I don’t know if it’s the post-Gen Con blues or the stress of another school year starting or the current slog through revisions on my latest novel, but I’ve been particularly sensitive to stuff of late. Facebook used to be my oasis of crazy, funny, weird, and joy. Cat videos. Geeky web comics. Thoughtful commentary on motherhood or cosplay or writing. Even the more serious posts would slide through my brain after a quiet nod of agreement, replaced by the next thing and the next and the next. Facebook — and other social media — was my distraction from the difficulties of real life.
Then, last weekend, the organization Black Lives Matter interrupted a rally for presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, and posts about the event started blowing up my Facebook feed. One particular friend kept the posts coming, encouraging his followers to read and think about the event. I did, and came out on the other side both humiliated and confused.
Humiliated (and hurt, really), because I fear I’ve contributed in some way to the racism those young protesters and their brothers and sisters experience every day; confused, because I have no idea how to fix it.
One evening during Gen Con, my husband and I were walking back to our hotel from an amazing concert. I had spent the entire day in costume cosplaying as Marvel’s Agent Carter. My feet hurt and we were hungry, searching for some late night eats before getting some shuteye. As we were walking along the sidewalk, I noticed two black men — one old, one young — sleeping up against the buildings we passed. Milling around us were other gamers and cosplayers in town for the convention as well as hordes of tweens and teenagers who had just left a One Direction concert. It struck me seeing those two men on the sidewalk while people passed them by without a second glance that this was par for the course for them. Maybe they spent their day in a similar fashion, awake and asking for change or help while the rest of the world moved on by, heads down or eyes front.
It also struck me later that night in our luxurious hotel room that my life is absurd. I spent four days playing board games, eating street food, and dressing up as fictional characters while those two men and countless others slept or begged on the street. I had been fixated on how much my feet hurt from wearing heels all day, when their feet were probably in much worse shape because they’d been walking for days or weeks on tattered soles (and souls). And the only reason I was able to play and they couldn’t was because of my privilege.
My white, upper-middle class existence is probably the reason a black or brown woman didn’t get a job when I was job-searching myself after college. My white, upper-middle class existence is the reason my boys can go to whatever school my husband and I choose, including the private Montessori school they’re currently attending, while a child of color attends the least funded, most problematic public school in town.* My white, upper-middle class existence funds my closet full of clothes and my sewing and writing habits and our basement board game library, while a woman of color somewhere nearby is working three jobs just to feed her family.
As a physician, my husband works extremely hard. He spent twelve years training for the job he has now. He loves delivering babies and helping his patients, and I wouldn’t deny him that for the world. But when it comes right down to it, the difference between our high standard of living and many others’ low standard of living is either the color of our skin or the number of digits on his paycheck … or both. And that’s why I’m humiliated and confused.
How can I live this spectacular life I’m living and feel any good about it when there are so many people who can’t even come close to what we have? I am so desperately grateful that my kids will never know starvation or homelessness because we can provide for them, but I am also so desperately ashamed of the fact that we can provide for them when so many can’t.
I just …
I don’t …
What can I do? How can I fix it short of denying my own existence, short of leaving it all behind? Because I can’t do that. I love my husband and my children too much to entirely give up what we have. Like all parents, I believe my sons deserve every opportunity they’re given to better themselves, but I also feel that children who are homeless or living in sub par situations deserve even more than my own sons, because they’ve already been denied so much.
What is there to do?
We give to charity every chance we get. I’ve made blankets and gathered clothing for our local community center for the homeless. I vote. But is it all enough? Am I thoroughly playing my part? What more can I do while I have two young children at home who need my love just as much as the rest of the world deserves to have it?
I’m truly asking for answers, because I don’t want to be the problem anymore. I don’t want to be the reason those two black men are still sleeping on the street.
I want to be a better human being.
Thanks for reading. Please share your own thoughts or advice below, because I would love to have some honest, world-changing answers.
*For what it’s worth, the public school system where I live is exceptional, and our boys’ school created a scholarship to allow a child from a lower socioeconomic background to attend preschool there each year. It’s a step, and hopefully in the right direction, but I’m not sure if it’s making a difference, especially for children of color. Only time will tell.
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