Nearly fifty years later, I don’t clearly remember my first day of kindergarten, but I know I was miserable and complained that I didn’t fit in.
What I really meant was that I was the only white student in my class.
That didn’t last long.
On the second day of kindergarten, Mike Donahue switched classes and joined mine.
I have a few other memories from that year: sitting on the floor at the feet of an elderly tribe member who taught us her native language; participating in the annual root feast; wearing the wing dress my mom had sewn, and being chased and taunted when I was walking home from school. My tormentors, a group of older children, told me I didn’t belong and I needed to move off of the reservation.
The next year I did. I started first grade in a classroom full of white students like me.
When I was younger, I used to tell people that, because of those experiences, I knew what being a minority felt like and that I had experienced discrimination.
I didn’t and I hadn’t.
When I complained about being the only student with my skin color, my white, well-educated parents stepped in to ensure I had a friend in my class. When I lived in a place with a very different heritage than mine, my professional parents bought a house elsewhere among people with similar backgrounds.
In other words, what I actually experienced as a child was white privilege.
I’m still experiencing it.
I guarantee that no one has ever clutched their purse a bit tighter when they’ve seen me in a parking garage. No one has ever called the police because I look suspicious when I’m walking my dog in their neighborhood. I’ve never been patted down or had my car searched when I’ve been stopped for speeding.
But I have been the person who has clutched her purse a bit tighter when she’s seen a black man in a parking garage.
And I absolutely hate that.
My parents raised me better. They taught me not to judge people by the color of their skin. My education specifically addressed prejudice. I am a licensed social worker whose professional ethics are grounded in fairness and equality. My children and friends, who are all strong advocates for diversity, expect more from me.
And yet, I’ve had those moments when my immediate reaction is to clutch my purse tighter.
Living in a racist society has influenced my reactions, but, I am still responsible for them. I am responsible for acknowledging them and I am responsible for changing them.
America should be too.
My husband told me to write this.
Well, he didn’t tell me to write these exact words.
I was complaining that I can’t relax because I can’t stop thinking, and he told me that I should write. When I said no one wants to read about what is currently going on in my head, he suggested I discuss the weather.
Since today is stormy and perfectly reflects the thoughts cycling around in my brain, his suggestion wasn’t very helpful.
Here’s the thing: the devil on my right shoulder wants me to write about the people who I prefer weren’t in my life right now. The angel on my left shoulder is telling me I can’t always control who is in my life nor can I control their behavior. I can only control my reaction to them.
And right smack dab between my right shoulder and my left shoulder is my head with all those thoughts blowing around like the gusts of wind currently rattling the windows. Since my brain is centrally located in the neutral position, I guess I should feel safe sharing some thoughts about the types of individuals who are currently setting me on edge – people I don’t trust.
I don’t trust people who never challenge authority. History provides dozens of examples of what happens when people blindly follow the leader rather than do what is right. When people are more concerned about protecting their status than they are about protecting those who are most vulnerable, I will never be able to trust them,
I don’t trust “suck ups” and “brown nosers.” Anyone who uses a significant amount of time and energy trying to impress those in power is doing a disservice to people who actually have integrity. If your words and behaviors don’t provide any evidence of your personal values, I can’t trust you.
I don’t trust people who don’t like dogs. According to my baby book, one of my first words was “doggy.” When my mom took me to the library as a toddler, I gravitated to the books with pictures of dogs. The worst moments of my life have always improved when I’ve been able to wrap my arms around a nonjudgmental furry friend and sobbed uncontrollably. And yes, I do have human friends who don’t like dogs, but they’ve had to earn that friendship and my trust.
I don’t trust people who have college degrees but still don’t use proper grammar or punctuation. I understand language is learned, but going to college requires a lot of reading and writing. It should also involve professors who demand the use of correct grammar. If you leave college still using mismatched verb tenses and confusing “wonder” and “wander,” you either didn’t truly earn your degree or there is something significantly wrong with your education.
And finally, I don’t trust people who try to buy my friendship or my approval. I don’t need gifts or flowers or disingenuous compliments. If someone has to give me something in order to validate the relationship, it’s not valid at all.
As I was writing these stormy thoughts, I realized my husband’s suggestion was actually a good one. Because as I went through my list of the types of people I can’t trust, I realized something really important.
In all of the aspects of my life over which I have control, I have surrounded myself with people whom I do trust. My friends are social justice advocates who always question authority. They are the people who call me out when I say or do something stupid and allow me to do the same to them. They are the people who give me the gifts of time and understanding. They are people who want to build a better world for others rather than for themselves. And yes, for the most part, they are also people who love dogs.
For the past few month’s, I’ve been feeling like Horton the Elephant in Dr. Seuss’ classic children’s book Horton Hears a Who.
If you aren’t familiar with the story, the Whos live on a speck of dust that is floating through the air, which means their entire civilization is at risk of being destroyed.
Because Horton has such big ears, he is the only jungle animal that can hear the Whos. Initially, he saves their community by putting the speck of dust on a clover so he can carry and protect it. His efforts are undermined and ridiculed by the other jungle animals, who try to destroy the clover. Horton rightly believes the only way he can save the Whos is by ensuring their voices are heard by the other jungle animals.
Nothing works until Jo Jo, the tiniest Who of all, joins the effort.
I may not be carrying around a clover, but I am carrying around a lot of concerns. I’m worried that something I’ve cared for and nurtured is going to be destroyed, and the people who could truly protect “my speck’ won’t listen.
Fortunately, unlike Horton who felt all alone in his efforts to protect his clover, I know I’m not alone. Many of us carry clovers. And, like Horton, we persevere because we have to. We are responsible for those who have less power.
Dr. Seuss understood this and passed the message on through his books. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. understood it and passed the message on through his speeches.
And they both understood that no voice is ever too small.
Jo Jo had a tiny voice that made all the difference to the survival of the Whos. Members of the Civil Rights movement were the voices that changed the world. And all of us can be a voice for someone who needs our support.
Be a Horton. Or be a Jo Jo. Or be both. But most importantly, be someone who does what you can to make the world a better place for others.
I woke up on Sunday morning to the news of yet another mass shooting. It wasn’t the one in El Faso Texas that I went to bed hearing about. It was yet another one – this time in Dayton Ohio.
After texting to check on the safety of a college roommate and her family, who live in Dayton, I almost thew up.
I’m not exaggerating. I was literally sick to my stomach.
I felt completely powerless and angry.
When a friend called to check on me, she expressed the same thoughts. She was on her way to church and said she’d be praying.
“Pray that people actually elect leaders who care more about people than they do about money.” I said. “Because right now? They obviously don’t.”
We are both furious at the NRA, which is all about ensuring the gun industry continues to make money, that ignorant people fall for its propaganda, and that politicians remain in its pockets.
The current resident of the White House is no exception. Like so many politicians who think they need the support of the NRA, he’s pointing his fingers at mental illness and not at a problem with gun availability. In fact, too many so-called leaders do everything they can to avoid addressing the fact that there is a huge gap between responsible gun ownership and arming citizens with semi-automatic weapons. If they did, they’d be admitting there is plenty of opportunity for compromise.
In all the history books I’ve read, I don’t remember one that claimed America’s sordid history of racism is linked to mental illness. Can you imagine claiming that every member of the Klu Klux Klan or of a lynch mob was diagnosable? They weren’t. They were full of hate and fear.
The reign of terror carried out by the Nazi’s prior to and during World War II wasn’t linked to mental illness. Sure, the case can be made that Adolf Hitler was mentally ill, but not every single Nazi. They were full of hate and fear.
And now, do we claim that every perpetrator of domestic violence or that every racist is mentally ill? No. They too are simply full of hate and fear.
I can’t predict the future, but I do know that our present times will soon be history. And I can only hope that my grandchildren don’t have to read about how mass shootings became an acceptable risk of every day life. Instead, I hope they read about how concerned and compassionate citizens refused to let corporate interests control America and voted out the politicians who allowed that to happen.
There’s an old saying “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
The saying may be old, but it’s more relevant than ever. From the world stage to the community stage, too many people use the slightest bit of authority to benefit themselves. Sometimes they do so with no thought to the damage they do to others, sometimes they tell lies to hide their true intentions, and sometimes they just don’t care.
But those left in their wake do care.
I should know.
In the last few months, weeks, and even days, the fallout from multiple instances of abuse of power has seeped into both my personal and professional life.
But, like so much in life, I’ve had to make a choice. I can either ignore the problems or I can can learn from them.
I’ve chosen to learn, and here’s what I’ve figured out: people only abuse their power because other people let them.
Sometimes, people allow the abuse of power because they think they too will benefit. They realize what is happening is wrong, but the potential gains outweigh the immorality of the situation. So they say and do nothing.
Sometimes people are afraid to call out the wrong doing. They fear they’ll be hurt, someone they care about will be hurt, or that an institution or organization in which they are invested will be hurt. So they say and do nothing.
Sometimes people believe more in institutions than they do people, and they will do all they can to protect those institutions. So they say and do nothing.
Sometimes people are in such awe of power that they truly believe that the abuse of power is justified. Or they believe that those who are abusing the power somehow earned and deserve to be where they are and to do what they do. Or they were taught not to question authority. So they say and do nothing.
These may be excuses, but they should never be excusable.
In the end, people who abuse their power only do harm: to people; to communities; to organizations; to institutions; and even to countries.
And while their behavior is reprehensible, looking the other way when abuse occurs is what allows it to continue.
It’s the sin that sits next to power.
Last week I questioned the educational background of Eric Porterfield, the Trump-loving, MAGA hat-wearing, WV State Delegate who made national headlines for railing against the LGBTQ community. The information I found through my “sleuthing” (aka Googling) wasn’t impressive. In fact, I was left wondering whether Porterfield actually had a legitimate post high school education.
This week, he revealed a bit more about his educational background.
In a Charleston Gazette Mail by Jake Zuckerman, (How Porterfield Went Blind in a Bar Fight,) Porterfield said he earned his divinity degree at Hyles-Anderson College in Indiana. Since the article was about how Porterfield was blinded in a bar fight after leaving a strip club, I doubt most people paid much attention to that nugget of information.
But I did, and it inspired me to do some more sleuthing. (In other words, I did some more Googling. Writing is my hobby, not my profession, so please don’t judge me.)
At first glance, Hyles-Anderson College may seem more legitimate than taking a correspondence course from Belle Meadow Baptist College. However, on further research, it raised numerous red flags.
Hyles-Anderson College is operated by the First Baptist Church of Hammonds, Indiana, which has a sketchy history of sex abuse (Let Us Prey ) and misogyny (Video of Anti Women Sermon) as well as accusations of investment schemes (Lawsuit against First Baptist Church).
Interestingly, despite all this, now Vice President and Former Indiana Governor Mike Pence has visited there on more than one occasion. (Mike Pence visits First Baptist Church in Hammond)
I spent some time looking into the non-accredited Hyles-Anderson College, and I wasn’t impressed. But my opinion about the school isn’t as relevant as my concern about how such schools and their affiliated churches are creating a version of Christianity that people like Eric Porterfield embrace and want to force onto others.
It’s a type of Christianity I don’t recognize.
I was taught that Jesus wanted us to love each other not to condemn people who think or live differently than we do. He wanted us to help the weak not to prey on them. He wanted us appreciate the importance of people rather than money and material possessions. He wanted us to welcome the stranger instead of build walls, care for the sick rather than decide who is worthy of care, and to turn the other cheek rather than instigate fights.
When Christians go bad, they don’t work to create Christ’s vision of a community of acceptance and peace.
Thankfully, many Christians still do.
I reflected about this Saturday night when a friend invited me to go to the Spanish Mass at a local Catholic Church, I’m not Catholic and my Spanish is limited, but I was literally welcomed there with open arms. My white skin and poor language skills went unnoticed, or at least unmentioned. Instead of feeling like I didn’t belong, I felt like people cared that I was there.
And that’s exactly how everyone should feel both in church and in America.
I’ve always had an issue with anger.
When I was a little girl, my parents would apologize to other adults by noting that “Trina has a temper. We are doing our best to teach her to control it.”
And so they did.
Because there are times when, no matter how I try, there’s a fire that bubbles up in my chest, rises into my throat and then unleashes itself in a fierce flame of words with the sole purpose of scorching those who aren’t in my alliance.
Now is one of those times. Only instead of the words coming out of my mouth, they are screaming out through my fingers on a keyboard.
I am so very, very angry about what happened in our Nation’s Capital on Thursday.
Like many women, I’m angry that, once again, privileged white men have more power than most people can even imagine.
Not only that, but they are ignoring and dismissing the perspective and emotions that I and thousands of other women like me are processing as a result of what we’ve endured at the hands of men just like them.
But, after witnessing Brett Kavanaugh’s testimony and outrage, the anger bubbling up in my chest can no longer be contained.
I’m not simply bothered by the accusations of Kavanaugh’s behavior in high school.
I am also outraged that Kavanaugh’s words and demeanor demonstrate that he believes he’s entitled to be on the Supreme Court. A man representing a party that rails against entitlements believes he’s entitled. And he thinks the accusations against him are a personal tragedy.
He has no concept what real tragedy is.
And that’s why he doesn’t belong on the Supreme Court.
Supreme Court Justices rarely make decisions that impact people who attended private schools and Yale University or who grew up in big houses in the suburbs. Instead, they make decisions that impact people whose only true entitlement has been a public education in schools with limited resources.
The power of the Supreme Court lies in it its impact on people with no power: poor people, minorities. the poorly educated, immigrants, criminals, and women.
But not this angry woman.
This angry woman is willing to demonstrate what true power looks like.
But I can only do that if other angry women join forces with me.
Tuesday, November 6, is a perfect opportunity to do just that.
There’s a reason people with good sense wear glasses when they ride their bikes. It prevents bugs from flying into their eyes.
Apparently, I don’t have good sense. Or at least I don’t have enough good sense.
Because I wasn’t wearing any protective eyewear when I was out bicycling last week.
I was heading down a steep hill and into a blind curve when a gnat flew into my eye.
There was nothing I could do about it. Stopping on the narrow road with no shoulder would have been more dangerous than allowing the gnat to stay.
So I continued pedaling and focused my mind on other things. By the time I got home, I had almost forgotten about the gnat in my eye. Almost.
But that night, when I was taking my contact lens out of my red and puffy eye, the little bug made his reappearance – both literally and figuratively.
When I finally threw him away in the toilet, I realized how lucky I was. Ignoring the irritation would never have made the problem go away. It would only have caused more harm.
My short-lived relationship with the gnat resembles my too-long relationship with the guy in the Oval Office.
They both arrived in my life unexpectedly and in the most unwanted manner.
My problems with then could easily have been avoided if I, or others, had actually understood the danger they posed and acted appropriately to mitigate the potential disaster.
And even though ignoring them felt like the only way to keep my sanity, that’s never been an option.
Last Sunday, an old friend asked why I hadn’t been writing recently, I was honest when I said I’ve been busy and overwhelmed with work and other responsibilities. But that wasn’t the whole truth.
I’ve also been trying to ignore the ongoing barrage of embarrassing and disturbing news coming out of Washington DC.
But I can’t nor should I.
Instead, I’ll do what I can to cope and face the problem while doing my best to address it.
And hopefully, in the near future, the bug in the White House will be flushed out of Washington DC as efficiently as I flushed the gnat out of my life.
Some places are just not intended for human comfort.
Take, for example, the concrete pad behind the building where I work. Two heat pumps and a garbage can occupy the space, which is surrounded by a waist-high concrete wall. There are no picnic tables or chairs to indicate this is a place to hang out. Nor is there any cover from the elements, which means both the sun and the rain beat down on its surface.
And yet, for the past few weeks, it’s been someone’s sleeping quarters and safe space. As I was leaving out the back door for a meeting last week, I noticed “Mark” (not his real name) sprawled out on the concrete pad in the hot sun reading children’s books.
The books were donated to my organization to distribute free to anyone who walks through our office doors.
I asked “Mark” how he was doing, and he grunted at me. I continued to my car without bothering him because, well, the grunt meant he probably didn’t want to be bothered.
“Mark” is a thirty something year-old man with schizophrenia who has been coming to our office for years.
Sometimes he is taking his medications. Sometimes he isn’t. Sometimes he has a place to live. Sometimes he doesn’t. Sometimes he wants to talk. Sometimes he doesn’t. Sometimes, the system helps him. But most of the time, it fails him miserably.
He spends much of his time moping around town with his head hanging low and his pants hanging even lower. The police know him. He’s been arrested and even done jail time for trespassing. Many of our social service and mental health facilities know him. Even the people at the hospital know him.
One time, when he was desperate to get the demons out of his head and a safe place to stay, he actually called an ambulance to come get him at our office. That didn’t work out very well. He’s even been committed and spent a few days in a psychiatric facility. That didn’t work out very well either as he landed right back where he was before.
“Mark” isn’t capable of living on his own, but there are no facilities in our community for someone like him. From what I understand, he is an unwelcome guest at the rescue mission. He’s been robbed and taken advantage of by people who are more streetwise than he is. And much of the time, he stinks. Literally.
And yet my co-workers treat him with the same respect they treat our donors. They listen to him – even when he doesn’t make sense. They let him use the phone – even though we are fairly certain there is not anyone else on the call. And, on the occasions they’ve convinced him to take a shower in the upstairs bathroom and he’s thrown his wet, stinky clothes away, they’ve taken them out of the garbage and washed and folded them.
They don’t do any of this because it’s in their job descriptions. They do it because it’s the right thing to do. They do it because that’s what loving thy neighbor is about: loving all of our neighbors – not just the ones who smell good or with whom we agree.
I was thinking about this last week when “Mark’ grunted at me from the hot, concrete pad and I slipped into my air-conditioned car. When the radio came on, I heard the news about the Supreme Court decision in favor of the baker who refused to make a cake for a gay wedding. I’m not a lawyer or a Constitutional expert, but I disagreed with the ruling on a personal level. I also wondered how baking a cake could even became a political and legal issue in a nation where so many people define themselves as “Christians.”
But the again, I also wondered how, in a “Christian” nation, Mark’s safe place is a concrete pad behind a social service agency.
Christians are supposed to be followers of Christ – that’s where the name came from, right? And wasn’t Jesus all about breaking norms by socializing with the ostracized and caring for people who others disregarded? He never pretended it would be easy or pleasant. But he did teach us that no person is more important than any other person.
When I got back to the office after my meeting that day, Mark was gone. His belongings were out of sight, and there was no indication he’d ever been there or that he would soon be back
But I knew he would be.
Because the fact that the concrete pad behind my office is his safe place isn’t by chance. It’s because the people inside the building have created that safe place by accepting him just as he is.
You know, kind of like Jesus taught us,