Sunday, June 19, 2016

Privilege

Recently, a series of events has me in a reflective mood. Last weekend, I watched the History Channel remake of the miniseries Roots. Also, last weekend, there was a shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, FL. 49 dead, 53 injured. Some of my friends knew victims.

I don't understand how people can say racism isn't a thing, or else minimize the role racism plays in our society. And yes, I know racism works both ways, but seeing as how I'm a liberal, modern, white person, I'm giving my perspective as such.

Think about it. Slavery really wasn't that long ago. My mother was born in 1962, a mere two years after the Woolworth's sit-in in Greensboro, NC, an event considered one of the starting points of the Civil Rights movement. While I don't recall the exact year my grandmother was born, I know it was no later than 1942, and in rural North Carolina, deep in the South. That means she had been around a full two decades before the Civil Rights movement even really began. Current studies show that the brain doesn't fully develop until about age 25. This means that my grandmother, who is still alive today, spent her most formative years not sharing a bathroom, a water fountain, even a sidewalk, with a black person. According to http://ncpedia.org/history/20th-Century/school-desegregation , schools in North Carolina weren't fully integrated until the 1971-1972 school year, a mere 10 years before I was born. This means that, more than likely, not only did my grandmother not attend school with a black person, but my mother, who again is still alive, possibly didn't until at least 5th or 6th grade (disclaimer: I do not consider anybody in my family to be racist. However, this is the society they grew up in.) Today, yes, we are more aware of classism. But statistics still show that a black person and a white person can still commit the same crime and get different sentences. Because Brock Turner is a rich guy, he got off easy. Because Brock Turner is a rich WHITE guy, he may have gotten off even more easy.

“But OJ Simpson!” For every OJ there are thousands of Corey Bateys. One outlier does not a rule make.

What people don't understand is that society changes at a glacial pace. Heck, many traditions that are part of white culture have been around for centuries, if not at least 1,000 years. An easy example is our holiday celebrations. White Christians essentially just took all of the pre-existing Pagan tribal traditions (bringing a Christmas tree inside, lights, etc.), slapped a nativity and Baby Jesus on it and called it a day. The laws may change, thanks to some dedicated lobbyists and activists who fight for the change, but that doesn't mean society changes WITH the laws. Society just gets more subtle and adapts. Why else do so many outreach organizations target kids and young adults? To change the mind and influence those young enough to learn. And that is how society changes – fight the older people to change the laws, influence the younger people to change the culture.

At the same time, there were other things going on. Abolition (pre-Civil War and during) and later segregation were not the only issues. While blacks were fighting for their right to use the same bathroom as whites, have an equal education, and sit at the same lunch counter, women were fighting for the right to vote. In the late 1800s/early 1900s when Irish immigration was at its highest, Irish immigration faced at least the same forms of discrimination as Hispanic and Middle Eastern immigrants face today. Society is not a linear “ok, we cleaned up this problem, on to the next!”. Someone can be a victim of racism AND classism AND homophobia AND Islamophobia AND.... so on and so on. Someone can get hired for a job because he's white, and then fired because he's gay. A black person can be well-off financially and have a good job making good money, and still get pulled over in "nice" neighborhoods because the neighbors don't trust a black person in the neighborhood (I've had black co-workers tell me first hand experiences of this). It's not “either/or”, it's “and”. All minimizing does is invalidate someone's experience and worth. We don't know what someone has been through. It's not our place to tell them they haven't been a victim of racism, or homophobia, or classism, or any other “ism”. It's our place to listen and help where we can. To be the change we wish to see.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Timehop Contemplations


     I have the Timehop app on my phone. Timehop is an app which showcases various status updates, pictures, etc. from Facebook (and instagram and other apps if that's what you would like) for you to post on Facebook again. Like "Throwback Thursday", it's a way of remembering things. As I am once again in the process of moving (another blog for another day, I know I have a lot to catch up on!), it has me thinking about the last several years. Particularly in regards to finances.

     From February 2008-February 2013, I worked, first full-time(2008-2010), then part-time(2010-2013), at a residential treatment facility for teenage boys with behavioral problems. Basically a mental hospital. They housed the worst of the worst. Sex offenders on one unit, boys with general aggressive behaviors on the other. It was basically run like a prison. To this day, it is the worst workplace environment I have ever worked in.

     Around May 2009, there was an incident. I was left alone on the general aggressive unit. A patient assaulted me. I was left with a broken nose which required surgery to repair, a black eye, a busted lip, a bruised ear, and a concussion from having my head slammed into a concrete wall. On top of that, the whole incident was basically covered up, and the patient received virtually no consequence for the whole thing except to be moved out of the facility a week or two later - but even that wasn't until after he managed to get needles from the nurse's station to try to stab people with. I still have a bit of PTSD from that incident to this day. I still get nervous when people walk behind me at work - a bit of a conundrum working in an environment focusing on Trauma-Informed Care, where we're supposed to be mindful that our clients don't want *us* walking behind *them* either, and I have to walk with them to my office for assessments, etc.

     From then on, my focus became doing what I had to do to get out of that hellhole. In August of that year, I began graduate school. During that first year of graduate school, in addition to classes, I had two jobs - the mental hospital full-time, and a low-key group home part time. But my grades suffered because of having so much on my plate. So I had a choice to make: possibly flunk out of school, or cut back on work. Knowing that a proper grad school education would be my best chance of not only achieving my long-term career goals, but also getting out of that dangerous work environment (I applied to other places multiple times to try to leave that job, but there were very few opportunities I was qualified for that would also work around my school schedule) , I chose academics over financial stability. I quit the very low paying (a mere $8.25/hour) part-time group home job, and went part-time at the mental hospital, so that I could essentially make my own schedule of availability to be able to work around classes and internship. I relied largely on my meager paycheck (they were fond of sending "extra" people home due to being "overstaffed", and I often went home - good for my sanity and safety but not my bank account), as well as financial aid overage checks.

     And that's where the post from the Timehop app comes in. I graduated from school in May 2012 with my Masters in Social Work. At the end of July, I was essentially evicted. I moved in with my then best friend, Kim, and slept on her couch for 7 months. A mere days after being told I had to leave, I was offered my first full-time, Masters Level job. Moving in with Kim is what I consider my first true financial mistake of this time period. In hindsight, I should've told my roommate (the homeowner whose room I was renting) the minute I got the job offer and tried to see if he would let me stay, with an increased rent to pay him back missed rent during months that he had worked with me because of my work/school situation. But I was prideful.

     My second mistake was staying with Kim. What I should've done, in hindsight, is stay on her couch long enough to save some money to be able to afford a security deposit and regular rent with another roommate renting out their room. But again, I was prideful, although maybe cautious. I had dealt with several bad roommates over the years by this point and didn't want to put myself in another situation where I could be kicked out virtually on a whim. Even though by this point I knew Kim wasn't the *best* roommate, I went into a lease with her when this 3-bedroom, 2-bath house came along. We both signed the lease, and I made sure all utilities, etc. were in my name, because I figured if I wanted things done the right way, I would have to do it myself.  Kim would pay me her part of rent, and I would make all the necessary payments. Besides, I didn't think I could do any better. I've struggled with low self-esteem for my entire life, but during that point it was particularly low - almost back to square one from progress I had made since 2006, another particularly damaging year for me. I was dealing with a lot - I was living on someone's couch; I had located and made contact with the father I've never met, bringing up a plethora of childhood issues that I thought I had resolved; and I would soon begin to finally accept myself in regards to my sexual orientation. My one real self-esteem boost I had going for me was getting my initial licensure making me an LMSW. Although that was a huge success, at the time it was drowned out by all the negativity I was going through.

     Kim turned out to be ridiculously unreliable. Whereas I gave my former roommate a heads up if I couldn't afford rent, or had to pay rent late or in installments, she just gave me a check and let it bounce, leading me to regularly overdraft into the hundreds of dollars. I finally had to make her pay me in cash only. I gave in to the payday loan trap trying to make ends meet. I'm still in the middle of a bankruptcy process because of all of this (only because I'm saving up for the final expenses).

     To make matters worse, I was in several car accidents during the years of 2013-2014, in which I was deemed at fault. Which I was, I'll admit it. Distracted driving and everything I was going through, and I wasn't paying attention and rear-ended someone at a stoplight.

    Things finally started to turn around, at least financially, in 2015.  I got a job at a foster care agency, which paid better than the job I was in at the time and was a step up on the career path. When the homeowner decided to sell, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I was approved for a two bedroom apartment. I found a roommate to share the expenses with. Kim was finally out of my hair as of March 2015 - I may should have taken her to civil court for all the financial damage she caused me, but as I knew she was moving to Ohio, I didn't feel like it was worth the trouble. I was just ready to be done with her. The big downside right now is that I've still had to borrow money on a couple of occasions due to emergency situations. I'm not able to save any money, almost every penny goes to bills and other regular living expenses.

     Now, my lease is almost up at the apartment. I'm in the process of moving out of the area, in with my partner. The cost of living is cheaper up there. I got a new job that doesn't really pay better (actually, my paycheck will probably be lower than at the foster care agency, after taxes, health insurance, and the required retirement fund withdrawals are taken out [I'm a state employee with this job, and SC has a mandatory retirement fund for state employees]), but I have the added benefit of getting my Addictions Counseling certification as well as the needed supervision for my LISW, the next stage in Social Work licensing for SC, at no cost to me as an employee benefit. This will do wonders for opening up further job opportunities in the future. My accidents of 2013-2014 start coming off of my insurance this year, so my insurance will start going back down. I'll be able to save at least $100-$200 a month into a savings account to work towards fulfilling my 5 year plan of moving up North (NYC, DC, etc.) and finally getting out of the religiously and politically repressive South for good.  It may not all happen this year. It won't happen overnight. But 2016 is finally the year that I'll be able to start getting my finances where I want them. And maybe my emotions, too, for that matter.

Did I make mistakes? Sure. Everyone does. Do I regret any of it, or apologize for any of it? Not for a second. I've become who I am today because of my experiences. And after 33 years, I'm finally learning to be happy with who I am.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Fear

To say that this has been one hell of a month is an understatement. It's been a month in which fears have become so much focus.


I started out the month with a sudden, sharp pain in my side. Fearing appendicitis, I went to the emergency room - my 3rd time since February. As it turned out, I had two kidney stones. Physically the most painful experience I have physically felt. I was going to have to have surgery. Fortunately, I passed them before the scheduled date. Unfortunately, it also happened after I made my payment, which had to be done prior to surgery. So, I am, once again, broke, as I wait for my refund to go through.

More importantly, there has been a mass shooting in my town. Nine people murdered by a white surpremacist because they were black. If any of my readers even remotely follows the news, you know how much this has thrown the country into a frenzy.  I live a mere 15 minutes away from the church where it occurred. Clients of mine have personal connection.

In addition to sadness, fear runs through my mind. What's next? I attend a Unitarian Universalist church. There have been shootings against liberals in the past. Will that happen here too? I'm bisexual in a same-sex relationship. LGBTs have been targeted in the past. And next month brings Charleston's Pride Week. Will something happen there? Both the shooting and the recent federal approval of marriage equality seem to have really shown the true colors of many conservatives who are filled with hatred towards anyone they deem different than them. I don't want to have to go to church, or celebrate pride, in the fear that I'll be next, or that someone close to me will be next.

Speaking of gay marriage, my mother all but asked me if I were gay yesterday. We had a long conversation about how she felt about gay marriage, how she respects but doesn't approve, how she believes it's a learned behavior, asking me why I'm so passionate about that particular cause. I still didn't come out to her. Even though the conversation was much more civil than I would've ever expected, and she has shown some growth over the years since I moved, I still feel like that insecure little kid when I talk to her or anyone else in my family. I know that I'll come out to her at some point, it's the how and when that scares me.

Yes, this month is going to have far reaching effects on the future indeed.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Transitions

 I've been in a period of transition in my life for the last few weeks.


I've recently moved into a new apartment. I'm no longer with the roommate who has caused an immense amount of drama over the last couple of years, not to mention pretty much wrecked whatever financial stability I had. It's a decent, two bedroom apartment. The roommate I have now appears to be one I'll get along with. He's an older guy who is actually away almost every weekend. So I get a great deal more privacy.

I have some high hopes for my new living situation. As I'm getting settled in, I'm hoping to be able to become more meditative and spiritually aware. I have a tendency to be more spiritually active when things are going well, and then stagnant, apathetic, and perhaps even angry during the more difficult times or times when my depression is acting up. I've been able to maintain regular activity and attendance at the Unitarian church I joined last year, which continues to be a source of growth for me and builds my confidence in my own personal spiritual development. This Friday, March 20th, is Ostara, the Spring Equinox. This is a natural time for new beginnings and transitioning from the cold of winter, the old, into the new. Perhaps this will be a good time to develop a more consistent spiritual practice.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

MLK Day - A White Guy's Perspective

Tomorrow is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. The day we honor the life of one of the greatest men in the Civil Rights movement of the 60s.


Last week, BH and I went to see the movie Selma .  The movie is based on the life of MLK, and details in particular the events taking place in the area of Selma, Alabama.


I really liked this movie. It was poignant, realistic, and emotional. And honestly, in some small way, I can relate, as a member of the LGBT community, who has to jump through so many hoops and work so much harder to be able to have the same rights and privileges as a heterosexual couple.
 
But there were two reasons in particular that I liked it.


The first is that it showed MLK's more human side. We have a tendency to borderline deify our societal heroes, and forget that they were just as human as the rest of us. It showed aspects of King's life that I actually had to look up to learn if it were true, or just Hollywood taking artistic license. For instance, King was a serial adulterer. The things you don't learn about in school. Yet those flaws don't take away from the work he did for equality.

  The second reason is because as a white person, I was able to relate more to it. Everyone who knows me pretty much knows I'm probably about as much of a liberal hippie as you can be this side of a pot-smoking, clothing-optional commune. But while I'm all about the Beatles, peace, pacifism, etc, I have trouble sometimes relating to the Civil Rights movement, because, lets face it, my family was pretty much on the wrong side of that conversation.

But Selma eventually detailed white people who were activists in the Civil Rights movement as well. It showcased white people - many who were clergy - who joined the black people in the March and stood up for equality, realizing that without equality for everyone, there could be no true equality for anyone. People like James Reeb , a Unitarian Minister who was killed by white supremacists (who were later acquitted) for his participation in the march for equal voting rights in Selma. Or Viola Liuzzo , a white (also Unitarian) woman who was shot and killed by klansmen while transporting fellow activists back to Montgomery.

In a way I wish activists such as Mr. Reeb or Mrs. Liuzzo had more attention in the civil rights movement hall of fame, being talked about in school right alongside King, Malcom X, etc.. While we need MLK and others, and to be reminded of their hard work and place in history, it feels to me that we also need white role models to remind average, middle-class whites that racism is just as much our problem as it is blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans, etc. King fought to change a system in which he was directly affected, being prevented from voting and from having other basic human rights simply because of his race. People like Mr. Reeb and Mrs. Liuzzo could have very easily lived their lives in their little bubbles and went about business as usual, and ignored the problem, like so many others did in that day (and still do). Yet they chose not to. I have to ask myself: which is easier? To stand up for yourself, or to stand up for others?

And that, to me, is the overall message of Selma, as well as Martin Luther King Day. Prejudice is not just the blacks' problem. It's not just the Hispanics' problem. It's everyone's problem.

I close with one of my favorite quotes, from Martin Niemoller:
 First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out - because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me - and there was no one left to speak out for me.
First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist
Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist
Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me - See more at: http://hmd.org.uk/resources/poetry/first-they-came-pastor-martin-niemoller#sthash.My0dDzR8.dpuf
First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist
Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist
Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me - See more at: http://hmd.org.uk/resources/poetry/first-they-came-pastor-martin-niemoller#sthash.My0dDzR8.dpuf
First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist
Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist
Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me - See more at: http://hmd.org.uk/resources/poetry/first-they-came-pastor-martin-niemoller#sthash.My0dDzR8.dpuf
First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist
Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist
Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me - See more at: http://hmd.org.uk/resources/poetry/first-they-came-pastor-martin-niemoller#sthash.My0dDzR8.dpuf
First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist
Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist
Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me - See more at: http://hmd.org.uk/resources/poetry/first-they-came-pastor-martin-niemoller#sthash.My0dDzR8.dpuf

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Prayer

As part of the new member ceremony today at the Unitarian Church, I received a cookbook made by the members of the church. In addition to recipes, it has a small section explaining Unitarian Universalism, a section providing a brief history of the church itself, and a page of meal blessings. Unitarian Universalist prayer tends to be very individualistic and, of course, not necessarily praying to a specific being. Which led me to start thinking, "What is prayer to me?"


Honestly,  I struggle with this a bit. I certainly appreciate taking time to consciously be thankful, say, before a meal. It's a good way to acknowledge where the food comes from, how far you've come, a pretty day, or just refocus after getting caught up in the mundane things of work and responsibilities. But I guess I still have a bit of my childhood in me, where I feel like I have to be thankful to, or praying to, someone. Maybe this is where I'll take a cue from Buddhism - being thankful, just to be thankful.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Spiritual Apathy

I'm trying to pull myself out of what feels like a very long phase of apathy, spiritual and otherwise. I struggle with motivation to read, write, engage in any sort of spiritual practice...... essentially, anything that requires brain power outside of work (and sometimes even that's a bit of a struggle). I'm working on finding the root psychological and environmental causes of my apathy. I'm sure a lot of it has to do with changes going on in other aspects of my life.

For instance, I'll probably be having to move again soon. The homeowners have decided to sell the house, and will likely not renew our lease, which means I have until the end of February to find somewhere new. I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, it will bring an end to a good bit of drama I've had to deal with for the past couple of years. I have started looking at prospects in order to be prepared - including renting out a room from someone who has a room for rent in their house, as I have done in the past. One such prospect, a 60 year old man in a rural area not too far from where I am now, could allow me to save money for when my partner is able to move here, so that the financial burden isn't so much on him. Also, it would allow me to maybe, just maybe, finally start catching up on eye and dental exams, which I haven't been able to do in a long time because of how all the other crap has affected my finances. On the other hand, I've pretty much come to the conclusion that there will always be some kind of drama going on, because that's the way life works. While I'm actually kind of excited, relieved, and even hopeful about the whole possibility of moving, the actual process of moving - security deposits, application fees, the possibility of having to pay for movers or uhaul trucks or whatever - is making me quite anxious.

I guess it all comes down to balance. I need to find some ways to motivate myself to get back into spirituality and other hobbies, to balance out the other craziness that is life, so it doesn't overwhelm me. Maybe taking small steps, such as my recently joining the Unitarian Church in Charleston (link added to my links section), updating this blog more often (including cleaning up outdated links in the links section), and attending church more regularly are small steps that will lead to bigger ones.