the “wrong thing” in the face of such injustices. I claim to want to know the “full story,” because these must be “misunderstandings.” So I keep my mouth shut, and I ignore the stories of needless brutality harming black human bodies. I make the walls higher.

The walls continue to grow when I am called out. When I am confronted with my own white privilege, by teachers, friends, and activists, I close my eyes instead of confronting it head on. I don’t want to know of my own complicity in a society that favors my skin over that of my black brothers and sisters, because if I challenge that, I challenge the powers that keep my privilege intact. I don’t want to take the risk of standing up for equality when it could harm me or my reputation.

I want to be safe and secluded, so I turn my walls into a privileged, suffocating dome.

This dome shuts out everything. It shuts out the cries of my black brothers and sisters for justice. It shuts out the screams made at them to just “behave” themselves and “All Lives Matter.” It shuts out the reality I don’t want to acknowledge: that I can to assume I will be safe on a regular basis, but my black brothers and sisters cannot.

The good news is, Truth can bring my walls a-tumblin’ down.

When Truth shows her face, I learn that my black brothers and sisters have to be taught how to get home safely if pulled over by cops, which shatters the illusion that I live in a society which is just for all. Truth whispers and even shouts into my ear every time I hear a name become a hashtag, and every time that name of a beloved person becomes a topic of debate instead of a valued human life. Truth shifts the ground beneath my feet when she reminds me that I am not an autonomous being, that my actions and inactions affect people around me, especially the marginalized, which forces me to recognize that staying inside my dome is not a legitimate option.

Truth worked hard in my heart as I looked at my small sand dome. I knew the walls needed to come down, but how? I told Truth she might as well save her efforts with me, because I knew I’d put them back up again, so why bother taking them down to begin with?

But Truth reminded me, like an old, estranged friend, of other times she took down a wall only for me to build it up again overnight. Truth told me that taking down the walls today would be good for today, and I would receive the strength to keep taking down the walls when they came back up, day after day until the rubble is beyond repair. Truth reminded me of the new things made from the rubble, the new relationships and new ways of life and being that come from the difficult, painful work of tearing down walls.

And then memories of new life I’d seen in the rubble began to come to me. I remembered David Evans’ classes about race and religion, how the Church has silenced black voices and abused black bodies and continues to do so today, but in the act of listening to those once lost narratives, I am challenged to seek similar stories and voices today so that all those silenced may be heard loud and clear. I remembered Christian Parks struggling against the powers in my own educational institution to tell a new story about Jesus and how, despite their failure to affirm him, the story got told.

The Truth reminded me of resurrection, the power to make all things new, and the new life that happens when I turn away from my walls and walk into the light of Love.

I picked up my dome and held it in my right hand. I spread my fingers and let the sand collapse onto the tray. I watched as it fell between my fingers and thought of the security I agreed to abandon and the risky love to which I hoped to open myself day after day. I adjusted my hand to get the more solid clumps moving. Finally, the fortress was gone, dissolved right in front of me. Before I went back to my seat, I thought to myself, “Until next time.”

May it be so with your fortresses, too.

KSand