Tell your story.
Then tell it again, but tell the truth.
Then tell the story again but tell the truth and talk about the things that you understand now, but may not have understood then.
I am not surprised we do not believe the stories that people tell us. How can we, when we can barely sit in the truth of our own? I know that this is getting old.
My daughter is very into stories. She is obsessed with biographies. She is always trying to find the trick question of someone. Or, the thing that we believe about someone but that their own behavior undermines in some way (see: Einstein and the Travel Journals or Benjamin Franklin in general). She has questions about the way Paul and I met and about the time I walked into the men’s bathroom at Home Depot to wash my hands. She wants to know everything about us when we were in second grade and fifth grade and in High School.
I think this is partly because she is also obsessed with how social contracts work. You know, the things that you can do or say or believe within a familiar group of folks that may or may not moralize the things that you do or say or believe? Or the tacit agreement where we sacrifice small things among familiar groups to protect that group in some way? Or the thing that provides the familiarity in the first place which is usually racial affinity? That thing. She is obsessed with social contracts and the rightness or the wrongness of a moment and what she might have to sacrifice and she does not want to get it wrong.
She and I are a lot alike and this distresses her some. It is not only because she is concerned about the way I’m dressing myself in this time of Covid-19 (and everyone points out how much we look alike), but because she is seeing me break social contracts and she does not know what to do. She is 8. She already understands that to be white is to, you know, make nice and get away with a few things and maintain a modicum of control. She is very clear on the social contract of being a white, 8 year-old, hetero-normative appearing girl. But she is also seeing that sometimes she has to say something or make a physical choice (with her actual body) that means that someone will think she is not nice. She will have to sacrifice physical and emotional comfort. This also distresses her because unlike myself at her age, she is learning the language to describe what she is seeing and she knows that there is a different story out there for her. It is the story of her family and many people that she loves and it is one where she gets to tell the truth and she’s not sure if she is allowed to.
I am also afraid of breaking social contracts and I am struggling with what to replace them with. Some of the ways I’ve broken them feel easy because I have had a lot of practice. But there are other ways that I am struggling. I know that I have held onto certain agreements like a toddler who holds on to a comfort blanket they are not ready to let go of. If I leverage my relationship and ask a friend who has a socially hierarchical advantage to rethink how they are moving in the world, what risk am I taking? If I do not like someone or fundamentally disagree with their approach, but fight for them anyway, do they deserve my energy? If I am wrong about many things all along and then name those things out loud, am I staging a mutiny on my reputation? Does it matter? Am I allowed to tell the truth and be okay?
Of course I am. Of course I will be.
And sometimes (read: often) it feels terrible. This is the truth of most of my stories. But feeling awful is not the same as being dead, so I have resolved to tell my 8 year-old all our stories. I am telling her the ones where I was mean or wrong or was super embarrassed. I am going to tell her, where possible, who paid and how they paid for me or my advantage in that moment. I am trying to tell her the story of who loses and who wins when we do not tell the truth of what we have and what we think we are owed. And then I am going to remind her that I am fine and that more than likely, she will also be fine.
More importantly, we are going to remind each other that the comfort that social social contracts offer is killing people that we love. And that is the the truth of the story that will never be fine.
Your Fat Friend:
“While Quetelet’s works was used to justify scientific racism for decades to come, he was clear about one aspect of the BMI: it was never intended as a measure of individual body fat, build, or health”
I read this article out loud to my 16 year-old son, who, at the beginning of this paragraph swore under his breath and in disbelief at how he had spent a chunk of his academic and athletic sophomore year leaning in uncritically to these particular metrics.
“In effect, rioting police have done as much to stoke unrest and destabilize the situation as those responsible for damaged buildings and burning cars. But where rioting protesters can be held to account for destruction and violence, rioting police have the imprimatur of the state.”
This movie is old news, but maybe it is not old news to you. And if it is not old news to you and you have not watched it, you may find it helpful in sorting out a story that you might believe about yourself or your family or some questions you might have about where we are now. It is streaming free in a few places, but it is also worth renting if you are able to. It is a mirror to my own story when I looked into faces and saw people who might have been my family or myself or my son and who I now see reflected in white people all around us.